First Falcon Heavy launch now scheduled for April/May 2016

The competition heats up: SpaceX is now aiming for a spring launch of the first Falcon Heavy.

That first launch will be a demonstration mission without a paying customer. That launch will be followed in September by the Space Test Program 2 mission for the Air Force, carrying 37 satellites. Rosen said the company was also planning Falcon Heavy launches of satellites for Inmarsat and ViaSat before the end of 2016, but did not give estimated dates for those missions.

Though no one should bet a lot of money on this launch schedule, if they get even half this accomplished they will be doing quite well. This, combined with the possibility that they will safely land the first stage of the Falcon 9 by then as well, will put SpaceX in an undeniably dominate position in the launch market.

Iran deal gets enough Democratic votes to pass

Democrats now have enough votes to sustain a veto and thus allow President Obama’s Iran deal to go into effect.

Ed Morrissey says it best:

What’d the GOP get out of all this? What did their huge advantage in the House and their eight-seat majority in the Senate ultimately amount to in terms of concessions? It’s one thing to lose a momentous fight on foreign policy, ceding all of your constitutional leverage in the process, but if you can get some goodies for your side at least you can say it’s not a total loss. Unless I missed something, we got … nothing. Not a thing — not even, in all likelihood, the right to crow and say that our resolution of disapproval passed the Senate with plenty of Democratic support. This fiasco will end with an essentially party-line vote on cloture, leaving Obama free to argue to the world that the deal has the acquiescence of the U.S. Congress. The only thing we get from this is the right to point out later, when this agreement eventually ends with Iran going nuclear and the Middle East being further destabilized, that this disaster is owned lock, stock, and barrel by the Democratic Party. That’s a nice consolation prize, but we’ve known since the beginning that we’d be getting that. What we’ve added to our “winnings” since this congressional kabuki began is precisely nothing.

The reason the Republicans failed here is that the leadership, led by Bob Corker (R-Tennessee), wrote and passed a bill that allowed this treaty to pass without even a majority of Congress. In other words, before they even saw the treaty they agreed to it. And once they saw the treaty they made loud noises, including Corker, about how bad it was, but they themselves had already made it impossible for them to block it.

It is time for these Republican leaders to be fired. It isn’t just Democrats who have betrayed the American people and our friends in the Middle East with this deal, it is this Republican leadership that has decided to help Obama and the Democrats get everything they want. And in turn, this has given the Iranians — still eager to instigate terrorism attacks and war against the U.S. and Israel — everything they want as well.

170 million guns purchased, crime drops by half

More guns, less crime: According to federal government data Americans have purchased more than 170 million guns since 1991, and in that time violent crime has dropped 51 percent.

This evidence strongly suggests that the presence of guns in the hands of honest Americans helps to reduce violence. And while there are many factors contributing to the fall in crime, many which have nothing to do with the purchase of guns by Americans, the statistics here should not be ignored. Gun control advocates always argue that if gun limits are reduced, a blood-bath will follow. This claim has always been proven false, and these statistics do so again.

Shake-ups in the Google Lunar X-Prize competition

One team has withdrawn and two big-name executives have left another team in a shake-up at the Google Lunar X-Prize competition.

This key quote however tells us the real state of the competition, which sadly does not look good:

The competition has repeatedly moved back the deadline to win the prize, which is now set for Dec. 31, 2017. At least one of the 16 remaining teams much announced a launch contract by the end of this year for the competition to continue. The rest of the teams would then have until the end of 2016 to announce launch contracts to stay in the race.

The team that withdrew says it plan to continue its effort but outside the competition. Either way, it looks like someone has to commit to a launch sometime in the next few months or the competition either has to push back its deadlines again or declare no winners. This will be a sad conclusion, as it is entirely possible for private financing to get this done. A failure however would make that appear impossible.

Technical problems for cosmic ray detector on ISS

The failure of a second of four cooling pumps on the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer on ISS threatens the science instrument’s ability to continue its observations.

The AMS continues to gather science data using the three remaining pumps. They are part of a liquid carbon dioxide cooling system that is meant to dissipate heat as the AMS, which is on the outside of the space station, cycles in and out of sunlight during each 90-minute orbit of Earth Only one pump is needed at any given time. One failed in February 2014 and at least one of the other three is showing possible signs of trouble.

Since the 8.5-tonne AMS began operating in 2011, it has tracked more than 69 billion cosmic rays flying through its detectors. Its goal is to search for antimatter and dark matter. In 2013, AMS scientists reported measuring numbers and energies of positrons that hinted at, but did not confirm, the existence of dark matter.

The news article suggests that the instrument is now working with only one reliable pump. It also is possible that repairs might be done by astronauts on ISS during a spacewalk.

Some background: AMS cost $2 billion and about 20 years to build. It only got launched because Congress ordered NASA to launch one more shuttle mission to ISS to get it there.

Atlas 5 successfully launches U.S. military satellite

The competition heats up: ULA’s Atlas 5 rocket today successfully launched a U.S. Navy military communications satellite into orbit.

ULA’s big selling point for its very high prices is its very high reliability. This was its 99th consecutive launch success for the company, going back to 2006. It was also the 127th in a row for the Atlas 5.

The problem is that a majority of these launches were government payloads, which up until now has been willing to pay top dollar. For ULA to really compete successfully, it needs private customers, and they appear unwilling to pay that top dollar, going instead to SpaceX. It is for this reason the company is pushing hard to develop a more efficient and less costly rocket.

Manned Soyuz heads for ISS with new crew

A new crew was successfully launched into orbit last night by a Russian Soyuz rocket.

This is the mission that Sarah Brightman was originally going to fly on as a tourist — before she backed out or was rejected by the Russians as a unqualified. Instead, it carries one Russian who is going to take over as commander of the station for a long term mission, and two short term astronauts, from Kazakhstan and Denmark, who will remain in orbit for only about 10 days.

They are taking the long, two-day rendezvous route to ISS, so they won’t actually dock until Friday.

Blue Origin wins financial incentives to build in Florida

The competition heats up: Local county officials in Florida have awarded Blue Origins $8 million in grants to encourage it to set up launch operations in Florida.

The money comes from property tax revenue from new commercial and industrial construction in North Brevard, under a process the Brevard County Commission created in 2011 to help spur economic development in North Brevard. Blue Origin plans to build rockets on the Space Coast, and launch them from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The company, founded by Jeff Bezos, the billionaire chief executive officer of, would create 330 jobs with an average wage of $89,000, and plans to make a capital investment of $205 million to $220 million.

The company is being referred to as “Project Panther” in county documents, because Blue Origin has not officially disclosed its plans. Bezos is scheduled to be in Brevard County on Sept. 15 for a major announcement on the commercial space industry.

This news helps indicate what Bezos’s September 15 announcement will be about. They are likely to announce that the company is completed its arrangements for building its spaceport in Florida, and is now going to proceed. Up until now the company, which keeps its plans very close to its vest, has been vague about its future launch plans, especially after it lost its competition with SpaceX for leasing a launchpad at the Kennedy Space Center.

Blue Origin abandons patent for barge-landing a rocket

The heat of competition: After losing a decision of the U.S. Patent office in a dispute with SpaceX, Blue Origin has withdrawn the patent it was awarded in March 2014 for vertical landing a rocket on an ocean-going barge.

In an order made public today, the U.S. Patent Trial and Appeal Board granted a motion to cancel the remaining 13 of 15 claims in the Blue Origin rocket-landing patent. Blue Origin itself had made the motion to cancel those claims, effectively acknowledging that its case was lost.

Blue Origin, based in Kent, Wash., has separately filed a “reissue” patent application covering the same general area. However, SpaceX has already attempted multiple rocket landings at sea and would likely be grandfathered in, allowing it to continue the practice, even if Blue Origin were to ultimately succeed in securing a valid patent.

The two companies are definitely in a heated competition. This is not the only legal dispute they have had, with SpaceX winning previously as well. Blue Origin had challenged the award of a 20-year lease to SpaceX of its launchpad at Kennedy. It lost.

In this case, it was absurd on its face for the patent office to award this patent to Blue Origin, especially since, at the time it did so, SpaceX was clearly already doing this exact thing.

Curiosity spots a spoon on Mars!

The spoon on Mars

Very cool image time! In one of Curiosity’s recent images of the Martian surface on the slopes of Mount Sharp appears what looks like a long thin spoon jutting horizontally out of the ground.

The shadow below the feature is strong evidence that that this almost certainly a real object, shaped exactly as we see it. However, it is not an artificially created spoon. If you look at both the full raw image as well as zoom in on the feature itself, you will see that it is something that formed naturally due to Mars’ low gravity and the geology here. The spoon is a thin prong of harder material that has remained intact as the ground below it has been slowly eroded away by the ever-present but very weak Martian wind. If you look close you can see that harder material extend back into the rock behind the spoon.

Some of that erosion might also have been caused by flowing water sometime in the past, but to confirm this will take additional geological research.

Government still hasn’t notified individuals whose personal data was hacked

Government marches on! Months after the federal government admitted publicly that the personal data of more than 20 million government employees had been hacked they still have not sent notifications to those millions.

Instead, they’ve turned this into an opportunity to spend taxpayer money for their friends!

The agency whose data was hacked, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), said the Defense Department will begin “later this month” to notify employees and contractors across the government that their personal information was accessed by hackers. OPM said notifications would continue over several weeks and “will be sent directly to impacted individuals.”

OPM also announced that it hired a contractor to help protect the identities and credit ratings of employees whose data was hacked. In a statement, OPM said it had awarded a contract initially worth more than $133 million to a company called Identity Theft Guard Solutions LLC, doing business as ID experts, for identity theft protections for the 21.5 million victims of the security data breach. The contractor will provide credit and identity monitoring services for three years, as well as identity theft insurance, to affected individuals and dependent children aged under 18, the agency said.

I wonder if Theft Guard Solutions donated campaign money to Obama in order to get the contract. I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised. I also wonder if they are as incompetent at this work as the company the Obama administration hired to build the Obamacare website. I also don’t know this, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if they screw up just as badly.

Largest glacier calving event ever filmed

An evening pause. Hat tip Phill Oltmann. I had sworn I had posted this already, but now can’t find it on BtB. And even if I have posted it, it is worth watching again. My only comment is that I am baffled by the film’s description of the event as “horrifying.” I don’t find this natural event horrifying, I find it awe-inspiring. It reminds us that the scale of the universe if far far beyond anything we can imagine.

Kentucky clerk again defies Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriages

A Kentucky county clerk continues to defy federal court rulings by refusing to issue any marriage licenses so as to avoid issuing same-sex licenses as well.

A Kentucky county clerk, defying a new U.S. Supreme Court decision and citing “God’s authority,” rejected requests for marriage licenses from same-sex couples on Tuesday in a deepening legal standoff now two months old. Citing her religious objections, Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis has refused to issue any marriage licenses since the Supreme Court in June ruled that same-sex couples had the right to marry under the U.S. Constitution.

On Monday the same court rejected Davis’ request for an emergency order allowing her to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples while she appeals a federal judge’s order requiring her to issue them. Eight people filed a federal lawsuit against Davis in July challenging her office’s policy of not issuing marriage licenses to any couples – gay or straight.

I do not support any government official who arbitrarily decides to not follow the law. The issue here is whether the Supreme Court ruling itself followed the law. There are many legal experts who would say no.

Either way, this story illustrates the coming persecution of Christians and Jews whose faith tells them that any support of homosexual activities is wrong. You see, it is no longer acceptable to the homosexual community for these religious people to simply leave homosexuals alone and allow them to do what they want, as has been the case for the past half century. It is now demanded that the religious participate and endorse homosexual behavior, even if it goes against their own deeply held beliefs.

I want to point out again that no homosexuals have been prevented from living their lifestyle during this whole same-sex brouhaha. They remain free to live as they wish. The only people being persecuted are Christians, merely because they have refused to endorse that behavior. With these facts in mind, who do you think are the fascists?

The Space Show website upgrade is 70% funded

With 8 days left in its campaign to raise $10 grand so that the Space Show can upgrade its website and make its archives searchable, the campaign is 70% funded.

As a regularly guest on David Livingston’s excellent show, I ask all my readers to consider donating to this campaign. For the past decade and a half The Space Show has probably provided the best and most complete coverage of the aerospace industry. The success of this campaign will allow the show to continue while also making the wealth of information buried in its archives more easily available to everyone.

Data from New Horizons does not match what is seen from Earth

The uncertainty of science: Planetary geologists are presently baffled by a conflict in the atmospheric data between New Horizons and data gathered from Earth.

On 29 June, a few weeks before the fly-by, Young organized astronomers across New Zealand and Australia to watch Pluto as it passed in front of a distant star. Tracking how the star’s light faded during the passage provided information on how much gas is in Pluto’s atmosphere. Using the same method, planetary scientists have seen the atmosphere grow denser since 1988 — and analysis of the 29 June observations shows that the trend remains intact. Young calculates that the current atmospheric pressure at Pluto’s surface is 22 microbars (0.022 pascals), or 22-millionths the pressure at sea level on Earth.

But on 14 July, New Horizons measured Pluto’s surface pressure as much lower than that ­— just 5 microbars. “How we link the two, we’re still working on,” says Cathy Olkin, a deputy project scientist for New Horizons at SwRI.

The difference could simply be that Pluto’s atmosphere is not smooth, that some regions are dense while others are thin, and New Horizons happened to look at a thin place. The Earth observations don’t have the resolution to separate the two.

There are other proposals to explain the problem. Regardless, the answer is likely hidden in the data from New Horizons that has still not been downloaded back to Earth. In a few months, all might very well become clear.

Or not, as is the natural state of science.

What it was like practicing Islam for the first Malaysian in space

This article, describing the 2007 flight of the first Malaysian in space, launched as a passenger in a Russian Soyuz capsule, is mostly worth reading because it goes into details on the Islamic religious rules the astronaut had to follow to practice the religion in space.

Muszaphar had to spend time going through an instruction manual on daily religious rituals provided by Malaysian mullahs. Vyacheslav Urlyapov of the Moscow-based Centre for Southeast Asia, Australia, and Oceania Studies, RAS Institute of Oriental Studies, sums up the cosmonaut’s experience: “The 11-day flight overlapped in part the holy month of Ramadan. Muslims had been in orbit before him, but it fell to Muszaphar to comply with the detailed instructions written for him by Islamic theologians (ulema) to remain a true believer in space, too.”

Muslims are required to face in the general direction of the city of Mecca while saying the mandatory – five times a day – prayers. But locating the tiny city from space is not an easy task, especially when you are hurtling around Earth at more than 17,000 km per hour. Also, in space there is no sense of direction – as we know it on land. The Malaysian cosmonaut was therefore all at sea during his first space flight.

Mercifully, Muszaphar was released from fasting, and was allowed to say shorter prayers and perform daily rituals according to Kazakhstan time. Plus, he didn’t have to face the constant ordeal of locating Mecca.

Kind of describes the problems when a medieval religion is thrust into the 21st century. The medieval religion has to change.

SpaceX delays its next launch

SpaceX has decided to delay its next launch for several additional months as it continues its investigation into the June Falcon 9 launch failure.

The next mission on SpaceX’s launch calendar had been a U.S. government ocean-monitoring satellite called Jason 3, but Shotwell indicated that a commercial communications satellite would move to the front of the line. Luxembourg-based SES SA has a contract to fly on the first Falcon 9 rocket that features an upgraded first-stage engine. The upgrade will allow SpaceX to attempt to land its rockets back at the launch site from high-altitude missions so they can be refurbished and reused.

They had originally hoped to return to flight in September. This is now probably delayed until November. However, that their next flight will include the upgraded Merlin engine and it will be a commercial flight means they will once again likely try for a vertical landing of that first stage. Moreover, SES has already said that if the landing is successful it wants to buy that first stage for a future launch. SES hopes to save money this way, while also encouraging innovation in the launch market which it sees as a long term gain for putting its payloads into orbit.

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