Monthly Archives: June 2017

Arianespace successfully launches two commercial satellites

Capitalism in space: Arianespace tonight successfully launched two commercial communications satellite with its Ariane 5 rocket.

This is the third launch by the company since it settled its labor problems in French Guiana in late April. Since then they have managed a launch ever two weeks, and at the moment Arianespace and SpaceX are tied for the most launches in 2017 at six. This tie should only last until Saturday when SpaceX hopes to launch a reused Dragon to ISS.

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California passes single payer health plan, without a way to pay for it

Running out of other people’s money: The state senate of California today passed a single payer health plan, essentially proposing to take over the health industry in that state.

It is estimated that the proposal will cost California $400 billion per year, which is twice more than three times that state’s annual budget. A Massachusetts study claims the government health plan can be paid for by adding additional taxes, including 15% payroll tax, but I am exceedingly skeptical. When have any of these kinds of studies ever correctly predicted the true cost of a government program? In truth, never. The cost is always higher than predicted, and the revenues raked in by taxes always less.

The article at the second link about the study has this interesting tidbit about the typical California voter:

The first-ever question to Californians on the topic by the Public Policy Institute of California shows that the vast majority of state residents were in favor of a universal, government-run health care system — as long as it doesn’t raise their taxes. But the prospect of paying the government for health care through new taxes caused support for the proposal to fall from 65 percent to 42 percent.

Another poll, commissioned by the nurses’ union, found that 70 percent of Californians were in favor of a universal, single-payer health care system — a percentage that dropped to 58 percent after those surveyed heard arguments from the opposition about the cost.

In other words, Californians want this stuff given to them, for free. They are living in a fantasy world, which might explain the behavior of their government, dominated by pie-in-the-sky Democrats.

Despite this, I expect California to pass this bill, and then find they can’t pay for it. They will then demand that the U.S. government bail them out.

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Mucking about off-hours in San Francisco, California

An evening pause: Hat tip Edward Thelen, who writes, “A brief tour of the Jeremiah O’Brien engine room (an operational Liberty Ship) and other San Francisco sights. The narrator mentions the degaussing coils that they started to use on ships during WWII to prevent magnetic mines from sinking them. The slight of hand is especially good; I think I figured it out. There was a time, before the 1980s, when the passengers helped to turn the cable cars.”

I like these comments by the videographer at his youtube website: “This WW2 Liberty ship only took 50 days to build! Vid includes random shots between getting pissed on by a homeless dude and avoiding that guy wearing nothing but a gold sequined sock.” Well, no one should be surprised. This is in fascist California.

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Did the Pentagon give ULA $27.4 million for work already done?

Corruption: It appears that a Department of Defense $27.4 million contract awarded to ULA on May 16 to develop new avionics for its rockets was for work already completed by the company.

The government award to ULA reinforces the notion that, traditionally in aerospace, the government pays for rocket upgrades. But it is also curious because of its timing—for work to be completed two years from now. Based upon information in an article written by two ULA engineers and published in Advances in the Astronautical Sciences Guidance, Navigation and Control, the avionics system has already been upgraded. Moreover, the February 5, 2016 launch of a GPS satellite for the Air Force marked the first launch of the common avionics system.

“The launch of GPS IIF-12 in February 2016 represents the culmination of several years of development work to update avionics hardware and flight software as well as simulation and test environment tools,” the research article states. “Common avionics addresses the challenge of parts obsolescence any program with the longevity of (this one) must face. ULA has taken advantage of this opportunity to design and produce a more affordable solution for vehicle control that will also expand the capability of our launcher fleet.”

A call into the Air Force for an explanation resulted in no response at all.

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15 absurd over-reactions to Trump’s withdrawal from climate treaty

Link here. Though Trump’s rejection of the climate deal is only tangentially related to the federal budget, it definitely has caused a lot of pigs to squeal. I especially like #13 from the leftwing American Civil Liberties Union, because it encompasses every absurd aspect of the modern left’s methods of debate:

Pulling out of the Paris Agreement would be a massive step back for racial justice, and an assault on communities of color across the U.S. — ACLU National (@ACLU) June 1, 2017

Read them all. And remember that these reactions came only an hour or so after Trump made his announcement. Expect even more silliness from the left in the days to come.

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VSS Unity completes fifth glide flight

Virgin Galactic’s new suborbital ship, VSS Unity, successfully made its fifth unpowered glide test flight today.

VSS Unity’s glide flights have gone well, and as a result, Virgin Galactic is getting ready to transition to the next part of the test campaign, company representatives said. “To that end, as we analyze the data from today’s flight, we will be moving into a period of ground-based activity focused on preparation for fueled, and then powered, flights,” they wrote in the description.

They provided no indication of exactly when those next flights will occur, which considering the company’s past record of failed predictions, is definitely a good thing.

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Trump exits Paris climate agreement

As he had promised during the campaign, President Trump today announced that he was withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate treaty that Obama had agreed to (but was never ratified by the Senate).

More here.

Despite Trump’s moderate liberal leanings on many issues (budgets, healthcare), it does appear that when it comes to the environmental movement’s corruption of science and overuse of regulation he is quite willing to do things that will upset the elitist ruling class that has done such a bad job of ruling for the past two decades.

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Cumulative data from Curiosity shows Gale Crater lake stratified

The cumulative data from Curiosity since its arrival on Mars three and a half years ago shows that the lake that once filled Gale Crater lake had had a stratified chemical make-up.

Previous work had revealed the presence of a lake more than three billion years ago in Mars’ Gale Crater. This study defines the chemical conditions that existed in the lake and uses Curiosity’s powerful payload to determine that the lake was stratified. Stratified bodies of water exhibit sharp chemical or physical differences between deep water and shallow water. In Gale’s lake, the shallow water was richer in oxidants than deeper water was.

“These were very different, co-existing environments in the same lake,” said Joel Hurowitz of Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York, lead author of a report of the findings in the June 2 edition of the journal Science. “This type of oxidant stratification is a common feature of lakes on Earth, and now we’ve found it on Mars. The diversity of environments in this Martian lake would have provided multiple opportunities for different types of microbes to survive, including those that thrive in oxidant-rich conditions, those that thrive in oxidant-poor conditions, and those that inhabit the interface between those settings.”

While what Hurowitz says above is true, remember that this discovery provides zero evidence of past life on Mars. All it has done is teach us something about the different conditions in the lake at different depths.

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Trump to keep U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv

President Trump today signed a waiver allowing him to keep the U.S. Israeli embassy in Tel Aviv, rather than moving to Jerusalem as he promised repeatedly on the campaign trail.

This is not the most important political story of the day, but it illustrates what we can expect from Trump. In the end, he backs down under pressure from the Washington elitist community. For example, even though his proposed federal budget suggested a willingness to cut the deficit and eliminate whole agencies, I have doubts he will succeed in getting Congress to agree to any of those cuts.

This is also why I have not yet posted on the various rumors claiming that he plans to exit the Paris climate treaty. Until I actually see him do it, I do not believe it.

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Rat sperm exposed to weightlessness still produces healthy rats

An experiment that flew on ISS has found that rat sperm exposed to weightlessness and space radiation and then used on Earth to fertilize eggs still produce healthy rats.

The first issue for the researchers was how best to get the sperm up there. They decided to have the samples freeze-dried, just like instant coffee. This meant the sperm weighed almost nothing and could be kept at room temperature, ideal for travel on a rocket, or on a distant planet. The mouse sperm then spent 288 days on the ISS before coming back to Earth to be compared with fresh sperm from the same mice.

First, the scientists analysed how space travel affected the integrity of the DNA within the sperm. We know that high levels of fragmentation of sperm DNA are associated with male infertility. As expected, the scientists discovered that the space sperm had higher amounts of fragmented DNA than the sperm which had stayed on Earth. However, when used to fertilise a mouse egg, the space sperm resulted in a similar number of healthy embryos being generated – and these offspring had the ability to develop into normal, fertile adult mice. A final test the researchers did was to compare the patterns of genes being expressed within the brains of the adult mice. Here, the researchers saw no overall differences and concluded the space sperm was equally capable of generating offspring.

Obviously, this result is encouraging, but we are still a long way from nonchalantly letting women get pregnant and give birth in space. The risks on the child remain too great and are unknown.

In fact, I suspect the first time a child is born and raised in space will be an event that is unplanned.

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Russia moves to reduce launch costs with new rocket

The head of Roscosmos said today that they are pushing to accelerate the development of a new rocket, dubbed Phoenix, that will reduce launch costs by 20%, lowering the launch price per launch to $55 million.

I have been reading stories like this, about a new wonderful Russian rocket or spacecraft, for decades. First there was Clipper. Then there was Angara, repeatedly. Recently they have been talking up a new manned capsule and cargo ship. Along the way were a number of other forgotten proposals that would revolutionize space travel. None of these proposals however have ever seen the light of day, though Angara has completed two test flights.

In the past, Russia was not under any competitive pressure. They could undercut the launch price of every other rocket company in the world, without doing anything. Now, they face stiff competition that is only going to get stiffer. They need to produce, or they will be out of the game entirely.

The big question is whether they can, as a nationalized space industry run by a government that is rampant with corruption.

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LIGO detects its third gravitational wave

LIGO scientists today revealed that the detector had spotted its third gravitational wave in January.

Researchers estimate that the bodies in the latest collision were slightly lighter than those in the first event: one had the mass of 31 Suns and the other 19. (The black holes in the second discovery were even more lightweight, at 14 and 8 solar masses.) But the latest merger is the most distant detected so far. The gravitational waves it produced took somewhere between 1.6 billion and 4.3 billion years to reach Earth — most probably around 2.8 billion years.

This new field of astronomy should get even more interesting in the next year or two, as new detectors come on line in Italy and Japan.

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