Monthly Archives: January 2016

SpaceX, Orbital ATK, and Sierra Nevada awarded contracts to ISS

The competition heats up: NASA has decided to award contracts to all three competitors, Orbital ATK, SpaceX, and Sierra Nevada, in the second round of cargo contracts to ISS.

Or as Yogi Berra once said, “When you come to a fork, take it.”

The main winners appear to be Orbital and SpaceX, with Sierra Nevada coming in later. Details at this moment remain vague, so stay tuned.


A detailed review of the climate data tampering at NASA and NOAA

Steven Goddard has once again taken a close look at the climate data gathering at NOAA and NASA and found clear evidence of tampering.

He not only documents how the scientists at these agencies have adjusted the raw data to cool the past and warm the present to create the illusion of global warming, they have done so with a limited data base.

The bulk of the data tampering is being done by simply making temperatures up. If NOAA is missing data for a particular station in a particular month, they use a computer model to calculate what they think the temperature should have been.

Those calculations are then designed to support the theory of human caused global warming, caused by increased carbon dioxide.

Goddard doesn’t just tell us his opinions, he backs up his conclusions with detailed graphs and data.

Do I accept Goddard’s conclusions entirely? Maybe. The two questions I ask that none of the NOAA or NASA scientists have been willing to answer are these:
» Read more


A cold-eyed look at Trump’s actual record

Link here. Key quote:

While Sessions, Cruz, and others on the outside like myself were fighting the worst immigration bill of our generation in 2013, Trump was promoting the Dream Act. When it really mattered he wasn’t with us.

Moreover, what sort of judges would Trump nominate? Where does he stand on proposals to rein in the lawless courts? If he believes the courts are the law of the land, even when they violate the most fundamental rights or original intent of the Constitution, as he did with religious liberty, what will he do when the courts inevitably use the same phantom 14th Amendment legal theory to toss out his immigration proposals?

While I will vote for Trump in a heartbeat should he be the Republican candidate running against either Clinton or Sanders, he isn’t yet that candidate, and conservative voters have an obligation to look at him honestly. From my perspective, he is not the candidate I want, as he in the end will likely not really change anything as President, but instead continue the general policies that have gotten us where we are. He might make some radical changes around the edges, on hot-button issues like immigration, but overall his political philosophy is that of a traditional liberal East Coast New Yorker.


Bush, Cruz, Carson, and Sanders on space policy

This article takes a look at the positions on space policy of four candidates for President.

Not surprisingly, there is not much substance to what these candidates have said. They mostly mouth positive platitudes about space, and often indicate by those platitudes a general lack of knowledge about the subject.

What is more important to consider is their overall political philosophies combined with legislative actions they have actually done. Cruz for example is clearly in favor of reducing the cost and size of government. He has also made it clear by his actions in the Senate that he considers space an important national priority. These facts tell me that, should he become president he will likely move to end SLS while shifting resources to private space, since it costs a lot less and the government (and nation) will get more for its money.

Sanders meanwhile has consistently voted for a smaller space program in all his years in the Senate. As a socialist and a liberal who sides with the Democrats routinely, he, like them, has generally opposed spending any money on NASA or space, generally arguing that the money would be better spend solving problems on Earth. While he might mouth support for NASA now, I would expect him to try to kill it once in office.


Orbital ATK and SpaceX win Air Force contracts

The competition heats up: The Air Force has awarded Orbital ATK and SpaceX contracts to develop new rocket engines to help end the U.S.’s reliance on Russian rocket engines.

The Orbital contract is initially worth $47 million, with the company committed to spend $31 million of its own money., according to the Defense Department’s daily digest of major contract awards. Eventually the government could pay the company $180 million. SpaceX’s contract meanwhile was for $33.6 million initially for the development of its new Raptor upper stage engine, with a total government payment to be $61 million.

And that’s not all. Later today NASA will announce the winners in its second ISS cargo contract. The competitors are SpaceX, Orbital ATK, and Sierra Nevada. I am hoping the latter two win, since that would allow the construction of a fourth American spacecraft, Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser, capable of lifting cargo and crew into space.


Juno becomes most distant solar-powered mission

Scheduled to enter orbit around Jupiter in July 2016, the American space probe Juno has now broken the record as the most distant solar-powered interplanetary spacecraft ever to operate.

The previous record had been held by Rosetta. In the past most missions beyond Mars used nuclear-generated power plants, since the amount of sunlight is insufficient. However, improvements to the efficiency of solar power, combined with a lack of nuclear fuel in the U.S., has made it possible to fly missions using solar power farther from the sun.


That space junk was from Lunar Prospector

A research team at JPL has concluded that the unidentified piece of space junk that had been in lunar space but crashed to Earth in November was likely the engine module used by the 1998 Lunar Prospector mission.

The junk’s identity is by no means certain, but the “leading candidate” is the translunar injection module of Lunar Prospector, says Paul Chodas, an asteroid tracker at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The module nudged the probe out of Earth orbit and then detached from the main spacecraft, which orbited the Moon for 19 months before it was deliberately slammed into the lunar south pole in July 1999.

Speculation about the source of the debris, known as WT1190F, ran rampant even before it plummeted through the atmosphere on 13 November. The only artificial object to make an uncontrolled re-entry at a precisely predicted place and moment, it presented a unique chance to witness such an event in real time. Researchers took advantage of the opportunity, monitoring the debris from a chartered jet as well as from ground-based observatories.


Water behavior on Comet 67P/C-G

A new paper based on accumulated data from Rosetta has given scientists a better understanding of the behavior of water ice on Comet 67P/C-G, including the process by which it escapes and is also covered by dust on the surface.

Although water vapour is the main gas seen flowing from comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, the great majority of ice is believed to come from under the comet’s crust, and very few examples of exposed water ice have been found on the surface. However, a detailed analysis by Rosetta’s VIRTIS infrared instrument reveals the composition of the comet’s topmost layer: it is primarily coated in a dark, dry and organic-rich material but with a small amount of water ice mixed in.

In the latest study, which focuses on scans between September and November 2014, the team confirms that two areas several tens of metres across in the Imhotep region that appear as bright patches in visible light, do indeed include a significant amount of water ice. The ice is associated with cliff walls and debris falls, and was at an average temperature of about –120ºC at the time.

Note that many media sources today are falsely reporting the “discovery” of water by Rosetta on the comet. This is ridiculous, as water has been detected there for years. To suggest that “discovery” indicates a remarkable level of stupidity and ignorance by these news organizations about science. Either they think their readers are dumb, or they themselves don’t know anything.

Unfortunately, I worry that the answer is both.


On the radio

The John Batchelor Show is beginning to create podcasts of individual segments, including the ones I do with John twice a week. Below is an embed of last night’s appearance.

I am going to play with these to see how to routinely add them to the webpage. Probably, I will place them as a link in the right column in the section titled “Recent and upcoming appearances.”


The Falcon has landed

SpaceX has produced a short video that recaps its last launch and the successful landing of its first stage. I have embedded it below, because it is worth seeing again as the company is preparing to do it again this weekend. It is also worth watching again to see the joyous celebration of everyone watching at the moment, all of whom know deep down that they have just witnessed a significant event in the history of the human race.


SLS still has no mission

At a meeting at the Kennedy Space Center on Monday, outlining the status of the Orion/SLS program, managers admitted that the program still lacks funding for any missions past its initial 2018 unmanned test flight.

Internally, a huge amount of work is continuing to take place on providing SLS with Design Reference Missions (DRMs). However, those are only for planning purposes and the outlook continues to change, resulting in uncertainty. Numerous factors are to blame, with funding once again mentioned as an issue during the KSC meeting – citing SLS is “lacking booked missions at this time due to tight funding.”

In other words, Congress has not provided NASA any funding for any real SLS missions. I also don’t expect Congress to ever do so, since the cost per launch ranges from $3 to $14 billion, depending on how you calculate the numbers. This is in comparison to the estimated per launch cost of about $100 to $150 million for a Falcon Heavy launch, capable of putting in orbit about two-thirds that of SLS. Even a stupid Congressmen can read these numbers and figure out that they will get a lot more bang per buck dumping SLS for Falcon Heavy.


Daft Punk – Get Lucky

An evening pause: Hat tip Kyle Kooy. I don’t think the Chinese military realized that they were marching to this music, but gosh darn it, they sure appear to. As Kyle noted to me, “Somebody took a Chinese military parade and set the music to the American song “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk. … [It] creates a very mesmerizing video that is both upbeat and somewhat eerie at the same time.”


The rules to buy and sell guns

Want to know what the rules are for buying or selling guns in your state? Then go to this website to find out.

Very useful and easy to use. The site also illustrates that most of the fear-mongering about “loopholes” coming from Obama and the Democrats is simply wrong, or a lie.


Gaming Obamacare

Finding out what’s in it: The Obama administration and health insurers are discovering that, because of the high cost of health insurance forced on consumers due to Obamacare, those consumers are improvising ways to “game the system”.

The article describes a whole range of tricks citizens are discovering that allow them to get insurance companies to pay for their health costs while paying those same insurance companies as little as possible. This example, which is not the focus of the story, encapsulates for me the entire insane nature of this monstrous law, forced upon us by Obama and the Democratic Party:

[Insurance companies] note many people have figured out they need pay for only nine months to get a full year of coverage. An enrollee might buy an ACA policy, get their health needs addressed and then let their coverage lapse — without having to pay the penalty for being uninsured.

It is only going to get worse. By not letting the free market function, the government is forced to ration care and impose restrictive rules, which people naturally try to improvise their way around, either legally or in a black market. The solution proposed in the article is even more restrictive rules and rationing.

The only real solution is to dump the whole thing and go back to the basic American principle of a free market. Such a system carries risk, but it forces the industry and the citizenry to find the most efficient solutions. It also depends on a very radical concept: personal responsibility.


Former Virgin Galactic employee battles company in court

A former employee of Virgin Galactic, in a arbitration dispute, has accused the company of lying about its spacecraft’s safety and performance.

Virgin Galactic’s former vice president of propulsion, Thomas Markusic, has accused Richard Branson’s space company of lying about the safety and performance of its SpaceShipTwo suborbital tourism vehicle. “Dr. Markusic was forced to separate from VG [Virgin Galactic] because the company was defrauding the public about the ability of the vehicles to reach space and was utilizing rocket engine technologies that have a high probability of causing catastrophic failure and loss of life,” according to the document. “VG directed Dr. Markusic to lie to customers about the performance and safety of the company’s hybrid rocket technology,” the document continues. “VG asserts that Dr. Markusic secretly plotted to start his own rocket company and exploited his position at VG; whereas, in reality, Dr. Markusic’s conscience forced him to to leave.”

Read the whole thing. It appears Markusic left Virgin Galactic to form his own company, and in doing so might have violated an anti-competition clause in his contract, resulting in the arbitration dispute. At the same time, his accusations ring true, considering these rumors had been flying about at the time and have since been more or less confirmed.


Crater close-ups from Dawn

Kupalo Crater on Ceres

The Dawn science team today released a set of close-up images of several craters on Ceres, showing a number of geological features similar but different than features seen in lunar craters.

The image on the right, of Kupalo Crater, shows the same kind of bright material on the rim that is seen on the floor of Occator Crater as two bright areas. The bright material is now believed to be a salt deposit leeched from beneath the surface. Other craters showed extensive fractures in their floor as well as lobes and scarps.


Static fire test of next Falcon 9 successful

The competition heats up: In its routine preparations for its January 17th launch, SpaceX has successfully conducted a static fire launch test of the Falcon 9.

The test was longer than usual, 7 seconds, because of the time that has elapsed since the first stage’s last test firing, a delay caused by the launch failure earlier this year.


Was the Wow! signal from two comets?

One of the most baffling radio astronomical detections, dubbed the “Wow! signal” and that some believe could have been caused by an extraterrestrial transmission, is now theorized to have been caused by two comets, not an alien civilization.

Antonio Paris, a professor of astronomy at St Petersburg College in Florida, thinks the signal might have come from one or more passing comets. He points the finger at two suspects, called 266P/Christensen and P/2008 Y2 (Gibbs). “I came across the idea when I was in my car driving and wondered if a planetary body, moving fast enough, could be the source,” he says.

Comets release a lot of hydrogen as they swing around the sun. This happens because ultraviolet light breaks up their frozen water, creating a cloud of the gas extending millions of kilometres out from the comet itself. If the comets were passing in front of the Big Ear in 1977, they would have generated an apparently short-lived signal, as the telescope (now dismantled) had a fixed field of view. Searching that same area – as subsequent radio telescopes did – wouldn’t show anything. Tracing the comets’ positions back in time, Paris says that the possible origin for the Wow! signal falls right between where they would have been.

Neither comet was known in 1977; they were both discovered in the last decade, which would mean nobody would have thought to search for them.


Philae officially dead

After another attempt to contact Rosetta’s lander Philae ended with no response, engineers now consider the spacecraft dead

“We did not hear anything,” says lander manager Stephan Ulamec. In the best-case scenario, Philae may have received the command and moved, but be unable to respond due to a damaged transmitter. It is more likely that the signal was not received. The team will try a few more commands, but it looks like Philae has officially gone. “We have to face reality, and chances get less and less every day as we are getting farther and farther away from the sun,” says Ulamec. “At some point we have to accept we will not get signals from Philae anymore.”



Mighty Saturn


Cool image time! Be sure to click on this link to see the full resolution Cassini version of the image on the right. Its resolution is 10 miles per pixel, and even so the giant planet cannot be fit in the frame.

One moon, Tethys, is visible, though to make it so required its brightness to be increased by 2. Also, if you look close at the bands at the north pole you can see their strange still-not-understood pentagon shape.


Russians to develop Falcon 9-like rocket

The competition heats up: The Russian government has apparently given the go-ahead to the development of a Falcon 9-like modular rocket, original dubbed Soyuz 5 but now called Fenix (Phoenix).

The images at the link show it to be similar in concept to Falcon 9, with its first stage used as a component to produce multiple configurations. With one first stage it would resemble Falcon 9. In its Falcon Heavy configuration it would use three first stages strapped together. Moreover, the article notes that development would begin as expendable, but shift towards re-usability during operation, like Falcon 9. And it does appear that reducing cost is its main driver, since it will involve the development of only one engine and the reuse of it in every stage, like Falcon 9,

If all goes as outlined in the plan (don’t bet on it), the rocket would be operational by 2025, which is the one difference with Falcon 9. SpaceX got its rocket designed and launched in about five years. The Russian governmental system is going to take ten years to do the same..

The article is a detailed explanation of the rocket mentioned by Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin during his confusing television briefing on December 30. The irony here is that, while this rocket might be able to compete with the Falcon 9 of 2016, when it becomes operational in 2025 who knows what will be considered competitive.


“If they can’t, turn into nonpaper w no identifying heading and send nonsecure.”

A new set of Hillary Clinton emails just released by the State Department includes one in which she is clearly ordering a subordinate to violate the law on how classified material should be transmitted.

Has the State Department released a smoking gun in the Hillary Clinton e-mail scandal? In a thread from June 2011, Hillary exchanges e-mails with Jake Sullivan, then her deputy chief of staff and now her campaign foreign-policy adviser, in which she impatiently waits for a set of talking points. When Sullivan tells her that the source is having trouble with the secure fax, Hillary then orders Sullivan to have the data stripped of its markings and sent through a non-secure channel.

Her exact written words are the title of this post.

More here. To me, it really doesn’t matter whether Hillary Clinton is ever indicted for what are clear violations of the law in how she handled classified material while she was Secretary of State. What matters is that we, as voters, have clear evidence now that she has contempt for the law, that she willingly and nonchalantly lies about it to the public, and that she is simply not a trustworthy individual. And this story is only one of many others about Hillary Clinton that all demonstrate the same things about her.

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