Monthly Archives: June 2014

A detailed look at tomorrow’s Falcon 9 commercial launch of six Orbcomm satellites.

A detailed look at tomorrow’s Falcon 9 commercial launch of six Orbcomm satellites.

Launch is set for 6:08 pm (Eastern). If all goes well, SpaceX will also attempt another soft vertical splashdown of the first stage in its continuing effort to make that first stage reusable.

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A Russian Dnepr rocket today successfully placed in orbit the largest number of satellites, 37, ever launched on a single rocket.

A Russian Dnepr rocket today successfully placed in orbit the largest number of satellites, 37, ever launched on a single rocket.

This launch once again illustrates the increasing capabilities of tiny satellites. More and more, it is becoming possible to do a lot more in orbit with a lot less.

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Groundbreaking — the literally blasting off of a mountaintop — took place today in Chile at the eventual site of the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT).

Groundbreaking — the literally blasting off of a mountaintop — took place today in Chile at the eventual site of the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT).

Once completed in 2024 this telescope will have a segmented mirror with a total diameter of 39 meters or 128 feet, the largest ever built.

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Why the Redskins trademark ruling should terrify you.

Why the Redskins trademark ruling should terrify you.

This ruling isn’t a slippery slope. It’s a slope we’ve already slid down: bureaucrats in Washington are now empowered to make subjective decrees about what is offensive and what will be tolerated, based on pressure from a small clique of Washington insiders. Anyone who runs afoul of these decrees, anyone branded as regressive and politically incorrect, is declared outside the protection of the federal government.

And what do we call people who like to wield that kind of oppressive power? I call them fascists. They hate it when I do that, but I am actually not name-calling but applying a very accurate description to their behavior.

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At hearings in the Senate Ted Cruz sharply criticized the proposed Democratic proposal to amend and restrict the first amendment of the Bill of Rights.

At hearings in the Senate Ted Cruz (R-Texas) sharply attacked the proposed Democratic proposal to amend and restrict the first amendment of the Bill of Rights.

Cruz even offered to replace the Democratic proposal, which would allow Congress to limit spending on political campaigns, with the first amendment itself. All the Democrats rejected that change, illustrating that they reject the first amendment itself.

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Two low-cost, car battery-sized Canadian space telescopes were launched successfully in Russia today

Two low-cost, car battery-sized Canadian space telescopes were launched successfully in Russia today.

The important detail here is this quote:

“BRITE-Constellation will exploit and enhance recent Canadian advances in precise attitude control that have opened up for space science the domain of very low cost, miniature spacecraft, allowing a scientific return that otherwise would have had price tags 10 to 100 times higher,” [emphasis mine]

Most nanosats and cubesats have not had the kind of precise attitude control of larger satellites, which is one of their limitations. If the technology is now maturing so that these tiny satellites can be pointed as accurately as bigger payloads, it will mean that unmanned satellites are going to get smaller very quickly. This lowers cost and increases the customer base, creating more business for launch companies.

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Rosetta’s comet has unexpectedly gone to sleep.

Rosetta’s comet has unexpectedly gone to sleep.

An image snapped earlier this month by ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft shows its target comet has quietened, demonstrating the unpredictable nature of these enigmatic objects. The picture was captured on 4 June by Rosetta’s scientific camera, and is the most recent full-resolution image from the narrow-angle sensor. It has been used to help fine-tune Rosetta’s navigation towards comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, which was 430 000 km away at the time.

Strikingly, there is no longer any sign of the extended dust cloud that was seen developing around nucleus at the end of April and into May, as shown in our last image release. Indeed, monitoring of the comet has shown a significant drop in its brightness since then.

Rosetta’s approach for the next few months and arrival at the comet in August should be quite exciting.

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SpaceX today released a new video of the most recent Falcon 9R vertical take-off and landing test flight.

The competition heats up: SpaceX today released a new video of the most recent Falcon 9R vertical take-off and landing test flight.

Video below the fold. The flight was to test the deployment and use of fins for controlling the stage during its return to Earth. Watch them unfold and adjust themselves beginning at about 1:15 into the video. In the second half you can see them near the top of the stage.
» Read more

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The new Russian rocket Angara is now scheduled for its first test launch on June 27.

The competition heats up: The new Russian rocket Angara is now scheduled for its first test launch on June 27.

According to the article this decision will be finalized tomorrow. The flight itself will be suborbital. The article also provides a wealth of information about the history, development, and configuration of this rocket. Very worthwhile reading.

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Senator Bill Nelson (D-Florida) today expressed concern on the Senate floor over the budget language inserted by Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) that many think will cripple the new commercial manned space companies with high costs and extensive paperwork.

Senator Bill Nelson (D-Florida) today expressed concern on the Senate floor over the budget language inserted by Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) that many think will cripple the new commercial manned space companies with high costs and extensive paperwork.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) took to the Senate floor June 18 and tapped the brakes on a powerful appropriator’s plan to subject NASA’s commercial crew program to strict federal accounting standards the agency waived when it solicited bids for crew transportation in November. Nelson, the chairman of the Senate Commerce science and space subcommittee, said NASA’s commercial crew program to fly astronauts to and from the international space station aboard commercially designed spacecraft needs “the right mix of oversight and innovation” to start ferrying crews by NASA’s target date of late 2017.

The senior senator from Florida was alluding to a directive Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, personally fought to include in a report appended to a spending bill now awaiting debate on the Senate floor, and which would if signed into law require NASA to either comply with section 15.403-4 of the Federal Acquisition Regulations, or risk a legal mandate to do so. Nelson said he wanted to work with Shelby “as the bill goes to the conference committee to make sure that we have the right mix of oversight and innovation in how NASA contracts for this competition.”

While Nelson was apparently very careful in how he stated his public criticism of Shelby, he also made it clear that he wants the language changed. As the article noted, this gives opponents of Shelby a powerful ally in the Senate. Expect the Shelby language to be significantly watered down.

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In an interview today, a Russian official stated that they expect the Proton rocket to resume operations by September.

In an interview today, a Russian official stated that they expect the Proton rocket to resume operations by September.

It appears that they are reluctant this time to rush back without being absolute certain they have corrected the problems that caused the most recent launch failure last month.

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In 2010 the IRS illegally provided the FBI with confidential tax information totaling 1.1 million pages.

Working for the Democratic Party: In 2010 the IRS illegally provided the FBI with confidential tax information totaling 1.1 million pages.

[O]n June 4, DOJ told the committee that its prior assurance was inoperative: the disks actually include confidential taxpayer information that was give to the FBI in violation of federal law. This is a serious matter; violation of the applicable statute carries a penalty of five years in prison.

The obvious inference is that the IRS didn’t just send the FBI a bunch of publicly available Form 990s filed by non-profits. Rather, the IRS included Schedule B to those forms–the documents that name the organization’s donors, and provide their addresses and the amounts they contributed. Donor information contained in Schedule B is confidential. Illegally communicated, it would give the FBI a checklist of individuals who could be investigated and potentially criminally prosecuted, much as Dinesh D’Souza was prosecuted for a chickenfeed election offense a few years later.

But don’t worry, there’s not a “smidgen of corruption” according to Obama in this IRS scandal.

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A Connecticut high school student discovers that his school firewall has been set up to specifically block access to all conservative sites while allowing access to liberal ones.

Free speech for me but not for thee: A Connecticut high school student discovers that his school firewall has been set up to specifically block access to all conservative sites while allowing access to liberal ones.

Andrew Lampart, a senior at Nonnewaug High School, discovered that he couldn’t get on the National Rifle Association’s website while on campus as he was doing research for a classroom debate on gun control in May. “So, I went over to the other side,” Lampart told WTIC. And I went over on sites such as Moms Demand Action or Newtown Action Alliance and I could get on these websites but not the others.”

The 18-year-old decided to investigate further by broadening his search terms to political parties in Connecticut. “I immediately found out that the State Democrat website was unblocked but the State GOP website was blocked,” Lampart said. The student took it a step further and looked at websits focusing on abortion issues and religion. He discovered that “right-to-life” groups were blocked by the firewall but that Planned Parenthood and Pro-Choice America weren’t. Lampart even tried to explore websites like Christianity.com and the Vatican’s site but they were both blocked. However, Islam-guide.com was not blocked. “They’re trying to, in my opinion, shelter us from what’s actually going on around the country and around the world by blocking these web sites,” Lampart explained. “It should be the other way around. The websites should be unblocked so that students can get different viewpoints from different sides of each argument.”

The superintendent of Woodbury schools was notified by Lampart, but nothing was done to fix the problem after a week. He decided to take his concerns to the Board of Education on Monday.”

The lack of action by his superintendent I think proves that this partisan blocking was not an accident but was entirely intentional. But remember, the left is the tolerant and open-minded movement!

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China is investigating ways to recover the first stages of its rockets.

The competition heats up: Like SpaceX, China is investigating ways to recover the first stages of its rockets.

China is also the only launch provider in the world that presently beats SpaceX’s commercial prices. If they succeed in making their first stages reusable they will put themselves in a very strong competitive position.

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A Massachusetts judge has released a 16-year-old Connecticut girl back to her family after Massachusetts child welfare authorities seized her 16 months ago.

A Massachusetts judge has released a 16-year-old Connecticut girl back to her family after Massachusetts child welfare authorities seized her 16 months ago.

No apologizes from the Massachusetts authorities, who seized the girl against the wishes of the parents and her Connecticut doctors and held her almost literally in prison while they imposed their preferred medical treatment. It is unclear from the article whether the treatment by the Massachusetts doctors has worked, or whether they have discovered they were wrong. In either case, they were fascists to kidnap the girl as they did. One more reason to stay away from this oppressive area of the country.

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Is the Sun’s strange double-peaked solar maximum finally ending?

Last week NOAA posted its monthly update of the solar cycle, showing the sunspot activity for the Sun in April. As I do every month, I am posting it here, with annotations to give it context.

May Solar Cycle graph

The graph above has been modified to show the predictions of the solar science community. The green curves show the community’s two original predictions from April 2007, with half the scientists predicting a very strong maximum and half predicting a weak one. The red curve is their revised May 2009 prediction.

For the third month in a row the Sun continued its drop in sunspots, with the total finally slipping below the 2009 prediction for this moment in the solar cycle. If this decline continues through to solar minimum, the shape of the solar maximum will essentially have been established, double-peaked with the second peak stronger than the first, something that solar scientists have never seen before.

At the moment I await word from the scientists that the Sun has completed the flip of its magnetic field polarity in the southern hemisphere. This flip has already occurred in the northern hemisphere, and when the south follows, the maximum will be officially over and we will officiallybegin the ramp down to solar minimum.

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The IRS now claims it has lost emails from six other key employees involved in the agency’s effort to harass conservatives.

Working for the Democratic Party: The IRS now claims it has lost emails from six other key employees involved in the agency’s effort to harass conservatives.

The Internal Revenue Service says it can’t produce e-mails from six more employees involved in the targeting of conservative groups, according to two Republicans investigating the scandal.

The IRS told Ways and Means chairman Dave Camp and subcommittee chairman Charles Boustany that computer crashes resulted in additional lost e-mails, including from Nikole Flax, the chief of staff to former IRS commissioner Steven Miller, who was fired in the wake of the targeting scandal.

How convenient: These six employees just happened to have computer crashes destroying these key emails.

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The long range medical study of 100,000 children from birth to adulthood that Congress mandated fourteen years ago and has already spent a billion dollars without even getting started has just been delayed again after an outside review has raised new questions.

Pigs in medicine: The long range medical study of 100,000 children from birth to adulthood that Congress mandated fourteen years ago and that has already spent a billion dollars without even getting started has just been delayed again after an outside review has raised new questions.

I’ve reported on this project before. The idea is laudable but the implementation has been nothing but pure pork. Fourteen years and a billion dollars merely to design the study? Hey, if you believe this has anything to do with medical research I have a bridge in Brooklyn I can sell you real cheap!

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In an editorial today the Washington Times labels SLS “the rocket to nowhere” and condemns Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) for trying to sabotage the new commercial manned space companies in order to fund it.

In an editorial today the Washington Times labels SLS “the rocket to nowhere” and condemns Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) for trying to sabotage the new commercial manned space companies in order to fund it.

As I’ve said for the past two years, the high cost and slow development of SLS will increasingly make it a loser in its political battle with the new commercial companies. Eventually legislators will recognize its impractically and unaffordability — especially if the commercial companies continue to meet their milestones and achieve success, as they have been doing. When that happens, the influence of individual senators like Shelby to shovel pork to their particular states or districts will be outweighed by the overall political benefits for everyone in Congress to get American astronauts into space quickly and cheaply on an American-built spaceship.

This editorial by a major newspaper signals the continuation of this political process.

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SpaceX and ORBCOMM have now set Friday, June 20, as the date for next commercial launch of the Falcon 9.

SpaceX and ORBCOMM have now set Friday, June 20, as the date for next commercial launch of the Falcon 9.

The article is interesting in that it is somewhat critical of SpaceX’s overall failure so far to meet its launch manifest schedules. The point is well taken, but it seems to me that most of the delays were related to getting the upgraded Falcon 9 into operation. Now that this has happened, I expect SpaceX’s launch rate will continue to accelerate.

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On Monday ULA signed contracts with several American companies to begin development of an engine to replace the Russian built first stage engine used by the Atlas 5.

The competition heats up: On Monday ULA signed contracts with several American companies to begin development of an engine to replace the Russian built first stage engine used by the Atlas 5.

The commercial contracts between ULA and prospective U.S. engine builders cover technical feasibility analyses, high-fidelity planning, schedule, cost and technical risk assessments, and cost estimates, ULA said in a statement released Monday. … ULA did not identify which companies will undertake the engine studies. Jessica Rye, a ULA spokesperson, also declined to say how many companies signed the contracts with the launch provider. The contracts are for early-stage studies of a hydrocarbon-fueled engine optimized for first stage propulsion with “aggressive recurring cost targets,” according to ULA.

All the engine concepts will support a first launch by 2019, and ULA expects to select a future concept and engine supplier by the fourth quarter of this year, the company said. ULA will evaluate the feasibility of the new engine concepts for both private investment and the potential for government-industry investment.

For the American rocket industry this is good. The only negative I can see is the possibility that Congress will allocate a lot of cash and requirements for building the new engine, which will increase its cost, slow its development, and make it less competitive. If they instead do it like NASA has done with its commercial crew development and let companies compete to build it, they will get it sooner and cheaper, and the industry will develop more options.

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The lawyer for True The Vote — one of the groups targeted by the IRS and other federal agencies for harassment — has just issued a very blunt letter to the Department of Justice that puts them and the IRS very much in the hot seat.

The IRS time bomb ticks some more: The lawyer for True The Vote — one of the groups targeted by the IRS and other federal agencies for harassment — has just issued a very blunt letter to the Department of Justice that puts them and the IRS very much in the hot seat.

Read it all. The legalities here are not in favor of the Obama administration and the IRS. They are very exposed. The last few paragraphs of MItchell’s letter illustrate this quite starkly:

In addition to seeking responses to the questions in this letter, we also seek your consent to immediately allow a computer forensics expert selected by TTV to examine the computer(s) that is or are purportedly the source of Ms. Lerner’s “lost” emails, including cloning the hard drives, and to attempt to restore what was supposedly “lost,” and to seek to restore any and all “lost” evidence pertinent to this litigation.

We also seek access to all computers, both official and personal, used by any and all of the Defendants from and after July 1, 2010, in order to ensure preservation of the documents of all Defendants in this action.

We wish to resolve our concerns amicably but, absent your consent, we will file such motions as deemed necessary and appropriate asking the Court to require that you respond to the questions contained in this letter, and to permit such forensic examination described herein and for such other relief as may be appropriate for this egregious breach of legal authority and professional ethics.

Due to the time-sensitive and urgent nature of this request, please respond by noon on Wednesday, June 18, 2014.

These demands are entirely legal and routine in lawsuits with circumstances such as this. Even the most partisan Democratic judges in the courts are going to find it very difficult to protect the IRS and the Obama administration here.

As was said over and over and over again during the Watergate scandal in the 1970s, it wasn’t the crime so much as the coverup that destroyed Richard Nixon. It looks like the same thing might be happening to Barack Obama.

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The astronomers who allocate time on the Hubble Space Telescope have decided to devote a large block for finding a Kuiper Belt object that the probe New Horizons might fly past.

The astronomers who allocate time on the Hubble Space Telescope have decided to devote a large block for finding a Kuiper Belt object that the probe New Horizons might fly past.

This allocation is still contingent upon a test observation to see if Hubble will be able to spot enough objects to make the long observations worthwhile.

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The ticking IRS IT department time bomb.

The ticking IRS IT department time bomb.

It’s one thing to get a political hack to lie under oath or to take a fall to keep himself viable in that world, it’s quite another to get the non political people who have no real skin in the game to be willing to perjure themselves before congress in an attempt to claim incompetence.

These guys simply aren’t going to take the fall for a bunch of political hacks.

The clock is ticking, as soon as the IT guys are under oath the IRS scandal is going to explode and that blast is going to take a lot of people with them.

The only way this bomb will go off, however, is if the Republicans in Congress light the fuse. They have to push the issue, forcing these lower level IT people to testify. Sadly, these Republicans too often act like they are afraid of their own shadow, thus letting the worst acts of corruption slip without so much as a peep.

Hopefully the results of the November election will give these guys some backbone.

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Getting the Russian Soyuz capsule prepped to take two tourists around the Moon.

More capitalism: Getting the Russian Soyuz capsule prepped to take two tourists around the Moon.

The key detail in this story is not so much that they are beginning to figure out the engineering upgrades necessary to fling a Soyuz capsule around the Moon but that Space Adventures has apparantly finally gotten two passengers who have put down deposits for the lunar flight. For years they have said they had one ticket holder, suspected to be James Cameron, but without a second passenger the flight could not go forward. It now appears that they have gotten a deposit from that second person.

Posted on the road in New Mexico.

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