Monthly Archives: December 2016

Pressure on Trump to shift NASA transistion team towards private space

The competition heats up: Several of Trump’s most listened-to advisers are trying to convince him to put more commercial space advocates on his NASA transition team.

The appointments, which are expected to be announced shortly, partly reflect Mr. Thiel’s influence, the people said. The billionaire investor, who is Mr. Trump’s most prominent Silicon Valley supporter, is among more than two dozen people on the executive council overseeing the government-wide transition.

Along with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Republican Congressman Robert Walker—two other champions of commercial space endeavors—Mr. Thiel has argued forcefully inside the transition that the original team sent to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration was skewed toward appointees closely identified with legacy space projects run by Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp., the people said.

This is good news. While my previous post, The squealing of pigs, focused on Trump’s environmental policy at NASA and elsewhere, his approach to commercial space remains unclear. These changes will help move his administration away from the pork of SLS and toward the competitive commercial space sector.

Let me add that this story reaffirms my belief that the best way to get Trump to shift to the right is to surround him with conservatives. Interestingly, it appears that Trump himself has chosen to do this. His first instincts might not be conservative, but he apparently is quite willing to take the advice of those who instincts are.

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The squealing of pigs

Back in October 2010, just days before the mid-term elections, I wrote the following:

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that, come Tuesday, the Republicans take both houses, in a stunning landslide not seen in more than a century. Let’s also assume that the changes in Congress are going to point decidedly away from the recent liberal policies of large government (by both parties). Instead, every indication suggests that the new Congress will lean heavily towards a return to the principles of small government, low taxes, and less regulation.

These assumptions are not unreasonable. Not only do the polls indicate that one or both of the houses of Congress will switch from Democratic to Republican control, the numerous and unexpected primary upsets of established incumbents from both parties — as well the many protests over the past year by large numbers of ordinary citizens — make it clear that the public is not interested in half measures. Come January, the tone and direction of Congress is going to undergo a shocking change.

Anyway, based on these assumptions, we should then expect next year’s Congress to propose unprecedented cuts to the federal budget, including the elimination of many hallowed programs. The recent calls to defund NPR and the Corporation for Public Broadcastings are only one example.

When Congress attempts this, however, the vested interests that have depended on this funding for decades are not going to take the cuts lightly. Or to put it more bluntly, they are going to squeal like pigs, throwing temper tantrums so loud and insane that they will make the complaints of a typical three-year-old seem truly statesman-like. And they will do so in the hope that they will garner sympathy and support from the general voting public, thereby making the cuts difficult to carry out.

The real question then is not whether the new Congress will propose the cuts required to bring the federal government under control, but whether they, as well as the public, will have the courage to follow through, to defy the howls from these spoiled brats, and do what must be done.

The legislative situation with NASA over the summer and fall might give us a hint about whether the next Congress will have the courage to make the cuts that are necessary. In this case Obama actually proposed doing something close to what conservatives have dreamed of for decades: take NASA (and the government) out of the business of building rockets and spacecraft and pass it over to the private sector.

Moreover, despite the strong dislike the right has for Obama and his leftist policies, many conservative pundits both inside and outside of the space activist community publicly supported the President in this effort.

Nonetheless, these policies were not accepted by Congress. Instead, the legislative body passed an authorization bill that requires NASA to build a new heavy-lift rocket and the manned capsule to go with it. Congress did this partly for national security reasons, but mostly because they wanted to protect the jobs in Houston, Florida, and elsewhere that NASA provides, and thus bring home the bacon to their constituents. And they did this because those constituents had squealed at them about the threatened loss of funding.

In other words, elected officials from both parties had teamed up to authorize this pork-laden program in order to keep the pigs quiet. In other words, NASA’s legislative history this past year does not give us an encouraging view of the future. It appears that Congress will give us the same-old same-old, when asked.

More than six years have passed, and my analysis of the situation in 2010 appears almost perfect. While the Republicans did not win both houses of Congress in 2010, they did in 2014. Despite these victories from voters who clearly wanted them to cut back on the power of government, they did exactly what I expected, based on their actions in connection with NASA and SLS: maintain the pork and chicken out whenever challenged by Obama, the Democrats, the press (I repeat myself), and too many spoiled members of the general public.

After the 2016 elections, things have moved even more to the right. The Republicans not only control both houses of Congress, they have a Republican president (though a very unpredictable one) and the leftwing mainstream press has been discredited and no longer monopolizes the distribution of information. What will happen in the coming years?
» Read more

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JAXA signs agreement with private lunar mining company

The competition heats up: Japan’s space agency JAXA has signed an agreement with ispace inc, a private lunar mining company that is also behind Japan’s only competing team in the Google Lunar X-Prize competition.

It is not clear if what this agreement entails. X-Prize competitors have to announce a contract with a launch company before the end of 2016, and this announcement does not say whether JAXA will provide that service to Japan’s competitor.

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“Anomalous readings” detected during testing of Webb telescope

During standard vibration testing to simulate launch, engineers have detected what they call “anomalous readings” in the James Webb Space Telescope.

During the vibration testing on December 3, at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, accelerometers attached to the telescope detected anomalous readings during a particular test. Further tests to identify the source of the anomaly are underway. The engineering team investigating the vibe anomaly has made numerous detailed visual inspections of the Webb telescope and has found no visible signs of damage.

It is a good sign that they have found no damage. It is also a good thing that they detected these issues now, on the ground, where they can fix them. Webb, almost a decade behind schedule and $8 billion over budget, will be placed at a point a million miles from Earth, where no repair crew will be able to reach it.

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Japan’s Epsilon rocket launches successfully

The competition heats up: Japan today successfully launched its new Epsilon rocket on its second flight, placing in orbit a Japanese satellite designed to study the Van Allen belts.

The rocket is designed to launch Japan’s smaller satellites at a lower cost. During its first launch in 2013 JAXA made a big deal about how this rocket could be used to launch commercial satellites, but now I sense no interest in marketing it to the private sector.

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John Glenn and Charles Lindbergh

A bit of history not generally known. Hat tip to reader Peter Fenstermacher.

When I wrote Genesis, the Story of Apollo 8, I learned that Lindbergh was a big fan of the 1960s space program. He and his wife Anne, who in the 1960s was an established writer of note, visited the Apollo 8 astronauts just before launch. They were both amazed at the amount of fuel the Saturn 5 rocket burned. Lindbergh calculated that in the first second of flight it would burn “ten times more fuel than I did all the way to Paris.”

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OneWeb raises $1.2 billion in investment capital

The competition heats up: OneWeb, in its effort to build a constellation of 900 satellites to provide internet services worldwide, has raised $1.2 billion.

Japan-based SoftBank invested $1 billion of the total $1.2 billion, and has also become a strategic partner, with one of its directors, Ronald Fisher, joining OneWeb’s board of directors. Combined with the $500 million OneWeb raised in June 2015, the total amount gathered now stands at $1.7 billion out of an expected total cost of $2.5 billion to $3.5 billion for the full constellation of 900 small satellites. OneWeb Founder Greg Wyler told SpaceNews that thanks to SoftBank, the company has raised more from investors than originally anticipated, allowing OneWeb to forgo a third investment round.

They plan to build a factory in Florida capable of building 15 satellites per week.

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Joe Journeys – Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood, Saint Petersburg, Russia

An evening pause: Hat tip Danae. As she wrote, “This next may be in keeping with religious or security undercurrents just now, or as something beautiful to see at any time at all. Tsar Nicholas III was mortally wounded in his carriage by a bomb thrown by revolutionary terrorists in 1881. As a memorial to him, his family built this fabulous church on the very spot in St. Petersburg where the attack occurred. The interior is amazing, walls and ceiling entirely covered with colorful religious mosaics.”

Just watch. You will wish you were there in real life.

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Betelgeuse might have eaten a star

Because the red giant star Betelgeuse rotates far faster than it should, astronomers are now theorizing that when it expanded into its present red giant phase about 100,000 years ago it swallowed a companion star which contributed its own angular momentum to the system to speed up the rotation.

This theory is bolstered by evidence of a shell of matter surrounding Betelgeuse that is possibly a remnant of that destroyed star.

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Death threats and harassment from Democrats to members of Electoral College

Fascists: Even as the Electoral College gathers today to confirm Donald Trump as the next President, its members are being overwhelmed with death threats, hate mail, harassing phone calls, and boycotts, all part of a campaign to get them to vote against Trump.

The nation’s 538 presidential electors have been thrust into the political foreground like never before in American history. In the aftermath of a uniquely polarizing presidential contest, the once-anonymous electors are squarely in the spotlight, targeted by death threats, harassing phone calls and reams of hate mail. One Texas Republican elector said he’s been bombarded with more than 200,000 emails. “I never can imagine harassing people like this. It’s just f—– up,” said Jim Rhoades, a Republican elector from Michigan who runs a home inspection service. “I’ve lost a bunch of business.”

It is important to highlight the tactics that the members of the left and the Democratic Party use to push their agenda. They don’t try to persuade. They instead intimidate.

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Swiss Space Systems declared bankrupt

Swiss Space Systems, which only a few years ago appeared to be on the cusp of competing successfully in the new space industry, was declared bankrupt on December 14.

The biggest factor to the company’s failure could be the attack that occurred against the company’s president in September, of which it appears he has not completely recovered. The attack itself remains unexplained, but before the attack the president had received threats, and the company’s offices were broken into and vandalized.

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Proton launch postponed again

The Russians have once again delayed the next Proton rocket launch, this time for an additional week to December 28.

This will be the first Proton launch since June, when the rocket’s second stage did not perform as expected. The Russians have released no information about their investigation into that launch, other than repeatedly delay the next Proton launch for almost a half year.

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Another successful ULA Atlas 5 launch

The competition heats up: ULA’s Atlas 5 rocket successfully launched a commercial communications satellite on Sunday.

In its sixty-seven flights before Sunday’s launch, the Atlas V has achieved sixty-six successes, including a stretch of fifty-seven missions going back to October 2007. The only mission which was not a complete success, June 2007’s launch of the NROL-30 mission, a pair of naval intelligence satellites for the National Reconnaissance Office – reached a lower-than-planned orbit but the satellites were able to correct for this using their own propulsion. ULA describes the launch as successful from its customer’s perspective, while independent analysts consider it a partial failure.

Though the article notes that most Atlas 5 launches have been for the government, the company has recently been aggressively courting the private sector.

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The Space Show annual fund-raising campaign

As someone who has appeared as a guest on The Space Show more than anyone else (including this coming Tuesday), I think it is important to support the show. David Livingston is right now holding his annual fund drive, and I urge my readers to provide the show their support, in what ever way you can. As David notes in his fund-raising email,

The Space Show operates under the 501C3 nonprofit model. We do not accept advertising or fees from guests to be on the program, even from the many repeat guests on the show that are afforded nearly unlimited self-promotion exposure for guest books, websites, ideas, theories, and work related to space activities of all sorts. This year we also accepted a special category of sponsors for our updated website. Given our nonprofit model, The Space Show relies entirely upon listener support for its continued operation and programming, and in being able to keep our content free and available to everyone on the internet on a global basis. This includes all our programs going back to our start in 2001.

…You can make your donation online using Pay Pal by clicking on the right side of our home page at www.thespaceshow.com or www.onegiantleapfoundation.org/individuals.htm. Simply click on the Pay Pal logo. If you prefer mailing a check, please make your check payable to One Giant Leap Foundation, Inc. and mail it in care of me to P.O. Box 95, Tiburon, CA 94920 USA. Remember, your gift makes The Space Show programming and all of the services such as the toll free line, archives, podcasts, email, and our blog possible.

I hope you all contribute.

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Four richest counties are all suburbs of DC

New census data confirms that the country’s four richest counties are all located in the Washington DC suburbs.

They are Loudoun County, Va., where the median household income was $125,900 in 2015; Falls Church City, Va., where it was $122,092; Fairfax County, Va., where it was $112,844; and Howard County, Md., where it was $110,224.

The Census Bureau treats independent cities such as Falls Church, Va., as the equivalent of a county when calculating its median household income statistics.

Nationwide, the median household income in 2015 was $55,755, according to the Census Bureau. That means the local median household income in each of the nation’s three richest counties—all of which are Washington suburbs in Northern Virginia—are more than twice the national median household income.

I must note the income disparity again. Federal workers routinely earn more than twice as much as the national average. Moreover, it gets worse. Of the top 20 richest counties, 9 are in the DC area.

And the elites in Washington wonder why they seem out of touch? They are so removed from normal life it is as if they live in a science fiction movie. Moreover , this census data illustrates again that all their claims about wanting to help the poor are actually lies. What these Washington bureaucrats and politicians are really doing is lining their own pockets, even as they pick the pockets of people nationwide who are much poorer then them.

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How the new Congress will repeal Obamacare

Link here. In order to get the repeal passed quickly under reconciliation, which requires only a simple majority and was the same procedure the Democrats used to pass the law, the repeal will not cancel the entire law. It will allow it to happen quickly, however.

The plan, then, is to move quickly post-inauguration to pass legislation similar to the one they passed this past January, which was vetoed by Obama. That legislation repealed the law’s major spending provisions — ending the Medicaid expansion and getting rid of the subsidies for individuals to purchase insurance on government-run exchanges. In addition, the repeal bill scrapped the individual and employer mandate penalties, eliminated the law’s taxes and defunded Planned Parenthood. If all goes smoothly, such a bill could reach Trump’s desk in short order, as early as February — or weeks after Inauguration Day. Though it’s possible that this could slip as certain details get ironed out, there is a determination, among leadership in both chambers, to move with speed.

…The thinking is that the previously passed reconciliation bill was already pored over by Senate staffers, who considered many different scenarios. What they ultimately came up with repealed much of the law, had the votes, and passed muster with the parliamentarian. Upsetting this delicate balance by adding or subtracting major elements, the thinking goes, would delay the repeal process, potentially significantly. As for firing the parliamentarian (currently Elizabeth MacDonough) though it’s true that her job is controlled by the majority party, doing so is seen as out of bounds. One senior Senate leadership aide described it as “a total Reid move,” by which the aide meant, it’s the type of strong-armed tactic to game the rules that one would expect from former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, that would typically make Republicans apoplectic.

The repeal bill offered here will not change many of the insurance regulations imposed by Obamacare, such as the requirement that insurance companies must accept all customers, even the sick ones. Either Congress will have to revisit this issue later, or we will continue to see the health insurance industry collapse in the coming years.

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President of Cornell College Republican club attacked

Fascists: The president of the Cornell College Republican club was called a “racist bitch” and attacked the night after the presidential election.

Her description of the attack is strong evidence that she was attacked merely because she was a Republican and a supporter of Trump. Nor was this attack a one time event.

This incident also does not mark the first time she has been harassed for her Republican identity. “People yell in my face all the time. I get random messages telling me what I should and should not be doing on Facebook, in my email,” Corn told the Voice. “I’ve had a history of people not liking me so much.” She added that after she was quoted in a Cornell Daily Sun article in May saying she would vote for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, she received death threats.

I would also add that this story is typical today on most college campuses, especially the ivy league ones. The fascists now rule at these universities, will tolerate no opposition or dissent, and often enforce that rule with violence.

For further evidence, see this paper, which documents the dominance of the left within the field of social psychology. Since the 1960s the left has worked tirelessly to blackball conservatives from the field, and has succeeded remarkably, producing today a modern ratio of 14 liberals for every 1 conservative. The result has been a warped research field that can only see one perspective — a liberal one — in every research problem.

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Lunar lava tubes could be big

New research now suggests that the lava tubes on the Moon have the potential to be very large, much larger than found on Earth.

On Earth, such structures max out at around 30 meters across, but the gravitational data suggest that the moon’s tubes are vastly wider. Assessing the sturdiness of lava tubes under lunar gravity, planetary geophysicist Dave Blair of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., and colleagues estimate that the caves could remain structurally sound up to 5 kilometers across. That’s wide enough to fit the Golden Gate Bridge, Brooklyn Bridge and London Bridge end to end.

This isn’t really news, merely a confirmation of what other scientists have been theorizing for decades. What it tells us again is that the first permanent and successful lunar colonies will almost certainly be located in such tubes, since they provide ready-made radiation shielding as well as protection from the wild swings of temperature seen on the lunar surface. In the lava tube, the temperature will likely remain quite stable, making environmental control a much simpler problem.

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Vector successfully test fires its rocket engine

The competition heats up: Vector Space Systems has announced the successful first test firing of the first stage engine to be used on its Vector-R rocket.

The engine test, which took place in Mojave, Calif. on Dec. 8, featured a single piece, 3D AM printed injector developed in partnership with NASA’s Science, Technology, and Mission Directorate (STMD) Flight Opportunities, a program which extends research labs into space-relevant environments by partnering with small satellite launch companies. Earlier this year, NASA provided a grant to Vector to design and test the injector.

Vector continues to push the envelope by being the first in the industry to pursue the LOX/Propylene propellant combination, which created the highest thrust to date from a LOX/Propylene fueled engine. This test of the 5K-lbf on flight fuels serves as a stepping stone to Vector’s first launch of the Vector-R slated for 2017, and moves the company one step closer to its mission of connecting space startups and innovators with affordable, reliable access to space.

They have also signed the land lease for the Tucson site where they plan to build their rocket factory.

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Judge: NASA cannot confiscate an Apollo 11 artifact that was sold by mistake

A federal judge has ruled that NASA has no right to confiscate an Apollo 11 lunar rock sample bag that had been purchased legally, even though the sale itself had been in error.

udge J. Thomas Marten ruled in the U.S. District Court for Kansas that Nancy Carlson of Inverness, Illinois, obtained the title to the historic artifact as “a good faith purchaser, in a sale conducted according to law.” The government had petitioned the court to reverse the sale and return the lunar sample bag to NASA. “She is entitled to possession of the bag,” Marten wrote in his order.

This court case will hopefully give some legal standing to the private owners of other artifacts or lunar samples that NASA had given away and then demanded their return, decades later.

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Orbital ATK’s Pegasus launches successfully

Orbital ATK’s Pegasus rocket was successfully launched today from the bottom of its L-1011 airplane, placing in orbit a NASA constellation of eight smallsat satellites designed to study hurricanes.

he use of an eight-satellite constellation will allow for more frequent observations, allowing for a better characterization of the early stages in a cyclone’s formation and of the storm’s eventual decay. Once in orbit, the satellites will be spaced evenly around their orbital plane, achieving an angular separation of around 45 degrees from each other. The CYGNSS satellites were built by the Southwest Research Institute and the University of Michigan, while their deployer was developed by Sierra Nevada Corporation. Each satellite has a mass of 28.9 kilograms (63.7 lb), with an overall payload mass of 345.6 kilograms (761.8 lb) including the deployer. The CYGNSS mission is expected to last a minimum of two years.

This was the first Pegasus launch since 2013. I’m not sure why it has not been getting more business, but it does have another launch now scheduled for June.

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Flying over Occator Crater on Ceres

Cool movie time! Using data from Dawn the German Aerospace Center (DLR) has produced a short animation that gives a 3D flyover of Occator Crater on Ceres.

The animated flyover includes topographic and enhanced-color views of the crater, highlighting the central dome feature. The central area has been named Cerealia Facula. Occator’s secondary group of bright spots is called Vinalia Faculae.

The movie is definitely worth watching, especially the sections that show in close-up the bright areas near the crater’s center.

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Lots of ice on Ceres

New data from Dawn now suggests that Ceres contains a large amount of ice on or near its surface.

“On Ceres, ice is not just localized to a few craters. It’s everywhere, and nearer to the surface with higher latitudes,” said Thomas Prettyman, principal investigator of Dawn’s gamma ray and neutron detector (GRaND), based at the Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Arizona. Researchers used the GRaND instrument to determine the concentrations of hydrogen, iron and potassium in the uppermost yard (or meter) of Ceres. GRaND measures the number and energy of gamma rays and neutrons coming from Ceres. Neutrons are produced as galactic cosmic rays interact with Ceres’ surface. Some neutrons get absorbed into the surface, while others escape. Since hydrogen slows down neutrons, it is associated with a fewer neutrons escaping. On Ceres, hydrogen is likely to be in the form of frozen water (which is made of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom).

Rather than a solid ice layer, there is likely to be a porous mixture of rocky materials in which ice fills the pores, researchers found. The GRaND data show that the mixture is about 10 percent ice by weight.

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Back from Vandenberg

In my trip to Vandenberg Air Force Base yesterday to give a lecture to their local AIAA chapter, I got a quick drive around the southern parts of the base where the Atlas 5, Delta, and SpaceX launchpads are located. This is the same area I toured when I last visited the base back in March 2015.

I had been curious to see the fire damage from the fall wildfires. Unfortunately, a fog bank had rolled in and made it impossible to see the hills behind the launchpads where the fires had raged. I did see some fire damage within several hundred feet of a liquid nitrogen storage facility, but otherwise the clouds prevented me from seeing any of the wildfire damage.

The one item of interest that I did see was at the SpaceX launchpad. While we could not enter the facility, we could see in plain sight the first stage of the next planned Falcon 9 launch. They had hoped to lift off this week, but delayed the launch last week until January to complete the investigation into the September 1 launchpad explosion. Nonetheless, the first stage was there, lying horizontal out in the open air. Several nozzles were removed from the engine array at the stage’s base. Whether they were removed as part of the investigation, or as part of standard maintenance, I do not know.

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