Monthly Archives: January 2019

Global warming must be happening! A politician declares it!

Stop the presses! Expert climate scientist and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has used his extensive scientific research to determine, without a doubt, that the polar vortex that is presently freezing most of the country in record cold temperatures is unequivocally the result of global warming!

“The science is clear: Climate change makes extreme weather more frequent and more intense,” tweeted Mr. Bloomberg. “Americans are seeing this first hand from wildfires to hurricanes to the #PolarVortex in the Midwest. We need a climate champion in the WH who can lead us forward.”

I always go to politicians to get my science information. Don’t you? And in doing so, I immediately dismiss other details, such as the fact that the recent wildfires in California is mostly due to bad policy in clearing brush by California and the federal government, that there is no evidence of an increase hurricanes activity, and that back in the 1970s scientists linked the polar vortex to global cooling.

None of that actual data matters. A politician has spoken, and his word is always reliable. Moreover, this is a liberal politician, whose word is even more reliable, because he cares.

Finally, and maybe most important, he did this on twitter, that icon of thoughtful analysis and deep complex thought.

We should immediately shut down all fossil fuel operations, even if it means there will be no way to heat homes across most of the country and people will freeze to death. The world is being destroyed by those fuels, and we must save it!

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The base of Mt Sharp is less compacted than expected

The uncertainty of science: Using data from Curiosity in Gale Crater on Mars, scientists have found that the material making up the lower layers of Mount Sharp is less compacted that they would have expected.

Scientists still aren’t sure how this mountain grew inside of the crater, which has been a longstanding mystery.

One idea is that sediment once filled Gale Crater and was then worn away by millions of years of wind and erosion, excavating the mountain. However, if the crater had been filled to the brim, the material on the bottom, which now makes up the crater’s surface, would have been pressed down. But the new Science paper suggests Mount Sharp’s lower layers have much less compacted than this theory predicts, reigniting the debate about how full the crater once was.

“The lower levels of Mount Sharp are surprisingly porous,” said lead author Kevin Lewis of Johns Hopkins University. “We know the bottom layers of the mountain were buried over time. That compacts them, making them denser. But this finding suggests they weren’t buried by as much material as we thought.”

I can’t help wonder whether we don’t yet really understand the influence of Mars’ lower gravity on geology, and that might explain the porosity.

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Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket gets another launch contract

Capitalism in space: Blue Origin has signed a multi-launch contract with Telesat to use its still unbuilt New Glenn rocket.

This is good news for Blue Origin, but I also guarantee that Telesat has the option to switch launch providers should New Glenn be delayed or suffer any serious issues during development.

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China’s unsupervised radio antenna in Argentina

A Chinese invasion? A Chinese radio antenna in Argentina, initially proposed as a communications facility for use with China’s space program, operates without any supervision by the Argentinian government and appears to have military links.

Though U.S. government officials are pushing the idea that this facility is being used by China to eavesdrop on foreign satellites, and though China’s space program is without doubt a major arm of its military, I doubt the radio antenna is being put to military use. As the story notes

Tony Beasley, director of the U.S. National Radio Astronomy Observatory, said the station could, in theory, “listen” to other governments’ satellites, potentially picking up sensitive data. But that kind of listening could be done with far less sophisticated equipment. “Anyone can do that. I can do that with a dish in my back yard, basically,” Beasley said. “I don’t know that there’s anything particularly sinister or troubling about any part of China’s space radio network in Argentina.”

It was installed to support China’s effort to send spacecraft to the Moon and Mars, and that is likely its main purpose. China does not wish to be dependent on the U.S.’s Deep Space Network for such interplanetary communications. This facility helps make that independence possible.

At the same time, the fact that China has been allowed to establish a remote facility in another country and operate it with no oversight is definitely an issue of concern. Essentially, China has obtained control over a piece of Argentinian territory, and unless the Argentine government takes action, China can do whatever it wants there. While the antenna itself might not be an issue, the facility itself is.

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Measles makes a comeback in the liberal and anti-vaccine northwest

The coming dark age: An outbreak of measles has infected forty people in the Portland region, known for its strong anti-vaccine movement.

In Clark County, 27 of the confirmed cases have been among children 10 or younger, while just one patient was over 18. At least 34 patients were unvaccinated, while local health officials had not verified the immunization status of four patients.

Measles can linger in the air for up to two hours after an infected person has left the area, and the virus is so contagious that nearly everyone who isn’t immunized and is exposed to it will get sick.

The Portland area is known as an anti-vaccination hot spot, and state data show only about 77 percent of Clark County kindergarteners had completed their vaccinations for the 2017-2018 school year, far below the roughly 95 percent of people that health experts say should be vaccinated to create “herd immunity” against a contagious disease like measles.

“It’s pretty simple: You prevent measles outbreak by getting the measles vaccine,” Washington Secretary of Health John Wiesman said in a call with reporters Wednesday. The outbreak could last “weeks to months,” Wiesman said, and health officials expect to see more cases as measles continues to spread to other counties.

I must point out that, in general, the anti-vaccine movement is mainly linked to the liberal and leftist side of the political spectrum, and to my mind is only another indication of the left’s willingness to ignore facts in its loyalty to utopian fantasies. Because of the measles vaccine, measles vanished as a threat to children in the 1960s. It has now returned, and only because of a desire of some to ignore the facts. While there is always a very very tiny risk in taking the vaccine, the benefits so completely outweigh that risk that it makes no sense to refuse vaccination. Yet many in the liberal community do, and the result is that their children are now getting sick, and are posing a risk to others.

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The unfinished search for the Hubble constant

The uncertainty of science: Scientists continue to struggle in their still unfinished search for determining the precise expansion rate for the universe, dubbed the Hubble constant in honor of Edwin Hubble, who discovered that expansion.

The problem is, the values obtained from [two different] methods do not agree—a discrepancy cosmologists call “tension.” Calculations from redshift place the figure at about 73 (in units of kilometers per second per megaparsec); the CMB estimates are closer to 68. Most researchers first thought this divergence could be due to errors in measurements (known among astrophysicists as “systematics”). But despite years of investigation, scientists can find no source of error large enough to explain the gap.

I am especially amused by these numbers. Back in 1995 NASA had a big touted press conference to announce that new data from the Hubble Space Telescope had finally determined the exact number for the Hubble constant, 80 (using the standard above). The press went hog wild over this now “certain” conclusion, even though other astronomers disputed it, and offered lower numbers ranging from 30 to 65. Astronomer Allan Sandage of the Carnegie Observatories was especially critical of NASA’s certainty, and was dully ignored by most of the press.

In writing my own article about this result, I was especially struck during my phone interview with Wendy Friedman, the lead scientist for Hubble’s results, by her own certainty. When I noted that her data was very slim, the measurements of only a few stars from one galaxy, she poo-pooed this point. Her result had settled the question!

I didn’t buy her certainty then, and in my article, for The Sciences and entitled most appropriately “The Hubble Inconstant”, made it a point to note Sandage’s doubts. In the end it turns out that Sandage’s proposed number then of between 53 and 65 was a better prediction.

Still, the science for the final number remains unsettled, with two methods coming up with numbers that are a little less than a ten percent different, and no clear explanation for that difference. Isn’t science wonderful?

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A close look at Russia’s Vostochny spaceport

Link here. The article provides an excellent overview of the spaceport, its history, its corruption. It also gives some detailed information how the spaceport is affecting the remote cities nearby. This quote however is telling:

Across the space faculty and university at large, signs are written in Russian and in Chinese. Exchange students from across the river flock here in droves, and students participate in countless scientific and engineering projects with Chinese students. It is a very clear reflection of growing talk among Russian leadership that the country’s future in space does not lay in cooperation with NASA and the West, but with the ascendant Chinese space program.

Indeed, in the halls of Amur State University, the rich history of U.S.-Russia space rivalry and cooperation has already been relegated to the various rooms set aside as little space history museums. Something for students to ponder and reflect upon as they go about planning presentations for their next student scientific congress with their Chinese peers. Caught between the pull of Vostochny and China, these students have discovered hope for a future of opportunity in space.

This makes sense. Russia’s aerospace industry is in trouble. Worse, any future dependence on NASA’s very dubious lunar Gateway project to save it is questionable. China however is closer, and has a thriving and very successful space program. It would make sense for Russia to switch its partnership from the U.S. to China. Whether China is interested remains an open question.

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India opens its own Human Space Flight Center

The new colonial movement: India’s space agency ISRO today cut the ribbon in opening its new Human Space Flight Center, the facility that will supervise the designing and construction of their Gaganyaan manned mission, scheduled to launch by December 2021.

The Ganganyaan project head, R. Hutton, is the man whom ISRO’s boss, K. Sivan, gave an opportunity to speak at the most recent Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) launch. He had been director of that program, and has now been promoted to head Gaganyaan.

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Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2 awake after long lunar night

China’s lander Chang’e-4 and rover Yutu-2 have both successfully reactivated from hibernation with the arrival of dawn on the far side of the Moon.

Both the lander and the rover ended the dormant mode automatically according to the elevation angle of the sunlight. And the key instruments on the probe have started to work.

Currently, the rover is located about 18 meters northwest of the lander. Communication and data transmission between ground control and the probe via the relay satellite Queqiao (Magpie Bridge) are stable, said CNSA.

One new detail Chang’e-4 transmitted to Earth is that it found the lunar night on the far side to be colder than what was measured by the Apollo missions on the near side.

“According to the measurements of Chang’e-4, the temperature of the shallow layer of the lunar soil on the far side of the moon is lower than the data obtained by the U.S. Apollo mission on the near side of the moon,” said Zhang He, executive director of the Chang’e-4 probe project, from the China Academy of Space Technology. “That’s probably due to the difference in lunar soil composition between the two sides of the moon. We still need more careful analysis,” Zhang said.

According to this article, the low temperature measured was -190 Celsius (-310 Fahrenheit).

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Maxar cancels its DARPA satellite servicing mission

Capitalsm in space: Maxar today announced it is canceling its DARPA mission to develop and fly a robotic mission aimed at servicing geosynchronous satellites.

Maxar Technologies’ Space Systems Loral division terminated an agreement to build DARPA’s Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites spacecraft Jan. 30, leading to a potential recompete of the program. Maxar said it also canceled a contract with Space Infrastructure Services, a company it created that would have commercialized the RSGS servicer after a DARPA demonstration, starting with an in-orbit refueling mission for fleet operator SES. Both were awarded in 2017.

…The cancellations come amid an ongoing divestment of SSL’s geostationary satellite manufacturing business, which has weighed down Maxar’s financial performance due to a protracted slump in commercial orders.

More background information can be found here.

It seems that the industry’s increasing shift from a few large geosynchronous satellites to small smallsats in low Earth orbit is the real cause of this decision. Maxar has realized that there won’t be that many satellites in the future to service, since the smallsat design doesn’t require it. Smallsats aren’t designed for long life. Instead, you send them them up in large numbers, frequently. Their small size and the arrival of smallsat rockets to do this makes this model far cheaper than launching expensive big geosynchronous satellites that are expected to last ten to fifteen years and would be worth repairing.

Thus, the business model for commercial robotic servicing has apparently vanished, from Maxar’s perspective. Other servicing projects however continue. From the second link:

Northrop Grumman said it plans to launch its first Mission Extension Vehicle to dock with Intelsat-901 and take over orbital station-keeping duties, extending the satellite’s service life by several more years.

Another up and coming player, Effective Space, is developing a satellite servicing vehicle called Space Drone, to provide satellite life extension services.

And SSL [a Maxar subdivision] is under contract to NASA to build the Restore-L satellite servicing spacecraft, slated to launch in 2020. Restore-L will be owned by NASA, however, and will operate in low Earth orbit, not the geosynchronous arc as was the plan for RSGS.

The last mission is intriguing because it could lay the groundwork for a robotic servicing mission to Hubble. It is being led by the same NASA division that ran all of the shuttle servicing missions to Hubble, and is using many of the engineering designs that division proposed when it was trying to sell a Hubble robot servicing mission back in 2004.

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The Pretenders – My City Was Gone

An evening pause: Hat tip Jim Mallamace. The opening chords should be very familiar to talk radio fans. As Jim says, “The 6 opening bars of the song are almost as familiar to many as the first 4 bars of Beethoven’s 5th.”

Knowing the subject matter of this song clarifies for me one reason why Rush picked it, back in 1988, when his show started.

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The many pits/caves of Mars

Sinkhole in Martian northern lowlands with dark seep

Time for many cool images! Over the years I have written frequently about the pits/caves on Mars, in both magazine articles and the many posts here at Behind the Black. The following posts are the most significant, with the June 9, 2015 providing the best geological background to many of these pits, especially the many located near the giant volcanoes of Mars.

As I wrote in that June 9, 2015 post:
» Read more

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China fails to reduce its methane coal mine emissions

Surprise, surprise! Using satellite data, a new study has now shown that China has not only failed to reduce its methane coal mine emissions, it has allowed those emissions to increase.

China, already the world’s leading emitter of human-caused greenhouse gases, continues to pump increasing amounts of climate-changing methane into the atmosphere despite tough new regulations on gas releases from its coal mines, a study shows.

China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of coal, which accounts for approximately 72 percent of the country’s electricity generation. While data show that coal production has increased in China, it has been unclear until now much methane gas, or CH4, has increased. Methane that is released during coal mining is responsible for the majority of coal-related CH4 emissions and is likely the largest human-caused CH4 source in China.

“Our study indicates that, at least in terms of methane emissions, China’s government is talking the talk, but has not been able to walk the walk,” says Scot Miller, an assistant professor of environmental health and engineering and of earth and planetary sciences at Johns Hopkins University.

The truth is that while China might say it has imposed “tough new regulations,” its commitment under the Paris climate accords actually allowed it to increase its emissions significantly for years to come, even as those same accords required the U.S. to decrease its emissions. This unfair situation, which China has apparently taking full advantage of, is one of the major reasons Trump dumped the accords. It also illustrates how little the Paris Accords had to do with climate change. Its real goal was to shift the balance of power and wealth from the U.S. to other countries.

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Camden submits spaceport application to FAA

Capitalism in space: Camden County in Georgia has submitted its application to the FAA to create a spaceport in that county.

It took them three years “to comply with the detailed regulatory requirements necessary.” Whether they get approval or attract customers remains to be seen. We do know that at least one smallsat rocket company, Vector, has shown a willingness to launch from their site.

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Lockheed Martin’s space profits to decline in 2019 because of ULA

Capitalism in space: Lockheed Martin is projecting a decline in its space profits in 2019 because of a decline in income coming from its ULA partnership with Boeing.

In the previous quarterly earnings call in October, Bruce Tanner, Lockheed Martin’s chief financial officer, warned those earnings could be down as much as $150 million in 2019 compared to 2018. Tanner said then that both the number of [ULA] launches and the mix of vehicles contributed to that decline.

“We have more, for instance, Delta 4 launches in 2018 than we expect to have in 2019,” he said in the prior call. “Those are obviously the most profitable launch vehicles in all of ULA’s portfolio.”

In the latest earnings call, Tanner said the decline would not be as large as previously projected, estimating it to be closer $100 million. Part of the change has to do with improved performance at ULA, he said, but a bigger factor was a delay of a Delta 4 Heavy launch from late 2018 to earlier this month, shifting the profit realized from it to 2019. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted language illustrates why they are losing sales. The Delta family of rockets might bring ULA the most income, but that is because it is also its most expensive rocket to build and launch, and is also the one for which it charges the most.

Back in 2016 ULA announced that it planned to retire Delta, but it has not yet done so, probably because the company earns so much with each launch. Whether they eventually retire it or not doesn’t really matter, however, because its high cost will have it with time go the way of the horse regardless. Other cheaper rockets, such as the Falcon Heavy, are getting the business instead.

In fact, this competitive process probably explains entirely the drop in earnings expected in 2019.

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Problem found with Soyuz set for Arianespace commercial launch

Russian engineers have found a problem with Freget upper stage used on their Soyuz rocket and set for an Arianespace commercial launch in French Guiana this spring.

According to the source, “a microhole has been found in one of the upper stage’s pipes, which apparently emerged during a long transportation of the booster to the spaceport in French Guiana.”

“Now the specialists of the Lavochkin Research and Production Association [Fregat’s manufacturer] are dealing with this malfunction, by the end of the week they should specify the types of the works needed for eliminating it,” the source said.

The launch may be postponed from late February until March due to this situation.

This problem might not be related to Russia’s ongoing quality control problems. It could simply be a consequence of the difficulty of shipping a rocket across the globe. At the same time, the thought must not be dismissed. They say the microhole occurred during transport, but there is no way to confirm this.

Either way, the problem and delay does not do the Russians good. I wonder if OneWeb, the commercial customer for this flight, is beginning to have regrets about its contract for 21 Soyuz launches to get a large percentage of its satellite constellation into orbit.

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China aims for at least 30 launches in 2019

The new colonial movement: The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), China’s main government agency supervising its space program, has revealed that they have at least 30 launches planned for 2019.

This number brings the known predicted launches for 2019 to about 125, which I think would be the most ever in a single year, since Sputnik. It definitely would be the most since the 1980s.

The article also has the following information about the problems and delays that have prevented a third Long March 5 rocket launch since its second launch failed in 2017.

A redesign has been carried out to the liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen YF-77 engines, two of which power the Long March 5 first stage, to correct the turbopump issue reported to be behind the 2017 failure. The return-to-flight mission will carry the Shijian-20 communications satellite, or “Practice-20” in Chinese, based on a new, large DFH-5 satellite platform which supports satellites from 6,500 to 9,000 kilograms.

A successful launch would mean the fourth Long March 5 would then be used to launch the Chang’e-5 lunar sample return toward the moon in late 2019. The mission will aim to collect up to 2 kilograms of rocks and regolith from a site near Mons Rümker in Oceanus Procellarum on the lunar near side and bring the samples to Earth.

A nominal return-to-flight would also clear the way for the test launch of the Long March 5B, a variant of the Long March 5 designed specifically for lofting the 20-metric ton modules of the planned Chinese Space Station (CSS) into low Earth orbit. CASC official Shang Zhi told China’s state-run Xinhua news agency that joint tests and exercises involving a test model of the rocket and the CSS core module will be carried out at Wenchang at the end of 2019 in preparation for the maiden flight of the Long March 5B. Launch of the first CSS module is currently slated for 2020.

I wonder if we will ever see the Long March 5 version ever launch again after the 5B launches successfully. I suspect not, as it appears to me that the new variant is really a cover for the significant redesign required after the 2017 launch failure.

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Well water likely available across Mars

Conceptual model of Martian deep basin evolution

A science paper released today and available for download [pdf] cites evidence from about two dozen deep impact craters located from the equator to 37 degrees north latitude that Mars has a ground ice table at an elevation that also corresponds to other shoreline features. From the abstract:

Observations in the northern hemisphere show evidence of a planet‐wide groundwater system on Mars. The elevations of these water‐related morphologies in all studied basins lie within the same narrow range of depths below Mars datum and notably coincide with the elevation of some ocean shorelines proposed by previous authors.

The image above and on the right shows the middle stage of their conceptual model for the evolution of these deep basins and how that evolution results in many of the geological features seen in many places on Mars, such as the features I have highlighted on Behind the Black previously here and here.

From their conclusion:
» Read more

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Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) goes full communist

They’re coming for you next: During a townhall broadcast provided for her by CNN in connection with her decision to run for president, Democratic senator Kamala Harris (D-California) made it clear that her policies would follow a full communist agenda, aiming to eliminate the entire fossil fuel industry and the entire private healthcare industry while working to ban private ownership of guns.

Considering that the nation this very moment is suffering from one of the coldest cold spells ever and that millions would die without the ability to warm their homes without fossil fuels, it seems to me that Kamala Harris is a very typical leftist: She believes her ideas are so wonderful that they must be imposed, even if this will cause a genocide.

This at least has been the track record of leftists for the past 150 years, in Germany, in the Soviet Union, in Italy, in Venezuela, in practically every place they have gained power. Why anyone should expect it to be different here?

In fact, we have evidence to believe Harris would do exactly this, based on her own track record. In 2016 Harris tried to use the power of her position as California’s attorney general to force conservative organizations to hand her their confidential tax information so she can obtain the names of their donors. Her effort failed, but only because a judge ruled against her. And he did so because he recognized that Harris and her liberal supporters posed a violent threat to those donors.

Harris also joined a lawsuit by seventeen Democratic attorneys general aimed at harassing climate skeptics.

She has also publicly fantasized about the idea of killing Trump, Pence, or Sessions. She might claim that she was merely making a joke, but this really is not something you should joke about, especially if you are aiming for a position where you will be able to wield great power.

No matter. The American public, especially in the states dominated by Democratic elected officials, wants this. I consider her the frontrunner in the race for Democratic presidential candidacy And if you do not agree, be warned. They’re coming for you next.

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New report predicts the boom in smallsats will continue in 2019

Capitalism in space: A new analysis of the state of the smallsat industry predicts that the boom in smallsats will continue in 2019.

Coming off an excellent performance in 2018, SpaceWorks analysts project between 294 – 393 nano/microsatellites (1 – 50 kg) will launch globally in 2019, an 18% increase over last year. Of the 262 spacecraft SpaceWorks predicted to launch in 2018, 253 actually launched. “SpaceWorks showed unprecedented accuracy in last year’s forecast, with our prediction coming within 5% of actual nano/microsatellites launched.” stated Caleb Williams, Lead Economic Analyst at SpaceWorks, “Changes to our forecasting methodology, in combination with greater launch consistency and better execution on the part of small satellite operators contributed to our ability to accurately forecast market growth.”

2019 projections remain strong and have been updated to reflect the advancements of dedicated small satellite launch vehicles, changing attitudes of civil and military operators, and the rapid progress of commercial satellite IoT ventures. SpaceWorks analysts continue to gain confidence in the small satellite market as operators begin promising less and delivering more. “The rapid progress of operators focusing on IoT applications is expected to continue and communications applications are expected to quadruple their market share over the next 5 years” says Stephanie DelPozzo, SpaceWorks Economic Analyst, “overall, the maturing capabilities of small satellites are expected to open additional opportunities for growth and keep investors interested in the market during the near-term.” [emphasis mine]

The phrase I’ve highlighted is significant. It appears big government and commercial investors have finally jumped on the smallsat bandwagon after years of resistance.

The report also notes that the number of smallsat launches in the past five years has grown by 150%.

Everything in the full report confirms my sense that we are seeing a bifurcation in the aerospace industry, with the the unmanned branch producing smaller components while the manned space branch learning how to affordably build larger.

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New technique could make nickel as strong as titanium

A new technique that allows metals to mimic the internal structure of wood could make nickel, and other metals, far far strong.

Led by James Pikul, Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics at Penn Engineering, the new study looked at new ways to take metal and give it the porous structure that gives wood its strength. In the past, this has been done by finding ways to turn molten metal into foam, or using 3D printing with hundred-nanometer precision to build up wood-like metal bit by bit. The problem is that metal foam is crude by modern engineering standards, while the 3D printing process is slow and very hard to scale up from lab-bench scales.

“The reason we call it metallic wood is not just its density, which is about that of wood, but its cellular nature,” Pikul says. “Cellular materials are porous; if you look at wood grain, that’s what you’re seeing  –  parts that are thick and dense and made to hold the structure, and parts that are porous and made to support biological functions, like transport to and from cells. Our structure is similar. We have areas that are thick and dense with strong metal struts, and areas that are porous with air gaps. We’re just operating at the length scales where the strength of struts approaches the theoretical maximum.”

According to the researchers, the key was to go to much smaller scales to produce much greater increases in strength. They manage this by suspending plastic spheres a few hundred nanometers wide in water, which is allowed to evaporate. As the water disappears, the spheres drop into a neat geometrical, crystalline pattern. This is then electroplated with a thin layer of chrome and the spaces between the spheres are filled with nickel. The plastic is then dissolved, and what’s left behind is an open network of metallic struts with 70 percent empty space – making it light enough to float in water.

The process is however very expensive, and so far has only produced some very small samples.

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ArianeGroup successfully test fires new solid rocket motor

Capitalism in space: ArianeGroup, the private consortium building Europe’s next generation of rockets, has successfully test fired the new solid rocket motor it will use for both its Ariane 6 and Vega-C rockets.

The P120C is designed and built by a European consortium involving a joint venture known as Europropulsion, a venture between ArianeGroup and Avio, as well as CNES, the Italian ASI space agency, and Airbus Safran. This multinational venture uses the Avio facilities in Colleferro, Italy to manufacture the carbon fiber composite casing, a facility in France to build the ArianeGroup composite steerable nozzle, and the propellant casting and integration facilities in French Guiana to build up and prepare these boosters for flight.

The P120C, through its common use across launch vehicle lines and use of existing facilities, is designed to reduce costs as a competitive response to newer companies like SpaceX that have dramatically lowered launch costs and captured an increasing share of the worldwide launch market, dethroning the ArianeGroup from the dominating position it had held until very recently.

Without doubt they are going to save money using this solid rocket motor on both rockets. I remain somewhat skeptical, however, about whether they will achieve enough cost savings to compete with SpaceX. The seeming lack of interest by their primary European customers for Ariane 6 suggests this. It appears that its price might still be too high.

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Next Long March 5 launch delayed six months to July

The next launch of China’s largest rocket, the Long March 5, has now been delayed another six months until July.

The second Long March-5 rocket was launched from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in the southern province of Hainan on July 2, 2017, but a malfunction happened less than six minutes after its liftoff.

In October the Chinese had predicted this launch would occur in January, so this new schedule represents a six month delay. This further delay also confirms to me that their problem in 2017, which the Chinese have never fully explained other to say it caused damage to a turbopump in one first stage engine, resulted from a fundamental design flaw in the rocket’s first stage engines, requiring major reworking.

This delay also delays the launch of the first module of their space station, as well as their first sample return mission to the Moon.

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Parker begins second orbit around Sun

The Parker Solar Probe has completed its first full orbit of the Sun and has begun full science operations.

On Jan. 19, 2019, just 161 days after its launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe completed its first orbit of the Sun, reaching the point in its orbit farthest from our star, called aphelion. The spacecraft has now begun the second of 24 planned orbits, on track for its second perihelion, or closest approach to the Sun, on April 4, 2019.

Parker Solar Probe entered full operational status (known as Phase E) on Jan. 1, with all systems online and operating as designed. The spacecraft has been delivering data from its instruments to Earth via the Deep Space Network, and to date more than 17 gigabits of science data has been downloaded. The full dataset from the first orbit will be downloaded by April.

They have been somewhat tight-lipped about any results from the data already obtained. I suspect it has not yet been analyzed fully, and the scientists are reserving comment until they complete their first science papers and get them published.

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January 26, 2019 Zimmerman on Martian Revelation

I did a long two-hour appearance on a live internet show this past weekend. If you want to listen, you can do so here. Be warned, the audio starts automatically, and I do not appear until the show’s second hour, though you can jump forward.

In some ways this is one of the more interesting interviews I’ve done in awhile. We touched upon SLS, NASA, the bureaucracy, the failure of the federal government in all things, the Space Force, Trump and his real failures and successes, and most importantly, the fundamental necessity of Americans to stop asking the government to do things for them.

Even more entertaining, this was one of the rare times you can hear two guys from the New York metropolitan area having it out, both with loud brass New York accents.

Give it a listen.

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Weird Martian fracture feature

Fractured collapse feature on Mars

Cool image time! When I first looked at the high resolution Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) image on the right, my immediate reaction was, “What the heck is that?” The image to the right is cropped and reduced, but if you click on it you can see the full image at high resolution.

The fractured terrain appears to be all within a collapse. To my eye it appears that while the overall surface has sunk, the fractures indicate an area where there has been an eruption upward, which after the eruption collapsed again, so that the fractured area remains at the apparent bottom of the collapse sink. I was immediately reminded of Upheaval Dome in Yellowstone National Park, which some geologists believe was formed by a “salt bubble” rising upward to create a salt dome.

A thick layer of salt, formed by the evaporation of ancient landlocked seas, underlies much of southeastern Utah and Canyonlands National Park. When under pressure from thousands of feet of overlying rock, the salt can flow plastically, like ice moving at the bottom of a glacier. In addition, salt is less dense than sandstone. As a result, over millions of years salt can flow up through rock layers as a “salt bubble”, rising to the surface and creating salt domes that deform the surrounding rock.

Context image for fracture feature

The process and materials involved were certainly different on Mars. Nonetheless, it does appear we are looking at an eruptive feature unrelated to molten lava. The context image to the right, showing this feature’s location in Mars’ vast northern lowlands, also shows that it has occurred on terrain that has bulged upwards relative to the surrounding lowlands. Nearby MRO images also show similar bulge/collapse features.

To decipher the geological mystery here, we would also need to know when this happened and whether there ever was a liquid ocean residing on top of it, before, during, or after the eruption. We also do not know well the make-up of the underground materials, including whether any frozen water and salt is present.

To be honest, we really don’t know much. I am sure a planetary scientist studying this feature could fill us in on some of these details, such as information provided by the colors in the color image. Even so, I am sure any good scientist would also admit to unknowns.

To get some real answers, we need to be there. It is as simple as that.

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