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More wear found on Curiosity’s wheels

Routine inspections of Curiosity’s wheels has found new damage on the rover’s left middle wheel.

None of this is unexpected. Nor is it a serious problem. They expected the wheels to wear out over time, though I must say that it seems to me that Curiosity’s wheels, in use now for about five years, do not seem to be doing as well as Opportunity’s, working on Mars for more than a dozen years. Opportunity was only supposed to last for 90 days. Curiosity was designed to last years. Yet, it seems that Curiosity’s wheels are wearing out faster than Opportunity’s.

Vector Space Systems plans launches from Kennedy

The competition heats up: Vector Space Systems will this weekend erect a test version of its two-stage Vector-R rocket and launch platform for display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center.

CEO Jim Cantrell also “will announce the intention of the company to use the launch facilities in the future,” according to Space Florida. The two-stage Vector-R — the “R” is short for Rapid — stands 42 feet tall and measures 42 inches around, and is designed to deliver micro-satellites weighing up to about 135 pounds to orbit. The rocket is expected to debut in 2018, flying up to six times. The company eventually envisions launching 100 or more times a year.

Much of this sounds like a bit of PR aimed at the public, not an actual flight plan. However, if they are prepping for an eventual launch at Kennedy there is also no reason they shouldn’t hype that fact beforehand.

More strike actions delay Ariane 5 again

Protests by local workers that have blocked roads has forced Arianespace to once again delay the Ariane 5 launch of two commercial satellites.

Local newspaper France Guyane reports that local electricians, hospital employees, farmers and transportation workers — including the drivers that transport the Ariane 5 rockets — are among those protesting working and living conditions in the South American town that’s home to Europe’s main launch center. Locals blocked roads around Kourou Monday and Tuesday, preventing Arianespace from transferring the rocket from the final assembly building at the spaceport to the launch zone. Evry, France-based Arianespace launches the Ariane 5, Soyuz and Vega rockets from the Guiana Space Center.

…Local employees of Endel, the French industrial maintenance company that trucks the Ariane 5 rockets for Arianespace, are striking to reopen wage negotiations. Those discussions began Monday night, but failed to reach an agreement, according to France Guyane. The paper reports that other members of the union UTG, as well as the French Democratic Confederation of Labor (CDTG) and Force Ouvrière unions, are also involved in various demonstrations.

The Guyanese Union of Road Transport (UGTR) is also protesting the use of foreign trucks from the European construction company Eiffage, France Guyane says. CNES in July awarded Eclair6, a consortium led by Eiffage, a $222.2 million contract 2016 to build the launch facility for the future Ariane 6 rocket. UGTR said it asked the spaceport not to bring in foreign trucks to do work that that its members could do with equally capable trucks of their own.

None of this is going to help Arianespace in its effort to compete in the modern very aggressive launch industry.

Rocket Lab raises $75 million

The competition heats up: Rocket Lab announced today that it has raised an additional $75 million in investment capital.

The new funding round is led by venture capital firm Data Collective, with contributions from another VC firm, Promus Ventures, and an undisclosed investor. Several prior investors, including Bessemer Venture Partners, Khosla Ventures and K1W1, also participated in the round.

Rocket Lab said the Series D round brings the total raised by the company to $148 million, and values the company at more than $1 billion. Rocket Lab announced a Series B round of unspecified size in 2015, and Peter Beck, the company’s chief executive, said the company did an unannounced Series C round in the interim involving only existing investors.

In an interview, Beck said the money will go towards increasing the production capacity for its Electron rocket, set to make its debut later this year. “This is really all about scaling,” he said. “The funding is all about producing the vehicle in much more significant numbers.”

They say they will make their first launch in the coming months, but remain vague about specific dates.

Republican healthcare bill faces defeat in House

It appears the Republican leadership lacks the votes in the House needed to pass its Obamacare replacement bill.

It appears that the Freedom Caucus in the House is generally holding firm, with more than 21 members agreeing that this is a bad bill, just as bad as Obamacare. Why vote for it, and make yourself a partner in this bad business? Consider for example this quote:

Rep. Rod Blum (R-Iowa), one of the few Freedom Caucus members who has a close relationship with GOP leadership, said Trump’s remarks in conference — and the building pressure — just “steels my resolve.”

“The way it stands right now, no,” he would not vote for the bill, Blum told POLITICO. “Not because of the Freedom Caucus, but because I’m a free-marketer and I’m a businessman. … And the present bill doesn’t give us a free market. I want health insurance premiums to come down. … This bill doesn’t give us a free market.”

The Republican leadership was able to successfully pass numerous full repeals of Obamacare when Obama was president and could veto them. Now that we have Trump, a president who will sign a repeal, they suddenly seem incapable of finding where they put those repeal bills. Very shameful.

Repeal the thing. Cleanly. This is what the American people want. They will thank you for it.

The changes seen by Rosetta on Comet 67P/C-G

A new study released today describes in detail the many changes seen by scientists in the data collected by Rosetta during its two years in close proximity to Comet 67P/C-G.

“We saw a massive cliff collapse and a large crack in the neck of the comet get bigger and bigger,” said El-Maarry. “And we discovered that boulders the size of a large truck could be moved across the comet’s surface a distance as long as one-and-a-half football fields.”

In the case of the boulder, Rosetta’s cameras observed a 282-million-pound (130-million-kilogram), 100-feet-wide (30-meter) space rock to have moved 150 yards (460 feet, or 140 meters) from its original position on the comet’s nucleus. The massive space rock probably moved as a result of several outburst events that were detected close to its original position.

The warming of 67P also caused the comet’s rotation rate to speed up. The comet’s increasing spin rate in the lead-up to perihelion is thought to be responsible for a 1,600-foot-long (500-meters) fracture spotted in August 2014 that runs through the comet’s neck. The fracture, which originally extended a bit longer than the Empire State Building is high, was found to have increased in width by about 100 feet (30 meters) by December 2014. Furthermore, in images taken in June 2016, a new 500- to 1,000-foot-long (150 to 300 meters) fracture was identified parallel to the original fracture.

“The large crack was in the ‘neck’ of the comet — a small central part that connects the two lobes,” said El-Maarry. “The crack was extending–indicating that the comet may split up one day.”

It is almost a shame that Rosetta did not see that break-up. The images would have been breath-taking, and the science learned priceless.

The rings of Saturn

The rings of Saturn up close

Cool image time! The image to the right, cropped to post here, is part of one of the closest and highest resolution images that Cassini has yet taken of Saturn’s rings. The image was taken in January during one of the spacecraft’s ring grazing orbits, and has a resolution of 2,300 feet per pixel. And yet, as noted by the Cassini science team, “Even at this level of detail, it is still not fine enough to resolve the individual particles that make up the ring.”

In prepping the image, all I did was crop it to show the closest rings. I purposely did not reduce its resolution, so that you can see that no individual particles are visible. The rings of Saturn are truly made up of billions of small objects, behaving in many ways like liquid floating in the gravity well of Saturn. If you don’t believe me, download the full image and zoom in on it as much as you like. All you will see are pixels.

The fundamental science question therefore is not how Saturn’s rings behave (though this is certainly important and quite fascinating) but why did those rings end up the way they are. No other planet has rings anything like Saturn’s in their density and make-up. Why? Are Saturn’s rings a normal process that only occurs for short times around planets, which is why only Saturn has these types of rings at present? Or is it a rare event, so rare that we happen to be very lucky to see such a thing at all?

Even more important, Saturn’s rings and their behavior are likely linked closely to the same phenomenon that describe the formation of planets around a star. The more we can learn about why these rings exist, the more we will learn about why planets exist, both here circling the Sun as well as around stars everywhere else.

Trump signs NASA authorization

President Trump today signed the NASA authorization bill, initially written and sponsored by Senator Ted Cruz.

The most significant aspect of this authorization is what is not in it. The bill outlines what Congress wants NASA to focus on, and makes literally no mention of any Earth science research at all. Essentially, it tasks NASA to focus on space exploration, and space exploration only.

In many ways this is merely a symbolic act, since it is the budget that really determines what NASA will do, and the budget that Trump put forth last week only cut NASA’s Earth science budget by 5%. Nonetheless, the authorization bill gives us a sense of where the politics are heading. I expect that by the time Congress gets done with NASA’s budget there will be more cuts to that Earth science budget.

Atlas 5/Cygnus launch delayed until next week due to technical issue

The launch of the next Cygnus freighter to ISS has been delayed by ULA until next week in order to fix “a hydraulic issue found on ground support equipment.”

The launch had been delayed previously because of a hydraulic issue in the rocket itself.

SpaceX signs lease for Florida warehouse to refurbish 1st stages

The competition heats up: SpaceX has signed a five year lease for a Florida warehouse near Port Canaveral store and refurbish its recovered Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy first stages.

This lease just firms up the reality that SpaceX is shifting from expendable first stages to a fleet of reusable first stage. Any rocket company that does not do the same is going to be left in the dust.

Ariane 5 launch delayed by labor strike

The launch of two communications satellites on an Ariane 5 was delayed today by a strike at Arianespace’s French Guiana spaceport.

A work stoppage at the Ariane 5 rocket’s launch base in South America prevented rollout of the booster to the launch pad Monday, pushing back the liftoff of two communications satellites for Brazil and South Korea until at least Wednesday.

The fully-assembled launcher was set to roll out of the final assembly building Monday morning for the 1.7-mile (2.7-kilometer) journey to the ELA-3 launch zone at the Guiana Space Center. Arianespace officials were aiming for a launch attempt Tuesday evening.

But the rollout did not happen due to a “social movement” at the spaceport, according to Arianespace. Officials blamed the postponement on a strike among a segment of the workforce at the Guiana Space Center, which is managed by CNES, the French space agency, with support from the European Space Agency and numerous European contractors.

The article suggests that this was not a sanctioned strike, based on the expiration of a contract. Instead it appears to have been a wildcat strike, created to apply the most pressure in order to blackmail the company into giving the strikers more money. If so, and if Arianespace agrees to terms, its labor relations in French Guiana are going to decline quickly.

Conservatives “violently threatened” at Lutheran college

Fascists: A survey of conservative students at St. Olaf College in Minnesota has found that many have been “violently threatened” because of their political beliefs, with most finding they do not have the ability to express their beliefs in public on campus.

On the night of the election, a student in the Pause threatened to beat up [College Republicans President Emily] Schaller, calling her a “f***ing moron.” Over the next couple of days, she overheard multiple students threaten to hurt the next conservative or Republican they saw. Vice President of St. Olaf College Republicans Kathryn Hinderaker ’19 had a similar experience.

“I think one of the hardest things was, the second day, I went into Buntrock and someone yelled from the bottom, ‘if you voted for Trump, you better be f***ing scared.’ Everyone clapped and applauded,” Hinderaker said. “Obviously, it didn’t feel super safe.”

This story is only a sample, but it illustrates the fascist and totalitarian culture of the left. I just wish that these conservatives had more courage. Had I been a student in that class where everyone applauded the idea of intimidating Trump voters I would have stood up and said, “Come on, show me how much you stand for liberty and freedom of speech and try and shut me up!”

The only proper response to a bully is to get in their face and tell them they are one. That always stops them in their tracks. Backing down to them in turn only emboldens them, and it certainly doesn’t make you safer.

College eliminates English and math placement tests

The coming dark age: A West Virginia community college has stopped giving English and math placement tests, while also eliminating any comparable remedial classes.

A careful read of the article suggests that this decision is a desperate attempt by the college to deal with its influx of unqualified students, as noted by this quote:

“We are still getting some students who literally cannot read above a third-grade level, and I have never learned how to help such students,”

The college still wants these students to attend (which is a cash cow for the college) but it finds itself struggling to find the right approach for teaching them. Since there is no right approach (these individuals should simply not be in college), the situation results in a poorer learning environment for everyone.

Capitalism in Space:
Private Enterprise and Competition Reshape the Global Aerospace Launch Industry

After much delay and discussion, my policy paper for the Center for a New American Security, Capitalism in Space: Private Enterprise and Competition Reshape the Global Aerospace Launch Industry, has finally been published.

You can download the pdf here or at the Center here. Please feel free to distribute this widely. If you visit other websites please pass it on to them. This should be read by as many people as possible, especially since the space policy of the Trump administration remains at present undecided. This policy paper will help them work out a wise policy, with the paper’s key data point contained in this table:

SLS vs Commercial space

I document my numbers very carefully. The result illustrates clearly how much a failure the government model has been and continues to be. We have spent a lot of money since the 1970s on NASA and space, and have generally gotten very little for that investment, as demonstrated by the comparison between the accomplishments of private and government space in the past two decades. Going forward it is going to be very difficult for SLS/Orion to compete with the heavy lift rockets coming from SpaceX and Blue Origin.

My concluding words:
» Read more

The layered mesas of Mars

The mesas of Uzboi Valles

Cool image time! The image above, reduced and cropped to post here, shows the layered deposits and complex erosion that has taken place in this area of Mars dubbed Uzboi Vallis. As noted at the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter post,

Layered deposits in Uzboi Vallis sometimes occur in alcoves along the valley and/or below where tributaries enter it. These deposits may record deposition into a large lake that once filled Uzboi Vallis when it was temporarily dammed at its northern end by the rim of Holden Crater and before it was overtopped and breached allowing water to drain back out of the valley.

It is important when looking at these erosion patterns, including the strangely shaped rippled sand dunes scattered through the larger image, that wind possibly plays an even more important part in causing erosion on Mars than liquid water might have in the far past.

Either way, the terrain here has the same stark and fascinating beauty as that seen in the American southwest. If we can ever make it possible to live on Mars, this will definitely be a place to visit when on vacation.

Japan launches military satellite

Japan yesterday successfully launched a military surveillance satellite, dubbed the Information Gathering Satellite Radar 5 (IGS Radar-5).

Japan started the IGS program in 1998, presumably in response to North Korean missile tests around that time that sent missiles close to, or flying over, Japan.

In the years since, North Korea has repeatedly threatened to annihilate Japan (and South Korea and the United States), and continued to develop its nuclear-weapon and missile programs. The IGS satellites keep tabs on such efforts, help the Japanese government respond to natural disasters and perform several other functions, experts believe.

The first IGS craft lifted off in 2003. IGS Radar 5 is the 15th one in the program to take flight, though not all have made it to orbit. Two were lost to a launch failure in November 2003.

The terrorist protesters in North Dakota

Fascists: The protesters in North Dakota who had tried for the past year to prevent construction of an oil pipeline appeared to spend as much time threatening the families and children of police officers as they did protesting the pipeline.

While protesters were fueling worldwide outrage and fundraising over allegations of police brutality, an aggressive cohort of agitators was terrorizing the families of law-enforcement officers with threats of death, rape and arson. “There were threats made to us, mostly that they were going to come burn down our houses or rape us while our husbands were gone,” said Allison Engelstad, who’s married to Jon Engelstad, a sheriff’s deputy in Morton County, North Dakota.

She had good reason to fear that protesters knew where they lived. The North Dakota State and Local Intelligence Center compiled a 41-page document of social media posts with threats along with photos, names, addresses and contact information for officers involved with the protest. “Every one of these cops has familys [sic] … Make there [sic] family pay,” read one Facebook post.

A live video feed taken from a January protest on the Backwater Bridge includes the voice of an activist shouting, “We’re going to gang-rape,” “Watch your family,” and “We’re going to kill your daughters, your mothers, your fathers, your grandparents, even you!” [emphasis mine]

I think even more revealing is this tidbit from the article:

Figures released March 1 by law enforcement showed that 661 of the 709 arrests involved out-of-state protesters. Of those arrested, 227 had a total of 1,503 previous citations and charges, including domestic violence, child abuse, robbery, burglary, drug possession and driving under the influence.

This was not a grassroots campaign. This protest was staged, and its intent was hostile to America and to the people who live in it. Pay close attention to which politicians align themselves with this protest, because that will reveal to you what they really believe.

The math hidden in Van Gogh’s Starry Night

An evening pause: This pause is very apropos to some of Juno’s more recent Jupiter images.

Hat tip to Mike Nelson.

By the way, I am open to Evening Pause suggestions from all my readers. If you have seen something that you think might fit as an evening pause, make a comment here telling me you have a suggestion. Don’t provide the link to the suggestion. I will email you so that you can send it to me direct and I can then schedule it.

Trump budget proposal

The Trump administration today released its overall rough budget plan for 2018. This is not a detailed budget, but an summary of their plan, indicating where they wish to cut and where they wish to increase budgets. The proposal is also not complete, making no mention of the administration’s budget plans for many departments, such as the National Science Foundation.

Science research in the federal government is significantly impacted, but not as badly as most of the articles you will read in the mainstream anti-Trump, Democratic Party press. A few examples:

I must note that not all the news stories are blindly hostile to this budget proposal:

Of all the science agencies, NASA probably came off with the least change. The budget cuts only about 5% from the agency’s Earth science budget, while cutting some specific Earth science missions. The budget also supports SLS/Orion, though it finally puts the nail in the coffin of the asteroid redirect mission, an Obama proposal that has never garnered any interest from anyone else.

The Trump budget proposal in context

The key to understanding all these budget cuts is to see them in context, to compare the 2018 proposed budgets with the budgets these agencies received in the past. The table on the right gives some of this context (numbers shown are in millions) for several of the science agencies most effected by the proposal. The proposal is not detailed enough to pin down the changes for many other science agencies, but from this table it is clear that the Trump administration is not calling for the end of science, and is proposing some reasonable cost cutting, something that has been rare in government for many years.

What will be missed by most of the press about this Trump budget proposal is that it is not trying to trim the size of the federal government. While it cuts spending in many departments, those cuts are entirely aimed at providing room to raise the budget of the Defense Department by $54 billion. While I can applaud the desire of the Trump administration to be revenue neutral, the stark fact remains that by remaining revenue neutral Trump still leaves us with a gigantic annual federal deficit. They have made no effort to balance the overall budget.

Worse, this proposal would repeal the Budget Control Act of 2011, which imposed sequestration to the federal budget and has actually done the most in the past half century to bring that budget under control. Once this act is repealed, it will allow the spenders in Congress (of which the Republicans are as guilty as the Democrats) to open the floodgates once again. This will not be good.

Let me add one good aspect of the Trump budget. It proposes to eliminate a whole range of government political agencies that accomplish nothing but provide pork or to propagandize the Democratic Party’s positions:

The Budget also proposes to eliminate funding for other independent agencies, including: the African Development Foundation; the Appalachian Regional Commission; the Chemical Safety Board; the Corporation for National and Community Service; the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; the Delta Regional Authority; the Denali Commission; the Institute of Museum and Library Services; the Inter-American Foundation; the U.S. Trade and Development Agency; the Legal Services Corporation; the National Endowment for the Arts; the National Endowment for the Humanities; the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation; the Northern Border Regional Commission; the Overseas Private Investment Corporation; the United States Institute of Peace; the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness; and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Getting these eliminated will at least be a start to cleaning up the mess in Washington.

Want to watch a nuclear bomb go off? You can!

Engineers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) have obtained declassified films of many of the nuclear tests performed by the U.S. from 1945 to 1962 and are digitally scanning them and preserving them for posterity.

Conducted by LLNL weapon physicist Greg Spriggs and a team of film experts, archivists, and software developers, the project’s goal was to track down as many as possible of the ten-thousand 2,400 frames per second reels of film. This was because the cine film, and its immense historical and scientific value, was in danger of being lost for all time. The reels were mostly of acetate stock that was not stored under anything like ideal conditions and was slowly decaying or being attacked by fungus and microbes.

“You can smell vinegar when you open the cans, which is one of the byproducts of the decomposition process of these films,” says Spriggs. “We know that these films are on the brink of decomposing to the point where they’ll become useless. The data that we’re collecting now must be preserved in a digital form because no matter how well you treat the films, no matter how well you preserve or store them, they will decompose. They’re made out of organic material, and organic material decomposes. So this is it. We got to this project just in time to save the data.”

You can view a number of the films at the second link above. I have embedded below the fold just one, from Operation Teapot in 1955. This was a series of 14 tests in Nevada. In this particular video the explosion occurs in the air, and you can sense the incredible force of the explosion when the shock wave hits the ground and bounces back, producing the mushroom cloud. Not much would have survived that impact.
» Read more

SpaceX successfully launches commercial satellite

The competition heats up: SpaceX tonight successfully launched Echostar 23.

This launch is almost four weeks after their last launch, which sent a Dragon capsule to ISS. Their goal this year has been to do one launch every two weeks, a goal they have not yet reached. The next launch, which will also place a commercial communications satellite into orbit, is tentatively set for March 27, and will also be the first launch that reuses a first stage. If they make that happen it will be first time they have hit the two week launch rate this year. They will then try to follow with another Dragon resupply mission, this time reusing a Dragon capsule for the first time.

Less evidence of dark matter in early universe

The uncertainty of science: Astronomers have discovered less evidence of dark matter surrounding galaxies in early universe.

Stars in the outer regions of some far-off galaxies move more slowly than stars closer to the center, indicating a lack of dark matter, astronomer Reinhard Genzel and colleagues report online March 15 in Nature. If confirmed, the result could lead astronomers to reconsider the role dark matter played in early galaxy evolution and might also offer clues to how nearby elliptical galaxies evolved.

In contrast with these distant galaxies, stars orbiting on the outskirts of the Milky Way and other nearby galaxies move too fast for their velocities to result only from the gravity of gas and stars closer to the galactic center. If visible galactic matter is embedded in a cloud of invisible dark matter, though, gravity from the invisible matter can explain the high stellar velocities. Using stars’ orbital velocities in nearby galaxies as a reference, astronomers expected that stars in galaxies farther away would behave similarly. “Turns out that is not the case,” says study coauthor Stijn Wuyts of the University of Bath in England.

In other words, scientists at this moment really have no idea what causes the faster rotation in the outskirts of modern nearby galaxies.

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