Monthly Archives: February 2018

The first SLS mobile launcher is leaning

Though NASA says it is not a problem, they have now revealed that the very expensive mobile launcher to be used for the first unmanned SLS launch in 2019, is leaning slightly.

The notes spoke of engineers being concerned about a lean towards the North – which would be towards the rocket when mated – with the angle of the leaning claimed to be seen as increasing when the Vertical Stabilizer porch was installed. It was also claimed the ML Tower is twisting and this issue increased when the porch was installed. This was cited as the reason additional arm installations onto the Tower were placed on hold, until the leaning-twisting issue is understood. Next in line for installation are the ICPS (Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage) Umbilical Arm, the Crew Access Arm and the two Vehicle Stabilizer Arms.

NASASpaceFlight.com’s Philip Sloss took the concerns to NASA to ask for clarifications. NASA responded, saying “the ML leaning/bending was not the cause of the delay in the install of the Crew access arm. These are unrelated.” However, they did expand on the specific issue, mainly to note it is understood and does not currently require any additional mitigation or modification to the ML.

“NASA’s mobile launcher is structurally sound, built to specifications, and does not require a design change or modifications. As expected, the mobile launcher is not perfectly still,” a NASA spokesperson added.

Note that this mobile launcher is not compatible with the second SLS launch, which would be the first manned flight in 2023. NASA will either have to modify it significantly at great costs, or build another, discarding this launcher after only one use.

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More details about SpaceX’s fairing recovery plans

Link here. The article has some additional excellent images, but it was this paragraph that I thought was most significant:

To oversimplify, after launch, the payload fairing separates (mechanically) from the second stage once Falcon 9 or Heavy has left behind the majority of Earth’s atmosphere. After separation, each fairing half orients itself for a gentler reentry into the atmosphere with cold nitrogen gas thrusters, likely the exact same thrusters used in part to achieve Falcon 9’s accurate and reliable landings. Due to their massive surface area and comparatively tiny weight, fairing halves effectively become exceptionally finicky and awkward sails falling through the atmosphere at insane velocities, with the goal generally being to orient each half like a boat’s hull to provide some stability. Once they are low enough, assuming they’ve survived the journey from TEN TIMES THE SPEED OF SOUND and 62 MILES above Earth’s surface to a more reasonable ~Mach 0.5 and maybe 5 miles of altitude, the fun parts begin. At this point, each fairing half deploys a GPS-connected parachute system (a parasail, to be exact) capable of directing the massive hunks of carbon fiber and aluminum to a very specific point on the surface of the ocean.

What we don’t yet know is whether SpaceX will have cameras on the fairing, and if so, whether they will make those images available to the public, during launch.

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Planetary Resources misses fund-raising target

Capialism in space: Planetary Resources has failed to meet a recent fund-raising target.

A spokeswoman for Planetary Resources, Stacey Tearne, told GeekWire that financial challenges have forced the company to focus on leveraging the Arkyd-6 mission for near-term revenue — apparently by selling imagery and data. “Planetary Resources missed a fundraising milestone,” Tearne explained in an email. “The company remains committed to utilizing the resources from space to further explore space, but is focusing on near-term revenue streams by maximizing the opportunity of having a spacecraft in orbit.”

Tearne said no further information was available, and did not address questions about employment cutbacks. However, reports from other sources in the space community suggest there have been notable job reductions. For what it’s worth, Planetary Resources had more than 70 employees at last report.

When this company first appeared with a big splash, shouting its plans to mine asteroids, I said “Bunk, it’s going to be a smallsat telescope company for years to come, either looking at the Earth or into space.” And that is where we are. The “near-term revenue streams” hinted at above are certainly the kind of earth-observation imaging that numerous other smallsat companies are providing. Whether Planetary Resources can compete with the large number of already established smallsat earth-observation companies, however, is the big question.

Mining asteroids by commercial companies for profit makes sense, and will eventually happen. I think, however, that this company oversold its abilities when it tried to convince everything that this is what it planned to do, right away.

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April 11, 2013 Zimmerman/Batchelor podcast

Embedded below the fold. As I am in Israel and cannot do my regular podcasts with John Batchelor, he has dug up an appearance from April 11, 2013 and posted this today. He calls it “Classic Bob Zimmerman.” The topics included a description of the cracks that occurred in one of the early Orion test capsules, and where I expressed then my doubts of SLS/Orion. In the five years since the only thing that has changed is that they have had to delay its upcoming missions by several years.
» Read more

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Giant net to catch Falcon 9 fairing

This link provides a series of pictures, taken from a distance, of the giant net, and the structures that hold it up, that will be used by the SpaceX barge ship to try to catch the rocket’s fairing during its next launch later this week. (See comments.)

Hat tip reader Kirk Hilliard. The pictures don’t show the barge itself, but they do give a sense of the size of the net. This suggests that SpaceX has equipped the fairing with small jets capable of guiding it to the barge, where it will be caught as it falls at high speed. It could also be that they have found that the fairing itself can act as a parachute and slow itself down as it descends, meaning that impact will not be that intense.

Regardless, I wonder if they will have any cameras on board either the fairing or the barge, and whether they will broadcast them live as it comes down. I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t, as it would possibly reveal proprietary information, but the images would certainly be impressive to see.

If they succeed, they will have a rocket that is almost entirely reusable, with only a single 2nd stage engine (out of 10 total) and the second stage itself not reused.

Posted from the Israeli city of Tiberius on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

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Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in safe mode

After detecting low battery voltage, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) went into safe mode on February 15.

The orbiter is solar-powered but relies on a pair of nickel-hydrogen batteries during periods when it is in the shadow of Mars for a portion of each orbit. The two are used together, maintaining almost identical charge during normal operations.

The spacecraft remains in communication with Earth and has been maintaining safe, stable temperatures and power, but has suspended its science observations and its service as a communications relay for Mars rovers. Normal voltage has been restored, and the spacecraft is being monitored continuously until the troubleshooting is complete.

It appears that all is under control. If MRO goes down, however it will a big loss for Mars research, as the spacecraft not only produces the highest resolution images of the ground, it also acts as one of several communications satellites between the Earth and the rovers on Mars. With two rovers there now, and at least two more planned for arrival in 2020, the loss of this communications link would be crippling.

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Aligned erosion lines of Perseverance Valley

The uncertainty of science: Last week, while I was flying to Israel, the Opportunity science team announced the discovery of strange aligned erosion lines, what they are calling stone stripes, in Perseverance Valley.

The ground texture seen in recent images from the rover resembles a smudged version of very distinctive stone stripes on some mountain slopes on Earth that result from repeated cycles of freezing and thawing of wet soil. But it might also be due to wind, downhill transport, other processes or a combination.

…On some slopes within the valley, the soil and gravel particles appear to have become organized into narrow rows or corrugations, parallel to the slope, alternating between rows with more gravel and rows with less.

The origin of the whole valley is uncertain. Rover-team scientists are analyzing various clues that suggest actions of water, wind or ice. They are also considering a range of possible explanations for the stripes, and remain uncertain about whether this texture results from processes of relatively modern Mars or a much older Mars.

For those who are regular readers of Behind the Black, you already knew about a variation of this discovery back in November 2017, from my regular rover updates. Then, they discovered aligned groves in the gravel that looked to me like slickensides, erosion patterns produced by glacial activity. The science team told me, however, that they were favoring wind, not ice, as a primary cause, though that conclusion was far from certain.

In the press release last week, they focused more on the aligned erosion patterns in the fine gravel that appear to align perpendicular to the slope. Though they think they have found a comparable Earth-based phenomenon that might explain these patterns, it appears that the science team remains just as unsure of their cause as they are for the rocks.

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Air Force reconsiders rocket engine, aims for small rocket launches

Two stories over the past few days indicated some shifts in the Air Force’s commercial space contracting policies.

The first story has to do with ULA’s Atlas 5 and future Vulcan rockets. The engine that Aerojet Rocketdyne has been building, AR-1, has received significant subsidizes from the government for its construction, even though its only potential customer, ULA, has said it prefers Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine. ULA has not made a decision yet on which engine to use, but my sense of the politics here is that the main reason ULA is considering the AR-1 is because of heavy political pressure. Nonetheless, it makes sense for them to hold off from a final decision when they have two competitors.

The story suggests however that Aeroject Rocketdyne itself lacks confidence in the engine. It wants to renegotiate its Air Force contract so that it doesn’t have to invest any of its own money on development. This suggests the company no longer expects to get any contracts for it, and thus doesn’t want to spend any of its own money on it. With that kind lack of commitment, the Air Force would be foolish to change the deal.

The second story outlines how the Air Force is now committing real money for buying launch contracts with smallsat rocket companies, something it has hinted it wanted to do for the past year. The idea is for them to depend on numerous small and cheap satellites, capable of quick launch, givingthem a cushion and redundancy should an enemy nation attack their satellites. It will also likely save them money in the long run.

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Evergreen State College expects 20% drop in enrollment

The president of Evergreen State College is predicting that the university will see a drop in enrollment in the coming year just below 20%.

President George Bridges has told the campus community that the school’s 3,800 student population is predicted to hover at about 3,100 when the 2018-19 school year begins. This 700-student loss represents an 18.5 percent decrease.

This estimate sent shock waves among faculty, and some speculate it spurred an anonymous call for Bridges’ resignation by way of flyers recently inserted into faculty mailboxes declaring “Please Resign,” among other disparaging comments.

The Olympia, Washington-based school already was hit with a 5 percent enrollment decrease when it started this current 2017-18 school year.

I am surprised and somewhat disappointed that the drop wasn’t more. After the attacks on free speech last year, I wonder why anyone would want to attend this college, especially since it appears the college’s administration continues to refuse to do anything to really change things there.

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The Russian-Trump collusion story: a media disinformation campaign

Link here. The author does an excellent job reviewing, in detail, how the mainstream Democratic media reported the Russian-Trump collusion story, from its inception before the election and since, and how all reporters involved, seemingly terrified of a Trump-Putin partnership, had had zero concerns about similar and actual Obama-Putin deal-making — often against the interests of the U.S. — during his entire administration.

The key quote, however, is this:

The reason the media will not report on the scandal now unfolding before the country, how the Obama administration and Clinton campaign used the resources of the federal government to spy on the party out of power, is not because the press is partisan. No, it is because the press has played an active role in the Trump-Russia collusion story since its inception. It helped birth it.

To report how the dossier was made and marketed, and how it was used to violate the privacy rights of an American citizen—Page—would require admitting complicity in manufacturing Russiagate. Against conventional Washington wisdom, the cover-up in this case is not worse than the crime: Both weigh equally in a scandal signaling that the institution where American citizens are supposed to discuss and debate the choices about how we live with each other has been turned against a large part of the public to delegitimize their political choices. [emphasis mine]

Essentially, we have two very bad scandals unfolding here. First and foremost, the previous president abused the power of his office to spy on his party’s opponent during the campaign, and used that information as a weapon during the campaign. Second and almost as significant, the press teamed up with that president to help him spy and attack that opponent, and is now working to squelch any mention of that abuse of power that they participated in.

To put it mildly, the mainstream press has become an American version of the Soviet press when it was required to work for the communists or face prison. Here in the U.S. however there is no fear of prison. The press is doing this voluntarily. It is no longer looking for real scoops. It is only interested in advocating the election of Democrats.

As a journalist this makes me more than ashamed. It completely disgusts me.

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Rocket Lab to launch NASA and Naval Academy smallsats

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab has obtained contracts with both NASA and the U.S. Naval Academy to launch a dozen cubesats.

Rocket Lab says it has performed a successful fit check of the CubeSat dispensers for the NASA Venture Class Launch of its Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) XIX mission, which will put a total 12 mini CubeSats into orbit.

A Rocket lab spokeswoman said those would include the Shields-1 payload from NASA’s Langley Research Center, which would focus on studying the harmful effects of harsh radiation environments to spacecraft.

The article doesn’t give any information on the contract itself.

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SpaceX’s Saturday launch will two test smallsats for its planned 11K internet constellation

Capitalism in space: SpaceX will include two test smallsats for its planned internet constellation of more than 11k satellites when launches a Spanish radar satellite in two days.

The FCC gave SpaceX permission for the test in November, and new documents now show that SpaceX will piggyback Microsat-2a and Microsat-2b onto its launch of a Spanish radar satellite called Paz. The mission is set to lift off from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Saturday at 9:14 a.m. ET aboard a Falcon 9 rocket, according to Spaceflight Now.

Ajit Jai, chairperson of the FCC — the government entity which must ultimately approve SpaceX’s plans — endorsed the effort on Wednesday. “Satellite technology can help reach Americans who live in rural or hard-to-serve places where fiber optic cables and cell towers do not reach,” Pai told Reuters in a statement.

A lot of news sources have made a big deal about Jai’s endorsement, as if that endorsement guarantees FCC approval of SpaceX’s gigantic constellation. It doesn’t, though it certainly helps.

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Vector gets new contract for five launches

Capitalism in space: Vector has signed a contract with nanosat company Open Cosmos, which has reserved five launches from 2019 to 2023.

The most interesting tidbit in this press release was where it says that Vector is planning its first orbital launch of its Vector-R rocket in July. According to the plans their CEO Jim Cantrell had described to me when he gave me a tour of their facility in March 2017, they were going to do five suborbital test launches before doing an orbital flight. So far they have done two of these. Either they plan to do the remaining three in the next six months, or are going to go orbital sooner than originally planned.

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SpaceX cancels Texas subsidy that required Boca Chica operation in 2018

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has canceled a small Texas subsidy that required it to begin operations at its Boca Chica spaceport by September 2018.

The company terminated a deal reached with the office of then-Gov. Rick Perry in late 2013 that earmarked $2.3 million from the Texas Enterprise Fund for the future spaceport at Boca Chica beach, which is near Brownsville. The project has experienced delays and SpaceX had received about $400,000 of the money, but it now has paid back all of it.

The deal mandated that, to receive the incentives dollars, the spaceport be operational by Sept. 30 this year and employ 180 people by the end of 2018. It appears SpaceX was unlikely to meet either target.

This does not mean that SpaceX is abandoning the spaceport, only that it can’t meet the schedule required by this subsidy. This also might explain why they requested an additional $5 million from Texas. They knew they were going to lose this $2.3 million subsidy and were lobbying to make up for it with other state funds.

Hat tip Robert Pratt of Pratt on Texas.

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Bitcoin-type crypto-currencies slowing SETI search for ET

The mad craze for crypto-currencies like Bitcoin is actually slowing the ability of SETI to obtain the computer chips they need, thus preventing them from expanding their search for alien signals.

Seti (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) researchers want to expand operations at two observatories. However, they have found that key computer chips are in short supply. “We’d like to use the latest GPUs [graphics processing units]… and we can’t get ’em,” said Dan Werthimer.

Demand for GPUs has soared recently thanks to crypto-currency mining. “That’s limiting our search for extra-terrestrials, to try to answer the question, ‘Are we alone? Is there anybody out there?’,” Dr Werthimer told the BBC. “This is a new problem, it’s only happened on orders we’ve been trying to make in the last couple of months.”

Mining a currency such as Bitcoin or Ethereum involves connecting computers to a global network and using them to solve complex mathematical puzzles. This forms part of the process of validating transactions made by people who use the currency. As a reward for this work, the miners receive a small crypto-currency payment, making it potentially profitable.

Crypto-currencies like Bitcoin remind me of the tulip craze of the early 1800s. They have no real value, are not tied to any country and its wealth, and thus are essentially a speculator’s fantasy. A lot of people playing this game are going to be hurt by it eventually.

Posted from Modi’im Ilit, the West Bank. See this essay by me for some background about this place from my previous visits.

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Why you must never buy a used smartphone

Link here. Essentially, the phone will often be stolen, and will inevitably be blocked, leaving you with a brick.

Posted from the airport in Madrid, awaiting my flight to Israel. I am also sitting here enjoying some fantastic European airport fast food, far better than one sees in the U.S. Lox and anchovies with cream cheese on a wonderful piece of flatbread. I had a similar experience flying through Italy a few years ago. In this area the Europeans have Americans beat.

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Brian Hyland – Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini

A evening pause: From the Saturday Night Beech-Nut Show, July 16, 1960. True, it is lip-sync’d, but the silly innocence of this bygone time makes it absolutely worthwhile. And I think this really does make a good lead-in to Valentine’s Day.

Hat tip Edward Thelen.

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Off to Israel

I am about to leave on a ten day trip to Israel, which is why I have not commented yet on the Trump budget [pdf] and how it effects NASA and science.

The links above will give you a chance to form your own opinions, and to comment here. I will absorb them myself and post on the subject at some time I think during the trip, though in truth it generally doesn’t matter that much what a president proposes in his budget. Congress makes the decision, and usually ignores the president’s suggestions, especially if such ideas threaten their pork.

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Europe suddenly realizes that reusable rockets are possible and economical

The head of the European Space Agency (ESA) has admitted in his blog that the agency’s future rockets, Ariane 6 and Vega C, are not going to be competitive because they will not be reusable.

The promise to secure autonomous access to space and reduce the price by a factor of 2 proved sufficiently compelling to secure ESA member states’ agreement to finance the development. At that time, I succeeded in placing environmental concerns and the possible development of reusability among the high-level requirements:

  • Maintain and ensure European launcher competence with a long-term perspective, including possibility of reusability/fly-back.
  • Ensure possibility to deorbit upper stage directly

Due to time and cost pressure, however, these aspects did not make it onto the agenda for Ariane 6 and Vega C. Yet in the meantime, the world has moved on and today’s situation requires that we re-assess the situation and identify the possible consequences. In many discussions on the political level, the strategic goal of securing European autonomous access to space has not changed, however there is a growing sense that pressure from global competition is something that needs to be addressed. With Vega C, Ariane 62 and Ariane 64 approaching completion, it seems logical to complete these launchers in order to at least take that major step towards competitiveness. At the same time, it is essential that we now discuss future solutions, including disruptive ideas. Simply following the kind of approaches seen so far would be expensive and ultimately will fail to convince. Totally new ideas are needed and Europe must now prove it still possesses that traditional strength to surpass itself and break out beyond existing borders. In this sense, the process of discussing and deciding on a launcher system that eschews traditional solutions can send a powerful signal out into other areas as well. I therefore intend to invite innovative, really interested European players to come together to define possible ways forward. [emphasis mine]

Let me translate his bureaucratic wording: “We didn’t think reuseable rockets were practical, economical, or even possible. We took a safe route in designing Ariane 6 and Vega C. We screwed up, and now face a competitive market in which our rockets cannot compete. Thus, we need to move fast to copy the private sector, SpaceX and Blue Origin in particular, or face serious financial consequences.

Unless he forces some major cultural changes in ESA, however, I expect that by the time this government-run operation manages to duplicate the achievements of those two private companies, those companies will have marched on to even more innovative successes.

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The dying Palestinians in Syria

Link here. If you want to really understand the corrupt and evil nature of the Palestinian leadership, you need only read this one article.

A Palestinian refugee camp has been under siege for more than 1,660 days. Hundreds of the camp residents have been killed, while tens of thousands have been forced to flee from their homes.

Those who have remained in the camp — mostly the elderly, women and children — live in unspeakable sanitary conditions and drink polluted water. More than 200 Palestinians from the camp, which has been under siege since 2013, have died as a result of lack of food or medicine. The conditions in the refugee camp, by any standard, are horrific.

Why have most of us not heard about the hair-raising “living” conditions that characterize this camp? Because it is not located in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. The name of the camp is Yarmouk, and it is located about five miles from the Syrian capital of Damascus.

More than 100,000 Palestinians used to live in the 2.11 square-kilometer Yarmouk camp before the civil war erupted in Syria in 2011. By the end of 2014, the number of the camp residents had plummeted to 13,000.

And what has Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas done about this?

While his people are being killed, starved, displaced and denied medical treatment in Syria, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas appears to be more concerned about US President Donald Trump’s recent announcement recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Picking a fight with the US administration has become a daily national sport for Abbas and his top officials in Ramallah. Hardly a day passes without another Palestinian Authority statement strongly denouncing Trump and his administration’s policies toward the Palestinians. But when it comes to the suffering of Palestinians in Syria, Ramallah is mute.

Palestinian leaders who hold regular meetings in Ramallah simply ignore the atrocities their people face in the Arab countries, especially Syria. Instead, the leaders devote most of their time to issuing condemnations of Israeli settlements and the Trump administration, as if Palestinians are not being killed by the thousands in an Arab country.

The 82-year-old Abbas, meanwhile, has made clear where his priorities stand. Instead of searching for ways to help his people in Syria and the Gaza Strip, where hospitals are facing a deathly shortage of fuel and medicine, Abbas has just spent $50 million to purchase a “presidential plane.” [emphasis mine]

Remember the last detail highlighted above the next time Trump announces that he is cutting funds to the Palestinian Authority. It is clear that any money given to them is not going where it should, and should therefore be cut off.

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Abraham Lincoln – a tribute on his birthday

An evening pause: It is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. It is time to once again repost this Lincoln tribute. As I have said previously, it is necessary we remember again the amazing good will he repeatedly expressed, even to those who hated him and wished to kill him. As I said in 2015:

We should also remind ourselves, especially in this time of increasing anger, bigotry, and violence, of these words from his second inaugural address, spoken in the final days of a violent war that had pitted brother against brother in order to set other men free:

Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

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Grassley-Graham memo confirms allegations in Nunes memo

Working for the Democratic Party: A careful analysis of the Grassley-Graham memo [pdf], released this week as a follow-up to the Nunes memo released last week, has found that it confirms the allegations of the first, and adds a few more.

More important, it clearly shows that the FBI, the Department of Justice, and the Obama administration, and possibly the FISA court itself, abused their power to go after their political opponents.

The Obama Justice Department and FBI used anonymously sourced, Clinton-campaign generated innuendo to convince the FISA court to issue surveillance warrants against Carter Page, and in doing so, they concealed the Clinton campaign’s role. Though the Trump campaign had cut ties with Page shortly before the first warrant was issued in October 2016, the warrant application was based on wild allegations of a corrupt conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Moreover, the warrant meant the FBI could seize not only Page’s forward-going communications but any past emails and texts he may have stored — i.e., his Trump campaign communications.

With its verification by the Grassley-Graham memo, the Nunes memo now has about a thousand times more corroboration than the Steele dossier, the basis of the heinous allegations used by the Justice Department and FBI to get the FISA warrants.

What the Grassley-Graham memo tells us is that the Nunes memo, for all the hysteria about it, was tame. The Grassley-Graham memo tells us that we need not only a full-blown investigation of what possessed the Obama administration to submit such shoddy applications to the FISA court, but of how a judge — or perhaps as many as four judges — rationalized signing the warrants.

We need full disclosure — the warrants, the applications, the court proceedings. No more games.

Read it all. It is damning, and shows that the FBI was out to get Trump, with the approval of White House, the Justice Department, and the FISA court. They had no evidence, they knew they had no evidence, but they got a warrant anyway, and got it renewed repeatedly, allowing them to spy on the Trump campaign as well as later after he took office.

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Massive flow on Mars

Massive flow on Mars

Cool image time! The image on the right, cropped to post here, comes from a Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter image that shows a massive relatively recent and dark slope streak that emanates out from a single point on the surface. (Note that the release at this link rotates the image so that north points down. I have rotated back so that north points up.)

Streaks form on slopes when dust cascades downhill. The dark streak is an area of less dust compared to the brighter and reddish surroundings. What triggers these avalanches is not known, but might be related to sudden warming of the surface.

These streaks are often diverted by the terrain they flow down. This one has split into many smaller streaks where it encountered minor obstacles. These streaks fade away over decades as more dust slowly settles out of the Martian sky.

Point of origin for flow

Location of flow, west of Olympus Mons

The MRO release focuses on the fingerlike breakup of the flow as it descends into sand-dune filled plain. What is more interesting to me is the terrain where this flow originated. A close-up of that area from the full image, shown on the right, reveals a feature that could be a wash running in line with the flow’s origin, and leading uphill to a dark feature that is a likely a cliff face. (The light in this image is coming from the southeast.)

This location, at 15.2N latitude, 214.9E longitude and shown by the small cross in the image on the right and captured from this page, is west of Olympus Mons, the largest volcano on Mars. This suggests to me that the originating feature might be an outlet from a lava tube, from which water suddenly seeped out to produce this massive slope streak. A look at the mesa from which this flow came, cropped from the full image and posted below the fold, shows numerous similar slope streaks of varying ages flowing out of this mesa, with some very faint because they occurred farther in the past. Some are even within the bowl at the top of the mesa.

Whether these come from lava tubes is definitely unclear, and I suspect I will be told by geologists not likely. The seeps however do suggest strongly that this mesa might be a very good location for future colonists to look for underground water ice. Since clouds form on the western slopes of Arsia Mons, the southernmost of the three giant volcanoes to the east of Olympus Mons, and that past glacial activity has been documented there, I wonder if some of these same conditions might also exist here, on the nearby terrain west of Olympus Mons.
» Read more

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Trump to propose transitioning ISS to private hands post 2024

It appears that the Trump administration will propose in its 2019 budget, to be released today, to cease funding ISS in 2024 but to aim at a full transition to private control so that the station is not de-orbited when federal funding ceases.

The approach the administration has chosen is one that would end NASA funding of the ISS in 2025, while offering support for the development of commercial successors. “In support of enabling a timely development and transition of commercial capabilities in LEO where NASA could be one of many customers in the mid-2020s, the Administration is proposing to end direct Federal support for the ISS in 2025 under the current NASA-directed operating model,” the document states.

The 2019 budget proposal will offer $150 million “to enable the development and maturation of commercial entities and capabilities which will ensure that commercial successors to the ISS – potentially including elements of the ISS – are operational when they are needed.” The document says “increasing investments” above that $150 million will be included in future years’ budget requests.

The end of federal funding for the ISS would not necessarily mean the end of the station, or at least some parts of it, according to the document. “[I]t is possible that industry could continue to operate certain elements or capabilities of the ISS as part of a future commercial platform,” it states.

Not surprisingly, there are already hints that there will be massive opposition to such a plan, as it will shift power (and responsibility) from the government to private contractors. Some in Washington will not want the government to lose that power. And some private contractors are simply unwilling to shoulder the responsibility for figuring out how to make money from the station, something that is certainly possible since the development costs will have been fully paid for by the taxpayer.

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