Monthly Archives: July 2019

July 30, 2019 Zimmerman Space Show podcast

David Livingston has now made the podcast of my two hour appearance on the Space Show available. You can either listen or download the podcast here.

Another show. I will admit when the conversation shifted to the federal budget and the desires of space geeks to have lots of money for space, regardless of the debt it creates, I got a little hot. I then referenced this essay by me from November 2011: NASA, the federal budget, and common sense.

Everything I wrote then still applies. Worse, no one in our federal government has attempted any of it. The federal budget continues to rage out of control, and what NASA spends continues to be spent poorly.

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Democrats fire six people because they are white

The racist party: In order to hire more minorities (despite 13 of 27 of the staff already being minorities), the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee this week fired six staffers, merely because they were white.

As the article at the link correctly notes,

This firing, and that’s what it is, not a free resignation, sends a message to everyone, and especially to young people of any race who are interested in politics. If an organization is actually willing to fire you from your job just because you’re white, do you really want to be involved with it?

Would you even want to vote for it?

The only criteria Democratic politicians use these days to determine their policy and opinions is skin color and ethnicity. Either you agree with them, or you are a racist.

For ordinary Democrats, this bigotry should cause great pause. Do you want to be associated with such bigotry?

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LightSail-2 successfully raises its orbit using sunlight

Capitalism in space: By raising its orbit by the use of sunlight only, LightSail-2 has confirmed what an earlier Japanese solar sail Ikaros had demonstrated, that it is possible to use solar sails to travel in space.

Since unfurling the spacecraft’s silver solar sail last week, mission managers have been optimizing the way the spacecraft orients itself during solar sailing. After a few tweaks, LightSail 2 began raising its orbit around the Earth. In the past 4 days, the spacecraft has raised its orbital high point, or apogee, by about 2 kilometers. The perigee, or low point of its orbit, has dropped by a similar amount, which is consistent with pre-flight expectations for the effects of atmospheric drag on the spacecraft. The mission team has confirmed the apogee increase can only be attributed to solar sailing, meaning LightSail 2 has successfully completed its primary goal of demonstrating flight by light for CubeSats. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted text notes a secondary but possibly more important engineering achievement here. LightSail-2 was launched as a cubesat. It has now proven that such a cubesat can include a solar sail and use it for purposes of transportation.

Moreover, that this engineering test was funded entirely by private funds proves again that the government is not necessary for great things to be achieved.

They will continue to raise the spacecraft’s apogee for the next month, until the lowering of the perigee causes the spacecraft to get pulled out of orbit by the drag from the atmosphere. That second process will still take about a year.

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More exoplanets found by TESS

Worlds without end: In confirming a candidate exoplanet previously discovered by TESS, astronomers have detected two more exoplanets orbiting the same star.

The transits TESS observed belong to GJ 357 b, a planet about 22% larger than Earth. It orbits 11 times closer to its star than Mercury does our Sun. This gives it an equilibrium temperature — calculated without accounting for the additional warming effects of a possible atmosphere — of around 490 degrees Fahrenheit (254 degrees Celsius). “We describe GJ 357 b as a ‘hot Earth,’” explains co-author Enric Pallé, an astrophysicist at the IAC and Luque’s doctoral supervisor. “Although it cannot host life, it is noteworthy as the third-nearest transiting exoplanet known to date and one of the best rocky planets we have for measuring the composition of any atmosphere it may possess.”

But while researchers were looking at ground-based data to confirm the existence of the hot Earth, they uncovered two additional worlds. The farthest-known planet, named GJ 357 d, is especially intriguing. “GJ 357 d is located within the outer edge of its star’s habitable zone, where it receives about the same amount of stellar energy from its star as Mars does from the Sun,” said co-author Diana Kossakowski at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany. “If the planet has a dense atmosphere, which will take future studies to determine, it could trap enough heat to warm the planet and allow liquid water on its surface.”

Without an atmosphere, it has an equilibrium temperature of -64 F (-53 C), which would make the planet seem more glacial than habitable. The planet weighs at least 6.1 times Earth’s mass, and orbits the star every 55.7 days at a range about 20% of Earth’s distance from the Sun. The planet’s size and composition are unknown, but a rocky world with this mass would range from about one to two times Earth’s size.

Even through TESS monitored the star for about a month, Luque’s team predicts any transit would have occurred outside the TESS observing window.

I think the results from TESS are soon going to overwhelm the general press. I myself had to check and make sure this story was about different exoplanets than the previous exoplanet discovery story from two days ago.

What is most interesting about these new exoplanets is their mass and size. TESS appears so far to be finding a lot of superEarths, something that Kepler did not do.

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iSpace plans eight launches in 2020

After its first successful orbital mission last week, China’s semi-private rocket company iSpace announced today that it hopes to complete eight launches in 2020.

Clients from Singapore, Italy, Spain, Hong Kong and Sri Lanka, as well as mainland customers, have already either signed up for a spot on iSpace’s rockets or expressed interest.

iSpace is open to both private and government clients. “It’s the same for us whether it’s a private or a state-owned company,” Vice President for Marketing and Communications Yao Bowen said.

The price tag to launch a rocket is 4.5 million euros ($5 million), Yao added.

This launch price is just under what Rocket Lab has been charging, $6 million, and is clearly designed to take business from them. It is however higher than what Vector says it will charge, $4 million, should that company ever get its rocket off the ground.

The article also notes the investment capital raised by iSpace, totaling just over $100 million. This does make this company appear a private company, but don’t believe it. Its existence is very much tied to and supervised by the Chinese government.

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Russia launches and docks new Progress freighter to ISS

Russia today launched and quickly docked a new Progress freighter, to ISS, with the trip taking slightly over three hours.

I think this might have been the fastest flight to ISS, though if not it is certainly among the fastest.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

11 China
11 Russia
9 SpaceX
5 Europe (Arianespace)
4 India

The U.S. continues to lead in the national rankings, 15-11.

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Oberlin College posts $36 million bond, appeal to go forward

Oberlin College today posted a $36 million bond to cover the jury award to Gibson’s Bakery, thus allowing the college’s appeal of that verdict to go forward.

The judgement is now stayed about three weeks, until August 19, 2019, during which time Oberlin must submit its appeal. If it does so the stay will be extended another two weeks for responses, with a decision on September 9.

At that point expect further appeals, no matter how the judge rules.

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Democrats once again push to repeal 1st amendment

A party of fascists: A group of Democratic Senators today re-introduced their 2014 constitutional amendment that would repeal the first amendment of the Bill of Rights.

The language from 2014:

To advance democratic self-government and political equality, and to protect the integrity of government and the electoral process, Congress and the States may regulate and set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to influence elections.

Essentially, this amendment eliminates the ban set by the first amendment that states that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.”

If you have always been a registered Democratic, you need to reassess that position. This party has nothing to do with that political organization from the past. It has morphed into a fascist and oppressive bunch of totalitarians who pose a serious threat to everyone’s freedom.

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School fires teacher for praising western civilization

They’re coming for you next: A California private school, covering elementary through high school grades and catering to Hollywood celebrities, fired one of its teachers in May for praising western civilization.

On the 5th of May, the American Freedom Alliance convened a conference on leftist radicalism. Before David Horowitz stepped up to the podium to discuss the threat of leftist extremism, Dr. Karen Siegemund, the president of the AFA, welcomed the attendees by speaking to our common values. “Each of us here believes in the unparalleled force for good that is Western Civilization, that is our heritage, whether we were born here or not,” she said.

After Dr. Siegemund and Horowitz’s remarks, a panel discussed radicalism in the school system.

The day after this event, Dr. Siegemund was informed by Le Lycée Français de Los Angeles, the school where she had taught mathematics for four years and where she had studied as a child, that her contract would not be renewed because she had praised western civilization.

The conference, which had addressed leftist radicalism in educational institutions, had struck home.

“On Monday, I was informed that my teaching contract won’t be renewed because of my ‘widely publicized views,’” Dr. Siegemund said. “You know, I’d always known I was vulnerable – of course. We on the right all know how vulnerable we are. But when it happens – when you actually become a victim, a casualty of this Long March, of the Left’s silencing tactics, it’s truly breathtaking.” [emphasis mine]

The key here is that the modern cultural left is not interested in other points of view. Either you agree with them, or you are evil and must be squashed. Or as Orwell said, speaking of the socialist/communist attitude toward power in 1984:

If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.

Orwell’s book was supposed to a warning to the future. Instead, for the left it has become an instruction manual. As spoken by those in power in Orwell’s book,

Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed, will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten…The process will still be continuing long after you and I are dead. Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller.

The demonizing of western civilization and American history is all part of a comparable effort to make that knowledge inaccessible to future generations. And it appears that too many modern Americans are too cowardly to fight that effort.

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A bullseye on Mars

Layered crater at equator
Click for full image.

Cool image time! In researching my piece last week on the glaciers of Mars I had wanted to include a picture of a typical concentric glacier-filled crater, the most widespread glacial feature on the Martian surface, found in a band at latitudes between 30 and 60 degrees. (You can see the example I found at the link above, near the end of the article.)

To find that picture I searched the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) archive. Among the images I found was a captioned image taken very early in MRO’s mission showing a crater with concentric rings very similar to the concentric glacial-filled craters. The image at the right is that crater, the image reduced and cropped to post here. As described in that caption,
» Read more

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Want to get off gmail? A possible Behind the Black option

On July 3rd I put out a feeler to see if there was sufficient interest among my readers for providing a private email service through Behind the Black. As I wrote then:

I am exploring the possibility of offering email services through my server for those who want to get off of gmail and google. However, before such a service can be offered, we need to know the amount of interest there might be. The demand will effect the cost, which means I can’t even give you an idea of what we might charge.

Regardless, if you are interested in having “your.name@behindtheblack.com” as your email address, please say so in the comments. There will be no obligations, by you or me or my server, but the response however will help us decide if we can do it.

And if we can do it, and many people sign on, we will then be taking the proper free enterprise approach for combating the corrupt business practices of giants like Google. Our federal government might still act to break Google up, but I think it would be far better if the free market did the job instead.

About a dozen people expressed interest at that time. In discussing this with my server, we both agreed that this is too small a number for us to begin this service. However, we are also both quite willing to do this, if the initial number of subscribers was higher.

I am therefore posting this feeler out again. If you expressed a desire to sign up as a comment in the previous post, then there is no need to comment again. However, if you did not comment previously, and think this service will be what you want, then post a comment here saying so.

It would also help me to get an idea what you would be willing to pay per month for this service. For this information I request everyone comment, including those who commented earlier.

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Europe completes 1st rollout of Ariane 6 mobile launch gantry

The mobile launch gantry that Europe will use for its new Ariane 6 rocket successfully completed its first rollout tests last week.

This gantry is the equivalent of NASA’s VAB building. Within this gantry they will assemble Ariane 6 vertically, then roll the gantry back for launch.

Assembling a rocket vertically I think is more costly, but it also makes it possible for the rocket to launch payloads that must be installed in this manner. Thus, Ariane 6 will have this selling point over rockets like the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, which are assembled horizontally.

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Private lunar landing company backs out of NASA contract

Capitalism in space: The commercial lunar landing company, OrbitBeyond, has told NASA that it cannot fulfill its $97 million contract, only two months after that contract was announced.

NASA announced July 29 that OrbitBeyond informed the agency that “internal corporate challenges” will prevent it from carrying out a task order that NASA awarded the company May 31 as part of its Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. The company asked to be released from that contract, and NASA agreed.

NASA didn’t elaborate on what specific issues caused OrbitBeyond to scrap its contract with NASA, and the company didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. At the May 31 event where NASA announced the contracts, Siba Padhi, chief executive of OrbitBeyond, said the company was still in the process of closing a round of funding. The company has not subsequently announced a funding round.

Considering its receipt of a $97 million NASA contract, it would be very puzzlingly for the company to be unable to obtain further investment capital. If anything, that contract should have encouraged funding. If the lack of funding is the cause of this termination then it also suggests the company had other problems.

This leaves NASA with two private lunar lander companies. I expect NASA will look to award the contract to a third company. The company Firefly and its team of Israeli Beresheet engineers comes immediately to mind.

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Chandrayaan-2 completes third orbit maneuver

Chandrayaan-2 has completed its third engine burn to raise the apogee of its orbit to 71K.

The next burn is set for August 2, when the spacecraft returns to its orbital low point, the perigee. As it raises its orbit each time the time between burns gets extended because the orbit gets longer. By September however the apogee will put the spacecraft in the Moon’s gravitational field of influence, and when Chandrayaan-2 reaches that apogee engineers will then fire its engines again to slow it down and enter lunar orbit.

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TMT protests continue, block all astronomy research to Mauna Kea

The Hawaiian government continues to allow protesters against the Thirty Meter Telescope to block all access to Mauna Kea, thus also blocking researchers and maintenance crews from working on the thirteen operating telescopes already there.

Protests against construction of a giant telescope have halted work at existing observatories on the Big Island, a report said. Workers at other facilities on the dormant Mauna Kea volcano have been denied access by demonstrators opposed to the Thirty Meter Telescope, Hawaii News Now reported Sunday.

The Mauna Kea Observatories house 13 telescopes that have led to astronomical breakthroughs for more than 40 years, including the first photo of a black hole and the discovery of the first interstellar object in space.

“All we’re looking to do is to go up the road and resume what we’ve been doing for 50 years,” said scientist Doug Simons from the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope. The two-week closure of the access road leading to the summit has resulted in the potential loss of a year’s worth of discoveries, said Simons.

The demonstrations have also affected the scientists’ interactions with family and community members. “They have these great bonds within their family and their friends, and now there’s a big rift there,” said Jessica Dempsey from the East Asian Observatory and the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope. [emphasis mine]

If my memory is correct, previous protests did not block access to the other telescopes. That they are now doing it suggests that the protesters feel empowered and are now going for their real goal, a complete shutdown of all astronomy on Mauna Kea. The highlighted text implies this. Native workers for the other telescopes appear have suddenly discovered that these protesters want to also destroy their jobs.

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Russia launches communications satellite

Using its Soyuz rocket the Russians today launched a satellite aimed at providing communications to Russia itself.

The satellite, while apparently providing civilian communications services, was a Russian government project. It is not commercial as we would define it in the west.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

11 China
10 Russia
9 SpaceX
5 Europe (Arianespace)
4 India

The U.S. continues to lead China 15 to 11 in the national rankings. At the moment it also looks like Russia has a chance to top 20 launches in 2019, which would make this its best launch year since 2015. This suggests that they have finally begun to recover from the discovery in 2017 that an engine contractor was using substandard welding materials to pocket some extra cash, thus causing many launch failures.

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TESS finds the first two mini-Neptune exoplanets

In discovering three candidate exoplanets orbiting a nearby red dwarf star, the space telescope TESS has found the first two that are sized somewhere between the rocky Earth-sized planets and the larger Neptune-sized gas giants.

The innermost planet, TOI 270 b, is likely a rocky world about 25% larger than Earth. It orbits the star every 3.4 days at a distance about 13 times closer than Mercury orbits the Sun. Based on statistical studies of known exoplanets of similar size, the science team estimates TOI 270 b has a mass around 1.9 times greater than Earth’s. Due to its proximity to the star, planet b is an oven-hot world. Its equilibrium temperature — that is, the temperature based only on energy it receives from the star, which ignores additional warming effects from a possible atmosphere — is around 490 degrees Fahrenheit (254 degrees Celsius).

The other two planets, TOI 270 c and d, are, respectively, 2.4 and 2.1 times larger than Earth and orbit the star every 5.7 and 11.4 days. Although only about half its size, both may be similar to Neptune in our solar system, with compositions dominated by gases rather than rock, and they likely weigh around 7 and 5 times Earth’s mass, respectively.

All of the planets are expected to be tidally locked to the star, which means they only rotate once every orbit and keep the same side facing the star at all times, just as the Moon does in its orbit around Earth.

Planet c and d might best be described as mini-Neptunes, a type of planet not seen in our own solar system. The researchers hope further exploration of TOI 270 may help explain how two of these mini-Neptunes formed alongside a nearly Earth-size world.

The star is only 73 light years away.

Need I say that our level of knowledge about solar system formation is tiny at this point, and that any models any theorist creates should merely be seen as scratchpad first approximations, useful only in guiding future research and not to be taken too seriously.

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Japanese private smallsat rocket company launch failure

Capitlism in space: Interstellar Technologies, a Japanese private smallsat rocket company, experienced on July 27 its third suborbital launch failure in four attempts.

The vehicle only reached an altitude of 13 kilometers following the launch at 4:20 p.m., falling into the sea some 9 kilometers (about 5.5. miles) offshore from Taiki, Hokkaido, its test site, Interstellar Technologies said. The rocket is the same model as Momo-3, measuring about 10 meters long, 50 centimeters in diameter and weighing 1 ton.

After failed attempts in 2017 and 2018, the startup finally found success with its third launch in May, with the rocket reaching an altitude of around 113 km before falling into the Pacific Ocean.

The failure occurred when an onboard computer detected something wrong and shut the engine down.

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China tests controlled flight for returning first stage

Chinese news sources today confirmed that during its last launch on July 26, they tested the use of grid fins (essentially copied from SpaceX’s Falcon 9) to control the return flight of the first stage of their Long March 2C rocket.

The success of the test is of great significance for improving China’s inland rocket landing safety, minimizing the inconvenience to the local people, as well as promoting the follow-up development of carrier rockets’ controllable recovery, soft landing and reuse, according to He Wei, an official with the CASC.

“The swinging grid fins were used to control the rocket debris’ direction and attitude, much like the wings of the debris,” said Cui Zhaoyun, the deputy chief designer of Long March-2C rocket. The landing site control of large and medium rockets is much more difficult than that of small rockets, he added.

For almost forty years China has allowed these first stages to crash, sometimes very close to villages and habitable areas. Now, inspired by what freedom and U.S. innovation has accomplished, they have finally begun the process of figuring out how to land these stages vertically. Since their propellants are very toxic, it is not clear however whether they will be able to reuse them should they succeed in landing them undamaged.

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Golfing with boulders on the Moon

Boulder tracks on the Moon
Click for full resolution image.

Cool image time! The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter team this week released a beautiful image of boulder tracks rolling down the inside slope of 85-mile-wided Antoniadi crater on the far side of the Moon. The image above, cropped, reduced, and annotated to post here, shows these tracks.

The most obvious track is cool because the boulder almost made, as the scientists note, “a hole-in-one.”

Running from the outcrops to the rim of the partially buried crater is a track etched by a rolling boulder bigger than a bus. Perhaps a moonquake shook it loose. The boulder bounced and rolled toward the partially buried crater, plowing a path that is still visible through the loose material of the slope. When it reached the rim of the partially erased crater, its path curved and it slowed to a stop.

…Had it rolled just 75 meters more, the boulder might have plopped neatly into a 30-meter-diameter young impact crater on the floor of the partially erased crater.

The arrows I have added indicate two more less obvious boulder tracks. If you click on the full resolution image and zoom in you can also see another series of impressions in the middle of the photograph that look like a dotted line, suggesting they were left by a boulder bouncing down the slope.

The scattered of boulders in the floor of the small crater all likely came from the top of the big crater’s rim, which I show in the wider image below.

Wider image showing entire crater slope

The box indicates the location of the image above.

While many things over the eons could caused these boulders to roll (moonquakes, erosion from the solar wind, other nearby impacts), a close look at the ground surrounding them does not show tracks emanating from most, suggesting they have been there a very long time, long enough for the surface reworking caused by the solar wind to have smoothed those tracks out.

The Moon is airless and mostly dead. The solar wind is incredibly weak. Any changes caused by it will take a lot of time. Consider the time required to smooth out those tracks. The mind boggles.

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Trump gets asylum deal with Guatemala

After Trump threatened Guatemala with tariffs earlier this week, that government suddenly decided yesterday to agree to an asylum deal it had previously rejected.

After President Trump invited the media into the oval office, he announced Guatemala was signing a “safe third country” asylum agreement with the United Stated. Effectively blocking Central American asylum seekers from reaching the United States and filing asylum applications. [As an outcome of the agreement asylum seekers who travel through Guatemala can no longer seek U.S. asylum.]

This agreement combined with recent Mexican efforts, also agreed to after a Trump threat of high tariffs, probably means there will be a significant reduction in illegal immigration. For certain the caravans from two years ago will cease.

As always, this does not mean the U.S., Trump, or his supporters do not welcome immigrants. What is demanded is that they follow the law.

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Judge dismisses Sandmann libel case against Washington Post

But of course! A Kentucky judge has thrown out the $250 million Nick Sandmann libel case against the Washington Post, saying the Post was merely exercising its first amendment rights.

Everyone should understand how this works. Leftist and liberal news outlets, as well as leftist and liberal politicians and pundits, are allowed to slander and libel and lie about any conservative because of free speech. Should a conservative do it however be prepared to have the full force of the law come down on you like a brick.

More and more it appears the law is no longer for everyone. Instead, it has become a weapon by the left to oppress its opponents.

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Movie of Hayabusa-2’s 2nd Ryugu touch-and-go

The Hayabusa-2 science team has released a short movie showing the spacecraft’s second touch-and-go sample grab on the surface of Ryugu.

The movie is available at the link above, or here.

From the burst of material that flies off the surface at touchdown, it is very clear why the science team was so worried about damaging Hayabusa-2 during this event.

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Chandrayaan-2 raises its orbit a second time

India’s lunar orbiter/lander/rover Chandrayaan-2 today made its second orbital engine burn, raising the apogee of its orbit to almost 55K kilometers.

They have two more engine burns planned before the apogee enters the Moon’s sphere of influence and shifts the spacecraft’s orbit to a lunar one.

Link fixed!

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NASA to do full engine test of SLS first stage

NASA confirmed yesterday that it will do a full engine test of its SLS first stage, what it calls the Green Run test.

This decision makes sense. SpaceX for example routinely does a static fire test of its first stages before every flight. NASA however had hesitated doing this test because it will likely force a delay in the first launch of SLS. Unlike a commercial company like SpaceX, NASA is incapable of doing this test and then proceeding to flight quickly, mostly because the size of SLS (it is very large) and its design (very cumbersome) makes such quick action difficult.

This decision however means that it is almost certain that SLS’s first unmanned test launch cannot happen in 2020. For NASA to make Trump’s commitment to fly a lunar landing by 2024 means that NASA must compress SLS’s schedule to one flight per year. First the unmanned test flight would occur, probably in 2021. Then the first manned test flight around the Moon would follow, in 2022 or 2023. Finally the landing mission would take place in 2024.

Can NASA do this? I have many doubts. The agency’s biggest obstacle would be getting their lunar lander built in time, which by the way is not yet even designed. This isn’t the only problem. NASA for years has said that they will need from one to three years between SLS flights. This schedule demands more from them.

Meanwhile, there is a good possibility that SpaceX will beat them to the Moon. If that happens, then expect SLS to die, either before or after its first or second flight.

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Starhopper has hopped

Capitalism in space: SpaceX last night successfully completed the first untethered flight of its Starship/Super Heavy prototype dubbed Starhopper.

This hop attempted and flew about 65 feet. They hope to do next flight, planned to be about ten times higher, in a week or two, according to a Musk tweet.

Below the fold is video of the hop. You can’t see much as the viewing angle is ground level, it is night, and the engine flames obscure things. Expect better footage from future hops.
» Read more

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