An ancient volcanic mountain chain on Mars

Using data from Mars Odyssey scientists have determined that a mountain chain on Mars was likely created as a chain of volcanoes.

They analyzed the geography and mineralogy of this area they termed Greater Thaumasia, which is about the size of North America. They also studied the chemistry of this area based on Gamma Ray Spectrometer data collected by the Mars Odyssey Orbiter, which was launched in 2001. What they found was the mountain ridge that outlines Greater Thaumasia was most likely created by a chain of volcanoes.

Their research also looked to see if water influenced the mountains’ formation and found no evidence for it. The mountain chain itself is south of the giant Valles Marineris canyons and southeast of the Tharsis region where Mars’ biggest four volcanoes are located.

More delays for Russia’s next ISS module

Work has stalled again on Russia’s Multipurpose Laboratory Module (MLM), threatening its presently scheduled launch to ISS by the end of 2017.

According to industry sources, most of replacement components for the MLM’s faulty propulsion system had already been manufactured, except for the pipelines, which would have to be bent based on their particular situation on the module. Still, military quality control officers, who now certify all space industry manufacturing operations, refused to give the green light for the final assembly of the propulsion system for the MLM.

Work on MLM began in 2008, and has been delayed repeatedly in the past eight years.

Pathfinder 1 communications confirmed

The competition heats up: One of the smallsats launched by India’s PSLV rocket this weekend, Pathfinder 1, has successfully begun communicating with the ground as well as transmitting data.

This is a test demonstration flight of this new smallsat Earth observation imaging satellite. As the company notes,

The on-orbit demonstration of the BlackSky Pathfinder spacecraft validates the future vision of real-time global observation and understanding. Specifically, BlackSky’s Pathfinder spacecraft is unique and revolutionary in its size, cost and performance. By comparison, Digital Globe’s WorldView 4 spacecraft — which has truly impressive resolution and spectral diversity — weighs 2,500 kg and costs $750M to put on orbit. Pathfinder represents the pinnacle in rethinking spacecraft design and economics. Our spacecraft, complete with propulsion system and high gain communications, can provide high resolution (1 meter) imagery in a 50 kg package that will fit in a middle seat on a commercial airplane – all for less than $7.5M on orbit. It’s this unique combination of size, cost and performance that enables us to orbit a constellation of 60 spacecraft for less than the cost of a single Digital Globe spacecraft.

As I’ve mentioned several times in the past year, the space industry is diverging into two streams, smallsats for unmanned communications and research satellites, and big spacecraft for human exploration. Tomorrow, Elon Musk will give us his vision of the big spacecraft stream in his much hyped speech at the International Astronautical Congress.

Rocket Lab completes construction of first launchpad

The competition heats up: Rocket Lab today announced the completion of its first launch complex at its launch site in New Zealand.

Air traffic near the launch complex site is fairly sparse, which the company says will allow it to achieve the “highest frequency of launches in history,” according to a statement from the company obtained by Peter Beck, Rocket Lab’s CEO, told in an interview that the complex is licensed to conduct a launch as frequently as every 72 hours. However, the company expects to carry out a launch about four to five times per month, he said.

The statement from Rocket Lab declared its new facility “the world’s first private orbital launch complex.” The private spaceflight company Blue Origin operates a private launch facility in Texas, but has only used that facility for suborbital flights. The private spaceflight company SpaceX has not yet completed construction on its private orbital launch facility in Texas.

They say they will begin test launches before the end of the year.

Trump names climate skeptic to transition team

Trump today named a climate skeptic from the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute to lead his EPA transition team .

Myron Ebell, director of energy and environment policy at the conservative think tank Competitive Enterprise Institute, is heading Trump’s EPA transition preparation, E&E Daily reported Monday. Ebell is an outspoken, longtime skeptic of the scientific consensus that human activity is dramatically changing the climate. He often refers to warnings about global warming as climate “alarmism” and is a vocal critic of President Obama’s climate change regulations. Ebell has argued that the Clean Power Plan is illegal and that the Paris climate change agreement is unconstitutional.

As those who have been reading Behind the Black know, I have been looking closely at the people Trump is looking at to be part of his administration, should he win the election. His choices will tell us two things: One, the political positions of his appointees will provide an indication of Trump’s own political preferences at this time. Two, his choices will tell us the nature of people that will be advising Trump in the future.

So far, his choices have leaned right, with a few exceptions. This choice for leading the transition at EPA is significantly to the right, and indicates that a Trump administration would work aggressively to dismantle the global warming cartel that presently runs things in the climate field, using government money as their hammer.

Most of you and the media will be glued to your televisions tonight, watching the silly debate show. I am more interested in what Trump might actually do. For example, I was somewhat impressed by the immigration speech Trump gave August 31. Unlike most political speeches by him and every other modern politician, it was not a litany of emotional attack soundbites and cute jokes. Trump outlined in great detail the overall policy plans to deal with the federal government total failure to do its job controlling the border. I did not agree with all of his proposals, but I found the overall thoughtfulness of the speech encouraging.

Water plumes on Europa?

New data from the Hubble Space Telescope suggests that there might be active water plumes issuing from Europa that are fed by the planet’s underground ocean.

In 10 separate occurrences spanning 15 months, the team observed Europa passing in front of Jupiter. They saw what could be plumes erupting on three of these occasions.

This work provides supporting evidence for water plumes on Europa. In 2012, a team led by Lorenz Roth of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, detected evidence of water vapor erupting from the frigid south polar region of Europa and reaching more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) into space. Although both teams used Hubble’s Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph instrument, each used a totally independent method to arrive at the same conclusion.

These results are very very uncertain. As the lead scientist noted twice during the press conference, the data is at the very limits of Hubble’s capabilities. I would not be surprised at all if later observations find that it is in error.

In fact, the press conference itself was more a PR event to lobby for Hubble as well as the James Webb Space Telescope than it was a description of a new discovery. The discovery itself was given a much bigger tease than it really deserves, considering the very uncertain nature of its data. I am a big fan of Hubble, as anyone who has read anything I have written in the past two decades. Nonetheless, I find this blatant lobbying very annoying. Also very annoying will be the naive willingness of many in the press to buy into this story. Expect a lot of silly stories today and tomorrow screaming that water jets coming from Europa have been definitely photographed by Hubble.

PSLV places multiple satellites into different orbits

The competition heats up: India’s space agency ISRO has successfully used its PSLV rocket to launch eight satellites into two different orbits.

After the successful separation of SCATSAT-1, the PSLV-C35 mission continued. Still carrying the seven co-passenger satellites, the fourth stage of PSLV coasted over the South polar region and then started ascending towards the Northern hemisphere. A safe distance between the orbiting SCATSAT-1 and PSLV-C35 fourth stage was maintained by suitably manoeuvring the stage.

At 1 hour 22 minutes and 38 seconds after lift-off as the fourth stage was in the North polar region, the two engines of PSLV fourth stage were reignited and fired for 20 seconds. As a result of this, it entered into an elliptical orbit measuring 725 km on one side of the Earth and 670 km on the other. And 50 minutes later, as the PSLV fourth stage was again coasting near the south pole, its engines were fired for another 20 seconds. This second firing made the fourth stage to enter into a circular orbit of 669 km height inclined at an angle of 98.2 degree to the equator. 37 seconds later, the Dual Launch Adapter was successfully separated from the PSLV-C35 fourth stage. 30 seconds after this event, ALSAT-1N was the first co-passenger satellite to be separated successfully. Following this, the NLS-19, PRATHAM, PISAT, ALSAT-1B, ALSAT-2B, and Pathfinder-1 were separated from the PSLV fourth stage in a predetermined sequence thereby successfully completing PSLV-C35 mission.

This launch was also the 36th successful PSLV launch in a row.

SpaceX update on launchpad explosion investigation

On September 23, SpaceX released an update outlining the status of its investigation into the September 1 Falcon 9 launchpad explosion.

The report noted the following:

  • The data points to “a large breach in the cryogenic helium system of the second stage liquid oxygen tank” as the source of the explosion, though what caused the breach remains as yet unknown.
  • The cause of this failure and the previous launch failure in June 2015 are not related.
  • The report summarized some of the launchpad damage, noting that while the pad itself needs extensive repairs,

    …the Falcon Support Building adjacent to the pad was unaffected, and per standard procedure was unoccupied at the time of the anomaly. The new liquid oxygen farm – e.g. the tanks and plumbing that hold our super-chilled liquid oxygen – was unaffected and remains in good working order. The RP-1 (kerosene) fuel farm was also largely unaffected. The pad’s control systems are also in relatively good condition.

  • The report also noted that, “pending the results of the investigation, we anticipate returning to flight as early as the November timeframe.”

While this report suggests they have made some progress, the fundamental cause of the explosion remains unknown.

Mars’ weird windblown surface

Wind scoured Martian surface

Cool image time! The image on the right, taken by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and cropped from a wider view of a small crater and a small volcano caldera, certainly appears blurred and out of focus. Is MRO malfunctioning?

Nope. The blurring is actually an optical illusion caused almost entirely by our own assumptions of what a planet surface should look like combined with the alien processes occurring on Mars that have no equivalent here on Earth.

Below the fold is a wider view from the full image, showing the area of the cropped image to the right as well as the entire crater. Below that is another full resolution inset, this time showing the features on the crater rim that are sharp and stand out clearly. The blurriness of the rest of the image is not because the image is out-of-focus, but because a steady northwest-to- southeast wind has distorted everything in the same direction.
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The outbursts on Comet 67P/C-G

The Rosetta science team has released a detailed analysis of the jets and outbursts that they observed coming from Comet 67P/C-G during the comet’s close approach to the Sun.

Brief but powerful outbursts seen from Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko during its most active period last year have been traced back to their origins on the surface.

In the three months centred around the comet’s closest approach to the Sun, on 13 August 2015, Rosetta’s cameras captured 34 outbursts. These violent events were over and above regular jets and flows of material seen streaming from the comet’s nucleus. The latter switch on and off with clockwork repeatability from one comet rotation to the next, synchronised with the rise and fall of the Sun’s illumination.

By contrast, outbursts are much brighter than the usual jets – sudden, brief, high-speed releases of dust. They are typically seen only in a single image, indicating that they have a lifetime shorter than interval between images – typically 5–30 minutes. A typical outburst is thought to release 60–260 tonnes of material in those few minutes.

They have also released a new image taken by the navigation camera of Rosetta’s September 30th landing zone.

Stratolaunch loses top executive

Today it was revealed that Vulcan Aerospace, the company building Stratolaunch, is losing one of its top executives.

Aerospace veteran Chuck Beames is leaving his post as president of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s spaceflight company, Vulcan Aerospace. Word of Beames’ departure came from Allen in an internal email that was sent to Vulcan employees and obtained by GeekWire today. Allen said Jean Floyd, the CEO of Vulcan’s Stratolaunch Systems, will expand his role to become Vulcan Aerospace’s interim executive director as well.

Allen’s email, which you can read in its entirety at the link, also called Orbital ATK “a valued partner.” The last we had heard of this partnership, however, was that Orbital ATK had backed out of it. Allen’s email instead suggests that some renegotiations are going on, and the partnership is not quite dead.

Russia to break safety rules to repair Soyuz capsule

In order to replace a burnt capsule quickly in its Soyuz capsule, Russia will ignore its own safety rules and allow the engineers to work without draining the capsule of its propellants and gases.

Sources close to investigation told that a cable located behind the cosmonaut seats inside the Descent Module of the Vehicle No. 732 had accidentally been bent severely enough to damage its insulation. As it turned out, the problem had nothing to do with the encapsulation of the spacecraft inside its payload fairing on September 15, as was initially thought.

Replacing the damaged cable is relatively straight forward, but it now has to be conducted on the vehicle fully loaded with toxic propellants and pressurized gases. Such an attempt would violate usual safety rules, but draining the spacecraft off its propellants and gases would likely be even more unprecedented and require lengthy repairs.

The big issue here is not the willingness of Roscosmos management to break its safety rules. In fact, believe it or not, those rules are possibly too strict. The repairs are taking place inside the capsule where the astronauts sit. If it is too dangerous for engineers to be there with the capsule fueled, then it would be too dangerous for the astronauts. Granted, engineers don’t usually sign up for those kinds of dangers, but then, if you are an engineer in the field of rocket science I suspect you did sign up, and expect them.

No, what is significant about this story is the bent cable and its damaged insulation, which was bad enough that the cable actually burnt, based on other reports. It suggests a variety of issues in the construction of this capsule, all of which are worrisome. First and foremost, how is it possible for insulation to break simply by bending a cable? Is the insulation that badly made? Or have they such low tolerances for the insulation (possibly to save weight) that it requires a very careful installation that in this case was done badly?

This is also only the second launch of an upgraded Soyuz capsule. Could it be that they haven’t worked out all the kinks in its design? If not, they have been making Soyuz capsules for literally decades. One would think that the people that install this wiring would know its tolerances and not make such a mistake.

I know I am being somewhat harsh here, but that harshness comes after seeing repeated quality control problems in a variety of Russian-built aerospace hardware in recent years. In the previous cases, however, the problems did not involve a manned flight. This one did, and if those same quality control problems are now showing up with Soyuz, that is a very bad thing.

Arab columnist discovers that Arab youth admire Hitler

The coming dark age: A Bahrainii columnist was shocked to discover that within the Middle East there is a strong admiration by young people for Adolf Hitler.

The young girls’ admiration of Hitler’s personality and their inclination towards powerful [figures] led me to search for [material] on ‘Hitler adoration’ and fandom, and indeed, I discovered a wide spectrum of young Arabs who love Hitler. Some said they admired him for killing the Jews, but most were enchanted by his strength, determination, and steadfastness. This begs the question: What is behind these young peoples’ love of strength? Are they fans of the violence engulfing the region? Or does the sense of helplessness and weakness [cause them] to adore of a figure who challenged the world with his strength and led an entire people to fight the world?

We are facing a generation of young people who read [books], in an age when reading is considered obsolete – except that these [young people] read [material] of a very worrisome stripe, and acquire twisted values that could impact their future awareness, the extent of their control over things, and their situational assessments. The desire for acquiring and expressing power and for challenging the other has become a secret wish that steals into the hearts of these young people and which is expressed in many ways. This wish reflects the reality of a crisis-ridden, unstable society, [a reality whose expressions] range from suppression of free expression to the use of extreme violence on all levels – verbal, physical, and electronic [media violence].”

There are so many aspects of this story that are tragic and horrifying for the future that I myself do not know where to begin. The only saving grace that I can find is the intelligent and thoughtful horror expressed by the Arabian columnist herself, suggesting that within the Arab world there still remains some good will and a desire for civilization. Unfortunately, my sense is that she is part of a small minority who is losing ground steadily.

Republican leadership pushes Democrat-approved budget deal

Betrayal: Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) has finally released the language of the next short term continuing resolution that would fund the federal government through December 9, 2016, and it appears it was written by the Democratic leadership in the Senate.

As far as conservative priorities go, the bill is a failure. Among its many obvious flaws, it funds the government through Dec. 9—setting up a lame-duck session of Congress. In the lame-duck session, which occurs after the election but before new lawmakers are sworn in, unaccountable legislators are likely to pass a bevy of backroom deals, to the detriment of representative democracy (and, we can assume, to the wallets of the taxpayer).

Even though it only funds the government for a scant 69 days, the McConnell continuing resolution manages to do it at the bloated Boehner-Obama spending levels that were jammed down the throats of conservatives in 2015. In doing so, the continuing resolution sets up yet another spending cliff that will spawn a false panic in the lame-duck session, and lay the groundwork for more “must-pass” terrible deals. In other words, in December, lawmakers will once more have to pass yet another spending bill in order to ensure the government continues normal operations.

There’s more. Read it all. The bottom line is that McConnell has forged a deal that allows Democrats to gloat and Republican conservatives to tear their hair out in horror. No wonder outsiders like Trump and Cruz did so well in the primary season, and why Trump is now their Presidential candidate. The Republican leadership, which still doesn’t comprehend why this happened, also has no idea why the public gave them strong House and Senate majorities in 2010 and 2014. Maybe they don’t care and simply want to cash in quickly even if it destroys the country. Either way, they continue to betray the very people that voted them into power.

Windows 10 breaks computers

Why I use Linux, part 3,332,468: A consumer organization is calling for Microsoft to compensate people for the hardware damage caused by upgrades to Windows 10.

Microsoft needs to pay compensation to customers who have suffered after upgrading to its latest operating system, consumer watchdog Which? has urged. Since the US technology firm pushed out the new software last year, it has been flooded with complaints. Customers who moved to Windows 10 experienced a slew of issues, including printers, webcams, wifi cards and speakers no longer working with their PC. Instances of lost files and email accounts no longer syncing, and, most significantly, computer encountering such significant issues customers had to pay someone to repair it were not uncommon, Which? has reported.

The consumer group surveyed views on the upgrade from over 5,500 members in June this year. Of the 2,500 users who had been upgraded to Windows 10 from an older version of Windows, more than one in ten ended up rolling back to their previous version of the operating system.

Russian engineers locate short circuit problem on Soyuz

Russian engineers have now located the short circuit that scrubbed this week’s manned Soyuz launch to ISS.

The official added that there would be no need dismantling the space carrier to fix the detected problem “as we will replace certain parts and then conduct the required tests before the launch.” Solntsev also said that the required spare parts to fix the malfunction and specialists to carry out the repair works were already present at the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan, where the spacecraft was scheduled to take off.

Though the repair will be quick to fix, they are still sticking with the November 1st launch date, probably because any earlier slot is now taken by Orbital ATK’s Antares/Cygnus launch.

Update: The wording of a new report today, one day later than the report above, describing the problem as “a burnt cable”, is intriguing. A short circuit implies that they sensed some of the circuitry was not reading correctly and that some wiring had to be inspected and either rerouted or given more insulation. A “burnt cable” however suggests the short circuit was far worse and almost turned into a fire.

Big warming, or no warming, depending on dataset

The uncertainty of science: Depending on the dataset, the most up-to-date climate data now shows either no warming since 1993, no warming since 1996, or significant warming continuously since then.

On several different data sets, there has been no statistically significant warming for between 0 and 23 years…. Cl stands for the confidence limits at the 95% level.

The details for several sets are below.

  • For UAH6.0: Since August 1993: Cl from -0.006 to 1.810. This is 23 years and 1 month.
  • For RSS: Since December 1993: Cl from -0.008 to 1.746. This is 22 years and 9 months.
  • For Hadsst3: Since December 1996: Cl from -0.022 to 2.162 This is 19 years and 9 months.
  • For Hadcrut4.4: The warming is statistically significant for all periods above three years.
  • For GISS: The warming is statistically significant for all periods above three years.

The quote above lists all the major climate datasets that everyone in the climate field uses. I’ve rearranged the order from the original to put similar datasets together and thus make it easier to digest the information.

The first two datasets are from satellite data. The Hadcrut datasets both use historical ground and sea surface temperature records and are both produced by the Climate Research Unit headed by Phil Jones, who when other scientists asked him for his raw original data in order to check it admitted that he had lost it. Jones was also one of the scientists whose climategate emails revealed a desire to destroy the careers of any skeptics, prevent their work from being published, and an effort to conceal or change data that contradicted the theory of global warming. GISS is the Goddard Institute for Space Sciences, run for decades by global warming advocate James Hansen and now the source of today’s claims that every month of every year is the hottest ever recorded. GISS is also the NASA institute that has been adjusting past datasets to cool the past and warm the present, thus creating a significantly steeper rise in global temperature than is shown by the original raw data.

Of these datasets, three show no significant warming in the past two decades, while two show significant warming. Which is it? Your guess is as good as mine. However, I must point out that the two datasets that show statistically significant warming have both come under question in the past few years because of questionable science practices, which from my perspective makes their conclusions suspect.

Regardless, even if we accept all of these datasets as completely sincere and honestly obtained, they still are in conflict with each other. Under any reasonably scientific analysis, this tells us that the science here is definitely not settled, and that a lot more work needs to be done before anyone can hazard a guess as to what’s going on with the climate.

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