Category Archives: Points of Information

Dirt roads Omaha’s solution to crumbling roads

The coming dark age: Because the substandard asphalt roads installed by private developers decades ago under an agreement with Omaha are now crumbling and the residents don’t want to pay to replace them, the city has chosen to rip out the roads and replace them with dirt roads.

For years, the arrangement held up. But as the roads began to age and crumble, and as new residents replaced the original homeowners, resentment intensified about a city government that maintained some neighborhoods while ignoring others. Said neighbor Bill Manhart, “It’s like living in the country, but in the middle of the city…There’s so much dust and mud on the street, what’s the point?”

A series of meetings between city officials and residents of the affected neighborhoods, which include about 10,000 houses, hasn’t resolved the problem. “This is insanity,” declared City Council member Chris Jerram at one heated council session earlier this year. Austin Rowser, Omaha streets superintendent, said the city’s position is “a matter of fairness. Some property owners paid for better streets and a minority didn’t.” He added that the city simply can’t afford the roughly $300 million bill to fix all the substandard streets.

That doesn’t fly with residents who say that dirt roads or crumbling pavement are unworthy of a well-off community with a growing population, a tiny unemployment rate and four Fortune 500 companies.

The blame here falls on everyone. Taxes and government revenue today are much higher than in the past when most of the city’s roads were built. Yet, the city doesn’t have the cash to do this fundamental work, because that money is devoted social programs or union salaries that no one wants to cut. Meanwhile, the well-to-do residents who live in these areas got cheaper roads back when, under an agreement that said they’d pay for maintenance. They don’t want to, however. Instead, they’ve been willing to let the roads crumble, and now prefer to have the rest of the city’s taxpayers pick up the tab.

The result: A crumbling social order illustrated by a city that is replacing paved roads with dirt ones.

More evidence ULA will pick Blue Origin over Aerojet Rocketdyne

In a press interview published in late July, a ULA executive confirmed that the company is going to pick Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine for its new Vulcan rocket.

ULA used a Russian engine for its expendable Atlas V booster but has long relied on U.S. suppliers such as Aerojet Rocketdyne. For Vulcan’s reusable engine, ULA is turning to Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin. The company’s cutting-edge BE-4 is powered by liquid natural gas instead of kerosene or liquid hydrogen.

By partnering with a startup like Blue Origin, ULA gains other advantages. “There is a world of difference between the culture at Blue Origin and the culture at Aerojet Rocketdyne,” said [Dr. George F. Sowers, ULA’s vice president for advanced programs]. “We knew we could absorb some of their culture by osmosis, just by working with them.” That influence shows up in cross-team collaboration. “We are literally breaking down walls to create a ‘Silicon Valley’ workspace,” Sowers said.

Sowers is very careful to say nothing about the Atlas 5 and the engine that will replace the Russian engine in its first stage. ULA originally signed its deal with Blue Origin with the Atlas 5 in mind, but has not made a final decision between Blue Origin and Aerojet Rocketdyne because Congress appears to favor Aerojet Rocketdyne’s engine, and Congress is a very big gorilla you do not upset. However, their development plans for Vulcan are incremental and closely linked with the Atlas 5. They plan to introduce Vulcan piecemeal in various upgrades of Atlas 5 as they go, so if they are set on using Blue Origin’s engine in the Vulcan rocket, it probably means that they plan on using it to replace the Russian engine in Atlas 5. This interview appears to confirm this.

An isolated dune on Mars

Isolated dune on Mars

Close-up of Dune

Cool image time! The image above, cropped and rotated to post it here, shows a single isolated large dune inside an unnamed crater on Mars. The image was taken by Mars Odyssey on June 5. To the right is a close-up of the dune itself. Its isolated nature as well as the darkness of its sand in comparison with the surrounding territory has probably got some planetary scientists scratching their heads. Furthermore, the darker streaks that appear to flow down the dune are quite intriguing. Were they formed by briny seep water, as has been found with other seasonal dark slope streaks? Or are they evidence of sand avalanches?

I imagine that there will be an effort to monitor this dune over time, to see if it changes.

Costs rise on Obama’s asteroid mission

The year delay in Obama’s as yet unfunded unmanned asteroid mission, a preliminary to a proposed manned asteroid mission, has caused its budget to grow from $1.25 billion to $1.4 billion.

More significantly,

NASA’s cost estimate for [the unmanned] ARRM excludes launch and operations. In a March 2016 report, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) review of NASA’s major programs showed a cost of $1.72 billion. Gates explained that the $1.72 billion includes the launch vehicle cost, set at approximately $500 million as a placeholder since NASA has not determined which of three launch vehicles will be used (Delta IV Heavy, Falcon Heavy, or the Space Launch System).

…The next administration will have to decide if the costs are worth the benefits. Although NASA has decided they are, the House Appropriations Committee disagrees. It denied funding for the program in its report on the FY2017 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill, which funds NASA. The bill has not passed the House yet, however, and there is no similar language in the Senate version, so NASA is not currently prohibited from spending money on the project.

So far, NASA has been funding this Obama project by stealing money from other projects in NASA, since Congress has consistently refused to appropriate extra money for it. This approach has worked up until now, as they are only funding initial design work. Where they think they will get the money for a full mission however remains a complete mystery to me.

Trump’s agriculture advisory panel

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has announced his list of agricultural advisers, drawing mostly from established Republican players.

The New York City real estate mogul’s rural and agriculture advisory committee — comprising 65 people — is a Who’s Who of farm policy, with five members of Congress, including the chairmen of the House and Senate agriculture committees, 10 current and former farm-state governors and two former GOP presidential nomination rivals, former Govs. Rick Perry and Jim Gilmore.

…The list includes some major GOP donors, including Charles Herbster, a Nebraska cattle rancher who’s serving as the council’s chair, and Bruce Rastetter, a wealthy agribusiness leader in Iowa. But it also lists most of the Republican farm policy establishment, including Pat Roberts of Kansas, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Mike Conaway of Texas, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte, who used to lead the House panel, as well as nearly a dozen state agriculture commissioners.

The advisory committee — which is six times larger than Mitt Romney’s 2012 panel — also includes a number of distinctly Trumpian characters, from Red Steagall, Texas’ official cowboy poet, to Sid Miller, the Texas agriculture commissioner who made national headlines for trying to bring deep fryers and sugary drinks back to schools.

Much of this panel appears to be very much mainstream Republican establishment, which has its positives and negatives. On a positive side, the article notes that in the panel’s first discussions about policy there was talk about eliminating or streamlining federal regulation on agriculture. On the negative side, the panel has some important members who favor the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal worked out by the Obama administration.

This information once again suggests that Trump will govern somewhere in the middle. If Congress is controlled by Republicans than there is also a good chance that its policy will lean rightward, though this panel also suggests that policy will continue to favor the crony businesses that the Republican leadership likes.

The status of SLS for its first launch in 2018

Link here. The article gives an excellent and detailed overview of where construction of SLS presently sits, what the problems are that still remain, and what they have done to overcome them.

What struck me most however in reading the article was how long it takes them to do anything. For example, it appears they will assemble the rocket in the spring of 2018 for a December launch. In fact, the description of this assembly in this article partly explains to me why SLS will have the ungodly slow launch rate of at best once every two years.

In addition, the article describes how NASA has handled a number of engineering issues that have come up, and for each the approach seems to me to be more complicated than necessary. However, I am not an engineer and have never been part of this kind of work. Maybe everyone does it this way.

Aetna pulls out of Obamacare

Finding out what’s in it: One of the countries largest health insurance companies, Aetna, announced on Monday that it will stop offering health insurance through Obamacare.

Under Obamacare, Aetna lost $200 million in the second quarter of 2016 alone. Too bad no one predicted this…except for every evil racist homophobic tea party and thoughtful conservative whom the Democrats and Obama preferred slandering instead of listening to what they had to say.

Good thing we are going to vote for those Democrats again. Using their brilliant understanding of economics they will be sure the fix the problem they created!

SpaceX launches another satellite and recovers another Falcon 9 first stage

The competition heats up: SpaceX this morning successfully put another satellite in orbit while also recovering another Falcon 9 first stage.

Posted from the south rim of the Grand Canyon, after hiking out today. More on that later, when I am not so beat and have the energy to write.

Obama goes after gunsmiths

The constitution is such an inconvenient thing: A new Obama executive order has redefined the work of gunsmiths to define them as manufacturers so that they can be much more heavily regulated, and likely put out of business.

The president’s executive order, which Obama signed on July 22 — around the beginning of the Democratic National Convention — conveys to the State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC), which is primarily in charge of managing the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) and establishing its rules, the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

DDTC now names commercial gunsmiths as “manufacturers” for relatively simple tasks as threading a barrel or duplicating a small custom part for an older firearm.

The law would require gunsmiths to spend thousands to meet the regulations, and would likely put most out of business, or force them underground into a black market.

The worst part of this, beyond the fact that it is a naked attack on law-abiding citizens because they do work Obama and liberals hate, is that if this executive order stands, it will grant the federal government unlimited power to destroy almost anyone in blue collar work that they don’t like Repair a car, install a carpet, fix a home’s air conditioning system, replace some plumbing, and you suddenly can be declared a manufacturer that no longer can afford to be in business.

Posted from the south rim of the Grand Canyon.

Polio returns to Nigeria

Two years after the last previous case and only one year from declaring Nigeria polio-free, two children have been diagnosed with the crippling virus.

They are going to immediately begin immunizing 5 million children in the affected region.

Coincidentally, that area has been the epicenter of an insurgency waged by Boko Haram, an Islamist militant group that has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced more than 2 million since their fight began in 2009. During Boko Haram’s time in Borno, the group has been responsible for destroying hundreds of health centers, and has caused so much damage in some areas that it has become hard for vaccinators to do their jobs effectively.

One can’t help wondering if these new cases occurred because of this Islamic insurgency.

Posted on the road from Tucson to the Grand Canyon.

Heading to the Grand Canyon

Diane and I are about to leave for our annual trip to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. This trip will be short, down on Saturday and up on Sunday. As usual, the trip will be grand (pun intended). I should be able to post tonight and on Sunday and Monday, but I will be traveling and will have other priorities (like enjoying myself). Even so, I might post something on our trip, especially considering that this will be second trip in a row to Phantom Ranch where the water system is broken and, though there is drinking water, there will be no showers. More details to follow.

Trump considers John Bolton for Secretary of State

In a radio interview today Donald Trump said that he was seriously considering appointing John Bolton as his secretary of state.

This could simply be pandering by Trump to the conservative audience he was speaking to, or it could be a real trail balloon. Either way, it emphasizes again that the policies of a president is largely determined by the people he surrounds himself with, first by indicating the direction the president is leaning, and second by providing counsel to that president. So far, the majority of Trump’s picks have leaned to the right, with some exceptions. Bolton would emphasize that rightward direction, and this is a very good thing.

By the way, I don’t know if my readers have noticed this, but the stories I have posted here about the presidential election campaign have had nothing to do with the stupid stuff that the mainstream and conservative media have been obsessing about. Instead, my focus, as always, is on trying to find out what these candidates will actually do when they become president, based on what they actually do (not say). Thus, I post about Trump’s potential appointments once in office, and real evidence that Hillary Clinton committed illegal acts as secretary of state. Making believe that Donald Trump is a monster because he made a minor miscue at one point in one speech is not a way to learn anything, other than to demonize the man absurdly and wrongly. I won’t participate in that childishness.

A fine collection of Rosetta images

Comet 67P/C-G

Many cool images! The Rosetta team has released a bunch of very nice images taken of Comet 67P/C-G during August when the spacecraft was flying in close. The image on the right, cropped and reduced in resolution to post here, shows the comet’s large lobe, with the narrow neck to the left. Make sure you check out the full resolution image. It was taken on August 10, 2016 from about 8 miles away, and has a resolution of less than four feet per pixel. If a person was standing there you could just see them!

What I find most fascinating is the incredible curvature of the comet’s surface. The smooth area on the left, dubbed Imhotep (images of which have been posted here previously), has several big boulders on its flat surface. If you stood there, the ground would be down and horizontal. Walk only a short distance and you quickly reach the curving horizon and that flat area would look like a steep slope dropping down behind you. Yet, the boulders do not roll down hill! Walk a short distance more and you begin to enter the neck region, with giant walls rising above you, until you start to walk up them and they become the floor!

Russia’s space station faces funding problems

The Russian space station replacement for ISS, dubbed the Russian Orbital Station (ROS), faces serious budget problems that might delay its launch.

Plans for the post-ISS Russian Orbital Station, ROS, are in limbo, as the nation’s space program has faced budget cuts in 2016. Although the industry has now completed formulating the overall design of the future station, the cash-strapped Roskosmos was yet to approve the formal technical assignment for the development of ROS as of June 2016. The addendum to the Federal Contract, which would fund further development work on the project, has not been issued either.

The ROS project stalled despite being formally approved by three strategy documents governing the current Russian space program: The 10-year Federal Space Program from 2016 to 2025, known as FKP-2025; The Strategy for Russian Piloted Space Flight until 2035 and the Concept of the Russian Piloted Space Flight.

The article also provides a nice overview of how Russia hopes to assembly ROS, partly from new modules and partly from modules they will detach from ISS. The article also made this key point:

According to the current ROS concept, the new Russian station will have a truly unlimited life span, thanks to the possibility to replace any of its modules. (It is practically impossible with the current ISS architecture.) The new Russian station is also designed to operate either as a permanently inhabited outpost or as a periodically visited facility. Russian strategists also hope that the new station will inherit the international nature of the ISS project.

I think Russia is beginning to see the operation of Earth orbital space stations as a profitable niche they can occupy. They know how to do it and already have the technology on hand, and can do it at very affordable prices. Whether they can afford it themselves, however, remains an open question.

TMT will probably not go to India

An Indian astronomer, in testimony to India’s parliament, has explained that for engineering and technical reasons India will likely not be the new location of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT).

Essentially, the skies are clearer in the Canary Islands and in Chile.

This story is important in that it confirms that the consortium building TMT is now very seriously considering abandoning Hawaii, and might already have decided to do so. It also suggests that the Canary Islands is in the lead as the new location, since they want a site that can see the skies of the northern hemisphere, something that won’t be possible in Chile.

Aerojet Rocketdyne gets NASA contract for cubesat engine

The competition heats up: Aerojet Rocketdyne has signed a contract with NASA to develop a small thruster engine for use on cubesats.

The MPS-130 green propulsion system will allow CubeSats and SmallSats to increase their capabilities, such as extending mission life, increasing architecture resiliency, maneuvering to higher and lower orbits, and performing complex proximity operations and formation flying. The use of additive manufacturing also reduces the number of parts and amount of time required to fabricate and assemble the modular propulsion system, lowering the cost of small satellites for private and public operators. Under the contract, Aerojet Rocketdyne will deliver a fully-integrated MPS-130 green modular propulsion system for flight demonstration, as well as conduct development and validation testing.

The press release does not say how much money NASA is providing. Regardless, this is a great opportunity for Aerojet Rocketdyne, because the smallsat industry is I think about to take off, and at the moment these tiny satellites lack any useful technology for maneuvering. Up until now they were mostly designed as temporary short term satellites built mostly to teach students. Soon, however, there will be a lot of privately-built commercial smallsats launched, designed to make money. Being able to sell their builders a thruster that could prolong their life and make them more capable will give Aerojet Rocketdyne a product that will certainly sell like hotcakes.

The landing site for ExoMars’ Schiaparelli lander

This ESA press release provides a nice overview of the landing area that the Schiaparelli lander on ExoMars is targeting.

The landing ellipse, measuring 100 x 15 km, is located close to the equator, in the southern highlands of Mars. The region was chosen based on its relatively flat and smooth characteristics, as indicated in the topography map, in order to satisfy landing safety requirements for Schiaparelli. NASA’s Opportunity rover also landed within this ellipse near Endurance crater in Meridiani Planum, in 2004, and has been exploring the 22 km-wide Endeavour crater for the last five years. Endeavour lies just outside the south-eastern extent of Schiaparelli’s landing ellipse.

Since the primary missions of both Schiaparelli and the ExoMars orbiter, dubbed the Trace Gas Orbiter, is test the technology for getting to and landing on Mars (in preparation for the more challenging 2020 ExoMars mission), I suspect that they chose this very well studied and already visited area to make this test landing less risky.

Side note: ExoMars successfully completed its second and last planned mid-course correction yesterday in preparation for its October arrival at Mars.

Russia considers reducing its ISS crew

In the heat of competition: Russia is considering reducing its ISS crew from three to two.

“Plans to reduce the crew stem from the fact that less cargo ships are sent to the ISS and from the necessity to boost the efficiency of the program,” the newspaper quotes Krikalev. Apart from that, it will make it possible to lower expenses on the space station’s maintenance.

They haven’t yet made a decision. I suspect that the real reason they are considering this idea is because it will free up a seat on the Soyuz spacecraft that they can then sell to tourists, something they have been unable to do since the station got large enough for the full crew of six and the U.S. became dependent on them for crew ferrying.. By only sending two Russians astronauts up with each Soyuz launch they will then have a free seat for short tourist flights, which had been quite lucrative for them.

Craters on Ceres

craters on Ceres
Cool image time! The image above, cropped and reduced in resolution to show here, was taken on May 30, 2016 by Dawn from 240 miles away. It looks northward at the dwarf planet’s horizon, and has a resolution of about 120 feet per pixel.

My only comment is to note how soft the terrain looks. I realize this is not really an accurate description, but data has shown that Ceres has a somewhat low density and is somewhat malleable. It sure looks that way here.

Clinton put State Department up for sale

New emails reveal that Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton used her position as Secretary of State to pass out favors in exchange for donations to her foundation.

The facts are very welled documented here. Hillary Clinton wasn’t interested in acting as Secretary of State. She was interested in garnering cash donations for herself and Bill Clinton, and used her position of power to hand out favors for those donations.

But don’t worry! Our valiant press is on the ball, screaming about petty miscues by Donald Trump that mean nothing, are taken badly out of context, and are largely irrelevant to the kind of President he might be. That the Democrat running against him is a proven liar, law-breaker, and incredibly corrupt is just not important to them. All that matters is that she is a Democrat, and part of their team!

Which by the way should give us all a bit of a pause to consider how dishonest, illegal, and corrupt the entire elite culture of the U.S. has likely become. As I said, Clinton is part of their team.

Orbital ATK delays Antares-Cygnus launch until September

In the heat of competition: Orbital ATK has once again pushed back the launch of the first upgraded Antares rocket since its launch failure in October 2014, this time until September.

Due to a variety of interrelated factors, including the company’s continuing processing, inspection and testing of the flight vehicle at Wallops Island, and NASA’s scheduling of crew activities on the International Space Station in preparation for upcoming cargo and crew launches, Orbital ATK is currently working with NASA to target a window in the second half of September for the launch of the OA-5 mission. A more specific launch date will be identified in the coming weeks.

This press release suggests that all is well, and that the delay is mostly because of scheduling issues with NASA and ISS. However, it is also very vague, which suggests to me that the company has been also working through the results of the static fire test they did in May and might have needed more time to work out the kinks..

SpaceX prepares to test its next generation rocket engine

The competition heats up: SpaceX’s first Raptor rocket engine has now been built and has been shipped to the company’s test facility in Texas to begin testing.

The Raptor is SpaceX’s next generation of rocket engine. It may be as much as three times more powerful than the Merlin engines that power its Falcon 9 rocket and will also be used in the Falcon Heavy rocket that may fly in late 2016 or early 2017. The Raptor will power SpaceX’s next generation of rocket after the Falcon Heavy, the so-called Mars Colonial Transporter.

Although official details regarding the Raptor engine remain scarce, SpaceX founder Elon Musk has suggested the engine will have a thrust of about 500,000 pounds, roughly the same power as a space shuttle’s main engines. Whereas the shuttle was powered by three main engines and two booster rockets, however, it is believed the large rocket SpaceX uses to colonize Mars would likely be powered by a cluster of nine Raptor engines.

Like I said in my previous post, the rest of this decade should be very exciting in space, and that excitement will have be because of private enterprise and freedom, not NASA’s fake mission to Mars, with Orion.

Deep Space Industries to fly probe to asteroid

The competition heats up: A private company, Deep Space Industries (DSI), has announced plans to send the first privately-built probe to an asteroid before the end of the decade.

Recently, Deep Space Industries and its partner, the government of Luxembourg, announced plans to build and fly Prospector-X™, an experimental mission to low-Earth orbit that will test key technologies needed for low-cost exploration spacecraft. This precursor mission is scheduled to launch in 2017. Then, before the end of this decade, Prospector-1 will travel beyond Earth’s orbit to begin the first space mining exploration mission.

Note that this funding is another example of the Luxembourg government’s effort to invest in commercial space, for profit.

If all goes as planned, the rest of this decade should be very exciting. We will have a private mission to the Moon, a private mission to an asteroid, and a private mission to Mars. All will cost pennies compared to what the government spends. All will be built and launched quickly, compared to how long the government takes. And all will be for profit, which is certainly not what the government is interested in.

Illinois college proud to offer “blacks-only” courses

Academic bigots: An Illinois college is proud to offer “blacks-only” courses.

“[College 101] provides an opportunity to assess your purpose for college, assess your study strategies, set college and career goals, examine your values and decision-making skills, and develop an appreciation for diversity,” the course catalog states. [emphasis mine]

Next thing I expect academia to suggest is that blacks really shouldn’t have to use the same water fountains, buses, or schools as whites, and should be given separate but equal facilities. Otherwise, how else can they learn to appreciate diversity!

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