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The storms of Jupiter

The storms of Jupiter

Cool image time! The image on the right, taken by Juno during its fifth close fly-by of Jupiter in late March and cropped to post here, shows two of the major storms in what I think is one of Jupiter’s main large mid-latitude belts. The full image, posted below in a significantly reduced form but annotated by me to indicate the location of the inset, covers a much larger area, but I have specifically zoomed into these two storms to highlight how large these storms are as well as how much detail is hidden within them.

In the bright spot in particular (officially called A6 by planetary scientists) you can see a hint of the existence of innumerable mini-storms. Juno’s camera does not have the resolution to image these smaller storms, but this image suggests that the gas giant’s atmosphere is far far far more complex than we can yet imagine.

Full image of Jupiter reduced and annotated

Unfortunately, these images do not provide a scale. Based on a global image taken by Juno in October 2016 and matching the gas giant’s major horizontal bands, the annotated full image strip on the left appears to cover a little less than a third of Jupiter, from about 10 degrees latitude to about 50 degrees latitude. From this I estimate that if we put the Earth in the inset image it would probably be only slightly larger than the image itself, which means these two storms would cover most of one hemisphere.

In other words, the mini-storms inside the big bright oval are still larger than the biggest hurricanes on Earth, and they are packed together inside a much larger planet-sized storm.

What should fill us with even more awe is that this only covers a very thin slice of the top of Jupiter’s deep atmosphere. The planet itself is about 89,000 miles in diameter, more than ten times larger than Earth. The depth of its atmosphere is not really known, but it must be deeper than several Earths, piled on top of each other. In that depth there must be many atmospheric layers, each thicker and denser than the one above, and each with its own weather systems and complexities.

It will take centuries of research, including the development of new engineering capable of accessing this place, to even begin to map out its meteorology. And this is only one gas giant, of what we now know must be millions and millions throughout the galaxy.

If we have the nerve and daring, the human race has the opportunity to go out there and never be bored. There will always be something unknown to discover.

Soyuz returns ISS crew to Earth

A Russian Soyuz capsule safely returned three astronauts to Earth this morning.

This completes the second flight of the Soyuz-MS upgraded capsule.

The new MS series sports more efficient solar panels, a new Kurs NA approach and docking system weighing less than half that of its predecessor, additional micro-meteoroid debris shielding, and a modified docking and attitude control engine – which will add redundancy during docking and deorbit burns.

R.I.P: Georgy Grechko

Russian cosmonaut Georgy Grechko died today at the age of 85.

Grechko was one of the Soviet Union’s most important early cosmonauts, flying some of the first long term missions on several of Russia’s early Salyut stations. He was also important in that in the first real elections run by the Soviet Union he ran for office against party officials, won, and helped throw the Communists out of power.

I met and interviewed Grechko when I was writing Leaving Earth. He struck me as a kind and intelligent person, exactly the kind of person you’d want in charge, and who rarely gets that chance. Russia is diminished by his passing.

Solar panel project costing millions produces enough energy to run one microwave

Our government in action! An Idaho solar panel project that cost $4.3 million (so far) only produces enough energy per day to run one microwave.

On March 29th, the solar road panels generated 0.26 kWh, or less electricity than a single plasma television consumes. On March 31st, the panels generated 1.06 kWh, enough to barely power a single microwave. The panels have been under-performing their expectations due to design flaws, but even if they had worked perfectly they’d have only powered a single water fountain and the lights in a nearby restroom.

Solar FREAKIN’ Roadways has been in development for 6.5 years and received a total of $4.3 million in funding to generate 90 cents worth of electricity.

Obviously, none of this matters. The people who created the project care, and that’s what counts!

Another Grand Canyon tour

On the Tonto Platform

Because I live in southern Arizona, I take advantage of this location to make an annual trip to the Grand Canyon. On my previous trips I’ve talked about the right way to hike the canyon (slowly!) and then provided some suggestions for proper preparation.

This time I am simply going to suggest two hikes. One is very easy and should be done by every visitor to the south rim. The other hike is for those who go to the bottom, and reserve themselves one day there for a day hike.
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Mob shuts down speech at Claremont McKenna College

Fascists: An angry mob of around 250 at Claremont McKenna College blocked access to a speech while threatening violence to the speaker and forcing her to end the speech early.

A throng of angry protesters converged at Claremont McKenna College on Thursday and effectively shut down a pro-police speech as they surrounded the building, forcing the speaker to give the talk via livestream to a near-empty room as they yelled “F*ck the police” and “Black Lives Matter” and banged on windows.

Heather Mac Donald, a Manhattan Institute scholar and author of the 2016 book “The War on Cops,” even gave her talk earlier than originally planned at the preppy and private Southern California campus because of the rowdy crowd estimated at more than 250 protesters, she told The College Fix via email Thursday. Thirty minutes into the speech, police officers told her to cut it short, and she was given a four-officer escort through a side door and safely through some surprised protesters who had flanked that exit, Mac Donald said.

These leftist protesters at all these universities nothing but brown-shirted jack-booted thugs, using violence to silence any dissent to their way of thinking. Worse, it increasingly appears they are going to succeed, as it appears most college administrations and their faculty agree with their violent tactics, while the general public seems uninterested in stopping the oppression being imposed here.

ULA slashes launch prices for Atlas 5

Capitalism in space: In order to compete with SpaceX ULA announced this week that it will cut its launch price for the Atlas 5 rocket by one third.

United Launch Alliance has dropped the price of its workhorse Atlas 5 rocket flights by about one-third in response to mounting competition from rival SpaceX and others, the company’s chief executive said on Tuesday. “We’re seeing that price is even more important than it had been in the past,” Tory Bruno, chief executive of United Launch Alliance, or ULA, said during an interview at the U.S. Space Symposium in Colorado Springs. “We’re dropping the cost of Atlas almost every day. Atlas is now down more than a third in its cost,” Bruno said.

It appears that they have discovered that the prime reason they lost their bid of an Air Force GPS satellite launch to SpaceX was because their price was too high.

Air Force willing to use re-used Falcon 9 first stages

Capitalism in space: The head of the Air Force’s space division said yesterday that they would be willing to launch satellites using Falcon 9 used first stages.

“I would be comfortable if we were to fly on a reused booster,” General John “Jay” Raymond told reporters at the U.S. Space Symposium in Colorado Springs. “They’ve proven they can do it. … It’s going to get us to lower cost.”

Citizen scientists crowd scource discovery of 4 exoplanets

After being promoted on an Australian tv show an effort to use public help to plow through Kepler’s vast archives discovered four new exoplanets within two days.

In three days, the Australia iteration of astronomy TV show Stargazing Live brought us #SpaceGandalf and now its viewers have discovered four planets. After it was promoted on the show, citizen scientists and fans of the program came together to contribute to a crowd-sourcing project, stalking around 100,000 stars on the Zooniverse website, which displays recent data from the Kepler Space Telescope.

And you betcha, in just 48 hours, around 10,000 volunteers discovered scores of potential new planet candidates, with scientists confirming the discovery of four “super-Earth” planets orbiting a star in the constellation of Aquarius.

Atmosphere detected around Earth-sized exoplanet

Worlds without end: Astronomers have detected an atmosphere around an Earth-sized exoplanet 39 light years away.

The researchers pored over measurements from the European Southern Observatory in Chile and found that at one wavelength band of light, the planet looked larger than at others, as it crossed the face of its parent star. “These things don’t pop up in the way you expect,” said John Southworth, an astronomer at Keele University in the UK. “We found evidence for the atmosphere at one wavelength band and that wasn’t what we were expecting.”

The observations point to an atmosphere that is rich in water or methane, but it will take more measurements with other telescopes to identify the chemicals present.

The planet is about 16% larger than Earth. There remain a lot of uncertainty here with this result, so we should not yet take it too seriously.

Sarah Connolly & the BBC Orchestra – Rule Britannia

An evening pause: I like this verse, which they reprised, with the chorus, which all people should echo.

When Britain first, at Heaven’s command
Arose from out the azure main;
This was the charter of the land,
And guardian angels sang this strain:

“Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
“Britons never will be slaves.”

Hat tip Jim Mallamace.

Hubble snaps close-up of Jupiter

Jupiter by Hubble

Cool image time! The Hubble Space Telescope has taken a magnificent global view of Jupiter. The image on the right is only a thumbnail. Make sure to go to the link to see the full image, which amazingly compares quite favorably with the images being sent down by Juno in orbit around the gas giant.

This Hubble image once again demonstrates the remarkable advantages of an optical telescope in space. Equipped with the right instruments, it could do much of the research now being done by the planetary missions, and do it from Earth orbit.The research possibilities and the knowledge revealed from the ability to see things clearly in the optical bands is truly endless.

Even more important, we are wired to what we see. Give us a good visual image and many questions can immediately be answered.

Suborbital promises

Capitalism in space: Two stories today highlight the contrasts that presently exist within the still unborn suborbital tourist industry:

In the first, Richard Branson made another one of his bold predictions, the same kind of prediction he has been making about Virgin Galactic now for almost a decade. Again and again he claims, based on nothing, that his spaceship will be carrying people into orbit in mere months. It never happens. It won’t happen here.

In the second, Jeff Bezos announces that he hopes to fly people on his New Shepard suborbital spacecraft by 2018, but at the same time he also announces that the program is delayed.

Bezos, speaking in front of the company’s exhibit at the 33rd Space Symposium here that features the New Shepard propulsion module that flew five suborbital spaceflights in 2015 and 2016, backed away from earlier statements that called for flying people on test flights later this year. “We’re going to go through the test program, and we’ll put humans on it when we’re happy,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to be 2017 at this point. It could be.”

Bezos has been very careful, from the beginning, to make no bold or specific predictions about when his spacecraft will fly manned. Here, he is once again making it clear that any previously announced schedules were very tentative, and should not be taken too seriously.

Which person would you trust with your life on a suborbital flight?

Strikers attempt to occupy Arianespace spaceport in French Guiana

The labor strike that has shut down Arianespace’s French Guiana spaceport has taken to turn for the worse with an attempt by about 30 strikers to occupy the spaceport.

The article provides almost no details. We also have had no recent updates on the state of the labor negotiations. At the moment it appears this strike could last a while.

ULA prepares to choose engine for Vulcan

Capitalism in space: ULA’s CEO Tory Bruno announced at a space conference this week that should Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine pass its testing phase his company will be prepared to select it for their Vulcan rocket.

Bruno also said that no decision has yet been made, and that Aerojet Rocketdyne’s AR1 engine remains an option, though it is 18 to 24 months behind in development.

Russia proposes extending ISS beyond 2024

The head of Roscosmos said at a space conference this week that his nation is open to extending its ISS partnership with the U.S. beyond 2024 to 2028.

Russia has several good and bad reasons for wanted to do this.

  • Their shortage of cash will make it difficult for them to fly their own station.
  • They need a space station in order to maintain the jobs that exist at their mission control as well as throughout their space industry.
  • There are many good political reasons for them to maintain this space partnership with the U.S. It prevents the U.S. from completely breaking off relations, should Russia do something the U.S. doesn’t like (such as invading a nearby country).
  • They recognize that the ability to do long term research in an orbiting space station is essential for anyone who plans future interplanetary missions.

I will let my readers decide which of these reasons are the good reasons, and which are bad.

Orbital ATK developing new rocket

Capitalism in space: Orbital ATK is developing a new rocket, based on the solid rocket technology it provided for the space shuttle, to compete with SpaceX and ULA.

Two versions of the rocket are planned. The medium-lift variant will have a two-segment, solid-fuel first-stage motor and a single-segment, solid second. The heavy lifter will have a four-segment first stage and a single-segment second. Both versions can be outfitted with strap-on boosters for extra lift capacity, Orbital representatives said.

To complete the rocket’s development the company says it needs to win a follow-up contract that the Air Force has been issuing to help ween the U.S. from the use of Russian rocket engines.

ULA reduces workforce at Vandenberg

Capitalism in space: In an effort to save costs ULA is reducing its workforce at Vandenberg by 48.

The company has been aggressively trying to streamline its operations to better compete against SpaceX. This reduction was expected, and based upon what I saw when I toured Vandenberg a few years ago, entirely justified. While SpaceX’s operations then looked lean and simple, ULA’s set up appeared a bit inefficient.

New Horizons halfway to 2014 MU69

Since flying past Pluto in July 2014 New Horizons has now flown halfway to its next target, Kuiper Belt Object 2014 MU69.

The fly-by will take place on January 1, 2019.

Posted from the South Rim after hiking out today from the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Since Saturday I did about 40 miles of hiking, both near and inside the Canyon. I hope to post some details in the coming days.

ULA gets three launch contracts

Capitalism in space: ULA last week won three launch contracts, two from the Air Force and one from NASA.

Both rockets are part of the existing EELV Block Buy between the Air Force and United Launch Alliance. The mission assignments were announced Friday by the Pentagon. The missions exceed the lift performance of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets that has been certified by the Air Force for national security payloads, making ULA the only provider available to execute these heavy launches.

In other government-launch news, NASA said last month that the second satellite in the next-generation era of U.S. civilian weather observatories will be launched atop an Atlas 5-401 rocket. The Atlas 5 beat out the Falcon 9 in a competition to win the rights to launch the Joint Polar Satellite System spacecraft No. 2 in 2021 from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

For SpaceX to truly compete with ULA they need to get the Falcon Heavy flying.

Russia responds to SpaceX reused booster success

A bunch of stories from Russia today appear to express that country’s political response to SpaceX’s success yesterday in launching a commercial satellite using a previously flown first stage.

It appears that these stories are quoting a variety of Russian officials who apparently did not get their stories straight. Also, it appears that much of what they are saying here is pure bluster. For example, in the third link the official makes the silly claim that the ability of their rocket engines to be started and then restarted repeatedly proves they are dedicated to re-usability. And the first two links don’t provide much back-up for the claims that they can complete with SpaceX, especially since SpaceX presently charges a third less than they do per launch, and that is using new boosters. With reused boosters SpaceX’s launch fees will be less than half what Russia has been charging for a Proton launch ($90 million vs $40 million).

Similarly, the claim that they will complete 30 launches this years is absurd. They won’t be able to launch Proton until May, at the soonest, because of the need to remove defective parts from all of their in-stock engines. Soyuz launches are similarly delayed while they check its engines also. To complete 30 launches in only seven months seems very unrealistic to me, especially since the best they have done in a full year this century is 34 launches, with an average slightly less than 30 per year.

Nonetheless, this spate of stories and statements by Russian officials shows that they are feeling the heat of competition, and also feel a need to respond. The first story has this significant statement:

Russia’s State Space Corporation Roscosmos is responding to the challenges with available possibilities, he added. “It has announced a considerable reduction in the cost of Proton rocket launches. The commercial price of this rocket’s launch is considerably higher than its prime cost and we have the potential for the price cut. But customers are giving up our services because the number of payloads [satellites] remains unchanged and does not grow. Correspondingly, a new player on the market snatches away a part of orders,” the expert noted.

Because of Russia’s low labor costs they have always had a large profit margin on their Proton launches. The $90 million they charged was set just below what Arianespace charged for its launches. It appears they are now planning to lower their prices further to match SpaceX.

Posted from the south rim of the Grand Canyon.

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