Manned balloon crossing the Pacific

A privately-funded effort to set a new distance record for a gas-filled balloon is more than halfway to its goal as it crosses the Pacific.

The two-man crew has also sent back its first image. If they reach the west coast and then travel into the U.S. a significant distance they will break a record that has stood since 1981.

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New Horizons’ first images of Pluto on the way

On Sunday New Horizon took its first approach images of Pluto, still six months from the actual fly-by.

The images are still being processed and have not yet been released. Note also that these are being taken from quite a distance. They will only be a tease, not the real thing. For that we will have to wait a few more months.

Solar system of ancient Earths found

Worlds without end: Using archived Kepler data astronomers have identified a solar system of five Earth-sized exoplanets, orbiting a red dwarf star about 117 light years from Earth.

The paper describes Kepler-444, a star that’s 25 percent smaller than our sun and is 117 light years from Earth. The star’s five known planets have sizes that fall between Mercury and Venus. Those planets are so close to their star that they complete their orbits in fewer than 10 days. At that distance, they’re all much hotter than Mercury and aren’t habitable.

The important detail from this discovery is that the star is very ancient, more than 11 billion years old, which means these planets are that old as well. In other words, planets began forming the same time as the first stars. Which also means that there has been plenty of time in the universe for other intelligent life to form, besides our own.

Asteroid that flew past Earth has its own moon

Radar images of the large asteroid 2004 BL86 as it flew past the Earth today have revealed that it has its own small moon.

The new images also show a second object positioned close to 2004 BL86. Benner told Space.com that the second object is a moon, with a diameter between 164 and 328 feet (50 and 100 m). Previous studies of the light around 2004 BL86 had already identified a moon orbiting the asteroid, and the new images confirm that discovery, he added. About 17 percent of asteroids in 2004 BL86’s size range have smaller objects trailing along with them.

Boulders and other small-scale features on the surface of the asteroid are coming into focus in the new images, as is the overall shape of the asteroid, according to Benner. He compared the object to another asteroid that made a close flyby of Earth six years ago, called 2008 EV5. It appears that 2004 BL86, like 2008 EV5, has an equatorial ridge around its middle, which makes it look “kind of like a muffin, or perhaps a top,” said Benner, who’s based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

This data is from radar data collected early in the fly-by, so we should expect even more details to come out in the next day or so.

SpaceX moving forward on manned flight

At a briefing today SpaceX outlined its plans for testing its manned Dragon capsule as well as the rough schedule for the two launch abort tests it must first fly before putting humans on Dragon.

The first test, a launchpad abort test, is expected to take place in about a month. The second, an abort test from an in-flight Falcon 9, is also expected to occur this year.

If all goes well, NASA hopes to have both SpaceX and Boeing flying American astronauts to ISS by 2017.

The left wing pundit press makes fools of themselves

Link here. Be sure to watch the video and then read the article. As the author notes quite correctly,

Every one of these “pundits” have spent the last six years extolling the virtues of President Obama’s brilliant foreign policy. Every single one of these panelists have written columns, given opinion, and appeared on TV shows telling the consuming sheeple how brilliant President Obama was. Now they sit around presenting themselves as some form of disconnected gallery observers talking about how the consequences of those same policies they exalted are abject failures.

Insufferable does not begin to explain the level of hypocrisy within the U.S. Obama Praetorian guard media.

I must also note that this video clip does a great job of revealing how the entire panel on Face the Nation are all supporters of Obama and the Democrats. Repeatedly, as they described the President’s string of failures in foreign policy, they were forced to note that it was Obama’s “critics” who were right about every issue, “critics” that happen also to not be present on this Face the Nation panel. So, who are these mysterious “critics” that none of these pundits can name? They are conservatives, including Republicans, journalists, and tea party leaders, none of whom Face the Nation thought worthy of including on its panel.

This shows us again how completely worthless it is to depend on television for intelligent and objective reporting and analysis of the news. Mainstream television is working for the Democratic Party. Know that when you watch it.

Comet 67P/C-G’s water output has increased

Data from a U.S. instrument on Rosetta has shown that the water venting off of Comet 67P has increased significantly since the spacecraft arrived.

“In observations over a period of three months [June through August, 2014], the amount of water in vapor form that the comet was dumping into space grew about tenfold,” said Sam Gulkis, principal investigator of the MIRO instrument at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and lead author of a paper appearing in the special issue [of Science].

The amount of water at the maximum level averages about 40 ounces every second.

In related Rosetta news today, data from the comet is showing that the dust leaving its surface is dust that had settled back down after the comet’s last close pass to the Sun.

Water flows on Vesta?

Some data produced by Dawn while it was in orbit around the asteroid Vesta have suggested to some scientists that liquid water might have helped create a handful of the surface features on the asteroid.

The theory is interesting and might be true. I also wouldn’t bet a lot of money on it, because this interpretation of the data is somewhat tentative and based on a lot of assumptions.

SpaceX drops Air Force lawsuit in new deal

The competition heats up: SpaceX has dropped its lawsuit against the Air Force in exchange for the opportunity to bid on more military launch contracts.

“Under the agreement, the Air Force will work collaboratively with SpaceX to complete the certification process in an efficient and expedient manner,” the statement from the two parties said. “The Air Force also has expanded the number of competitive opportunities for launch services under the EELV program while honoring existing contractual obligations.” The statement did not make clear how many competitive launch opportunities would be available or when. The Air Force has committed to seven launch awards by late 2017, but has said that number could grow to at least eight.

Each additional launch contract the Air Force puts out for competition gives SpaceX or ULA another opportunity to win about $100 million or more in business.

This is a big win for SpaceX. It is also not a surprise. As much as some Air Force officials have wanted to maintain the ULA monopoloy, their position has been weak, for both political and economic reasons. SpaceX’s costs are just too much lower, and the company continues to demonstrate its reliability and competence in launch after launch. Thus, it was practically impossible for Air Force officials to justify maintaining the block buy non-competitive contract award to ULA.

A drone for Mars

Engineers at JPL have begun testing prototypes of a drone that would be used on Mars to aid future rovers.

The newest solution proposed by JPL is the Mars Helicopter, an autonomous drone that could “triple the distances that Mars rovers can drive in a Martian day,” according to NASA. The helicopter would fly ahead of a rover when its view is blocked and send Earth-bound engineers the right data to plan the rover’s route.

Look like a Jew in Sweden and get attacked by anti-semitic Arabs

The religion of peace marches on: A Swedish reporter decided to walk through an Arab neighborhood in a Swedish city and found himself repeatedly attacked.

In one scene, Ljunggren — who, in addition to wearing a kippah was also wearing Star of David pendant — was filmed sitting at a café in central Malmo reading a newspaper, as several passersby hurled anti-Semitic insults at him. Elsewhere, one person hit his arm, the reporter said on camera, though this was not recorded. One of the people who cursed Ljunggren called him a “Jewish devil,” “Jewish shit” and another told him to “get out.”

One person on a scooter approached Ljunggren to warn him to leave for his own safety. In the heavily Muslim Rosengard neighborhood, Ljunggren was surrounded by a dozen men who shouted anti-Semitic slogans as eggs were hurled at his direction from apartments overhead. He then fled the area.

Recently in the U.S. there was a big to-do because a women leftwing radical feminist videotaped herself walking around New York to show how men treat women with disrespect. As usual, for the left this video demonstrated their childish focus on minor abuse when real violence and hate is going on worldwide, under their nose.

Small businesses dump health insurance

Finding out what’s in it: A new study has found that small businesses are increasingly not offering health insurance to their employees since Obamacare went into effect.

The survey, conducted by Assistant Professor of Economics Leslie Muller, focused on companies that have fewer than 50 employees. Companies of that size are not mandated by the ACA to offer insurance to employees. “Small firms have faced, traditionally faced, higher costs so they’ve been strapped for a while. That doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the ACA it just has to do with the fact that health care costs have been raising it’s been particularly hard on the small firms,” Muller said.

The Survey found that of small businesses that offered health insurance over the past two years, only 40 percent plan to offer insurance in 2015 and only 28 percent in 2016.

Ocean science deals with limited budgets

A National Research Council report has outlined a range of budget cuts in the field of ocean science, including significant cuts to infrastructure expenses, in order to focus the available funds more wisely.

Faced with rising costs of going to sea, the ocean-sciences division of the US National Science Foundation (NSF) should immediately slash what it spends on marine hardware, says a new report. It suggests making the biggest cut to the flagship US$386-million Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI), which after years of construction is just months away from being finished.

The report, released on 23 January by the US National Research Council, is likely to guide US oceanography for years to come. It is the first formal attempt to address what many researchers have grumbled about for years — that basic ocean science at the NSF is losing out to the rising costs of infrastructure.

This report and the response of the ocean science community illustrates a pattern going on throughout the sciences. For years, their budgets had been rising so fast that they really didn’t know what to do with the money. (I know they would disagree with me.) This resulted in some laziness in how they spent it, including a great deal of feather-bedding and pork.

Now that budgets have frozen and are no longer growing, and in many cases shrinking back to more affordable levels, they need to figure out what is essential and what is not. This report is part of that effort.

I am seeing this same process happening in other fields as well. Santa, in the form of unlimited federal spending, has gone home, and is unexpected to return for quite some time.

Ten astonishing images from Rosetta

Link here. These images are from Rosetta’s high resolution camera OSIRIS, the results from which have been kept very closely secret by the Rosetta science team. Today however they published a bunch of papers in the journal Science, so we are finally beginning to see some of their amazing images.

Take a look. Each one illustrates how alien a place Comet 67/C-G is.

More info on these papers can be found here and here.

Even more here, from the Rosetta team.

Comet 67P/C-G’s coma fluctuates widely

Climate change: Data from Rosetta has shown that the coma surrounding Comet 67P/C-G’s nucleus varies far more than had been expected by Earth-based observations.

“From a telescope, images of a comet’s atmosphere suggest that the coma is uniform and does not vary over short periods of hours or days. That’s what we were expecting as we approached the comet,” said Dr. Stephen Fuselier, a director in the SwRI Space Science and Engineering Division and the lead U.S. co-investigator for the Rosetta Orbiter Spectrometer for Ion and Neutral Analysis Double Focusing Mass Spectrometer (ROSINA DFMS) instrument. “It was certainly a surprise when we saw time variations from 200 km away. More surprising was that the composition of the coma was also varying by very large amounts. We’re taught that comets are made mostly of water ice. For this comet, the coma sometimes contains much more carbon dioxide than water vapor.”

The variations might be seasonal, or even reflect a variation from day to night.

Expect more news stories about Comet 67P/C-G from Rosetta. The journal Science is today publishing a special section on results from Rosetta.

Government abducts homeschooled children on trumped up charges

We’re here to help you: Arkansas county police have seized seven children from their parents, based merely accusations obtained from an anonymous phone call.

Arkansas sheriff’s deputies in Garland County have “stolen” seven homeschoolers from their parents in a home raid spurred by an anonymous caller who told authorities the family’s house contained a “poisonous substance” — which turned out to be a mineral supplement/water purifier that isn’t FDA-approved. It’s been more than a week since the officers and the Department of Human Services (DHS) seized the seven homeschoolers. They remain in state custody.

Michelle Stanley, the mother of the seven children, is still in shock that the police and DHS have gotten away with abducting her children — taking them into custody under what she calls false pretenses. “The DHS has come and stolen our kids from us under the guise of ‘protecting our children,” Stanley wrote in an email shortly after her home was raided by police and the DHS, according to Health Impact News.

Read the whole article. It will terrify you.

A quasar shuts down

Astronomers have identified the first quasar to change its energy output.

Quasars are massive, luminous objects that draw their energy from black holes. Until now, scientists have been unable to study both the bright and dim phases of a quasar in a single source. As described in an upcoming edition of the Astrophysical Journal, Yale-led researchers spotted a quasar that had dimmed by a factor of six or seven, compared with observations from a few years earlier.

It is also believed that quasars are the central supermassive black holes at the center of these very distant and ancient galaxies. Knowing how these black holes change can tell us something about the behavior of Sagittarius A*, the generally quiet central black hole in the Milky Way.

Ukrainian space workers protest lack of pay

Ukrainian space workers rallied this week in protest over lack of pay and work in the past year.

The workers build Zenit and Cyclone-4 boosters as well as the first stage of Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Antares launch vehicle and the fourth stage for Europe’s Vega rocket. They are also involved in Dnepr, a decommissioned ballistic missile that has been converted into a satellite launcher. The report indicates that since last July, employees have been working only three days per week and are pay $200 to $300 only once or twice per month. There’s also been a lack of new orders for their products.

The lack of new orders is mostly because Russia has been putting the squeeze on Ukrainian space businesses. Rather than continuing to use them, Russia has been focusing on replacing them with companies inside Russia.

Putin endorses Russian government consolidation of space industry

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday strongly endorsed the decision by the Russian government to consolidate control of that country’s entire space industry into a single, government-run corporation.

Putin said the plan to unite the federal space agency, Roscosmos, with United Rocket and Space Corporation (URSC) in a new corporate behemoth that will retain the Roscosmos name was “the right proposal” during a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, the TASS news agency reported. The union would meld the federal space agency’s strategic oversight function with the industrial might of state-owned URSC — which was itself created from the union of some of Russia’s key space firms in an effort to increase efficiency in 2013.

Shades of the cold war! Even as the U.S. space industry is shifting away from government control to private enterprise, Russia is returning to it. We shall see which model works best as the world competes to get to the stars.

Were two Iridium satellites hit by space junk?

Engineers are puzzling over the release of debris from two separate Iridium satellites last year, with each even suggesting the satellites were hit by very small pieces of space junk.

The U.S. Joint Space Operations Center detected 10 pieces of debris from the Iridium 47 satellite June 7, 2014. Some of the objects flew away from Iridium 47 at up to 80 meters per second — nearly 180 mph — into orbits almost 200 miles above the satellite, suggesting an explosion or collision triggered their creation. Another Iridium spacecraft — Iridium 91 — produced four debris fragments Nov. 30, according to U.S. military tracking data. “In contrast to the previous Iridium breakup, however, these pieces were produced with minimal delta velocity and remained in the vicinity to the parent spacecraft for some time,” NASA officials wrote.

In both cases, the satellites showed no signs of a breakup and remain operational, according to Iridium Communications, a Virginia-based company that uses a fleet of spacecraft nearly 500 miles above Earth for mobile voice and data services.

Why I ignored Obama’s State of the Union speech

Space.com has provided a detailed look, with reactions, of President Obama’s prominent mention of space exploration in his State of the Union speech this week.

I didn’t even watch the speech, nor read it, nor really care much at all about what he said. It is garbage, political propaganda that has nothing to do with getting us into space. The speech’s only real purpose is to puff up Barack Obama and his political allies.

The article above mentions Obama’s April 2010 space speech. What I wrote about that 2010 speech in 2010 focused on this promise by Obama:

[A]s stated in the speech’s fact sheet, that he “will commit to making a specific decision in 2015 on the development of a new heavy-lift rocket architecture.” Somehow this commitment was supposed to convince us that, despite his cancellation of the Constellation program (which already has had six years of development under its belt), his willingness to postpone making a decision for five years more would somehow accelerate the program.

How stupid does Obama really think people are? [emphasis in original]

Five years later, does anyone remember this promise? And is Obama making this decision now, as promised? No to both. The only reason he is building SLS is because Congress required him to. And the purpose of that rocket program isn’t to build a rocket, but to pour ungodly amounts of money into congressional districts.

To me, the real news this week was the big money private enterprise is beginning to pour into real development in space. That will get us to the planets, not the egotistical blathering of politicians.

Sarah Brightman’s first day of astronaut training

The competition heats up: A press conference in Russia highlighted the first day of astronaut training for space tourist Sarah Brightman.

A ten minute video excerpt of the conference is below the fold. The most interesting part of the video, however, has nothing to do with Brightman. Instead, it was what was said by her back-up space tourist, Satoshi Takamatus. Since the age of six he had wanted to be an astronaut. At 22 however Japan’s space agency rejected him because he wore glasses or contacts. He then became an advertising executive who in 2001 arranged to shoot a commercial on ISS using Russian astronauts. While in Russia, he apparently met the right people and, using those contacts, has now come back at 53 as a paying customer. If Brightman has any issues that prevent her from flying, he will step up and replace her. If not, he is tentatively scheduled to fly himself in ’17 or ’18.
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NASA explains why it picked Boeing over Sierra Nevada

In a report released by NASA late last week, the agency outlined the reasons it picked Boeing’s CST-100 manned capsule over Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser mini-shuttle for the second contract to provide manned ferry capabilities to ISS.

Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser spacecraft, which would take off on top of a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket and land on a runway like the space shuttle, is not as far along in development as the competing CST-100 and Crew Dragon capsules proposed by Boeing and SpaceX, according to a source selection statement signed by Bill Gerstenmaier, head of NASA’s human exploration and operations directorate. “A winged spacecraft is a more complex design and thus entails more developmental and certification challenges, and therefore may have more technical and schedule risk than expected,” Gerstenmaier wrote in the selection statement.

NASA wants to have the commercial crew capsules operational by the end of 2017 to end U.S. purchases of astronaut seats on Russia’s Soyuz ferry craft. Before NASA permits its astronauts to fly on the CST-100 and Crew Dragon, each spaceship will go through ground testing and complete unpiloted and crewed test flights.

The reasoning seems quite reasonable. It also suggests that Sierra Nevada might have a better shot at winning a contract during the next round for cargo, as scheduling will not be as critical since NASA has other alternatives to get cargo to ISS.

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