Monthly Archives: December 2017

Russia to launch luxury hotel room module to ISS?

Capitalism in space: Roscosmos is considering a plan to launch a hotel module to ISS where it could house tourists for profit.

According to a detailed proposal seen by Popular Mechanics, the 20-ton, 15.5-meter-long module would provide 92 cubic meters of pressurized space. It would accommodate four sleeping quarters sized around two cubic meters each and two “hygiene and medical” stations of the same volume. Each private room would also have a porthole with a diameter of 228 millimeters (9 inches), while the lounge area of the module would have a giant 426-millimeter (16-inch) window.

The external structure of the tourist module looks like the Science and Power Module, NEM-1, which Russia is currently building for the International Space Station. The second NEM module had originally been on the books in the station’s assembly scenario, but the Russian government funded only one module. It will serve primarily as a science laboratory and a power-supply station for the ISS.

Now, Russia’s prime space station contractor, RKK Energia, came up with a scheme to pay for the second NEM module through a mix of private and state investments. To make profit, the NEM-2 would be customized for paid visitors.

Makes sense to me. Russia doesn’t really have the money right now to fund a big deep space exploration program. Better they aim for profits in space, as that will keep them in the black and provide them the capital they presently lack.


Japan’s Google Lunar X-Prize rover arrives in India for launch

Capitalism in space: The rover being built by the Japanese team competing for the Google Lunar X-Prize has arrived in India for installation on the PSLV rocket that will launch it into space.

The Sorato rover which is flight ready will be mounted on Team Indus lander at its facility in Jakkur. HAKUTO, one of the five teams competing for the Google Lunar XPRIZE, has signed a ride share agreement with Team Indus (India’s first private aerospace startup) for launching the Sorato along with the Indian rover.

Team Indus’s spacecraft, along with the two rovers, will also carry a few payloads and will be launched onboard ISRO’s workhorse, the PSLV-XL. The launch is expected to take place early next year (before March 8, 2018, the date set by Google to the five privately funded teams to launch the landers and the rovers on the Moon surface).

Several important details here. First, though the Japanese team appears to have all the necessary funds to pay for their flight, Team Indus is still searching for investment, and might not have the money to pay for its share of the flight. What will happen in that case is unclear.

Second, the word Hakuto in Japan means “white rabbit.” This name was chosen because Japanese folklore says a rabbit can be seen in the dark areas of the Moon’s face. This makes Japan’s rover the second rabbit to fly to the moon, after China’s Yutu rover, which in English means “jade rabbit” a name also based on Chinese folklore.


Benjamin Shapiro – Theme from Schindler’s List

An evening pause: Performed live in 1996, when Shapiro was twelve years old. Note that this is that Ben Shapiro, the orthodox Jew and well-known conservative columnist whom leftists ignorantly love to call a Jew-hater and white supremacist. How they come to that conclusion can only be because they are willfully ignorant or so filled with hate and their ideology that they can’t look at reality with any honesty.

I think, during this holiday season, it is wise to also reflect on humanity’s tragic failures, one of the worst of which was the Holocaust during World War II.

Hat tip Jim Mallamace.


This week in fascist academia

Time for another depressing update on the fascist and childish culture that unfortunately seems to presently dominate the college campuses of modern America. (To read my earlier updates, posted almost weekly since October, go here.)

To begin, below are some stories illustrating the fascist and intolerant nature of many college administrations:

In every case above, we either have the college administrations taking actions to suppress speech they did not like, or college facility announcing to the world that they haven’t the faintest understanding of freedom of speech or its fundamental basis for the establishment of western civilization.

The last story describes a recent Columbia Journalism Review report about how a number of universities have become very hostile to working journalists, and have even taken actions to have journalists arrested. The universities mentioned including the University of Colorado-Boulder, Keene State College, and two New York state colleges, Bronx Community College and Kingsborough Community College.

However, as I have noted in earlier updates, the fascist culture at academia is unfortunately not limited to the administrators and teachers. Many students advocate intolerance as well.
» Read more


A star that is devouring its planets?

Astronomers now think that a nearby star that erratically dims inexplicably does so because of clouds of debris left by the destruction of one or more exoplanets.

A team of U.S. astronomers studying the star RZ Piscium has found evidence suggesting its strange, unpredictable dimming episodes may be caused by vast orbiting clouds of gas and dust, the remains of one or more destroyed planets. “Our observations show there are massive blobs of dust and gas that occasionally block the star’s light and are probably spiraling into it,” said Kristina Punzi, a doctoral student at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in New York and lead author of a paper describing the findings. “Although there could be other explanations, we suggest this material may have been produced by the break-up of massive orbiting bodies near the star.”

Their data also suggest that the star is young.


China’s 2017 year in review

Link here. The review summarizes every significant achievement and failure that occurred in the Chinese space industry in the past year. Unfortunately, it provides no further information of the cause of the launch failure of Long March 5 in July, nor when that rocket, China’s biggest, will resume launches.

The article also summarizes China’s long term plans as released earlier in the year. This quote struck me as most interesting:

The main contractor for the Chinese space programme, the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), set out a space transportation roadmap in November. These targets include flying the low-cost Long March 8 by 2020, development of a reusable space plane by 2025, and super heavy-lift launch vehicle, referred to as the Long March 9, to make its maiden flight by 2030.

2035 is the target for full reusability for its launch vehicles, while 2040 is marked for developing next-gen launch vehicles capable of multiple interplanetary round-trips, exploiting space resources as well as a nuclear-powered space shuttle.

I don’t know if China will achieve these goals, but I do know that it intends to try, and that this effort guarantees that the 21st century will be the century where what I call the new colonial movement will take flight, with many nations on Earth pushing and succeeding in the establishment of viable bases on other worlds.


The best infrared image yet of a star’s surface

The surface of a star

Astronomers, using the Very Large Telescope in Chile have taken the best infrared image of the surface of a star, revealing gigantic granules or convection cells, across the star’s surface. These cells are somewhat similar to the bubbles you see when you simmer tomato sauce. Our own Sun usually has about two million such cells across its surface. For this aging red giant, which has the same mass as the Sun but has expanded to 350 times its diameter, things are different.

[The astronomers] found that the surface of this red giant has just a few convective cells, or granules, that are each about 120 million kilometres across — about a quarter of the star’s diameter [2]. Just one of these granules would extend from the Sun to beyond Venus.

I have posted the image on the right, reduced slightly in resolution to show here. The press release says that this is the first time that such granules have been imaged, but I think that is a bit of an overstatement. In fact, one of the very first articles I ever wrote, back in 1994, described an infrared image taken of Betelgeuse that showed similar giant bubbles or cells. What makes this image significant is its improved resolution. The ability to see smaller details on the faces of distant stars continues to improve.


Musk releases pictures of assembled Falcon Heavy in hanger

Falcon Heavy in hanger

Capitalism in space: Elon Musk today tweeted several pictures of the Falcon Heavy rocket, assembled in its hanger at Cape Canaveral and awaiting roll out for its first static fire tests on the launchpad.

As I will have nothing to do with Twitter, I must thank reader Michael Phillips for emailing me the photos. The one of the right I think shows the most detail. Note that the two side stages are previously flown Falcon 9 first stages. Only the central core has not flown before. According to previous reports, it required significant redesign to work in this configuration.

There is as yet no word on exactly when the roll out and launchpad static fire tests will take place, but all indications suggest it will be very soon. Whether the launch itself will follow several weeks later, as the link above says and has been stated many times by SpaceX, is more questionable. Remember, they have never fired all 27 engines of the threefold first stage at the same time. I am expecting that they will need time to review the data from that static fire test. I would be very surprised if their analysis and any changes it calls for will be doable in only a few weeks.


Aryeh and Gil Gat – The Sound of Silence

An evening pause: I think this song is fitting for the last night of Hanukkah. For Jews, this verse well describes perfectly what it is like when they try to express their point of view in a harsh and hostile world:

“Fools” said I, “You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you”
But my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence

The two singers are brothers and rabbis, and are performing here for an Israeli television show modeled after American Idol called Rising Star.

Hat tip Jim Mallamace.


Two finalists for 2020 deep space planetary mission picked by NASA

NASA has narrowed its choice for a 2020s deep space planetary mission to two finalists, either a sample return mission to Comet 67P/C-G or a drone that would fly through Titan’s atmosphere.

The sample return mission sounds very doable with today’s technology. The Titan drone mission however is far more intriguing.

Dragonfly is a dual-quadcopter lander that would take advantage of the environment on Titan to fly to multiple locations, some hundreds of miles apart, to sample materials and determine surface composition to investigate Titan’s organic chemistry and habitability, monitor atmospheric and surface conditions, image landforms to investigate geological processes, and perform seismic studies.

If it was up to me and I had unlimited funds, I’d go with Dragonfly. We know far less about the outer solar system, and this mission would be an ideal way to increase that knowledge. It is also far more daring, which carries the risk that the costs to build and launch will rise uncontrollably.


A weaponized and partisan Justice Department and FBI

On many of today’s complicated political stories, I tend to hang back and avoid posting my thoughts about them when the stories initially break. Often I do so because the story itself is either unreliable or simply trivial, and time is needed to find this out. Often I wait because I want more information to confirm my initial conclusions. Sometimes I wait because I consider the story merely a Republican partisan attack that is not strong on the merits and will fade with time.

Though I have previously posted my impression that Robert Mueller investigation into Russian-Trump collusion during the campaign is nothing more than a Democratic Party witch hunt against the Trump administration, I have recently held back noting recent stories because I wanted to compile them to see if they really did fit this pattern. Below are those stories, all of which have appeared in the past two weeks. They strongly prove that Mueller’s investigation is exactly what I first surmised.

These stories all confirm a July story that was headlined: Here’s a Look at Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s 15 Attorneys: A Who’s Who of Liberal Activism. Of those 15 attorneys, four have now been proven to be part of the Democratic Party partisan machine. Furthermore, evidence has been found that the FBI agent directly involved with both the Clinton and Trump investigations, Peter Strzok, moved to change the Clinton investigation conclusions to exonerate her, despite the evidence, while he was also repeatedly expressing strong partisan and anti-Trump opinions to one of those 15 attorneys.

One anti-Trump text by FBI agent Strzok is especially disturbing. In responding to a statement by Special Counsel Liz Page that she thought there was no way Trump could win, Strzok wrote the following:
» Read more


Local Florida officials battle over $8 million grant to Blue Origin

Local county officials in Florida are involved in a court fight over the decision by the county to borrow $8 million in order to pay a grant to Blue Origin for locating its factory there.

Brevard County commissioners narrowly approved a plan that would allow the county to borrow money to pay for an $8 million economic incentive to rocket manufacturer Blue Origin. The vote was 3-2, with Chair Rita Prichett and Commissioners Jim Barfield and Curt Smith supporting the proposal. Vice Chair Kristine Isnardi and Commissioner John Tobia voted against the plan.

Brevard County Clerk of Courts Scott Ellis told commissioners he plans to go to court to challenge the legality of the county borrowing money to pay for the grant to Blue Origin.

Isnardi is quoted in the article as saying “I don’t think it’s a great policy to give $8 million to a billionaire.” The opposition to this grant also questions the legality of borrowing money to pay it.


World View balloon explodes

Capitalism in space: A World View balloon exploded at its launch facility in Tucson yesterday.

No injuries were caused when a large, tethered test balloon ruptured as crews deconstructed it after a successful ground test to fill the balloon, World View spokesman Andrew Antonio said. The rupture resulted in a loud sound heard in the area, and a small fire on the balloon, he said. “We have reached out to reassure our immediate neighbors,” Antonio said. “There were no injuries and only superficial facility damage at the site.”

World View says it can use either helium or hydrogen gas to fill its stratospheric balloons but has initially been using hydrogen, which company officials have said is safe when handled properly.

World View also released its first images from a Stratollite balloon flight yesterday.

I think the second link demonstrates clearly that Stratollite is a good concept for high altitude reconnaissance. I think the first link demonstrates that hydrogen is still problematic for high altitude balloons.


Daniela Andrade – Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

An evening pause: This is the second Christmas song I’ve posted by Daniela Andrade, and this is the third version I’ve posted of this particular song, one by Katie Melua and the second the original by Judy Garland.

No matter. This version is as good as the others.

Hat tip Edward Thelen.


Virgin Galactic signs deal with Italy for dedicated research flight

Yawn. Virgin Galactic has announced that it has signed a deal with Italy for a future SpaceShipTwo research flight.

I feel obliged to report this, but am also very skeptical about it. They have still not performed any powered flights with their new ship, Unity. And their last glide test was four months ago. They state that they will have a full test flight program in 2018, but we have heard that story so many times before we’d all be silly to believe them now.

When they start flying, I will start taking them seriously again. Not before.


Smallsat industry considering standardized “launch unit”

Capitalism in space: The emerging smallsat industry is considering establishing a standard “launch unit,” similar in concept to the standardized container system used by the shipping industry on Earth, to ease payload scheduling and installation on rockets.

“Developing a standard Launch Unit, or Launch-U, for mid-sized smallsats — approximately the size between a toaster and a small refrigerator — will enable rideshares to be configured more quickly and efficiently, resulting in more launch opportunities at a lower cost,” Aerospace representatives said in a statement. “Aerospace [Corporation] is driving the Launch-U conversation by assembling representatives from industry, academia and government to set the mid-size smallsats standard.”

For example, this standardized container concept would make it easier for a smallsat to switch launch rockets should its initial ride get delayed.

The industry has already attempted some standardization with the cubesat idea, which universities have been using now for several decades, a standard-sized satellite structure that is ten centimeters to a side. This launch unit concept would add the standardization to the launch vehicle, creating a standard slot within rockets that could easily take on new satellites.


Blue Origin still a year away from launch humans on New Shepard

Capitalism in space: Blue Origin revealed yesterday that it will still be a year at least before they start flying humans on their suborbital New Shepard spacecraft.

The company plans to later fly humans, both as payload specialists for human-tended experiments as well as on tourist flights. Those flights, though, are still at least a year away. “We’re probably a year and a half, two years out from when we’re actually able to fly tended payloads,” Ashby said. “We’re about roughly a year out from human flights, depending on how the test program goes. We have a bunch more tests to do, and we’re going to fly some human test flights before we put paying people in the rocket.”

Previously they had suggested they would be flying humans much sooner, possibly this year. Despite this new delay, last week’s test flight did include Blue Origin’s first paying customers, and the company indicated that they have sold space on all their upcoming unmanned test flights, and that their manifest for those upcoming flights is essentially full.

Though I know many disagree with me, I am increasingly doubtful there will ever be a viable suborbital tourist business. Once commercial orbital manned flights become available, I don’t see there being much profitable interest in such short suborbital experiences. The cost will be too high in comparison with the payoff. And it appears that those commercial orbital manned flights are going to be arriving at about the same time as New Shepard’s first manned flight.


Oumuamua has a thick carbon crust built up by its interstellar travel

New results of observations of the interstellar object Oumuamua suggest that it has a thick crust of organic carbon soot that was slowly built up during the millions of years it traveled between the stars.

New observations of the cigar-shaped body found evidence for a deep surface layer that formed when organic ices – such as frozen carbon dioxide, methane and methanol – that make up the object were battered by the intense radiation that exists between the stars.

…The deep outer crust may have formed on the body over millions or even billions of years and gives ‘Oumuamua a dark red colour, according to researchers who investigated the object with the William Herschel Telescope on La Palma in the Canary Islands and the European Southern observatory in Chile’s Atacama desert.

There have been a slew of news stories today about these results, all focusing not on the crust of the object, which tells us nothing really about its interior, but on one quote by one scientist from the press release, who theorized — based on zero data — that the interior of the object could be icy. From this quote I have seen at least a half dozen stories exclaiming that Oumuamua thus could be like a comet, based on no information at all.

All we have learned is that traveling for a long time in interstellar space causes a build up of carbon-rich materials on the surface of an object. What might be hidden under that crust remains entirely unknown. It could be icy, but we don’t know that.


Algeria’s space agency reveals its plans for the next two decades

The new colonial movement: With the successful launch by China of its first geosynchronous satellite (mostly built by China as well), the Algerian space agency has revealed its preliminary plans through 2040.

Algeria plans to send several state-of-the-art satellites as part of its space programme 2020-2040, which is “under study now,” the director general of the Algerian Space Agency, Azzedine Oussedik, said on December 18, 2017, in Algiers.

A national space programme, which includes plans for the launch of many cutting-edge satellites, is under consideration at the Algerian Space Agency, Oussedik told a news conference about the successful launch, on December 11, 2017, of the Algerian space communication satellite Alcomsat-1 from the Chinese launch site at Xichang.

He added that the new programme will be put into operation after the completion of the current national space programme 2006-2020, under which five satellites have been successfully launched, the latest of which is Alcomsat-1.

There really isn’t much of an Algerian space program. China built this first satellite, and I suspect that most of the remaining four satellites planned under the current program will be built by foreign companies also. Essentially, this announcement is Oussedik is pushing for government funds to sustain his office into the future. It might serve Algeria to have its own satellites, but from my perspective this is not how to do it.


Mars rover update: December 18, 2017

Summary: The scientists and engineers of both Curiosity and Opportunity have route decisions to make.



For the overall context of Curiosity’s travels, see Pinpointing Curiosity’s location in Gale Crater.

Since my November 16 update, Curiosity’s travels crossing Vera Rubin Ridge, a geological bedding plain dubbed the Hematite Unit, has continued apace. They however have not been following the route that had been planned beforehand, as shown by the yellow dotted line on the right. Instead, they have headed south, along the red dotted line. For the past week or so they have been doing a variety of research tasks in the same area, analyzing samples taken months before, studying sand deposits, and taking many images of some interesting rock layers.

I also suspect that the lack of movement in the past week is partly because they need to make some route-finding decisions. The planned yellow route shown above appears to be somewhat rough in the full resolution orbital image. While I suspect they will still head in that direction, I also think they are doing some very careful analysis of this route and beyond, to make sure they will not end up in a cul de sac where the rover will not be able to continue its climb of Mount Sharp.


For the context of Opportunity’s recent travels along the rim of Endeavour Crater, see my May 15, 2017 rover update.
» Read more


More films of early nuclear test released

The uncertainty of science: Researchers have released more films taken during numerous 1950s and 1960s atmospheric nuclear bomb tests to the public, while noting that modern computer simulations of nuclear explosions, based on the data taken from these early tests, could be as much as 30 percent in error.

Ten years ago, Spriggs was asked to write a computer code related to nuclear weapons effects, but his calculations didn’t agree with what was published in the 1950s and ’60s. When he dug in to find out why there was a discrepancy, he discovered that the manual measurements made in the ’50s and ’60s were off, in some cases by 20 percent to 30 percent. His new mission had become clear: reanalyze all the nuclear test films to ensure future computer simulations would be validated.

“It was driving me nuts,” Spriggs said. “No matter what I did, I couldn’t get my calculations to agree. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that the data must be off. To prove our simulations are correct, we rely on quality benchmark data. That’s why this project is so important. It is providing the data our physicists need to ensure our deterrent remains viable into the future.”

They are scanning and reanalyzing all the footage so that they can refine their models. They also note that the analysis done in the 50s and 60s was actually quite good, but today’s computer technology allows for greater accuracy and objectivity.

Hat tip Wayne DeVette.


ArianeGroup to begin production of first Ariane 6 rocket

Capitalism in space: Having completed a new review of the design of its new Ariane 6 rocket, ArianeGroup and ESA have decided to begin production for a planned launch in 2020.

I continue to wonder how they expect this expendable rocket to compete for launch business with both SpaceX and Blue Origin flying reusables by 2020. At best, I see the member states of the European Space Agency saddled with the requirement to use this more expensive rocket, which will seriously handicap them in the competition to settle the solar system.


Giant Stratolaunch plane conducts first taxi test

Capitalism in space: The giant Stratolaunch plane built out of two 747s completed its first taxi test yesterday.

Stratolaunch’s plane, nicknamed Roc, has the widest wingspan in the aviation world at 385 feet. That’s 50 percent wider than the wings of a Boeing 747 — which probably shouldn’t be surprising, considering that parts from two 747s went into building the plane. Mojave-based Scaled Composites aided in the fabrication of the plane’s carbon composite components.

I think a better way to illustrate the size of the wingspan is to note that if you laid a Saturn 5 rocket along those wings, it would not reach the tips at either end, being “only” 363 feet long.

Several experienced engineers at Behind the Black have previously wondered at whether the plane’s central structure holding its two fuselages together would be strong enough to provide a stable flight. Looking at the picture at the link, I must wonder the same thing.


XCOR bankruptcy revelations

XCOR’s bankruptcy has revealed how far the company was from actually building and flying its Lynx suborbital spacecraft.

In original financial filings, XCOR reported having $1,424.66 in cash.

No value was given to the Lynx MK1, a spaceplane in development that would take off and land horizontally. Between $15 million and $20 million would be required to finish the Lynx, according to documents. An estimated $25 million to $30 million was invested.

It is hard to say whether XCOR was a scam, or a good idea that simply never could get the investment capital to fly. In the end, however, it essentially turned out to be both. According the article, local government agencies in both Florida and Texas have lost millions from investments they made in the company in the hope it would produce jobs in their communities.


Soyuz launches new crew to ISS

The Russians today launched a new crew to ISS using their Soyuz rocket.

Since the capsule only has to fly to ISS in low Earth orbit, it did not use the Fregat upper stage that failed in another recent Soyuz launch.

This launch probably clinches Russia’s lead over SpaceX for the most successful launches in 2017. At the same time, the U.S. overall will still win handily, with its most total launches in this century.

28 United States
19 Russia
17 SpaceX
15 China

I will be publishing a complete table of the launches with analysis, as I did last year, once the year is complete.

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