Tag Archives: freedom

Update on the Falcon 9 launchpad explosion investigation

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article today describing the investigation into last week’s Falcon 9 launchpad explosion, noting especially how — despite participation by the FAA, NASA, and the Air Force — SpaceX will be entirely in charge of the investigation, in accordance with present law.

The article is clearly lobbying for a change, whereby the government would have more power in these investigations. I personally think a change would be a mistake, that the law as it is now is how it should be. It was their rocket that exploded. Their business model depends on their rockets not exploding. Thus, they have the greatest self-interest in fixing the problem. The other outside players might be helpful, but their presence can only in the long run make things more difficult and slow things down, without making anything better.

Update on Falcon 9 explosion

NASA and SpaceX have released detailed statements about Thursday’s Falcon 9 launchpad explosion, summarizing what is known at the moment as well as the state of the investigation.

Not surprisingly, the failure will cause delays in SpaceX’s upcoming plans as well as force the company to shift launches to a different launchpad that will not be ready until November.

Budget constraints and technical challenges delay commercial crew

A NASA inspector general report released today cites both budget constraints imposed by Congress as well as technical challenges that will delay the first commercial manned mission to ISS until 2018.

When the commercial crew program began, NASA hoped to have routine flights by 2015, but that slipped in large part due to congressional underfunding in the early years. OIG noted today that its 2013 report found that adequate funding was the major challenge for the program. Congress has warmed up to the program, however, and now is approving the full President’s request so funding is not the issue it once was. Technical challenges now are the major hurdle according to today’s report.

The companies’ systems must be certified by NASA before beginning routine flights to ISS. Boeing anticipates receiving certification in January 2018 with its first certified flight in spring 2018, and SpaceX is working toward late 2017 for its first certified mission, the OIG report says. But it is skeptical: “Notwithstanding the contractors’ optimism, based on the information we gathered during our audit, we believe it unlikely that either Boeing or SpaceX will achieve certified, crewed flight to the ISS until late 2018.”

The report has been written prior to yesterday’s Falcon 9 launchpad failure, which will certainly impact the schedule negatively.

Essentially, the report claims that the program was delayed initially by about two to three years because of the refusal of Congress to fund it fully. The delays to come will be instead because of the technical challenges. While I tend to agree with this assessment, I also note that government reports like this are often designed to generate more funds for the agencies involved, not find a better way to do things. If we are not diligent and hard-nosed about how we fund this program I worry that with time commercial crew will become corrupted by the government’s sloppy and inefficient way of doing things, and become as bloated as Orion and SLS. This is one of the reasons I never complained when Congress short funded the program previously, as it forced the companies involved to keep their costs down.

Falcon 9 explodes on launchpad

During a standard prelaunch static test firing today a Falcon 9 rocket exploded on the launchpad.

Obviously, this will put a hold on all of SpaceX’s upcoming efforts.

  • Falcon Heavy: Since the explosion was almost certainly caused by a failure in the first stage, they will have to hold off that first Falcon Heavy demo launch scheduled for this fall, since it uses three first stages strapped together.
  • Reused Falcon 9: Similarly, the first launch of a recovered Falcon 9 first stage, also set for the fall, will likely have to be delayed until they determine what went wrong today.
  • Reused Dragon: NASA had indicated that one of the cargo missions to ISS next year would reuse a previously flown Dragon. Though this explosion has nothing to do specifically with Dragon, the capsule is launched with a Falcon 9, and thus cannot fly until this investigation is over.
  • Falcon 9: SpaceX had been attempting this year to up its launch rate to more than one per month. That will now not happen.
  • Red Dragon: SpaceX has said it plans to fly a test Dragon to Mars in 2018, the next launch window. While this explosion will delay the company’s plans over the next year, I expect SpaceX will not cancel that 2018 launch. They have enough time to investigate this failure and fix the cause without missing that window.
  • Elon Musk’s Mars speech: Finally, Musk is scheduled to make a major speech on September 26 at the International Aeronautical Congress (IAC) in Guadalajara, Mexico, outlining his company’s future plans to fly to Mars. He almost certainly will have to rewrite that speech.

This launchpad explosion is bad news for SpaceX but it is also very puzzling. I cannot remember the last time a rocket exploded on the launchpad during a static fire test. Failures have in recent years always occurred during the actual launch, when the rocket is flying and is thus exposed to large dynamic forces which can cause the engineering to go screwy. For a rocket to explode at the moment it ignites its engines suggests a very fundamental design fault, which seems unlikely considering the number of launches and static fires SpaceX has completed with the Falcon 9, including numerous prelaunch tests of the rocket’s first stage, both on the launchpad and at the company’s test facility in Texas prior to shipment to the launchpad.

Update: SpaceX has now said that the problem occurred near the rocket’s upper stage during fueling, prior to the actual ignition of the engines.

This news is both good and bad. The good news: It means that the failure had nothing to do with the much tested Merlin engines, which would have suggested a fundamental design flaw previously unseen. That is now clearly not the case. The bad news: The update suggests that the problem might be related to SpaceX’s high density, high pressure fueling, which by lowering the temperature of the tanks allows them to load more fuel and oxidizer. This novel approach, only introduced last year in order to give the rocket greater fuel capacity, might have a design problem that they had not anticipated.

Three professors ban skepticism of human-caused climate change

Academic fascists: Three professors teaching an online course at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs have told their students that they are forbidden to raise any skeptical data or sources or even questions when the issue of man-made global warming is discussed.

Signed by the course’s professors Rebecca Laroche, Wendy Haggren and Eileen Skahill, it was sent after several students expressed concern for their success in the course after watching the first online lecture about the impacts of climate change. “Opening up a debate that 98% of climate scientists unequivocally agree to be a non-debate would detract from the central concerns of environment and health addressed in this course,” the professors’ email continued. “… If you believe this premise to be an issue for you, we respectfully ask that you do not take this course, as there are options within the Humanities program for face to face this semester and online next.”

The professors also note this ban on debate extends to discussion among students in the online forums. Moreover, students who choose to use outside sources for research during their time in the course may select only those that have been peer-reviewed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the email states.

Putting aside the fact that the study claiming that 97% of scientists agree with man-made global warming has been debunked, this refusal to allow open debate by these fake teachers makes them the poster child for fascism in academia.

Hat tip to commenter cotour for finding this story.

First relaunch of Falcon 9 1st stage announced

The competition heats up: SpaceX and the Luxembourg satellite company SES today announced that the of SES 10 this fall will use one of the Falcon 9 first stages that has flown previously and been recovered. From the SES press release:

“Having been the first commercial satellite operator to launch with SpaceX back in 2013, we are excited to once again be the first customer to launch on SpaceX’s first ever mission using a flight-proven rocket. We believe reusable rockets will open up a new era of spaceflight, and make access to space more efficient in terms of cost and manifest management,” said Martin Halliwell, Chief Technology Officer at SES. “This new agreement reached with SpaceX once again illustrates the faith we have in their technical and operational expertise. The due diligence the SpaceX team has demonstrated throughout the design and testing of the SES-10 mission launch vehicle gives us full confidence that SpaceX is capable of launching our first SES satellite dedicated to Latin America into space.”

I also like how they call the used first stage “flight-proven.” This story notes that the insurance cost for the launch weren’t raised either.

The exact date has not yet been set, but it will be in the fourth quarter of 2016.

A university declares its stand for freedom

Good news: The University of Chicago has issued a letter that it is distributing to all incoming students that bluntly tells them it does not care if they are offended by some speech and will instead support the speaker’s free speech.

“Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called ‘trigger warnings,’ we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own,” reads the letter from Dean of Students Jay Ellison.

You can read the full letter at the link. Whether this will translate into freedom of speech for both liberal and conservative speakers remains to be seen. This college has had several incidents recently where protesters prevented speakers from speaking. The university’s response was to refuse to discipline the protesters for their disruptions, thus allowing the heckler’s veto to win.

The bigots in academia

Two stories today that only confirm what many other previous stories have shown: Modern academia is very bigoted, but instead of favoring white supremacy their focus is promoting black and minority rule.

The second story outlines efforts to create segregated housing and classrooms for the benefit of minorities at a number of different colleges.

It is important to remember that each one of these proposals is being put forth by leftwing academics, all of which I guarantee are partisan Democrats. All they can see is race, which is why they call anyone that disagrees with them a racist. Or to quote the Bible, “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”

Russia-Boeing settlement in Sea Launch dispute?

According to one Russian news source, Russia has negotiated a settlement with Boeing over their Sea Launch dispute.

Russia says it has a possible buyer of Sea Launch, but they can’t sell it because the floating launchpad is in the U.S. and Boeing has gone to court to block the sale until Russia pays them the $300 million it owes them.

SpaceX to up its purchase of carbon fiber?

The competition heats up: A Japanese supplier of carbon fiber materials has announced that it and SpaceX are negotiating a multi-year deal worth possibly as much as $3 billion.

The multiyear deal with Tesla founder Elon Musk’s 14-year-old venture is estimated to be worth 200 billion yen to 300 billion yen ($1.99 billion to $2.98 billion) in total. The two sides are aiming to finalize the agreement this fall after hammering out prices, time frames and other terms. SpaceX aims to hold down expenses by re-using rockets and spacecraft. Originally, the company made rockets mostly out of aluminum to keep costs low, using carbon fiber only for a few parts, such as connecting joints.

The U.S. company said in a statement, “Toray is one of a number of suppliers we work with to meet our carbon fiber needs for Falcon rocket and Dragon spacecraft production, and we haven’t announced any new agreements at this time. As our business continues to grow, the amount of carbon fiber we use may continue to grow.”[emphasis mine]

The deal is not yet final, but the highlighted language above suggests to me that, based on SpaceX’s engineering tests of its recovered first stages, it has decided it is worthwhile replacing aluminum with carbon fiber for many more of its rocket parts. The fiber might cost more, but if the first stage is going to be reused, the cost can be distributed over several launches. And because carbon fiber is lighter than aluminum, it will allow their rockets to launch a larger payload.

Trump’s agriculture advisory panel

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has announced his list of agricultural advisers, drawing mostly from established Republican players.

The New York City real estate mogul’s rural and agriculture advisory committee — comprising 65 people — is a Who’s Who of farm policy, with five members of Congress, including the chairmen of the House and Senate agriculture committees, 10 current and former farm-state governors and two former GOP presidential nomination rivals, former Govs. Rick Perry and Jim Gilmore.

…The list includes some major GOP donors, including Charles Herbster, a Nebraska cattle rancher who’s serving as the council’s chair, and Bruce Rastetter, a wealthy agribusiness leader in Iowa. But it also lists most of the Republican farm policy establishment, including Pat Roberts of Kansas, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Mike Conaway of Texas, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte, who used to lead the House panel, as well as nearly a dozen state agriculture commissioners.

The advisory committee — which is six times larger than Mitt Romney’s 2012 panel — also includes a number of distinctly Trumpian characters, from Red Steagall, Texas’ official cowboy poet, to Sid Miller, the Texas agriculture commissioner who made national headlines for trying to bring deep fryers and sugary drinks back to schools.

Much of this panel appears to be very much mainstream Republican establishment, which has its positives and negatives. On a positive side, the article notes that in the panel’s first discussions about policy there was talk about eliminating or streamlining federal regulation on agriculture. On the negative side, the panel has some important members who favor the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal worked out by the Obama administration.

This information once again suggests that Trump will govern somewhere in the middle. If Congress is controlled by Republicans than there is also a good chance that its policy will lean rightward, though this panel also suggests that policy will continue to favor the crony businesses that the Republican leadership likes.

The Grand Canyon

Park Service warning sign

When I posted here on Behind the Black that Diane and I were on our way to the Grand Canyon for our annual hike to the bottom, one of my readers, Keith Douglas, commented that he and his family would be there about the same time. In trying unsuccessfully to meet up, at one point Keith mentioned that his two kids, aged 24 and 23, were proposing they hike into the canyon. Keith emailed me to ask, “From what I read, hiking into the canyon and out is not recommended for a one day activity. What about halfway and back up? Can that be done in an afternoon? It seems pretty hot.” I responded,

Though one can hike down and up in one day, this is not recommended for most. Usually you need to be in very good condition and young. It also helps if you are a long distance runner. Hiking down to Indian Gardens [about two thirds of the way down] can be done as a day trip, but if you don’t hike a lot it will be an intense and long experience. Also, having the right pack and gear is essential! People who go carrying a one liter bottle of water and no hat are guaranteed to suffer.

I didn’t tell them they couldn’t do it, or that they shouldn’t, or that it wasn’t possible. I simply outlined some of the basics for doing it, and let them decide what to do.

Keith answered, with humor, “Thanks for helping me talk my kids out of a hike down.” He later added, “I read a hiking guide on the nps website. It seems to be designed to discourage canyon hiking rather than prepare novice hikers.”

In one sentence Keith encapsulated the problem with almost all of the advice the Park Service gives about the Grand Canyon.
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SpaceX launches another satellite and recovers another Falcon 9 first stage

The competition heats up: SpaceX this morning successfully put another satellite in orbit while also recovering another Falcon 9 first stage.

Posted from the south rim of the Grand Canyon, after hiking out today. More on that later, when I am not so beat and have the energy to write.

Trump considers John Bolton for Secretary of State

In a radio interview today Donald Trump said that he was seriously considering appointing John Bolton as his secretary of state.

This could simply be pandering by Trump to the conservative audience he was speaking to, or it could be a real trail balloon. Either way, it emphasizes again that the policies of a president is largely determined by the people he surrounds himself with, first by indicating the direction the president is leaning, and second by providing counsel to that president. So far, the majority of Trump’s picks have leaned to the right, with some exceptions. Bolton would emphasize that rightward direction, and this is a very good thing.

By the way, I don’t know if my readers have noticed this, but the stories I have posted here about the presidential election campaign have had nothing to do with the stupid stuff that the mainstream and conservative media have been obsessing about. Instead, my focus, as always, is on trying to find out what these candidates will actually do when they become president, based on what they actually do (not say). Thus, I post about Trump’s potential appointments once in office, and real evidence that Hillary Clinton committed illegal acts as secretary of state. Making believe that Donald Trump is a monster because he made a minor miscue at one point in one speech is not a way to learn anything, other than to demonize the man absurdly and wrongly. I won’t participate in that childishness.

Orbital ATK delays Antares-Cygnus launch until September

In the heat of competition: Orbital ATK has once again pushed back the launch of the first upgraded Antares rocket since its launch failure in October 2014, this time until September.

Due to a variety of interrelated factors, including the company’s continuing processing, inspection and testing of the flight vehicle at Wallops Island, and NASA’s scheduling of crew activities on the International Space Station in preparation for upcoming cargo and crew launches, Orbital ATK is currently working with NASA to target a window in the second half of September for the launch of the OA-5 mission. A more specific launch date will be identified in the coming weeks.

This press release suggests that all is well, and that the delay is mostly because of scheduling issues with NASA and ISS. However, it is also very vague, which suggests to me that the company has been also working through the results of the static fire test they did in May and might have needed more time to work out the kinks..

SpaceX prepares to test its next generation rocket engine

The competition heats up: SpaceX’s first Raptor rocket engine has now been built and has been shipped to the company’s test facility in Texas to begin testing.

The Raptor is SpaceX’s next generation of rocket engine. It may be as much as three times more powerful than the Merlin engines that power its Falcon 9 rocket and will also be used in the Falcon Heavy rocket that may fly in late 2016 or early 2017. The Raptor will power SpaceX’s next generation of rocket after the Falcon Heavy, the so-called Mars Colonial Transporter.

Although official details regarding the Raptor engine remain scarce, SpaceX founder Elon Musk has suggested the engine will have a thrust of about 500,000 pounds, roughly the same power as a space shuttle’s main engines. Whereas the shuttle was powered by three main engines and two booster rockets, however, it is believed the large rocket SpaceX uses to colonize Mars would likely be powered by a cluster of nine Raptor engines.

Like I said in my previous post, the rest of this decade should be very exciting in space, and that excitement will have be because of private enterprise and freedom, not NASA’s fake mission to Mars, with Orion.

Deep Space Industries to fly probe to asteroid

The competition heats up: A private company, Deep Space Industries (DSI), has announced plans to send the first privately-built probe to an asteroid before the end of the decade.

Recently, Deep Space Industries and its partner, the government of Luxembourg, announced plans to build and fly Prospector-X™, an experimental mission to low-Earth orbit that will test key technologies needed for low-cost exploration spacecraft. This precursor mission is scheduled to launch in 2017. Then, before the end of this decade, Prospector-1 will travel beyond Earth’s orbit to begin the first space mining exploration mission.

Note that this funding is another example of the Luxembourg government’s effort to invest in commercial space, for profit.

If all goes as planned, the rest of this decade should be very exciting. We will have a private mission to the Moon, a private mission to an asteroid, and a private mission to Mars. All will cost pennies compared to what the government spends. All will be built and launched quickly, compared to how long the government takes. And all will be for profit, which is certainly not what the government is interested in.

A report from Smallsat 2016

The competition heats up: Doug Messier has posted a nice summary of the most important presentations so far at Smallsat 2016 in Utah.

These are the rockets designed to launch cubesats or smaller. It appears that at least two companies, Firefly and Vector Space Systems, are getting close to their first flights. Both already have customers. The progress of a third company, Virgin Galactic, sounds as good, but they have talked big too many times in the past to trust them at this point. In fact, regardless of what any of these companies say, it will be actual flights that puts them on the map.

What is interesting is the number of these companies. There are a lot of them, which suggests strongly that some are going to succeed.

Cruz visits NASA

In taking his family on a tour of the Johnson Space Center, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) also met with some local industry businessmen where he expressed support for NASA as well as a desire to get ISS extended to 2028.

Cruz did not take questions from the media, though they were present during the meeting with businessmen. In reviewing the local press reports of that meeting (of which the above link is the most detailed), it appears that Cruz was mostly there to firm up his local constituent support by mouthing vague but strong support for NASA. It also appears that he as yet does not have a clear understanding of NASA’s full circumstances, or if he does he is leaning down the pork road to gain votes.

When my policy paper appears I intend to make sure his office gets it. By his actions after that we shall then see how sincere Ted Cruz really is about fiscal responsibility and private enterprise.

Trump reveals economic policy team

Donald Trump has unveiled his list of economic advisers.

The list is quite varied, with some very conservative individuals (Steven Moore of the Heritage Institute for example), a good number of former Reagan administration officials, a bunch of middle-of-the-road businessmen, and at least one past Hillary Clinton contributor (Steven Mnuchin). Overall, this list once again suggests that a Trump administration will be moderate though lean right, while also favoring business. It also suggests that Trump’s administration will not be as reform-minded as he sometimes claims. Instead, it suggests that while Trump will push through some much needed reforms, his administration will mostly work to try to fix the status quo.

Will that be good for the country? Right now, considering the dire state of the federal government’s budget and the general corruption that increasingly seems to permeate its entire operation, I personally don’t think so. Strong and fearless reform is needed badly, and it looks like the Trump administration won’t really give us that. However, this list of advisers also suggests that a Trump administration will possibly include some positive change, and also be far less harmful than a Clinton administration, which will push to do more of the very things the federal government has been doing so badly during the past two decades.

ULA and SpaceX to compete for GPS launch

The competition heats up: ULA and SpaceX will likely face-off for the right to launch the Air Force’s next GPS satellite.

SpaceX won the last GPS launch with an unopposed bid of $83 million. ULA has said that their average price for an Air Force launch under the EELV program has been $225 million. I suspect that their bid here will be significantly less than that.

Moon Express gets FAA approval for Moon landing

The competition heats up: Moon Express, one of the leading private competitors in the Google Lunar X-Prize, has gotten FAA approval for its planned 2017 Moon landing.

It is looking like 2017-2018 will be very exciting years for private space. We will not only see the first launches of privately-built manned spacecraft, we will see the first privately-built and -funded missions to both the Moon and Mars.

Vector completes suborbital test launch, signs contract

The competition heats up: The smallsat rocket company Vector Space Systems successfully completed its first suborbital test launch on July 30 as part of the signing of a new contract for 21 launches.

This company is moving quickly. In April they obtained financing, In July they revealed their launch schedule, with the first launch set for 2018. Mere weeks later, they complete their first test flight and announce a major launch contract.

Design problems for Starliner

In the heat of competition: Boeing is working to correct two serious design problems that cropped up during the construction of its Starliner manned capsule.

First the thing was weighing too much:

One issue involved the mass of the crew capsule, which outgrew the lift capability of the United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket selected to put it into orbit. The CST-100 Starliner will ride an Atlas 5 rocket with two solid rocket boosters and a dual-engine Centaur upper stage, and although Boeing and ULA engineers considered adding a third strap-on motor to compensate for the capsule’s extra weight, managers now have the spacecraft back under its mass allowance, Ferguson said.

Second, the capsule has a shape problem:

Ferguson said Boeing has a model of the Atlas 5 rocket and CST-100 Starliner in a wind tunnel to verify a change to capsule’s outer shape devised to overcome higher-than-expected aerodynamic launch loads discovered in testing. “They had one issue, a non-linear aerodynamic loads issue, where they were getting some high acoustic loads right behind the spacecraft,” said Phil McAlister, head of NASA’s commercial spaceflight development office in Washington.

Something here is rotten. It seems to me that Boeing shouldn’t be having these very basic problems right off the bat. In the past, under the older cost-plus contracts NASA used to routinely hand out, these kinds of problems would simply have meant that Boeing would have gotten more money from NASA, This time, however the contract is fixed-price. If Boeing has problems or delays, the company will have to bear the cost, not NASA. I suspect these problems might have occurred because of some cultural laziness at Boeing. Their management is used to not having to eat the cost of these kinds of mistakes. Now, they will. I expect the culture to therefore begin changing.

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