Monthly Archives: February 2018

Trump: “Take the guns first, go through due process second.”

Link here. Trump, who’s roots remain that of a liberal Democrat, suddenly sees nothing wrong with abandoning the fifth amendment to the Bill of Rights if it will get him brownie points with the leftist mainstream media.

Yet, burning the Constitution to avoid the massacre in Florida was never necessary. All that had to happen was for Florida simply enforce the law properly.

School and law enforcement officials knew Cruz was a ticking time bomb. They did nothing because of a deliberate, willful, bragged-about policy to end the “school-to-prison pipeline.” This is the feature part of the story, not the bug part.

If Cruz had taken out full-page ads in the local newspapers, he could not have demonstrated more clearly that he was a dangerous psychotic. He assaulted students, cursed out teachers, kicked in classroom doors, started fist fights, threw chairs, threatened to kill other students, mutilated small animals, pulled a rifle on his mother, drank gasoline and cut himself, among other “red flags.” Over and over again, students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School reported Cruz’s terrifying behavior to school administrators, including Kelvin Greenleaf, “security specialist,” and Peter Mahmood, head of JROTC. At least three students showed school administrators Cruz’s near-constant messages threatening to kill them — e.g., “I am going to enjoy seeing you down on the grass,” “Im going to watch ypu bleed,” “iam going to shoot you dead” — including one that came with a photo of Cruz’s guns. They warned school authorities that he was bringing weapons to school. They filed written reports.

Threatening to kill someone is a felony. In addition to locking Cruz away for a while, having a felony record would have prevented him from purchasing a gun.

All the school had to do was risk Cruz not going to college, and depriving Yale University of a Latino class member, by reporting a few of his felonies — and there would have been no mass shooting.

But Cruz was never arrested. He wasn’t referred to law enforcement. He wasn’t even expelled. Instead, Cruz was just moved around from school to school — six transfers in three years. But he was always sent back to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in order to mainstream him, so that he could get a good job someday! [emphasis in original]

The root causes for this mess have nothing to do with guns. Instead, the madness of Cruz was aided and abetted by insane liberal polices (created and pushed by the Obama administration) and instituted incompetently by liberal politicians, all of whom are named in the second link.

Right now, however, the liberal press and their Democratic allies are going to make a big push for gun control and burning the Bill of Rights as a major campaign stand for the 2018 elections. I am amazed by this, because I guarantee it will result in exactly the opposite of what they expect.

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Parkland Underscores How Americans Pay For Garbage Government While Doing Its Job Ourselves

Link here. Essentially, the article outlines how, at every single level, government in the U.S. is failing, while demanding more money and more power as a reward. Parkland is only a recent single example.

Each day Americans wake up to hear new revelations of government incompetence that enabled the Parkland, Florida school shooting. First it was the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s failure to follow existing protocols to investigate a highly detailed tip that the shooter was planning and had the means to do exactly what he did. The FBI and local police received at least four separate tips warning of the shooters’ plans and means, and local police had received 45 calls summoning them to the family’s home since 2008.

Then we learned of the police officer — the only person initially onsite able to return the shooter’s deadly force and tasked by his salary-paying community with doing precisely that — hesitated for approximately four minutes to enter the high school as students lay dying. Then local sources told reporters three other Broward County police officers joined that onsite officer in hiding behind their vehicles until police from another jurisdiction showed up. Reports say the Broward County police didn’t even follow the others inside.

Then it was that police didn’t know they were watching the wrong security tape, putting them off the shooter’s whereabouts by 20 minutes, leaving a mass murderer to endanger more people longer. To add insult to literal injury, the hesitating onsite school police officer, Scot Peterson, was allowed to resign and will receive a lifetime public pension of approximately $60,000 a year plus benefits.

The list of failures above for Parkland is actually not complete. However, they do provide a metaphor for our government, which functions about as badly in every other area as well. Readers of Behind the Black will of course be aware of SLS/Orion, NASA’s own failed boondoggle that will never get us into space.

What must happen is a major house-cleaning. Many thought Trump would do it. I continue to see Trump as a transitional figure, willing to slash and burn in a few areas (EPA) but not in most other areas (FBI, Justice Department, NOAA, NASA, to name a few). Essentially, almost everyone working in Washington needs to be fired. Many can reapply for the work, but no one should be guaranteed a job.

Unfortunately, I do not see this happening. Instead, I see this cabal in Washington teaming up with corrupt elected officials and a corrupt national press to defend their positions of power, even as they fail again and again to simply do their jobs. Witness for example how so-called conservative Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has teamed up with Senator Bill Nelson (D-Florida) to criticize the mere suggestion by the Trump administration that ISS will be transitioned to private hands by 2024, no longer getting federal funds.

This is just one example. The power in Washington is deep and profound, and the people who have it will not give it up lightly.

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Justice Dept faulted for lack of progress in Awan IT scandal

Working for the Democratic Party: The Justice Department has apparently worked to stall or stonewall the investigation into the Imran Awan IT hacking scandal that allowed Pakistani nationals access to secure computers of numerous Democratic congressmen.

The OIG [House Office of the Inspector General] alleged Imran Awan and his family members logged into servers of congressmen for whom they did not work, logged in using members’ personal usernames, covered their tracks, and continued to access data after they’d been fired.

Though the findings place the case squarely into the category of political cyber-crimes that have otherwise been high-profile priorities, the lead FBI agent assigned to the Awan case was a first-year agent, and not from one of the FBI’s big-guns divisions. The charges brought by prosecutors are so minor that Awan’s own lawyer speculated they could be a “placeholder” for future charges.

Server logs of government computers backed up the OIG’s findings. Yet six months after the initial charges, no additional counts have been brought, raising the question of whether the DOJ is seriously investigating the potential national security breach.

Read the whole article. It outlines in great detail how both the FBI and the Justice Department show no interest in prosecuting this case. The evidence is condemning, and it especially condemns Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which appears to have allowed the stonewalling to occur. Is he, and Trump, not legally in charge? Why have they sat on their hands and allowed this?

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China test fires core engine for its Long March 5 rocket

On February 11 China did a static fire test of the core engine for its Long March 5 rocket, that country’s largest rocket that has been grounded since a launch failure in July 2017.

The YF-77 is China’s most powerful rocket engine, burning liquid hydrogen fuel and liquid oxygen oxidiser to provide 510 kN (110,000 lbf) of thrust at sea level. A pair of these engines power the core stage of the Long March 5.

The Long March 5 heavy-lift rocket successfully debuted in late 2016 but failed to reach orbit with its second flight, in July. Following an investigation into the launch failure, it has been announced that the next launch is being planned for the second half of 2018 from the specially built Wenchang Space Launch Centre on the island province of Hainan, at 19 degrees North. No causes of the failure, which some observers pin to an underperformance of the first stage brought on by an engine issue, have been publicly revealed, and thus no indication as to whether the issue was related to design or a manufacturing problem.

The Chinese continue to be very tight-lipped about the situation with the Long March 5. This static fire test suggests however that the issue was with the core engine.

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Methane detected on Enceladus could come from microbes

The uncertainty of science: New research has found that the methane that Cassini detected being released from Enceladus’s interior could conceivably come from at least one Earth-type microbe.

Using various mixtures of gases held at a range of temperatures and pressures in enclosed chambers called “bioreactors,” Rittmann and his co-authors cultivated three microorganisms belonging to the oldest branch of Earth’s tree of life, known as Archaea. In particular, they focused on Archaean microbes that are also methanogens, which are able to live without oxygen and produce methane from that anaerobic metabolism. The team examined the simplest types of microbes, which could be the primary producers of methane at the base of a possibly more complex ecological food chain within the moon.

They tried to simulate the conditions that could exist within and around Enceladus’s hydrothermal vents, which are thought to resemble those found at a few deep-sea sites on Earth, often near volcanically active mid-oceanic ridges. According to their tests, only one candidate, the deep-sea microbe Methanothermococcus okinawensis, could grow there—even in the presence of compounds such as ammonia and carbon monoxide, which hinder the growth of other similar organisms.

There are a lot of fake news stories today trumpeting this result as proof that alien microbes can exist on Enceladus. The data does no such thing. All it shows that one methane producing microbe could possibly live in an environment that researchers guess might somewhat resemble the situation on Enceladus. However, as the article admits,

Scientists do not really know the precise conditions on Enceladus yet, of course. And in any case it is possible any life there, if it exists, is nothing like any DNA-based organism on our planet, rendering our Earth-based extrapolations moot. What’s more, these findings only show microbial life might exist in one particular subset of possible environments within the moon’s dark ocean.

This result is interesting, but it really proves nothing about Enceladus itself.

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New backers to run Arecibo

The National Science Foundation this week revealed the make-up of the consortium that is taking over the operation of the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico.

The new agreement is valued at $20.15 million over five years, subject to the availability of funds, and is scheduled to begin April 1, according to the statement.

The new partnership represents a mixture of academic and corporate interests. The Universidad Metropolitana in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Yang Enterprises Inc. in Oviedo, Florida, will partner with [the University of Central Florida] to manage the observatory. The team plans to expand the capabilities of the telescope, officials said.

This relieves the National Science Foundation (and the taxpayers) of the the cost burden for this facility, at least directly.

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Interorbital completes static fire test of upper-stage engine

Capitalism in space: The smallsat rocket company Interorbital (IOS) today released a short video showing a successfully static fire test of the upper-stage engine for its Neptune rocket.

The IOS rocket team successfully completed the first test of Interorbital’s NEPTUNE series launch vehicle’s liquid upper-stage rocket engine (GPRE 0.75KNTA). Engine performance was well within its design parameters, generating a sea-level thrust of 750 pounds and a sea-level specific impulse of 245 seconds. This translates to a thrust of 1,000 pounds and a specific impulse of 300 seconds in a vacuum (with expansion nozzle). The ablatively-cooled rocket engine is powered by the hypergolic combination of White Fuming Nitric Acid (WFNA) and Turpentine/Furfuryl Alcohol. These high-density storable auto-igniting propellants power all IOS liquid rocket engines. Interorbital’s N1 launch vehicle utilizes two GPRE 0.75KNTA engines for its second stage and a single GPRE 0.75KNTA engine for its third stage.

I have embedded the video below the fold. This is the first real news update from Interorbital in months. In April 2017 they looked like they were close to a launch, but until today there were no further updates. Part of the issue appears that they changed their approach for manufacturing their rocket in order to save cost, and this might have thrown a wrench in their schedule.

» Read more

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George Nield of FAA space office is retiring

George Nield, who has been the associate administrator for Commercial Space Transportation at the Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), is going to retire at the end of March.

Nield has held the position for the past 15 years, and has been a big supporter of private commercial space. While Congress has passed laws during this time period that gave his office lots of regulatory power and thus the ability to lord it over these new companies, Nield instead worked with them so that their efforts would not be hampered by the government. The result has been the birth of a thriving competitive and innovative private launch industry.

I fear what will happen with the next person to hold this position. History tells us that bureaucracies always expand their power with every opportunity, with such expansions often instigated by the arrival of new bureaucrats eager to take advantage of the regulations to build themselves an empire.

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Hubble finds new figure for universe expansion rate

The uncertainty of science: Using data from the Hubble Space Telescope astronomers have found evidence that universe’s expansion rate is faster than estimated in previous measurements.

The new findings show that eight Cepheid variables in our Milky Way galaxy are up to 10 times farther away than any previously analyzed star of this kind. Those Cepheids are more challenging to measure than others because they reside between 6,000 and 12,000 light-years from Earth. To handle that distance, the researchers developed a new scanning technique that allowed the Hubble Space Telescope to periodically measure a star’s position at a rate of 1,000 times per minute, thus increasing the accuracy of the stars’ true brightness and distance, according to the statement.

The researchers compared their findings to earlier data from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Planck satellite. During its four-year mission, the Planck satellite mapped leftover radiation from the Big Bang, also known as the cosmic microwave background. The Planck data revealed a Hubble constant between 67 and 69 kilometers per second per megaparsec. (A megaparsec is roughly 3 million light-years.)

However, the Planck data gives a constant about 9 percent lower than that of the new Hubble measurements, which estimate that the universe is expanding at 73 kilometers per second per megaparsec, therefore suggesting that galaxies are moving faster than expected, according to the statement.

“Both results have been tested multiple ways, so barring a series of unrelated mistakes, it is increasingly likely that this is not a bug but a feature of the universe,” Riess said. [emphasis mine]

I should point out that one of the first big results from Hubble in 1995 (which also happened to be the subject one of my early published stories), the estimate then for the Hubble constant was 80 kilometers per second per megaparsec. At the time, the astronomers who did the research were very certain they had it right. Others have theorized that the number could be as low as 30 kilometers per second per megaparsec.

What is important about this number is that it determines how long ago the Big Bang is thought to have occurred. Lower numbers mean it took place farther in the past. Higher numbers mean the universe is very young.

That scientists keep getting different results only suggests to me that they simply do not yet have enough data to lock the number down firmly.

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Japan successfully launches reconnaissance satellite

Japan’s space agency JAXA today successfully launched a reconnaissance satellite for the Japanese government.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the H-2A rocket’s main contractor, did not provide a live video webcast of the mission. But news media and other spectators near the launch pad streamed the launch live online, and announcements over loudspeakers at the Tanegashima press site confirmed separation of the IGS Optical 6 satellite in orbit.

The spacecraft’s specifications, including its imaging performance, are kept secret by the Japanese government. But the government has acknowledged the satellite will join a fleet of Information Gathering Satellites operated by the Cabinet Satellite Intelligence Center, which reports directly to the Japanese government’s executive leadership.

The leaders in the 2018 launch standings:

7 China
4 SpaceX
3 Japan
2 ULA
2 Russia

There have been 21 launches in the first two months, continuing January’s pace that suggests we will see more than a hundred launches in 2018, the highest number since 1990.

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Stratolaunch completes initial taxi tests

This past weekend Stratolaunch successfully completed its second series of taxi tests, reaching a speed of 40 knots (46 miles per hour) as it moved down the runway.

[I]n December Stratolaunch capped off the year with a successful low-speed taxi test. During the taxi, the vehicle reached a top speed of 28 miles per hour (45 kilometers per hour) as it headed down the runway. Following the test, Aircraft Program Manager George Brugg stated, “This was another exciting milestone for our team and the program. Our crew was able to demonstrate ground directional control with nose gear steering, and our brake systems were exercised successfully on the runway. Our first low-speed taxi test is a very important step toward first flight.”

Last weekend, Sratolaunch kicked off 2018 with two days of additional taxi tests. Most notably, the tests included reaching the maximum taxi speed of 40 knots (46 miles per hour). According to Allen, these tests allowed the team to “verify control responses.”

There is a tiny 35 second video of this last test at the link.

The article provides a lot of details about Stratolaunch and its future, including the suggestion that the giant airplane could become the main launch platform for Orbital ATK’s Pegasus rocket. Pegasus presently has only one launch listed on its manifest, using its L1011 Stargazer airplane.

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Microbes found that survive in the driest desert on Earth

Scientists have found that certain microbes can remain dormant for years in the Atacama Desert and then come to life during the rare times water is available.

The Atacama Desert stretches inland 1000 kilometers from the Pacific coast of Chile, and rainfall can be as low as 8 millimeters per year. There’s so little precipitation that there’s very little weathering, so over time the surface has built up a crusty layer of salts, further discouraging life there. “You can drive for 100 kilometers and not see anything like a blade of grass,” Neilson says. Although she and others have found some bacteria there, many biologists have argued that those microbes are not full-time residents, but were blown in, where they die a slow death.

But that didn’t deter Dirk Schulze-Makuch, an astrobiologist at the Technical University of Berlin. “I like to go to places where people say nothing is alive,” he says. “We decided to take a shotgun approach and throw all the new [analytical] approaches at everything—fungi, bacteria, viruses”—that might be there. He and his team collected samples from eight places in the Atacama—from the coast eastward to the driest places—over 3 years. They first gathered material a month after a record-setting rain in 2015, and then followed up with yearly collections in some of the same places in 2016 and 2017. They sequenced all the copies of a gene known to distinguish microbial species to determine what was in those samples and even recovered some full genomes. The researchers also did a test to determine the proportion of DNA that came from intact, living cells. Finally, they assessed the amount of cellular activity; of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a molecule the fuels this activity; and of byproducts—including fatty acids and protein building blocks—that resulted from that activity to look for additional evidence of life.

The coastal samples contained the most number and diversity of microbes, but in 2015, there were signs of life even in the driest spots, Schulze-Makuch and his colleagues report today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Following a rainfall event, there is a flush of activity and [cells] are replicating,” Neilson says.

The researchers, as well as the article, push the idea that this result makes life on Mars more possible, but I think that is pushing things quite a bit. The Earth is so filled with life that to find a spot that doesn’t have life on it is almost impossible. The odds work in the favor of hardy life in difficult places. Mars however appears generally lifeless, which makes the odds of there being life more unlikely. Moreover, while the Atacama has many similarities to Mars, the differences are quite profound. To extrapolate any possibilities to Mars from this research is a big overstatement.

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Democrats in House introduce bill to ban semi-automatic weapons

More than 150 Democratic members of the House today sponsored a bill that will ban all semi-automatic weapons, including pistols and rifles.

Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., announced Monday he is introducing the Assault Weapons Ban of 2018. More than 150 Democrats have signed on in support of the legislation, Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., said. “Today I joined @RepCicilline and 150+ of my colleagues to introduce the assault weapons ban. It’s time for Congress to listen to the will of a majority of Americans and pass sensible legislation to get these weapons of war off our streets. #NeverAgain #MSDStrong,” Deutch tweeted.

The bill prohibits the “sale, transfer, production, and importation” of semi-automatic rifles and pistols that can hold a detachable magazine, as well as semi-automatic rifles with a magazine that can hold more than 10 rounds. Additionally, the legislation bans the sale, transfer, production, and importation of semi-automatic shotguns with features such as a pistol grip or detachable stock, and ammunition feeding devices that can hold more than 10 rounds.

Essentially, this bill would try to repeal the second amendment of the Bill of Rights. It will also require the confiscation of numerous weapons that have been available to the public for more than century, including John Browning’s classic 1911 pistol, which he invented in 1911 for the government but has been a best seller since.

The comments by Democrat Cicilline above also shows his complete hatred and ignorance of weapons. That they are now including pistols in their fake term of “assault weapons” illustrates this clearly.

Note too that the Democrats have previously introduced legislation that would have nullified the first amendment, as well as protested the protections included in the fifth amendment. That’s three out of the ten amendments in the Bill of Rights that they don’t like. That’s the Bill of Rights, designed to protect ordinary citizens from tyranny and oppression and which is the fundamental hallmark of the American experiment in self-government.

Let me repeat this: The Democratic Party has now officially placed itself in opposition to one third of the Bill of Rights.

How can anyone by now doubt the fascist nature of the Democratic Party and its supporters?

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Tiny crowded Israel

Journeying through northern Israel

Much of the world’s political troubles are centered on the question of Israel in the middle of the Middle East. In both the Arab world as well as in some western intellectual circles, there are whole campaigns to make it go away (some peaceful, some genocidal). Politicians, pundits, and intellectuals argue incessantly about the rights of the Palestinians and the Jews, the best solution of achieving peace, and even the question of whether the Jews who have immigrated there have a right to stay.

I have just returned from spending two weeks in Israel, a trip I do somewhat regularly to see family. Each of these visits has given me an on-the-ground close-up look at the situation there, something that is difficult to get from the typically shallow media coverage of the region. And from each of these visits comes at least one essay, something I think is required because of Israel’s significance in much of the world’s political turmoil.

This year, we took a three day sightseeing trip to northern Israel, to visit some Roman ruins, the Sea of Galilee, and an incredible nature preserve that is the springtime home for thousands upon thousands of migrating birds. This excursion thus made this particular Israel visit far different from my half dozen or so previous trips, in that it was the first time I spent a considerable time in Israel proper. All my previous trips visiting family had me spend almost all my time going from one West Bank settlement to another. (That experience resulted in a series of essays on what those settlements are really like, which not surprisingly has no resemblance to their portrayal in the western press. My previous essay, A look at some Israeli West Bank settlements, provides a good summary, but it also provides links to all the previous essays, which are definitely worth the time to read if you want to find out what it is really like in the West Bank. I will give you one clue that might shock you: Hitchhiking is one of the most popular ways to get around.)

Anyway, this three-day trip allowed me to get my first look at Israel itself. The map above shows our route, as indicated by the dotted red line. The numbered Xs were our stops, of which I will discuss below.
» Read more

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Smoking battery at Rocket Lab facility

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab is investigating why one of the rocket batteries for its Electron rocket started smoking over the weekend.

Rocket Lab is investigating what caused a rocket battery to overheat and start smoking at its manufacturing facility near Auckland Airport on Sunday night. Rocket Lab spokeswoman Morgan Bailey said fire emergency services were called as a precaution to its site in Mangere at 7pm on Sunday after a battery on an Electron rocket overheated and started smoking.

She said she did not know what action was being made on the rocket when the battery overheated, but the company was looking into it.

No one was hurt in the incident.

They are clearly being tight-lipped about this, partly because of the bad press it might cause and partly because they don’t wish to reveal proprietary information.

Note that this article has me rethinking Rocket Lab as an American company. Based on this article their operations and manufacturing are both in New Zealand. It seems that even if the company was conceived and officially incorporated in the U.S., the rocket is a New Zealand born baby.

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Former Vostochny head and comrades sentenced to jail

Several former top managers of the lead contractor building Russia’s new spaceport Vostochny have now been sentenced to prison for embezzlement.

Yury Khrizman, former head of Dalspetsstroy, and Vladimir Ashikhmin, the company’s former chief accountant, were found guilty of abuse of office and embezzlement, a court official told Interfax. Khrizman was sentenced to 12 years in jail and Ashikhmin received seven years in jail.

“The other people implicated in the case, Viktor Chudov, former chairman of the Khabarovsk Territory’s duma, and Mikhail Khrizman [the son of Yury Khrizman], also got jail terms. Viktor Chudov received six years in a penal colony and Mikhail Khrizman was sentenced to 5.5 years in jail,” the court official said. The court also ordered the convicts to pay 5.16 billion rubles in damage as part of the Roscosmos lawsuit, he said.

Not for an instant do I believe this case cleans out the corruption in Russia’s aerospace industry. All this does it to tell all present managers that if you are going to steal, don’t steal so much that you cause a delay in the project itself. The reason these guys are going to prison is that they got greedy and stole too much, thus causing the completion of Vostochny to be significantly late, with many of its workers not getting paid.

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A detailed look at SpaceX’s attempt to recovery its rocket fairings

Link here. The article contains lots of good information and background, including some cost figures that suggest this recovery scheme will only work if they can recovery a lot of fairings while doing a lot of launches. Since SpaceX’s goal is to do a lot of launches, the numbers seem reasonable.

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Curiosity science team to attempt first drilling in a year

After a year of tests and engineering rethinking, the Curiosity science team has decided to attempt drilling its first hole in more than a year.

From yesterday’s Curiosity mission update:

Because there is only so much data volume and rover power to go around, performing drill activities must temporarily come at the expense of scientific investigations (although you’d be pressed to find a disappointed science team member this week, as the drilling campaign will bring loads of new scientific data!). As a result, with the exception of some environmental observations by the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) instrument, today’s plan does not have any targeted scientific observations within it. Today will instead be dedicated to drill preload activities and imaging for engineering and rover planning purposes in preparation for a full test of the revised drilling operations.

The problem with the drill has been its feed mechanism, the equipment that moves the drill downward into the hole. As designed the robot arm would get planted on the surface to provide stability for the drill, which as it drilled would be pushed downward that that feed mechanism. Last year they found something had clogged that mechanism so that it would not retract properly.

From what I understand, what they have tested and have decided to try instead is to place the drill against the surface in an extended position, and use the arm itself to push the bit downward. The concern is whether the arm can hold the drill steady. They have done some tests and think it can. We shall soon find out.

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Robert Mueller’s political document

Numerous pundits have commented in great detail and with far greater expertise than I on the indictments (pdf) last week issued by Special Counsel Robert Mueller against thirteen Russians for wire and bank fraud, identity theft, and conspiracy to defraud the United States. (See here and here for two thoughtful conservative takes.)

As an American who cares about our democracy, however, I decided it was essential I read the indictment myself to form my own opinion about it. I advise every American to do the same, using the first link above to download it. My own personal take-aways are as follows:

1. It is a very good thing that Mueller indicted these Russians. Based on the evidence summarized by the indictment, they clearly committed crimes against Americans and the U.S. government. Moreover, those crimes were committed with the intent by foreigners to interfere with our political process, something we must never allow if at all possible, and punish if we can.

2. Still, I am very curious to learn how Mueller’s team obtained the evidence in these indictments. Reading the document suggests that they must have either had extensive wiretaps, or inside information. Unfortunately, as it is very unlikely that any of these Russians will ever go to trial (having apparently all fled back to Russia long before the indictment was announced), this is information we are likely never to get.

I am therefore also very puzzled by the timing of the indictment. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to issue it as soon as possible, and in a way that might have allowed the authorities to detain these individuals so they might be put on trial? Instead, the slow timing seems almost intended to allow them to escape, and thus prevent an actual trial from ever occurring. I wonder why, though I have my suspicions.

3. Despite the correctness of and the need for these indictments, Mueller’s indictment is first and foremost a political document. If you read it, it is quite obvious that its purpose was not to bring these Russians to justice, but to imply that Russia was working with Trump to get him elected, even though a careful analysis of everything the Russians did shows that this is not the case.

Why do I say this? The indictment spends numerous pages describing in incredible detail every single pro-Trump action taken by these Russians, from organizing social media campaigns to anti-Clinton protests to pro-Trump rallies, while providing only one or two very short summaries of the anti-Trump actions they took, thus giving the impression if you do not read the indictment closely that they were essentially a Trump operation. This however is false. Not only does the indictment lack any evidence of any links between the Russians and the Trump campaign, the details indicate strongly the non-partisan nature of the Russian strategy. While prior to the election it appears they favored Trump, once he was the candidate they shifted tactics to attack both him and Clinton. The goal was not so much to get Trump elected but to cause the most negative disruption to the American election process as possible. The indictment itself admits this, though almost as an aside. The first paragraph quote below shows the Russian strategy before Trump is the candidate, with the second showing their strategy afterward.
» Read more

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SpaceX successfully launches Spanish radar satellite

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully launched a Spanish radar satellite.

They also intended to try to recover the rocket’s fairing, but they did not telecast this, and there is no word yet whether they were successful. In fact, their low-key approach here suggests a shift in policy. Previously, SpaceX was eager to show off its test programs. Now, this silence suggests a desire to throttle back on that openness, possibly in order to protect their proprietary engineering.

Update: It appears that at least one fairing half landed in the water intact, though that also means they were unable to catch it. According to a Musk tweet at the link, the fairing missed the ship net by “a few hundred meters.” Musk also indicates the need for larger chutes in the future. Either way, I wonder if the fairing in the water can still be reused.

The 2018 launch standings:

7 China
4 SpaceX
2 ULA
2 Russia
2 Japan

As a nation, the U.S. now has 7 launches total, tying China.

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The first launch of NASA’s SLS rocket delayed again

During the second meeting of the National Space Council today this tidbit was quietly revealed by NASA’s acting administrator:

Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot acknowledged that the space agency’s heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System, would not make its first uncrewed test flight until 2020. The first crewed SLS-Orion mission is still due to take a trip around the moon and back in 2023.

Lightfoot also mentioned that NASA provide support for a 2020 commercial lunar landing.

SLS continues to be this ever receding but very expensive fantasy, scheduled for a future that never arrives, while spending enormous amounts of money that would be far better spent in other ways. The first launch, should it happen in 2020, would be three years later than originally planned, nine years after the initiation of the SLS project, and sixteen years after George Bush first proposed it. For this single unmanned test mission NASA will have spent about $25 billion. Meanwhile, I fully expect Falcon Heavy as well as Blue Origin’s New Glenn to fly numerous times, both costing mere pennies in comparison, and far less time to develop.

The article at the link is not focused on this tidbit. Instead provides a good summary of the National Space Council meeting itself. It increasingly appears, not surprisingly, that the Trump administration is going to focus on streamlining the space regulatory process for commercial space. It is also taking a look at the national security threats to U.S. military assets in space, posed by China and others, which are forcing the military and administration to review how it has been building these assets. Expect a continuing and accelerating shift by the Air Force to many frequently launched smallsats instead big but rarely launched behemoths.

It also appears to me that the Trump administration is treading lightly when it discusses the giant pork projects like SLS. It is partnering closely with all the private companies that build space assets, from the independent commercial space sector epitomized by SpaceX to the traditional big space companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Such a partnership will make it politically difficult to cut the pork that these traditional big companies depend on. Moreover, Trump appears to like these big government projects, as they represent how the U.S. has done space since the 1960s, allowing him to claim credit for a big space project, even if it never flies.

Posted from Beitar just over the green line in the West Bank. I head home late tonight.

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Bigelow establishes company to market its private space stations

Capitalism in space: Bigelow Aerospace yesterday established a marketing company to research and find potential customers for its private space stations.

“You’ll need deep pockets if you’re interested in staying aboard a Bigelow station; prices will likely run in the ‘low seven figures,'” Bigelow said today. He doesn’t expect tourist jaunts to make up the bulk of his business, however. “What we’ve always anticipated and expected is that we would be very involved in helping foreign countries to establish their human space programs, and be able to facilitate whatever their needs were in whatever context that they wanted to pursue,” he said. “The corporate world, obviously, is huge, and [leveraging] that is also our intent.”

Bigelow already says it will launch to of its large B330 modules in 2021, with another aimed for lunar orbit in 2022. I must note that the 2021 launch date appears to be year later then earlier announcements.

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Identifying the mysterious dark bands in Venus’s atmosphere

The uncertainty of science: Scientists have now proposed two new best candidates for the unknown major component in Venus’s upper atmosphere that was first identified in 1974 when Mariner 10 took the first good close-up images.

We have analyzed spectra taken during the second Venus flyby of MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft on its route to Mercury, in 2007. Using a numerical code, we have reproduced the light reflected by the equatorial atmosphere of the planet and retrieved the distribution of particles in the upper atmosphere of Venus, with a cloud top of some 75 km above the surface. We have also retrieved the absorption spectrum of the puzzling absorber and compared it with some previously proposed candidates. While no perfect match is found, sulfur-bearing species (S2O and S2O2) provide the best agreement. There is still a long way to undoubtedly identify Venus’s UV absorber, but this work provides substantial spectral constraints.

The dark absorber shows up as dark streaks in the upper atmosphere, and allows images to track wind and cloud movement. No one has been able to firmly identify it.

S2O and S2O2 are disulfur monoxide and disulfur dioxide respectively, both of which are unstable on Earth. The first is thought to have been detected in Io’s numerous volcanic eruptions, with it settling as a solid around at least one volcano, Pele. The second has already been suggested as the dark absorber. This research helps confirm that earlier research.

Note however that other research says there is too little sulfur in Venus’s atmosphere for this to be its dark absorber. The science here therefore remains decidedly unsettled.

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