Monthly Archives: December 2017

FAA submits its red tape recommendations to National Space Council

As requested by Vice-President Mike Pence during the first meeting of the National Space Council, the FAA has now submitted its recommendations for streamlining the launch licensing process.

“We came up with our vision for a 21st century licensing process,” [George Nield, FAA associate administrator for commercial space transportation] said. That process, he said, could include licenses that cover different versions of a family of vehicles, launching from different sites on different missions, “on the same piece of paper.” Nield said other elements of that vision include “performance-based” regulations that don’t limit companies on how they can achieve a certain requirement, as well as ways to accelerate the license review process, which can take up to 180 days once a completed application is submitted.

Some of those changes, Nield said, may take longer to carry our, particularly when they involve issues like environmental reviews. He said the FAA is looking at other near-term streamlining approaches, such as the use of a mechanism called “safety approvals” that provides pre-approval of subsystems or processes — and potentially entire launch vehicles — to speed the license review process.

Nield also put in a request for additional staff for his office, which currently has about 100 people. “If we had some additional folks that could look at fixing the process rather than just having everybody having their head down cranking out these licenses, then we could make a significant improvement” in the license review process, he said. [emphasis mine]

While I do think Nield is sincere about reducing regulation, and has generally been a positive force in his job in helping the new commercial launch business, he is still a bureaucrat. The whole point here is to encourage the policy-makers to give his office the job of regulating space, so that Nield’s responsibilities grow.


The Holdman House decorated for Christmas

An evening pause: From the youtube webpage:

The Amazing Grace Christmas House was located in Pleasant Grove, Utah and designed and programmed by Richard Holdman. A small little charity box placed in front of the display has raised more than $40,000 for the Utah Make-a-Wish Foundation. Thank you everybody for your support.

Hat tip Willi Kusche.


Private commercial supersonic jet gains funding

A private commercial supersonic jet company, Boom Supersonic, has gained significant investment funding since it first revealed its design concept in March.

Boom, whose suppliers include General Electric Co, Boeing, Honeywell International Inc and Netherlands-based TenCate Advanced Composites, has reportedly received 76 pre-orders from airlines, excluding the option of up to 20 aircraft from Japan Airlines. As of March 2017, the firm had raised about $41 million (£30.5 million) in funding.

Yoshiharu Ueki, president of Japan Airlines, added: ‘Through this partnership, we hope to contribute to the future of supersonic travel with the intent of providing more “time” to our valued passengers while emphasising flight safety.’

The firm has previously revealed that initial test flights for its 1,451mph (2,330kph) aircraft, nicknamed ‘Baby Boom’, will begin by the end of 2018.

Including the JAL preorder that makes 96 airplane sales total. It appears that this company is increasingly for real.


Calculating the number of alien space artifacts in our solar system

Link here. The author attempts to make a back of the envelope calculation of the number of abandoned alien interstellar spacecraft in the Milky Way (like our Voyager and Pioneer spacecraft), and from this calculate the number that might actually be drifting through the solar system. His conclusions?

Wondering if there’s any alien goodies in our solar system?

Well, the distance inner edge of the Oort cloud is estimated to be 4,000 A.U. This would make the volume of the solar system = 201 million cubic A.U.s, and the chance of an alien artifact adrift in our solar system (other than our own) is less than 1 in a 1,000,000. Using the outer edge distance for the Oort cloud at 50,000 AU = gives the volume of the solar system at 31.4 billion, with a slightly better than 1-in-45 chance.

But the nearest star system, Alpha Centauri is 4.4 light years distant, which equals a sphere 243 cubic light years in volume, with lots of elbow room for alien space junk!

The author also admits that these calculations depend on many assumptions, and should not be taken very seriously. Nonetheless, they are intriguing, and fun to consider.


Another negative op-ed of India’s oppressive draft space law

Link here. Unlike the first negative op-ed earlier this week, the writer of today’s op-ed gets closer to the heart of the problem.

It is proposed that all powers to licence private players to launch and operate “space objects” will rest with the Union government (read DoS). And these powers will be quite sweeping. DoS will not only have powers to “grant, transfer, vary, suspend or terminate licence” but also have powers to inspect books of accounts and other documents of licensees and seek all information about partners, directors, etc.

This is particularly worrying because “space activity” under this proposed law not only covers launch of satellites but also “use of space objects” as well as “operation, guidance and entry of space object into and from outer space and all functions for performing the said activities.” This would technically mean even data companies handling satellite imagery or universities operating ground facilities for their microsatellites may also need a licence. If this is going to be so, it is a recipe for a new “licence raj”.

The writer is of course correct. The law as written gives all power and control to India’s government and its bureaucracy, a sure recipe for discouraging private enterprise. However, this writer also avoids the law’s worst component, that it places ownership of all space objects — rockets, satellites, and what they produce — with the government, not the private sector. Such a rule will not only squelch any commercial space development in India, it will likely cause private companies outside of India from buying India’s launch services. Why would I place my satellite on an Indian rocket if that country’s law means I will then no longer own it?


Physicists look for new alternatives to explain dark matter

The uncertainty of science: Having failed to detect WIMPs, their primary dark matter suspect, physicists are now looking at new and different candidates that might explain dark matter, and the new leading candidate is something called SIMPs.

The intensive, worldwide search for dark matter, the missing mass in the universe, has so far failed to find an abundance of dark, massive stars or scads of strange new weakly interacting particles (WIMPs), but a new candidate is slowly gaining followers and observational support.

Called SIMPs – strongly interacting massive particles – they were proposed three years ago by UC Berkeley theoretical physicist Hitoshi Murayama, a professor of physics and director of the Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe (Kavli IPMU) in Japan, and former UC Berkeley postdoc Yonit Hochberg, now at Hebrew University in Israel.

Murayama says that recent observations of a nearby galactic pile-up could be evidence for the existence of SIMPs, and he anticipates that future particle physics experiments will discover one of them.

We shall see. The mystery remains, that we do not understand why most galaxies do not fly apart because their outer stars simply move too fast. Since all searches for ordinary matter have come up well short, dark matter remains the simplest explanation, though it still reminds me the theories of ether that once dominated physics, and never existed.


Trump shrinks two national monuments significantly

As he had promised, President Trump today announced that two national monuments, one created by Obama against the wishes of local residents and the second created by Clinton, will be reduced significantly in size.

Trump shrunk Bears Ears by nearly 85 percent and reduced Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by almost half. The plan would cut the total amount of land in the state’s red rock country protected under monument status from more than 3.2 million acres (5,000 square miles) to about 1.2 million acres (1,875 square miles).

I think Trump’s statement explains very well the root reasons this is happening.

“Some people think that the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington. And guess what? They’re wrong,” he said in the cavernous Utah Capitol Rotunda in Salt Lake City. “The families and communities of Utah know and love this land the best. And you know the best how to take care of your land. You know how to protect it, and you know best how to conserve this land for many, many generations to come,” he said.

“Your timeless bond with the outdoors should not be replaced with the whims of regulators thousands and thousands of miles away. They don’t know your land, and truly they don’t care for your land like you do.”

The establishment of the national parks and monuments involved a lot of good intentions, and we all know where that leads. Today it has led to most of the land in the western states controlled by an oppressive bureaucracy in Washington that doesn’t have the resources to manage the land properly, but has the power to make the lives of the local population quite miserable. And they sadly do both, quite thoroughly.

In the eastern states there are few national parks. Instead, the land was controlled by the states, who treated the natural resources there most reasonably, and at the same time allowed for their citizens to live and work and take advantage of those resources. This is how our federal system of government is supposed to work, and Trump’s action today is merely the first step in shifting policy back in that direction.


The Sun goes quiet! Sunspot update for November 2017

The past month was the most inactive month for sunspots since the middle of 2009, when the last solar minimum was just ending and the Sun was beginning its ramp up to solar maximum.

NOAA on Sunday posted its monthly update of the solar cycle, covering sunspot activity for November. As I have done every month since 2010, I have posted that graph below, with annotations.

November 2017 Solar Cycle graph

The graph above has been modified to show the predictions of the solar science community. The green curves show the community’s two original predictions from April 2007, with half the scientists predicting a very strong maximum and half predicting a weak one. The red curve is their revised May 2009 prediction.

I have also added a straight yellow line near the bottom of the graph, indicating how the lack of activity this past month corresponds with the lack of activity in the summer of 2009, just when that unusually long and deep solar minimum was beginning to end.

November 2017 sunspot record

To get an idea how few sunspots were seen in November, the graph on the right, produced by SILSO (Sunspot Index and Long-term Solar Observations) on December 1, shows only 10 days during the entire month when any sunspots were active on the Sun’s visible hemisphere. And even those sunspot were few and weak, resulting in tiny sunspot numbers total.

Nor is December looking any different, with no sunspots recorded so far, four days into the month.

The plunge to solar minimum continues to appear to be happening faster than normal. At this pace, solar minimum will arrive in early 2018, making this one of the shortest solar cycles on record. That in itself would be unprecedented, as short cycles in the past have always accompanied very active solar maximums, not weak maximums like the maximum we have just seen.

I still expect the ramp down to solar minimum to slow down and stretch out to 2019, as would be more normal, but I also would not bet any money on this expectation, at this point.

The big question remains: Will the solar cycle continue as normal after this upcoming solar minimum, or will we instead see our first grand minimum since the Maunder Minimum in the 1600s, a period lasting for about a century with no obvious sunspots that also corresponded to the Little Ice Age?


The corruption in Washington DC

If you think there has been any draining of the swamp in Washington DC with recent elections, think again. The passage this weekend of the new tax package illustrates that the Republican-led Congress really is little different than the Democratic-led Congress that passed Obamacare without reading it.

PJMedia asked Rounds if he would have time to read the full text before casting his vote.

“No, because the entire bill, there’s two separate parts, first of all, there’s a summary of what each of the parts does, that part we’ve been able to read. The actual text itself will be completed and then it will go into a conference committee where it will come back out again. So most of us have looked at all of the analysis of each one of the sections, section-by-section, that part has been completed,” Rounds told PJM on Capitol Hill on Friday evening.

“But there will still be more work to be completed in terms of the actual fine language within the bill itself.”

In other words, we need to pass the law to find out what’s in it.

This stinks. Though there is some evidence that the new tax law will lower taxes (which generally is a good thing), no one really knows what the law’s full consequences will be. A responsible Congress would never pass such a thing. Congresses before the 1960s never did.

Laws are made of words. If you vote for a law but don’t know the words that actually make up the law you guarantee that some of those words will impose tyranny. This process, and the law that results, is no different than Obamacare, and will likely result in similar disasters.


Wyoming judge rules against theft by government

Good work if you can get it: A Wyoming judge today ordered the state to return a man’s life savings, $92K in cash, that police officers confiscated for no reason during a traffic stop.

Parhamovich told The Associated Press that he was traveling to several performances in Western states and decided to bring his “life savings” because maintenance staff often came into his rented apartment in Madison, Wisconsin. The 50-year-old hid the money inside a speaker he was bringing along on the trip.

While driving near Cheyenne on March 13, officers with the Wyoming Highway Patrol and the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigations pulled him over. Parhamovich said officers questioned him about whether any drugs or large amounts of cash were in the car and then used a police dog before physically searching through his minivan and finding the money. Parhamovich said the officers implied that carrying that much cash was illegal. He lied and said it was a friend’s. Parhamovich said officers then told him that he could leave if he signed a form saying he was giving the $91,800 to the investigative agency for “narcotics law enforcement purposes.”

“I remember asking them a bunch of times: ‘What happens if I don’t sign this?'” Parhamovich said. “I couldn’t get a straight answer. What I was told kind of made it seem like I would go to jail or they’d detain me for a long time.”

He drove away with a $25 ticket for failing to wear a seatbelt, he said.

This behavior by the police and the state government is wrong and immoral on so many levels it is hard to count them all. Here are a few: It is not illegal to carry lots of cash. The Constitution expressly forbids the taking of private property without just compensation. Parhamovich was never charged with any crime and yet the state tried to keep his money.

There’s more in the article, including another case where Wyoming stole almost a half a million from an innocent citizen, never charged him with a crime, and was still allowed to keep the money because the state supreme court said it was okay for the state to steal.


Vostochny failure points to serious problems in Russian aerospace

This update on the launch failure at Vostochny last week suggests there are some very serious problems permeating the entire Russian aerospace industry.

According to a post on the online forum of the Novosti Kosmonavtiki magazine, the Fregat stage for the ill-fated first mission from Vostochny was originally built for the launch of the Rezonans scientific satellites from Baikonur.

At the same time, experts agree that the problem could theoretically have been resolved before launch, if not for the poor coordination between the developers of the flight control systems of the Soyuz-2 launch vehicle and their colleagues working on flight controls for the Fregat. As one poster on the Novosti Kosmonavtiki forum noted: in the deluge of pre-launch paperwork between RKTs Progress in Samara, which built Soyuz-2, and NPO Lavochkin, which developed Fregat, discussing a multitude of legal issues, confirming and reconfirming various agreements and reminders, there was not a single memo attracting the developers’ attention to a different alignment of the launch pad in Vostochny from that of other sites. Obviously, such information was buried in the working documentation on the mission, but nobody thought about the effect of this fact on the launch. The lower echelon of engineers simply missed that detail, while top managers had no idea at all, because, the majority of them lacked the necessary qualifications, the poster said. [emphasis mine]

Top managers who “lack the necessary qualifications?” This smacks of a corrupt hiring system having nothing to do with qualifications or the need to do good work. It also is typical of a government-run operation, which the entire Russian aerospace industry is after Putin consolidated it all into one single cooperation under government control in 2014. And prior to that the big Russian companies didn’t really operate under a system of free competition, but like mob gangsters they divided up the work among themselves and then worked together to prevent any new competition from forming.

I’m not sure how Russia is going to fix this. In a free market the solution would be for competition to produce new companies with fresh ideas, forcing the bad companies out of business. Putin’s consolidation combined with a Russian culture that does not seem to understand the idea of competition appear to make that process difficult, if not impossible.


Israeli competitor for X-prize faces shutdown due to lack of funds

Capitalism in space: SpaceIL, the Israeli finalist in the Google Lunar X-Prize competition, must raise $20 million in the next two weeks or face shutdown, even as they are about to complete testing on their rover.

This is the second of five finalists facing shutdown due to an inability to raise enough investment funds. With a third depending on a rocket that might not be operational by the March 31, 2018 deadline, the prize looks increasingly like no one will win it.

This does not mean that none of the companies will succeed, only that at least one or two might fly after the deadline. If they do, they will still demonstrate that they have the ability to launch a scientific planetary mission for pennies (compared to what the government has been spending). At that point I would expect them to become very viable and profitable spacecraft companies. Thus, it would actually be a good investment for some rich person to put their money behind these projects. In the case of SpaceIL, however, the problem might be that it is a non-profit. It appears it is not designed to be a profitable company down the road, but to merely serve propaganda purposes now.

Anchored in the “can-do”, innovative approach and creative energy that has characterized the Jewish State since its founding, SpaceIL aims to replicate the “Apollo Effect” in Israel, inspire and motivate the next generation of Israelis to pursue a future in STEM professions. Since its establishment as a nonprofit, SpaceIL has pledged to donate the $20 million in prize money, if it wins, to the promotion of science and scientific education in Israel, and to thus contribute to Israel’s economy and security.

Since its founding, many have contributed to the project. The main donor is the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson Foundation. Additional supporters include Morris Kahn, Sami Sagol, Lynn Schusterman and Steven Grand, among others. The project formed exceptional collaborations between the private sector, the academia and governmental companies. Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI), the Weizmann Institute of Science, Tel-Aviv University, Israel Space Agency, Israeli Ministry of Science, Bezeq, dozens of engineers and hundreds of volunteers are among SpaceIL’s partners. Over the years, SpaceIL volunteers have reached half a million children and youths throughout the country.

All of this has wonderfully good intentions, but I think they would be better served to focus on making money. A successful and profitable space company will do far more to inspire Israel’s children than mere propaganda.


China launches another military satellite

The race between Russia, China, and SpaceX for the most launches in 2017 tightened today with another successful Chinese launch this morning of a classified military satellite using its Long March 2D rocket.

The race as of today:

27 United States
18 Russia
16 SpaceX
14 China

According to this article as well as SpacflightNow’s launch log), China, Russia, and SpaceX all have three more launches scheduled in 2017. If that is what happens, these standings will not change.


Tesla aimed for Mars will be the payload on first Falcon Heavy launch

Capitalism in space: Elon Musk announced today that the first test launch of a Falcon Heavy rocket next month will carry a Tesla car which will be aimed for a solar orbit about the same distance from the Sun as Mars.

Payload will be my midnight cherry Tesla Roadster playing Space Oddity. Destination is Mars orbit. Will be in deep space for a billion years or so if it doesn’t blow up on ascent.

Musk definitely knows how to generate publicity, even as he lowers expectations for the launch. Richard Branson could learn something from him.


Soyuz launches military satellite, despite failure earlier this week

A Russian Soyuz rocket today successfully launched a military satellite, despite the launch failure from improper software earlier this week.

The reason they launched this Soyuz was because of two reasons. First, it was not using the Fregat upper stage that had had the incorrect programming. Second, it launched from Plesetsk, a Russian spaceport they have used since the beginning of the space age. The failure launched from the new spaceport at Vostochny, with software that had not been updated for that spaceport.

This launch widens the Russian lead in successful launches over SpaceX for 2018. The U.S. however still leads handily overall.

27 United States
18 Russian
16 SpaceX
13 China


The fly-by anomaly returns with Juno

The uncertainty of science: An orbital discrepancy between where engineers predict where Juno should be and where it actually is suggests it represents the recurrence of an anomaly that has been seen with numerous past planetary spacecraft.

During the 1970s when the Pioneer 10 and 11 probes were launched, visiting Jupiter and Saturn before heading off towards the edge of the Solar System, these probes both experienced something strange as they passed between 20 to 70 AU (Uranus to the Kuiper Belt) from the Sun.

Basically, the probes were both 386,000 km (240,000 mi) farther from where existing models predicted they would be. This came to be known as the “Pioneer anomaly“, which became common lore within the space physics community. While the Pioneer anomaly was resolved, the same phenomena has occurred many times since then with subsequent missions.

…Another mystery is that while in some cases the anomaly was clear, in others it was on the threshold of detectability or simply absent – as was the case with Juno‘s flyby of Earth in October of 2013. The absence of any convincing explanation has led to a number of explanations, ranging from the influence or dark matter and tidal effects to extensions of General Relativity and the existence of new physics.

However, none of these have produced a substantive explanation that could account for flyby anomalies.

The article describes in detail an effort to pin down the extent of Juno’s orbital anomaly, and to use that information to develop a model that would explain the phenomenon. Not surprisingly, they have not really come up with a comprehensive explanation. To me, the variability of the phenomenon suggests that it isn’t real, that it is either an unmeasured instrument effect or an ordinary component of solar system travel and orbital mechanics that programmers have not yet pinned down. For example, the gravitational effect of every planet and rock in the solar system will influence the path of a spacecraft, though with most that influence will be very small. It would not surprise me if this anomaly is simply the consequence of missing some of this influence.


Voyager 1 fires thrusters not used in 37 years

Because Voyager 1’s primary attitude thrusters are beginning to show wear (after forty years in space), engineers decided to experiment using a different set of thrusters not used since the spacecraft flew past Saturn in 1980, and found that they worked!

In the early days of the mission, Voyager 1 flew by Jupiter, Saturn, and important moons of each. To accurately fly by and point the spacecraft’s instruments at a smorgasbord of targets, engineers used “trajectory correction maneuver,” or TCM, thrusters that are identical in size and functionality to the attitude control thrusters, and are located on the back side of the spacecraft. But because Voyager 1’s last planetary encounter was Saturn, the Voyager team hadn’t needed to use the TCM thrusters since November 8, 1980. Back then, the TCM thrusters were used in a more continuous firing mode; they had never been used in the brief bursts necessary to orient the spacecraft.

…On Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, Voyager engineers fired up the four TCM thrusters for the first time in 37 years and tested their ability to orient the spacecraft using 10-millisecond pulses. The team waited eagerly as the test results traveled through space, taking 19 hours and 35 minutes to reach an antenna in Goldstone, California, that is part of NASA’s Deep Space Network.

Lo and behold, on Wednesday, Nov. 29, they learned the TCM thrusters worked perfectly — and just as well as the attitude control thrusters.

They figure these back-up thrusters will allow them to extend the mission by two or three years. The test also went so well that they now plan to do the same test on Voyager 2, which has still not entered interstellar space.


Facebook now identifies potential suicides for authorities to take action

Reason #3,434,389 why I don’t use Facebook: Facebook has developed software that identifies what it thinks are suicidal thoughts by a user, then sends that information to the government so it can take immediate action.

The social network has been testing the tool for months in the US, but is now rolling out the program to other countries. The tool won’t be active in any European Union nations, where data protection laws prevent companies from profiling users in this way.

In a Facebook post, company CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he hoped the tool would remind people that AI is “helping save peoples’ lives today.” He added that in the last month alone, the software had helped Facebook flag cases to first responders more than 100 times. “If we can use AI to help people be there for their family and friends, that’s an important and positive step forward,” wrote Zuckerberg. “The AI looks for comments like “are you ok?” and “can I help?””

Despite this emphasis on the power of AI, Facebook isn’t providing many details on how the tool actually judges who is in danger.

The potential for abuse here is beyond words. Worse, Facebook’s unwillingness to be transparent about this software makes it even more suspect. From the article:

TechCrunch writer Josh Constine noted that he’d asked Facebook how the company would prevent the misuse of this AI system and was given no response.

As I’ve written previously, companies like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft might be providing their customers some good products, but they are also doing so from a very amoral position, abusing the privacy of their customers in ways that are simply wrong. While this software is likely being used today in a totally correct way, I have strong doubts about it in the long term. As the politics of our time become even more heated, partisan, and childish, the temptation to use this software to target and eliminate those who disagree with either Facebook or its allies in the government will certainly grow. And then, how does one protect oneself from this abuse?

Hat tip to reader Max Hunt.


Baby stars at center of galaxy

New observations of the region surrounding Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), the super-massive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, has confirmed earlier research by finding what appears to be eleven newly formed baby stars.

Prior observations of the region surrounding Sgr A* by Zadeh and his team had revealed multiple massive infant stars but the finding was not conclusive. These objects, known as proplyds, are common features in more placid star-forming regions, like the Orion Nebula. The new measurements provide more conclusive evidence for young star formation activity. Though the galactic center is a challenging environment for star formation, it is possible for particularly dense cores of hydrogen gas to cross the necessary threshold and forge new stars.

The new ALMA observations, however, revealed something even more remarkable, signs that 11 low-mass protostars are forming within one parsec – a scant three light-years – of the galaxy’s central black hole. Zadeh and his team used ALMA to confirm that the masses and momentum transfer rates – the ability of the protostar jets to plow through surrounding interstellar material – are consistent with young protostars found throughout the disk of our galaxy. “This discovery provides evidence that star formation is taking place within clouds surprisingly close to Sagittarius A*,” said Al Wootten with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Charlottesville, Virginia, and co-author on the paper.

They have several theories on how new stars could coalesce in such a violent and turbulent region, but none appears that convincing. Essentially, this is a mystery that does not yet have an answer. It does tell us however that star formation can occur almost anywhere.


The organic dust of Comet 67P/C-G

A study of the dust released by Comet 67P/C-G and captured by Rosetta shows that carbon molecules appear to comprise the comet’s largest component, and that this material is found in the form of very large macromolecules.

As the study shows, organic molecules are among those ingredients at the top of the list. These account for about 45 percent of the weight of the solid cometary material. “Rosetta’s comet thus belongs to the most carbon-rich bodies we know in the solar system,” says MPS scientist and COSIMA team member Dr. Oliver Stenzel. The other part of the total weight, about 55 percent, is provided by mineral substances, mainly silicates. It is striking that they are almost exclusively non-hydrated minerals i.e. missing water compounds. “Of course, Rosetta’s comet contains water like any other comet, too,” says Hilchenbach. “But because comets have spent most of their time at the icy rim of the solar system, it has almost always been frozen and could not react with the minerals.” The researchers therefore regard the lack of hydrated minerals in the comet’s dust as an indication that 67P contains very pristine material.

…The current findings also touch on our ideas of how life on Earth came about. In a previous publication, the COSIMA team was able to show that the carbon found in Rosetta’s comet is mainly in the form of large, organic macromolecules. Together with the current study, it becomes clear that these compounds make up a large part of the cometary material. Thus, if comets indeed supplied the early Earth with organic matter, as many researchers assume, it would probably have been mainly in the form of such macromolecules.

Organic here does not mean life, but is instead used as chemists use it, to mean the molecule includes the element carbon. The results do suggest however that the early solar system had a lot of carbon available, and that much of it was in a relatively pure form available to interact with other elements.


Watch a rocket tank being built, mostly by robots

Capitalism in space: The video below the fold shows the process by which Interorbital Systems built a rocket test tank for the Neptune smallsat rocket it is developing. It is definitely worth watching if you want to see the future of complex manufacturing. Robotic equipment does most of the work, in a precise manner that would be impossible for humans, which therefore allows for the construction of engineering designs that were previously impossible or too expensive. Now, such designs can be built relatively cheaply, and repetitively.

Hat tip Doug Messier at Parabolic Arc.

» Read more


Development at SpaceX’s Texas spaceport to pick up in 2018

Capitalism in space: Though construction at SpaceX’s Texas spaceport has been slower than expected, the company expects to accelerate development in 2018.

According to SpaceX, [people] won’t have to wait much longer for an increase in activity at the future spaceport. The recently installed antennas at Boca Chica are expected to be operational next year — although they’ll initially track flights blasting off from elsewhere — and the company also indicated development of the overall launch complex should pick up. “Even as our teams worked to modernize and repair our launch complexes in Florida so that we could reliably return to flight for our customers, SpaceX invested $14 million into the South Texas project,” said Gleeson, the company’s spokesman.

“Now, with our launch construction projects in Florida wrapping up by early 2018, SpaceX will be able to turn more attention to our work in South Texas,” he said.

In other words, once SpaceX has got its two launchpads in Florida both up and running, including the first use by the Falcon Heavy of one of those pads, the company will then be able to shift its launchpad operations down to Texas.

The article outlines in detail many of the reasons the development has been slow, but I think the issues highlighted in the quote above, issues I had not considered previously, might be the most important. After the September 2016 launchpad explosion in Florida, SpaceX had to divert resources to repairing that pad, which put Boca Chica on the back burner.


Moon Express will launch to Moon in 2018, regardless of X-Prize deadline

Capitalism in space: The head of Moon Express said yesterday that the company will definitely fly its privately-built lunar rover to the Moon in 2018, regardless of whether that flight occurs in time to win the Google Lunar X-Prize.

The company is competing for the Google Lunar XPRIZE which has a $20 million reward for the first private firm to put a spacecraft on the moon, travel 500 meters, and transmit high definition video and images back to earth. The deadline for doing this is March 2018.

Jain did not give an exact date for the launch and said that getting the prize isn’t necessarily the main priority.

It appears to me that the main reason they will not make the deadline is because Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket won’t be ready in time. This is why its second test launch in the coming weeks is so important. If successful, it increases the chances that Moon Express will be able to meet the X-Prize deadline.

1 3 4 5