The annual July fund-raising campaign – Week One

This week I celebrate the twelfth anniversary of the establishment of this website. In late June 2010 I put up my first posts, including two that will sound very familiar to my readers today:

The second took to task the Obama policy that declared “As established in international law, there shall be no national claims of sovereignty over outer space or any celestial bodies. The United States considers the space systems of all nations to have the rights of passage through, and conduct of operations in, space without interference.” My reaction: “In other words, no planetary body, no surface land, can be owned by anyone. Sounds like communism to me. It also sounds amazingly naive and childish.”

To celebrate this anniversary, and to pay my bills, each July I run a month-long fund-raising campaign. I hate begging for money, but if I don’t ask for your financial support I simply won’t be able to do this work any longer.

Please consider donating or subscribing, using the tip jar found either in the right column or at the bottom of the page, depending on whether you are reading this on a smart phone or a desktop/laptop. You can contribute one of four ways:

  • Send me a check. With this method every dime you contribute goes to me.
  • Send me money through Zelle. This method also charges no fees. Every dime you spend goes only to me.
  • Subscribe or donate through Paypal, which takes a cut of about 12%.
  • Subscribe or donate through Patreon, which also takes a cut of about 12%.

I also encourage my regular subscribers on both Paypal and Patreon to consider switching to Zelle. Several subscribers have done so, and have found the process simple and easy. It also makes your subscription far more effective.

This post will remain at the top of the page for the next month. Scroll down for new posts and updates.

In 2022 freedom continues to fuel the launch industry towards new records

With 2022 now half over, we can now get a quick sense of the state of the world’s rocket industry by the number of launches that have so far been accomplished this year.

Last year was the most successful year in rocketry since the launch of Sputnik in 1957. Both nations and private companies managed to launch successfully 134 times, one more than the previous record in 1975. Similarly, with 48 launches in 2021, the U.S. completed the most launches since the height of the 1960s space race, 48 total.

These high numbers last year also suggested that the growth was not a one time thing, but based on a wider sustained growth that would continue.

It now appears that both these records will be smashed in 2022. Below is a graph showing the total number of successful launches year-by-year by the United States since Sputnik, as of June 30, 2022.
» Read more

Strange pitted and isolated ridges on Mars

Context camera image of isolated ridges
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, was taken on February 17, 2012 by the wide-view context camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It shows a section of the northern lowland plains of Mars, latitude 31 degrees north, where several very inexplicable and isolated ridges can be seen.

One ridge meanders mostly in a north-south direction, while a second instead meanders east-west. The shape of both says that neither has anything to do with any past impact crater. In fact, their random snakelike shape doesn’t really fit any obvious explanation. For example, they do not fit the look of the many fossil rivers found on Mars, where the hardened and dry riverbed channel resists erosion and becomes a ridge when the surrounding terrain erodes away.

What geological process caused them? In the decade since this photo was taken the scientists who use MRO have only been able to snap a handful of high resolution images of these ridges. The image below is the most recent, covering the area in the white rectangle above.
» Read more

Today’s blacklisted American: University of Arizona gives free tuition to American Indians; All other races must pay

Academia: dedicated to segregation!
University of Arizona: dedicated to segregation!

“Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” The University of Arizona has begun a new racist policy whereby anyone who is a member of one of 22 American Indian tribes that exist in the state will be excused from paying any tuition or fees while studying on campus.

Beginning in the fall, new and continuing full-time, degree-seeking, in-state undergraduates will be eligible for the Arizona Native Scholars Grant, the first program of its kind in Arizona. The program will be administered by UArizona Enrollment Management.

“Serving Arizona’s Native American tribes and tribal students is a crucial part of the University of Arizona’s land-grant mission, and the Arizona Native Scholars Grant program is another important step among many to do that,” said University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins. “I am so proud that that this university has found a way to help hundreds of students more easily access and complete a college education, and I look forward to finding ways to take these efforts even further.”

To be eligible, students must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, and provide tribal identification. Native American tribes’ federal legal status allows universities to administer scholarships and grants to tribal members.

More than 400 students enrolled at UArizona last year meet the criteria for the new program.

Let me translate what UA president Robert C. Robbins is really saying:
» Read more

Kepler signs up D-Orbit’s orbital tug for its next two satellites

Capitalism in space: The Canadian company Kepler — which already has nineteen satellites in orbit providing data communications — will use the orbital tug developed by the start-up D-Orbit and dubbed ION on its next two satellites.

After separating from the launch vehicle, D-Orbit intends to use ION to drop Kepler’s satellites off at a sun-synchronous orbit (SSO) between 500 and 600 kilometers. Each satellite is the size of six cubesats, a standard smallsat form factor measuring 10 centimeters on each side.

Kepler previously had a deal to use Momentus’s Vigoride tug, but delays and further in-orbit technical problems with that tug has apparently forced it to switch to D-Orbit.

New research confirms long term bone loss during long missions in weightlessness

According to new research done on ISS, scientists have confirmed what Soviet-era scientists had learned back in the 20th century, that long term bone loss during long missions in weightlessness can take many months to recover once back on Earth.

The bone density lost by astronauts was equivalent to how much they would shed in several decades if they were back on Earth, said study co-author Dr Steven Boyd, of Canada’s University of Calgary and director of the McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint Health.

The researchers found that the shinbone density of nine of the astronauts had not fully recovered after a year on Earth – and they were still lacking about a decade’s worth of bone mass. The astronauts who went on the longest missions, which ranged from four to seven months on the ISS, were the slowest to recover. “The longer you spend in space, the more bone you lose,” Boyd said.

The study also confirmed that some exercises in space helped to mitigate the bone loss, which ranged from 1% to 2% per month. No exercises prevented it however.

For missions to Mars, the bone loss appears less of an issue than the loss of muscle strength. Even with extensive bone loss after six months to a year in space astronauts do not notice this loss when returning to Earth gravity. They will certainly not notice it on Mars, with a gravity field 39% that of Earth’s.

More concerning is the loss of muscle strength during long missions in weightlessness. After six months to a year in weightlessness astronauts struggle on Earth to walk after first landing. This is why they are helped immediately placed to chairs upon return. On Mars no such help will be available.

OneWeb signs up startup rocket company Relativity for future satellite launches

Capitalism in space: The rocket startup Relativity, which hopes to complete its first test launch of its small Terran-1 rocket before the end of the year, yesterday announced that it has won a launch contract with OneWeb to use its larger but not-yet-ready-for-launch Terran-R rocket to place future OneWeb satellites into orbit.

Under the agreement, Relativity will launch OneWeb’s low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites on Terran-R, the first fully reusable and entirely 3D printed rocket, starting in 2025. These launches will support OneWeb’s deployment of its Gen 2 satellite network, which will add capacity and fresh capabilities to build upon the initial constellation of 648 satellites the company is currently building out.

Since its launch contract with Arianespace using Russian Soyuz rockets fell apart due to Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, OneWeb has been signing up a range of rocket companies, first SpaceX, then India, now Relativity. Apparently the satellite company realized it was a bad idea to depend on only one rocket, and is now lining up several to make sure its satellites can launch on schedule, no matter what.

For Relativity, this agreement solidifies its future, even before it has completed its first launch. It now has five customers for its Terran-R rocket, with contracts worth $1.2 billion. All it has to do now to become a major player in the global launch market is to get its rockets off the ground.

ISRO chief: India’s manned mission will be delayed

The new colonial movement: The head of India’s space agency ISRO revealed during a press conference following yesterday’s PSLV launch that he is delaying by one or two years Gaganyaan manned mission.

Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) Chairman S Somanath on Thursday said the launch of the ambitious Gaganyaan mission, the country’s first manned space flight, cannot happen this year or next year as the agency is keen to ensure that all safety systems are in place.

Somanth’s comments confirm an earlier report. It appears he wants the agency to do at least two unmanned tests of the spacecraft’s crew abort system. He also want further tests of the GSLV rocket that will launch the manned capsule.

Somanth also indicated that India’s next attempt to land a rover on the Moon, Chandrayaan-3, might also be delayed from the presently scheduled August ’22 target launch as they review the lander’s systems.

FCC approves Starlink for moving vehicles; rejects DISH’s request to use Starlink wavelength

The FCC made two decisions yesterday that were both favorable to SpaceX’s Starlink satellite constellation.

First, it gave Starlink permission to provide service on moving vehicles such as cars, trucks, boats, and aircraft. Second, it rejected a DISH network request to use a wavelength in its ground-based system that is presently being used by both Starlink and OneWeb satellites.

This decision will continue the shift in communications from high-orbit/ground-based to low-orbit satellite constellations.

Glacial features in a Mars crater at 29 degrees south latitude?

Glacial features in Mars crater
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, was taken on January 2, 2022 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). Simply labeled “slope features,” it was likely taken to monitor the gullies and streaks on the interior walls of this 4-mile-wide crater. Scientists have been using MRO to track the coming and going of frost on this crater’s interior walls since 2016.

Equally intriguing however are what appear to be squashed layers within the crater’s interior. These appear to be some form of glacial feature created by repeated climate cycles, similar to the glacial features routinely seen throughout the 30 to 60 degree mid-latitude strips north and south.

What makes the glacial features in this particular crater particularly intriguing is its location, as shown in the overview map below.
» Read more

Today’s blacklisted American: Amazon employees demand company blackball everyone who disagrees with them

The apparent goal of Amazon's woke employees
The apparent goal of Amazon’s woke employees

Persecution is now cool! Hundreds of Amazon employees have apparently signed a company-wide open letter demanding that the company immediately blacklist everyone who is anti-abortion while also blackballing every state that passes anti-abortion laws.

“As part of Amazon’s wide-reaching efforts toward a more inclusive and diverse workforce, we believe that Amazon cannot let this recent decision go unanswered,” the letter said. “We ask Amazon, the world’s best employer, to actively defend against this assault on our liberty.”

Among other actions, the authors are requesting that Amazon “allow employees of all genders the space and time to grieve, express their frustrations, and protest against this assault on our rights.” In addition, they want the company to “donate and match donations to bail funds” to help “women and pregnant people” seeking abortions in states with protections for pre-born babies.

It also demanded Amazon organize pro-abortion protests and donate money to the political organizations the letter signatories endorse.

Essentially, the letter calls for Amazon to focus its business entirely on leftwing political action rather than its central purpose of providing retail products to its customers. That such actions will cost the company money and possibly harm its profit line apparently does not matter to these employees.

The letter however went much farther. The cropped image from the letter below shows this:
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The utter failure and total evil of government policies during the Wuhan panic

COVID mortality rates among children 10-14 in the UK
COVID mortality rates among children 10-14 in the United Kingdom,
comparing those who got the COVID shots versus those who did not

While stories about the ineffective and harmful consequences of the panic over the Wuhan flu continue to pour in on an almost daily basis, it is often better to step back and see these many stories in aggregate. By looking at the forest from a distance, a clearer picture frequently reveals itself that remains hidden if you only focus on studying the individual trees.

For example, the graph to the right, first published in January 2022, suggests strongly that giving young children the COVID shots only increased their mortality. This is just one story, however. Is it typical, or an outlier? You need to look at the larger picture to know.

Below I list and categorize the many science papers and news stories I have been collecting since my previous detailed two essays in May about the epidemic and its consequences (see: “The evidence keeps pouring in showing the utter failure of all COVID mandates” and “Are the COVID vaccines killing people over time? The data suggests yes.”). The totality of this data does appear shocking, especially because it makes evident the utter failure of almost every policy set by almost every government health official and elected politician since the Wuhan flu arrived in 2020.

First we must take another look at the new research about the mask mandates, policies that decades of research repeatedly showed would do nothing to protect anyone from COVID, and might even be unhealthy.
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Mirror comparable to Hubble’s ready for JPL balloon astronomy mission

engineers attach panels to the mirror's support structure.
Engineers attach mirror panels to the mirror’s support structure.

An Italian optics company, Media Lario, has now completed construction of the primary mirror — at 2.5 meters width slightly larger than Hubble’s primary mirror — to be used on a JPL balloon astronomy mission dubbed ASTHROS, targeting a December 2023 launch.

The ASTHROS primary mirror features nine panels, which are significantly easier to fabricate than a one-piece mirror. The bulk of the mirror panels consist of lightweight aluminum, formed into a honeycomb structure that reduces its total mass. The panel surfaces are made of nickel and coated with gold, which improves the mirror’s reflectivity at far-infrared wavelengths.

Once launched, the balloon will circle the south pole for up to four weeks, taking data on the gas distribution in several galaxies.

While that data will be worthwhile, the mission’s real goal is to test these technologies for future space-based astronomy missions. If this mission works, it will reduce significantly the cost and time necessary to make big telescope mirrors, while enhancing the robotic capabilities of such telescopes.

Astronomers: A supermassive black hole rotates far slower than expected

Quasar as seen across multiple wavelengths
Click for full image.

The uncertainty of science: Using Chandra astronomers have measured the rotation of a supermassive black hole in a distant quasar about 3.4 billion light years away and found that it spins at about half the speed of other less massive black holes.

Because a spinning black hole drags space around with it and allows matter to orbit closer to it than is possible for a non-spinning one, the X-ray data can show how fast the black hole is spinning. The spectrum — that is, the amount of energy as a function wavelength — of H1821+643 indicates that the black hole is rotating at a modest rate compared to other, less massive ones that spin close to the speed of light. This is the most accurate spin measurement for such a massive black hole.

The black hole, thought to weigh between 3 to 30 billion times more than the Sun and is the heaviest such object measured in this way, rotates at about half the speed of light. Why that rotation is less than other smaller black holes remains a question not yet answered, though astronomers suspect it is related to its formation history.

The image above is a composite showing this quasar across multiply wavelengths. X-rays are shown in blue, radio in red, and optical in white.

Rocket Lab’s Photon upper stage completes 3rd of 7 engine firings to get CAPSTONE to Moon

Rocket Lab’s Photon upper stage has now successfully completed the third of seven planned engine burns designed to slowly raise the Earth orbit of NASA’s experimental lunar cubesat CAPSTONE so that it can eventually be sent towards the Moon.

Lunar Photon’s HyperCurie engine will perform a series of orbit raising maneuvers by igniting periodically to increase Photon’s velocity, stretching its orbit into a prominent ellipse around Earth. Six days after launch, HyperCurie will ignite one final time, accelerating Photon Lunar to 24,500 mph (39,500 km/h) and setting it on a ballistic lunar transfer. Within 20 minutes of this final burn, Photon will release CAPSTONE into space for the first leg of the CubeSat’s solo flight. CAPSTONE’s journey to NRHO is expected to take around four months from this point. Assisted by the Sun’s gravity, CAPSTONE will reach a distance of 963,000 miles from Earth – more than three times the distance between Earth and the Moon – before being pulled back towards the Earth-Moon system.

Once in lunar orbit, CAPSTONE will be used to both test operations in that orbit (similar to the one NASA’s Lunar Gateway space station will use) while also demonstrating the use of a cubesat on an interplanetary mission.

Amazon to FCC: Consider limiting SpaceX’s Starlink constellation for our benefit

In a letter sent to the FCC last week, Amazon asked the agency to limit the size of SpaceX’s full constellation so that Amazon will be free to someday launch its own Kuiper constellation.

In the recent letter, Amazon recommends the FCC license a “subset of SpaceX’s proposed system” (as opposed to the whole fleet) to give the agency additional time to consider the “novel challenges” such a significant expansion might present. For example, Amazon believes hundreds to “more than 10,000” of SpaceX’s new satellites could be operating in the altitudes already approved for its Kuiper satellites, which could cause interference in the spectrum and “orbital overlap.” The company claims SpaceX has refused its requests for communication around these concerns as it has urged the FCC to approve its application. It also cites eight other satellite operations who have objected to the plan, including Dish Network, which is currently engaged in a public battle over radio frequencies with SpaceX.

Amazon’s concerns might carry more weight if the launch of its constellation was not so delayed. Both Amazon and SpaceX began development of their satellite constellations at about the same time. Yet, while SpaceX has already launched almost 3,000 satellites, and is providing its service to several hundred thousand customers, Amazon has yet to launch a single satellite.

Thus, though what Amazon is asking the FCC seems reasonable, it is also asking the FCC to block a competitor’s successful operation while it dilly-dallies along, accomplishing little.

This pattern from Amazon fits the pattern of all of Jeff Bezos’s space-related projects: Big promises, little action, and when competitors get things done sue or demand the government play favorites. Sure does not seem to me to be a good long-term business plan.

India’s PSLV rocket completes launch, putting nine satellites into orbit

India’s PSLV rocket successfully placed nine satellites into orbit today, completing that country’s second launch in 2022.

Since the Wuhan panic arrived in 2020, India’s space program has slowed to a crawl. Beforehand, it had been averaging six launches per year with the expectation that in 2020 it might double that number. Furthermore, the PSLV rocket had been a major player in the emerging smallsat market, routinely putting one to three dozen smallsats into orbit with each launch, with one launch in 2017 putting a record 104 smallsats into orbit.

Then the Wuhan panic arrived and everything stopped. Today’s PSLV launch was only its fifth launch since 2019. With almost all launches canceled, India’s smallsat business moved to SpaceX, Rocket Lab, and other rocket companies that did not panic and continued to launch.

Today’s launch however might signal a renewal. It was not managed by India’s old space agency, ISRO, but a new government agency called NewSpace India Limited (NSIL), which is supposedly focused on encouraging the growth of India’s commercial aerospace sector, independent of the government. Whether a government agency can accomplish such a task in India remains entirely unknown.

The leader board in the 2022 launch race remains the same:

27 SpaceX
21 China
8 Russia
4 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise still leads China 37 to 21 in the national rankings, and the entire world combined 37 to 34.

A ULA Atlas-5 launch later today could change these numbers.

SpaceX launches SES communications satellite

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully launched a SES communications satellite, using its Falcon 9 rocket.

The first stage, making its second flight, successfully landed on a drone ship in the Atlantic. As of this writing, the satellite itself has not yet been deployed.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

27 SpaceX
21 China
8 Russia
4 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise now leads China 37 to 21 in the national rankings, and the entire world combined 37 to 34.

Today’s blacklisted American: Lincoln bust and Gettysburg Address plaque removed from Cornell library because “someone complained”

Banned by Cornell

Our modern dark age: Apparently because some unidentified individual “complained” about the presence of a bust of Abraham Lincoln and a bronzed plaque of his Gettysburg address, officials running the library at Cornell University immediately removed both.

“Someone complained, and it was gone,” Cornell professor Randy Wayne told the College Fix, referring to a Gettysburg Address plaque and Lincoln bust that had been on display in the Ivy League university’s Kroch Library since 2013. The professor said that he had noticed that the items were gone after stopping by the library several weeks ago, adding that when he asked the librarians about it, they were unable to give any details, other than saying it was removed as a result of some type of complaint.

The plaque and bust have been replaced with, “Well, nothing,” Wayne told the College Fix.

According to professor Wayne, when he asked the librarians why the bust and plaque were gone “they had no details to provide, except to say it was removed after some sort of complaint.”
» Read more

The lava tubes on the western slopes of Alba Mons as potential Martian colonies

Lava tubes on western flank of Alba Mons
Click for full figure.

In a new paper detailing work they first began in 2019, scientists have now carefully mapped the extensive lava tubes that appear to radially descend westward from the caldera of Alba Mons, the volcano on Mars that has the largest surface area but with a relatively low peak.

The mapped population of 331 lava tube systems has a mean length of 36.2 km, with a total length in the western flank geologic map quadrangle of ∼12,000 km. Individual lava tube systems extend up to ∼400 km, and it is likely that some of our mapped lava tubes are connected such that the total number is actually smaller and lengths (average and maximum) longer.

The map above, figure 10 of their paper, shows volcanic ridges as yellow, collapsed lava tube segments as red, and collapsed lava tube on the volcanic ridge as maroon. The wider map below, shows where this region is located, and gives the larger context.
» Read more

Sierra Space signs partnership deal with Turkey

Sierra Space and ESEN (another affiliated company of Sierra Space’s mother company Sierra Nevada) have signed a partnership agreement with the Turkish Space Agency to work together over the next five years in developing Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser spacecraft and its LIFE orbital space station.

Though the agreement mentions how the three will work together to develop both Dream Chaser and LIFE, because of State department security regulations Sierra Space must be very careful about what technology it reveals to Turkey. I therefore expect the heart of the agreement are these two bullet points from the press release:

  • Space environment utilization on-orbit in LEO, including use of Sierra Space’s Large Integrated Flexible Environment (LIFE) space habitat module
  • Sending payloads to low Earth orbit (LEO) and the moon

Turkey wants to launch its own planetary probes as well as astronauts in order to compete with its Middle East neighbor the UAE. It has thus decided to pay Sierra Space to help it do that. The company can use the cargo Dream Chaser to lift smallsat payloads into orbit, and later use the manned version to lift Turkish astronauts to the LIFE station.

Axiom leases former Fry’s retail building housing fullscale mock-up of ISS

Capitalism in space: The private commercial space station company Axiom has leased a former Fry’s retail building that also happens to house the only fullscale mock-up of ISS anywhere.

Axiom Space, which has a contract with NASA to test components of its planned Axiom Station at the International Space Station, has leased the former location of Fry’s Electronics in Webster, Texas to house its engineering operations. The former big-box retail store, which closed when the national chain went out of business in 2021, is unique for its football-field-long representation of the ISS.

…Contained within a building that itself was shaped to resemble oversized space station modules, the former Fry’s ISS includes most of the real complex’s major components. The mockup features the U.S. Destiny laboratory, Quest airlock and Cupola; Russia’s Zvezda service module and Zarya functional cargo block (FGB); Japan’s Kibo laboratory; and the European Space Agency Columbus module.

The space station installation also has a replica of the Canadarm2 robotic arm, a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, two models of NASA’s never-realized X-38 emergency crew return vehicle and astronauts (mannequins) in replica spacesuits. Additional oversized modules previously served as product demonstration rooms and an in-store cafe, while most of the station sat among and above aisles of computers and other devices.

Most of the mock-up hangs overhead, out of the way. In reconfiguring the building for its own use, Axiom intends to leave these mock-up units untouched. Engineers will do design work and module development of Axiom’s own station below.

Axiom’s occupation of this building is only temporary. Once its larger facility is completed in the next few years in the industrial park dubbed Houston Spaceport it will shift all operations there.

Scientists want your help cataloging the clouds on Mars

In order to fully identify all the clouds seen in the sixteen years of data collected by the cloud instrument on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), scientists have now organized a citizen-scientist project to catalogue those clouds.

The project revolves around a 16-year record of data from the agency’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which has been studying the Red Planet since 2006. The spacecraft’s Mars Climate Sounder instrument studies the atmosphere in infrared light, which is invisible to the human eye. In measurements taken by the instrument as MRO orbits Mars, clouds appear as arches. The team needs help sifting through that data on Zooniverse, marking the arches so that the scientists can more efficiently study where in the atmosphere they occur.

You can join up by going here.

SpaceX preps for final engine tests before first orbital Starship/Superheavy flight

Capitalism in space: Having moved its 7th prototype Superheavy booster to the launch pad in Boca Chica even as its installs the six Raptor engines on the 24th prototype of Starship, SpaceX is now about to begin the final engines tests prior to the first orbital Starship/Superheavy flight.

For the first time the chopstick arms on the launch tower were used to lift and place the Superheavy booster onto the pad. It is expected that static fire tests of its 33 Raptor engines could begin within the next few weeks.

The orbital Starship meanwhile is still in the assembly building, where engineers are installing its own six Raptor engines.

Though SpaceX has not made public the exact schedule of tests leading to launch, it is expected that the company will do a short static fire test program with Superheavy alone, and then do a follow-up short series of tests once the Starship prototype is stacked on top. Based on past history, if the tests show no problems SpaceX will quickly move to launch. Though there have been indications that it is targeting July, it would not be surprising if that date slips to August.

The race between Starship and SLS for which will get into orbit first appears to be tightening.

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