Astronomers discover three merging supermassive black holes

Using telescopes on Mauna Kea in Hawaii, astronomers have discovered three different galaxies that have pairs of supermassive black holes at their center, with all three likely to merge at some point in the future.

First the scientists used the Subaru Telescope to survey more than 34,000 known quasars, high energy supermassive black holes.

The team identified 421 promising cases. However, there was still the chance many of these were not bona-fide dual quasars but rather chance projections such as starlight from our own galaxy. Confirmation required detailed analysis of the light from the candidates to search for definitive signs of two distinct quasars.

Using Keck Observatory’s Low Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (LRIS) and Gemini Observatory’s Near-Infrared Integral Field Spectrometer, Silverman and his team identified three dual quasars, two of which were previously unknown. Each object in the pair showed the signature of gas moving at thousands of kilometers per second under the influence of a supermassive black hole.

From this survey work they now tentatively estimate that only 0.3% of all known quasars are likely made up of a binary, which in turn gives them a rough estimate of how often galaxies with such supermassive black holes collide and merge. This in turn helps them develop theories on galaxy formation.

Delta 4 Heavy launch scrubbed

Tonight’s launch of ULA’s Delta 4 Heavy was scrubbed due to a variety of technical problems. They have not set a new launch time, though they say they are aiming for the early morning hours of August 28.

This was to have been the first of four American launches in the next four days. The next, a Falcon 9 launch of an Argentinian radar Earth observation satellite, was scheduled for tomorrow, August 27th, at 7:19 pm (Eastern). No word on whether it is going forward as planned, though it might be since the ULA launch has shifted after it, to August 28th.

The third, by Rocket Lab, is presently scheduled also for August 28rd at 11:05 pm (Eastern), launching out of New Zealand.

The fourth, another SpaceX launch of more Starlink satellites, had been scheduled for 10:30 am (Eastern) on August 29th. Once again, this schedule could change due to tonight’s ULA scrub.

Stay tuned. I suspect all three companies are going to aggressively work to get all four launches off as fast as possible, even if not exactly as presently scheduled.

What OSIRIS-REx will grab from the asteroid Bennu in October

Closest view of Nightingale taken by OSIRIS-REx

On August 11th the spacecraft OSIRIS-REx did a sample grab-and-go rehearsal that put the spacecraft as close as 135 feet from the asteroid Bennu. During the rehearsal the spacecraft’s mapping camera (MapCam) snapped 22 images of the approach, showing the landing site, dubbed Nightingale, at the highest resolution yet.

From those images the science team created a movie. To the right is the closest image from that movie, lightened slightly and reduced to post here. It gives us the best view of the Nightingale landing site we will have prior to the October sample grab.

In essence, we are looking at the material that OSIRIS-REx will grab, though which particular rocks will be grabbed from this gravel pile are of course unknown. The spacecraft’s equipment is designed to capture pebbles smaller than 0.8 inches across. There are a good number of such rocks here, interspersed with a lot of larger rocks, including the several more than a foot across.

As I have noted previously, this landing site is about half the diameter of the landing sites the spacecraft was designed to touch down on. The rehearsal however gives us strong hope that OSIRIS-REx will be able to hit the bullseye. See this second movie, which shows the approach from two different cameras, with a wider context image provided to show how the spacecraft successfully hones in on its target.

The view from the cockpit

An evening pause: This short video shows us what it is like for the pilot and co-pilot as they prepare for departure from Frankfurt, Germany, on a cargo flight to Africa and beyond. Note that even though the crew is German and the airport is German, all communications with the control tower are in English. Note also that their altitude is recorded in feet, not meters. The American big lead in the commercial airline industry in the first half of the 20th century allowed it to set the standards, including the use of feet and English in these matters.

Hat tip Tom Biggar.

Five charts prove the continuing COVID-19 panic unwarranted

Link here. Not surprisingly, the U.S. is doing better than almost every other country in the world, and the numbers also show that the epidemic is dying off.

On confirmed cases per million, the U.S. ranks 9th, but this is in part due to the extensive testing we’ve done. In fact, despite what Biden and Co. will have you believe, we are in the top of the pack when it comes to COVID-19 tests per capita. (Note that only four of the other 36 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development nations do better than the U.S. on tests per capita. Also, every country that does better than the U.S. has a significantly smaller population — some just tens of thousands. In fact, if you add up the populations of every country in the top 17, it equals a little more than half the U.S. population. )

When it comes to the case fatality rate – the share of confirmed cases who have died – there is no comparison. Not only does the U.S. outperform most countries – as well as the world overall – the case fatality rate in the U.S. has been steadily declining.

Finally, there’s the chart Democrats really don’t want you to see: The number of new COVID-19 cases peaked a month ago and has been trending downward ever since.

Make sure you take a look at where Sweden stands when compared to everyone else. For a country that imposed no odious lock downs, their numbers are quite good, and in fact beat nations like Italy and the United Kingdom, which imposed strict rules and house arrests.

NASA/Boeing set summer ’21 for first manned Starliner mission

Capitalism in space: NASA and Boeing have tentatively scheduled the launch of the first manned Starliner mission to ISS for the summer of 2021.

Boeing Co said on Tuesday it aims to redo its unmanned Starliner crew capsule flight test to the International Space Station (ISS) in December or January, depending on when it completes software and test hardware production development.

If the test mission is successful, Boeing and NASA will fly Starliner’s first crewed mission in summer 2021, with a post-certification mission roughly scheduled for the following winter, the company added.

Everything of course depends on the success of the unmanned demo flight. If the capsule has any further problems, as it did on its first unmanned demo flight, the manned flight will likely be delayed again.

Wormlike glacier on Mars

Glacial flow in the mid-latitude southern cratered highlands
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The image to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, shows a very typical glacial-type feature found frequently in the mid-latitudes of Mars. Taken on May 23, 2020 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), it is labeled a “Lobate Flow Feature within Channel in Nereidum Montes.” Nereidum Montes is a rough mountainous region along the northwestern margin of Argyre Basin, the second largest impact basin on Mars, after Hellas Basin.

Scientists using Europe’s Mars Express orbiter have already found a great deal of glacial evidence in these mountains. I have also posted images of other glacial features on the north edge of Argyre. This image just reinforces that data.

This particular glacier however resembles the kind of glaciers one sees on Earth more than most Martian glaciers. As it meanders down its valley, large cracks form near its edges as friction slows their passage and drags them apart. In fact, the glacier itself might have very well carved the canyon. According to Dan Berman, senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute in Arizona, who had requested this image,

While I can’t say for sure, the canyon was likely formed by a glacier. Whether or not the ice that remains today is part of that glacier, or one that formed later, is impossible to say.

» Read more

Virgin Galactic searching for profits outside of space tourism

Not a surprise: After almost two decades of development and no commercial suborbital tourism flights, the new management of Virgin Galactic (with Richard Branson having sold off his majority shares) is now searching for other ways to make money with its assets.

Among them, renting out the WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) launch support aircraft for government or private businesses to use for science, research, and national security applications. There’s just one problem: Legally it cannot do that.

Because WhiteKnightTwo is considered an experimental aircraft by the Federal Aviation Administration using it in this manner would be a violation of 14 CFR 91.319(a)(2), which states that “no person may operate an aircraft that has an experimental certificate – (1) For other than the purpose for which the certificate was issued; or (2) Carrying persons or property for compensation or hire.” In a filing made Tuesday The Space Company and Virgin Galactic jointly petitioned for exemption from the regulations.

It appears the new management is recognizing that the suborbital tourism market is weak (with the coming of orbital tourism), and needs to shift gears, any way it can.

The colors of Mars

The different colors of Mars
Click for full image.

Actually today’s cool image tells us less about the real colors on Mars and much about the colors captured by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The photo on the right was taken on May 2, 2020, and shows a relatively featureless area to the east of 80-mile wide Byrd Crater in the high southern latitude of Mars.

The only major features seen on this photo are a series of rounded ridges that in the larger context map at the image site look almost like drainage hollows coming down from the crater’s rim about twenty miles away.

The colors, though exaggerated and not entirely as the eye would see them, still tell us something very real about the surface. As explained here [pdf]:

In spite of the variable level of color enhancement for the Extras products, we can make some generalizations to better understand what the stretched color images are showing. Dust (or indurated dust) is generally the reddest material present and looks reddish in the RGB color. … Coarser-grained materials (sand and rocks) are generally bluer … but also relatively dark, except where coated by dust. Frost and ice are also relatively blue, but bright, and often concentrated at the poles or on pole-facing slopes. Some bedrock is also relatively bright and blue, but not as much as frost or ice, and it has distinctive morphologies.

Thus, this photo is telling us that the lower areas are covered with dust (the red), while the rounded ridgelines are covered with coarser and bigger rocks. The brightest blue, which is facing towards the south pole, might also indicate frost or ice.
» Read more

Report: Astronomy threatened by satellite constellations

A report issued today, resulting from a video conference of astronomers in July, has concluded that much of ground-based astronomy is threatened by the new large satellite constellations being launched by SpaceX, OneWeb, and others.

The astronomers’ report offers six solutions for solving the problem.

  • Launch fewer or no LEOsats. However impractical or unlikely, this is the only option identified that can achieve zero astronomical impact.
  • Deploy satellites at orbital altitudes no higher than ~600 km.
  • Darken satellites or use sunshades to shadow their reflective surfaces.
  • Control each satellite’s orientation in space to reflect less sunlight to Earth.
  • Minimize or eventually be able to eliminate the effect of satellite trails during the processing of astronomical images.
  • Make more accurate orbital information available for satellites so that observers can avoid pointing telescopes at them.

Notice what solution they don’t offer? Maybe astronomy should focus on building space-based telescopes, where the view would be clear, unimpeded by both the satellites and (much more importantly) the atmosphere.

In fact, the claim in the first solution above, that launching no satellites is “the only option identified that can achieve zero astronomical impact” is intellectually dishonest. All astronomers have to do is get their observatories into space, something that is very doable and affordable with today’s cheaper launch capabilities and technology. In space the impact of the satellites will once again be zero. And they will have the added benefit of getting outside the atmosphere, which by the way is actually a bigger limitation to observations than any satellite constellation.

It seems to me that this report was written by the faction of astronomers who make their living building big ground-based telescopes. Rather than think of solutions, they want to protect their turf by attacking the achievements of others.

A nuclear battery that never needs charging?

A California company, NDB (which stands for nuclear diamond battery), is developing a nuclear battery using waste products from nuclear power plants that will never need charging and will be able to replace almost any ordinary battery, from those used in computers and smart phones to AA and AAA batteries.

The heart of each cell is a small piece of recycled nuclear waste. NDB uses graphite nuclear reactor parts that have absorbed radiation from nuclear fuel rods and have themselves become radioactive. Untreated, it’s high-grade nuclear waste: dangerous, difficult and expensive to store, with a very long half-life.

This graphite is rich in the carbon-14 radioisotope, which undergoes beta decay into nitrogen, releasing an anti-neutrino and a beta decay electron in the process. NDB takes this graphite, purifies it and uses it to create tiny carbon-14 diamonds. The diamond structure acts as a semiconductor and heat sink, collecting the charge and transporting it out. Completely encasing the radioactive carbon-14 diamond is a layer of cheap, non-radioactive, lab-created carbon-12 diamond, which contains the energetic particles, prevents radiation leaks and acts as a super-hard protective and tamper-proof layer.

To create a battery cell, several layers of this nano-diamond material are stacked up and stored with a tiny integrated circuit board and a small supercapacitor to collect, store and instantly distribute the charge. NDB says it’ll conform to any shape or standard, including AA, AAA, 18650, 2170 or all manner of custom sizes.

The company says it has already built a proof-of-concept, and will begin building commercial prototypes as soon as it can reopen (they were shuttered by the Wuhan flu panic).

More at the link. Also see the video below the fold. To say this technology would be game-changing is an understatement of epic proportions. At the same time, a lot of difficult work will be required to make it practical and affordable. Don’t expect this to be available in stores for at least a few years.
» Read more

Russia to spend $470 million to restore Sea Launch

The Russian government today revealed that it has agreed to spend $470 million to restore the Sea Launch floating launchpad.

Before Russia took possession the platform had been stripped of much of its equipment, probably as part of the final financial settlement with Boeing, which had once been a part owner (with Russia and the Ukraine). As part of the break-up of the company Russia had had to buy Boeing off (after many lawsuits) to gain full ownership.

As noted by Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov, “It is a unique structure unparalleled in the world. Some have plans for building something similar. It would be very silly of us, if we decided against restoring the Sea Launch and using its services. Technically all this is possible.”

For Russia the platform gives them the potential of a launch site at the equator, something they have never had.

Four American launches in the four days

UPDATE: Rocket Lab’s launch has been delayed to 11:05 pm (Eastern) August 28 due of weather.

Beginning tomorrow, the next four days will be very busy for the American space rocket industry, with three companies attempting to complete four different launches.

First comes Rocket Lab, which will attempt its first launch of its Electron rocket since its first operational launch failure on July 4. Launch is scheduled for 11:05 pm (Eastern) on August 26th.

Next ULA is scheduled to use its most powerful rocket, the Delta 4 Heavy, to put a National Reconnaissance Office surveillance satellite into orbit. Launch is set for 2:12 am (Eastern) on August 27th. This very expensive rocket (which costs three to four times that of a Falcon Heavy) has only four launches left before being permanently retired.

Then SpaceX will attempt two launches in quick succession. The first will launch at 7:19 pm (Eastern) on August 27th, putting up an Argentinian Earth observation radar satellite. On this launch the first stage is a new one, and will attempt the first landing at Cape Canaveral since March 2020.

SpaceX will then follow with its third Starlink launch this month and twelfth overall, scheduled for 10:30 am (Eastern) on August 29th out of its facility at Cape Canaveral, assuming the other launches at Kennedy go as planned.

Moreover, the startup smallsat rocket company Astra is also aiming to attempt its first test launch before the end of August. The date is not yet set.

Busy times for sure, but note that this is only the beginning. I expect by the end of the 2020s the launch schedule will get increasingly packed. Soon having three three launches per week will seem routine.

Another professor arrested for lying about ties to China

This is beginning to be a weekly event: Today another professor, this time from Texas A&M, was arrested for lying in grant applications by not disclosing his university affiliations in China.

Professor Zhengdong Cheng, 53, is charged with conspiracy, making false statements and wire fraud. Cheng led a team conducting research for NASA while secretly working with China, according to federal investigators.

“Dr. Cheng is accused of hiding his affiliation with the Guangdong University of Technology, along with other foreign universities, while disregarding the rules established under his NASA contract during his employment at TAMU,” said FBI Houston Special Agent in Charge Perrye K. Turner.

More and more it looks to me as if China cannot invent anything themselves, only update what they steal.

COVID-19: The epidemic is ending, why do government restrictions remain?

This essay is going to include a number of graphs [data source], showing the daily numbers related to the Wuhan virus since the beginning of the epidemic. All show that the epidemic is truly tapering off or ending, regardless of where you live. All also strongly suggest that the lock downs, restrictions, mask mandates, and the many other odious rules that were imposed initially for just a few weeks to prevent our healthcare system from being overwhelmed but have remained in force now for many months should immediately be cancelled or removed.

And yet, these restrictions remain, in one form or another, with some rules (such as the mandate to wear masks) being expanded, sometimes to the point of idiocy. That they remain proves again that those lock downs, restrictions, mask mandates and other rules had little to do with the disease. Instead their goal was to impose new authoritarian rules on the citizenry, meant to establish new precedents of power and control for the petty dictators who wish to rule us like servants.

Daily mortality of COVID-19 across the entire United States

The first graph to the right shows the daily deaths across the entire United States. As you can see, after reaching a peak in late April, the disease began fading with the coming of warmer weather, as these seasonal flu-like diseases always do. Then, beginning in early July we saw a slow new rise that peaked in early August and has since begun tapering off.

The second peak is puzzling for a seasonal disease, but we might be able to explain it by thinking about the consequences of the lock downs. Normally a seasonal disease hits, and than fades. Normally however there are no lock downs and restrictions, which means the virus has a chance to quickly spread throughout the population, reach herd immunity, and then die.

This time however we decided to slow the disease’s spread, which means that at some point, when those restrictions were eased (not removed) we were guaranteed to see a new uptick. This is what has happened, though the uptick as should be expected is relatively small, nowhere near as severe as the initial peak.

In fact, to understand the true impact of this virus it is essential to recognize several very important components of these death numbers. First, these numbers are likely exaggerated, by at least 25%. Hospitals get more money if they claim a death came from COVID-19, so they have a strong incentive to assign the cause of death to COVID-19, even when it was only a minor factor. There is ample evidence this has been happening.

These extra benefits have also meant that COVID-19 has cured the flu! This year will see the fewest flu deaths ever, now estimated to be only 6,605 total, an absurdly low number compared to every other year, ever. In other words, of the 168,000 or so deaths assigned to the Wuhan flu a large percentage, maybe as much as half, might actually be cases that would have died (or did die) from the flu.

All told, these numbers tell us that the total deaths this year are simply not much higher than in past years, that they have either been overstated or assigned incorrectly to COVID-19. A hard look instead suggests actually that this year’s epidemic was essentially nothing more than a somewhat worse flu season, painful, but hardly justifying the panic that we’ve seen.

Second, the disease’s mortality continues to be confined almost entirely with the aged sick, with 80% of all COVID-19 deaths occurring in people over 65. Like the flu, the Wuhan flu carries practically no threat for the young and the healthy. If anything, the sooner they can all get infected, the sooner the epidemic will end, actually producing the fewest deaths because the healthy population will choke it off before it can reach the vulnerable parts of the population.

Unfortunately, we did not let this happen, and the consequences for the older population is tragic, as shown by the next two graphs.
» Read more

ULA’s Vulcan rocket: problems with Blue Origin’s rocket engine

Based on a detailed update today at on the status of ULA’s new Vulcan rocket, it appears that while everything is proceeding as scheduled for a 2021 launch debut, the big issue that might cause a delay is Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engine, to be used in Vulcan’s first stage.

Speaking to the Denver Business Journal yesterday, ULA CEO Tory Bruno noted an ongoing issue with BE-4’s turbopumps but voiced his confidence that the issue would soon be resolved and that it would not impact Vulcan’s schedule at this time.

…Development of the BE-4 has long been seen as the critical path for Vulcan. ULA exercised an option within the U.S. Space Force’s National Security Space Launch (NSSL) Phase 2 award proposal and bid Atlas V as a backup vehicle for Vulcan in case the latter ran into development or certification issues.

When asked when ULA would have to inform the Space Force of its desire to switch one of the first awarded NSSL missions from Vulcan to Atlas V under a purely hypothetical BE-4 or Vulcan issue, Mr. Peller [VP of Major Development for ULA] did not comment directly, instead affirming ULA’s confidence that all of their NSSL missions would fly on Vulcan. [emphasis mine]

From the Denver Business Journal article:

Blue Origin is still troubleshooting the 75,000-horsepower pumps that bring fuel to the BE-4’s main combustion chamber, Bruno said, adding that he’s confident the issues will soon be solved. “There’s very little technical risk,” he said. “It isn’t easy, but we know we can do it.” [emphasis mine]

This is the first public admission I’ve seen anywhere of a specific problem with the BE-4 engine. It also suggests strongly that the problem has been long-standing, and has not yet been solved.

Both articles also make it clear that ULA is prepared to continue using both the Atlas 5 rocket and the Russian engines (that the BE-4 is supposed to replace) until 2027, if necessary.

While it could very well be that the BE-4’s turbopump issues are on the way to being solved and there will be no delays, the careful wording by Bruno and his head of development strongly suggests that they are aware of an issue and are trying to deflect press interest in it. In fact, the timing of this revelation, only six weeks after Blue Origin delivered to ULA its first BE-4 engine (a test version not flightworthy), suggests that ULA has only now become aware of the issue, and is now working to help solve it.

Stay tuned. I suspect all will become very clear within the next few months.

New analysis: COVID-19 was already widespread before the lock downs

It was all so unnecessary: A new analysis by scientists suggests strongly that COVID-19 was already widespread within the U.S. population before the national emergency was declared on March 13th and the lock downs thus imposed.

Although the limitations of our analysis limit the precision of our results, we can nonetheless conclude that unobserved SARS-CoV-2 infections in the United States by 12 March could have easily numbered in the hundreds of thousands … and quite possibly in excess of 1 million. This result, considered together with extensive presymptomatic and asymptomatic transmission of SARS-CoV-2, suggests that the United States was well past the possibility of containment by 12 March.

Essentially, what their analysis found is that COVID-19 had already arrived in the U.S. when our politicians panicked and destroyed our economy and millions of lives. By the time the lock downs were imposed the disease was here, and spreading fast. The lock downs were pointless, the social distancing was pointless, the house arrests were pointless, and most especially, the requirement to wear masks was pointless.

Like all flu-like viruses, COVID-19 was going to get here regardless. The best we could do is focus on protecting the most vulnerable (the aged sick), and go on with life boldly. Most of our politicians did not do that, and so they not only had more deaths among the aged sick than was necessary, they ruined everyone else’s lives as well.

And maybe the worst consequence of the Wuhan panic is that we now live in a culture that lives in fear of the flu, a disease that is merely a short sickness from which almost everyone recovers. Such a culture can only die, because it won’t have the courage to take any risks at all.

Hubble photographs Comet NEOWISE

Comet NEOWISE, photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope
Click for full image.

Using the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have obtained close-up images of Comet NEOWISE after it had survived its closest approach to the Sun. The photo to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, is one of Hubble’s two images.

Comets often break apart due to thermal and gravitational stresses at such close encounters, but Hubble’s view suggests that NEOWISE’s solid nucleus stayed intact. This heart of the comet is too small to be seen directly by Hubble. The ball of ice may be no more than 4.8 kilometres across. But the Hubble image does captures a portion of the vast cloud of gas and dust enveloping the nucleus, which measures about 18 000 kilometres across in this image.

Hubble’s observation also resolves a pair of jets from the nucleus shooting out in opposite directions. They emerge from the comet’s core as cones of dust and gas, and then are curved into broader fan-like structures by the rotation of the nucleus. Jets are the result of ice sublimating beneath the surface with the resulting dust/gas being squeezed out at high velocity.

Below the fold is a six-second movie made of Hubble’s two images, showing how the jets changed over a three hour time period on August 8th.
» Read more

Mars: On the floor of Valles Marineris

Strange flow (?) on floor of Valles Marineris
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The image to the right, rotated and cropped to post here, was taken by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on May 14, 2020, and shows a very strange bright outcrop on the floor of Valles Marineris, the largest canyon on both Mars and in the entire solar system.

MRO has photographed this spot a few times since 2007. The first image was posted with a detailed caption by Colin Dundas of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Astrogeology Science Center in Arizona, who described the feature like so:

Most of the material is light and shows many small scarps or benches. In places these appear to indicate boundaries between layers, but they are often discontinuous. The light material is buried by a thin mantle of dark material in places; the dark material is from other rock layers—possibly those above the outcrop—and has fallen or been blown over the light rock.

Near the top of the outcrop, there is a distinctive layer that appears as a dark band at low resolution. At the full resolution of HiRISE, this appears to be a layer breaking up into angular boulders, indicating different rock properties than the underlying light rock. There does appear to be some light material above this layer, suggesting that the process that deposited the light material continued for some time.

Dundas also added that the lighter material is theorized to have “formed by a variety of processes. Proposed deposition mechanisms for light-toned sediments on Mars include those from rivers or lakes, volcanic ash or wind-blown sand or dust.”

Since this lighter colored outcrop has remained as bright as it has now for more than six Martian years, I doubt it is brighter because of the surface deposit of ash, sand, or dust (though it might be made of these materials which have now become hardened). My guess is that the brightness is inherent to the outcrop. Moreover, note the plateau to the southwest. Its rim is cut sharply, suggesting erosion revealed this outcrop, and that the outcrop is made of more resistant material.

The overview map provides some context that also might help explain the geology at this location.
» Read more

Russia to continue bilateral space negotiations with U.S.

According to one Russian foreign policy official, the Putin government will continue bilateral space negotiations with United States in connection with both its Artemis Accords (designed to encourage private ownership in space) and the military doctrines in space recently set forth by the U.S. Space Force.

The official also made note of a Russian-Chinese agreement related to the use of space, which seems to counter what the Trump administration is pushing with the Artemis Accords. However, the fact that these bilateral agreements and negotiations now exist actually gets the U.S. what it wants, foreign treaties that set out goals and rules that bypass the restrictions of the Outer Space Treaty. Those restrictions make private ownership in space legally questionable. That Russia is willing to continue negotiations with the U.S. means that it might agree eventually to some framework that allows private property in space, in order to remain a partner in the Trump administrations Artemis lunar project.

Blue Origin-led partnership delivers lunar lander mockup to NASA

Capitalism in space: The Blue Origin-led partnership, which calls itself “the National Team,” has delivered to the Johnson Space Center a full scale mock-up of the manned lunar lander it is building for NASA.

The full-sized, but low-fidelity, mockup includes both the descent element, developed by Blue Origin, and ascent element, built by Lockheed Martin, and stands more than 12 meters high.

The companies developed the mockup to allow NASA astronauts and engineers to study the layout of the vehicle, including positioning of various components, and get feedback while the lander is still in an early stage of development.

While providing this mock-up to NASA for design review makes sense, I must say that I yawned when I saw the string of overly excited new reports about it from almost every mainstream news outlet. It appears that though Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin have become very skilled at delivering nothing but mock-ups and promises over the past few years, both have also become very skilled at getting the press pumped up with each new mock-up and promise.

More and more does Bezos and Blue Origin remind me of Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic, making promises and holding spectacular fake press events, but actually achieving little. I could be wrong, but I can’t get that similarity out of my head. Blue Origin was founded in 2000, before SpaceX, and after more than twenty years it has yet to fly anything commercially. Work on its New Shepard reusable suborbital rocket has apparently stalled, without ever flying humans. Its main rocket engine, the BE-4, is taking years to develop, with only test versions built, none flightworthy. And New Glenn, its orbital rocket, remains a fantasy.

I truly hope my cynicism here is unfounded. I want Blue Origin to succeed. I just wish they’d finally do something.

Chinese company successfully completes 300 meter hop of first stage

Linkspace hopper prototype being transported to launch site

The new colonial movement: The Chinese pseudo-company Linkspace has successfully completed a 300 meter hop of the first stage of its new rocket.

Video of the hop can be seen here. The photo to the right is a screen capture from that video showing the rocket being transported to the launch site. Based on this image, the stage appears small, no more than twenty feet tall. I suspect this is only a prototype, comparable in many ways with SpaceX’s Grasshopper, which was a prototype to test vertical landing.

This success however lays the groundwork for building a full scale model.

I call Linkspace a “pseudo-company” in that it might have raised independent investment capital and appears to work as a private company, in China and with rockets there is no such thing. Everything this company does is closely supervised by the government. There is no independence here.

UK spaceport in north Scotland approved

Capitalism in space: A commercial spaceport in Sutherland, Scotland, has received full approval from the local planning commission.

With planning permission now secured, construction is on course to begin before the end of the year, and HIE is hopeful that the site could be operational and supporting its first launch as early as 2022.

Their prime customer, a UK company dubbed Orbex Space, had said two years ago it would do its first launch by 2021, so this announcement also reveals a year delay in that first launch.

Lockheed Martin, teamed with Rocket Lab, has also said it will launch from this site.

1 2 3 4 6