Monthly Archives: May 2019

New Falcon 9 successfully launches used Dragon cargo ship

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has successfully launched a used Dragon cargo ship to ISS using a new Falcon 9 rocket.

They also successfully landed the first stage, the 39th time they have done so. Dragon will arrive at ISS in two days.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

6 China
5 SpaceX
4 Europe (Arianespace)
3 Russia

The U.S. has extended its lead over China 9-6 in the national rankings.

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North Korea tests short-range missiles

North Korea today conducted its first missile tests since November 2017, firing off several short-range “projectiles” into the Sea of Japan.

These are not the long-range ballistic missiles that North Korea was testing two years ago that had the potential of reaching the U.S. Still, this test indicates that this country remains an unpredictable threat to its neighbors and the world. The test also indicates we don’t yet have any agreement from them concerning demilitarization.

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Cannon Beach, Oregon

Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach, Oregon

Posting has been somewhat mixed this week because Diane and I are out in Oregon at a beach-side hotel in Cannon Beach. We and my oldest friend Lloyd and his family are here to visit and see some sites.

On the right is a picture of the beach and Haystack Rock, which rises more than 230 feet above the sea. We did two hikes to its base, one when the tide was out and you could get very close and see the aquatic life in the tidal pools. Quite beautiful.

This location is where Lewis & Clark first saw the Pacific during their expedition. The local museum, the Cannon Beach History Center & Museum, was fascinating. For one thing I had not known that the town was named after an actual ship cannon from the shipwreck of the American Navy ship the Shark, which foundered here in 1846. The crew was all saved, but the ship and its military equipment were lost.

In October 1846, Lieutenant Howison received information through the Tillamook people that part of the ship’s hull “with guns upon it,” had come ashore south of Tillamook Head. The lieutenant sent Midshipman Simes to visit the location. Simes reported finding the wreckage and succeeded in “getting one cannon above the high-water mark,” while two others were left buried.

Then in December 1863, mail carrier John Hobson reported seeing a cannon at present-day Arch Cape Creek. Soon after, this cannon became lost when tides buried it in sand. In June 1898, however, it was spotted once again-this time by mail carrier George Luce. With the help of his Nehalem neighbors John and Mary Gerritse and their team of horses, Luce succeeded in pulling the cannon out of the sand, after which time it stood in front of the Austin House Post Office in Arch Cape for several years.

Hobson by the way spent the last thirty years of his life, from 1864 to 1894, searching in vain for the cannon. It was only found four years after his death.

The cannon is now in the museum. In addition, the other two cannons were finally found in 2008.

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More gravitational waves detected

Using the LIGO and Virgo gravitational wave telescopes astronomers have detected two more gravitational waves.

On April 25, 2019, one of the twin LIGO instruments and the Virgo detector observed a candidate signal which – if confirmed – would be the first binary neutron star merger during the third observation run, which began on April 1. A second candidate signal was seen on April 26, which – if confirmed – could be a never-observed-before collision of a neutron star with a black hole. The latter candidate was observed by both LIGO instruments and the Virgo detector. Dozens of telescopes on the Earth and in space are searching for electromagnetic or astro-particle counterparts. No identification with an electromagnetic transient signal nor a host galaxy has been made to date for either candidate.

The resolution of LIGO and VIRGO are somewhat limited, so other telescopes have to scan a very large part of the sky to spot a counterpart. It is therefore likely that it will be years before the first counterpart event is identified. When it is however it will tell us how far away the event was and confirm what kind of event it was. Right now, they are only making educated guesses.

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India sets Chandrayaan-2 launch and lunar landing dates

India’s space agency ISRO has announced that the launch of Chandrayaan-2 will take place in a window from July 9 to July 16, and the landing of its Vikram rover will occur on September 6.

The delay in the landing is probably to allow Chandrayaan-2 to get to the Moon, then review the landing site to make sure it is acceptable.

This is not the first time they have announced a launch schedule for Chandrayaan-2 and then delayed it. This time however I think the dates are firm.

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New Shepard test flight successful

Capitalism in space: Blue Origin is planning to do another New Shepard test flight within the next hour.

You can watch it here.

The flight was successful. It was the fifth flight of this spacecraft and booster. They reached 346,000 feet elevation, about 65 miles.

During the telecast the announcer said that Blue Origin hopes to initiate passenger flights before the end of this year.

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ISS power repaired, SpaceX launch early tomorrow

Using the station’s robot arm astronauts on ISS have replaced a failed electrical component, restoring the station to full power and allowing a Dragon cargo launch to go forward early tomorrow morning.

The failure had reduced the station’s power by 25%. It also shut down some redundancy in the system that ran the robot arm that will grab and berth Dragon. NASA did not want to do that berthing without that redundancy, which they once again have.

The SpaceX launch is set for 3:11 am (eastern) tonight, or just past midnight on the west coast.

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Covington lawyers file defamation lawsuit against NBC/MSNBC

Push back: The lawyers for Kentucky teenager Nick Sandman have filed their third defamation lawsuit, this time against NBC/MSNBC for $275 million.

The previous suits were against the Washington Post for $250 million and CNN for $275 million. All three outlets have had a a truly dismal and partisan track record in the past two decades, which only grew more unreliable with the election of Donald Trump. They repeatedly get their facts wrong, and then refuse to correct the record when it is shown how wrong they were. As a prime example, all three bought into the Russian collusion hoax, spending two years selling the blatantly absurd idea that Donald Trump was a Russian agent who colluded with them to steal the 2016 election.

Trump however is a politician, and an adult. No one is surprised or horrified by that kind of dirty politics. Nick Sandman however was an innocent sixteen-year-old minor, attacked viciously for merely being white, pro-life, and for wearing a MAGA hat. With the evidence available that clearly shows how these leftist news outlets slandered him, all three outlets are very vulnerable to a big loss when this case gets before a Kentucky jury. In fact, I think his lawyers would be fools to settle.

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The battle over Trump’s Moon effort exposes Washington’s power-hungry bureaucracy

This analysis by Eric Berger at Ars Technica of the political situation surrounding SLS, Orion, Gateway, and the Trump administration’s desire to quickly get back to the Moon is quite cogent and worth reading in full. It suggests that it will be very difficult for Trump to get his lunar landing, for several reasons. First, the Democrats in the House will likely not fund it. Second, because to get it done by 2024 will likely require switching to private rockets, and that action will be opposed by Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama). And third because there are factions in the NASA bureaucracy that are in love with SLS and Gateway and will work to save it.

This quote is most telling:

At NASA headquarters, [human spaceflight chief Bill] Gerstenmaier and this team that plays a central role in developing policy for the space agency are likely content to play a waiting game. Without an increased budget he can continue to spend money on developing the SLS rocket for some future launch date and begin procuring elements of the Lunar Gateway. He can make some small investments in a lunar lander but doesn’t have to commit to its development before the end of next year, which may bring a new president and new priorities.

In other words, Bill Gerstenmaier, an unelected bureaucrat at NASA, has more power to determine U.S. space policy than elected lawmakers.

I ask, how does Gerstenmaier have the right to “develop policy for the space agency?” What legislative authority gives him the right to “play a waiting game” while continuing to “spend money on developing the SLS rocket… and procuring elements of Lunar Gateway?” These are policy decisions that belong solely to Congress and the President, not some hired government bureaucrat.

In a sense this story is only another reflection of the entire Russian collusion scandal. Hired government officials with no legal authority decide that they really know best, and this hubris allows them to supplant the decisions of lawmakers, and even attempt to overthrow them if necessary.

I reluctantly predicted this behavior back in June 2016 when I visited Washington and wrote this essay: The think tank culture of Washington:

What will this elite community do should Trump win the presidency and start demanding that they do things differently? Will they recognize that we are a democracy and work with him, the elected choice of the American people, or will they resist because he isn’t the politician they wanted and wants to institute policies they disagree with?

…I fear that the culture of Washington is becoming increasingly hostile to and insulated against the choices of the American electorate. I fear that they will one day soon decide to team up with the politicians they like to use the concentrated power we have given them in Washington to reject those choices, even to the extent of tossing out the Constitution and the democratic legal system that made the United States once the freest and wealthiest nation in the history of the human race.

I hope I am wrong. I pray that I am wrong. I think we might very well find out in the coming year.

Sadly, what we have learned in the past three years is that this Washington think tank culture is quite willing to overthrow the Constitution and the law, to get what they want. The situation at NASA only gives us another example of this terrible reality.

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Satellites map out Earth’s Great Whirl

Using more than two decades of satellite data scientists have mapped out the yearly evolution of the
Great Whirl, a gigantic weather formation that routinely forms off the coast of Somalia each year, lasts for more than half the year, and is closely linked to India’s annual monsoon season.

Using 23 years of satellite data, the new findings show the Great Whirl is larger and longer-lived than scientists previously thought. At its peak, the giant whirlpool is, on average, 275,000 square kilometers (106,000 square miles) in area and persists for about 200 days out of the year.

More than being just a curiosity, the Great Whirl is closely connected to the monsoon that drives the rainy season in India. Monsoon rains fuel India’s $2 trillion agricultural economy, but how much rain falls each year is notoriously difficult to forecast. If researchers can use their new method to discern a pattern in the Great Whirl’s formation, they might be able to better predict when India will have a very dry or very wet season compared to the average.

Below the fold is a short video showing the Whirl’s behavior during 2000. It appears that the Great Whirl is an atmospheric eddy formed by the prevailing east winds as they hit the coast of Somalia.
» Read more

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X-37B passes 600 days in orbit

One of the Air Force’s two X-37B reusable mini-shuttles has now passed 600 days in orbit.

At this moment this is third longest X-37B mission. However, if the mission lasts four more months it will become the longest.

The article states that it is “unclear” what the mission’s overall purpose is, though we do know that some onboard experiments are testing the ability of some technology to function for long periods in space. I suspect that the spacecraft itself is testing this. When it returns they will look at it closely to see if its design was sufficient for it to do long multi-year missions and then go back to do it again. Moreover, knowing how to build such a craft is essential for building interplanetary spaceship that carry humans to and from the planets.

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