Arianespace aims for 14 launches in 2018

The competition heats up: Arianespace officials told reporters today that it plans to complete 14 launches in 2018, which would be a record for the company.

For 2018, the company is targeting seven launches of the Ariane 5 model, four launches for the Soyuz model and three launches of the Vega satellite launcher.

Isn’t competition wonderful? SpaceX forces everyone to lower their launch prices, and instead of going out of business, which the old rocket companies were saying would happen for decades should they be forced to drop prices, everyone gets more customers, more business, and more profits. I am shocked, shocked!

Whether Arianespace can maintain this growth however is another story. As newer rocket companies, such as Blue Origin, come on line with even lower costs, I am not sure their more expensive rockets will survive.


An update on Zuma status

Link here. The article provides a nice summary of all the reports on the SpaceX launch and its mysterious top secret payload Zuma, including outlining the various failure possibilities. The one scenario they do not mention, however, is that the failure story itself is entirely bogus, a misinformation campaign by the unknown government agency that launched it.

I have no idea what happened, though it still appears to me most likely that SpaceX’s rocket performed as contracted.


Team Indus exits the Google Lunar X-Prize competition

India’s competitor for the the Google Lunar X-Prize, Team Indus, has exited the competition because it could not raise the funds needed to buy a launch on an Indian PSLV rocket.

It is unclear how this will effect Japan’s team, Hakuto, which was going to fly on the same rocket, mounted to the Team Indus lander. I suspect that their effort is over as well.


A new prime number, 23 million digits long

An online pubic program designed to allow ordinary people to use their computers to identify previously unknown prime numbers has found the largest so far, 23 million digits long.

It was discovered on December 26, 2017 by electrical engineer Jonathan Pace, and it initially took six days of non-stop number crunching to show that it was indeed a prime number. Pace was using a consumer-level PC running an Intel i5-6600 processor, and after it was identified it was then independently verified by other users, with a range of other programs and hardware setups.


First six segments of Extremely Large Telescope cast

The first six mirror segments of the European Southern Observatory’s Extremely Large Telescope have been successfully cast.

These segments will form parts of the ELT’s 39-metre main mirror, which will have 798 segments in total when completed. The ELT will be the largest optical telescope in the world when it sees first light in 2024.

The 39-metre-diameter primary mirror of ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope will be by far the largest ever made for an optical-infrared telescope. Such a giant is much too large to be made from a single piece of glass, so it will consist of 798 individual hexagonal segments, each measuring 1.4 metres across and about 5 centimetres thick. The segments will work together as a single huge mirror to collect tens of millions of times as much light as the human eye.

The segments must now be cooled, then their surfaces ground and polished to the right shape. If all goes right, they will make more than 900 segments (with about a 130 as spares), manufactured to have the telescope operational by 2024.


Blue Origin completes another test of its BE-4 rocket engine

Capitalism in space: Blue Origin has released a short video showing a recently completed successful static fire test of its BE-4 rocket engine.

You can see the test here. The article above actually doesn’t provide much information about the engine’s testing program, other than claiming that the company is ramping up its testing.


SpaceX military payload might have been lost

Anonymous sources are suggesting that the top secret government payload that SpaceX successfully placed in orbit two days ago might have been lost.

Very little is presently known. Statements from SpaceX suggest that its Falcon 9 rocket worked perfectly, which would suggest the problems occurred after second stage separation. However, one source seems to suggest otherwise.

Until I get more information, I am therefore still counting this launch as a success for SpaceX.


Sunspot update for December 2017

The precipitous decline in sunspots continues. While November 2017 remains the most inactive month for sunspots since the middle of 2009, December was a very close second.

Below is my annotated version of NOAA’s monthly update of the solar cycle, covering sunspot activity for December, which they posted on Sunday.

December 2017 Solar Cycle graph

The graph above has been modified to show the predictions of the solar science community. The green curves show the community’s two original predictions from April 2007, with half the scientists predicting a very strong maximum and half predicting a weak one. The red curve is their revised May 2009 prediction.

December 2017 sunspot record

The graph on the right, produced by SILSO (Sunspot Index and Long-term Solar Observations) on December 31, shows only 14 days during the month when there were sunspots active on the Sun’s visible hemisphere. This is only four more days then seen in November. And like November, the few sunspots were weak, resulting in tiny sunspot numbers total.

The first graph above illustrates how weak this on-going sunspot cycle has been. While the curve most closely matches the 2007 weak prediction of half the solar science community, it has one very notable difference. The actual ramp up to solar maximum started two years later than predicted, even though it appears to be ending when that prediction expected. The result is a very very short solar cycle, something that has historically always been associated with very active and intense sunspot activity. Instead, this short cycle has only seen weak activity, generally below all the predictions.

All signs continue to point to an early arrival of solar minimum. They also suggest that the next maximum will also be weak, and might even not come at all, as some solar scientists have proposed. Instead, we might be heading toward another Grand Minimum, with no significant sunspots for decades.

So, is it cold outside right now? Well, that’s weather, not climate. Nonetheless, there is a lot of circumstantial evidence that few sunspots correspond with a cooling climate on Earth. (The last grand minimum occurred in the 1600s, during what was called the Little Ice Age.) There is even some preliminary evidence to suggest that cosmic rays might be a cause. (Watch the video at the end of this link.).

Whether any of this will happen however remains unknown. We will need to wait to find out.


Exploring Arsia Mons

Master index

In November over a period of two weeks the Mars Odyssey team posted ten images of Pavonis Mons, the smallest of the aligned three giant volcanoes just to the east of Olympus Mons, the largest known volcano in the solar system. I then made all of those images available in a single link, with some analysis.

They have now done the same thing for the southernmost (and possibly the most interesting) of those three aligned volcanoes, Arsia Mons. From the first image below:

Arsia Mons is the southernmost of the Tharsis volcanoes. It is 270 miles (450km) in diameter, almost 12 miles (20km) high, and the summit caldera is 72 miles (120km) wide. For comparison, the largest volcano on Earth is Mauna Loa. From its base on the sea floor, Mauna Loa measures only 6.3 miles high and 75 miles in diameter. A large volcanic crater known as a caldera is located at the summit of all of the Tharsis volcanoes. These calderas are produced by massive volcanic explosions and collapse. The Arsia Mons summit caldera is larger than many volcanoes on Earth.

In other words, you could fit almost all of Mauna Loa entirely within the caldera of Arsia Mons.

The image on the right above is the master index, annotated by me to show the area covered by each image. The images can accessed individually below.
» Read more


All charges dismissed in Bundy case

The law is such an inconvenient thing: The federal judge in the Cliven Bundy case has dismissed all charges against Bundy and three others, citing “flagrant prosecutorial misconduct.”

I think the article provides a fair and good summary of the history behind these events, which are complex, with no one entirely innocent. Overall my sympathies tend to favor Bundy, as the problem began with the take-over of his family’s traditional grazing lands a long time ago by the federal government.


The corrupt and power-hungry Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Link here. The CFPB was established under the Dodd-Frank law signed by Obama under a framework that one court has already ruled is unconstitutional.

[A]s is common in Washington, the vague language used to craft that law gave regulators wide latitude and the bureau emerged in the Obama administration as a powerful force in the regulatory state.

“There’s strong evidence that the CFPB was pursuing Obama administration tactics and priorities, even if it was not directly coordinating with other Obama-run agencies,” said John Berlau, a scholar with the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute. As an example of such connections, Berlau pointed to Operation Choke Point, a 2013 Justice Department initiative during which the CFPB pursued payday lenders while prosecutors focused on banks dealing with those businesses or gun retailers. “Like other Obama regulators, the CFPB attempted to make law through administrative maneuvers,” Berlau told RCI. “Yet the CFPB’s abuses of process exceeded even those of other Obama administration bureaucracies due to the bureau’s unique lack of accountability.”

That lack of accountability was one of the reasons a three-judge panel on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the CFPB an unconstitutional entity in October 2016 – a decision that awaits an en banc ruling from the Appeals Court.

The article outlines how the CFPB has used its vague regulatory powers during the Obama administration to begin open investigations into numerous businesses, not based on any suspected crimes but as a weapon of the Obama administration against businesses it did not like.

The bad part of this story is that there appears no effort by the Trump administration to shut down this out-of-control agency. Instead, it is trying to “rein” it in. Meanwhile, this agency, which according to the law that created it, can spend money without Congressional approval, and is doing so at rates that would make billionaires like Trump blush: A New CFPB Scandal – Cost Overruns for Its New Lux Headquarters

Original cost estimates for the CFPB’s renovation were estimated at $55 million, but the bureau ran up the proposed cost to $216 million. The Federal Reserve Inspector General rejected the proposal in 2014, saying there was no “sound basis” for the figure.


The utter childishness of modern intellectual discourse

The world is faced with threats of nuclear and chemical attacks from North Korea. Iran is hit by protests that might escalate into all out civil war. Islamic terrorist attacks have now become almost routine. And in the U.S. there appears to be corruption at the highest levels of the FBI and the Department of Justice, while at the same time the federal government has produced a national debt exceeding $20 trillion, with more debt on the way.

Have any of these significant stories been the primary focus of our American media, from either side of the political spectrum?

An objective look at the culture of today’s press says no. Even as the leftist American mainstream media continues to focus its energies on petty and ineffective attacks of Donald Trump, too many journalists on the right unfortunately appear to be diving right in to join them with their own petty counter-attacks. The result is a press that spends the bulk of its time on irrelevant stories of partisan bickering that have little substance or importance.

In the last week of 2017 we had one particularly acute example of this. First a mainstream liberal news source pushed an absurdly trivial story in a shallow effort to discredit Donald Trump. This was then followed by a frenzied and as-shallow response from the conservative press. I want to showcase both, not merely to illustrate how weak the original story was (which is obvious on its face), but to also point out the childishness of the response.

I must add that everything written in every one of the news sources that I will cite below appears to be 100% accurate. My point here isn’t to highlight examples of error-filled news reporting — which these days mostly comes from left leaning sources overwhelmed by their blind hatred of Trump — but to illustrate reporting from both sides that hardly rises above the level of a five year old, and is thus completely inconsequential.

From CNN: Truck blocks cameras from filming Trump on golf course.

Apparently the day before CNN had managed, by peering through some bushes on the edge of the Trump International Golf Club in Florida, to videotape President Trump playing some golf. When they came back the next day a white truck now blocked their view. This then became a big scandal for CNN, with the cable network then spending gobs of time every hour for the next few days investigating the truck and following up on this terrible act of corruption, obviously part of the evil Trump administration’s effort to cancel the First Amendment and to silence the press! Much of the leftwing media piled on as well. Below are some of CNN’s coverage, as well as a bit of that liberal news pile on.
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Republican leadership works to renew FISA rules that violate 4th amendment

The Constitution is such an inconvenient thing! The House Republican leadership has attached new FISA rules into a bill that will allow the National Security Agency to once again seize the phone records of Americans, without a warrant, in direct violation of the 4th amendment.

The rules would allow the National Security Agency to restart collecting messages Americans send to foreign intelligence targets barely a year after ending the practice. The bill is promising lip-service to the Fourth Amendment by saying “The Attorney General, in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence, shall adopt querying procedures consistent with the requirements of the fourth amendment to the Constitution of the United States for information collected pursuant to an authorization…” but CATO Institute policy analyst Patrick G. Eddington called the language complete make-believe.

“It’s meaningless because the AG and DNI are allowed to make up the rules and decide what the phrase “consistent with” means vis a vis the 4th Amendment,” the former CIA analyst told me. “If it isn’t one person/one warrant/probable cause only standard, it’s a sham.”

Americans must continually remind themselves that almost no one in Washington, from either party, is working for the interest of the nation. No, what they are working for to increase their own power, at everyone else’s expense. This is only another example.


Curiosity images small tubelike rock features on Vera Rubin Ridge

tubes on Mars

During Curiosity’s extended science observations in the past month on Vera Rubin Ridge the rover has found a number of rocks with strange tubelike features that remind some scientists of fossils. The image on the right, taken by the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) and cropped and reduced to post here, shows some of these weird tubes.

The origin of these odd features — geological or biological processes — is in TBD limbo at the moment. Regarding trace fossils on Mars, “we don’t rule it out,” Vasavada said, “but we certainly won’t jump to that as our first interpretation.”

Close-up looks at these features show them to be angular in multiple dimensions. That could mean that they are related to crystals in the rock, perhaps “crystal molds” that are also found here on Earth, Vasavada added. Crystals in rock that are dissolved away leave crystal molds, he said.

Still, that’s just one of a few possibilities, Vasavada explained. “If we see more of them … then we begin to say that this is an important process that’s going on at Vera Rubin Ridge,” he said.

The article outlines a number of other possible explanations, including fossil remains. None are convincing at this time, based on the limited data. Nor does Curiosity have the equipment to clarify things much.


January 5, 2018 Zimmerman/Batchelor podcast

Embedded below the fold in two parts. Also embedded below the fold is a segment I did with John that aired on January 4th, interviewing the head of company that is on the cutting edge of some very interesting 3D printing technology. Watch this video to see. It looks like we getting closer and closer to Star Trek’s replicator.
» Read more


R.I.P. John Young 1930-2018

John Young, the ninth man to walk on the Moon and the only man to fly a Gemini capsule, an Apollo capsule, and the space shuttle, passed away yesterday at the age of 87.

Young was the only spaceman to span NASA’s Gemini, Apollo and shuttle programs, and became the first person to rocket away from Earth six times. Counting his takeoff from the moon in 1972 as commander of Apollo 16, his blastoff tally stood at seven, for decades a world record.

He flew twice during the two-man Gemini missions of the mid-1960s, twice to the moon during NASA’s Apollo program, and twice more aboard the new space shuttle Columbia in the early 1980s.

His NASA career lasted 42 years, longer than any other astronaut’s, and he was revered among his peers for his dogged dedication to keeping crews safe — and his outspokenness in challenging the space agency’s status quo.

Young captained the first shuttle Gemini flight and the first space shuttle flight, and also flew twice to the Moon, landing once.

God speed.


Is Iran on the edge of collapse?

Link here. This short essay outlines a range of financial, economic, and fundamental problems facing Iran’s government that might lead to that country’s entire collapse.

Before we wax too eloquent about the democratic aspirations of the great Iranian people, we should keep in the mind that the most probable scenario for Iran under any likely regime is a sickening spiral into poverty and depopulation. Iran has the fastest-aging population of any country in the world, indeed, the fast-aging population of any country in history. It has the highest rate of venereal disease infection and the highest rate of infertility of any country in the world. It has a youth unemployment rate of 35% (adjusted for warehousing young people in state-run diploma mills). And worst of all, it has run out of water.

We might be observing the birth of Iranian democracy in the protests of the past few weeks, but it is more likely that we are watching the slow-motion train wreck of a once-great nation in all its gory detail. As I noted in an Asia Times analysis this morning, the most violent protests, e.g. the burning of a police station near Isfahan captured on this video, happened in the boondocks where water has run out. The river that runs through Isfahan, a legendary city of gardens in the desert, literally has run dry. Some Iranian officials warn that tens of millions of Iranians will have to leave their homes for lack of water. The country has used up 70% of its groundwater and its literally drying up major rivers to maintain consumption. It’s the worst ecological disaster in modern history.

If this analysis is even close to correct, things are going to get deadly interesting in the coming years. And it might not be just Iranians who face death. Iran will be like a cornered animal. The world, the Middle East, and especially Israel, will be in great danger because this particular cornered animal will have nothing to lose by doing very evil and violent things.


U.S. freezes $125 million grant to UN agency that funds Hamas in Gaza

This is probably related to my previous post: The Trump administration has frozen the payment of a $125 million grant to the UN agency that supposedly does refugee work in Gaza but has been found in the past to help Hamas with its terrorist activities.

The amount frozen is one-third of the annual funding the United States provides the organization, according to the report.

The three diplomats, who asked to remain anonymous because of the political sensitivity of the issue, told Channel 10 the grant had been frozen until the end of the reexamination of U.S. aid to the Palestinians, which began in recent days. According to the diplomats, officials in the administration have informed UN officials in the past two days that President Donald Trump is considering cutting this amount completely and could even increase the cut to $180 million, which would be half the total U.S. funding for UNRWA.

From the article it appears that there are conflicting opinions about this action in the Israeli government.

UNRWA has been caught using its schools for Hamas anti-Semitic propaganda as well a place to store missiles. Let me repeat that: The UN and Hamas think there is nothing wrong with using schools to store weapons.

But hey, let’s give them millions so they won’t get upset at us!


Trump administration suspends at least $900 million aid for Pakistan

The Trump administration, unsatisfied with Pakistan’s actions against Islamic terrorists, has suspended at least $900 million in military and security aid.

The U.S. State Department announced the decision, saying it reflected the Trump administration’s frustration that Pakistan has not done more against the two groups that Washington says use sanctuaries in Pakistan to launch attacks in neighboring Afghanistan that have killed U.S., Afghan and other forces. The department declined to say exactly how much aid would be suspended, saying the numbers were still being calculated and included funding from both the State and Defense departments.

It is unclear from the article whether this suspension includes or is in addition to the $255 million suspended last week.

These actions against Pakistan are essentially the Trump administrations version of a shot across the bow to every nation in the world. What the administration is telling everyone is that they meant it when they said they were “taking names” and would punish those who took actions that were in opposition to the United States interests.


SpaceX aiming for Falcon Heavy launch before end of January

Capitalism in space: According to an Instagram post by Elon Musk, SpaceX now plans to launch their Falcon Heavy rocket before end of January.

Musk’s words:

“Hold-down test fire next week. Launch end of the month.”

Much of course will depend on what happens when they do the hold-down test.


Atlas 5 man-rated upgrades approved by NASA for Starliner launches

Capitalism in space: ULA announced this week that its Atlas 5 rocket has passed a NASA review that now approves the design changes necessary to allow that rocket to launch Boeing’s Starliner manned capsule.

“Design Certification Review is a significant milestone that completes the design phase of the program, paving the way to operations,” said Barb Egan, ULA Commercial Crew program manager. “Hardware and software final qualification tests are underway, as well as a major integrated test series, including structural loads. Future tests will involve launch vehicle hardware, such as jettison tests, acoustic tests, and, finally, a pad abort test in White Sands, New Mexico.”

Launch vehicle production is currently on track for an uncrewed August 2018 Orbital Flight Test (OFT).

The schedule to make that August flight happen still remains tight, but this approval brings it one step closer.


Orbital ATK gets its second contract for its satellite repair robot

Capitalism in space: Orbital ATK has signed a second contract to build another Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV), designed to robotically extend the life of old but usable satellites.

The vehicle was ordered by Intelsat S.A. to provide life extension services for an Intelsat satellite. Orbital ATK is now producing MEV-1, the industry’s first commercial in-space satellite servicing system, for Intelsat with launch scheduled for late 2018. Under this new agreement, Orbital ATK will manufacture, test and launch MEV-2 and begin mission extension services in mid-2020. The production of the second MEV is part of Orbital ATK’s longer-range plan to establish a fleet of in-orbit servicing vehicles that can address diverse space logistics needs including repair, assembly, refueling and in-space transportation.

“Work on MEV-1 is progressing rapidly toward a late 2018 launch with system-level testing beginning this spring,” said Tom Wilson, President of Orbital ATK’s Space Logistics, LLC subsidiary. “With the launch of MEV-2, Orbital ATK will continue to pioneer in-space satellite servicing for commercial operators. Intelsat’s commitment to a second MEV demonstrates not only the market demand for our servicing vehicles, but also the customer’s confidence in our product.”

Through its Space Logistics subsidiary, Orbital ATK will introduce in-orbit commercial satellite servicing with MEV-1 late this year. The MEV is based on the company’s GEOStarTM spacecraft platform, and controlled by the company’s satellite operations team. The MEV uses a reliable, low-risk docking system that attaches to existing features on a customer’s satellite, and provides life-extending services by taking over the orbit maintenance and attitude control functions of the client’s spacecraft. Each MEV vehicle has a 15 year design life with the ability to perform numerous dockings and repositionings during its life span.

What Orbital ATK here is doing is creating a entirely new cottage industry with the satellite industry, providing satellite companies an inexpensive way to maintain their satellite networks without building and launching a whole new communications satellite. Once Orbital has placed a number of these in orbit, they will be available to move from satellite to satellite. Once their first repair job is finally finished, they will then move on to another at relatively little cost.


Park Ki-Young – Nella Fantasia

An evening pause: The music is by Enrico Morricone from the film The Mission (1986). There it is entitled Gabriel’s Oboe, a musical piece I have posted previously here as an evening pause. Here it is sung to lyrics written by Chiara Ferraù, celebrating the joys that freedom brings. “I dream of souls that are always free,/Like the clouds that fly.”

Hat tip Jim Mallamace, who notes that this song is written by an Italian and sung by a Korean about the American aspiration of freedom. Seems to me that this illustrates two aspects of that American aspiration, one of which is freedom, the second of which is that freedom is something all people from all cultures aspire to.


This week in bigoted academia

Since October of last year I have been posting weekly reports listing the variety and frequency of intolerant actions by college administrators, facility, and students on American campus. This week, I want to highlight the bigotry that now runs rampant on these campuses, all centered on the bad idea to create entire departments and fields of study focused expressly on race, ethnicity, or gender, rather than ideas.

The last story highlights how the hate and bigotry against whites has gotten so bad at colleges that minority students and teachers are now frequently faking hate crimes against themselves in order to prove how evil whites are.

As I said above, the problem here is the focus on race, ethnicity, and gender rather than ideas. Any one from any race, ethnic group, or sex, can come up with a great idea. In fact, it is irrelevant what their race, ethnicity, or sex is. What matters is the idea. Unfortunately, colleges have become obsessed not with ideas but with race and gender diversity, and so the teachers teach students to see everything in that light, and that light only. It is bigotry and hate, at its worst. And it is poisoning the American intellectual community, preventing it from doing what we need it to do, to think deeply, thoughtfully, and maturely, and to do it without hate or rancor.


Nigeria signs deal with China for two communications satellites

China has agreed to build for Nigeria two communications satellites, with the $550 million fee paid entirely for Nigeria through an arrangement with China’s EXIM Bank.

The China EXIM Bank and a Chinese firm, the China Great Walls, have agreed to pay the entire $550m to procure two new satellites for the Nigerian Communications Satellite Limited. The Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu, disclosed this in an interview with State House Correspondents on Wednesday shortly after a meeting he had with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

Shittu explained that the initial arrangement was that Nigeria would provide 15 per cent counterpart funding for the two satellites, while the bank and the firm would provide the balance. He said Nigeria, however, decided to renegotiate the deal when it became obvious that the country could not afford the counterpart funding. The minister explained, “Because we could not afford this 15 per cent, we have renegotiated with the China EXIM Bank and the China Great Walls, who are the manufacturers, and they have happily agreed to pay the entire $550m to procure two new satellites.

Essentially, this is foreign aid from China to Nigeria, and follows a pattern China has used recently in providing space-related foreign aid in other circumstances.

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