Tag Archives: government

NASA buys Soyuz seats from Boeing

NASA has purchased two additional seats from Boeing on a Russian Soyuz capsule and rocket to get astronauts to ISS beyond 2019.

The reason Boeing was able to sell Russian Soyuz seats is because they have obtained them from the Russians in a deal to settle Boeing’s $320 million lawsuit over ending the Russian/Boeing Sea Launch partnership.

Heading Home

Today we completed our last caving trip in Belize. I and many of the expedition’s participants head home tomorrow.

Because our cave trips take so much time, I have not had time to post anything these last few days. I will try to post tomorrow during my return home, but expect full posting to resume on Thursday.

Also, though I will comment then in greater length about SpaceX’s announcement on Monday that they plan on sending two tourists around the Moon by 2018, I want to note here that this announcement is clearly Elon Musk’s response to the effort by NASA to delay the launch of commercial crew because of so-called safety issues so that SLS/Orion might fly first. Musk is telling the world that NASA’s safety concerns are crap (to which I generally agree) and he intends to prove this with his own lunar manned mission.

New auto-destruct system to increase launch rate

The competition heats up: A new auto-destruct system operating by computer, using GPS, and installed on each rocket should allow the launch rate in Florida to ramp up significantly.

Up until now it took several days to reconfigure the ground-based radar facilities. This system, first used on the most recent Falcon 9 launch, does not require this. It also involves fewer people to operate it. They expect that they will soon be able to launch up to 48 missions per year, some on the same day.

India’s government a barrier to private space

Even as India and its space agency show themselves to increasingly be a major player in the worldwide aerospace market, it appears that India’s governmental policy on private satellite communications is acting as a barrier that blocks the growth of a commercial space industry.

India’s current satcom policy, first rolled out in 1997 and then updated in 2000, is clearly outdated. A senior ISRO official who attended the ORF event (but declined to be identified) pointed out that all the existing satcom policy says is Indian satellite companies will be given preference over foreign multinational companies. “How does this preference play out? If the department of space is worried about national security concerns, they should lay down clear guidelines for security compliance by foreign satellites. The existing policy doesn’t talk about this, which inevitably leaves it to ISRO, DoS and Antrix’s discretion,” the official told The Wire.

And this discretion has held up multiple applications for satellite manufacturing and foreign direct investment over the last decade. Hughes’ Krishna is particularly frustrated over this. “If a company submits an application for satellite broadband services in India, irrespective of where the satellites will be made, it needs a specific timeline on when it will hear back from ISRO or the DoS. Will it be two years, three years or five years? It is difficult to line up future investments if speedy clearance is not given,” Krishna said.

Essentially, India’s Department of Space (DoS) and its space agency ISRO control all licensing, and have been using that power to delay or deny the issuing of any private satellite licenses, since such efforts are in competition with these government agencies.

The situation here is very similar to what existed in the U.S. with NASA for most of the last half of the 20th century. The agency did not want private launch companies competing with its own manned programs, and diligently worked to block their efforts. If you wanted to be part of manned space, you did what NASA told you to do and you built what they told you to build. It wasn’t until the rise of the commercial space programs to launch cargo to ISS that NASA’s grip on manned space was finally broken.

India now faces the same problem. ISRO has done an excellent job, as NASA did in its early years, in getting India’s space industry started. It now needs to back off, stop running things and simply be a customer of these competing private companies, letting freedom do the job instead of government dictate. The question now is whether the Indian government will allow this to happen. There are many vested interests there that will resist.

Aerojet Rocketdyne sets record testing new rocket engine

The competition heats up: In recent static fire tests of its new AR-1 rocket engine Aerojet Rocketdyne set a record for the highest chamber pressure for any American engine using oxygen and kerosene.

They hope to convince ULA to use this engine in its Atlas 5 rocket to replace the Russian engine they presently use. At the moment, though ULA has made no commitment, it appears however that the company is favoring Blue Origin’s engine instead. That Congress favors Aerojet Rocketdyne is their one ace in the hole, since Congress controls the purse strings.

Sea Launch deal finalized?

The competition heats up? Two articles today in the Russia press suggest that either their settlement deal with Boeing over bankrupt Sea Launch is either on the verge of signing or the Russians are trying to pressure Boeing to an agreement by use of the press.

The first article says that a final agreement is about to be signed, but provides no date or indication from Boeing that they have agreed to terms. The second announces that the private Russian company that is acquiring Sea Launch from the Russian government to compete in the commercial launch market has been given a launch license by the Russian government, and will launch its first rocket from Baikonur later this year, using the Ukrainian Zenit-M rocket that was designed to fly from the Sea Launch floating platform. .This launch is intended as a test flight prior to restarting launches from the Sea Launch platform itself.

The complexity of this Sea Launch situation boggles my mind. Russia has sold Sea Launch to a private Russian airline company, S7, which will use a Ukrainian rocket to launch satellites from the Sea Launch platform. Before that can happen however Russia has to settle its dispute with Boeing, which won a $300+ million settlement in court over the breakup of their Sea Launch partnership. That settlement reportedly includes free passenger seats on Soyuz flights to ISS, which Boeing is reportedly offering to sell to NASA, which might need them. Meanwhile, Russia does not seem to have a problem with a Russian company using a Ukrainian rocket, even though Russia itself has completely banned the use of Ukrainian equipment on any of its own space rockets or capsules.

The business of commercial space sometimes amazes me.

Posted in the airport terminal in Belize City. We are waiting for everyone to arrive to take a van together to our resort, Maya Mountain Lodge.

Last Soyuz-U launches Progress to ISS

Russia today successfully launched a Progress freighter to ISS using its last Soyuz-U rocket.

The Soyuz-U has been launched hundreds of times since the 1970s, but has been replaced by Russia because it uses equipment made in Ukraine. The newer versions of the Soyuz rockets are completely home-built, but also have been plagued by quality control problems and corruption within Russia.

Posted in the air of the Gulf of Mexico in route to Belize.

“This is how socialism always ends.”

The people of Venezuala are literally starving to death under socialist rule.

The South American country of Venezuela, infamously known for its wide reaching socialist policies that have left the country devastated, has reached a point where its citizens are losing almost 20 pounds due to their lack of food.

A 2016 study from La Encuesta Condiciones de Vida (Encovi) – in English, The 2016 Living Conditions Survey — conducted a survey of 6,500 families found that a little over 32 percent of Venezuelan households eat only once or twice everyday. 93.3 percent said their income does not support their costs for food, and thus they have resorted to cheaper foods such as vegetables. Namely potatoes.

Due to this, almost 75 percent of the Venezuelan population has lost an average of 19 pounds.

As the author at the link very correctly notes, this is how things always end with socialist, communist, and collective policies. Always. Without fail.

Senate passes NASA budget that slashes environment spending

While keeping NASA’s overall budget the same, the Senate has passed a NASA budget bill that will slash NASA’s environmental spending and pass the money to other programs within the agency.

The budget zeros out all budget items dedicated to climate research. The budget also outlines a number of important space policy approaches that are now endorsed by Congress:

  • Commercial crew and cargo are fully supported
  • Privatizing ISS is encouraged
  • Congress reaffirms its support of SLS and Orion
  • NASA is asked to prep Orion for ISS flights, using other rockets
  • NASA is tasked to create a roadmap for reaching Mars
  • The Mars roadmap is not restricted to using SLS or Orion
  • An alternative to Obama’s asteroid redirect mission is requested
  • Funding is provided to pay for astronaut health needs
  • NASA science is to focus on astronomy, planets, exoplanets, asteroids, aviation, and space technology

It is expected that the House will also pass the bill, and that Trump will sign it.

I also expect that most of NASA’s climate work will now be shifted to NOAA, under new management. Thus, the climate budgets are adjusted, and the people in charge are changed. A nice way to drain the swamp.

High School band to exclude whites in its music selection

Bigots: The band directors of a Minnesota high school band have decided to only buy music from “composers of color” this year, purposely excluding anyone who happened to be white.

The band directors at Spring Lake, outside of St. Paul, Minnesota, have pledged to include at least one piece by a female composer and one by a composer of color in each concert, for each of the school’s bands. “We made a commitment this year to only buy music from composers of color,” says Brian Lukkasson, one of the directors.

Because we all know that one can’t write good music if your skin color is the wrong shade.

I should add that this NPR report sees nothing wrong with this policy, even though it probably violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (pushed through by Republicans and opposed by southern Democrats) as well as numerous other civil rights laws and regulations passed since. In other words, bigotry is fine as long as the people being oppressed are people you think should be.

ULA lets the press see part of SLS

Link here. The upper stage of SLS is undergoing its final testing in Michoud prior to shipment to Florida, and ULA had a press event to show it off.

“This is the first piece of integrated flight hardware for the SLS system to be shipped down to the Cape in preparation for our very first launch,” said Jerry Cook, Deputy SLS Program Manager for NASA. Cook noted that the ICPS test article is currently undergoing stress and load tests at Marshall.

The completion of the ICPS is yet another landmark in SLS’ development, though some contend it’s still a drawing-board vehicle. John Shannon, Boeing’s Vice President and General Manager of the SLS Program, disagrees. “The SLS has, in various forms, been called a paper rocket […] and, if I think you look to your right, you’ll see that absolutely is not true,” stated Shannon. “If you had the opportunity to go to the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, where we’re putting the bigger core stage together, you would also see that it is not true because we are putting hardware together as we speak.”

This upper stage engine is a brand new design and has never flown before, and the rocket it is part of has yet to be assembled. Yet NASA is considering flying humans on it during its first test flight, even as it harasses SpaceX and Boeing about using the Falcon 9 and Atlas 5 rockets, both proven repeatedly in operational flights, for their manned ISS missions.

The article also gives an update on the situation at Michoud since it was hit by a tornado on February 8. It appears that the facility is operating again, but not fully.

India’s space agency wants to build a space station

The decline begins: The head of India’s space agency ISRO yesterday advocated that his country build its own space station.

The spacesuit is ready. A survival capsule is on the way. ISRO has everything to send astronauts into space and develop a space station, all that’s left is for the government to give the money and policy clearance, said ISRO chief AS Kiran Kumar here on Monday. “We have the capability to create a space station, but you (government) have to give us the money and time to make this happen,” Kumar told reporters on the sidelines of 34th foundation day celebration of the Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology (RRCAT). “If the government and country decides… we are ready. You need to provide us funding, policy clearance,” he said, adding that space mission is low priority for the government “because one doesn’t see any immediate use of this in country’s development and growth”.

Kumar’s comments came in the backdrop of Chinese media reacting to ISRO’s recent record launch of 104 satellites at one go. An editorial in a Chinese newspaper pointed out that “there is no Indian astronaut in space and the country’s plan to establish a space station has not started”. [emphasis mine]

Rather than focus on development that could increase India’s competitiveness in the profitable launch market, such as improving its rockets either by making them reusable or able to launch more frequently, Kumar instead wants to spend his government’s money and build a space station. He doesn’t really outline what he intends to accomplish with this station, other than demonstrate that India can match China. His focus instead is creating an infrastructure for pork and jobs for ISRO. The station will not bring in profits, which would be more useful to the country and its nascent private space industry.

This is what government agencies routinely do. They might start out functioning like an innovative private company trying to attract customers, but the lure of coerced government money always takes precedence in the end, and the agency shifts its focus to building pork-laden empires funded by tax dollars.

Tilleson starts State Department purge

Cleaning house: The Trump administration carried out major lay-offs in the staffing at high levels of the State Department on Thursday.

Much of seventh-floor staff, who work for the Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources and the Counselor offices, were told today that their services were no longer needed. These staffers in particular are often the conduit between the secretary’s office to the country bureaus, where the regional expertise is centered. Inside the State Department, some officials fear that this is a politically-minded purge that cuts out much-needed expertise from the policy-making, rather than simply reorganizing the bureaucracy.

In addition, it appears that the new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is also pulling the fangs from many other State Department managers, many of whom have indicated a partisan hostility to the Trump administration.

There are clear signals being sent that many key foreign policy portfolios will be controlled directly by the White House, rather than through the professional diplomats. Not a single State Department official was included in the White House meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week.

Good. It is important that federal employees of all stripes learn that a new administration has been elected by the American people, and it is there job to do what that administration wants, not what they want.

The consequences of leftwing censorship

Two stories today illustrate the consequences, both good and bad, of the left’s effort to stifle free speech on campuses:

The first story describes how a California law banning any university interaction with four states that have passed anti-transgender bathroom laws (laws that prevent men who are making believe they are women from entering women’s bathrooms) has prevented three California debate teams from attending the nationals.

This week the nation’s top debate coaches released their recognition of the top collegiate policy debate teams. This exceptional group of sixteen teams receives pre-bids to the National Debate Tournament at the end of March and will have strong potential toward winning the national title in debate at the tournament to be held at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. Two of the nation’s top teams that made this elite selection are from Berkeley, a campus recently racked by violent demands for the suppression of free speech. Incredibly, Berkeley’s teams and one other team from California who made the cut, will not attend the National Debate Tournament. That is because the state of California has banned all university related personnel from traveling to four states around the nation: Kansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Mississippi, on the specious grounds that these states have all passed “anti-LGBT legislation.” All debate teams from California state schools are practically banned from attending the national debate tournaments being held in the state of Kansas in March.

In other words, the intolerance by California to all alternative points of view has succeeded in literally shutting down all debate. As the author notes,
» Read more

Killing both commercial space and American astronauts

This all reeks of politics: A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released yesterday says that NASA it should not permit Boeing and SpaceX to fly humans on their capsules and rockets until they fix certain issues and test both repeatedly on unmanned flights before the first manned flights to ISS.

This GAO report was mandated by Congress, and it requires NASA to certify that both Boeing and SpaceX have met NASA’s requirements before allowing those first manned flights. While the technical issues outlined in the report — to which NASA concurs — might be of concern, my overall impression in reading the report, combined with yesterday’s announcement by NASA that they are seriously considering flying humans on SLS’s first test flight, is that this process is actually designed to put obstacles in front of Boeing and SpaceX so as to slow their progress and allow SLS to launch first with humans aboard.

For example, the report lists three main problems with the commercial manned effort. First there is the Russian engine on the Atlas 5. From the report itself [pdf]:
» Read more

UAE proposes building Martian city within a century

The competition heats up? The United Arab Emirates announced on Tuesday its plan to construct a city on Mars and have it completed by 2117, a hundred years from now.

On Tuesday, at the sidelines of the World Government Summit in Dubai, the UAE announced that it was planning to build the first city on Mars by 2117. According to CNBC, UAE engineers presented a concept city at the event about the size of Chicago for guests to explore.

In a statement, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and vice president of the UAE, sounded confident about the project. “Human ambitions have no limits, and whoever looks into the scientific breakthroughs in the current century believes that human abilities can realize the most important human dream,” Maktoum said.

And despite the grandiose nature of the idea, the 100-year-plan does emphasize some practical steps. “The Mars 2117 Project is a long-term project,” Maktoum explained in the statement, adding that the first order of business would be making space travel appeal to young Emiratis, with special programs in space sciences being set up at universities in the UAE.

Maktoum is the guy that pushed to create the UAE’s space agency, and is leading its effort to fly an unmanned mission to Mars by 2020. It is very clear that his goal is to inspire his country and its youth so that they will aim high in future years. I wish him well, as this is a far better goal for an Islamic nation than sending out suicide bombers to kill innocent people.

I must add that I remain very skeptical about this particular plan. I fully expect us to finally get to Mars in the next century, but whether we will have the ability to build cities there in that time frame remains questionable.

Republican leaders propose Obamacare revisions

Cowards: The House Republican leadership today put forth a series of proposals for revisingnot repealing — Obamacare.

A packet distributed to lawmakers at the meeting and obtained by The Hill says the GOP bill will include tax credits, an expansion of health savings accounts, money for high risk pools to care for the sick and a major restructuring of Medicaid to cap federal payments.

No dollar figures for any of the Republican proposals have been presented yet. Lawmakers said that is because the Congressional Budget Office is still analyzing the plan.

Nowhere do these proposals deal with repealing Obamacare’s ban on low-cost catastrophic health insurance plans. In fact, these proposal do little to repeal any of Obamacare’s worst regulations, which make the entire concept of health insurance unsustainable. Instead, these proposals nibble at the edges of the law, and will only serve to make things worse. For example, the proposals will repeal all the taxes that pay for Obamacare’s costs, will eliminate the mandates that force people to buy insurance, but will do nothing to relieve insurance companies from the law’s requirements, such as forcing them to accept every applicant, no matter how sick. Such a crazy arrangement will guarantee that no one will buy health insurance until they need it, making it entirely unprofitable.

The whole mess is simply too complicated. The time has come to do what Alexander the Great did: rather than try to untie the Gordian knot, he simply took a sword and cut it. Congress should do the same to Obamacare. Only then will the health insurance industry have a chance of recovery.

Two congressmen propose naming SLS for astronaut Gene Cernan

Two congressman yesterday introduced legislation that would rename SLS after Eugene Cernan, the last Apollo astronaut to walk on the Moon.

I don’t think anyone would argue with this. First, SLS is a terrible name for the rocket. Second, Cernan deserves the recognition.

At the same time, I suspect this is happening as part of an overall push within the Washington community to sell SLS to Trump and his administration. This proposal, as well as the recent news stories proposing SLS/Orion Moon missions and putting astronauts on SLS’s first flight, all point to a lobbying effort inside NASA, Congress, and the big space community to save SLS, which when compared to the successes and achievements of commercial space since 2010 appears an abject failure.

That comparison is at the heart of my policy paper, Capitalism in Space, which will hit the newstands next week. It makes it very clear how much a failure SLS/Orion has been, and how embarrassing that failure stands when compared to commercial space.

India preparing rover for 2018 Moon landing

The competition heats up: India preparing rover for 2018 Moon landing.

Isro’s Satellite Applications Centre Director, M. Annadurai, revealed the tentative launch schedule while speaking to the press at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Shar, Sriharikota on Wednesday. He said a Lander and a six-wheeled Rover were being prepped to go with the Chandrayaan-II mission. The chief scientist added that a launch is likely to take place in the first quarter of 2018. According to Dr P.V. Venkita Krishnan, the director of the Isro Propulsion Complex at Mahendragiri, engineers were currently testing soft-landing engines.

India’s launch of a record 104 satellites on a single rocket has pumped up the Indian press, as there were almost 20 stories on space and that launch in their press today, almost all favorable.

This article however is from the U.S., and takes a look at the ineffective American space policy that supposedly forbids American companies from launching on Indian rockets.

The U.S. Commercial Space Launch Agreement of 2005 prohibits the launch of commercial satellites on the Indian vehicle. The reasoning is that struggling U.S. commercial launch providers needed time to establish themselves in the market and would be wiped out by India’s PSLV, which is developed by the Indian Space Organization.

Since 2015, commercial satellite owners have successfully obtained waivers to the policy.

The article notes India’s competitive prices, as well as the overall state of the smallsat industry and its dependence on bigger rockets as secondary payloads to get into space. India’s rockets, funded and subsidized by the government but also built to be inexpensive so as to attract customers, is clearly positioned to effectively compete with SpaceX, who until now charged the least.

What will our Congress do? My preference would be for them to repeal this part of the 2005 law so that American satellite companies can fly on whoever they wish. That would increase competition but it would also likely invigorate the overall launch industry because it would increase the satellite customer base for those rockets and thus create more business for everyone.

Sadly, I suspect that Congress will instead demand that the waivers to the law cease, and will thus block the use if Indian satellites by American companies. The short-sightedness of our politicians never ceases to surprise me.

NASA considers putting astronauts on first SLS/Orion flight

Faced with indications that Trump wants a manned lunar mission during his first term, NASA’s acting administrator has asked his engineers and management to look into the possibility of putting humans on the first SLS/Orion launch, now set for late in 2018.

As the Acting Administrator, my perspective is that we are on the verge of even greater discoveries. President Trump said in his inaugural address that we will “unlock the mysteries of space.” Accordingly, it is imperative to the mission of this agency that we are successful in safely and effectively executing both the SLS and Orion programs.

Related to that, I have asked Bill Gerstenmaier to initiate a study to assess the feasibility of adding a crew to Exploration Mission-1, the first integrated flight of SLS and Orion. I know the challenges associated with such a proposition, like reviewing the technical feasibility, additional resources needed, and clearly the extra work would require a different launch date. That said, I also want to hear about the opportunities it could present to accelerate the effort of the first crewed flight and what it would take to accomplish that first step of pushing humans farther into space. The SLS and ORION missions, coupled with those promised from record levels of private investment in space, will help put NASA and America in a position to unlock those mysteries and to ensure this nation’s world pre-eminence in exploring the cosmos.

This is incredibly stupid. That first flight will be the very first time SLS will fly. It will also be flying with an upper stage engine that has also never flown before. It will take the Orion capsule to the Moon, when the capsule itself has not yet even done one orbit around the Earth. To put people on it makes no engineering sense at all.

Capitalism in Space to be released early next week

After several months of delay for a variety of reasons that I do not need to go into, my policy paper for the Center of New American Security has gone to the printers will be released to the public early next week. The title: Capitalism in Space: Private Enterprise and Competition Reshape the Global Aerospace Launch Industry.

I will have the pdf of this paper available here on Behind the Black the instant it is available. To give everyone a taste, here are my concluding words:

A close look at these recommendations will reveal one common thread. Each is focused on shifting power and regulatory authority away from the federal government and increasing the freedom of American companies to act as they see fit to meet the demands of the market. The key word that defines this common thread is freedom, a fundamental principle that has been aspired to since the nation’s founding. Political leaders from both parties have made the concept a central core tenet of American policy. Democrat John Kennedy stated that his commitment to go to the Moon was a “stand for freedom” in the Cold War. Republican Ronald Reagan proposed “Freedom” as the name for the new space station, and viewed it as a platform for promoting private enterprise in space.

Freedom is actually a very simple idea. Give people and companies the freedom to act, in a competitive environment that encourages intelligent and wise action, and they will respond intelligently and wisely.

The United States’ history proves that freedom can work. It is time that it prove it again, in space.

India launches record 104 satellites at one go

The competition heats up: India today successfully used its PSLV rocket to launch a record 104 satellites.

I can’t quote the description of the 104 satellites as it is too long. The bottom line however is that India has demonstrated that it is now a major player in the space launch industry.

Freedom Caucus to push for swift Obamacare repeal

In a direct clash with the Republican leadership that increasingly wants to slow down a repeal of Obamacare, the conservative House tea party group dubbed the Freedom Caucus announced today that they will push for an immediate repeal of the law.

The House Republican leadership is made up of a bunch of cowards. They fear the polls. They fear the press. They fear the astroturf demonstrations paid for by the left. They fear everything. And they believe in nothing, because if they did believe in freedom and restricting the power of government they would move quickly to repeal Obamacare and let the chips of freedom fall where they may.

The international government effort to come up with a cis-lunar ISS

The competition heats up: In the past five years the various international partners and their space agencies have been conducting studies for developing a new international space station, this time based not in Earth orbit but located near the Moon.

Following initial approval in the fall of 2014, the five space agencies formed the ISS Exploration Capabilities Study Team, IECST, which was tasked with reviewing how the ISS experience could be used to build the cis-lunar infrastructure, with determining its possible architecture and with drafting its flight plan and possible mission. Specialists also had the task of looking at all the necessary technologies, logistics and maintenance which would be required for building and operating a small habitat near the Moon. This man-tended outpost could serve as a way station to the lunar surface and as a springboard for the exploration of the Solar System, including asteroids, Mars and its moons. In fact, the outpost itself could eventually embark on a journey toward a deep-space destination. Representatives of the various space agencies also tried to see what contributions each country could make, based on their technical capabilities and realistic budgets.

All the work was conducted within the ISS program and covered by its budget.

Initially, the IECST group included representatives from space agencies only, for the exception of Russia, with Roskosmos officials needed help from the nation’s prime contractor in human space flight — RKK Energia. For the final few meetings in 2016, ESA also brought representatives from the European space industry. However NASA did not directly involve its key human space flight contractors into the IECST activities. (Instead, the US aerospace companies Boeing and Lockheed Martin continued parallel studies in cooperation with RKK Energia in Russia, EADS Astrium in Europe and Mitsubishi in Japan.) [emphasis mine]

Read the whole article. Lots of interesting details.

In a sense, this international effort is a political lobbying effort by these space agencies to come up with a single project to follow ISS that will continue the funneling of government money to them all. It is also an effort by them to structure future space exploration so all efforts will be contained within this single program, rather than allowing for many different competing efforts, both private and public. In addition, it is an attempt by NASA to come up with some long-term mission for SLS/Orion, which at present has no operational purpose and no funding beyond its first manned flight in 2021.

Finally, note the highlighted sentence above. This effort — which will benefit not just NASA but the space agencies of Russia, Europe, and Japan as well as the old big space companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Mitsubishi — is been paid entirely by American tax dollars. Something about this to me seems wrong. Shouldn’t the cost here be shared? And doesn’t it seem inappropriate for NASA to be picking the companies it wants to work with, without open bidding?

Short circuit caused launch failure of Japanese mini-rocket

Japanese engineers now believe that the cause of the failure of that country’s test launch of a mini-rocket on January 15 was because of the failure of wiring insulation.

The agency said it believes the cladding of electric cables was damaged by the vibration and heat of nearby metal parts, leading the cables to directly touch the metal parts. As a result, a short circuit occurred and a data transmission device lost power, it said.

It is remarkable how much the language of this story reminds me of Soviet era press releases. Everything about it is designed to obscure the problem so that it will be difficult for outsiders to understand what happened.

From what I gather, the cables were not properly secured so that during launch they rubbed violently against some nearby sharp metal parts, which then cut the insulation and caused the short circuit. That they were not properly secured, a basic engineering requirement for any rocket, and that this announcement is written to obscure this fact, suggests once again that Japan’s space agency has some serious quality control problems that it is still not facing.

Countdown begins on India’s record-setting launch of 104 satellites

The competition heats up: ISRO has begun the countdown for Wednesday’s launch of India’s PSLV rocket, carrying a record-setting 104 satellites.

he Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle would be carrying a 714 kilogram main satellite for earth observation and 103 smaller “nano satellites” which would weigh a combined 664 kilograms. Nearly all of the nano satellites are from other countries, including Israel, Kazakhstan, The Netherlands, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates and 96 from United States, said the state-run ISRO.

If successful, India will set a world record as the first country to launch the most satellites in one go, surpassing Russia which launched 39 satellites in a single mission in June 2014.

Obviously, all these different satellites got a cut-rate launch deal by sharing the launch, which helps make their launch affordable. The disadvantage here is that they do not have much flexibility in choosing their orbits, which is why there is also a market now for small rockets aimed at launching single smallsats, such as Rocket Lab’s Electron.

X-37B about to land?

Because of sudden Air Force preparations of the old space shuttle runway at Cape Canaveral it is now believed that the X-37B spacecraft presently in orbit for the past 21 months is about to come home.

The spacecraft has not yet landed, but recent orbital changes spotted by amateurs as well as runway preparations at the Cape all point to an end to the mission.

In preparation for landing at Kennedy, teams practiced landing drills and post-landing safing operations as well as emergency drills at the SLF [Shuttle Landing Facility] last week.

The X-37B landing also helps explain the until now curious delay to SpaceX’s launch of the SpX-10 resupply mission for the International Space Station which had originally been scheduled for the 14th as well – the opening day of the X-37B’s landing attempts at Kennedy. When the SpaceX mission was delayed, it was stated that range assets necessary for the return to launch site landing of the Falcon 9 core stage were not available from 14-17 February, while all other range assets necessary for launch were available during that window.

While the secretive nature of the mission precludes any exact knowledge of the ground track the X-37B will take, a descending node reentry over large portions of the United States is the likely option given the landing window for the restricted air space in and around the Kennedy Space Center.

If the X-37B lands this week, it will have completed the fourth such mission from the Air Force’s known fleet of two spacecraft. One did flights 1 and 3, while the other did flights 2 and 4.

NSF voids punishment of scientists who committed plagiarism and data fabrication

An inspector general report has found that the National Science Foundation has routinely cancelled or reduced the punishments of scientists who had committed either plagiarism or data fabrication, allowing them to continue to get grants and advise the government.

The inspector general for the National Science Foundation identified at least 23 instances of plagiarism in proposals, NSF-funded research, and agency publications in 2015 and 2016. It found at least eight instances of data manipulation and fabrication in those years. NSF officials disregarded recommended sanctions against some of the scientists and academics implicated in those findings. Though many were temporarily barred from receiving additional federal funding, nearly all will be eligible for taxpayer support and official roles in NSF-funded research in the future.

In one investigation that concluded in Nov. 2015, the IG found that an NSF-supported researcher had “knowingly plagiarized text into five NSF proposals.”

“These actions were a significant departure from the standards of the research community, and therefore constituted research misconduct,” according to a report on the investigation’s findings.

No wonder the public has become very skeptical of government science. Worse, by turning a blind eye to this bad behavior the National Science Foundation ends up giving a black eye to all science.

Japan to try another launch of low-cost mini-rocket

The competition heats up: Japan has decided, following a January launch failure, to try another launch attempt in 2017 of a test of low-cost mini-rocket.

Participating businesses will likely bear the brunt of the 300 million yen to 500 million yen ($2.64 million to $4.4 million) launch cost, though the government will likely allocate funds as well. JAXA aims to have the rocket finished by autumn. It will soon plan out how to procure needed parts and build the vehicle in time for a 2017 launch, then submit the plan to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology. The ministry will secure a launch site accordingly, and a safety and inspections committee of its space division will review the plan.

January’s rocket was a three-stage version of the existing two-stage SS-520, modified to carry a miniature satellite. Off-the-shelf consumer product technology was incorporated to keep costs down. The rocket blasted off successfully. But during the first stage of the launch sequence, transmission of such critical data as its temperature and position ceased. The agency aborted the second stage, letting the vehicle fall into the ocean.

This second attempt, and the speed in which they appear to be gearing up to launch it, suggests that Japan might finally be recognizing that it has been failing badly in its efforts to participate in the new commercial launch market, and needs to energize its launch industry if it wants to participate in the exploration of the solar system.

Orbital ATK prepares Cape Canaveral launchpad for July Minotaur launch

The competition heats up: Orbital ATK crews on Sunday practiced stacking stages on a Cape Canaveral launchpad in preparation for a July Minotaur 4 launch of an Air Force surveillance satellite.

Teams this weekend stacked three inert Peacekeeper missiles stages on a launch stand similar to those that will make up the Minotaur IV rocket’s first three stages. Two more Orion 38 stages will fill out the rocket. On Sunday, the first three stages standing more than 50 feet tall were surrounded by puffy white covers that will keep the right temperature during the launch campaign’s summer heat.

Plans called for the mobile gantry to be rolled back on rails to its launch position before the stages are taken down on Monday.

Orbital ATK has been prevented from expanding its Minotaur 4 market beyond military launches because the rocket uses these available but now unused Peacekeeper missiles and is thus very inexpensive. Their competitors have been their influence in Congress to forbid their use commercially.

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