Tag Archives: capitalism

The ships of Hanjin six months after it went bankrupt

Real news: Six months ago the shipping company Hanjin went bankrupt, stranding its 96 container ships worldwide. This article takes a detailed look not only on what happened to those ships since, but also at the state of the entire shipping industry.

There was a time when Hanjin’s collapse in August and this follow-up story would have been major news stories, covered by all the leading mainstream press outlets. No more. Even though it indicates significant financial and economic trends that should concern anyone who is serious about being an educated citizen, the press doesn’t cover it, and the public today really doesn’t care.

Just another indicator that a new dark age is looming.

ESA commits $91 million to reusable rocket engine development

The competition heats up? Despite a general lack of interest in reusability, the ESA has now committed $91 million to develop a new low cost prototype reusable rocket engine.

In an interview with SpaceNews, Airbus Safran Launchers CEO Alain Charmeau said FLPP is allocating 85 million euros ($91 million) to Prometheus to fund research and development leading to a 2020 test firing. Now that Prometheus is an ESA program, Charmeau expects more countries will get involved. “ESA will pay the contract to Airbus Safran Launchers and then Airbus Safran Launchers will cooperate with European industry, of course France and Germany, but we will have also contributions from Italy, Belgium, Sweden and probably a couple of others to a smaller extent,” Charmeau said.

This project reminds me of many NASA development projects. The agency spends the money to do a test firing, but the prototype is never used and gets abandoned as soon as the test is completed.

Things might change, however, come the 2020s. By then I think American companies will be quite successful in their effort to create reusable rockets, and that will leave Europe in the lurch competitively. Their solution at this time for combating that future competition however is not getting more competitive. Instead, as noted in the article at the link, Airbus Safran, the company building Ariane 6, wants the ESA to compel its members to use their rocket, regardless of cost.

The private weather industry moves forward

Link here. Key quote:

Early next month, aerospace start-up Spire Global of Glasgow, UK, will send a mini-satellite into space aboard an Indian government rocket. This ‘cubesat’ will join 16 others that are beaming a new type of atmospheric data back to Earth — and some scientists worry that such efforts are siphoning funding away from efforts to push forward the science of weather forecasting. Spire will begin providing observations to the US government on 30 April.

The probes track delays in radio signals from Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites as they pass through the atmosphere — a technique known as radio occultation. Researchers can use the data to create precise temperature profiles of the atmosphere to feed into weather-forecasting models — and eventually, perhaps, climate models.

Spire and its competitor GeoOptics of Pasadena, California, are participating in a pilot project announced in September by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which is under pressure from the US Congress to determine whether it can cut costs by using commercial weather data. But scientists worry that such efforts are hampering the development of radio occultation. For years, they have sought federal funding for a project to advance the technique, but Spire and its competitors say they can offer high-quality data for a fraction of the price. [emphasis mine]

The quotes I have highlighted illustrate the hidebound leftist scientific opposition to introducing private enterprise into weather research. The article, published in the journal Nature, never once articulates in any way how these private efforts will hurt scientific research. What it does show is that the private effort will cost a tenth of the government effort while getting launched much faster. The money, however, will go to these private companies, and not the scientific factions that up until now have lived on the government money train.

The complaints here are the same as those I saw in NASA back about a decade ago when NASA first considered hiring private companies to provide it cargo to ISS. This is a turf war. NOAA is now being pressured by Congress to do the same: stop building big expensive weather satellites and buy the service for much less from the private sector. The scientific community sees this as a threat to its funding and is trying to stop it.

With Republicans controlling all three branches of the federal government I think this opposition will be fruitless, and we shall see the shift to private enterprise in weather data-gathering to accelerate.

SpaceX gets an eighth Iridium launch

The competition heats up: SpaceX has won a new launch contract, this time by launching both Iridium’s five satellites as well as the NASA/German Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) mission.

Both NASA and Iridium will save money by sharing the ride, while SpaceX gets more business.

Government-owned Alaska Aerospace considers second spaceport

The competition heats up: State-owned Alaska Aerospace is considering opening a second spaceport outside the state and closer to the equator.

Alaska Aerospace operates the Pacific Spaceport Complex Alaska. The Kodiak Island complex is capable of polar, sun-synchronous and high-inclination orbits, but does not support the equatorial launches that make up most of the industry demand. With the new launch facility, Campbell said having equatorial launches will give the corporation a competitive advantage and also bring more customers to Kodiak.

The state no longer funds the corporation, which has never made money. Still, it now has contracts with Rocket Lab and Vector Space Systems and this new move is an obvious effort to make itself more viable.

Recovered Falcon 9 first stage prepped for launch

The competition heats up: SpaceX on Tuesday revealed that last week it has completed the standard static fire testing of the recovered Falcon 9 first stage that it plans to relaunch in March.

A March launch would mean an 11-month turnaround, which is far from optimal, but understandable for the first time. SpaceX’s founder and chief executive, Elon Musk, has acknowledged the company must do better in the future if resuable flight is to become economically viable. He says the next—and likely final—iteration of the Falcon 9 rocket will be optimized for reuse. “Block 5 is the final upgrade of the Falcon architecture,” he tweeted earlier this year. “Significantly improves performance & ease of reusability. Flies end of year.”

It now seems likely that SpaceX will fly the landed boosters it currently has, at most once or twice, before retiring them, instead of multiple times. Although the company hasn’t elaborated on the problems with the engines, booster structure, or composite materials that have shown wear and tear after their orbital launches and returns, Musk is confident that changes to the Block 5 version of the rocket will solve the problem. “I think the F9 boosters could be used almost indefinitely, so long as there is scheduled maintenance and careful inspections,” he has said.

In other words, SpaceX has had — for the first time in history — the opportunity to inspect a number of used first stage rockets, and that precious knowledge is making it possible for them to upgrade the stage design to make future stages more hardy. In fact, those future stages won’t be stages, but reusable vessels that SpaceX could even name if it wished.

A review of 2016 launches

Link here. The report essentially confirms my own conclusions that I posted several weeks ago. This new report however also looks at total payloads, something I had not done, and finds that though there was a decline in 2016 in the number of satellites launched, they expect that trend to end in 2017 with the continued growth in the smallsat industry.

India to launch spare GPS satellite because of single satellite failure

Because of the failure of the atomic clocks on one of its GPS satellites have failed, India now plans to launch one of their spare satellites to increase the system’s redundancy.

The article does not say whether they will make any changes to the clocks on the spare satellite, which are the same as the failed clocks on the Indian satellite and were all built by the same European company that built the clocks on Europe’s Galileo GPS satellites that are also failing.

Next Falcon 9 launch delayed as SpaceX rearranges manifest

Because the launchpad at Kennedy is not quite ready for the planned February 3 launch of a commercial satellite, SpaceX has rearranged its launch manifest to switch that launch with the next Dragon mission to ISS, essentially delaying their next launch by two weeks.

With [launchpad] 39A still not ready to debut in its new role with SpaceX, the first mission set to launch from this pad – the Falcon 9 launch with EchoStar 23 – was pushed to the right a number of times. Although 39A is very close to being ready to conduct launches, EchoStar 23’s launch date was deemed to be too close to the mid-February target for the CRS-10 Dragon mission.

SpaceX and NASA discussed the situation on Friday night, before deciding it would be prudent to place EchoStar 23’s launch after CRS-10, allowing engineers to finalize modification and checkout work on the famous pad and simultaneously avoid a potential delay to the important Dragon mission to the Station.

The real problem here is that SpaceX had planned to have two working launchpads by this time, but doesn’t because their first pad was damaged in the September 1 Falcon 9 launchpad explosion. The consequences is that, for at least the next month, they will not be able to set a pace of a launch every two weeks.

Soyuz launches successfully from French Guiana

A Russian Soyuz rocket, built for Arianespace and launched from French Guiana, successfully placed a commercial satellite in geosynchronous orbit on Friday.

The launch has some significance. First, it was the first time a Soyuz rocket placed a payload into geosynchronous orbit. Second, the payload was the first satellite built by a German company in more than 25 years

Finally, and most important, it demonstrated that at least one configuration of the Soyuz rocket is still operational as Russia investigates the corrupt practices at the company that has been building upper stage engines for both its Soyuz and Proton rockets.

Update: Russia has revealed that this on-going investigation will now delay the next Proton rocket launch for 3.5 months. This means that launch will occur sometime in May, and will occur just weeks short of a full year after the last Proton launch on June 9, 2016.

Making a Linux laptop

Yesterday while I was sitting at my desk working on my Linux desktop computer, I got a phone call from someone from “Windows Technical Support.” The man on the line said to me, quite nicely, that they had noticed a problem with my computer and wanted to help me fix it.

I said, “You are talking about my Windows desktop computer, the one I am working right now, correct?”

The man said sweetly, “Yes, sir. That’s the computer we have seen a problem with.”

I answered sweetly, “I just want to be sure, so let me ask again. You are referring to the Windows computer in front of me, the one on my desk?”

He responded, “Yes sir. Could you press your start menu please and go to settings?”

Unfortunately, I had too much work to do, and couldn’t spend more time with him. I would have liked to have lead him along for as long as possible, but simple didn’t have the time. Instead, I said, “Um, I can’t really go to my Windows settings because my desktop is a Linux computer, and has been for a decade. Have you heard of Linux?”

Instantly the phone went dead.

I tell this tale because it is only one more reason I abandoned Windows back in 2006. With Linux I have no viruses to worry about, and scammers like this can’t do me any harm.

Anyway, this post really isn’t about Windows scammers. Instead, I want to relate my experience this past week in setting up my first Linux laptop, following the step-by-step instructions provided by James Stephens and posted here on Behind the Black last year in the following series:
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Boeing unveils its spacesuit for Starliner missions

The competition heats up: Boeing today unveiled the streamlined but snazzy spacesuit it plans to use on its Starliner manned ferry flights to and from ISS.

This tidbit though I think illustrates the new mindset, to make things simpler and cheaper and more focused on their actual purpose.

Boeing’s suit, designed with the Massachusetts-based David Clark Co., weighs about 12 pounds, compared to 30 pounds for NASA’s orange suits formally called the Advanced Crew Escape Suit, or ACES. …The “get us home suit,” as Ferguson called it, couldn’t be used for a spacewalk. It’s intended to provide air and cooling to keep astronauts safe during launch and landings back on land, and during emergencies, like if a micrometeoroid strike caused a loss of cabin pressure.

Google Lunar X-Prize finalists named

The competition heats up: The five finalists for the Google Lunar X-Prize have now been set.

Five teams remain in the running: Israel’s SpaceIL, Florida-based Moon Express, an international team known as Synergy Moon, India’s Team Indus and Japan’s Hakuto.

SpaceIL plans to fly on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, which recently returned to flight following a launch pad accident. Team Indus and Hakuto will share a ride on an Indian PSLV launcher. Moon Express is banking on a launch from startup Rocket Lab, which is developing a small rocket called Electron. Whether it wins the XPrize or not, Moon Express is building a business to provide lunar transportation and services, such as research and mineral extraction, Chief Executive Bob Richards said in an interview. Synergy Moon is counting on one of its partners, Mojave, Calif.-based Interorbital Systems, for its launch aboard a new rocket known as Neptune.

To win, one of these teams must fly its mission before the end of 2017.

Trump’s 1st NASA appointees suggest future policy

A memo released January 20 from NASA’s acting administrator accepting the job also announced the first Trump appointees to NASA. The history and policy positions of those two appointees I think once again give us a very clear indication of where NASA might be going in the coming years.

[Acting administrator Robert] Lightfoot, in the memo, said that the administration has appointed Erik Noble to serve as White House senior advisor and Greg Autry to be White House liaison. The two are the first members of the so-called “beachhead team” of administration staffers assigned to NASA, at least on a short-term basis.

Autry is an assistant professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Southern California who has been a proponent of commercial space activities. Autry was one of eight members of the agency review team, or “landing team,” assigned to NASA by the transition office of then President-elect Trump.

Noble did not serve on the landing team, but worked on the Trump campaign as a political data analyst. Noble, who earned a Ph.D. in environmental studies from the University of Colorado, spent seven years at the NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies in New York, working on weather and climate models. [emphasis mine]

Autry, believes strongly in private space, and has also been a critic of SLS/Orion. Being placed at NASA as Trump’s first appointee strongly suggests that a Trump administration is going to accelerate the commercial space push that was begun by the Bush administration and then strongly supported by the Obama administration. It also suggests that the SLS and Orion projects are going to face a difficult future and will likely be phased out.

Noble’s appointment is more important. As a former scientist at the Goddard Institute, he is now well positioned to possibly appoint a new head to that organization, or even become its head himself. The present person in charge there, Gavin Schmidt, has increasingly become suspect as a scientist, instead appearing more as global warming political advocate. Since he took over that Institute, the climate data there has been increasingly tampered with, with past data being cooled and recent data being warmed, thus creating the impression that the Earth’s climate has been warming more than indicated by all previous research. Schmidt’s explanations for these “adjustments” (the term he uses) have never been satisfactory. He then uses the results from these “adjustments” to make annual press releases declaring each year as the “hottest” ever, though the raw data shows no such thing.

Even if Noble does not replace Schmidt, Noble appears well positioned to force Schmidt to either finally justify his data adjustments, or remove them from the data stream so that the raw data will be allowed to dominate policy decisions once again.

Bigelow proposes extending life of its ISS module beyond its two year demo

Bigelow Aerospace is in negotiations with NASA to allow use on ISS of its demonstration inflatable BEAM module beyond its planned two year test mission.

BEAM is designed for a two-year mission on the ISS. The module is closed off from the rest of the station most of the time, with astronauts periodically entering BEAM to check the status of the module and instruments mounted inside.

NASA has previously indicated that it would dispose of BEAM at the end of its two-year mission, using the station’s robotic arm to detach the module and allow it to burn up in the atmosphere. There are no immediate plans, though, for use of the docking port where BEAM is installed after that two-year mission ends, opening the possibility for an extended mission.

Robert Bigelow has previously suggested there was commercial interest in the module. As a NASA press conference in April 2016 prior to the launch of BEAM, he said there were four different groups, both countries and companies, interested in flying experiments in BEAM. “We’re hoping that, maybe in half a year or something, we can get permission from NASA to accommodate these people in some way,” he said then.

It is typical NASA behavior to throw this module out after two years, rather than find a way to use it.

Posted from a hotel room in St. Louis, Missouri.

India delays next launch of its largest rocket

India has delayed the next launch of its GSLV rocket from January to no earlier than March in order to conduct tests on the rocket.

This does not change the schedule for the next launch of their smaller PSLV rocket, which is still set for February and will launch a record of over a hundred satellites, most of which are smallsats.

Posted from Tucson Internationa Airport. I am heading to St. Louis today to give a lecture to the local chapter there of the AIAA.

Atomic clocks on 9 of 72 European GPS satellites have failed

The atomic clocks on 9 of the 72 European Galileo GPS satellites, designed to compete with the American, Russian, and Chinese GPS satellites, have failed.

No satellite has been declared “out” as a result of the glitch. “However, we are not blind… If this failure has some systematic reason we have to be careful” not to place more flawed clocks in space, [ESA director general Jan Woerner] said.

Each Galileo satellite has four ultra-accurate atomic timekeepers — two that use rubidium and two hydrogen maser. Three rubidium and six hydrogen maser clocks are not working, with one satellite sporting two failed timekeepers. Each orbiter needs just one working clock for the satnav to work — the rest are spares.

The question now, Woerner said, is “should we postpone the next launch until we find the root cause?”

That they are even considering further launches with so many failures of the same units seems absurd. They have a systemic problem, and should fix it before risking further launches.

SpaceX prepares used 1st stage for February launch

The competition heats up: Even as SpaceX moves forward on an intense launch schedule, with launches planned for January 26 and February 8, it has begun preparations for a late February commercial launch that will be the first to reuse a first stage.

The first stage assigned to SES 10’s launch first flew April 8, 2016, with a Dragon supply ship on a logistics launch to the International Space Station. After detaching from the Falcon 9’s second stage, which continued into orbit, the 15-story first stage booster descended to a vertical landing on SpaceX’s offshore platform a few minutes after liftoff, making the first time the company recovered a rocket intact at sea.

The landing on SpaceX’s barge, or drone ship, last April came four months after the first-ever touchdown of a Falcon 9 first stage on land at Cape Canaveral. That vehicle is now on display outside SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California.

This pace is calling for a launch every two weeks. It will spectacular if SpaceX can keep that up, but such a pace is not really unprecedented. The Soviets at their height managed it at times quite successfully.

Boeing obtains available seats on Soyuz as result of Sea Launch settlement

As part of Boeing’s settlement with Russia over the break-up of their Sea Launch partnership, the company has obtained rights to several manned Soyuz seats that are available because the Russians have cut back on the number of astronauts they are flying to ISS.

In turn, Boeing is offering these seats to NASA.

[John Elbon, vice president and general manager of space exploration at Boeing] said he expects NASA to make enter into negotiations with Boeing about the 2017 and 2018 seats shortly after a Jan. 27 deadline for companies to respond to the sources sought statement, a requirement when a government agency proposes a sole-source procurement. “Assuming that goes well, I think we would sit down and, in relatively short order, negotiate the details of this kind of arrangement,” he said.

He didn’t specify how much Boeing was proposing to charge NASA for the seats. The agency announced an agreement with Roscosmos in August 2015 for six Soyuz seats in 2018 at a total cost of $490 million, or $81.7 million per seat. “It’s a good value for NASA and the taxpayer,” Elbon said of Boeing’s proposed deal with NASA. “We wouldn’t ask them to pay more than they would have been paying before.”

What is happening here is that Boeing is trying to use these Soyuz seats as a way to recoup its losses from Sea Launch. The problem is that NASA doesn’t really need the manned flights in 2017 and 2018. They might need them in 2019, should the manned capsules that SpaceX and Boeing are building get delayed, but I am not sure that this deal will allow them to be used at that time.

Private Chinese rocket company gets launch contract

The competition heats up: A private Chinese rocket company, Landspace, has signed a launch contract with a Danish firm to launch an unstated number of satellites.

The article does not provide much information, but from it I suspect this is a smallsat operation, similar to Rocket Lab and Vector Space Systems. I also think that its private nature in China and the timing of its announcement, only a few weeks after China released its five year space plan which seemed to lend support to the development of a private space industry, provides confirmation of that support.

Japan’s SS-520 launch a failure

Japan’s attempt to launch a payload into orbit with the smallest rocket ever ended in failure today.

[A]ccording to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), communication systems malfunctioned after the rocket launched, causing the ignition of the second booster to be terminated. The rocket fell into the sea southeast of Uchinoura.

My impression of Japan’s space effort in recent years is somewhat comparable to that of Russia’s: Significant quality control issues that cause too many failures. This is just one more example.

I must also note that the rocket was not a private effort, but a demo project of Japan’s government space agency, JAXA, designed to show off new technology but funded through coercive government funds, not monies provided voluntarily by customers. Thus, the pressure to succeed was much less, as no one’s job or business was at risk should it fail.

SpaceX is flying again

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 has successfully launched 10 Iridium satellites, and its first stage has also successfully landed on the barge.

The live view of the first stage landing was especially thrilling, using a camera on the stage, looking down to the Pacific Ocean. While there were a few dropouts, the picture stayed live for the entire descent.

Moon Express completes funding for Google X-Prize lunar mission

The competition heats up: Moon Express, one of the five remaining contestants vying for the Google Lunar X-Prize, announced today that it has raised an additional $20 million to complete the necessary funding needed to complete its mission.

The new round brings the total Moon Express has raised to $45 million. Richards said the company is looking to raise an additional $10 million as a “contingency” and to support future missions. “This is not a stunt,” he said. “We’re not putting all our eggs in one basket.”

The company is developing a small lunar lander called the MX-1E. The spacecraft is designed to land on the moon and then “hop” to another landing site, fulfilling the requirement of the Google Lunar X Prize to travel at least 500 meters across the surface after landing. That initial mission will carry scientific and commercial payloads from several customers. Richards said Moon Express is currently focusing on the spacecraft’s key technology, its propulsion system. The company previously tested that propulsion technology in tests at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, but Richards said the company is making changes to improve its performance.

That additional performance is needed since the spacecraft will launch on Electron, a small launch vehicle being developed by U.S.-New Zealand company Rocket Lab, which can only take the lander into low Earth orbit. Earlier mission concepts called for launching on a larger vehicle that could place the spacecraft into a geostationary transfer orbit. “We need that extra punch from our own engine in order to get to the moon,” Richards said.

The article provides one more tidbit, this time about Rocket Lab and its Electron rocket:

The company’s current schedule calls for integrating the spacecraft in July, and then shipping it to Rocket Lab’s New Zealand launch site in October. The launch, scheduled for late this year, will be the seventh or eighth operational flight of the Electron, Richards said, shortly after a NASA mission under a Venture Class Launch Services contract Rocket Lab received in late 2015.

Although Rocket Lab has yet to launch an Electron — its first test flight is scheduled for no earlier than February — Richards believed the company would be ready in time for Moon Express, which faces a deadline of the end of this year to win the $20 million Google Lunar X Prize before the prize expires. [emphasis mine]

In other words, if things go as planned, Rocket Lab will launch Electron in February, and then do about one launch per month before it launches Moon Express. That will be an impressive start for the new rocket company, should they succeed in doing it.

A centrifuge costing 20 cents based on a toy

Scientists at Stanford have developed a centrifuge costing 20 cents to make, based on a child’s toy, that can be used in the field to separate blood samples.

According to Stanford, Prakash and post-doctoral fellow Saad Bhamla came up with the “paperfuge” while looking at toys like tops and yo-yos for inspiration. Noticing how the disc of a whirligig spins when the cords on either side are pulled, they decided to make a slow motion video of one, only to discover that it rotated at 10,000 to 15,000 RPM.

The pair started developing prototypes using a blood capillary tube mounted on a paper disc, but they went beyond simple tinkering as they recruited three undergraduate engineering students from MIT and Stanford to create mathematical models of how the whirligig could change a pulling motion into a rotary motion. Looking at variables like disc size, string elasticity, and pulling force, they combined this with equations from the physics of supercoiling DNA to gain a better understanding of the whirligig’s mechanism.

The result was a centrifuge made of 20 cents of paper, twine, and plastic that could spin at 125,000 RPM, generate 3,000 G’s, and process samples in 1.5 minutes.

I have embedded a video explaining the paperfuge below the fold. I wonder if a variation of this on ISS could do low gravity experiments.
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SpaceX to land both Falcon Heavy first stages and Dragon at Cape Canaveral

An environmental report, prepared by SpaceX, describes in detail their plans to build landing facilities for their Dragon capsule as well as two more landing pads to facilitate the vertical landing of all three Falcon Heavy first stages at Launch Complex 13 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

It is not clear when this work will go forward, though I suspect it will not be too far in the future.

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