The layers of Mars’ north pole icecap

The layers of Mars' north pole icecap
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, was taken on April 1, 2021 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It shows the high cliff edge of the Martian north polar ice cap, and was taken as part of the springtime monitoring for the numerous avalanches that fall from the icecap’s steep edge every spring.

This particular cliff is probably about 1,000 feet high. I cannot tell if the image captured any avalanches on the very steep north-facing cliff. What struck me about this image however was the terraced layers so visible on the west-facing scarp. You can clearly count about eleven distinct and thick layers, each forming a wide ledge.

Each layer represents a different climate epoch on Mars when the ice cap was growing, with new snow being deposited.
» Read more

Today’s blacklisted American: Anyone in Hollywood who is white

A banned race in Hollywood
A banned race in Hollywood.

Blacklists are back and Hollywood’s got ’em: Warner Brothers has decided its next Superman will be super-woke and must star a black Superman.

More important, the studio has decided that in order to make the film the “super-woke” concept they envision it must only hire blacks to make it. Not only has the studio hired a black writer to write the script, it is insisting that the director and crew must be black also.

The Hollywood Reporter proudly makes note of the fact that they are looking for only black people to do it all, and are looking for a black director. The piece unabashedly excludes the film’s producer J.J. Abrams as a candidate purely because it would be “tone-deaf.”

Nor is that all. Hollywood also wants the focus for all its future superhero films to be “diversity” and racial oppression rather those evil and quaint old concepts of “truth, justice, and the American way.”
» Read more

NASA and Axiom finalize contract for private tourism flight to ISS

Capitalism in space: NASA today announced that it has signed the order detailing the first commercial tourism flight to ISS by Axiom, set for no earlier than January ’22.

The spaceflight, designated as Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1), will launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and travel to the International Space Station. Once docked, the Axiom astronauts are scheduled to spend eight days aboard the orbiting laboratory. NASA and Axiom mission planners will coordinate in-orbit activities for the private astronauts to conduct in coordination with space station crew members and flight controllers on the ground.

Axiom will purchase services for the mission from NASA, such as crew supplies, cargo delivery to space, storage, and other in-orbit resources for daily use. NASA will purchase from Axiom the capability to return scientific samples that must be kept cold in transit back to Earth.

SpaceX will transport the four Axiom astronauts to and from ISS in a Dragon capsule, as yet undetermined.

According to yesterday’s Space News article, the contract for this flight had been signed prior to NASA establishing its new much higher prices for the use of ISS.

NASA officially increases prices for commercial use of ISS by 700%

Capitalism in space: Though there were some revisions to the price list that NASA released in March, the revised price list for use of ISS by private companies and released at the end of April did not change significantly, and now officially increases prices for commercial tourist flights to ISS by about 700%.

The price list can be found here.

The result of the new policy is a much higher price charged by NASA to companies conducting private astronaut missions. Under the old policy, the life support and crew supplies for a hypothetical four-person, one-week mission to the ISS would cost $945,000, a figure that doesn’t include stowage, data or power. Under the new policy, the cargo, food and supplies charges for the same mission would be more than $2.5 million at the low end of the quoted cost ranges, plus $10 million in per-mission fees.

These prices will not apply to the Axiom commercial tourist flight scheduled for early ’22 because that contract was signed beforehand. Nor do they apparently apply to any visits to the private module that Axiom is building to attach to ISS.

Nonetheless, these prices will almost certainly drive business away from ISS and NASA, especially because many of these costs, such as the upmass and downmass cost of passive cargo, should really be charged by the private commercial companies, SpaceX and Boeing, that are providing the transportation. NASA has nothing to do with that and is merely skimming some money off the top of other people’s achievement.

Expect therefore more free-flying tourist missions that do not dock with ISS, such as SpaceX’s Inspiration4 flight scheduled for launch in September. We should also expect an acceleration in the construction of private stations that will compete with NASA and likely charge less.

Ingenuity completes fifth flight; lands in new location

On May 7th, 2021 Ingenuity completed its fifth flight on Mars, this time landing at a new location for the first time.

The robot craft took off at ‘Wright Brothers Field’ – the same spot where the it had risen and landed on all its other flights – but landed at an airfield 423 feet (129 metres) to the south. Landing in a new place is another first for the rotorcraft.

This new landing site places the helicopter in a good position to leap frog along with Perseverance as it moves south in this general area studying the floor of Jezero Crater.

SpaceX launches and lands 1st stage for record 10th time

During a launch yesterday of another sixty Starlink satellites, the first stage of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket successfully completed its tenth flight, a new record for such boosters.

The turnaround time for this booster is noted at the link, and shows that they have been steadily shortening that time to less than two months.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

14 SpaceX
12 China
7 Russia
2 Rocket Lab

The U.S. now leads China 19 to 12 in the national rankings.

Long March 5B core stage falls to Earth

Around 10:15 pm (Eastern) the Long March 5B core stage reentered the atmosphere over the Arabian Peninsula, with pieces landing in the Indian Ocean north of the Maldives to the southwest of India.

China has attempted to minimize its behavior here, claiming that most of the rocket burned up and that the chance of any damage was low. Big deal! If you are a responsible spacefaring nation you don’t build rockets that are designed to do this.

Remember, at least three more Long March 5B launches are scheduled in the next the years. As presently designed all will dump that core stage somewhere on Earth in an entirely uncontrolled manner.

Today’s blacklisted American: You are supporting the blacklisting of someone, no matter what you do

Rick, stating the truth in Casablanca
Click for video.

Today’s column on blacklisting won’t point out any particular person or group being blacklisted. Instead, I want to make it clear to my readers how completely dominate the intolerant culture of blackballing and censorship has become in America.

This intolerance has been well documented for years in the political, academic, and artistic communities. If you dare to be an outspoken conservative or Republican you will quickly find yourself an outcast, your job threatened and your future squashed. I know. I have been both a filmmaker and a film teacher, and am now a journalist writing often about political matters, and have had to face blacklisting myself more than a few times.

It is only in the last year that it has become evident that the the business community wishes to join in.

To fight this, many open-minded and tolerant Americans try to avoid companies that oppress people for their political views or ethnicity, in the hope that the loss of income will force these companies to change their behavior. In fact, there is now even a webpage, Cancel This Company, that tries to provide a complete list of the worst and most oppressive companies, while also carefully documenting that bad behavior so you know your decision is based on fact.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Well it ain’t that easy.
» Read more

A Martian mud volcano

A Martian mud volcano?
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, was taken on January 6, 2021 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It shows a distinct conelike knob in an area of the northern lowland plains of Mars dubbed Acidalia Mensa.

According to this paper [pdf], this is possibly a mud volcano.

Bright pitted cones are common in the northern plains of Mars and have been documented to occur in numerous locations including Acidalia Planitia. Various interpretations of these features have been
proposed but growing consensus in recent literature has favored mud volcanism as the most likely formation mechanism. Mud volcanoes are provocative targets for exploration because they bring to the surface sedimentary materials otherwise inaccessible by normal surface exploration and can aid in reconstructing the sedimentary history of the northern plains. Also, by sampling fluids and sediments from deep in the Martian crust, mud volcanoes may be among the best places to search for ancient and extant life.

A previous cool image post, “Baby volcanoes on Mars”, showed another example in the same general area of Mars.

Though this conclusion is not yet confirmed, the multi-layered apron that surrounds the cone certainly suggests repeated eruptions of muddy water over time.

Scientists have taken many images of this area and cone using MRO’s context camera. (See this image as and example.) All show a very rough terrain, with cracks, fissures, and many smaller cones and knobs. This particular knob however dominates the landscape as one of the largest features. The aprons around it are darker, and appear to have been overlain on top of the nearby rough ground.

If such cones are mud volcanoes, they represent a geological process that is pretty much unique to Mars. There are some comparable features on Earth, but they are rare and do not match exactly.

Long March 5B booster reentry prediction narrows again

Long March 5B landing prediction, May 7, 2021
Click for original.

The Aerospace Corporation has once again narrowed the reentry window for the 21-ton core stage of China’s Long March 5B rocket, launched on April 29th, as shown by the map above. The window is now only eleven hours long, centered over a point in the Indian Ocean at just before midnight on May 8th. The yellow tracks indicate its path after that centerpoint, while the blue lines show its path prior to it. Tick marks show five minute intervals.

The last orbit as shown by this prediction puts it over the following land areas. If the core stage crashes 5 to 20 minutes early, it would land anywhere from Spain to Africa. Another fifteen minutes earlier and Florida and Mexico would be in the landing zone. If it lands 45 to 50 minutes later, it will land somewhere on the continental United States.

China however might be lucky with this booster. The centerpoint of the prediction has definitely begun to stabilize around the Indian Ocean.

With future boosters, who knows? China plans at least three more Long March 5B launches, two in ’22 to launch modules for its space station, and one in ’24 to launch a Hubble-class space telescope to fly in formation with that space station. We shall see this same Keystone cop charade on all three flights, with the core stage tumbling out-of-control and falling back to Earth to crash somewhere that cannot be predicted.

Ingenuity’s fifth flight later today

The flight path of Ingenuity's fourth flight
The flight path of Ingenuity’s 3rd and 4th flights.
Click for original image.

According to Ingenuity’s engineering team, the helicopter will make its fifth flight today, and unlike the previous flights, it will not return to is initial take-off point, but will instead land to the south, putting it in a better position to tag along with Perseverance. As noted by Josh Ravitch, Ingenuity’s mechanical engineering lead at JPL,

We are traveling to a new base because this is the direction Perseverance is going, and if we want to continue to demonstrate what can be done from an aerial perspective, we have to go where the rover goes.

The map to the right show’s the flight paths of Ingenuity’s third and fourth flights, with the fourth heading south. Based on the data obtained they scouted out its likely landing place for the fifth flight.

[The] targeted takeoff time is 12:33 p.m. local Mars time (3:26 p.m. EDT, or 12:26 p.m. PDT), with data coming down at 7:31 p.m. EDT (4:31 p.m. PDT). Ingenuity will take off at Wright Brothers Field – the same spot where the helicopter took off and touched back down on all the other flights – but it will land elsewhere, which is another first for our rotorcraft. Ingenuity will climb to 16 feet (5 meters), then retrace its course from flight four, heading south 423 feet (129 meters).

This April 30th Ingenuity update by Håvard Grip, Ingenuity’s chief pilot, provides a very detailed explanation of what they are learning about flight on Mars, describing issues of take-off, landing, dust, and maneuvering. Engineers (or any geeks in general) will find Grip’s commentary most interesting.

China Long March 2C rocket launches military satellite

China today used its Long March 2C rocket to put in orbit what it calls a “remote-sensing” satellite that is likely for use by its military.

Launched from an interior spaceport, this rocket’s first stage (using very toxic hypergolic fuels) will fall to Earth somewhere in China’s Guizhou Province. This has been China’s standard operating procedure for decades, sometimes resulting in such stages landing near residential areas.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

13 SpaceX
12 China
7 Russia
2 Rocket Lab

The U.S. still leads China 18 to 12 in the national rankings.

Boeing and NASA set July 30th for 2nd unmanned Starliner demo mission

Capitalism in space: Boeing and NASA today announced that they have now scheduled the second unmanned Starliner demo mission to ISS for July 30th.

In separate statements, the agency and the company said they were planning to launch the Starliner on a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 at 2:53 p.m. Eastern July 30 on the Orbital Flight Test (OFT) 2 mission. A launch that day would allow the spacecraft to dock with the International Space Station on the evening of July 31.

The new launch date comes after NASA and Boeing completed an “integrated mission dress rehearsal” for the mission using a simulator at a Boeing facility in Houston. The five-day simulation covered activities starting 26 hours before launch and going through landing, including docking and undocking from the station.

Both Boeing and NASA are still hopeful that the first manned flight of Starliner can still take place before the end of this year. Whether it does or not will largely depend on how well things go on this unmanned demo flight.

No plans to shoot down Long March 5B booster; revised prediction

The Biden administration will make no attempt to shoot down the 21-ton core stage of China’s Long March 5B rocket, according to the Defense secretary Lloyd Austin:

At this point we don’t have a plan to shoot the rocket down. We’re hopeful it will land in a place where it won’t harm anyone. Hopefully in the ocean or someplace like that. I think this speaks to the fact that for those of us who operate in the space domain that there should be a requirement to operate in a safe and thoughtful mode and make sure that we take those kinds of things into consideration as we plan and conduct operations.

Meanwhile, the predicted reentry window has shrunk again, to 16 hours, and shifted so that its centerpoint is now over Egypt, as shown on this map by the Aerospace Corporation:
» Read more

Martian volcanic eruption thought to be only 50,000-210,000 years old

Overview map

Using Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) images scientists now believe they have located a volcanic eruption on Mars that could have erupted violently as recently as only 50,000 years ago, and is located deep within Mars’ volcano country. The overview map to the right indicates the location of this volcanic with the blue cross. The red dots surrounded by white ovals are distinct quakes that InSight has detected. From their paper’s abstract:

Stratigraphic relationships indicate a relative age younger than the surrounding volcanic plains and the [nearby] Zunil impact crater (~0.1–1 [million years]), with crater counting suggesting that the deposit has an absolute model age of 53 ± 7 to 210 ± 12 [thousand years]. This young age implies that if this deposit is volcanic then the Cerberus Fossae region may not be extinct and that Mars may still be volcanically active. This interpretation is consistent with the identification of seismicity in this region by the [InSight] lander, and has additional implications for astrobiology.

The Cerberus Fossae region is a series of long fissures that scientists think were created when the underground magma pushed up, stretched the surface, and thus caused it to crack. This particular feature suggests that when the ground cracked it sometimes also did so in conjunction with a volcanic eruption.

Below is a zoomed-in context mosaic, taken from figure 1 of the above paper, showing the feature itself and the surrounding terrain.
» Read more

Today’s blacklisted American: NJ cop fired for calling Black Lives Matter rioters “terrorists”

Banned by New Jersey
Doesn’t exist in Hopewell Township, NJ.

Blacklists are back and the Dems’ have got ’em: A New Jersey policewoman, Sara Erwin, has been fired by her local township, Hopewell Township, because she strongly criticized the violent and Marxist organization Black Lives Matter, noting that the riots they had instigated last year after the death of George Floyd made them “terrorists.”

For expressing support for Erwin’s comments, Hopewell township also demoted and suspended another female cop, Mandy Grey, as well as punished five other of its employees for expressing support for Erwin’s post.

Six township employees, including five members of the police department, were put on leave for appearing to support Erwin’s post, The Trentonian reported in June.

Hopewell Township Police Chief Lance Maloney, who has since retired, declined to identify the employees at the time, but a source identified them as Grey, Detective Mark Panzano, Officers Erwin and John Ferner, dispatcher Gregory Peck and public works truck driver Steve Harbat, the newspaper reported.

Their crime? This is what Erwin had written that they had endorsed:
» Read more

Long March 5B booster reentry prediction still centers on evening of May 8th off coast of Australia

Prediction of Long March 5B booster reentry
Click for full image.

Today’s most recent prediction by the Aerospace Corporation for the reentry of China’s out-of-control Long March 5B 21-ton core stage is still centered at 10:34 pm (Eastern) on May 8th, with a total uncertainty of 21 hours. As the company notes,

The prediction is currently holding steady for Saturday evening for the US, and the error bars are shrinking.

As shown on the map to the right, the centerpoint is just off the southwest coast of Australia. However, with a window 21 hours long, the booster could still come down in a large number of high population locations.

Bezos sells $2.4 billion in Amazon stock

Capitalism in space: According to SEC filings, Jeff Bezos this week sold $2.4 billion in Amazon stock, adding to all his increasing stock sales in recent years.

Bezos said in 2017 that he was selling $1 billion a year to fund his Blue Origin space venture, but he has been increasing the size and frequency of the stock sales recently. He sold more than $7 billion last year. This is his first stock sale of 2021.

By my count of all his sales since 2017, Bezos has raised about $12 billion in cash. Of this, he has said that he wants to spend $10 billion on fighting “climate change,” as well as at least $1 billion per year on Blue Origin.

One way or the other, Blue Origin has far more cash available to it than SpaceX. Too bad Bezos’ company has done so little with it in the past four years. Four years ago the company was truly a viable competitor to SpaceX, though behind it in the curve. Then Bezos hired a new CEO, Bob Smith, to run the company. The development pace slowed to a crawl as the company shifted gears from using Bezos’ money to fund development to trying to obtain government money instead. That shift forced Blue Origin to bow to government demands, which in turn slowed development of their New Glenn orbital rocket. The company also took the big space approach toward development of its lunar lander, pausing all real design and construction until it won the NASA contract. This made it less attractive a bid, which is one reason SpaceX’s Starship won the contract instead.

In addition, the company ended the many and frequent test flights of New Shepard that had been occurring, slowing the pace to about one launch per year.

In that time Blue Origin lost so much ground that it will now be difficult, but not impossible, to catch up. Maybe these cash sales by Bezos is to give him the capital to catch up. I hope so. We need real competitors to SpaceX.

Starship #15 launches AND lands successfully

Starship #15 about to land

Starship #15 after landing

Capitalism in space: On the 60th anniversary of Alan Shepard’s suborbital flight, making him the first American to fly in space, SpaceX has successfully launched and landed its fifteenth Starship prototype.

The flight appeared remarkably smooth, except for the cameras on board which dropped out for much of the flight. The first image shows the rocket coming down just before touch down. At this moment it was dropping very smoothly, and landed very gently on the landing pad.

The second image was taken about thirty seconds after landing. There was a fire at the rocket’s base being extinguished by the water fire control system. Other than that, the rocket appears whole and undamaged.

As I write this, it is about ten minutes after landing, the fires at the rocket’s base have been put out, and all seems under control. I expect that SpaceX engineers will finally have a fully intact prototype that they can inspect for future design revisions. For example, the skin of this prototype has many thermal tiles attached. They can now see if their attachment system works.

I have embedded the 16 minute live stream of the flight below the fold. Enjoy!
» Read more

How to watch the first flight of Starship prototype #15

Starship #15 on launchpad, May 5, 2021
Screen capture from LabPadre Nerdle camera live stream.

UPDATED and BUMPED. The SpaceX live stream is now embedded below the fold. It is set to go live in about five minutes before launch, with the launch now set for about 5:25 pm (Central).

Capitalism in space: The roads have now closed at Boca Chica, Texas, in preparation for today’s test flight of SpaceX’s 15th Starship prototype.

The following live streams are presently available if you wish to watch:

I will add other live streams as they become available. If SpaceX adds its own live stream I will embed it below.
» Read more

Breakthrough Listen finds no signs of alien transmissions from 60 million stars

Where are those alien civilizations? Breakthrough Listen, a privately funded project searching for evidence of alien life, has released the first results from its survey of 60 million stars in an area looking towards the galactic center, noting that it found no evidence of any technological transmissions signaling an alien civilization from any of those stars.

The paper can be downloaded here [pdf].

The kind of signals they were looking for were not beacons sent out intentionally by alien civilizations, such as television or radio broadcasts, but unintentional transmissions, such as radar transmissions meant for other purposes but still beamed into space. They found none.

Today’s blacklisted American: Football coach fired for criticizing Democrat

Cancelled Bill of Rights
Canceled at the University of Tennessee

They’re coming for you next: An offensive line coach at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga (UTC), Chris Malone, was fired just two days after he posted a tweet strongly criticizing failed Democrat candidate for governor Stacy Abrams and her part in what the coach perceived as election fraud in Georgia.

He is now suing the school and the individuals involved in his firing.

Malone’s tweet:

Congratulations to the state GA and Fat Albert @staceyabrams because you have truly shown America the true works of cheating in an election, again!!! Enjoy the buffet Big Girl!! You earned it!!! Hope the money is good, still not governor!

The school’s immediate reaction:
» Read more

Cats love illusory boxes too

News you can use: A citizen science project has found that cats not only like to climb into real boxes, if you paint the illusion of a square on the ground they will prefer that spot as well.

The illusion at hand was the Kanizsa square: four pacman-like shapes orientated to look like they’re forming four corners of a square, inducing the viewer to perceive a square that isn’t actually there.

…Cognitive ethologist Gabriella Smith from the City University of New York and colleagues recruited humans to set up floor objects for their feline lordlings to choose from – a taped square, a visual illusion of a square, and the same components as the visual illusion, but not arranged to produce a square (the control).

The cat owners were required to film the cats’ response under reasonably controlled conditions to avoid influencing the animals’ choices (this involved wearing sunglasses, too). While over 500 pet cats were originally enrolled, the final data set shrunk down to 30 citizen scientists who managed to complete all the necessary trials.

…”The cats in this study stood or sat in the Kanizsa and square stimuli more often than the Kanizsa control, revealing susceptibility to illusory contours and supporting our hypothesis that cats treat an illusory square as they do a real square,” they found.

Need I add there because of the small sample there is a lot of uncertainty about these results. Though as far as the cats are concerned, there is no uncertainty at all: They rule, and their human servants shall obey.

Revised Long March 5B crash window

Aerospace's revised Long March 5B crash window
Click for original image.

The map above, reduced and adjusted to post here, shows today’s revised estimate by the Aerospace Corporation for where and when the 21-ton core stage of China’s Long March 5B rocket, launched on April 29th, will hit the ground. The reentry window has now narrowed to 22 hours, and is centered on May 8th at 10:29 pm (Eastern) over the Indian Ocean, just off the southwest coast of Australia. The yellow orbital tracks are after that centerpoint, while the blue are before. The tick marks indicate five minute intervals.

Expect these updates to come more frequently and continue to narrow in the next two days as the orbit continues to decay. Right now, if the stage comes down a little later than predicted there is ample opportunity for it to hit either Australia or the United States. Should it come down earlier, it right now could hit either Africa or Spain.

Note that the chances of this stage doing any real harm is quite slim, even it if lands on a populated area. It will break up during reentry so that any pieces that hit the ground will be much smaller. If anything, the debris will resemble somewhat the wreckage that fell when the space shuttle Columbia broke up over the U.S. in 2003 during its return to Earth. The impact of that wreckage injured no one on the ground, even as it did kill seven astronauts. Expect the same with China’s core stage.

The issue here is not the danger, but China’s gross negligence and violation of its treaty obligations in launching this rocket knowing the core stage was going to do this. No more Long March 5B launches can occur without them fixing the problem so that future core stages can be brought back to Earth in a controlled and safe manner.

Virgin Galactic under investigation by law firm

Labaton Sucharow, a law firm that specializes in “representing clients in securities, antitrust, corporate governance and shareholder rights, and consumer cybersecurity and data privacy litigation,” has opened an investigation into Virgin Galactic’s decision on May 3rd to delay the release of its first quarterly report by six days.

Labaton Sucharow, a nationally ranked and award-winning shareholder rights law firm, is investigating potential securities violations and breach of fiduciary duty claims against Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc. (NYSE:SPCE).

On May 4, Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc. closed down over 9% on enormous volume after the space tourism company said it would restate certain past financial results in the wake of recent comments by the Securities and Exchange Commission on the accounting treatment of deals involving special-purpose acquisition companies.

The stock price is still falling, by the way.

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