Monthly Archives: April 2019

Beresheet makes course adjustment just prior to entering lunar orbit

Earth as seen by Beresheet

The Israeli privately-funded lunar lander Beresheet yesterday completed a one-minute engine burn to adjust its course slightly in preparation for entering lunar orbit on April 4.

This morning’s 72-second-long burn helped make some “final adjustments” ahead of capture into lunar orbit, mission team members said in an update this morning. It’s unclear if any further such tweaks will be needed. “The teams are assessing the results to determine if another alignment will be required before Beresheet enters the lunar orbit this Thursday,” project team members said.

The image to the right was taken by Beresheet of the Earth during its last close approach on March 31. It appropriately shows the Middle East, with the Arabian peninsula visible just below center.

The landing is still scheduled for April 11.

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Vector delays next test launch until June

Capitalism in space: Vector Launch has now delayed its next suborbital test launch three months to June.

Previously they had hoped to get this suborbital test launched in March/April. The company has not set any firm date in June, and cautions that further delays should not be unexpected. Assuming this suborbital launch happens this summer, they then hope to get their first orbital rocket launched by the end of the year.

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Yutu-2 and Chang’e-4 awake for fourth lunar day

The Chinese rover Yutu-2 and lander Chang’e-4 were awakened on March 30, 2019 to begin work for their fourth lunar day on the surface of the Moon’s far side.

The rover was designed to last for three lunar days, but much like NASA missions that regularly outlive their initial mandates, Yutu 2’s mission may stretch on longer, the Chinese space agency hopes. (The current rover’s predecessor, Yutu, lost its roving ability on its second day on the moon.)

The China Lunar Exploration Program, which heads up the mission, has not provided any details about its scientific plans for the fourth day of Chang’e 4, which is focused on exploring the far side of the moon and how it differs from the near side.

Based on the images taken by Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, it appears they will be heading west, following the smoothest route away from Chang’e-4. This will place Yutu-2 in an area of small craters.

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Chick-fil-A banned from another airport

They’re coming for you next: A second airport has decided to not allow a Chick-fil-A franchise there because its owners are conservative.

New York Assemblyman Sean Ryan, a Democrat, celebrated the decision by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA) and Delaware North to not move forward with plans to bring Chick-fil-A to the Buffalo Niagara International Airport. “A publicly financed facility like the Buffalo Niagara International Airport is not the appropriate venue for a Chick-fil-A restaurant,” Mr. Ryan said in a statement Friday. “I applaud the decision that has been made to remove Chick-fil-A from the plans for this project.”

Mr. Ryan said he opposes the popular chicken chain because of its “long history of supporting and funding anti-LGBTQ organizations.” [emphasis mine]

And exactly what are the evil causes that Chick-fil-A support?

The criticism of Chick-fil-A’s donating practices was renewed last month after the left-wing ThinkProgress released a report saying the chain’s foundation donated $1.8 million in 2017 to Christian and socially conservative groups with an alleged history of anti-LGBTQ bias, including the Salvation Army. The allegations are part of an ongoing backlash against Chick-fil-A that started in 2012 after CEO Dan Cathy, a conservative Christian, revealed his disapproval of gay marriage.

In other words, you are no longer allowed to express any dissent to the idea of gay marriage. You must be silenced, your businesses destroyed, and your families hounded from public life. In fact, why not simply round all these evil Christians up and put them in concentration camps? That would be the best way to stop them from expressing their evil ideas in public.

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Mars Express confirms Curiosity 2013 methane detection

The uncertainty of science: The Mars Express science team today announced that a reanalysis of the orbiter’s data showed the same spike spike of methane detection as seen by Curiosity on June 15, 2013.

The study exploited a new observation technique, allowing the collection of several hundred measurements in one area over a short period of time. The teams also developed a refined analysis technique to get the best out of their data.

“In general we did not detect any methane, aside from one definite detection of about 15 parts per billion by volume of methane in the atmosphere, which turned out to be a day after Curiosity reported a spike of about six parts per billion,” says Marco Giuranna from the Institute for Space Astrophysics and Planetology in Rome, Italy, the principal investigator for the PFS experiment, and lead author of the paper reporting the results in Nature Geoscience today.

“Although parts per billion in general means a relatively small amount, it is quite remarkable for Mars – our measurement corresponds to an average of about 46 tonnes of methane that was present in the area of 49 000 square kilometres observed from our orbit.”

Ten other observations in the Mars Express study period that reported no detections at the limit of the spectrometer’s sensitivity corresponded to a period of low measurements reported by Curiosity.

The data, along with their estimate about the source location for the methane, suggests that this was a geological event, not the result of biological life. They think the methane was trapped in ice-filled fissures, and released when that ice either broke or melted. Whether the methane itself was formed by past microbial life sometime in the past remains completely unknown.

To put it mildly, there are a lot of uncertainties in this result.

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NASA head says that Falcon Heavy remains a future option for Orion

At an agency meeting for employees NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine reiterated that NASA is still seriously considering the use of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy for future Orion lunar missions instead of SLS.

Bridenstine then laid out one scenario that has huge implications, not for a 2020 launch, but one later on. Until now, it was thought that only NASA’s Space Launch System could directly inject the Orion spacecraft into a lunar orbit, which made it the preferred option for getting astronauts to the Moon for any potential landing by 2024. However, Bridenstine said there was another option: a Falcon Heavy rocket with an Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage built by United Launch Alliance. “Talk about strange bedfellows,” he mused about the two rocket rivals.

This plan has the ability to put humans on the Moon by 2024, Bridenstine said. He then emphasized—twice—that NASA’s chief of human spaceflight, William Gerstenmaier, has yet to bless this approach due to a number of technical details. His reservations include the challenge of integrating the Falcon Heavy rocket in a horizontal position and then loading Orion with fuel in a vertical configuration on the launchpad. The Falcon Heavy would also require a larger payload fairing than it normally flies with. This would place uncertain stress on the rocket’s side-mounted boosters.

All the problems outlined in the second paragraph are the result of bad past management at NASA. Just as you design your rocket based the rocket engines you have — in order to save time and money — you design your capsule and manned vehicles based on the rockets that are available. NASA did not do this. It built Orion in a fantasy la-la land, without addressing the real world rocket options available. Now it has to either reconfigure, or get SpaceX to rethink the Falcon Heavy. Neither option will be cheap.

Regardless, Bridenstine’s statement is another shot across the bow to the porkmeisters in Congress. SLS is on shaky financial ground. It cannot compete in price with the commercial options. More significantly, it cannot come close to matching the launch rates of the private rockets. In the time NASA could put together one SLS launch, SpaceX could likely fly five to ten Falcon Heavies, and still do it for less money overall.

SLS is now tasked with a December 2020 deadline for launching that first unmanned test flight. Should it fail to meet that date, the political battle lines are now being laid for replacing it.

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Circular feature on Mars?

A circular feature on Mars?
Click for full resolution image.

Today’s cool image is cool for two reasons. First and foremost, the image, found in the archive of the high resolution camera of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), is titled “Circular Feature.” On the right is the full image, reduced to post here. I have searched it high and low, at low resolution as well as full resolution, and can find nothing, nothing at all, that invokes a circular feature to me.

This strange terrain is located very close to the southern icecap. If anything, the knobs and features that fill this image remind me of brain terrain, partly obscured by a layer of partly melted snow or frost. Nothing however seems circular in the slightest.

The second reason this image is cool is that it is very representative of its very large surrounding region. For what appears to be several hundred miles in all directions this is all that one can see, in a variety of MRO images, here, here, here, here, here, and here, to show only a few. Ever so often a craterlike feature pops out, like in the last example, but generally the surface continues in this undulating bland manner, endlessly. The only changing aspect is the dark streaks that cut across, likely dust devil tracks made over a long period of time.

Below the fold is a section of the full resolution image, at full resolution. It doesn’t really matter where I took the crop, as anywhere in the full image everything looks pretty much the same. The only slow change that I can perceive is that the surface seems to be descending to the north, with the lighter areas implying the existence of terraces.

Take a look, and try to figure out for yourself what is going on here.
» Read more

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Democracy comes to Turkey?

In local elections yesterday the party of Turkey’s long-time president Recep Tayyip Erdogan was pounded by several startling defeats.

The party of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has lost control of the capital, Ankara, in local elections, in a blow to his 16-year rule.

The main opposition is also slightly ahead in the contest for mayor of Istanbul, figures published by the state-run Anadolu news agency suggest.

But the president’s AKP party is challenging the result in both cities.

Municipal elections were held across the nation on Sunday and an AKP-led alliance won more than 51% of the vote. [emphasis mine]

The article at the link hints at a depressed economy as the cause of these defeats, but I wonder if Erdogan’s recent moves trending in support of radical Islam also contributed. I also suspect that Erodgan’s support was actually a lot less than indicated by these numbers. Turkey is not really a democracy as an American would perceive it.

With most media either pro-government or controlled by Mr Erdogan’s supporters, critics believe opposition parties campaigned at a disadvantage. Mr Erdogan’s rallies dominated TV coverage.

The opposition pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said the elections were unfair and refused to put forward candidates in several cities. Some of its leaders have been jailed on terrorism charges, accusations they reject.

I will not be surprised if the results flip in the coming week’s so that Erdogan’s party retains control in both cities. If this happens, however, I would also expect more turmoil there, as we are also seeing in many other places worldwide. Elections results recently have repeatedly slammed the status quo in places ruled by globalists, leftists, or Islamists. The establishment that has been in control then maneuvers things to nullify those elections.

The result: protests, violence, revolution, and bloodshed. Expect this in Turkey if the vote changes.

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Comedian wins plurality in Ukrainian election; run-off April 21

A Trump-type non-politician who plays a comedian-turned-president has won a plurality in Sunday’s Ukrainian election, with a run-off between the two top vote-getters set for April 21.

Volodymyr Zelensky, who plays a fictional president in a popular TV show, secured 30.4 percent of the vote on Sunday, early results showed. Petro Poroshenko, a billionaire magnate and Ukraine’s current leader, received 17.8 percent. With no-one expected to secure a majority when the final results are confirmed later on Monday, the two largely pro-EU candidates are set to go head-to-head in a run-off vote on April 21.

Though his lead in the first election is large, no one should assume he will win the plurality.

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India launches military satellite plus 28 smallsats

Capitalism in space: India today successfully used its PSLV rocket to launch one Indian military satellite plus 28 smallsats.

The rocket’s fourth stage demonstrated an additional capability.

Monday’s launch, the second of the year for India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), was tasked with a series of maneuvers for the rocket’s upper stage to insert twenty-nine deployable payloads into their pre-planned orbits over the first two hours of its flight.

Following separation of the last payload, the upper stage will maneuver to a final orbit where it will operate as a research platform, hosting three attached payloads to demonstrate this capability for future missions. The launch also tests out a new configuration for the PSLV, a further intermediate between the lightest and heaviest versions of the rocket.

UPDATE: Yesterday China also launched a communications satellite designed to facilitate in-space communications, using its Long March 3B rocket.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

4 China
3 SpaceX
3 Europe (Arianespace)
2 Russia
2 India

The U.S. continues to lead China in the national rankings 6 to 4.

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