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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Searching for ice in the Martian low latitudes

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

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

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

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

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

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

The latter, Rafaela Espinal, was fired as head of the Community School District 12 in the Bronx and forced to take a demotion in order to save her retirement and health benefits. Not only did she refuse to do this salute because she believed it created a racial divide, she found the policies of New York’s Department of Education (DOE) particularly offensive and bigoted, as described in her $40 million lawsuit filed against New York’s DOE.
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Fellow DOE administrators also allegedly told Espinal she wasn’t “Black enough” and she should “just learn to be quiet and look pretty,” she claims in the $40 million suit.

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

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

China commits to building its own SLS

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

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

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

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

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

Another detailed essay demanding SLS be cancelled

Link here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parker looks at Venus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The streaks in the picture come from cosmic rays.

Land of rovers

Overview map

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

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

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

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

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

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

On January 6th Chariton had tweeted the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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

India officially delays both its manned mission and next lunar lander

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

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

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

Tianwen-1 enters parking orbit around Mars

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

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

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

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

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

First air leak crack on ISS has not grown

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

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

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

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

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

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

Starship #10 completes launch dress rehearsal & static fire test

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s blacklisted American: Pro-life news organization blacklisted by Google’s YouTube

The cancelled Bill of Rights

They’re coming for you next: The pro-life news organization, LifteSiteNews, has been blacklisted by Google’s YouTube, which on February 10th without warning removed all the organization’s videos.

This was not the first time YouTube had banned the organization’s work. The reasons as always were specious.

A spokesman for Google, the company that owns YouTube, told The Blaze the LifeSiteNews channel was shut down for repeated violations of the company’s COVID-19 misinformation policy. Any content promoting prevention methods that differs from information given by local health authorities or the WHO is prohibited. “Any channel that violates our COVID-19 misinformation policy will receive a strike, which temporarily restricts uploading or live-streaming. Channels that receive three strikes in the same 90-day period will be permanently removed from YouTube,” the spokesman said.

In other words, the only medical opinions allowed free speech by YouTube and Google are those that agree with “local health authorities or the WHO.” I emphasize the word “authorities” because of its fundamental meaning, someone in charge who must be obeyed, not because they know more but because they are in charge.

No one else is allowed to speak. If you wish to dispute these authorities their and their minion’s answer will be “Shut up!”, an action hostile at its core to free speech and the First Amendment.

Note that LifeSiteNews is not dead. They were prepared for Google’s action, and had backed up their videos and quickly moved their site to the new video site, Rumble.

Which by the way I encourage everyone else to do. The more people upload videos and view videos there, the less power and impact future blacklists by the fascist thugs at Google and YouTube will have.

San Fran school board abandons plan to blacklist Lincoln & Washington

Beating the blacklist: In response to an enormous outcry of outrage from parents and citizens, the San Francisco school board that in January had voted to rename 44 schools named after many traditional American historical figures, including Lincoln and Washington, has now abandoned that effort.

The San Francisco school board has halted its effort to rename 44 schools named after George Washington and other Americans board members concluded held “racist” or other beliefs of which they disapproved. “I acknowledge and take responsibility that mistakes were made in the renaming process,” Gabriela Lopez, president of the San Francisco Unified School District board, said Sunday.

Lopez said school district officials will instead focus on re-opening classroom for in-person learning and called the months-long controversy about the re-naming school “one of the many distracting debates.”

Don’t be fooled. These politicians have not changed their mind about America and its history. They still think it evil and want to blacklist it. They will now simply move to do so in a more quiet and unobtrusive way.

What really needs to happen is for San Francisco citizens to wake up and vote these anti-American bigots out of power. Sadly I am doubtful this will happen. Once the fervor dies down the public will go back to the sheeplike state of somnolence that it has been living in for now more than three-quarters of a century, and these thugs will go about their business of transforming America from a free nation of educated citizens to a socialist state of ignorant slaves.

Martian pits or dark splotches?

Martian pits or dark splotches?
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, cropped to post here, was taken on January 2, 2021 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It shows a windswept sandy region of ridges and dunes with two dark features nestled between ridges.

What are these dark patches? At the available resolution they appear to be deep pits, with the one on the right having a significant overhang. And if these are pits, they would appear significantly different than most of the previously identified Martian pits, which are usually somewhat circular in shape. These features have very complex shapes, as if the pit is conforming itself to the terrain that surrounds it.

The resolution, however, is not good enough to confirm this interpretation. These dark patches could also be exposed volcanic material, darker than the surrounding terrain. The location, as shown in the overview map below, adds weight to this interpretation.
» Read more

Astronomers detect 1st evidence of neutron star left behind after 1987 supernova

The uncertainty of science: More than three decades after the 1987 supernova in the Large Magellanic Cloud, the only naked eye supernova in the 400 years, astronomers think they might finally have detected evidence of the neutron star left over from that blast and buried within the explosion’s wake.

“Astronomers have wondered if not enough time has passed for a pulsar to form, or even if SN 1987A created a black hole,” said co-author Marco Miceli, also from the University of Palermo. “This has been an ongoing mystery for a few decades and we are very excited to bring new information to the table with this result.”

The Chandra and NuSTAR data also support a 2020 result from ALMA that provided possible evidence for the structure of a pulsar wind nebula in the millimeter wavelength band. While this “blob” has other potential explanations, its identification as a pulsar wind nebula could be substantiated with the new X-ray data. This is more evidence supporting the idea that there is a neutron star left behind.

If this is indeed a pulsar at the center of SN 1987A, it would be the youngest one ever found.

The data is still somewhat tentative and unconfirmed, but intriguing nonetheless. The pulsar itself, if it really is a pulsar, remains buried in the explosion’s expanding cloud, and has as yet not been seen directly.

Rumors: Biden considering former Senator Bill Nelson for NASA administrator

According to leaks to the press yesterday, the Biden administration is considering hiring former Florida senator Bill Nelson to become NASA’s administrator.

That the DC rumor mill is abuzz with this story suggests that the White House is putting out a trial balloon to see the reaction to such a choice. At first glance Nelson appears a good pick. Before he was defeated in his last election by Republican Rick Scott (R-Florida), he had been one of Congress’s biggest advocates for space exploration and NASA. He had even flown as an astronaut on the shuttle back in 1986, just weeks before Challenger broke up during launch.

However, there are several issues that would make this a very poor choice. First, Nelson’s advocacy for NASA was centered on funding big space, not private enterprise. Nelson was one of those legislators who mandated the construction of SLS, and resisted for years NASA’s new commercial space effort.

Second, Nelson’s last years in Congress revealed that he had lost touch with some of the basic concepts of freedom and property rights that founded the United States. For example, he was one of a group of bi-partisan senators that in 2018 proposed a law that would have denied Americans their second, fifth, sixth, and seventh amendment rights by proactively forbidding them the right to buy firearms merely because a Washington bureaucrat decided to put them on a no-fly list. The law was a mindless emotional response to a terrible school shooting that killed a lot of children, and its proposal illustrated that its sponsors were no longer thinking, but emoting blindly.

That Nelson joined in and was willing to give the government so much power does not make him the best choice to lead NASA as it tries to become just another customer being served by an independent robust and free market of space companies.

Finally, and maybe most important, Nelson is 78 years old. In his last years in office he showed his age. I watched him struggle as both a speaker and legislator during hearings in 2017. His enthusiasm for space was unchecked, but his sharpness was gone.

If chosen to run NASA he will make a good bookend for his president, who has also shown clear signs of failing mental health. Under such weak leadership, it will be the bureaucracy that will rule, and the track record of NASA’s bureaucracy has not been good. It resisted for decades ceding power to the private sector, wanting instead to maintain control over all rocket and spacecraft development, including what those rockets and spacecraft would do. Only in the past decade has that power been wrested from its grasp.

Given power again I expect it to use that power to return to its old ways and squelch the emerging free and competitive aerospace market. This will not be good for either the exploration of space, or for America itself.

SpaceX delays all launches while it investigates failed booster landing

Capitalism in space: In order to investigate the failure of the first stage to land successfully during the last Starlink satellite launch on February 15th, SpaceX has paused all further launches, with an expected delay overall of one to two weeks before launches resume.

Analysis by Scott Manley suggests during the re-entry burn (as the 1st stage re-entered the atmosphere) one of the engines had issues, causing the booster to break-up shortly before it hit the ocean.

When SpaceX was first attempting to land its first stages, the boosters would routinely crash, and the company would not slow its launch schedule because the boosters had still functioned as expected during launch. Nor was anyone disturbed by those failures nor did anyone expect SpaceX to pause further launches.

Things are different now. We have a high expectation that a Falcon 9 engine will relight and work every time, all the way back to its landing pad. Any failure later in the flight, even if the rocket got the payload into orbit, raises questions that must be answered. Hence the delay in further launches.

Overall, this higher expectation of success is a good thing. It says that we now expect rockets to be able to land successfully. And getting this problem fixed will only increase the chances that they will do so more reliably in the future.

Firefly gets another launch contract

Capitalism in space: Firefly Aerospace, which hopes to do the first launch of its new Alpha rocket sometime this spring, has won another launch contract, this time with General Atomics to put an Earth science satellite in orbit in ’22.

The other contracts:

In December, the company won a NASA Venture Class Launch Services launch contract valued at $9.8 million to launch two sets of cubesats into polar orbits. It won a $93.3 million contract from NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program Feb. 4 for the 2023 launch of the company’s Blue Ghost lander carrying NASA payloads. That lander will be launched on another company’s rocket rather than Alpha.

Like all new rockets, the first launch will be highly risky. If successful however it will add one more launch company to the smallsat market, and encourage a further drop in the cost of getting such smallsats into orbit.

Second passenger chosen for private manned SpaceX mission

Capitalism in space: Jared Isaacman, who has purchased an entire Dragon/Falcon 9 flight for the first private commercial manned mission scheduled for later this year, has picked the flight’s second passenger.

The second member of a four-person crew for what’s likely to be the first privately funded orbital space tour has been identified: She’s Hayley Arceneaux, a 29-year-old physician assistant who works at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. — and was successfully treated for bone cancer at St. Jude almost two decades ago.

Arceneaux was invited to be part of the Inspiration4 mission weeks ago by its commander and principal funder, Shift4 Payments CEO and founder Jared Isaacman — but her identity was kept secret until today.

This choice fits Isaacman’s main goal, which is to use the publicity of the flight in raise money for St. Jude’s. So far almost $10 million has been raised.

Two more passengers need to be chosen. One will be picked from a lottery of people who donate to St. Jude’s, with the second being an entrepreneur picked by a panel of judges. The deadline to enter both slots closes on February 28th.

As for the flight itself, it will spend two to four days in orbit.

First panorama from Perseverance

The Perseverance science team has released the first panorama taken by the Perseverance rover after landing on Mars February 18th.

Below the fold however I have embedded something far better than the science team’s mosaic. Andrew Bodrev has taken these same navigation camera images and created a 360 degree virtual reality panorama, one that you can pan and tilt at your own pleasure. The view also includes the sounds of the Martian winds from the rover’s microphone. If you pause it you won’t hear the sounds, but you can scan and rotate for as long as you want.

» Read more

NASA postpones second SLS static fire test

NASA today announced that it was postponing the second SLS static fire test of the rocket’s core stage due to a valve issue in its main engines.

NASA said it was postponing the Green Run static-fire test, which had been scheduled for Feb. 25, after discovering a problem with one of eight valves called “prevalves” associated with the stage’s four RS-25 main engines. The valve, which supplies liquid oxygen, was “not working properly,” NASA said in a statement, but didn’t elaborate on the problem.

Engineers identified the problem during preparations over the weekend for the test. NASA said it will work with Boeing, the prime contractor for the core stage, to “identify a path forward in the days ahead and reschedule the hot fire test” but did not set a new date for the test.

This was not the first time Boeing and NASA has had valve problems with the rocket, though this problem appears unrelated to the previous issue.

Either way, the continuing technical problems — such as the two previous aborts during testing — does not build confidence in the rocket. First, the schedule is very tight, and is getting tighter. Its first unmanned test flight was supposed to happen by the end of this year, and right now that looks very unlikely. Yet, it must happen within the next twelve months because they have begun stacking the strap-on solid rocket boosters, and those have a sell-by date.

More important, these issues raise big red flags as to the overall trustworthiness of the rocket. I certainly would not want to fly on it, at least not until I see it fly at least a half dozen times successfully. The problems however suggest that achieving such a track record is going to be quite difficult.

And if SLS has any major failures during any launch, be prepared for Congress’s support to finally collapse, especially with the on-going spectacular progress being achieved by SpaceX with Starship along with two Falcon Heavy launches planned for this year.

Movie of Perseverance’s descent and landing

Cool movie time! The science team for Perseverance today released movie footage obtained by the rover as it descended and landed on Mars in Jezero Crater. That video is embedded below.

If you compare what this movie sees with the orbital images from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) that I posted earlier today, you can recognize the features in the crater and anticipate exactly where the rover is going to land.

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