Category Archives: Points of Information

A tugboat for satellites

The competition heats up: An Israeli start-up is building a satellite tugboat that could be used to move stranded satellites to their proper orbits.

The planned satellite, once built and deployed, should be able to rendezvous with in-orbit satellites and propel them into new orbits, give them course corrections, or steer them towards what’s known as the “graveyard orbit” – a decommissioned satellite graveyard some 300km above their usual height of 36,000 kilometers over the equator. This fuel saving can extend a communications satellite’s life.

The company says its tugboat design could be a possible solution to two stranded Galileo Project satellites, now in possibly unusable orbits following a launch malfunction over the weekend.

The spacecraft would use an ion engine for propulsion.

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Rosetta’s camera zooms in

67P/C-G on August 23, 2014
Comet 67P/C-G as seen on August 23, 2014 from 38 miles.
Click on image for uncropped version.

The Rosetta team has begun releasing more close-up images of Comet 67P/C-G taken by the spacecraft. The image to the right was taken by the navigation camera, but rather than capture the entire nucleus in a single image the camera is now zoomed in and taking a mosaic of four images. This picture is one quarter of that mosaic.

Note the boulders and the sharp peaks in the image. The boulders are important to map for planning Philae’s landing site. The sharp peaks suggest recent outgassing.

“International press coverage has become a morality play starring a familiar villain.”

Guess who that “familiar villain” happens to be. It shouldn’t surprise you, though it horrifies me that this is happening again, in the west, in civilized society, and among the so-called intellectual elites of the U.S. and Europe.

If you are really serious about understanding what has been going on in the Middle East these past few months, make sure you read the entire article, carefully, and slowly. The conclusion will tell you a great deal about what is going to happen in the coming years. The fact that most intellectuals in the West will be caught with their pants down when it does happen can best be summed up by how that conclusion begins:

Because a gap has opened here between the way things are and the way they are described, opinions are wrong and policies are wrong, and observers are regularly blindsided by events. Such things have happened before. In the years leading to the breakdown of Soviet Communism in 1991, as the Russia expert Leon Aron wrote in a 2011 essay for Foreign Policy, “virtually no Western expert, scholar, official, or politician foresaw the impending collapse of the Soviet Union.” The empire had been rotting for years and the signs were there, but the people who were supposed to be seeing and reporting them failed and when the superpower imploded everyone was surprised.

Antares to launch polar orbiting satellites?

The competition heats up: Orbital Sciences expects within a year to get government approval to use its Antares rocket to launch sun-synchronous satellites from its launch facility at Wallops Island, Virginia.

Currently Antares is used to launch cargo resupply missions to the international space station, whose orbital inclination — the angle at which it passes over the equator — of 51.6 degrees dictates that the rocket follow a southeasterly flight path over the Atlantic Ocean. To reach high-inclination orbits, the vehicle would presumably need to fly more directly toward the equator.

Among the details to be settled is the exact configuration of the Antares rocket Orbital would use to place satellites into sun-synchronous orbits, which are commonly used for Earth observation missions. The Antares rockets flown to date have been two-stage vehicles, but the company offers three-stage versions for missions with more stringent orbital-insertion accuracy or high-energy requirements.

The issue here is making sure the rocket stays clear of population areas during launch. An almost due south launch path, needed for polar orbit from Wallops Island, would pass this test.

SpaceX scrubs Wednesday commercial launch

SpaceX has scrubbed a commercial launch that had been scheduled for Wednesday.

No explanation was provided, but it is likely that the company and its commercial partners decided to give themselves more time to study the issues that caused the Falcon 9R test rocket to destroy itself on Friday.

No children playing in America!

Depressing: According to a new poll, 68% of all Americans believe it should be illegal for kids to play unsupervised

Worse, almost half the population thinks these regulations should even apply to twelve-year-olds.

Last night Diane and I watched the classic 1945 Hollywood film, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, about a young girl growing up in early 20th century Brooklyn. They live in Williamsburg in a neighbor packed with tenement apartments. The kids are outside all the time, on their own. No one questions it all. They in fact encourage it. The result: the kids quickly become self-reliant, smart, independent, and mature.

Since the 1980s American kids have increasingly been supervised every moment of their lives. The result today is a generation that fears freedom and wants it squelched wherever it exists.

Voter fraud found in Virginia and Maryland

An investigation has found at least seventeen examples of voters voting multiple times in both Virginia and Maryland.

In both cases the investigators sent their reports to state attorneys for further investigation and prosecution. In both cases, the state attorneys, both Democrats, have done nothing. I wonder why.

Air Force hypersonic test ends in failure

The second test flight in an Air Force program to research hypersonic flight failed when its booster rocket was intentionally destroyed for safety reasons immediately after launch.

It was the second test of the Advanced Hypersonic Weapon, a program managed by U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command to develop a conventional deep-strike munition that travels through the atmosphere on a nonballistic trajectory. In its first flight, the vehicle lifted off from Pacific Missile Range Facility in Hawaii and flew a nonballistic, glide trajectory at hypersonic speeds toward the Reagan Test Site at Kwajalein Atoll — some 4,000 kilometers away — where it arrived about 30 minutes later.

A new Falcon 1 to compete against SpaceX

The competition heats up: A rocket launch start-up created by former SpaceX engineers seeks to build their own Falcon 1 rocket for the small satellite market.

Their rocket, called Firefly, will use a number of new and old technological ideas. The highlighted words in this paragraph, however, stood out to me the most:

Just as Firefly is drawing on a lot of government research in its aerospike technology, the company is using a key element of the SpaceX Merlin engine—the pintle injector—in its new engine’s combustion chamber. Markusic, who jumped ship from NASA to SpaceX after the agency sent him to Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands to observe the first flight of the Falcon 1, says he started working on the technology—also used on the Apollo program’s lunar-descent engine —at SpaceX and when he was developing a liquid-fuel alternative to the hybrid engine used on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo. [emphasis mine]

It only took one trip to see SpaceX in operation for this NASA engineer to become a former NASA engineer.

Lois Lerner’s Blackberry destroyed by IRS

Cover-up: The IRS destroyed Lois Lerner’s Blackberry after her computer crashed and after the Congressional investigation into the harassment of conservatives had begun.

In two elusive and nebulous sworn declarations, we can glean that Ms. Lerner had two Blackberries. One was issued to her on November 12, 2009. According to a sworn declaration, this is the Blackberry that contained all the emails (both sent and received) that would have been in her “Outlook” and drafts that never were sent from her Blackberry during the relevant time.

With incredible disregard for the law and the Congressional inquiry, the IRS admits that this Blackberry “was removed or wiped clean of any sensitive or proprietary information and removed as scrap for disposal in June 2012.” This is a year after her hard drive “crash” and months after the Congressional inquiry began.

The IRS did not even attempt to retrieve that data. It cavalierly recites: “There is no record of any attempt by any IRS IT employee to recover data from any Blackberry device assigned to Lois Lerner in response to the Congressional investigations or this investigation,” according to Stephen Manning, Deputy Chief Information Officer for Strategy & Modernization.

I am once again reminded of the Watergate coverup, where Nixon’s effort to block the investigation did nothing but slow the release of evidence, turning it into a steady trickle that kept coming, again and again and again, with each revelation acting like another nail in the coffin. We are seeing this same process unfold again here.

DOJ attorney once worked under Lois Lerner at IRS

Working for the Democratic Party: The attorney in the Justice Department representing the IRS directly participated in the harassment of conservatives when he worked under Lois Lerner at the IRS from 2008 to 2010.

The article calls this a conflict of interest. I instead see it as a continuing and unified effort by the Obama administration and all levels of the federal bureaucracy to use the power of the federal government to squelch any opposition to the Democratic Party.

Identification of unknown airstrikes in Libya revealed

Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have admitted they launched combined air strikes in Libya this past week.

There are two aspects of this story that are significant. First:

Egyptian officials explicitly denied the operation to American diplomats, the officials said. It is almost as if the theme of ignoring and/or mocking US superpower status exhibited most recently by both China and Russia, is gradually spreading to even the more “banana” republics around the world. Because, while one can debate the pros and cons of any previous administration, it is very much improbable that any regime, especially ones as close to the US as the UAE, and to a lesser extent Egypt, would have conducted such military missions without preclearing with the Pentagon first.

Desperate to stop radical Islamists from taking over Libya, Egypt and UAE made the decision to act without U.S. involvement, on their own. They no longer felt obliged to get our advice, or even tell us what they intended to do.

Second, the air strikes illustrate how the Middle East is becoming increasingly destabilized. The U.S. is seen as weak and unwilling to act. Thus, the radicals move to grab power, and the status quo elites feel compelled to respond.

As long as Barack Obama is in power, expect this unstable situation to become even more unstable. When we occupied Iraq we brought stability and the promise of civilized rule of law. Until recently that stability was held together by either our presence or the belief that we would return if things got out of hand. Now everyone in the Middle East knows the U.S. will do nothing, no matter what happens. They are on their own. And the crazies are moving to take advantage of our absence to bring chaos to the region.

DOJ admits Lerner’s IRS emails do exist

Cover-up: A Justice Department official has admitted that Lois Lerner’s emails can be retrieved from a back up system, but the Obama administration simply doesn’t want to retrieve them.

In other words, everything the IRS and Obama administration has said previously about the destruction of these emails was a lie, including lying under oath while testifying to Congress.

Natural methane plumes found on the sea floor

The uncertainty of science: Scientists have discovered hundreds of natural methane sea-floor seeps that had not been predicted by theory.

The bubble streams showed up on sonar scans of the sea floor taken between September 2011 and August 2013 during oceanographic expeditions ranging from Cape Hatteras in North Carolina to Georges Bank off Cape Cod. Altogether, researchers analysed data covering a 94,000-square-kilometre arc (an area about the size of Indiana or Hungary) that includes the edge of the continental shelf and the steep slope just seaward of it, says co-author Adam Skarke, a geologist at Mississippi State University in Starkville. Within a distance of about 950 kilometres, the team found about 570 bubble plumes — an astounding number considering that scientists had previously reported only a handful in the region, he notes.

The article’s first two paragraphs breathlessly attempt to link these plumes to human-caused global warming, noting that there is theory that a warming ocean could produce such methane seeps. Worse, the article adds, once this methane is released it will accentuate warming, as methane is a very powerful greenhouse gas.

The article’s last paragraph, however, finally tells us the real story. Hard data gathered by remote robot vehicles that have actually visited these kinds of plumes instead suggests that the plumes have been there for more than a thousand years and thus could have nothing to do with human-caused global warming. In fact, their natural existence is a significant problem for most climate theories, as they now have to account for this additional greenhouse gas, naturally produced.

Russia to continue on ISS past 2020?

A Russian news story today suggests that they are leaning strongly to continuing their partnership with the United States on ISS beyond 2020.

“The issue of Russia’s participation at the ISS after 2020 remains open, but there is a 90-percent chance that the state’s leadership will agree to participate in the project further,” [Izvestia] wrote, citing a source at Russia’s Federal Space Agency Roscosmos.

This report gives a better overview of the debate going on with Russia’s government and space agency. If they abandon ISS the work they have already done on new modules for the station will have to be written off, and it appears assembling their own station from those modules will be too expensive and take too long.

It also looks like NASA offered them a second year long mission if they stuck around.

SpaceX delays commercial launch 24 hours

SpaceX has delayed its next commercial launch one day to Wednesday in order to make sure the issues that caused its Falcon 9R test rocket to self-destruct are irrelevant to the full Falcon 9 rocket.

Seems like a prudent decision that is also not overly timid. If this had been the NASA of the past few decades, they would have generally delayed the launch for far longer.

Rosetta’s comet landing sites

67P/C-G landing sites

The Rosetta science team has narrowed the choices for Philae landing sites on Comet 67P/C-G to five, three on the smaller lobe and two on the larger lobe.

The smaller lobe sites, being on the outside surface of the lobe, don’t provide as good a view of the rest of the comet, while the larger lobe sites are on its inside surface, looking down at the neck and the smaller lobe. In addition, the terrain for the larger lobe sites looks to me more interesting.

Being on the inside surface, however, the larger lobe sites are going to be more difficult to land on.

Crime rate plunges in Chicago as concealed carry applications surge

Surprise, surprise! Since Illinois began issuing concealed carry permits last year, the crime numbers in Chicago have plunged steeply.

Since Illinois started granting concealed carry permits this year, the number of robberies that have led to arrests in Chicago has declined 20 percent from last year, according to police department statistics. Reports of burglary and motor vehicle theft are down 20 percent and 26 percent, respectively. In the first quarter, the city’s homicide rate was at a 56-year low. …

As of July 29 the state had 83,183 applications for concealed carry and had issued 68,549 licenses. By the end of the year, Mr. Pearson estimates, 100,000 Illinois citizens will be packing. When Illinois began processing requests in January, gun training and shooting classes — which are required for the application — were filling up before the rifle association was able to schedule them.

Actually, this shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. In every single case, when the number of gun-toting law-abiding citizens was allowed to increase because of an easing in gun restrictions, the number of crimes has dropped.

Cooking the climate numbers in Australia

A comparison of the raw climate data with the adjusted numbers released by Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology shows that the adjustments have routinely turned the trends from cooling to warming.

This is the same finding that Steven Goddard and others in the U.S. found when they did the same comparison of NASA and NOAA numbers. In every case the adjustments either cooled the past or warmed the present in order to accentuate the appearance of a warming trend, sometimes in complete contradiction of numbers that had been accepted by scientists for decades.

So, does this mean the climate isn’t warming? No. What it means is we haven’t the slightest idea what’s happening, since the data has now been corrupted so badly that it is almost meaningless.

“Finally, finally, finally! They had come!”

When American forces liberated Paris from Nazi occupation seventy years ago today, one Parisian schoolgirl described what happened.

An idea took hold – we needed flags; a collective idea, as if everyone had the same thought at the same time. We would make the flags and hang them at the windows. But how were we going to do it? Quick, tea towels, old sheets cut in strips. A piece of luck, there was a shop that sold dyes in the courtyard. We ran down and started boiling water in the tubs. Some red dye. Some blue dye. The red didn’t work very well, the material came out pinkish red, not the flamboyant red we had hoped for. Too bad. How many stars are there on the American flag? But never mind, we’ll have to just put some on, and that will be good enough.

Read it all. It is important to note that this has been the kind of reaction of practically every oppressed nation when American troops have arrived.

Picking a comet landing site

67P/C-G on August 22, 2014
Comet 67P/C-G as seen on August 22, 2014
from 40 miles. Click on image for full resolution.

Engineers have begun the landing site selection for Rosetta’s Philae lander.

This week, up to ten possible sites are being laid on the table for a first round of dedicated discussions and for the LCC and the SONC to carry out a technical analysis on each site, ready to be presented at the weekend meeting. Participants of the LSSG will then review the results from the technical analysis and discuss the scientific merits of the candidate sites. By the end of the weekend meeting, as many as five sites could be selected for further detailed investigation.

They will announce the five finalist sites on Monday.

Europe’s continuing problems with Galileo GPS

A look at this week’s failed Soyuz launch and the continuing problems Europe has had building its Galileo GPS satellite constellation.

The program has had a series of problems and failures, which this most recent launch only helps highlight.

Confirmed: Life in buried Antarctic lake

American scientists have confirmed that water samples from the buried Antarctic Lake Whillans, first obtained in January 2013, contained almost 4,000 different species of life.

Samples from the lake show that life has survived there without energy from the Sun for the past 120,000 years, and possibly for as long as 1 million years. And they offer the first look at what may be the largest unexplored ecosystem on Earth — making up 9% of the world’s land area. “There’s a thriving ecosystem down there,” says David Pearce, a microbiologist at Northumbria University, UK, who was part of a team that tried, unsuccessfully, to drill into a different subglacial body, Lake Ellsworth, in 2013.

Curiosity cancels drilling and moves on

Adventures on Mars: After finding that a candidate rock for drilling was not stable enough, Curiosity engineers have canceled the drilling and instead decided to continue the rover’s journey towards Mount Sharp, having chosen a new route that bypasses Hidden Valley, which was found to be too slippery.

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