February Birthday fund-raising campaign for Behind the Black: THANK YOU

Readers!

My annual February birthday month fund-raising campaign for Behind the Black is now over. It was the best February campaign ever, and the second best of all of my month-long fund-raising campaigns.

There were too many people who contributed to thank you all personally. If I did so I would not have time for the next day or so to actually do any further posts, and I suspect my supporters would prefer me posting on space and culture over getting individual thank you notes.

Let this public thank suffice. I say this often, but I must tell you all that you cannot imagine how much your support means to me. I’ve spent my life fighting a culture hostile to my perspective, a hostility that has often served to squelch my success. Your donations have now allowed me to bypass that hostility to reach a large audience.

Even though the February campaign is over, if you still wish to donate or subscribe you still can do so, by either clicking on the tip jar at the top of the column to the right (on desktops) or near the bottom of the page (on mobile phones), or mailing a check to the address shown in that tip jar.

This thank you post will remain at the top of the page for the next few days.

Yours sincerely,
Robert Zimmerman

Scroll down for new updates.

India & Russia successfully launch satellites

Both India and Russia today successfully launched satellites into orbit.

For India it was their first launch in 2021. Their PSLV rocket put into orbit a Brazillian satellite for studying Earth resources. The launch also included 18 other cubesats.

Russia in turn used its Soyuz-2 rocket to launch a new generation weather satellite for studying that country’s remote Arctic regions.

SpaceX had also planned another Starlink launch but aborted the countdown with just over a minute to go. They plan to try again tomorrow.

The 2021 launch race:

5 SpaceX
4 China
3 Russia
1 Rocket Lab
1 Virgin Orbit
1 Northrop Grumman
1 India

The U.S. still leads China 8 to 4 in the national rankings.

Astra wins three-launch contract from NASA

Capitalism in space: Astra, which as yet not achieved its first orbital launch, has won a three-launch contract from NASA valued at just under $8 million.

Astra, the Alameda-based space launch startup that recently announced its intent to go public via a SPAC merger, has secured a contract to deliver six cube satellites to space on behalf of NASA. Astra stands to be paid $7.95 million by the agency for fulfilment of the contract. This will be a key test of Astra’s responsive rocket capabilities, with a planned three-launch mission profile spanning up to four months, currently targeting sometime between January 8 and July 31 of 2022.

There is no word on when the first flight of its rocket, dubbed Rocket, will occur. The company has completed two test launches, with the second nearly making orbit.

Military admits F-35 is impossible to use, expensive, and an utter failure

Another typical federal project: The military has now admitted that Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jet, a decades-long project to replace the F-16, is an utter failure and must be replaced.

The list of basic problems with the jet are truly appalling.

In spite of its advanced technology and cutting-edge capabilities, the latest stealth fighter suffers from structural flaws and slew of challenges.

Most recent among them is a structural engine flaw and shortage in its production. The F-35’s engine problem is partly based in not being able to deliver them for maintenance as fast as needed, in addition to a problem with the heat coating on its rotor blades which shortens engine lifespan considerably. Defense News described it as a “serious readiness problem”, suggesting that as soon as 2022, nearly 5 to 6 per ent of the F-35 fleet could be effectively grounded as it waits for engine replacements.

Another challenge is the plane’s software. Most modern fighter jets have between 1 to 2 million lines of code in their software. The F-35 averages 8 million lines of code in its software, and it’s suffering from a bug problem. To fix this, the US Department of Defense is asking three American universities to help figure it out.

The fighter jet also suffers from a slightly embarrassing touchscreen problem. After making the switch from hard flipped switches to touch screens, pilots report that unlike a physical switch that you’re confident has been activated, touch screens in the plane don’t work 20 percent of the time says one F-35 pilot.

The worst part of this story is that this kind of incompetence has been par for the course for big federal projects like this for decades. Our government in Washington is corrupt and unqualified to even be dog catcher, but we voters don’t seem to have the courage to fire them. We certainly don’t fire the politicians who appear quite willing to encourage this corruption.

Study: Only 10% chance of catching COVID from infected person within household

Holy moley! A new study of more than 7,000 households in Boston with at least one infected person has found that there is only 10% chance that another member of the household will become infected also.

US researchers analysed data from more than 7,000 homes in Boston and found more than 25,000 people lived there between March 4 and May 17, 2020. In this time frame 7,262 people caught Covid but they only passed it on to a further 1,809 people they lived with, a transmission rate of 10.1 per cent.

The paper also found the likelihood of passing the virus on to someone you live with was lower for bigger hosueholds. For example, someone in a home with three to five people — one of whom was infected — was 20 per cent less at risk than a two-person house.

The study also found that infection was closely correlated with other illnesses. If you had other health issues, such asthma, cancer, were overweight, or had liver disease your chances of getting infected rose significantly.

This report is consistent with other research, that has found infection rates in households ranged from 16.6 to 19.5 percent. All tell us that even if you spend a lot of time with someone infected, if you are healthy your risk of catching COVID is relatively low. And if you are healthy your chances are dying are almost nil.

So I ask: When you are out hiking by yourself in the great outdoors, why the heck are you wearing a mask? And why do you stupidly put one on when you might pass someone else five feet away for about two seconds? Are you that fearful of life?

Today’s blacklisted American: The pioneers who settled the west

The Oklahoma Land Rush: cancelled
The Oklahoma Land Rush, wiped from history.

They’re coming for you next: A local community college in Oklahoma has removed a monument that commemorated the pioneers who settled the state in the 1800s because some people complained it was “not inclusive.”

The monument depicted the Oklahoma land run of 1889, which occurred on the day the U.S. government opened Oklahoma up to homesteaders for settlement. Apparently, there were complaints about this depiction on social media (which usually translates as a Twitter mob) as well as threats of violence. The college’s response to these mob threats?
» Read more

Skiing dry ice boulders on Mars, captured in action!

Grooves in dune created by sliding dry ice blocks
Click for full image.

Today’s cool image is an update on a previous cool image published in April 2020 about how scientists believe the grooves seen on the slope of a giant dune in Russell Crater on Mars are believed to be formed by frozen blocks of carbon dioxide sliding down the slope when spring arrives. The photo to the right, taken on March 3, 2020 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and rotated and cropped to post here, shows these grooves. As I wrote then,

Because the block is sublimating away, the gas acts as a lubricant so that it can slide down the hill. If large enough, the dry ice block will stop at the base of the hill to disappear in a small pit. If small enough, it actually might completely vaporize as it slides, explaining the grooves that appear to gradually fade away.

The scientists actually did a test on Earth, buying a dry ice block at a grocery store and releasing it at the top of a desert dune. Go to my April 2020 link above to see the very cool video.

Several planetary scientists did further combing through many MRO photos of this dune and now think they have spotted examples where the camera actually captured a block as it was sliding downhill.
» Read more

Virgin Galactic delays its next suborbital flight again

Capitalism in space: Virgin Galactic announced yesterday that it is now delaying the next manned flight of its suborbital Unity spaceship in order to address what appear to be still unresolved technical problems that almost caused the last manned flight to crash.

In an earnings call Feb. 25 timed to the release of its fourth quarter and full year 2020 financial results, company executives blamed an aborted test flight of SpaceShipTwo Dec. 12 on electromagnetic interference (EMI) that caused a flight computer to reboot just as the vehicle ignited its hybrid rocket engine. The vehicle glided to a safe landing at Spaceport America in New Mexico.

Mike Moses, president of Virgin Galactic, said a new flight control computer system is the likely source of increased levels of EMI. The company took steps to shield components from that interference to avoid a similar reboot and prepared to make a powered test flight as soon as Feb. 13. But in the final days of preparations, technicians noted continued EMI issues with vehicle systems.

The flight they had hoped to do this month has now been pushed back to May. They have also announced that then devote the rest of this year doing more test flights and will hold off any tourist flights until ’22.

Michael Colglazier, chief executive of Virgin Galactic, said the company is sticking to the flight test program it announced last fall. The May flight will be followed by two more: one with two pilots and a “full cabin” of company employees to test the passenger cabin of the vehicle, followed by one with company founder Richard Branson on board. Colglazier said the company isn’t yet announcing specific dates for those flights, but expects both to take place this summer.

That will be followed by a flight for the Italian Air Force, confirming an agreement signed in October 2019. That flight will carry a set of research payloads and three Italian payload specialists, and generate revenue for the company. Colglazier said that flight would likely take place in late summer or early fall and generate revenue for the company, “and will conclude our product test program.”

The company also claims that its second SpaceShipTwo spacecraft will begin testing this summer.

We shall see. The track record of this company has been abysmal, and its been that way for almost two decades of non-achievement.

Relativity touts next generation rocket before its first generation rocket has even launched

Capitalism in space: In an interview with CNBC the CEO of Relativity Space, Tim Ellis, pushed his company’s plans to develop a completely reusable rocket, dubbed the Terran-R, even though they have as yet completed even one test launch of their first rocket, the Terran-1.

Called Terran R, the reusable rocket is “really an obvious evolution” from the company’s Terran 1 rocket, Relativity CEO Tim Ellis told CNBC – the latter of which Relativity expects to launch for the first time later in 2021. “It’s the same architecture, the same propellant, the same factory, the same 3D printers, the same avionics and the same team,” Ellis said. “I’ve always been a huge fan of reusability. No matter how you look at it – even with 3D printing, and dropping the cost, and [increasing the] automation of a launch vehicle – making it reusable has got to be part of that future,” Ellis added.

Terran R is the first of several new initiatives that Ellis expects Relativity to unveil in the year ahead, with the company having raised more than $680 million since its founding five years ago. Just like Terran 1, Relativity will build Terran R with more than 90% of the parts through additive manufacturing – utilizing the world’s largest 3D printers as what Ellis calls “the factory of the future.”

Relativity, valued at $2.3 billion, ranks as one of the most valuable private space companies in the world. Its investors include Tiger Global Management, Fidelity, Baillie Gifford, Mark Cuban and more.

All well and good, but maybe before Ellis brags about his next generation rocket he might be better served to focus on getting that first rocket successfully off the ground later this year. It is a good thing his company is thinking of making its rockets reusable, but right now he is overselling while under-performing, a very bad sales technique. Better to do what Scotty of Star Trek did routinely, undersell while over-performing.
» Read more

Apollo 16 Lunar Rover “Grand Prix”

An evening pause: This seems especially appropriate with the arrival of another rover on Mars last week.

On their first day of three on the lunar surface, John Young and Charles Duke deployed their rover and took it for a test drive before heading out to nearby Plum Crater for two hours of sample gathering and exploration.

This footage shows Young driving with Duke filming and reporting what he sees. The goal was to gather engineering data on how the rover’s wheels functioned in the very dusty lunar soil.

This short clip nicely illustrates the ambitious achievement of the American Apollo missions that should give pause to any arrogant modern young engineer. This was before home computers and CAD-CAM. It was designed by hand and slide-rule, using inches, pounds, and feet. And it worked, and worked magnificently. Oh if we today could only do as well.

Hat tip Björn “Local Fluff” Larsson.

Starship #10 completes another static fire test after quick engine swap

Starship #10 at 2nd static fire test
Screen capture from LabPadre live stream.

Capitalism in space: In what to me appears a remarkable tour de force, SpaceX today completed the second dress rehearsal countdown and static fire test of its tenth Starship prototype.

What made this a tour de force is that the previous test, only two days before, had found issues with one of the prototype’s three Raptor engines. In less than two days, SpaceX engineers were able to replace that engine and fire up the rocket again.

Compare that to the operations of Boeing and NASA in trying to do a single static fire test of SLS’s core stage. Preparations for the first test took months, and when this had an issue it is now going to take at least a month (if not more) before they can attempt a second test.

If today’s Starship static fire test came up clean with no problems, a test flight to about 30 to 40,000 feet could come as early as tomorrow.

First launch of Blue Origin’s orbital rocket delayed to ’22

Capitalism in space: In what had increasingly appeared likely in recent months, Blue Origin today announced that it is delaying the first launch of its orbital New Glenn rocket from late this year to sometime in ’22.

Blue Origin noted that the updated timeline follows the U.S. Space Force to stop its support for the New Glenn development effort as part of its procurement program for national security launches. That support, which could have added up to $500 million, was closed out at the end of last year.

The Space Force ended up choosing United Launch Alliance and SpaceX for the next round of national security launches. Jarrett Jones, Blue Origin’s senior vice president for New Glenn, told Space News that losing out on that round of launch contracts represented a $3 billion hit to anticipated revenue, and forced the company to “re-baseline” its development plans.

Personally I think this excuse is absurd. Jeff Bezos has been investing about $1 billion per year in Blue Origin. Moreover, in its announcement the company claimed it has invested $2.5 billion of that money in developing New Glenn. This is almost as much as SpaceX has raised to build Starship/Super Heavy, which is in development and in only about two years has already produced multiple prototypes and two test flights. Moreover, SpaceX developed Falcon Heavy for about a half billion dollars, and did it in less than seven years.

New Glenn has been in development for more than four years, and we have yet to even see it assembled in any form at all. The loss of that government military contract should have made no difference if Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin were really serious about building this rocket. He has given the company more than enough investment capital to get it done. They have just not delivered so far.

If I was Bezos, I would be taking a very hard look at the management at Blue Origin, with the intent to make some significant changes.

Searching for ice in the Martian low latitudes

Low latitude crater with intriguing debris on its floor
Click for full image.

Today’s cool image well illustrates the effort of planetary scientists to map out the range of buried ice on the Martian surface. Taken on December 13, 2020 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, it shows a 3.5-mile-wide crater located in the southern cratered highlands, but for those cratered highlands at the very high northern latitude of 24 degrees.

The black streaks on the crater’s interior slopes are probably slope streaks, but these are not the subject of this article. Instead, it is the material that covers the crater’s floor. These features resemble the glacial fill material that scientists have found widespread in the latitude bands between 30 to 60 degrees latitude. However, this crater is farther south, where such ice would not be stable and should have sublimated away.

Could there still be ice here? I emailed the scientist who requested the photo, Colin Dundas of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Astrogeology Science Center in Arizona, and asked him what I was looking at. His answer:
» Read more

Today’s blacklisted Americans: Two educators in NYC fired for refusing to do Black Panther salute

They’re coming for you next: Two different educators in New York City, one Jewish and the other a Dominican-American who calls herself Afro-Latina, have been fired for refusing to do the Black Panther salute popularized by the Disney sci-fi 2018 movie, Black Panther.

The latter, Rafaela Espinal, was fired as head of the Community School District 12 in the Bronx and forced to take a demotion in order to save her retirement and health benefits. Not only did she refuse to do this salute because she believed it created a racial divide, she found the policies of New York’s Department of Education (DOE) particularly offensive and bigoted, as described in her $40 million lawsuit filed against New York’s DOE.
.

Fellow DOE administrators also allegedly told Espinal she wasn’t “Black enough” and she should “just learn to be quiet and look pretty,” she claims in the $40 million suit.

Espinal, 50, claims racial fissures began to emerge in superintendent meetings in the fall of 2017, when some Black administrators would meet separately after the larger group’s monthly gatherings. Soon, only the birthdays of Black superintendents were recognized at official meetings, she claims.

The other educator, Karen Ames (who is also suing the DOE), experienced equally bigoted treatment before she was fired.
» Read more

China commits to building its own SLS

The new colonial movement: China yesterday officially announced that it has approved construction of a heavy-lift rocket, dubbed Long March 9, that would by 2030 be able to put 140 tons into orbit.

The rocket is planned to have a lift capacity of 140 metric tons, with the capability of sending 50 or more tons into lunar orbit. It would be an immense vehicle, with a 10-meter diameter core and 5-meter side boosters. China would also like to eventually make the rocket, or at least part of it, reusable.

China is also developing another large rocket more comparable to the Falcon Heavy, though this other rocket has no name and information about it is more scarce.

Both projects indicate the long term commitment of the Chinese government to its space program. They also indicate that the present-day international competition to get into space is fueling far more development than the last forty years of international cooperation.

Whether these giant government rockets from China will be practical and efficient is an unanswered question. Just building something to compete is not the same thing as actually competing. The rockets have to be affordable, with the ability to launch frequently to make in-space exploration possible. If not, they will nothing more than big photo ops for incompetent politicians, kind of like SLS is for the U.S.

Another detailed essay demanding SLS be cancelled

Link here.

The analysis is detailed, thoughtful, thorough, and technical. It is worthwhile to read every word, slowly, carefully, and with an open-mind. The lead:

The SLS axiomatically cannot provide good value to the US taxpayer. In that regard it has already failed, regardless of whether it eventually manages to limp to orbit with a Falcon Heavy payload or two.

The question here is whether it is allowed to inflict humiliation and tragedy on the US public, who so richly deserve an actual legitimate launch program run by and for actual technical experts.

The best time to cancel SLS was 15 years ago. The second best time is now.

While this essay is brilliant, its real significance is that it is another data point in the growing sense I have that the Washington community is preparing itself for cancelling SLS at last. Such an essay would not have been written or paid attention to five years ago. I know. I wrote my own and got no traction.

Today attention is getting paid. More importantly, we are seeing a range of people and news organizations advocating similar anti-SLS positions, positions that would have been thought politically impossible only a few short years ago.

The clock is ticking on SLS. If any of its planned upcoming tests or flights fail, it will face a firestorm of hostility. And even if they succeed, its days appear numbered.

After a year there is zero evidence government edicts slowed the spread of COVID-19

It never was about the virus: After a year of job-destroying lockdowns and the inhuman muzzling of every citizen in a panicked effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, a careful review of the data continues to show what was obvious as early as September 2020: Those authoritarian government edicts did nothing to stop or even slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The article at the link first compares Florida (where the government edicts were few) and California (which was turned into a fascist state by the edicts of its Democratic Party governor) and found that after a year, Florida was actually impacted less by the virus.

In light of everything our officials have taught us about how this virus spreads, it defies reality that Florida, a fully open and popular travel destination with one of the oldest populations in the country, currently has lower hospitalizations and deaths per million than California, a state with much heavier restrictions and one of the youngest populations in the country. While it is true that, overall, California does slightly better than Florida in deaths per million, simply accounting for California’s much younger population tips the scales in Florida’s favor.

Florida has zero restrictions on bars, breweries, indoor dining, gyms, places of worship, gathering sizes, and almost all schools are offering in-person instruction. California, on the other hand, retains heavy restrictions in each of these areas. At the very least, Florida’s hospitalizations and deaths per million should be substantially worse than California’s. Those who predicted death and destruction as a consequence of Florida’s September reopening simply cannot see these results as anything other than utterly remarkable. Even White House covid advisor Andy Slavitt, much to the establishment’s embarrassment, had no explanation for Florida’s success relative to California. Slavitt was reduced to parroting establishment talking points after admitting that Florida’s surprisingly great numbers were “just a little beyond our explanation.”

The article then goes on to look at national trends, and finds similar results. Overall there is absolute no correlation between harsh restrictions and fewer COVID deaths or hospitalizations. Instead, the biggest factor appears to be local climate.
» Read more

Parker looks at Venus

Venus as seen by the Parker Solar Probe
Click for full image.

During its July 2020 fly-by of Venus, the Parker Solar Probe used its wide field camera to snap a picture of the planet, cropped and reduced to post here on the right.

The photo surprised the scientists in that it apparently was able to detect some major surface features through Venus’ thick cloud cover.

WISPR is designed to take images of the solar corona and inner heliosphere in visible light, as well as images of the solar wind and its structures as they approach and fly by the spacecraft. At Venus, the camera detected a bright rim around the edge of the planet that may be nightglow — light emitted by oxygen atoms high in the atmosphere that recombine into molecules in the nightside. The prominent dark feature in the center of the image is Aphrodite Terra, the largest highland region on the Venusian surface. The feature appears dark because of its lower temperature, about 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius) cooler than its surroundings.

That aspect of the image took the team by surprise, said Angelos Vourlidas, the WISPR project scientist from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, who coordinated a WISPR imaging campaign with Japan’s Venus-orbiting Akatsuki mission. “WISPR is tailored and tested for visible light observations. We expected to see clouds, but the camera peered right through to the surface.”

“WISPR effectively captured the thermal emission of the Venusian surface,” said Brian Wood, an astrophysicist and WISPR team member from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. “It’s very similar to images acquired by the Akatsuki spacecraft at near-infrared wavelengths.”

This surprising observation sent the WISPR team back to the lab to measure the instrument’s sensitivity to infrared light. If WISPR can indeed pick up near-infrared wavelengths of light, the unforeseen capability would provide new opportunities to study dust around the Sun and in the inner solar system. If it can’t pick up extra infrared wavelengths, then these images — showing signatures of features on Venus’ surface — may have revealed a previously unknown “window” through the Venusian atmosphere.

The streaks in the picture come from cosmic rays.

Land of rovers

Overview map

Today’s cool image is in honor the two newest Martian rovers, Perseverance (which now sits quite comfortably in Jezero Crater, ready to begin what will probably be more than a decade of exploration on the Martian surface) and China’s yet-to-be-named rover (set to hopefully soft land on Mars some time in late April).

The overview map to the right shows us the region where both rovers shall wander. The black box in Jezero Crater is where Perseverance now sits. The red cross about 1,400 miles away is the believed landing zone for China’s rover, located in Utopia Planitia at about 25 degrees north latitude. The Viking 2 landing site is just off the edge of the northeast corner of the map.

The latitude of 30 degrees, as indicated by the white line, is presently an important dividing line based on our present knowledge of Mars. South of that line the terrain is generally dry, though there is evidence that water in some form (liquid or ice) was once present. North of that line scientists have found evidence of considerable ice below the surface, with its presence becoming increasingly obvious the farther north you go.

Today’s cool image, shown below, is north of that line at 33 degrees latitude in Utopia Planitia, and is marked by the white cross, about 500 miles to the northwest of the Chinese rover’s landing site.
» Read more

Today’s blacklisted American: Leftist journalist who called for blacklisting finds his work blacklisted by YouTube

They’re coming for you next: Jordan Chariton, a leftist journalist who had called for the widespread blacklisting of anyone who discussed the allegations of vote tampering and election fraud during the November 3rd election — many of which were quite creditable and deserve a hard investigation — has discovered that blacklisting is really bad, especially when he discovered YouTube blacklisting some his own work.

On January 6th Chariton had tweeted the following:

EVERY media outlet that pushed this INSANE election fraud conspiracy for clicks should be taken off the air. They’ve incited a Civil War.

Less than a month later YouTube endorsed his advice and took down one of his own videos that had featured footage of the protests at the Capitol Building on January 6th. As usual, YouTube’s reasoning was dishonest, claiming that footage violated its policies against “spam and deceptive practices.” Yet, as Chariton noted, that same footage was being aired and posted on YouTube by CNN and many other mainstream news outlets, with no negative consequences.

Chariton however deserves some credit. He openly admitted in a new tweet that his initial position had been wrong.

With time to reflect, & seeing Silicon Valley’s censorship onslaught, I regret this tweet made in [the] heat of moment. Whether certain cable/YouTube outlets mislead audiences w/ dishonest claims lacking real evidence, they shouldn’t be targeted.

Too bad it took some actual personal censorship for Chariton to come to his senses. Beforehand he was like the rest of the left, living in a fantasy world that imagined the censors and blacklisters and storm troopers would never come for them.

Hah! Just give it time. For these thugs what people actually say is really irrelevant. What they really care about is having the power to censor and blacklist. When they run out of conservatives they will then point their guns at the naive leftists like Chariton who had stupidly worked to give those thugs such power.

India officially delays both its manned mission and next lunar lander

The new colonial movement: India has now officially delayed the launch of both its manned mission Gaganyaan as well as its next lunar lander/rover Chandrayaan-3.

They hope to launch an unmanned test Gaganyaan mission before the end of this year, but the manned mission will not occur until after a second unmanned mission scheduled very tentatively in the 2022-2023 time frame.

As for Chandrayaan-3, they had initially hoped to launch it last fall, but they panic over the coronavirus that shut down their entire space industry for a years has now apparently pushed that launch back ’22, a delay of more than a year.

Tianwen-1 enters parking orbit around Mars

The new colonial movement: According to the Chinese state-run press, the Tianwen-1 orbiter has entered the parking orbit around Mars that it will use for the next three months to conduct reconnaissance of its lander/rover’s landing site.

At 6:29 a.m. (Beijing Time), Tianwen-1 entered the parking orbit, with its closest point to the planet at 280 km and the farthest point at 59,000 km. It will take Tianwen-1 about two Martian days to complete a circle (a Martian day is approximately 40 minutes longer than a day on Earth), the CNSA said.

Tianwen-1, including an orbiter, a lander and a rover, will run in the orbit for about three months.

The CNSA added that payloads on the orbiter will all be switched on for scientific exploration. The medium-resolution camera, high-resolution camera and spectrometer will carry out a detailed investigation on the topography and dusty weather of the pre-selected landing area in preparation for a landing.

China has also begun prepping the rocket that will launch Tianhe, the first module in its space station, sometime this spring. A total of eleven launches are planned over the next two years to assemble the station.

First air leak crack on ISS has not grown

A inspection of the first air leak crack that had been found and patched in the Zvezda module on ISS last year has found that it apparently not increased in size since then.

The size of a crack in the intermediate chamber of the Russian Zvezda module aboard the International Space Station (ISS) remains unchanged, cosmonaut Sergei Ryzhikov reported to Russia’s Flight Control Center on Wednesday. “It [the length] has not changed. As in the previous measurements, I do not see any changes,” Ryzhikov said during his talks with Mission Control broadcast on NASA’s website.

On February 23, the cosmonaut carried out work with a microscope to trace another possible air leak. The photos of the work were transmitted to Earth and the video from GoPro cameras will be sent via the Russian broadband communications system. After completing the work, the cosmonaut reinstalled the patch in the area of the crack.

This Russian report is decidedly unclear about some details. Though it appears the astronaut was using the microscope to inspect another leak, he also apparently removed the patch on the first leak to check the crack for any changes, then replaced it. How one removes and replaces such a patch is a puzzle however. Such things are generally not removable.

No matter. The important detail is that the crack has not grown. If it was a stress fracture the recent dockings of spacecraft to the nearby port might cause it to grow. That it has not is good news.

The bad news is that the inspection did not find the second small leak that is thought to be in this same Zvezda module.

Starship #10 completes launch dress rehearsal & static fire test

Starship #10 at static fire test
Screen capture from LabPadre live stream.

Capitalism in space: Starship #10 today successfully completed a launch dress rehearsal and static fire test in preparation for a planned 30 to 40 thousand foot test flight, possibly as soon as February 25th.

The Starship SN10 (“Serial No. 10”) vehicle performed its first “static fire” test on Tuesday (Feb. 23), lighting up its three Raptor engines for a few seconds at 6:03 p.m. EST (2303 GMT) at SpaceX’s South Texas site, near the Gulf Coast settlement of Boca Chica Village.

Static fires, in which engines briefly ignite while a rocket stays anchored to the ground, are a common preflight checkout for SpaceX. If all went well with today’s test, SN10 remains on track to launch soon — perhaps as early as Thursday (Feb. 25) — on a 6-mile-high (10 kilometers) demonstration flight into the South Texas skies.

I personally think it would be quite ironic if this Starship flies on the same day the second SLS static fire test had been originally scheduled but postponed. The contrast between the two development programs continues to be stark and astonishing. While one program has been flying test articles repeatedly as well as doing numerous engine and tank tests, the other has had trouble getting one static fire test completed without a hitch.

UPDATE: Apparently they have decided to swap out one Raptor engine based on the results of the static fire test, and thus will not do a flight tomorrow.

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