UAE outlines new plans in space

The new colonial movement: The United Arab Emirates (UAE) had put forth a new set of goals in its space program, including sending another astronaut to space, sending an unmanned probe to the Moon, and encouraging the development of UAE-built Earth resource smallsats.

The lunar mission is targeted to launch in 2024, and it appears they wish to build it entirely themselves, rather than subcontract American companies and universities to do the bulk of the work, as they did for the Hope Mars orbiter. It appears they believe that the training their people got from the Hope mission development will make it possible for them to proceed now on their own.

I also suspect that instead of buying a Russian Soyuz launch, they are aiming to hire an American company, either SpaceX or Boeing, to fly their next astronaut, since they have made a deal with NASA for astronaut training.

China and Russia launch a bunch of satellites

Russia today used its Soyuz-2 rocket to launch three communication satellites plus 19 commercial smallsats.

This was the first time Russia used the Soyuz-2 for these particular small communications satellites, as previously they had been launched by a variety of smaller rockets.

China in turn today used its Long March 4B to place two Earth resource satellites into orbit.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

25 China
15 SpaceX
10 Russia
4 ULA
4 Europe (Arianespace)

China has moved ahead of the U.S. 25 to 24 in the national rankings.

These numbers should change again in the next few days. The U.S. has had a number of scrubs and launch delays in the past few days. ULA has been repeatedly pushing back the previously delayed launch of a National Security Agency reconnaissance satellite due to a variety of problems related to its Delta 4 Heavy rocket. The launch is now set for just after midnight tonight.

SpaceX meanwhile had to scrub a launch this morning of another 60 Starlink satellites due to weather. No new launch date has yet been announced.

Northrop Grumman also has had to scrub tomorrow’s Antares launch of a Cygnus cargo freighter because of poor weather at Wallops Island. It is now set for the evening of October 1st.

SpaceX also has a scheduled launch tomorrow morning of a GPS satellite on its Falcon 9 rocket. This is also threatened by weather.

It WAS a coup attempt

In the past few days a number of news stories have confirmed, unequivocally, that the effort in the FBI, CIA, and Justice Department to spy on the Trump campaign before the election and then pin the false accusation of Russian collusion on Trump after his election were all an effort to dictate the results of the election, and then overturn it when Trump won.

It was an out-and-out coup attempt by these government officials, apparently aided and abetted by Obama when he was still president.

First we learn that the FBI agents working on the fake prosecution of former National Security were so worried their misconduct would be uncovered by the Trump administration that they bought liability insurance to protect themselves.
» Read more

German instrument on Chang’e-4 documents dangerous radiation levels

This result is not a surprise: A German instrument on China’s Chang’e-4 lander, located now on the Moon’s far side, has measured the radiation levels there, and found them to be much worse than found on Earth.

DLR radiation physicist Thomas Berger from the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine, who participated in the publication explains: “The radiation exposure we measured is a good indication of the radiation inside a spacesuit. The measurements give us an equivalent dose rate – the biologically weighted radiation dose per unit of time – of around 60 microsieverts per hour. For comparison, during a long-haul flight from Frankfurt to New York, the dose rate is five to 10 times lower than this. On Earth’s surface, it is some 200 times lower. In other words, a long-term stay on the Moon will expose astronauts’ bodies to high doses of radiation.”

“Human bodies are simply not made to be exposed to space radiation,” adds Robert Wimmer-Schweingruber of the Christian-Albrecht University (CAU) in Kiel, whose team developed and built the LND instrument . “On longer missions to the Moon, astronauts will have to protect themselves from it – by covering their habitat with a thick layer of lunar rock, for example. This could reduce the risk of cancer and other illnesses caused by long periods of time spent on the Moon.”

Previous instruments had only measured the cumulative radiation for the entire mission. This instrument took multiple readings lasting one, ten, or sixty minutes, which gives a more realistic measure of what an astronaut would actually experience, once there.

An ice-covered mountain on Mars?

Ice-covered mountain on Mars?
Click for full image.

Grinnell Crater in Glacier National Park in 2017

Today’s cool image, taken on July 1, 2020 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, is of a mound-like mountain on Mars that to all intents and purposes appears covered by glacial ice, some eroded, some not.

The image to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, shows this mound. Both the flow coming down from the mountain top down the north slope as well as the flow in the north that appears to begin in a small crater suggest glacial features.

Even more convincing are what appear to be patches of glacial ice on the southern slopes, resembling the kind of glacial patches you see everywhere in Glacial National Park. The second photo to the right, taken by me on our visit to Glacier National Park in 2017, shows similar patches hugging the mountainside at Grinnell Glacier.

This Martian mountain is located in the southern hemisphere inside Hellas Basin on its eastern interior rim. (See the overview map below, with the location of this photo the small white box south of Harmakhis Valles.) Thus, you would expect the north-facing slope to get more sunlight (and more heat) than the south-facing slopes. Yet, from this image there appears to be greater erosion on the south-facing slopes. A puzzle indeed.
» Read more

Leak hunt continues on ISS

Two stories today indicate that the search for the elusive source of the slow leak on ISS is continuing.

The problem is that the two stories appear to have no overlap, making it hard to figure out what is planned and why.

The first story describes how engineers, based on the first isolation test, now think the leak must be coming from one of two modules:

…the ones the crew didn’t test because they were inside them while monitoring the rest of the station. One is the Zvezda Service Module, which provides life support for the station’s Russian side. The other is the Poisk Mini-Research Module 2, which serves as a port for docking spaceships and a place where crew members prepare for spacewalks.

The second story, from the Russian press, does not mention this detail. All it says is that the astronauts are going to once again isolate themselves in “the Russian segment” so the rest of the station can be tested for leaks. Since the two modules in question are both in that Russian segment, it is unclear where the astronauts will be isolated, especially since Zvezda is also where the Soyuz descent capsule is docked and if sealed from astronaut access it also seals them from their lifeboat.

It could be that the plan is to do another test of the American side of the station, then do these two Russian modules after the arrival of the next manned Dragon mission in a little less than a month. Dragon can then replace Soyuz as a lifeboat, allowing a test of Zvezda.

Regardless, the leak is a slow one, and is not yet life-threatening. That the leak rate has recently increased however requires action to find and fix it.

SpaceX destroys Starship prototype #7, as planned

Capitalism in space: SpaceX last night successfully pressurized its seventh Starship prototype to failure, as planned.

The culmination of three nights and more than 20 hours of concerted effort, SpaceX was finally able to fill Starship test tank SN7.1 with several hundred tons of liquid nitrogen before dawn on September 23rd. With just an hour left in the day’s test window, SpaceX closed the tank’s vents, allowing its cryogenic contents to boil into gas and expand with no outlet. At 4:57 am CDT, SN7.1 burst, bringing its lengthy test campaign to a decisive end.

I have embedded video of the test below the fold.

With the completion of this test the way is now clear for the 60,000 foot hop of Starship prototype #8, no earlier than October 11th.
» Read more

Axiom, SpaceX, and NASA finalizing first wholly private manned mission

Capitalism in space: Axiom, SpaceX, and NASA are close to finalizing the deal for the first wholly private manned mission to ISS, tentatively set for October 2021.

One of the topics Axiom is negotiating with NASA involves how much insight the space agency will have into the private astronaut mission. While the Axiom missions will be managed by commercial companies, the AX-1 flight will fly with a reusable Crew Dragon spacecraft that will carry NASA astronauts on other missions. “There’s a certain amount of insight (NASA) would like on our flight, on a commercial flight,” [Axiom official] Suffredini said Friday. “So that is one aspect of that process. We’re using a vehicle that is going to be re-flown, and NASA will certify the re-flights because they want to do re-flights.”

Axiom and SpaceX will also have to confirm a schedule with NASA for the AX-1 mission to dock with the space station. The orbiting research complex has a busy schedule of arriving and departing crew and cargo vehicles, and managers also have slot in spacecraft dockings amid spacewalks, experiments, and other critical operations.

NASA also oversees safety of the space station with the program’s international partners.

The private companies however will in the end be responsible for the flight.

There have been rumors that the passengers on this flight will be Tom Cruise and his film director, though this is not confirmed. Also, these same arrangements will be used for the tentative 2023 private flight of the winner of a proposed reality television show dubbed Space Hero.

Blue Origin scrubs New Shepard flight today

Capitalism in space: Blue Origin today scrubbed the first New Shepard flight in ten months.

From the company:

We’ve detected a potential issue with the power supply to the experiments. Launch is scrubbed for today. New launch target forthcoming.

Ten months since their last flight, and the power supply to the experiments has a problem the day of the launch? Sorry if I sound harsh, but that does not speak well for the company’s quality control systems.

OSIRIS-REx team confirms date for sample grab from Bennu

Nightingale landing site on Bennu
Click for full image.

The OSIRIS-REx science team has confirmed October 20, 2020 as the date the spacecraft will attempt a sample grab from the asteroid Bennu.

OSIRIS-REx is charged with collecting at least 2 oz. (60 grams) of Bennu’s rocky material to deliver back to Earth – the largest sample return from space since the Apollo program – and the mission developed two methods to verify that this sample collection occurred. On Oct. 22, OSIRIS-REx’s SamCam camera will capture images of the TAGSAM head to see whether it contains Bennu’s surface material. The spacecraft will also perform a spin maneuver on Oct. 24 to determine the mass of collected material. If these measures show successful collection, the decision will be made to place the sample in the Sample Return Capsule (SRC) for return to Earth. If sufficient sample has not been collected from [the primary landing site] Nightingale, the spacecraft has onboard nitrogen charges for two more attempts. A TAG attempt at the back-up Osprey site would be made no earlier than January 2021.

The press release at the link provides a lot of technical and interesting details about the sample-grab-and-go attempt, expected to put the spacecraft in contact with the asteroid’s surface for no more than sixteen seconds.

The maneuver itself is quite risky, as the available smooth landing area, as shown in the image above, is only half the size the equipment was designed for, and surrounded by large boulders.

Corroding glacier in crater rim gully?

Gully in crater rim
Click for full image.

Today’s cool image to the right, rotated and cropped to post here, shows a gully flowing down the north facing rim of a 30-mile-wide crater in the southern cratered highlands. It was taken on June 30, 2020 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

To my eye the corroded ridges and pits running down the western side of this gully look like a corroded ice, as if we are looking at a glacier that the light of the Sun, which in the southern hemisphere hits this north-facing slope more directly and for longer periods of time, is causing it to sublimate away with time.

The wider shot below shows the entire rim, flowing downhill from the south to the north.
» Read more

On the radio

Tomorrow, September 24, 2020, at 6:00 pm (Central) I will be spending an hour on Pratt on Texas with Robert Pratt, aired on 790-AM KFYO in Lubbock, 1470-AM KYYW in Abilene, and 1290-AM KWFS in Wichita Falls. Also available here.

We will talk space a bit, but the bulk of the hour will be talking about the insane panic over the Wuhan virus, and the refusal of people to see that the epidemic is fading, and that it wasn’t the horror it has been sold has.

California to ban all gas-powered vehicles

This is not the Babylon Bee: California Democratic governor Gavin Newsom today announced that as of 2035 the state will outlaw all gas-powered vehicles.

Newsom said that his new executive order would “eliminate” the sales of “internal combustion engines” and move to electric vehicles — a move that he said would create jobs and allow California to “dominate” the market, and address climate change. Those who currently own gas-powered vehicles would still be allowed to operate them and to sell them on the used market.

2035 happens to be the same year that former Vice President Joe Biden has set as a deadline for the U.S. to eliminate fossil fuels from electricity production, five years later than originally proposed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) in her “Green New Deal.” Ocasio-Cortez led the climate change panel on the “Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force” earlier this year.

The ignorance displayed by this policy decision is spectacular. These Democrats obviously believe that the power from electric cars comes from magic. They also seem to believe that new technology can magically be decreed, by government fiat.

What this degree will do is bankrupt California, and make living there a living hell, suitable only for the very very rich or the very very poor (whose survival will be wholly dependent on those very very rich).

Remember this when you go to vote in November. Newsom, Ocasio-Cortez, and Biden are very typical of the modern Democratic Party. Give it power and it will do the same for the entire nation.

Survival rates for COVID-19

The CDC last week posted its new estimate of the survival rates for COVID-19, broken up by age.

This link put those number in clear terms:

0-19 years: 99.997%
20-49 years: 99.98%
50-69 years: 99.5%
70+ years: 94.6%

Those numbers are practically identical to those of the flu. In other words, practically no one dies from it. It makes some people sick for a week or so, and then goes away.

And we have destroyed western civilization over this. It boggles the mind (for those who are still using it).

The worst part is that no one will believe me. Instead, too many will be outraged that anyone would even hint that this virus is not the plague.

Four graphs prove the utter failure of lockdowns and masks

The data is now in. Not only is the coronavirus nothing more than a very bad flu, harmless to the vast majority of the population, the bad policy imposed by almost all governments worldwide has done nothing to alleviate it, and in fact has probably helped kill people, from both the virus and their bad policy.

This conclusion is starkly illustrated in the following four graphs (source), all of which show the history of COVID-19 during the entire 2020 epidemic, now clearly ending. All four graphs are updates of graphs I’ve referenced previously, but now they take us through the epidemic’s present waning, and give us a better context of both the virus’ flu-like nature and the terrible policies imposed by governments in their panic over it.

Daily mortality from COVID-19 in the U.S.

First to the right we have the daily mortality numbers for the entire United States. The steady drop in deaths since epidemic’s second peak on August 12th is very evident. The epidemic appears to be winding down, though very slowly. Furthermore, it had an unusual summer peak that is almost never seen in such respiratory diseases. The reasons for both the slowness of the virus’s decay and its second peak will become clear as we look at the next three graphs, covering the epidemic’s peak in New York, New Jersey, and California.
» Read more

The first Starlink user test results

Capitalism in space: The first Starlink test results by actual users are finally coming out, and they suggest that the constellation will deliver very fast internet speeds indeed.

The article however reveals this tidbit that up until now SpaceX has managed to keep nicely obscured:

While Starlink will provide the kind of speeds and latency that should work for many services and games, Musk said the company simply won’t have the capacity to compete in major metro markets—a caveat often left unmentioned in Starlink coverage. “It’s not good for high-density situations,” Musk said. “We’ll have some small number of customers in LA. But we can’t do a lot of customers in LA because the bandwidth per cell is simply not high enough.”

As a result, Starlink won’t do much for the estimated 83 million Americans stuck under a broadband monopoly (usually Comcast), or the millions more whose only options are a duopoly; usually either the cable company or a sluggish DSL line from the local phone company.

In other words, the service will likely not be made available in dense urban areas, at least not initially.

New Shepard test flight set for tomorrow

Capitalism in space: Blue Origin has scheduled a New Shepard test flight set for tomorrow morning at 10 am (Central), the first test flight in ten months.

This will be the seventh flight of this particular New Shepard spacecraft, the thirteenth overall for the program.

In March the company’s CEO had promised three flights by the end of 2020, with the last manned. The press release above howeveronly mentions that tomorrow’s test flight is the first of two, both now emphasizing how they will be flying payloads testing technology for lunar landings. No mention is made of a later manned mission.

It seems increasingly that Blue Origin is abandoning its suborbital space tourism business. If not, they sure don’t seem very enthusiastic about it any longer. Instead, they appear to be hyping New Shepard as a testbed for their effort to develop the manned lunar lander for NASA.

That same March update from the CEO had also said they would be initiating commercial production of their BE-4 rocket engine this year. All we have had so far is delivery of one testbed engine — not flightworthy — to ULA. ULA soon revealed there are problems with the engine.

All in all, Blue Origin is becoming less and less impressive, as time passes. Their suborbital tourism project appears to be abandoned. Their rocket engine has problems. And their New Glenn orbital rocket appears stalled.

All they have right now is their development contract with NASA to build a manned lunar lander, and in that case Blue Origin is only a minor player, even if the company is listed as the lead contractor. Their big partners (Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Draper) will build the bulk of the lander, should NASA finally get the project financed by Congress.

The company’s failure to deliver so far is a true shame, as the company has ample finances, backed by Jeff Bezos’ billions.

A patch of chaos in the Martian cratered southern highlands

A patch of chaos in the southern cratered highlands of Mars
Click for full image.

Today’s cool image, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, takes us to the cratered southern highlands of Mars. Taken by the context wide angle camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, this image shows us a strange isolated patch of what appears to be chaos terrain, which on Mars generally means an area of random knobs and mesas cut by canyons and channels.

The large bulk of chaos terrain on Mars is found near or in the transition zone between the lowland northern plains and the southern cratered highlands, and is thought to have been created by slow erosion, possibly by glaciers. This erosion process is aided by the gradient downhill from those highlands to the lowlands.

This location however is in the middle of the cratered highlands, and shows no obvious slope in any direction. And though the location is in the mid-southern latitudes, there is no obvious evidence of glaciers among these knobs and mesas. Furthermore, the mesas are not all the same height. Instead, a large portion appear to have been shaved off, as if some giant came in with a putty knife and scrapped away at them.

This can be clearly seen by the close-up below, taken by MRO’s high resolution camera on July 16, 2002 of the area indicated by the white box, which for scale is about 2 1/4 miles square.
» Read more

NASA lays out Artemis budget and plan to get astronauts to Moon

In a obvious lobbying effort to get Congress to fund the Trump administration’s Artemis project to land humans on the Moon by 2024, NASA yesterday released a new updated plan and budget for the program.

More here.

The document [pdf] outlines the specific plans for each of the first three Artemis flights, with the first unmanned, the second manned and designed to fly around the Moon, and the third to land a man and a woman on the Moon. Overall the plan is budgeted at about $28 billion, with $3.2 billion needed immediately to fund construction of the lunar lander. From the second link:

Bridenstine said he remains optimistic Congress will fully fund lander development because of what he described as broad bipartisan support for the Artemis program. He said he’s hopeful an expected continuing resolution that would freeze NASA’s budget at last year’s spending levels will be resolved in an “omnibus” spending bill before Christmas or, if the CR is extended, by early spring. “It is critically important that we get that $3.2 billion,” he said. “And I think that if we can have that done before Christmas, we’re still on track for a 2024 moon landing. … If we go beyond March, and we still don’t have the human landing system funded, it becomes increasingly more difficult.”

And what happens then?

“It’s really simple. If Congress doesn’t fund the moon landing program, then it won’t be achieved (in 2024), I mean it’s really that simple,” Bridenstine said. But he quickly added: “I want to be clear, if they push the funding off, our goal will be to get to the moon at the earliest possible opportunity.”

I remain doubtful the present Congress, with the House controlled by the Democrats, will fund this 2024 lunar landing. Since 2016 the entire political platform of the Democratic Party has been “oppose anything Trump.” They will not fund this project if it means he will get this landing during his second term.

If however Trump loses in November, the lame duck Congress might then go ahead and fund it before December, since the landing in 2024 will then occur during the Biden presidency.

Technically the plan reveals that NASA is trying to accelerate the development of the rendezvous and docking software for Orion. During the second flight, the first manned, the crew will do proximity maneuvers with the upper stage of the rocket. Under previous management NASA had not included this ability, as they had not planned to have Orion do any rendezvouses or dockings. That lack makes it impossible for Orion to fly on any other rocket but SLS. This change means the Trump administration recognizes this is a problem, and wants to fix it, especially because they also recognize that SLS is a poor long term option for future lunar missions.

OneWeb announces new launch schedule, cancels Ariane 6 launch

Capitalism in space: OneWeb, as it restructures itself after its purchase by a partnership of an Indian company and the UK government, has announced a new launch schedule for completing its satellite communications constellation by 2022, with the first launch in December.

The key change is that they have cancelled their deal to fly OneWeb satellites on the first launch of Arianespace’s Ariane 6 rocket. From the first link:

Arianespace will conduct 16 Soyuz launches for OneWeb, each carrying 34-36 satellites, to complete OneWeb’s internet megaconstellation by the end of 2022. The revised contract canceled two Soyuz launches, and removed OneWeb as the customer for the inaugural Ariane 6 launch, an Arianespace spokesperson told SpaceNews.

The Ariane 6 cancellation is bad news for Arianespace’s new rocket, which has had trouble garnering customers. I am sure OneWeb was offered a great price to launch some satellites on that inaugural flight, and still OneWeb backed out.

For Russia this announcement is good news, even if they have lost two Soyuz launches. It means the bulk of their Soyuz launches will go forward, pumping money into the Russia’s starving commercial launch industry. This launch contract is essentially the only Russian commercial contract, with SpaceX stealing all of Russia’s former customers, and the bankruptcy had threatened it.

Finally, this announcement shows that OneWeb’s new owners have recognized that they have to get their satellites launched as fast as possible if they are going to compete with SpaceX’s Starlink constellation.

UAE to train astronauts at NASA

The United Arab Emirates has signed an agreement with NASA to train its two future astronauts to ISS.

UAE astronauts Hazzaa AlMansoori and Sultan AlNeyadi have already begun their training at Nasa’s Johnson Space Center in Houston starting Monday, Salem AlMarri, head of the UAE Astronaut Programme, at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), said during a media briefing. AlMansoori and AlNeyadi had earlier trained at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Moscow, in September 2018 as part of their preparation for their launch to the ISS.

The two men will be launched to ISS by Russia using its Soyuz rocket and capsule. However, the UAE is smart to get them training in the U.S., as they need to work with U.S. mission control and U.S. systems on ISS. Moreover, I expect the UAE might wish to buy tickets eventually on either Dragon or Starliner, and this training lays the groundwork for that possibility.

Ryugu, like Bennu, appears to have rocks from other asteroids

Japanese scientists today announced that 21 rocks identified by Hayabusa-2 on the asteroid Ryugu have a composition that suggests they were formed on another asteroid.

Although Ryugu’s surface is uniformly dark [because it is a C-type asteroid], the scientists behind the new research found numerous boulders scattered across the asteroid that were 1.5 or more times brighter than their surroundings — that is, they reflected at least 50% more light than most of the rest of Ryugu. This contrast made the researchers suspect these boulders may have come from outside the asteroid.

By analyzing the spectrum of light reflected off 21 of these boulders, the scientists deduced they were made of minerals known as anhydrous silicates. Prior studies have suggested that such water-poor, silicon-rich rocks make up silicaceous or S-type asteroids, the most common kind of asteroid found in the inner main asteroid belt. The brightness of these boulders also matches the brightness of S-type asteroids.

This result compliments the result yesterday from scientists studying Bennu with OSIRIS-REx, and was in fact released at the same time. Both asteroids apparently contain material from other asteroids, suggesting that asteroids in their initial formation (as rubble piles) are routinely a mixture of material from many asteroids, thrown out during impacts and then recaptured.

1 2 3 5