Tag Archives: politics

Customs steals $58K, a man’s life savings

Theft by government: U.S. Customs stole $58,000 from a man traveling to Albania, his life savings, though they charged him with no crime.

“This is to notify you that Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) seized the property described below at Cleveland, OH on October 24, 2017: $57,330 in U.S. Currency,” the notice states. “Enforcement activity indicates that the currency was involved in a smuggling/drug trafficking/money laundering operation.”

The first thing the Kazazis noticed was that the dollar amount listed was $770 less than the amount that Kazazi said he took with him. The family said that the cash was all in $100 bills, making it impossible for it to add up to $57,330.

Customs might claim this had to do with “smuggling/drug trafficking/money laundering” but they found no evidence of such when they strip-searched the man, and have followed up with no charges. And that $770 of the cash that appears missing suggests strongly that several Customs agents pocketed the difference, a nice illegal bonus for these despicable thieves.

Civil forfeiture on its face violates the Fifth Amendment of the Bill of Rights, which clearly states that citizens are not to “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” These Customs agents, the Custom managers, and everyone else involved with this crime should be fired immediately.

It won’t happen, unfortunately. Our corrupt federal government no longer follows the Constitution. It follows its own corrupt power games, for its own benefit. And the people who should act to stop this, our elected officials, are part of the game.

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Proposed new FCC regulations would shut out student cubesats

We’re here to help you! Proposed new FCC regulations on the licensing of smallsats would raise the licensing cost for student-built cubesats so much that universities would likely have to shut down the programs.

In a move that threatens U.S. education in science, technology, engineering and math, and could have repercussions throughout the country’s aerospace industry, the FCC is proposing regulations that may license some educational satellite programs as commercial enterprises. That could force schools to pay a US$135,350 annual fee – plus a $30,000 application fee for the first year – to get the federal license required for a U.S. organization to operate satellite communications.

It would be a dramatic increase in costs. The most common type of small satellite used in education is the U.S.-developed CubeSat. Each is about 10 inches on a side and weighs 2 or 3 pounds. A working CubeSat that can take pictures of the Earth can be developed for only $5,000 in parts. They’re assembled by volunteer students and launched by NASA at no charge to the school or college. Currently, most missions pay under $100 to the FCC for an experimental license, as well as several hundred dollars to the International Telecommunications Union, which coordinates satellite positions and frequencies. [emphasis mine]

If these new and very high licensing fees are correct I find them shocking. As noted in the quote, building a cubesat costs practically nothing, only about $5,000. The new fees thus add gigantic costs to the satellite’s development, and could literally wipe the market out entirely. They certainly will end most university programs that have students build cubesats as a first step towards learning how to build satellites.

These new regulations appear to be part of the Trump administration’s effort to streamline and update the regulatory process for commercial space. It also appears that the FCC has fumbled badly here in its part of this process.

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Why you got Trump, part 2,398,105

Link here. The author focuses on the “Never Trump” wing of the Republican Party, individuals who have completely abandoned any pretense that they stand for conservative values in their no-holds-barred opposition to Trump, even when he does things they should like.

This quote illustrates however why Trump won, and continues to be popular with the general public:

[T]he main point these [Never Trumpers] whom we have no choice but to refer to as former conservatives miss is that in our political system the choice is still binary. Other conservatives may not like Trump but they understand that the voters preferred him in no small measure because they were sick of the clubby elitism that characterizes the anti-Trump alliance.

Moreover, they understand that, thanks to Trump’s unlikely victory, the choice isn’t between a conservatism tainted by association with Trump and one that isn’t. Rather the choice is between a Trump-led Republican Party that is championing the same issues that the pre-Trump GOP supported and liberals who want a return to the Obama era of high taxes and appeasement of Iran to mention just two key issues on which many Never Trumpers have abandoned their principles. [emphasis mine]

It is that clubby elitism of Washington — and the bankrupt incompetent government it has given us — that most offends the voters who went for Trump. Trump’s actions since his elections, though imperfect for sure, have confirmed the wisdom of this choice. It has also revealed the fake conservatives in the Republican Party who clearly prefer that clubby elitism above any effort that might try to fix the problem.

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Chinese regulations sends recycling into the trash

New Chinese regulations on what is acceptable recycled trash is causing trash companies throughout the U.S. to send the recyclables into the trash heap.

In the past, the municipalities would have shipped much of their used paper, plastics and other scrap materials to China for processing. But as part of a broad antipollution campaign, China announced last summer that it no longer wanted to import “foreign garbage.” Since Jan. 1 it has banned imports of various types of plastic and paper, and tightened standards for materials it does accept.

While some waste managers already send their recyclable materials to be processed domestically, or are shipping more to other countries, others have been unable to find a substitute for the Chinese market. “All of a sudden, material being collected on the street doesn’t have a place to go,” said Pete Keller, vice president of recycling and sustainability at Republic Services, one of the largest waste managers in the country.

In other words, there is no market for recycled trash. It has no value. No one wants it. Thus, even though it sounds good and allows people to make believe they are saving the environment by recycling, it is an inefficient waste of resources, as the article notes:

Recycling companies “used to get paid” by selling off recyclable materials, said Peter Spendelow, a policy analyst for the Department of Environmental Quality in Oregon. “Now they’re paying to have someone take it away.”

In some places, including parts of Idaho, Maine and Pennsylvania, waste managers are continuing to recycle but are passing higher costs on to customers, or are considering doing so. “There are some states and some markets where mixed paper is at a negative value,” said Brent Bell, vice president of recycling at Waste Management, which handles 10 million tons of recycling per year. “We’ll let our customers make that decision, if they’d like to pay more and continue to recycle or to pay less and have it go to landfill.”

Economic realities always rule. The problem is when people create fantasies that have no connection with those rules.

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Not one citizen of New Jersey complies with bump stock ban

Update: It appears that the same thing has happened in Denver, where no one has turned in their bump stocks also.

Pushback: Despite a new law that criminalizes the possession of bump stocks and requires their surrender, not a single citizen of New Jersey has complied.

Despite the fact that New Jersey residents who are caught with bump stocks could face up to 5 years in prison and up to $15,000 in fines, reports have claimed that not a single bump stock has been turned in, even though the deadline to turn the newly illegal accessories over to police was last month.

New Jersey is not alone. Massachusetts became the first state to ban bump stocks earlier this year, and even though the state’s new legislation threatens violators with up to 18 months in jail, only four people have complied by voluntarily surrendering their bump stocks to police.

These laws are stupid, and are unconstitutional in that they are a taking of private property without due compensation, one of the main reasons people are not complying.

As the gun control efforts by the left accelerate and become more radical, expect more people to defy their efforts. Sadly, that is not really a defeat for the left, as one of their goals here is to encourage contempt for the law, thus making it culturally easier for them to defy it as well. Since they can never win at the ballot box, they need to create a circumstance where it becomes acceptable for them to take power by force, and this can only happen if they have convinced enough people that such illegal action is acceptable.

Everything the left (and the Democratic Party) has been doing politically since Donald Trump’s election suggests this. The worst aspect of it unfortunately is that they are succeeding. Nor has this effort been limited to their gun control proposals. The ability of Hillary Clinton and the Democrats to avoid all prosecution for some very obvious crimes contributes to this effort as well.

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China offers its space station to the UN

The United Nations and China have signed an agreement whereby UN member nations can apply to run experiments on China’s space station, due to become operational in the 2020s.

The UN press release states that it is especially interested in applications from developing nations.

This isn’t a surprise. China is following the approach of the Soviet Union under Leonid Brezhnev during the 1970s and 1980s, using its space station program to generate positive international propaganda. This will also give them an opportunity to obtain technology ideas from other nations.

At the same time, this will force China to become more open with other nations, a side effect of Brezhnev’s space station program that was not expected or even wanted by the Russians at the time.

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More budget cuts expected for Roscosmos

According to one story in the Russian press today, the Russian space industry, run by Roscosmos, is expected to experience more budget cuts due to a shortage of funds.

The Russian federal space program might face cuts as the Roscosmos state corporation is likely to suffer funding shortages amounting to 150 billion rubles (almost $2.4 billion) in the next three years, a source in the industry told Sputnik.

“The shortages of budgetary funds planned for allocation to Roscosmos from the previous parameters for the next three years is about 150 billion rubles … the lack of funds has already become a reason of delays in the development of interplanetary projects, slowing down construction of the second stage of the Vostochny Cosmodrome and the development of new rocket and space equipment,” the source said.

The shortfall almost certainly comes from a lack of international launch customers, most of whom have shifted their business to SpaceX because of the quality control concerns in the Russian aerospace industry. Whether Russia can regain any of this business in the coming years will depend wholly on whether they can demonstrate some reliability in their launch cadence, something they have failed to do for the past five years.

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Canada exits WFIRST project

Like rats fleeing a sinking ship: The Canadian government has decided not to fund that country’s contribution to NASA’s WFIRST space telescope project, presently expected to cost $3.2 billion total (already over-budget in the design phase) and set to launch sometime in the 2020s (don’t bet on it).

The Canadian instrument would have been focused on studying dark energy, the mysterious force that is theorized to cause the universe’s expansion rate to accelerate over vast distances.

I can understand the skepticism of the Canadian government. Why commit anything to a project that is already over-budget and has unreliable support in the U.S. (Trump tried to ax it, Congress restored it, for now)? The project is also so far in the future it makes more sense to spend this money on astronomy projects that could be built and used now.

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Italy in uproar: President rejects election results

This is how you get Trump: Having rejected under their parliamentary system the nation’s recent election results that produced a government coalition strongly controlled by anti-European Union candidates, Italy’s president is now facing calls for his impeachment.

This was the first time in the history of the Italian republic that a president had thrown out the proposal for a government from elected parties, and even critics of the populist victors have acknowledged that the Italian people will take the move as a slap to Italian voters and the entire democratic process.

The bone of contention, Mattarella said in his rejection speech, was the candidate for the post of finance minister, Paolo Savona. “I have agreed with and accepted all the proposals for the Ministers, except that of the finance minister,” he said Sunday. “The designation of the finance minister always sends an immediate message, of confidence or of alarm, for economic and financial operators,” he added.

Paolo Savona, whom even his critics admit is eminently qualified for the post, has expressed concerns over the growth in power and reach of the European Union (EU) as well as the common EU currency, the euro, which he has referred to as a “German cage.”

Essentially he is saying that Italy’s elections are irrelevant, that no matter who the voters choose the government must be subservient to the European Union.

Expect new elections to produce an even more powerful populist government, even more hostile to the European Union.

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China loses contact with one of two lunar cubesats

China has lost contact with one of the two test cubesats that were launched to the moon with their Queqiao Chang’e-4 communications satellite.

Though they continue to receive telemetry from one cubesat, without the second they will be unable to do the radio astronomy and interferometry experiments planned.

The interferometry experiments would have seen the observations made simultaneously by the DSLWP/Longjiang microsatellites to be combined. The test would be verification of technology for a constellation of small, low-frequency radio astronomy satellites that would emulate a telescope with a size equal to the maximum separation between the satellites.

The Chang’e-4 mission could however see some interferometry tests carried out, with Queqiao carrying the Netherlands-China Low-frequency Explorer (NCLE) astronomy instrument, and a Low Frequency Spectrometer (LFS) on the Chang’e-4 lander, which is expected to launch in November or December, following testing of Queqiao.

All is not lost. The cubesat that still functions has a camera, built in Saudi Arabia, and if it takes and successfully transmits any pictures this will be a cubesat landmark, the first interplanetary images ever taken by a cubesat.

Meanwhile, Queqiao Change’-4 is working as expected, laying the ground work for the launch of the Chang’e-4 lander later this year.

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NASA reconfiguring future SLS planning

Link here. This is a long (4 parts) and detailed overview of the changing state of the SLS system and its future missions. As it notes right at the start,

NASA has started updating plans and schedules for additional SLS Block 1 launches in the early 2020s after Washington added federal budget money for a second Mobile Launcher (ML) platform and umbilical tower in late March.

Construction of a new Mobile Launcher frees the first ML from a three-year long downtime for teardown and reassembly after the first SLS launch of Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), currently projected for mid-2020. Instead of being retired after one launch, the Block 1 configuration could fly multiple times.

With two mobile launches (costing almost a billion to build), NASA has more flexibility (assuming it gets full funding). It can now fly both the smaller Block 1 configuration of SLS multiple times without delaying the first launch of the planned more powerful Block 2 version expected to come later.

The article discusses in great detail the possible variations in design and scheduling for the first unmanned mission, the Europa mission, the first manned mission, and possible missions beyond, all of which are based on Congress’s continued blank check support for this very expensive and very questionable program.

Sadly, it increasingly appears that Congress is going to throw a lot of money at this program. SLS looks like it is going to fly several times, and maybe more. It will likely send Europa Clipper to Jupiter, and later astronauts on a stunt mission around the Moon. Later, the Washington cartel of big aerospace companies, NASA, Congress, and our international partners in Europe and Russia are gearing up to get LOP-G funded as well, with SLS the vehicle to launch and supply it.

All of this will cost a lot, take forever, and not make the future exploration of the solar system possible in the slightest. None of that matters however. Congress wants it, and Congress being corrupt and irresponsible is going to get it.

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China, the Moon, and the Outer Space Treaty

Link here. The article speaks to the problems of sovereignty, ownership, and political borders created by the language of Outer Space Treaty, specifically illustrated now by China’s newest effort to put a lander on the far side of the Moon.

[This] pioneering space travel has raised concern that China is also interested in the tiny spots on the moon that never go dark, the polar peaks of eternal light. Those peaks are vanishingly small, occupying one-one hundred billionth of the lunar surface − roughly equivalent to three sheets of NHL ice on Earth. But their near-ceaseless sunshine gives them great value as a source of solar energy, to power everything from scientific experiments to mining operations.

Their small size could also, scientists have argued, allow one country to take sole occupancy of this unique real estate without falling afoul of the Outer Space Treaty. That agreement stipulates that no state can exert sovereignty in outer space. But it also calls on countries “to avoid interference” with equipment installed by others.

That provides a loophole of sorts, researchers say. The installation of very sensitive equipment on the peaks of eternal light, such as a radio telescope − a 100-metre long uncovered wire used to study transmissions from the sun, and deeper corners of the universe − could use up much of the available space while also providing a rationale to bar others from the area on the grounds that the telescope is too sensitive to be disturbed.

“Effectively a single wire could co-opt one of the most valuable pieces of territory on the moon into something approaching real estate, giving the occupant a good deal of leverage even if their primary objective was not scientific inquiry,” researchers from Harvard University, King’s College London and Georg-August Universitat Gottingen wrote in a 2015 paper.

Because the Outer Space Treaty outlaws any nation from claiming territory, it provides no method for any nation, or private company, to establish its borders or property rights. To protect what they own nations are therefore will be forced to create their own rules, willy-nilly, such as the one speculated above. And when they disagree, only the use of force will be available to either defend or defy these arbitrary rules.

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White House issues new policy statement to reduce space regulation

Don’t get too excited: President Trump yesterday signed a new policy statement that basically follows the recommendations of his National Space Council aimed at reducing regulation of space commerce.

One section of the policy addresses launch licensing, requiring the Secretary of Transportation, who oversees the Federal Aviation Administration, to “release a new regulatory system for managing launch and re-entry activity, targeting an industry that is undergoing incredible transformation with regulations that have failed to keep up,” according to a White House fact sheet.

A second section deals with commercial remote sensing regulatory reform. “The current regulatory system is woefully out of date and needs significant reform to ensure the United States remains the chosen jurisdiction for these high tech companies,” the fact sheet states.

A related section calls on the Secretary of Commerce to provide a plan to create a “one-stop shop” within his department “for administering and regulating commercial space flight activities.” The Commerce Department had previously announced plans to combine the Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs office with the Office of Space Commerce, giving the latter office that regulatory role for issues other than launch and communications.

The policy directs several agencies, including Commerce, the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Federal Communications Commission, to develop a plan for “improving global competitiveness” of policies, regulation and other activities dealing with the use of radiofrequency spectrum for space activities.

A final section of the policy directs the National Space Council to review export control regulations regarding commercial spaceflight activities and provide recommendations within 180 days.

The policy closely follows the recommendations from the February meeting of the National Space Council. However, White House officials, speaking on background, said they don’t expect immediate changes as a result of the policy since many of the changes, like changes to regulations, will take months to implement through standard rulemaking processes. Some changes, the officials acknowledge, will require legislation to enact, such as authority to license “non-traditional” commercial space activities. [emphasi mine]

The highlighted text illustrates this is really just public relations and lobbying to get new legislation through Congress. Without that, little will change.

This directive however does carry one certain action we should all celebrate. The changes at Commerce eliminate the Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs Office, where bureaucrats earlier this year claimed they had the power to license all photography of any kind from space, a power that allowed them to block SpaceX from using cameras on their rocket when those cameras showed the Earth in the background.

At the time I said that “If Trump is serious about cutting back regulation, he should step it now to shut this down.” Apparently, he has done so.

As for the other proposed regulatory changes, there are bills weaving their way through the labyrinth of Congress to address these changes. The House bill repeats most of the recommended changes of this policy directive. We have not yet seen a Senate version.

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Russia cancels new lightweight Proton

Russia has announced that it is canceling the development of a new lightweight Proton rocket, conceived as a way to attract new international commercial customers.

Russia’s Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center has decided not to go ahead with its project to develop the Proton-L (Proton Medium) two-stage launch vehicle (LV), a source at the center told Interfax.

“The project to create the Proton-L launch vehicle will not be pursued for financial reasons,” the source said.

Let me translate. They have not gotten sufficient international commercial orders for this two-stage version of Proton, and thus it will be unprofitable to build it. The lack of orders is likely linked to Russia’s ongoing quality control problems, along with rampant corruption, within its aerospace industry.

Unfortunately, the Putin government’s solution to the quality control problems and corruption has been to consolidate the industry into one corporation under government control, thus eliminating any competition inside Russia. Such an approach however has been found historically to routinely produce more corruption and quality control problems, as it has no built-in incentives to encourage improvement.

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“The Democrat Party is committed to the New Rules. And the New Rules are tyranny.”

Link here. Schlicter goes on to say,

It can’t be a surprise. After all, the Democrat Party has bulldozed every norm, custom, and tradition out there in its quest for undisputed power. It spews hatred at its opponents – hey, everyone reading this is racist, sexist, and a denier of #science and so forth. The Democrats will happily deny you your free exercise of religion – put on your aprons people, because you can bake a cake or be bankrupted. They seek to suppress speech by encouraging fascism both in academia and by online tech companies, and if you think they won’t pass laws to limit speech given the chance, you’re fooling yourself. Hell, they tried to amend the First Amendment to overturn Citizens United, a case where the government tried to ban a movie critical of Hillary Clinton.

Let’s say that again, because it’s madness. The position of the left-of-center party in the United States is that the government should be allowed to arrest and imprison people for making a film critical of a politician.

He is also mirroring what I wrote here and here From the second link:

[T]he left and Democrats are becoming very nonchalant about demanding the nullification of the Constitutional rights of anyone who disagrees with them. This is not to be taken lightly. They mean it. Give them a victory in an election and they will begin to do it.

I have seen nothing in recent events to change that conclusion. If anything, the rise of radical socialism in the Democratic Party only reinforces it.

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Rogozin takes over Roscosmos

Former Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has now officially been named the head of Roscosmos.

It appears Rogozin will continue the Putin government’s policy of consolidating the entire aerospace industry into Roscosmos.

Along with the new appointment, the Russian press reported on Rogozin’s plans to initiate yet another reorganization of Roskosmos to absorb Tactical Rocket Armaments company, specialized in battlefield missiles, and, possibly, the Almaz-Antei enterprise, developing anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems.

This policy also suggests that Russia’s continuing fade as a major player in the international launch market will continue. They will focus on internal needs, but will no longer be able or willing to compete for business outside of Russia. Without any internal competition, and with corruption rife within these industries, Roscosmos under Rogozin will stumble along issuing press releases about future great projects, few of which will really happen, while it acts instead as a pork barrel jobs program for friends of Putin.

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Can we trust any deal with North Korea?

Link here. The article, from the science journal Nature, is an interview with a South Korean nuclear expert who is very skeptical of any claims by North Korea that it has dismantled its nuclear program.

This skepticism seems reasonable to me. Consider the history. The Clinton administration signed a deal with North Korea (very similar in many ways with Obama’s Iran nuclear deal) that was supposed to prevent North Korea from getting the bomb. Instead, all it did was allow us to make believe it wasn’t happening, even as North Korea developed the technology and eventually completed several underground tests of nuclear bombs.

We shall see if Trump allows himself to get fooled, like Clinton. Right now, the indications are no. At the same time, it pays to be as skeptical of any politician as this South Korean nuclear expert is of North Korea. None of these power-hungry politicians can be trusted, even Trump. When the general public makes the mistake of trusting them it always gets screwed.

Update: Trump has canceled the summit with North Korea.

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Satellite images of Iran’s missile program

Using images produced by the private satellite company Planet, experts have exposed Iran’s secret rocket program.

The images are fascinating and definitive. They even reveal what must be solid rocket motor test stands, with the ground scars left over after tests.

These pictures were the proof outlined in a recent news article that showed the joke that was the Iran nuclear deal.

ICBMs are not defensive weapons. They are by nature offensive weapons, used as a deterrent in some contexts, but the deterrent value lies in their offensive nature. They are designed to strike long distances away from borders and frontiers as a means of extending offensive capabilities. Paired with a nuclear-weapons program, they become an even greater offensive threat, one that would destabilize the entire region.

Defenders of the [nuclear deal] will argue that the deal eliminated the threat of that pairing, but that’s nonsense. Even if Iran abided by the terms of the [deal], it would only have had to wait ten years to produce a nuclear weapon. Having an ICBM platform available for a nuclear warhead to fit it would fit perfectly into a strategy of dominating the region by nuclear blackmail, and would force others in the region to develop or acquire their own systems to counter it.

This is just another reminder that we cut a deal with a terrorist state that didn’t do anything to restrict its terrorist or its ability to develop platforms for later use against us. If anything, the [nuclear deal] provided financial support for these efforts and others in the region, fueling conflict and pushing Iranian hegemony all the way to the Mediterranean, all without getting anything in return other than a piece of paper. We didn’t even get American detainees out of Iran. It’s a complete debacle, only becoming even more apparent with the passage of time.

But the leftist elitists who run our cultural and intellectual communities continue to think Trump is an idiot for pulling out of the deal. I ask, who is the real idiot here?

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New NOAA weather satellite has serious problem

Can’t anybody here play this game? The cooling unit required to take infrared images in the new NOAA weather satellite GOES-17, launched in March, is not functioning properly.

“This is a serious problem,” Volz said Wednesday in a conference call with reporters. “This is the premier Earth-pointing instrument on the GOES platform, and 16 channels, of which 13 are infrared or near-infrared, are important elements of our observing requirements, and if they are not functioning fully, it is a loss. It is a performance issue we have to address.”

Detectors for the infrared channels must be cooled to around 60 Kelvin (minus 351 degrees Fahrenheit) to make them fully sensitive to infrared light coming from Earth’s atmosphere. For about 12 hours each day, the cooler inside the Advanced Baseline Imager, or ABI, is unable to chill the detectors to such cold temperatures, officials said.

Infrared images from weather satellites are used to monitor storms at night, when darkness renders visible imagery unavailable. The three visible channels from the ABI are not affected by the cooling problem.

“The other wavelengths, the near-infrared and infrared wavelengths — the other 13 — need to be cooled to some extent beyond the capability of the system at present,” said Tim Walsh, NOAA’s program manager for the GOES-R weather satellite series. “There’s a portion of the day centered around satellite local midnight where the data is not usable, and that’s what we’re addressing.”

GOES-17 is the second of a four satellite constellation being built by NOAA costing $11 billion.

It appears that an identical cooling system was installed on the first of this satellite constellation, GOES-16, and has been working perfectly in orbit since November 2016. Why the new unit isn’t working remains a puzzle.

The real issue here is the cost and complexity of these satellites. Because they are so complex and take so long to build, replacing them is difficult if not impossible. Wouldn’t it be better to launch many cheaper satellites to provide redundancy at a lower cost?

This is a pattern we see throughout the government aerospace industry. NASA’s Webb and WFIRST telescopes are big and take decades to build. God forbid they fail at launch. SLS and Orion are big and take decades to build. God forbid they fail at launch. The Air Force’s numerous military satellites are big and take decades to build. God forbid an enemy takes one out.

In all these cases, failure means we get nothing after spending a lot of time and money. And replacing the loss will take years and billions of dollars.

Common sense says it is time to rethink this entire operation. Unfortunately, this is the federal government. The concept of rethinking anything, or even thinking at all, is too often a completely alien concept. I do not expect anything to change, unless we elect new people in Congress and the Presidency who are willing to take a hammer to this whole insane system and smash it bluntly. Trump is kind of this type of new person, but even he isn’t willing to change that much, only some things, such as the EPA, that irk him in particular. Otherwise, he has left much of the federal bureaucracy alone — as can be seen by his administration and NASA both gearing up to fund both LOP-G and WFIRST— thus continuing this pattern of big and expensive projects that take forever to build.

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ArianeGroup chief admits they can’t compete

In a newspaper interview the chief of ArianeGroup, the private joint partnership of Europe’s main rocket contractors Airbus and Safran, can’t seem to understand why competition and lowering prices is a good thing.

Rather than give you one or two quotes, it is better that you click on the link and read the whole. thing. Essentially, the heart of the problem is that ArianeGroup is building their new Ariane 6 rocket as an expendable, not reuseable, and thus they it will not be able to compete in the launch market expected in the 2020s. They made this decision based on the political needs of the European Space Agency rather then financial needs of the launch market. As such, the launch market is abandoning them.

What is amazing is this CEO’s complete lack of understanding of these basic economic facts. It suggests some very deep rot in both ArianeGroup and much of Europe’s commercial aerospace sector. If the person in charge does not understand market forces, who else at the company will?

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Two giant U.S. telescope projects team up

The two consortiums building the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) and the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) have teamed up in order to coordinate their research as well as encourage increased government funding for both.

The partnership, approved by the GMT board this month and by the TMT board last month, commits the two projects to developing a joint plan that would allow astronomers from any institution to use the telescopes; under previous plans observing time was available only to researchers from nations or institutions that had provided funding. The projects are discussing awarding at least 25% of each telescope’s time to nonpartners through a competitive process to be administered by the National Center for Optical-Infrared Astronomy—an umbrella organization that will replace the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO), based in Tucson, Arizona, sometime in fiscal year 2019. Telescope backers hope the public access plan will help persuade the federal government to pay for at least 25% of the total cost of the two facilities, which could total $1 billion. (Cost estimates for the GMT and the TMT are $1 billion and $1.4 billion, respectively, but astronomers expect both numbers to grow.) “There are many science projects that are $1 billion class projects,” says David Silva, NOAO’s director. “The investment that we would want is of a similar size.”

…In making their case, the teams will argue the benefits of having telescopes in both the northern and southern hemispheres. “When you are covering the whole sky, you have greater scientific reach,” says Wendy Freedman, an astronomer at The University of Chicago in Illinois who was the founding leader of the GMT. The teams will also argue that the telescopes have complementary strengths. The design of the GMT, for instance, makes it ideal for a high-resolution spectrograph designed to probe the atmospheres of exoplanets. The TMT, which has more light-gathering power, could host a multiobject spectrograph to quickly gather demographic statistics on the universe’s first galaxies. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted sentences explain everything. First, government funding for both projects has been weak, partly because the National Science Foundation (the funding agency) has not been able to make up it mind which of these two U.S. projects to back. By teaming up as one project building two telescopes, the builders hope they will grease the wheels of the federal funding machine.

Second, by selling these two telescopes as covering both the north and south hemispheres, they indicate that the TMT is now almost certainly going to abandon its Hawaii location and move to the Canary Islands. GMT will be built at the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile, located at 29 degrees south latitude. By placing TMT in the northern hemisphere at 29 degrees north latitude in the Canary Islands, rather than Mauna Kea’s 19 degrees north latitude, they better compliment GMT in the southern hemisphere.

In other words, this partnership strengthens the case for TMT to abandon Hawaii. Not only will construction begin sooner (as the Hawaiian government has shown no interest in approving the project), the higher latitude as part of this partnership better justifies funding.

And the odds of getting that funding have apparently increased, as the chair of the House appropriations panel that funds the National Science Foundation has just shown himself to be very willing to give telescope projects a lot of money, more in fact than they even request.

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ARCA’s CEO arrested by Homeland Security

We’re here to help you! Despite having all charges against him dropped, Homeland Security has arrested the CEO of the smallsat rocket company ARCA.

It’s not over yet. [Dumitru Popescu] was taken into custody by the Department of Homeland Security this morning, without warning.

When Dumitru was arrested in October of last year, The DHS cancelled his business visa, and provided him with a temporary visa, allowing him to stay until his case ended. Despite all charges against Dumitru being dismissed and Dumitru’s immediate efforts to restore his legal status in the US, he was taken into custody before he had a chance to do so.

This is absurd. The guy is very clearly not trying to get into the U.S. illegally. His company has actually won grants from NASA as well as other private companies. When the charges were dropped his business visa should have be reinstated instantly.

The result I think will be to kill his company, and its attempt to launch and test the first aerospike engine. This is a loss for both them and the United States.

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India clears GSAT-11 for launch

After pulling GSAT-11 back to India just prior to launch to make sure all was well, ISRO has now approved its launch.

Isro chairman K Sivan said, “All the tests on Gsat-11 at Bengaluru’s ISRO Satellite Centre (ISAC) are over. We have found no anomaly. We are in the process of discussion with Arianespace to fix the next launch date for our satellite.” Earlier, the Isro chief had told TOI that all tests would be completed by May 17.

Isro had postponed the launch of Gsat-11 initially planned on May 25 from the European spaceport as it did not want to take chances with its heaviest satellite especially after the signal failure episode with Gsat-6A. Communication satellite Gsat-6A, which was successfully launched from Sriharikota on March 29, went out of control during the third orbit-raising manoeuvre in space when the signal with the satellite got abruptly snapped because of suspected power failure. The space agency since then has been trying to restore the communication link with Gsat-6A though it knows its exact location through the satellite-tracking system.

Sivan is trained first as an engineer, so he took an engineer’s approach here, not a manager’s. Very wise. This bodes well for India’s space agency as long as he is in charge.

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A detailed timeline of entire Clinton-Trump-collusion-story

Link here. You want to get a good idea about this whole scandal, you have to spend a little bit of your time reading through this timeline.

The following take-aways to me seemed the most important:

  • Though the whole Mueller investigation and scandal is supposedly centered on collusion between Trump’s campaign and the Russians to rig the election, the timeline once again shows no such collusion. Some members of Trump’s campaign do have ties to Russian sources, but it is not clear if this has any significance. Regardless, as soon as Paul Manafort’s ties are made public he was immediately forced out of the Trump campaign.
  • The timeline does document a great deal of collusion between the Democratic Party and Ukrainian sources, some from within its government and some not. This collusion is all aimed influencing the election by swinging voter support away from Trump.
  • The timeline also shows a lot of internal conflicts of interest in the FBI aimed at helping Democrats and hurting Republicans. Some of these conflicts are downright blatant, designed to foil any investigations into Clinton’s illegal activities, while expanding investigations (without evidence) against Trump and Republicans.
  • Beginning in 2011 and throughout the Obama administration, the timeline documents an exponential increase in spying on Americans, much of it unconstitutional, and suggestive of having political motives. Two quotes:

    From 2011: U.S. intel community vastly expands its surveillance authority, giving itself permission to spy on Americans who do nothing more than “mention a foreign target in a single, discrete communication.”

    From 2016: Obama officials vastly expand their searches through NSA database for Americans and the content of their communications. In 2013, there were 9,600 searches involving 195 Americans. But in 2016, there are 30,355 searches of 5,288 Americans.

    The timeline also reveals that once Trump took office this spying was immediately cut back.

  • Obama is clearly caught in a number of outright lies designed to hide his participation in many aspects of this scandal. Similarly, Comey, Lynch, McCabe, Rice, Clapper and many other Obama officials are also caught in outright and well documented lies.

Finally, and most important, the timeline shows that shortly after Trump’s election the spying of Republicans and Trump’s transition team by Obama administration officials accelerated, and was aimed at sabotaging the newly elected administration as well as hiding certain things from that administration. This quote especially stands out:

Fifteen minutes after Trump becomes president, former National Security Adviser Susan Rice emails memo to herself purporting to summarize the Jan. 5 Oval Office meeting with President Obama and other top officials. She states that Obama instructed the group to investigate “by the book” and asked them to be mindful whether there were certain things that “could not be fully shared with the incoming administration.” [emphasis mine]

In other words, hired employees of the executive branch were now conspiring to work against the newly elected Republican president, and were going to do so under orders from the outgoing Democratic president.

There is a lot more. In general, the timeline reflects very badly on Obama and everyone in the executive branch, especially those in charge at the FBI. Rather than doing their jobs as an investigative federal police force, the top management of the FBI had become Democratic Party operatives.

Read it all. If you want to understand the corruption that has taken over Washington and now wishes to wield great power over your life, you need to read this.

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Former Obama Education Secretary calls for school boycott over guns

I actually agree with him! The former Secretary of Education from the Obama administration, Arne Duncan, is calling for parents to pull their kids from public schools until the “gun laws are changed to make them safe.”

Personally, if I had children I would have never allowed them to attend any of today’s public schools, not because of gun safety but because they do a worse than horrible job of teaching kids anything.

Moreover, educating your kids either in a private school or at home gives you a much better chance of protecting them. At home you can be armed. Private schools have more flexibility, and will more likely include armed teachers if that’s what the parents want.

Public schools, and the unions that run them, not so much. I really do hope Duncan’s boycott catches on. It will give us a chance to shut down the failing public schools and replace them with competing organizations that actually get the job done.

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29 Republicans and all Democrats vote to kill Senate balanced budget proposal

Apropos of my post earlier today: In the Senate yesterday twenty-nine Republicans and every Democrat voted to kill a balanced budget proposal offered by Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky).

Paul’s plan would have reduced spending by $404.8 billion in the fiscal year that starts October 1. After the budget balanced in five years, spending would be held to 1 percent increases per year, resulting in a budget that was 14.6 percent bigger in 10 years that it is now.

This very mild proposal to trim the equivalent of a penny from every dollar spent was too much for these spend-thrifts. The article at the link lists all 29 Republicans who voted against it, all of whom were liars when they said during their campaigns that they support a balanced budget, fiscal responsibility, and smaller government.

Let me repeat it so no one has any doubts about what I mean: These Senators are liars. They didn’t misconstrue the facts. Their statements weren’t misguided. They simply lied during their campaigns, and they have so done repeatedly.

The only saving grace about this story is that the trend has been to replace these crooks. Since 2010 the voters have been favoring candidates who mean what they say, on both sides of the aisle. And the result has been an increase in the numbers of real conservatives in Congress. Their influence is growing.

We also might be getting outright socialists and communists elected on the Democratic side, but at least they are being honest about who they are, unlike the lying Democrats who in the past were also outright socialists or communists, but tried to hide their beliefs behind equally offensive lies.

This honesty will maybe finally allow us to deal with the issue of the out-of-control federal budget. Or it will bankrupt us with more legislators willing to spend money like it is water. In the latter case, however, the result will be because this is what the American people choose to do, rather than being deceived by their leaders. And if that is what we choose, then at least we will deserve the hell we bring down upon ourselves.

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The federal government’s blank check

Three articles this morning about actions taken by Congress in connection with the budgets for NASA and NOAA illustrate the bankrupt nature of our federal government.

The first story describes how several legislators from the House Appropriations Committee have inserted amendments into their budget bill that will restore a $10 million NASA climate monitoring program that the Trump administration had shut down.

The second story describes how that same budget bill generously funds both NASA and NOAA at levels far above their own requests.
» Read more

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