Japan’s H2A rocket successfully launches radar surveillance satellite

Japan’s space agency JAXA today successfully launched a radar surveillance satellite using its H2A rocket, built by Mitsubishi.

This was Japan’s first launch since December 2021, a gap of more than a year, with no launches in 2022. JAXA hopes to finally launch its unimaginatively named H3 rocket, the replacement for the H2A, on February 12, 2023, after a two year delay because of cracks found in the engines.

The 2023 launch race:

5 China
5 SpaceX
1 Rocket Lab
1 Japan

Today’s blacklisted American: Thin blue line banned on flags in Los Angeles and suburban Philadelphia

They’re coming for you next: Today’s blacklist story illustrates most starkly the intolerant and insane culture that is now taking over many Democratic Party-controlled regions of the United States. Government officials in both Los Angeles and the town of Springfield, a suburb of Philadelphia, have banned use of the American flag with a thin blue line that for years has been used to symbolized support of the police and those who have fallen in duty.

In both cases, the banning occurred because some leftists made unsubstantiated accusations that the line really represented “white supremacy” and thus is racist. No evidence of course was ever presented to prove those allegations, but who cares about evidence in this day and age? All that matters is that the accusation is made, and all must immediately kow-tow to it, even if it destroys the first amendment and the lives of many innocent people.

LA police chief Michael Moore
LA police chief Michael Moore

Now for the specifics. In Los Angeles the chief of the LA police department on January 13, 2023 banned the use of the flag after receiving one complaint.

The “Thin Blue Line” flag has been banned from Los Angeles Police Department lobbies along with all other public areas on police property following a complaint from one person who thought it signified support for “extremist” ideologies such as “those espoused by the Proud Boys,” according to the chief.

LAPD Chief Michel Moore sent an email to department personnel on Friday making the announcement to remove the flags, blaming “extremist groups” who have “hijacked the use” of the Thin Blue Line.

Moore was desperate to protect the sensitive feelings of that one person, even though no evidence at all was presented to prove the allegations, and the police union and its nearly 10,000 members were utterly opposed to his decision.
» Read more

A dry lakebed on Mars?

Evidence of a past lake in a crater on Mars
Click for original image.

Today’s cool image illustrates in some ways the uncertainty of science. The photo to the right, rotated, cropped, reduced, and sharpened to post here, was taken on December 1, 2022 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The science team intriguingly labeled it “Small Candidate Lake Deposit Downstream of Alluvial Fan.” I am not sure what they consider that lake deposit in the full image, so I have focused on the area of stucco-like ground, which resembles bedrock that has been corroded by some water process.

This area is just to the east of the central peaks of an unnamed 25-mile-wide crater in the southern cratered highlands. Many of the craters in this region are believed by scientists to have once harbored lakes formed by run-off from the glaciers that once existed on the craters’ inner rim. In this case it appears this stucco area is the head of an alluvial fan, coming down from the crater’s central peaks. You can see its beginning in this MRO high resolution image of the central peaks, taken in November 2016. As defined geologically,

An aluvial fan is an accumulation of sediments that fans outwards from a concentrated source of sediments, such as a narrow canyon emerging from an escarpment. They are characteristic of mountainous terrain in arid to semiarid climates, but are also found in more humid environments subject to intense rainfall and in areas of modern glaciation.

In this case the terrain is now arid, but shows evidence it once was icy wet.
» Read more

ISRO about to test land a prototype of India’s own version of the X-37B

ISRO's own X-37B copy

According to S. Somanth, the head of India’s space agency ISRO, it will attempt the first flight on January 28, 2023 of a prototype reusable launch vehicle, similar to the Space Force’s X-37B.

According to ISRO’s website, Saturday’s landing demonstration will involve a “landing experiment (LEX)” in which the RLV will be carried using a helicopter to an altitude of 3-5 km and released at approximately 4-5 km from the runway with a horizontal velocity.

After the release, the RLV glides and navigates toward the runway, and carries out a conventional autonomous landing. This is planned in a defence airfield near Chitradurga in Karnataka.

The graphic to the right shows the flight profile of earlier tests that landed in the ocean. If this runway test is successful, it appears ISRO will next attempt an orbital flight and return.

Arianespace’s chief condemns the idea of independent private European rocket companies

Stéphane Israël, the head of Arianespace, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) commercial rocket division, yesterday strongly condemned the idea of allowing independent private European rocket companies to develop and compete with his government operation.

“It is not possible to copy-paste the US model,” he said. “It is not possible. The level of space spending in the United States is five times higher than in Europe, and the private capital is not the same. So if the answer is to say let’s do what the US has done, I think we will not manage to do it.”

Moreover, Israël said the European Space Agency must resist supporting microlaunchers to the point where these companies might compete with the existing capabilities.

“A huge mistake would be that this focus on microlaunchers destabilizes Ariane 6 and Vega C—it would be a historic mistake,” he said. “Microlaunchers can be of support to boost innovation. But we should not make any confusion. This launcher will never give autonomous access to space to Europe. They’re on a niche market representing maybe 10 percent of the market, and less than that when it comes to European needs.”

He said this in Brussels at the 15th European Space Conference, where it appears he was trying to convince the ESA to block any competition with Arianespace.

Israël might say this, but not only has his track record in predicting the success of commercial space in the U.S. been bad, other European governments are not taking his advice. Both Germany and the United Kingdom have several rocket startups gearing up for their first launches this year, with others in Spain and France not far behind. Moreover, Israël doesn’t have much to offer in competition. Arianespace’s Vega rocket, intended to be a low cost option, has failed on three of its last eight launches. The Ariane 6 rocket is years behind schedule, and has not yet launched. And both are overpriced and cannot compete, not only with the American rocket startups but with India’s government rockets.

Moreover, those European governments have in recent years been taking control and power away from Israël and Arianespace. Unlike earlier rockets, the Ariane 6 rocket is not controlled or owned by Arianespace. Instead, it belongs to ArianeGroup, the partnership of Airbus and Safran that is building it. Arianespace’s role in operating it will be greatly limited, once it begins flying.

Roscosmos predicts Russia’s new space station will launch by 2027

Wanna bet? Yuri Borisov, the head of Roscosmos, yesterday predicted that Russia’s new space station, dubbed the Russian Orbital Station, will launched and deployed by 2027.

“We will create sovereign infrastructure for human space flights to low near-Earth orbit. Its key element will be the Russian orbital station whose deployment we have scheduled for 2027,” he said.

The Russian space agency will carry out all the required feasibility studies by Cosmonautics Day celebrated in Russia on April 12, the Roscosmos chief said.

Based on Russia’s track record for the past three decades, this prediction will fail. Since the fall of the Soviet Union Russia’s space industry has consistently made many such predictions, none of which launched on time, with most never launching at all. Yet, that was during a time when Russia’s economy was booming, it was getting lots of revenue from the international markets, and wasn’t saddled with a draining war in the Ukraine. Now, international sanctions limit what it can get from that market, and its oil revenues have declined considerable due to the war. Moreover, the war prevents Russia from obtaining many cutting edge space components it needs for such a project. Replacing these with home-built components will take time.

If this station gets built, its launch will likely not happen before 2030.

Stacked Starship and Superheavy complete first full wet dress rehearsal countdown

SpaceX yesterday successfully completed a full wet dress rehearsal countdown of its stacked Starship prototype #24 and Superheavy prototype #7, fueling both completely and taking the countdown down to T-0.

On this rehearsal however the Superheavy engines were not fired. From two SpaceX tweets:

Starship completed its first full flight-like wet dress rehearsal at Starbase today. This was the first time an integrated Ship and Booster were fully loaded with more than 10 million pounds of propellant

Today’s test will help verify a full launch countdown sequence, as well as the performance of Starship and the orbital pad for flight-like operations

Next step: Another full wet dress rehearsal countdown that includes a short static fire test of all 33 Superheavy Raptor-2 engines. Once that is done successfully, the company will be ready for that first orbital launch.

Meanwhile, SpaceX awaits its launch license from the FAA. I remain pessimistic that it will be issued on a timely manner, as there are clear signs the Biden administration wants to use its power against Musk, whom it now sees as an enemy.

Classified Chinese test satellite releases second object in orbit

A classified Chinese test satellite, launched on January 8th, apparently released a second object into orbit on January 16th, suggesting the satellite might be doing robotic rendezvous and docking tests, similar to tests by an earlier classified satellite.

China’s Shijian 21 satellite, which launched in 2021, also reached GEO and released a satellite, which was then used for tests. Shijian 21 then proceeded to dock with the defunct Chinese navigation and positioning satellite Beidou-2 G2 and towed it away to an orbit out of the way of the active spacecraft in GEO.

China is clearly attempting to develop the same robotic servicing technologies that commercial companies in the west are beginning to fly.

Russians successfully test replacement Soyuz capsule for leaks

The next Soyuz capsule to launch to ISS has now been passed its leak tests on the ground as it is being prepared for a February 20th launch.

“At the Baikonur cosmodrome, leak tests of the Soyuz MS-23 transport crewed spacecraft have been completed,” the [Roscosmos press release] said. In the coming days, checks of the propulsion system’s automation equipment, onboard digital computerized system and radio engineering systems will follow. Also, the thermal control system is to be filled with a coolant.

The launch has been moved up one month in order to speed the replacement of the leaking Soyuz presently on ISS.

Rocket Lab successfully completes first launch from the U.S.

Using its Electron rocket, Rocket Lab yesterday placed three smallsats into orbit, launching for the first time from Wallops Island in Virginia.

The company now has three launchpads, one in Wallops and two in New Zealand. Expect its launch pace in 2023 to ramp up to, at a minimum, once per month.

The 2023 launch race:

5 China
5 SpaceX
1 Rocket Lab

In the national rankings, the U.S. leads China, 6 to 5. No one else has yet launched, though Japan plans a launch today.

Curiosity’s drill fails for the fourth time to drill into the marker band layer on Mt Sharp

The fourth attempt yesterday to use Curiosity’s drill to drill into the marker band layer on Mount Sharp once again was unable to drill down deep enough to obtain a sample.

Despite giving it the “old college try,” Curiosity’s attempt to drill into the Marker Band at the “Encanto” site did not reach sampling depth. Because other rocks around the rover look similar to “Encanto” and are likely also too hard to drill, the Science Team decided to convert the plan to a “Touch and Go.”

Although the Science Team is disappointed to leave this Marker Band location without a sample, Curiosity will use MAHLI, APXS, and ChemCam LIBS to analyze the chemistry and texture of the shallow “Encanto” drill hole and tailings, targeting the intriguing light-toned material exposed in the wall of the drill hole. We may see another location in the Marker Band worth sampling in the near future, but even if we don’t, there will certainly be many more exciting drilling opportunities to look forward to as Curiosity continues her climb up Mt. Sharp!

This drilling difficulty is not a surprise. The marker band is a very distinct flat layer that is seen at about the same elevation on all sides of Mount Sharp. It flatness suggests it is resistant to erosion, which also suggests its material will be hard. The inability of Curiosity’s drill to penetrate it only confirms this.

It also makes getting a drill sample to test even more intriguing. I suspect that the science team is going to try a few more times as it travels forward across the band, as indicated by the red dotted line in the panorama below.
Panorama as of January 17, 2023
Click for full image.

January 24, 2023 Quick space links

Courtesy of BtB’s stringer Jay.




Jupiter and two of its Moons, as seen by Cassini during 2018 fly-by

Cool video time! Back in December 2000 the spacecraft Cassini made a fly-by of Jupiter on its way to Saturn, which it then orbited from 2004 to 2017. In 2018 JPL scientist Kevin Gil took the images from that flyby to create a short movie, first showing two of Jupiter’s moons, Io and Europa, as they drifted above the Great Red Spot.

Then, for the second half of the movie Gil used Cassini images taken when in orbit around Saturn to show the moon Titan moving across the rings of Saturn.

I have embedded this short video below. If I had posted this back in 2018, I don’t remember. No matter. It is amazing enough to watch again.

Hat tip BtB’s stringer Jay.
» Read more

Today’s blacklisted American: Pro-parent event silenced by threats of violence from leftist queers

They’re coming for you next: An event organized by three different groups working to get the queer agenda out of elementary schools was canceled by the theater operator after he received numerous threats of violence from queer leftists.

“I was really proud to be able to provide an opportunity for a forum for some positive, hopefully positive, or what I thought would be possible discussions,” said operator Ron Onesti.

But instead it brought cascading concerns, and he said he canceled the event after receiving threats. “It’s not my role to have a stance with these issues. I’m merely the venue,” he said. “They said they were going to bring guns and show you what it’s really about. It just got really, really bad involving all kinds of things, bullets and dog feces.” [emphasis mine]

This is the left. Dare to express any opinion they disagree with, and they will work to blacklist and censor you, and if you show even the slightest resistance, they will then threaten you with violence.

Des Plaines Alderman Carla Brookman
Des Plaines Alderman Carla Brookman

The event itself had been scheduled to occur on February 8, 2023 in Des Plaines, Illinois. The organizers were a coalition of several organizations, Awake Illinois, Moms for Liberty, and Gays Against Groomers, all of whom oppose strongly the effort by queers to sexualize young children, often against the will of their parents. Though the theater is owned by the city, it was the theater operator who canceled the event.

I first found out about this story from this Pajamas Media story, which instead of focusing on the actual blacklisting and violence decided to center its story on the public statement of a Des Plaines council alderwoman, Carla Brookman, who called the effort to shut down the event wrong, a violation of free speech, and a demonstration of intolerance by the protesters.

You can watch her statement here.
» Read more

New evidence suggests the Earth’s inner core no longer rotates faster than the planet’s outer layers

The uncertainty of science: The same scientists who in the late 1990s thought they had detected evidence that the Earth’s inner core rotates faster than the planet’s mantle now say that this faster rotation ceased sometime around 2009.

In 1996, Song and another researcher reported studying earthquakes that originated in the same region over three decades, and whose energy was detected by the same monitoring station thousands of kilometres away. Since the 1960s, the scientists said, the travel time of seismic waves emanating from those earthquakes had changed, indicating that the inner core rotates faster than the planet’s mantle, the layer just beyond the outer core.

…Now, Yang and Song say that the inner core has halted its spin relative to the mantle. They studied earthquakes mostly from between 1995 and 2021, and found that the inner core’s super-rotation had stopped around 2009. They observed the change at various points around the globe, which the researchers say confirms it is a true planet-wide phenomenon related to core rotation, and not just a local change on the inner core’s surface.

It is important to note that there has not been a consensus on this data, that some scientists even doubt the super-rotation ever existed. The data itself is sparse enough and includes enough gaps to allow for this disagreement, which also means this new conclusion is also uncertain.

Communications issue shuts down one of Webb’s instruments

The near infrared instrument on the Webb Space Telescope, NIRISS, has been unavailable for science observations for more than a week due to a communications issue.

On Sunday, Jan. 15, the James Webb Space Telescope’s Near Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS) experienced a communications delay within the instrument, causing its flight software to time out. The instrument is currently unavailable for science observations while NASA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) work together to determine and correct the root cause of the delay.

According to the update, the instrument’s hardware, as well as the rest of the telescope, has been unaffected and remains in good condition.

In November the telescope’s mid-infrared instrument MIRI experienced its own problems with one of its “grating wheels” that allows it to some spectroscopy. Since then the instrument has been in use, but it is unclear if the issue was resolved or observations have had to be adjusted to avoid the problem.

January 23, 2023 Quick space links

Courtesy of BtB’s stringer Jay.




  • 2022 was a profitable year for space insurance companies, the third in a row
  • Jay notes this interesting detail from article: “Many LEO operators including SpaceX are choosing to forgo insuring satellites, not least because the size of their constellations gives them built-in redundancy. The estimated lifetimes of satellites in LEO are also far shorter than their cousins in GEO.”

Today’s blacklisted American: Game publisher fires employee for expressing conservative opinions

Limited Run Games: opposed to free speech

They’re coming for you next: The game publisher Limited Run Games recently fired its community manager Kara Lynne (also known by her married name, Kara Gooch) because one anonymous person complained to the company that she had expressed some conservative opinions on her personal account on Twitter.

Twitter user Purple Tinker (who has since deleted their account) described Lynne as “a transphobe” with several known right-wing and transphobic accounts on the list of accounts she follows on Twitter, including Ben Shapiro, Libs of TikTok, and others.

Purple Tinker pointed to several tweets made by Lynne in the past, including one in which she says “if you think the # of trans crying about using a bathroom is higher than the perves [sic] using the excuse, you are what is wrong with this world”. Lynne has since made her Twitter account private, so it’s not possible to see any of the tweets she made.

Apparently, Lynne had expressed enthusiasm in an earlier tweet about the game Hogwarts Legacy, based on J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, and since Rowling is now being blacklisted by the left and its allies in the queer movement because she thinks rationally that you can’t become a woman merely because you say so, Purple Tinker decided Lynne had to also be investigated and destroyed for defying that blacklist.

You can read Lynne’s detailed full response to her firing here. Her account of her firing tells us a lot about the weak character of the management of her former employer.
» Read more

Martian crater with mound of ice? mud? hardened sand?

Crater with mound
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, cropped to post here, was taken on October 31, 2022 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It shows a small 4,000-foot-wide crater that is practically filled with a smooth, almost perfectly spherical mound, with the rest of the crater interior filled with sand dunes and what appears to be glacial debris.

Is that mound also glacial debris, covered with a layer of dirt and dust to protect it? If so, one wonders how the ice ended up in this shape. There are other craters with similar mounds in this region, all suggesting glacial debris but with the same question. Craters with lots of near surface ice in this region more often have a squishy blobby look.

Is the mound instead possibly mud, expressing the existence of a mud/ice volcano? If so, it shows no central pit or caldera, which is typical of such things.

Is it hardened sand? Martian dust that gets blown into craters generally gets trapped there, building up over time. If so, however, why does it have a smooth almost perfectly rounded shape? The ripple sand dunes surrounding it are more like what you would expect.

The small craters on the mound also tell us that it is hardened and old, no matter what it is made of.
» Read more

Animation of Jupiter’s clouds

Cool video time! Using a photo taken by Juno during its 2018 fly-by of Jupiter, citizen scientist Thomas Thomopoulos has created a short animation showing the flow of Jupiter’s clouds. He also added some 3D relief by assigning elevation to the image’s greyscale, with lighter regions assigned higher altitudes.

I have embedded the animation below. Run it at the slowest speed for the best effect. It is quite spectacular, though it is also important to note that it is not reality. Thomopoulos is simply giving us a hint of the natural evolution of the cloud structures, both in elevation and in time.

You can see another equally impressive animation by Thomopoulos here of several of Jupiter’s polar storms, using AI technology to smooth out the loop.
» Read more

First Vulcan rocket arrives at Cape Canaveral

ULA’s first Vulcan rocket has now arrived at Cape Canaveral in preparation for its planned inaugural launch before the end of March.

This first mission for Vucan will fly in a VC2S configuration. “VC” stands for “Vulcan Centaur.” The number, in this case “2,” represents the number of solid rocket boosters needed and the final letter stands for the payload fairing length.

VC2S will use a 51-foot-long Standard payload fairing. Nestled inside will be a few different payloads. This mission will send the first two Kuiper prototype satellites into Low Earth Orbit (LEO), Astrobotic’s Peregrine lunar lander to the Moon and a Celestis Memorial Spaceflight payload into deep space. The remains of several people connected to the original Star Trek series will be launched on what Celestis dubbed the “Enterprise Flight,” including show creator Gene Roddenberry along with actors Nichelle Nichols and Jackson DeForest Kelley.

This first Vulcan launch will also be the first of two flights required by the Pentagon in order to certify Vulcan for military launches. Since ULA already has contracts for seven Vulcan military launches, it very much wants to get these two launches off this year, as soon as possible. According to the article at the link, ULA is thus aiming to fly this year those two test flights, followed quickly by the first military launch.

Whether it can complete three Vulcan launches in 2023 is quite uncertain. For example, it will need to get four more BE-4 engines from Blue Origin for the second and third launches, and there is no indication at this time that Blue Origin is close to delivering.

Then there is the delays and risks involved with this first launch. Though ULA has decades of experience building and launching rockets, the first launch of a rocket almost always experiences delays during testing. We should expect the same with Vulcan.

Assuming this schedule holds, however, this means ULA is targeting 10 launches in 2023, five Atlas-5 launches, two Delta Heavy launches, and three Vulcan launches. That would be the most launches by this company in a year since 2016.

First launch from Shetland Islands predicted for the fall

According to an official at the SaxaVord spaceport in the Shetland Islands in Scotland, its first orbital satellite launch is now expected before the end of this year.

Scott Hammond, director of operations at SaxaVord spaceport, acknowledged there is often uncertainty around timetables for private space launches. However, he said a recent agreement with a German company, Rocket Factory Augsburg, would see them begin testing their engines in the summer ahead of a launch later in the year.

He told the Press Association: “Probably in July, we’re going to start full stage testing. That will be the full, first stage, nine engines all firing for about three minutes. So that’ll be really, really impressive. I expect about four months or so of that depending on success. And then we’re looking with Rocket Factory to launch towards the end of the year, for the orbital launch.”

I would not bet a lot of money on this schedule. Rocket Factory is a German rocket startup that has never launched before, and the first launch from such startups are routinely delayed months to years. What Hammond is really doing is creating buzz for SaxaVord, even as a rival spaceport in Sutherland, Scotland, is getting built.

January 20, 2023 Quick space links

Courtesy of BtB’s stringer Jay.







The youngest flood lava on Mars, flowing past a crater

Crater with lava flow
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, rotated, cropped, reduced to post here, was taken on December 3, 2022 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

The title given to this image by the MRO science team is “Upstream Edge of Crater in Athabasca Valles.” The crater itself is a pedestal crater, uplifted from the surrounding terrain because it was more resistant to erosion.

The material to the east of the crater’s rim definitely appears to have flow characteristics, but is it wet mud, glacial ice, or lava?

To figure this out we need as always some context. The latitude, 8 degrees north, immediately eliminates mud or glacial material. This location is in the dry equatorial regions of Mars, where no near surface ice has yet been found. Thus, the flow features are likely hardened lava.

What direction however was the flow? Was it flowing to the north, widening as it moved past the pedestal crater? Or was it to the south, narrowing as it pushed past that crater? To answer this question we need to widen our view.
» Read more

Today’s blacklisted American: Minnesota to blacklist all Christians, Jews, or Muslims from teaching

The new Marxist rules for teaching in Minnesota

They’re coming for you next: Minnesota’s unelected education bureaucracy is about to impose new licensing requirements for teachers that will essentially blacklist all Christians, Jews, or Muslims by requiring teachers to teach the queer agenda as well as the critical race theory to young children.

Minnesota’s Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board (PELSB), a division of the state Department of Education, has been working to change teacher certification requirements since 2019. Its latest public draft, which is finalized save for a few tweaks that don’t affect the content, includes multiple requirements that licensure candidates publicly support critical race theory and transgender ideology and include both in their teaching. Teachers must receive state licensure to be employed in Minnesota public and many private schools. [emphasis mine]

You can read the new licensing rules here [pdf]. The screen capture above shows the language requiring teachers to agree to the queer agenda. It also hints at full approval of the Marxism program of critical race theory, whereby all western civilization and America in particular is seeped in bigotry and hate, and must be condemned at all times.

Only a few paragraphs later the hints go away, and the licensing requirements make it clear that all teachers must from now on condemn the heritage of the United States.
» Read more

Ingenuity completes 40th flight

Overview map
Click for interactive map.

As predicted by the Ingenuity engineering team on January 17, 2023, the Mars helicopter yesterday completed its 40th flight, flying approximately 92 seconds and 584 feet to the northwest to place it at the head of the hollow that Perseverance will travel to climb up onto the delta that flowed into Jezero Crater sometime in the past.

The green dot on the overview map to the right shows the helicopter’s position, post flight. The blue dot shows Perseverance’s present position. The red dotted line indicates the rover’s future route.

At the moment, only eleven images have been returned from the flight, and these only show the first 20 seconds of flight. The flight however has been added to the helicopter’s flight log, which shows that Ingenuity actually flew about 23 feet farther and 7 seconds longer than expected. This extra distance was likely because the helicopter needed to find a good landing site, using its upgraded software that allows it to fly over rougher terrain.

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