Update on Dream Chaser

Link here.

Overall progress has been incredibly slow, considering the NASA contract to build this was awarded in 2016. Sierra Space is only building one spacecraft, designed to be reusable. For six years to have passed and the spacecraft, dubbed Tenacity, is still a year away from flight, seems excessive, especially because the spaceplane is small. It took SpaceX only four years to go from concept to successfully landing first stages. Starship began test flights only three years after the project began.

Still, the spaceplane is moving forward. Hopefully by February ’23 it will finally fly, giving the U.S. another method besides Dragon for getting cargo to and from space. That it might do so before Boeing’s Starliner is somewhat ironic, and puts more pressure on that company to get that capsule operational.

China and Russia each successfully complete launches

Both China and Russia successfully completed launches in the past few hours.

First, shortly before midnight today (local time) Russia used its smaller version of its new Angara rocket to place a military satellite into orbit, launching this version of the rocket for the second time.

Next, using its solid rocket Long March 11, China on April 30th (local time) successfully launched five smallsats from an ocean platform in the East China Sea. This was the third launch from sea by the Long March 11.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

17 SpaceX
13 China
6 Russia
2 ULA
2 Rocket Lab

The U.S. still leads China 24 to 13 in the national rankings. The U.S. also still leads all other nations and companies combined, 24 to 22.

Brain terrain in Mars’ glacier country

Brain terrain in glacier country
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, was taken on February 10, 2022 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

It shows what planetary scientists have dubbed “brain terrain”, a truly unique Martian geological feature that is not found on Earth and also remains as yet unexplained. Specifically, the brain terrain is the speckled areas between the larger flow features, all of which are probably ice or glacier related.

What especially drew me to this MRO image however was the particular flow feature in the center left that looks like either a giant squid or something out of Lovecraft horror short story. Talk about a cool image!

The downward grade here is likely to the north, as this spot is inside a north-south canyon, cutting into the southern cratered highlands. The general north-south trend of the depression here reinforce this supposition.

The overview image below provides context.
» Read more

SpaceX launches another 53 Starlink satellites

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully launched another 53 Starlink satellites using its Falcon 9 rocket, the first stage successfully flying and landing for the sixth time.

That first stage had flown only three weeks ago, thus completing the fastest turnaround yet.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

17 SpaceX
12 China
5 Russia
2 ULA
2 Rocket Lab

The U.S. now leads China 24 to 12 in the national rankings.

Today’s blacklisted American: 15-year-old kills himself after school ignored cruel bullying based on false rumor he hadn’t gotten COVID shots.

Nate Bronstein, dead because of lies
Nate Bronstein, now dead because of a mob’s lies, and the
willingness of The Latin School of Chicago to ignore them.

They’re coming for you next: A 15-year-old boy, Nate Bronstein, hung himself in January after months of cruel and ceaseless bullying at his private school — which the school, the Latin School of Chicago, apparently refused to stop — based on the false rumor that he had never gotten any COVID shots.

The boy’s parents, Robert and Rosellene Bronstein, are now suing both the school and the instigators of the bullying, demanding $100 million in compensatory damages. You can read their complaint in all its horror here [pdf].

This story illustrates two terrible but fundamental components of today’s blacklist culture. First, that mob is quite willing to oppress the weak and helpless based simply on lies. From the Chicago Tribune report of this story:

A student at the school, whose parents are named in the suit, spread a false rumor that the boy was unvaccinated, the suit alleges. Though he was vaccinated, the boy was harassed about his perceived vaccination status.

Even though the Bronstein’s met with this student’s parents in an attempt to end the bullying, nothing changed, and in fact it worsened, so that the boy even started receiving text messages saying he should kill himself.

Second, the mob’s emotion-driven and hateful conduct often means that those who could stand up to it and stop it are generally unwilling to challenge those lies, and will often instead team up with the mob to encourage the oppression.
» Read more

Surprise! FAA delays SpaceX approval at Boca Chica another month

As I have been predicting now for months, the FAA today announced that it is once again delaying approval of its environmental reassessment of SpaceX’s Boca Chica facility one more month, to May 31, 2022.

This is the fifth time since December that the FAA has delayed the release of the environmental assessment. When the first delay was announced in December 2021, I predicted that this stone-walling by the government will likely continue for many months, and delay the first orbital launch of Starship “until the latter half of ’22, if then.”

Since then it has become very clear that the other federal bureaucracies at NOAA and Fish & Wildlife which must sign off on the approval are hostile to Elon Musk, SpaceX, and Starship, and are acting to block this approval, with this stone-walling having the unstated support of the Biden administration. When the third delay was announced at the end of February, I predicted no approval would ever occur, that the Biden administration wants to reject the reassessment and force the issuance of a new environmental impact statement, a process that could take years. To do this before the November election however will cost votes, so the administration would instead delay the approval month by month until November.

This prediction has been dead on right, unfortunately. Expect more month-by-month delays until November, when the Biden administration will then announce — conveniently just after the election — the need for a new impact statement requiring years of study.

The one hope to stop this government intransigence will be a complete wipe-out of the Democratic Party in Congress in those November elections. A strong Republican Congress with large majorities in both houses could quickly force the Biden administration to back down on many issues, including this effort to shut SpaceX down in Texas.

Axiom signs deal with the UAE to fly one astronaut to ISS in ’23

Capitalism in space: Axiom announced today that it has signed an agreement with the United Arab Emirate (UAE) to fly a UAE astronaut to ISS in ’23 for a six month mission.

Axiom was able to put its own passenger on this flight because of a complex deal with NASA that had Axiom act as the go-between for Mark Vande Hei’s launch on a Soyuz in April ’21. Axiom brought the flight for NASA (which didn’t have the funds), and got in exchange a free seat for a passenger on a later American launch. Axiom has now sold that seat to the UAE.

The UAE in turn solidifies its space effort, with a six month manned mission to ISS.

The deal also demonstrates the priceless value of leaving ownership to American companies. Axiom made this deal to sell globally its long term space station plans, and it will use a SpaceX Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket to launch it. Both companies thus make money on their products, instead of the cash going to NASA. Such profits will only encourage further sales, not only to these companies but to other competing American rocket and space station companies.

Watch today’s launches by SpaceX and Rocket Lab

UPDATE: The Rocket Lab launch has been pushed back to May 1st because of poor weather today. The live stream below is still valid but it won’t go active until about 20 minutes before launch.

Capitalism in space: Two American rocket launches are scheduled for today, first a launch of another 53 Starlink satellites on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral followed by the launch of 34 smallsats on Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket from New Zealand.

I have embedded the live stream of both below. The Rocket Lab launch will be especially exciting, because the company is going to attempt for the first time the recovery of the first stage for reuse by snatching it in the air with a helicopter as it slowly descends on parachutes.

The SpaceX launch is scheduled for 5:27 pm (Eastern), with the live stream going active about 20 minutes before launch. If successful it will be the shortest turnaround for a Falcon 9 first stage, only 21 days and shaving almost a week off the previous record.

About one hour later the Rocket Lab launch will occur, the live stream also going active about 20 minutes beforehand.

» Read more

Momentus gets FCC license for May launch of its Vigoride space tug

Capitalism in space: Momentus announced today that it has received its FCC license to launch its Vigoride space tug on a SpaceX Falcon 9 in May of this year.

The launch however is still not guaranteed. Momentus still needs FAA approval. Since ’21 the FAA has refused to give its approval because of security concerns in connection with the company’s management. Since then the individuals involved have stepped down, but the FAA has still not awarded the company that launch license.

If the launch goes forward, it will allow Momentus to perform its first in-space tests of the tug. The delays caused by these license issues however has caused the company to lose contracts with several customers, as well as allow competitors to gain ground.

Launches of UK rocket company delayed by red tape in Iceland

Capitalism in space: Because the United Kingdom rocket company Skyrora has been unable to get Iceland to approve a suborbital test launch from that country, further test orbital launches from the new spaceport in Shetland in ’23 are threatened with delays.

The suborbital test launch had been scheduled to launch in September of last year, and has been delayed since because of this red tape.

NASA decides to end airborne SOFIA telescope operations

According to a joint announcement yesterday from NASA and the German space agency DLR, all operations of the airborne astronomy telescope SOFIA will end as of September ’22.

NASA has been trying to cancel this project for several years, because its capabilities have not justified its expense, about $85 million per year. Congress has repeatedly refused to go along, reinserting funding after NASA tried to delete it. That the astronomy community itself suggested in November that the project be canceled, however, probably means this Congress will likely go along with this most recent announcement.

China’s Long March 2C rocket launches two Earth observation satellites

China yesterday successfully launched two Earth observation satellites using its Long March 2C rocket.

Since these were launched from one of China’s interior spaceports, the rocket’s first stage fell somewhere in China. No word if it used parachutes or grid fins to control that landing. Also, weather yesterday forced the scrub of a launch of China’s Long March 11 solid rocket from a sea-based launch platform. That launch has been rescheduled for tomorrow.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

16 SpaceX
12 China
5 Russia
2 ULA
2 Rocket Lab.

The U.S. presently leads China 23 to 12 in the national rankings. Since there are two U.S. launches scheduled for later today, as well as a Russian and Chinese launch pending, these numbers will change in the next 24 hours.

Rogozin: Expect delays for future Russian lunar probes

China/Russian Lunar base roadmap
The so-called Chinese-Russian partnership to explore
the Moon.

According to a statement by Dmitry Rogozin, head of Roscosmos, yesterday in the Russian state-run press, the launch of two unmanned probes to the Moon, Luna-26 and Luna-27, are likely to be postponed due to “the current circumstances.”

“As for the Luna-26 lunar orbiter and the Luna-27 heavy lander mission, possibly, it will be adjusted taking into account that in the current situation we will be spending the main financial and industrial resources on increasing the orbital group. Now it is more important,” the space chief emphasized.

The Roscosmos CEO also asked for understanding if the mission is postponed. “Science is very important but now we are talking about the viability of Russia’s orbital group, about bringing it to a new level, its work as a group of double and military designation. Yet we are not postponing the lunar missions for long,” he added.

Rogozin added that Luna-25, scheduled for launch this year, has not been postponed.

Apparently the more than $1 billion of income that Roscosmos has lost by its refusal to launch OneWeb’s satellites is forcing it to make choices. For the government, the priority has to be launching communications, weather, navigation, and military surveillance satellites. Being tight on cash, Rogozin thus has no recourse but to favor those launches over any purely science missions.

This decision also demonstrates that Russia’s so-called partnership with China to explore the Moon, as shown in the graphic to the right that was released by China and Russia in June 2021, is pure hogwash. as I noted then:

Of the three Russian missions, Luna 25 is scheduled to launch later this year, making it the first all-Russian-built planetary mission in years and the first back to the Moon since the 1970s. The other two Russian probes [Luna-26 and Luna-27] are supposedly under development, but based on Russia’s recent track record in the past two decades for promised space projects, we have no guarantee they will fly as scheduled, or even fly at all.

Rogozin also said yesterday that he plans further talks with China in May to further their partnership concerning lunar exploration and building a lunar base. Let me translate: “We need cash to launch anything, and hope the Chinese will provide some.”

Cabaret – Married

An evening pause: Performed by Grayson Samuels, Bella Coppola, and Anna Rose Daugherty at Texas State University.

Hat tip Diane Zimmerman, who decided to find a version of this for an evening pause after we watched the 1972 movie Cabaret one evening. The film and play portrayed bluntly the decadence of Germany before World War II, a decadence that led directly to Nazi rule. Watching it now is somewhat horrifying, as it now accurately portrays the dominate and decadent leftist culture of America today. I watched and wondered if we Americans will have the courage and sense of morality to fight back and stop the kind of evils such decadence always leads to.

This song however is simply lovely, and illustrates the larger strength of the musical itself.

As Curiosity retreats from rough country, scientists look at the future geology it will see

Overview map
Click for interactive map.

Cool image time! For the past two weeks the Curiosity science team has been gingerly and slowing backing the rover off from the very rough terrain of the Greenheugh pediment, as shown on the overview map to the right. The blue dot indicates Curiosity’s present position, with the red dotted line marking its original planned route, now abandoned.

The main question remains: Where to go next? At this point the science team is still debating their exact path forward. As Catherine Weitz of the Planetary Science Institute explained to me in an email today,

The Curiosity team is still working out the details. Maybe in another month or so the new route will be finalized so stay tuned.

No matter what route they eventually choose, the white arrows mark one of the more interesting upcoming geological features that the scientists very much intend Curiosity to reach. In a paper published at the end of March in which Weitz was the lead author, they describe this “marker horizon” as follows:
» Read more

Today’s blacklisted American: Jewish professor fired for describing anti-Semitism at college

Daniel Pollack-Pelzner, blacklisted for being Jewish
Daniel Pollack-Pelzner, blacklisted for being white, Jewish, and willing
to speak the truth.

They’re coming for you next: When a Jewish English professor at Linfield University in Oregon, Daniel Pollack-Pelzner, reported the sexual misconduct of four of the university’s ten trustees, he was first ignored, then subjected to anti-Semitic attacks, and then fired without any due process when he described those attacks on Twitter.

Pollack-Pelzner claimed that the Linfield University “President and Board Chair had religiously harassed me,” and that the school failed to act on alleged instances of sexual assault and hateful messages painted on campus. He also alleged that University President and Chair of the Board of Trustees Miles Davis had made anti-Semitic comments about Jewish noses, made jokes about sending Jews to gas chambers, and accused the Jewish professor of conspiring to grab power on the board.

The firing occurred in July 2021, during the first heavy wave of blacklisting that began right after Joe Biden took power as president. It is news now because of the release on April 22nd of an independent investigation that confirms entirely the improper firing of Pollack-Pelzner:
» Read more

China plans a constellation of communications/GPS-type satellites around Moon

The new colonial movement: According to a statement by one Chinese official on April 24th, China now plans to launch a constellation of communications/GPS-type satellites that will orbit the Moon and provide support for its unmanned and manned missions to the surface.

China will take the lead in demonstrating a small, lunar relay communication and navigation system, Wu Yanhua, deputy director of the China National Space Administration (CNSA), told Chinese media on April 24. The first launch for the small constellation could take place in 2023 or 2024, according to Wu, who added that countries around the world are welcome to jointly build it.

That first launch will likely be a relay satellite to support the first unmanned landers/rovers targeting the lunar south pole. It will also likely be the first of several satellites designed to provide service long term for China’s planned manned lunar base, what it has dubbed the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS). Though announced as a project partnered with Russia, expect a large bulk of the work to be done by China.

Dunes on Jupiter’s volcano moon Io?

Dunes on Io?
Click for full image.

The uncertainty of science: According to a just published paper, scientists now propose that the dune-like ridges long known to exist on Io, Jupiter’s volcano-covered moon, might actually be dunes, even though Io has no real atmosphere.

The photo to the right, cropped, reduced, and annotated to post here, was taken by the Galileo while it orbited Jupiter from 1995 to 2003. It illustrates what the scientists believe is the proposed process:

McDonald and his colleagues used mathematical equations to simulate the force required to move grains on Io and calculated the path those grains would take. The study simulated the movement of a single grain of basalt or frost, revealing that the interaction between flowing lava and sulfur dioxide beneath the moon’s surface creates venting that is dense and fast moving enough to form large dune-like features on the moon’s surface, according to the statement.

In what might be a monumental understatement about the reality of interplanetary geology, McDonald said this in the press release: “This work tells us that the environments in which dunes are found are considerably more varied than the classical, endless desert landscapes on parts of Earth.”

Damn right. The possibility of unexpected geology of all kinds on the millions of planets, moon, and asteroids not yet studied is endless, and guaranteed.

SpaceX’s Freedom spacecraft docks with ISS

Capitalism in space: As planned SpaceX’s Freedom capsule successfully docked with ISS last night, delivering four NASA astronauts to ISS for a five-month mission.

This launch was the sixth manned flight to ISS by SpaceX, and the seventh overall, with two of those seven launches entirely commercial and paid for by private customers. It appears that, based on already announced plans, that ratio between government and private customers should continue during the next few years, though beyond that expect the private launches to eventually outpace the government ones. When that begins to happen SpaceX might decide to expand its fleet from the four capsules (Endeavour, Resilience, Endurance, and Freedom) it presently operates.

Ukrainian rocket for Nova Scotia spaceport so far unaffected by war

Capitalism in space: According to the CEO of Maritime Launch Services, the Canadian company that is building a spaceport in Nova Scotia, work on the Ukrainian Cyclone-4M rocket that the spaceport wants to offer customers has as yet not been impacted by the invasion by Russia.

Steve Matier, CEO of Maritime Launch Services, says daily planning work continues with the makers of the Cyclone-4M rocket, who are based in Dnipro, Ukraine. Matier said in an interview Tuesday his company still hopes to conduct its first launch sometime in 2023, once it gets final construction and environmental approval from the province for its proposed facilities near Canso, N.S.

However, Matier also said the first launches from the spaceport will not use the Cyclone. Instead, these launches would use smaller unnamed rockets putting smaller payloads in lower orbit. Since the company’s initial business model had been to offer to satellite customers not only the spaceport but the rocket, this statement suggests the company has changed that business model and is now marketing the spaceport to other rocket companies.

Matier’s comments were in connection with the announcement that Maritime has now become a publicly traded company.

Pushback: Three Idaho University students sue school for punishing them for having opinions

Idaho University bans religious speech
No free speech allows at this college!

They’re coming for you next: Three students at the University of Idaho have sued the college’s administrators for punishing them simply because they publicly defended their religious belief.

Peter Perlot, Mark Miller, and Ryan Alexander are members of the Christian Legal Society [CLS] chapter at the University of Idaho. When Perlot and Miller joined most of the other members of CLS at a “moment of community” gathering to condemn a discriminatory slur written at another campus, a law student approached them to ask why CLS requires its officers to affirm the belief that marriage is between a man and a woman. Miller respectfully explained that the chapter requires this because it is the only view of marriage and sexuality affirmed in the Bible.

Soon after, Perlot left a handwritten note for the student and told her that he would be happy to discuss this further so that they could both be fully heard and better understand one another’s views. A few days later, the student and several others publicly denounced CLS’s actions at a panel with the American Bar Association. Alexander attended that meeting and explained that the characterizations were inaccurate, that the biggest discrimination he had seen on campus was the discrimination against CLS and its religious beliefs, and that he was concerned about the state of religious freedom on campus.

Three days later, the university’s Office of Civil Rights and Investigations issued Perlot, Miller, and Alexander no-contact orders against the student even though the CLS members did not receive notice that anyone had complained about them and were not given an opportunity to review the allegations against them or defend themselves.

» Read more

Ingenuity photographs Perseverance’s abandoned parachute on 26th flight

Perseverance's parachute, as photographed by Ingenuity
Click for full image.

Overview map
Click for interactive map.

In the past week the Mars helicopter Ingenuity successfully completed its 26th and 27th flights, with the first specifically planned to fly over the parachute that had been used by Perseverance when it landed on Mars on February 18, 2021. The first photo to the right, enhanced, cropped, and reduced to post here, is the color photo of that parachute that Ingenuity took during that flight on April 20th. Near the top of the frame you can also see the equipment used to attach the chute to the rover. The photo looks to the southwest.

The map to the right indicates the flight paths for both hops, both slightly more than 1,000 feet total. The green dot marks Ingenuity’s position yesterday, the red dot Perseverance’s position. The small white dot indicates the parachute’s location.

On April 8th Perseverance had snapped a picture of the parachute, from the position indicated by the black dot. Since that photo was taken from a distance, it could not show much. Ingenuity’s more recent photo from overhead however captures the chute quite clearly, and suggests that in the year since landing the weak Martian wind has shifted its edges slightly while depositing some dust on its surface.

You can see the changes at the edges by comparing Ingenuity’s picture with a photo taken on February 19, 2021 by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). In Ingenuity’s picture the near edge of the parachute especially appears to have become bunched up over time, suggesting the prevailing and strongest winds have come from the south.

SpaceX successfully launches 4 astronauts into orbit

Capitalism in space: SpaceX early this morning successfully used its Falcon 9 rocket to launch its new capsule, Freedom, carrying four astronauts into orbit and heading to a docking with ISS this evening.

The first stage successfully landed on the drone ship in the Atlantic, completing its fourth flight.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

16 SpaceX
11 China
5 Russia
2 ULA
2 Rocket Lab

The U.S. now leads China 23 to 11 in the national rankings. In fact, at this moment the U.S. leads all other nations combined, 23 to 19.

Watch first flight of SpaceX’s fourth capsule, Freedom, carrying four NASA astronauts

The next launch of a NASA crew to ISS is scheduled to occur tonight at 3:52 am (Eastern) using SpaceX’s new capsule, Freedom, the fourth in the company’s fleet of manned spacecraft. Note too that the first stage of this Falcon 9 rocket will be making its fourth flight into space.

I have embedded the live stream below. As I write this, at 1:19 am (Eastern) the crew has just entered the capsule. Go here for details about the flight, which will be a five month mission.

Commander Kjell Lindgren, veteran of one previous expedition on the space station, leads the four-person crew awaiting liftoff Wednesday. He will be joined by pilot Bob Hines and mission specialist Jessica Watkins, two first-time fliers from NASA’s astronaut corps. European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, a native of Italy who spent nearly 200 days in orbit in 2014 and 2015, rounds out the crew.

If the launch goes well, Freedom will dock with ISS about sixteen hours later.

If you watch, I must once again note that every person you see aiding the astronauts will be a SpaceX employee. Except for some of the announcers and NASA’s mission control for operating ISS, the launch mission control and everything else is run by this privately owned commercial company.

» Read more

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