Monthly Archives: January 2016

Trump: “Let’s get to be a little establishment.”

In attacking Ted Cruz today, presidential candidate Donald Trump revealed exactly why I really don’t trust him, and consider him no different than Bush, Dole, Bush, McCain, Romney, and all the other fake conservatives the Republican Party has been foisting on us for the last twenty years.

“You know what? There’s a point at which: Let’s get to be a little establishment,” Trump told the crowd at the South Point resort and casino. “We’ve got to get things done folks, OK? Believe me, don’t worry. We’re going to make such great deals.”

In other words, expect from Trump (who still is essentially an old-fashioned liberal Democrat) the same kind of horrible budget and political deals we been getting from the Republican leadership for the six years — doing nothing to stop the Democratic Party’s leftwing agenda.

Trump criticized Cruz for being “strident”, thus preventing him from compromising with the Washington leadership. To that I say, “Amen!,” and loudly. The time has come for some real stridency, not the verbal fake stridency of Trump, who sometimes sounds like a tough guy but in the end is going to endorse everything the Democrats have been pushing, albeit in a less radical way.

Once again, I must add, that should Trump be the Republican candidate, I will still vote for him. Trump is not the radical leftwing ideologue that is Sanders. Nor is he corrupt like Clinton. He will at least act to delay the worst leftwing policies, thus delaying the final collapse slightly. And delay is still good in this context, as it will give us an opportunity to right the ship later before it sinks.


Angara at Vostochny trimmed

Due to cuts in the Russian government’s ten-year plan for aerospace, the number of Angara launchpads at the new Vostochny spaceport has been slashed in half, with construction delayed as well.

On January 20, 2016, Roskosmos officials admitted that budget cuts at the end of 2015 required to drop plans to build one of the two launch pads for Angara rockets in Vostochny. Previously, the Russian space officials claimed that a dual launch complex for the Angara was absolutely necessary to support the four-launch scenario of the lunar expeditions relying on the Angara-5V rocket. The beginning of the construction of the remaining single pad was now delayed from 2016 to 2017.

Based on all the different reports I’ve read, they have also eliminated in the 10-year plan all lunar missions and the construction of a new space station. Essentially, their budget can only barely sustain what they are already doing. Like NASA, they have too large a labor force — jobs maintained for pork barrel reasons rather than actually accomplishing anything — that makes it impossible for them to afford anything new.


Orion: construction in slow motion

Today NASA announced completion of the welding of the next Orion capsule, a job that this story said took about three months to do 7 welds. The story also noted this:

After putting on the finished touches, NASA plans to ship the vehicle to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) aboard NASA’s Super Guppy airplane on or about Feb. 1. At KSC, engineers working inside the Neil Armstrong Operation and Checkout Building (O & C) will spend the next two years outfitting Orion for launch in late 2018 by installing all the systems and subsystems for its inaugural flight to the Moon and back.

Overall this is the third Orion capsule that NASA has built, following the Ground Test Article (GTA), which did not fly, and the EFT-1 capsule which successfully launched just over one year ago on Dec. 5, 2014. [emphasis mine]

Three months to do 7 welds. Two years to outfit a capsule. Wow! At that pace they might launch before the end of the century.

Seriously, this is an absurdly slow work pace, illustrating the wasteful nature of the SLS/Orion program. Orion’s budget these days is about $1 billion per year, with a total cost expected to reach $17 billion by the time the fourth capsule is built and launched in 2023, for a project first proposed in 2004.

In other words, it will take NASA and Lockheed Martin almost 20 years to build four capsules for the cost of $17 billion. That is absurd. Compare it to commercial space: The entire budget for all the commercial crew contracts, including both cargo contracts and the manned contract, is about half that, and will produce four different vehicles, all of which will be built and flying by 2019 at the latest. And in the case of Dragon and Cygnus, more than a dozen capsules have already flown.

Is there no one in Washington with the brain power to read these numbers and come to a rational decision about SLS/Orion? It costs too much and isn’t getting us into space. Moreover, at its pace and cost it isn’t doing anything to help the American aerospace industry. Better for Congress to put money into other things, or save it entirely and reduce the deficit and thus not waste it on this pork barrel garbage.

Unfortunately, our elected officials today not only don’t have brains, too many of them are downright corrupt. They prefer to bankrupt the nation for their own petty gain rather than do things that might help the nation grow.


Video of Dragon/SuperDraco engine test

The competition heats up: SpaceX today released a video of a five second test they did in November of the SuperDraco thrusters attached to their Dragon capsule.

I have embedded the video below the fold. This test, which took place on a test stand with the capsule hanging from a crane cable, was part of their work to develop a launch abort capability for the manned version of Dragon. The thrusters will also be used eventually to make possible vertical land landings of the capsule.
» Read more


FAA flight restrictions suggest upcoming New Shepard flight

The competition heats up: New temporary FAA flight restrictions scheduled for January 22 and 23 in the area where Blue Origin does its test flights suggest that the company is about to do another New Shepard test.

It is likely that they will re-fly the booster that they successfully landed in their November 23 flight.


Howard Shore – The Shire (Concerning Hobbits)

An evening pause: I am not a big fan of the movie adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. I find them heavy and over-wrought, focused too much on special effects and what I call “cool adolescent stuff”, none of which has anything to do with the very real and human story that Tolkien created about the battle between good and evil.

This short piece from the music score, however, evokes everything about hobbits that Tolkien intended. As he has Gandalf say, in describing hobbits, “Soft as butter they can be, but sometimes as tough as old tree roots.”

And since hobbits and the Shire are nothing more than Tolkien’s metaphor for England and the British culture he knew from before World War II, this song also evokes the quiet majesty and humbleness of that now lost world, “a nation of shop-keepers” who, like the hobbits in the Lord of the Rings, were in the end able to stand firm and beat back the evil of the Third Reich despite overwhelming odds.

Hat tip Rocco.


Dantu Crater on Ceres

bright areas on crater wall on Ceres

Cool image time! As Dawn continues its close survey of Ceres, the science team has released this image of Dantu Crater, showing the bright spots on its rim as well as fractures on the crater floor. The picture was taken in December and has a resolution of about 120 feet per pixel.

Though scientists now favor salt deposits of some kind as the cause of the bright areas on Ceres, they also recognize that this theory is not yet proven. Moreover, the theory suggests that the salt was deposited as part of a water brine. When the water in the brine evaporated away, it left the salt behind. The problem, however, is that we do not yet have direct evidence that there is any water on Ceres at all, either on the surface or in the interior, which makes this theory exceedingly uncertain.


The Palin endorsement of Trump

I usually avoid posting much about campaign stuff, as most of it is foolish childish blather. To me, what is important is what politicians actually do when they are in positions of power, not what they say while they are campaigning.

However, Sarah Palin’s endorsement yesterday of Donald Trump requires a few words, because this is an action by Palin that confirms a great deal about her (not Trump) that I have thought since the day she resigned as Alaska’s governor. To paraphrase one headline, yesterday’s endorsement was a Reality TV Star Endorsing a Reality TV Star.

Sarah Palin, the host of “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” and “Amazing America with Sarah Palin,” has endorsed the star of “The Apprentice” and “The Celebrity Apprentice”

This article is more blunt:
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World View gets incentives to settle in Arizona

The competition heats up: The space tourism balloon company World View has obtained $15 million in subsidies from an Arizona county to base their operation in Tucson.

Today’s go-ahead from the Pima County Board of Supervisors represents an initial step toward setting up the tourist operation. The supervisors voted to invest $15 million, backed by future tax revenue, to build the spaceport. World View would lease the facility from the county over a 20-year term to pay back the investment. The facility would include a launch pad, headquarters building and manufacturing facility, World View said.

Increasingly it looks like Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo is being left in the dust as other companies move forward with their own plans.


Astronomers propose Neptune-sized planet in Kuiper Belt

The uncertainty of science: Using the orbital data of many recently discovered Kuiper Belt objects [KBOs], two astronomers have proposed the existence of a planet ten times the mass of the Earth and orbiting the sun every 20,000 years.

Trujillo and Sheppard had noted that Sedna, VP113, and several other KBOs all shared a peculiar property: their closest approach to the Sun lay in the plane of the Solar System, and they all moved from south to north when crossing that plane. Batygin and Brown analyzed the orbits further and discovered that their long axes were physically aligned, too, as if something had nudged them to occupy the same region of space around the Sun. The team concluded that a massive object must be shepherding the objects. “We have a gravitational signature of a giant planet in the outer Solar System,” Batygin says.

Planet Nine — informally known as Phattie — is probably smaller than Neptune and icy with a gassy outer layer. The gravitational effect of Uranus and Neptune would have flung it outward in the first 3 million years of the Solar System’s existence, Batygin says.

Be warned! The existence of this as-yet unseen giant planet is quite uncertain. The orbits of the KBOs they are using to postulate its existence have only been observed for a very short period and have not been completely mapped. Thus, those orbits themselves are very uncertain. Moreover, we so far have a very incomplete census of the Kuiper Belt. The orbital behavior used as evidence of another planet could also be caused by many other known factors that have not yet been observed.


India’s first launch of 2016

The competition heats up: India today successfully completed its first launch in 2016, placing in orbit the fifth of what will be a seven satellite constellation of home-built navigational satellites.

It was India’s 50th orbital launch, and another success for their smaller PSLV rocket. The article is especially worth reading as it includes a nice history of the country’s rocket program.


Tuesday’s Batchelor podcast

Below the fold is the podcast of my appearance on the John Batchelor Show today, Tuesday. It was fun comparing the recent successes of private space compared to the big space programs of the U.S., Russia, and China. I also made reference to this essay I wrote after watching Elon Musk first announce in 2011 his plans to vertically land the first stage of his Falcon 9 rocket. Took him only five years to do it.
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Corruption uncovered in federal environmental project

Government marches on! A federal environmental project costing almost a half billion dollars is over budget and has had its management company removed over accusations of accounting irregularities.

During its five-year construction phase, NEON has encountered a series of high-profile problems that have raised concerns about the programme, which is funded entirely by the US National Science Foundation (NSF). In June 2015, the network came under fire from the NSF and Congress after NEON, Inc. — the non-profit organization that manages the project — reported that it was running $80 million over budget. Amid revelations that the company had spent federal money on parties, Congress levied charges of mismanagement and convened hearings with officials from NEON and the NSF. Events came to a climax in December, when the NSF decided to take NEON, Inc. off the project, citing a lack of confidence in the company after years of delays and questions about accounting irregularities.

The agency will now seek another operator to complete construction and take over the project’s management. One of the toughest tasks will be winning the support of ecologists; some researchers felt alienated during the project’s planning phase and have been critical of the way the observatory network is turning out. [emphasis mine]

The accounting irregularities included “$25,000 for a party and $3,000 for T-shirts.”

I highlight the last sentence because this gigantic federal project not only has financial and corruption issues, its big governmental design has less to do with science research and more to do with pork and getting federal dollars.

Scott Collins, an ecologist at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, was the first NSF [National Science Foundation] program director for NEON back in 2000. Collins says that the idea for a large ecological observatory sprang from NSF staff who were seeking ways for biologists to get a slice of the agency’s big-science money: the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction budget. “That put us on a very different footing from the start because this was not something that the community and vocal ecologists had wanted,” Collins says. [emphasis mine]

Based on reading the entire article, I would recommend that Congress end the entire project. The science produced will be questionable and not worth the money. Considering the federal deficit it makes no sense to spend money foolishly right now.


The Falcon 9 first stage almost landing

I can’t resist. I have to post that video here of the Falcon 9 first stage landing and then falling over from Sunday. You can see it below the fold. It is incredibly impressive, because it shows that the stage actually did succeed in landing, though a failure of some kind afterward caused it to tip over. The company says it was the failure of one landing leg, but if you watch the video you can see that the angle of fall is between two legs, which suggests that the cause was more complicated.

Nonetheless, don’t be surprised if by the end of 2016 SpaceX is successfully landing its first stages on every launch.
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Fraud detected in science research that suggested genetically modified crops were harmful

The uncertainty of peer review: Three science papers that had suggested that genetically modified crops were harmful to animals and have been used by activist groups to argue for their ban have been found to contain manipulated and possibly falsified data

Papers that describe harmful effects to animals fed genetically modified (GM) crops are under scrutiny for alleged data manipulation. The leaked findings of an ongoing investigation at the University of Naples in Italy suggest that images in the papers may have been intentionally altered. The leader of the lab that carried out the work there says that there is no substance to this claim.

The papers’ findings run counter to those of numerous safety tests carried out by food and drug agencies around the world, which indicate that there are no dangers associated with eating GM food. But the work has been widely cited on anti-GM websites — and results of the experiments that the papers describe were referenced in an Italian Senate hearing last July on whether the country should allow cultivation of safety-approved GM crops. “The case is very important also because these papers have been used politically in the debate on GM crops,” says Italian senator Elena Cattaneo, a neuroscientist at the University of Milan whose concerns about the work triggered the investigation.

I know I am generalizing here and have not actually researched this, but I would bet that many of those same anti-GM websites and the people who support them are also firm believers in human-caused global warming. Similarly, I would guess that if you asked these scientists above who wrote the anti-GM papers they also would be firm believers in human-caused global warming. I know this is a guess, but based on years of watching these political battles I think a very safe guess.


Russia names next manned spaceship “Federation”

They might not be close to building it, but the Russian government has decided that the name they will use for their next generation manned spaceship to replace Soyuz will be “Federation.”

“Federation is a perfect name for the series of new Russian spacecraft. Russia is a federation of 85 constituent entities and each of them will be able to give its name for one of the spaceships,” the corporation [Energia] said [in a press release].

Don’t bet on this spaceship appearing in the near future. In fact, don’t bet on it having this name either. Remember how in the 2000s they were going to build “Clipper”? That never happened either. With a shrinking economy and the consolidation of their entire aerospace industry into a single government entity I expect Russia’s space industry to have a great deal of problems building anything new in the coming years.


Falcon 9 launches NASA satellite, first stage landing fails

The competition heats up: SpaceX successfully put its first NASA/NOAA science satellite in orbit today, though its attempt to land the Falcon 9 first stage on a barge failed when one landing leg broke and the stage tipped over.

The first stage however was still recovered as it fell sideways on the barge. The link above includes a picture, which shows that stage lying on its side. The engines might be recoverable, but certainly they have enough material from the stage to do tests and learn a great deal more about how it tolerates the stresses of launch. Commenter Frank provides a link to a video that shows the stage falling over and exploding, something the images I had seen previously had not shown. They might have more material to test, but hardly as intact as I had first thought.

Nonetheless, they have now successfully test fired the engines from last month’s recovered first stage.

The 156-foot first stage booster that carried out that successful landing was taken to the company’s hangar at Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and partially inspected. It was later taken back to Launch Complex 40 and hoisted upright via a crane. On Jan. 15, a static fire was conducted. “Data looks good overall,” Musk said in a tweet, but noted Engine No. 9—one of the outer engines—showed thrust fluctuations. He said that there may have been some debris ingestion, but the engine data looks OK and that they would borescope later that night. There has been no word on how that inspection went.

That all nine engines functioned is a very good sign, even if one had issues.


A river on Mars

A river on Mars

Cool image time! The science team for the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter this week released it monthly set of cool images. One of those images, which I have cropped and reduced to show it here, is of an ancient river on Mars, the formation process of which geologists still debate. As the scientists note,

The channel pattern, called “dendritic” because of its tree–like branching, begins at the top of the image and runs down over the rim of an ancient impact basin across the basin floor. The soil surface overlying these channels, and indeed the entire landscape, has been changed and reworked over the intervening millions of years, by the combined actions of wind and ice. Over time, the original channels become muted or even erased.

One thing I learned in writing an article for Astronomy about the rivers seen on Saturn’s moon Titan is that without plant life there is no known natural process to hold river banks in place. Instead, if the grade is shallow and not confined by bedrock cliffs, rivers will meander about randomly forming braided channels as there will be nothing on shore to hold the water within the same course. For example, on a lifeless Earth the water draining the central basin of the midwest United States would have flowed south across a wide scattered area covering the entire plains, rather than flowing within the courses of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

Thus, it is not surprising that this river on Mars appears muted or partly erased. It probably was never very clearly delineated in the first place.


Spacewalk cut short due to spacesuit water leak

Today’s spacewalk at ISS to repair a failed voltage regulator of the station’s power system has been cut short because a water bubble had appeared inside one of the astronaut’s spacesuit.

The astronauts are presently in the airlock about to remove their spacesuits, so it appears they are not in danger. However, this problem is the return of the earlier water leaks inside NASA’s spacesuits, something that the agency had thought it had solved last year. If it has returned, this is of serious concern, since it suggests that they have not yet pinpointed the chronic cause of the problem.

It should be noted that the astronauts had successfully replaced the voltage regulator prior to the premature conclusion of their spacewalk. They had had other less critical tasks on their schedule which they had to forego because of the leak.


New Orbital ATK rocket to compete for military launches

The competition heats up: Orbital ATK is developing a new mid-sized rocket designed to compete with ULA and SpaceX in launching Air Force military satellites.

It appears that they are going to use the contract the Air Force awarded them this week to build a new solid rocket engine to help finance this new rocket.


Russia trims its 10-year space plan

The competition cools: Due to budget pressures, Russia has once more cut what it plans to do in its as yet not finalized 10-year space plan.

Not only do they expect to fly fewer satellites during the plan, they appear to either have dropped or are significantly curtailing their plans for their own space station after they pull out of ISS in 2024.

The corporation has also lost some of the original ambitious projects, including creation of two autonomous modules (transformable and power generating ones, ordered by the Russian Academy of Sciences), meant for the creation of a Russian orbital station. The project is absent from the latest version of the program. A transformable module was to be created in 2020-2025 and its launch was scheduled for 2025. Its service life was estimated at five years and design and manufacturing costs, 12.3 billion rubles.

In addition, it appears they are cutting back their plans for planetary research.


Most powerful supernovae ever

The uncertainty of science: Astronomers have discovered the most powerful supernovae ever detected.

This one, called ASASSN-15lh, is about 3.8 billion light years away, 200 times more powerful than most supernovas, and twice as bright as the previous record holder. It shines 20 times brighter than the combined output of the Milky Way’s 100 billion stars, and in the last six months, it has spewed as much energy as the sun would in 10 lifetimes, says Krzysztof Stanek of the Ohio State University, co-principal investigator of the All Sky Automated Survey for SuperNovae (ASAS-SN) network that spotted the explosion. “This is really on steroids, and then some,” he says. “If it was in our own galaxy, it would shine brighter than the full moon; there would be no night, and it would be easily seen during the day.”

At the moment astronomers don’t really have an theory to explain how the supernovae could produce that much energy.

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