Orbital ATK begins assembly of first orbital repair satellite

Capitalism in space: Orbital ATK has begun the assembly of Mission Extension Vehicle 1, (MEV-1), designed to attach itself to commercial satellites and extend their life.

Controlled by the company’s satellite operations team, the MEV 1 uses a reliable, low-risk docking system that attaches to existing features on a customer’s satellite. The MEV-1 provides life-extending services by taking over the orbit maintenance and attitude control functions of the client’s spacecraft. The vehicle has a 15 year design life with the ability to perform numerous dockings and repositionings during its life span.

They hope to launch before the end of 2018. Meanwhile, the legal battle between Orbital ATK’s effort to build this satellite repair mission and DARPA’s effort to subsidize SSL’s own satellite repair mission continues in Congress with the introduction of two amendments favoring Orbital ATK.

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Cats are liquid — if they choose to be

Science marches on! A new study shows that cats can be liquid, if they choose to be.

Fardin noticed that these furry pets can adapt to the shape of the container they sit in—think of a cat in a vase—similarly to what fluids such as water do. So he used the principles of rheology, the branch of physics that deals with the deformation of matter, to calculate cats’ relaxation time, or the time it takes for them to take up the space of a vase or bathroom sink.

The conclusion? Cats can be either liquid or solid, depending on the circumstances, Fardin reported in the Rheology Bulletin in 2014…. A cat in a small box will behave like a fluid, filling up all the space, but a cat in a bathtub full of water will try to minimize its contact with it and behave very much like a solid.

Anyone who has ever owned a cat will be understand this research. It isn’t that cats can be liquid that is expected, it is that cats will do what they want. If they want to be liquid, no one is going to stop them.

Because of this ground-breaking research, the scientist has won this year’s Ig Nobel Physics Prize.

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Cassini’s mission ends

Enceladus as seen by Cassini two days before mission end

After a seven year journey and thirteen years in orbit around Saturn, Cassini’s mission ended early this morning with a dive into Saturn’s atmosphere.

The image above, cropped to show here, is actually one from a short movie, showing Enceladus setting behind the horizon of Saturn. The images were taking two days ago, but provide a fitting image for the mission’s end.

Some of the best images from the dive, including Cassini’s last image, can be found here.

While most of the press will rightly wax eloquent about the magnificence of this mission, my focus remains on what will come next. We no longer have any way to observe what is happening on Saturn. We are blind. We should not be.

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ESA buys the first Ariane 6 launches

The European Space Agency (ESA) has purchased the first two Ariane 6 launches to place four of its Galileo GPS satellites in orbit in the 2020-21 timeframe.

This is not a big surprise, since ESA is mandated to use Arianespace’s rockets, and the space agency is the obvious candidate for making the first commitment to this new rocket’s use.

The press release does not mention the price that Arianespace is charging for these launches, but I suspect it isn’t anywhere near as cheap as they will have to charge to truly private and commercial customers. Essentially, I am willing to bet that this contract award is a bit of crony capitalism, designed to pass some extra cash from ESA to Arianespace.

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North Korea fires another missile

North Korea today test fired another missile, this time sending it over Japan and into the Pacific Ocean.

South Korea’s defense ministry said it probably traveled around 2,300 miles and reached a maximum altitude of 478 miles after being launched near Pyongyang’s airport.

It was the second aggressive test-flight over the territory of the close US ally in less than a month and it followed the sixth and most powerful nuclear test by North Korea to date on September 3.

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New theory for formation of main asteroid belt

The uncertainty of science: Using computer models, astronomers have developed a new completely different theory to explain the existence of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

The asteroid belt (sometimes referred to as the main asteroid belt) orbits between Mars and Jupiter. It consists of asteroids and minor planets forming a disk around the sun. It also serves as a sort of dividing line between the inner rocky planets and outer gas giants. Current theory suggests that the asteroid belt was once much more heavily populated, but the gravitational pull of Jupiter flung approximately 99 percent of its former material to other parts of the solar system or beyond. Astronomers also assumed that Jupiter’s gravity prevented the material in the belt from coalescing into larger planets. In this new effort, the researchers propose a completely different explanation of the asteroid belt’s origin—suggesting that the belt started out as an empty space and was subsequently filled by material flung from the inner and outer planets.

The new theory is interesting in that it really illustrates how little we really know about the formation of our solar system. The simple fact is that either one of these theories might be the answer, even though they propose completely opposite initial conditions. We simply do not have enough information about solar system formation in general to constrain our models and determine which of these theories is right.

Until scientists have been able to study hundreds, if not thousands, of solar systems up close, these models will be nothing more than interesting exercises in computer modeling.

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Hubble spots a pitch-black exoplanet

Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have determined that an exoplanet is practically pitch black, reflecting almost no light.

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has observed a planet outside our solar system that looks as black as fresh asphalt because it eats light rather than reflecting it back into space. This light-eating prowess is due to the planet’s unique capability to trap at least 94 percent of the visible starlight falling into its atmosphere.

The oddball exoplanet, called WASP-12b, is one of a class of so-called “hot Jupiters,” gigantic, gaseous planets that orbit very close to their host star and are heated to extreme temperatures. The planet’s atmosphere is so hot that most molecules are unable to survive on the blistering day side of the planet, where the temperature is 4,600 degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore, clouds probably cannot form to reflect light back into space. Instead, incoming light penetrates deep into the planet’s atmosphere where it is absorbed by hydrogen atoms and converted to heat energy.

Because the exoplanet is tidally locked, with one side always facing its sun and the other always in nightime, the nighttime face is estimated to be about 2,000 degrees cooler, and actually shows evidence of the existence of water vapor and clouds.

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It is now bad to cheer for the USA in California

Link here. The story is about how the principal of a local high school sent an email to the families of all students telling them that they should reconsider chanting “USA!” at sports events, as such chants might offend some.

The school’s principal sent out an email to families, Wednesday and relayed the same message to students over the school’s PA system, clarifying any confusion.

She told students and parents that sometimes “We can communicate an unintended message.” She also said USA chanting is welcome, but it may be best to do it at what she says are appropriate times, like following the national anthem or the Pledge of Allegiance. School officials worry the chants could come across as intolerant and offensive to some.

You see, to these California officials, the United States is essentially an evil and racist nation whose only past achievement was to enslave minorities. To show pride in this country is to show pride in this vision, and they want to make sure their students all know this.

What a slander and lie. To me, this position not only illustrates the utter ignorance of these school officials, but their hatred of all things American. If I had a kid in this school I would now be homeschooling them.

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How not to land a rocket

The SpaceX blooper reel! It shows some crash footage that had not been released earlier. Also, the captions almost certainly were written by Musk himself, and if not, reek of his sense of humor, and also reveal the humbleness that he and his company bring to this effort. If you can’t laugh at yourself, you will make it hard to spot the moment when you are making a major error.

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Berkeley creates police state in anticipation of conservative speaker

Free speech in fascist California: In order to prevent violence against a conservative speaker, the town of Berkeley is imposing very strict security controls for tomorrow’s event.

The key security measure that I think will make the most difference are these:

UC Berkeley’s Provost Paul Alivisatos sent a recent campus-wide message detailing security plans, saying no one wearing masks or carrying weapons of any sort will be allowed on campus.

Police will block off the building where Shapiro is scheduled to speak and several other buildings hours before the event starts. Anyone entering the secure zone to pick up tickets must present a photo I.D. Nearby parking lots will be closed.

Berkeley police chief Andrew Greenwood said police will make “very strong, rapid arrests” Thursday night if any protesters have weapons or wear masks.

You want to commit violence, you won’t be able to do it anonymously, as was allowed previously.

Though it is tragic that so much of the population of California hates dissent so much that they are willing to commit violence to squelch opposing points of view, it is progress that the local government and university administration are finally acting to defend the people’s right to speak freely.

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First global map of the trace water on the Moon

Trace water on moon

Using data collected by an American instrument on India’s Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter scientists have produced the first global map showing the locations and quantities of trace water on the Moon.

The map above, reduced to post here, is the result. The green areas at high latitudes show the most evidence of water, but the amounts remain very tiny, and the evidence remains somewhat uncertain.

Regardless, this map indicates that the high latitudes of the Moon will likely be the most valuable real estate for future colonists.

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Cassini on final approach to Saturn

Engineers have confirmed that Cassini is now on its final approach to Saturn, with a scheduled dive into the gas giant set for Friday, September 15.

The mission’s final calculations predict loss of contact with the Cassini spacecraft will take place on Sept. 15 at 7:55 a.m. EDT (4:55 a.m. PDT). Cassini will enter Saturn’s atmosphere approximately one minute earlier, at an altitude of about 1,190 miles (1,915 kilometers) above the planet’s estimated cloud tops (the altitude where the air pressure is 1-bar, equivalent to sea level on Earth). During its dive into the atmosphere, the spacecraft’s speed will be approximately 70,000 miles (113,000 kilometers) per hour. The final plunge will take place on the day side of Saturn, near local noon, with the spacecraft entering the atmosphere around 10 degrees north latitude.

We will get Cassini’s last images about 90 minutes after its death.

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Wasserman Schultz’s IT guy Imran Awan funnelled data to illegal secret server

Imran Awan, Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s IT guy who is now charged with bank fraud, was initially banned when it was discovered that he was funnelling data and emails of numerous Democratic congressmen to a secret server and to Dropbox — against House rules — and then tried to hide this fact from investigators.

Now-indicted former congressional IT aide Imran Awan allegedly routed data from numerous House Democrats to a secret server. Police grew suspicious and requested a copy of the server early this year, but they were provided with an elaborate falsified image designed to hide the massive violations. The falsified image is what ultimately triggered their ban from the House network Feb. 2, according to a senior House official with direct knowledge of the investigation.

The secret server was connected to the House Democratic Caucus, an organization chaired by then-Rep. Xavier Becerra. Police informed Becerra that the server was the subject of an investigation and requested a copy of it. Authorities considered the false image they received to be interference in a criminal investigation, the senior official said.

Data was also backed up to Dropbox in huge quantities, the official said. Congressional offices are prohibited from using Dropbox, so an unofficial account was used, meaning Awan could have still had access to the data even though he was banned from the congressional network.

Awan had access to all emails and office computer files of 45 members of Congress who are listed below. Fear among members that Awan could release embarrassing information if they cooperated with prosecutors could explain why the Democrats have refused to acknowledge the cybersecurity breach publicly or criticize the suspects.

It appears that Awan might have been blackmailing these Democrats. There is also the strong possibility, though no direct evidence has as yet been found for this, that he and his co-workers were working for foreign powers in the Islamic world.

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“Taking the red pill”

Link here. The article gives us a hint that the oppressive, thug-like, brownshirt behavior coming from many on the left is actually backfiring, and backfiring in a big way.

The term “taking the red pill” derives from the movie “The Matrix,” the trippy sci-fi classic. Morpheus, the resistance leader played by Laurence Fishburne offers Neo, the movie’s hero played by Keanu Reeves, a choice: He can take the blue pill and remain in the repressive artificial world known as the Matrix where “you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe.” Or he can take the red pill and tumble down the “rabbit hole” where he will come to realize that everything about his life was a lie.

The left’s intensifying war on free speech has produced a surge of red pill videos. Some take Owens’ in-your-face approach. Others are meandering, hipster confessionals delivered with the wordy earnestness of characters in a Duplass brothers movie.

Read it. It provides a lot of examples of former leftists suddenly realizing that they have little in common with the modern left.

Is this happening? I suspect it is, but it is doing so very far below the radar of the mainstream press and our bankrupt intelligentsia.

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Trump administration shuts down NIH anti-gun research

The NIH has quietly shelved all funding for gun research, most of which had been instigated under the Obama administration as a propaganda tool to promote gun control.

The article from Science is remarkable — coming from a mainstream academic source — in that it provides a fair description of the perspective of the NRA and gun-owners.

Note: Reader Kirk noted my error in originally crediting this article to Nature, when it truth it was Science that published it. Post corrected. Sorry!

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An oral history of the Cassini mission to Saturn

Link here. Those who have read my book on the building of the Hubble Space Telescope will recognize many of the same people and political maneuvers used to get the project off the ground and funded.

Note too that the idea of Cassini was first proposed in 1982, but it didn’t actually launch until 1997. Fifteen years. While today I think such a spacecraft could go from concept to launch much faster, this timeline gives us a guide on when the next Saturn orbiter might launch. At the earliest do not expect another mission to Saturn to launch before 2025.

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Virgin Orbit wins launch contract

Capitalism in space: Virgin Orbit today announced it has signed a contract with Cloud Constellation to launch the first dozen satellites in their SpaceBelt constellation.

The initial deployment of the SpaceBelt network will be powered by a dozen ~400 kilogram satellites placed into low inclination orbits. Taking full advantage of LauncherOne as a dedicated launch service for small satellites and as a uniquely flexible service enabled by air-launch, the SpaceBelt constellation will be deployed using single-manifested launches occurring in rapid sequence. The initial launch is expected to occur as early as 2019.

This definitely puts pressure on Virgin Orbit to produce its first launches as promised.

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Space hype versus reality

Three stories today illustrate the importance of maintaining some skepticism when reading the claims of rocket companies.

I could probably also include the story earlier today about the model rocket test launch that was hyped absurdly by the company and the British newspapers that reported it.

The first story reports the comments of a local politician claiming that SpaceX will be launching from its Boca Chica Texas spaceport by the end of 2018. Interesting, but I’d rather go by what the company itself says, and what SpaceX CEO Gwynne Shotwell says today is “Our Texas site still doing landscaping, could be avail in ~ 2 yrs; no rush given our capacity at two Fla pads.”

In other words, the local official’s prediction was a bit overstated, and therefore should not be taken too seriously.

The second story however can be taken a bit more seriously, since it is a report from an actual company official, Clay Mowry, Blue Origin’s vice president of sales, marketing and customer experience. He explains that they hope to resume New Shepard suborbital test flights before the end of the year, with manned test flights occurring in 2018. However, he says little about why there was such a long gap in New Shepard launches after they completed their last test flight in October 2016. At that time they said they would be doing more test flights in early 2017, but by the spring of 2017 had back tracked.

The claim that they might be flying again before the end of the year, however, still carries weight, in that it matches earlier statements. In other words, Blue Origin has been very careful not to make promises it cannot meet. In rocket science this care cannot always be met, but they clearly have tried hard. This is why I take Mowry’s statement that they hope to fly humans on New Shepard in 2018 with some trust.

The third story is a perfect example of how a company loses trust. Virgin Orbit is part of the Virgin set of companies run by Richard Branson, and used to be part of Virgin Galactic. Branson and Virgin Galactic have been making promises now for more than a decade, none of which have born fruit. This unreliability has made me very skeptical about anything they say, which is also why I do not report their claims much anymore. When they actually fly something I will write about it.

For awhile I thought Virgin Orbit was a different bird, as the executives there have been more careful, only making cautious promises and then more or less fulfilling them. The story above however gives me pause. Even as they admit they have had to delay their test program their president still insists that they will be able to ramp up to two launches per month by 2020. Considering the fact that no single private company has yet managed to do such a thing, in the more than half century since the beginnings of the space age, I think it is a little dangerous for this guy to make this claim, even before the company has even launched its first rocket. Virgin Orbit might do it, but such wild claims make me very suspicious of them.

And then there was today’s earlier story about Starchaser Industries. They launch a model rocket 4000 feet in the air, and from this they claim that they will be putting humans on a suborbital rocket in only two years. If you believe that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I can sell you, cheap.

The bottom line here is to use some common sense and thoughtful judgment in reading stories about future space achievements. The first three stories above are actually all well written, well researched, and very careful in how they report their stories. It however is not necessarily their job to tell you whether the claims are trustworthy, especially if the claims seem reasonable based upon the available information. The last however is an example of bad journalism, rewriting a press release without doing any research at all.

In all cases, it is important to distinguish between stories about what is going to happen versus what is happening. I always prefer the latter, since a real achievement will always trump a mere prediction. And when it comes to the space industry and rocket science, predictions surely must take a back seat to reality.

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China successfully completes third robotic docking

China’s Tianzhou-1 test cargo freighter successfully completed its third docking with the prototype test space station module Tiangong-2 today.

Commands for the rendezvous and docking were issued at 17:24 Beijing time, according to the China Manned Space Agency, with the new ‘fast’ process taking 6.5 hours to complete.

Previously the rendezvous and docking process took around two days, or 30 orbits. The breakthrough will be used to allow crewed Shenzhou craft to reach the future Chinese Space Station (CSS) much sooner after launch.

Tianzhou-1 will soon perform a third and final refuelling test with Tiangong-2, before the cargo spacecraft is carefully deorbited over the South Pacific.

No word yet on when China might resume launches however. Since the July launch failure of their largest rocket, Long March 5, the country has launched nothing. There have also been stories that suggest the planned December launch of their Chang’e 5 lunar mission will be delayed now until the spring.

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Obamacare collapse in Virginia

Finding out what’s in it: With the departure from Virginia of the last insurance companies because of Obamacare’s unworkable rules, in 2018 people will be unable to buy individual health insurance in more than half the state.

Should nothing change before the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid’s Sept. 27 deadline for insurers to participate, parts of Virginia, including the Roanoke and New River valleys, will be the only places in the U.S. without at least one insurer, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Open enrollment starts Nov. 1 for policies that take effect Jan. 1.

This year, three insurance companies offered individual policies in the Roanoke and New River valleys.

But this spring, Aetna announced that it would no longer participate in the marketplace. Last month, Anthem followed suit. And Optima Health said last week that it would no longer offer individual policies in areas of Virginia where its parent, Sentara Health, did not have hospitals and providers. Although Optima covered only a small percentage of people in western Virginia, the company had been expected to fill the void after Anthem announced its departure, meaning it would have been on track to sell 100 percent of the individual policies in the region.

Of course, the blame falls on the Republicans, who had nothing to do with writing or passing Obamacare and have tried endlessly to either get it repealed or revised but have had all these actions blocked by the Democrats and a handful of fake Republicans who really are Democrats in sheep’s clothing. Sadly, it appears that most of the Republican Party has thrown in the towel and has decided it isn’t worth the effort any longer fixing Obamacare. Instead, we shall see the entire collapse of the health insurance industry.

Too bad no one predicted this collapse, except for every single reasonable conservative in the entire country.

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Federal debt tops $20 trillion

The coming dark age: Because of the Democratic/Trump deal raising the debt limit, the federal government’s debt officially topped $20 trillion last week.

From March 16 through Sept. 7, every Daily Treasury Statement showed the total federal debt subject to the legal limit opening and closing each day at $19,808,747,000,000. That was because the previous suspension of the debt limit had expired on March 15 and the debt limit had been reset at the level the debt reached at the close of business that day–which was $19,808,772,381,624.74. The Treasury then started using what it calls “extraordinary measures” to keep the debt subject to the limit about $25 milion below the limit.

This is all a fraud. Not only do they cook the numbers to make the debt ceiling appear legal for as long as possible, the debt is actually far larger, as this doesn’t include the raids to the Social Security trust fund that Congress has routinely been making for the past few decades, and never paying back.

But hey, who cares? What is really important is that we call looters “heroes” and any cops who try to arrest them “racists!”

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Journalist and author claims police actions against looting equals “white supremacy”

Our bankrupt intelligentsia: Journalist and author Sarah Jaffe went on Twitter yesterday to claim that the police effort to catch and arrest looters in Florida is the equivalent of “white supremacy.”

When she was lambasted by numerous other Twitter users for this dumb statement she doubled down, implying (with an obscenity) that her critics were all Nazis.

This minor story illustrates two things. First, that someone as uneducated and thoughtless as this person can get published and be treated as a respected author demonstrates the intellectual bankruptcy of our modern elites. Everything to her is race and bigotry. Capitalism is evil. Anyone who disagrees with her is a racist or a Nazi. Comparing this childishness with the thought processes seen when you read Shakespeare, John Adams, or William Butler Yeats, and you will see that the future of modern western civilization does not look good.

Second, this story shows again why anyone who has any intelligence should avoid Twitter. That venue is not for thoughtful discussion. It is specifically designed to cause people to hurl insults at each other, and only serves to lower the level of our intellectual discourse. And I am not alone in this opinion.

Far more fundamental is the way Twitter intensifies and amplifies pathological social tendencies among those who act within, report on, and write about the political world. It turns politicians, political staffers, reporters, editors, pundits, and analysts into petty, vain, childish, showoffy, hostile, vindictive, dogmatic, impulsive, careless versions of their best and most professional selves. This makes Twitter horrible for our politics and equally bad for journalism. The single best thing for both politics and journalism would be for Twitter to go out of business tomorrow.

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Movie of Juno’s September 1 fly-by of Jupiter

Citizen scientist Gerald Eichstädt has done it again, assembling and enhancing the images taken by Juno in its September 1, 2017 fly-by of Jupiter to produce a spectacular movie, embedded below.

In his words,

This animation reconstructs the two and a half hours from 2017-09-01T20:45:00 to 2017-09-01T23:15:00 in 125-fold time-lapse with 25 frames per second, using 20 raw JunoCam images. JunoCam is Juno’s optical and near infrared Education and Public Outreach camera.

Trajectory data are retrieved from SPICE kernels via the NAIF spy.exe tool. The NAIF/SPICE environment is the way NASA provides spacecraft navigation data.

The movie shows Jupiter in a heavily enhanced way, in order to reveal detail.

Some of the raw images cover only part of the area required to render a still of the movie. In these cases, you’ll see the border of the raw image.

Each image is rendered into a short scene. The scences overlap and are blended.

Rendering the movie took about five days. Any shortcomings of the movie are a result of imperfect image processing.

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Curiosity tops Vera Rubin Ridge

Curiosity's view from on top of Vera Rubin Ridge, sol 1812

The image above is a reduced resolution version of a panorama created by reader Phil Veerkamp of images downloaded today from Curiosity. If you click on the image you can see the full resolution image. It looks to more to the east than the panorama shown in my September 6 rover update, revealing more of the type of surface the rover will have to cross on its drive forward on this new geological layer called the Hematite Unit.

Curiosity has now topped Vera Rubin Ridge, but the plateau above is really not as flat as the image implies. The Hematite Unit that the rover is now traversing still climbs upward, and they will continue to gain altitude now with almost every drive.

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