Environmentalists appeal dismissal of their lawsuit against the FAA and SpaceX

The two environmentalist groups and Indian tribe that sued to get SpaceX’s Boca Chica spaceport shut down have now appealed the dismissal of their case by a Texas judge.

Two environmental groups and an Indigenous tribe on Wednesday will present appeals in their lawsuit over the repeated closures of a border beach to allow neighboring SpaceX to conduct test flights and other activity. The Sierra Club, Save RGV, and the Carrizo Comecrudo Nation of Texas are scheduled to present oral arguments before the 13th Court of Appeals on Wednesday morning in Edinburg.

Last summer, the groups filed a lawsuit accusing the state of not upholding the Texas Open Beaches Act, but a district court judge in Brownsville ruled against their lawsuit, saying they couldn’t sue the Texas General Land Office or Cameron County, where the popular beach and SpaceX are located. The Texas Constitution grants the public rights to all public beaches. At issue, however, is whether private groups have a constitutional right to sue.

Though I am not surprised that the lawsuit was dismissed because these groups have no standing, this the first I had heard of that dismissal. I suspect their appeal will fail as well, especially as the hearing is being held in the state courts, which are generally very sympathetic to SpaceX and the economic rebirth it has brought to south Texas.

Update on Blue Origin’s New Glenn

Link here. Based on this detailed update, the long delayed launch of Blue Origin’s orbital New Glenn rocket appears to finally be visible on the distant horizon.

Most of the work described involves building supporting facilities, such as a new building for refurbishing rockets after launch. However, this quote suggests the company might finally be getting close to doing something real:

During a panel at the World Satellite Business Week, Blue Origin’s Jarrett Jones stated Blue Origin has four boosters in various stages of production, and testing is going well.

In addition to the production of New Glenn, Blue Origin has continued to prepare LC-36 [the launchpad] to support the testing of the hardware currently being manufactured. In recent months, Blue Origin has conducted a number of tests with both the main transporter erector, which will be used to support a fully stacked New Glenn, as well as a smaller transporter erector, which appears to be used to test New Glenn’s second-stage on the launch pad. A second-stage simulator has already been observed on this transporter erector.

Though encouraging, the article at the link still left me with a feeling that a lot of work is being done on everything but the rocket itself. Hopefully this feeling will dissipate soon with the appearance of that first rocket on the launchpad. Right now Blue Origin officials have said they are aiming for that first launch next year, but they have made that same promise now for three straight years.

SpaceX launches 22 Starlink satellites, flies a first stage for a record 17th time

SpaceX tonight successfully placed 22 Starlink satellites into orbit, its Falcon 9 rocket lifting off from Cape Canaveral using a first stage flying for its seventeenth time, a new record.

That first stage successfully landed on a drone ship in the Atlantic.

By amortizing the cost for building and flying that first stage, the cost per launch for SpaceX has likely been reduced more than 90%, significantly raising the company’s profit margins, especially when it is launching its own Starlink satellites. Note too that SpaceX has two other boosters that have flown 16 and 15 times, plus others with more than ten flights. And of course, this success once again makes ridiculous the engineers and managers who for more than a half century said such reusability of a rocket first stage was either impossible, or financially impractical, and thus never tried it.

The leaders in the 2023 launch race:

66 SpaceX
43 China
13 Russia
7 Rocket Lab
7 India

American private enterprise now leads China in successful launches 77 to 43, and the entire world combined 77 to 69. SpaceX by itself now trails the rest of the world combined (excluding American companies) 66 to 69.

September 19, 2023 Quick space links

Courtesy of BtB’s stringer Jay.



The northern interior rim of the largest volcano in the solar system

Northern interior rim of Olympus Mons
Click for original image.

Cool image time! The picture to the right, cropped, reduced, and sharpened to post here, was taken on July 8, 2023 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It shows the northernmost interior rim of the caldera of Olympus Mons, the largest volcano in the solar system.

This one picture provides another way to illustrate the monumental scale of much of Mars’ topography. From the top to the bottom this steep scarp descends about 5,900 feet, in a little more than two miles. Compare that to the trails that descend the Grand Canyon’s south rim, which drop about the same distance but do it in distances ranging from three to five times longer.

In other words, this cliff wall is steep. Finding a route for a trail either up or down would be difficult at best.
» Read more

The emerging long term ramifications of the Ukraine War

With the war in the Ukraine now in the second half of its second year, with no clear outcome on the horizon, I thought it might be a good time to step back and look at what Russia’s invasion has wrought, not just on Russia and the Ukraine, but on the rest of the world, now and possibly into the long term future.

My goal in this essay is to look at the forest, not the trees, and to do so in very broad strokes, based on my experience as a historian who has taken this approach in all my histories.

First however it is necessary to give a short update on the war itself. In my previous two updates in April and July I concluded that the war was devolving into a stalemate, much like the ugly trench warfare of World War I. Nothing has changed that conclusion in the two months since July, a fact that is starkly illustrated by the two maps below, originally created by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) and modified and annotated by me to highlight the most significant take-aways.
» Read more

Ingenuity completes 59th flight, a hop setting a new altitude record

Overview map
Click for interactive map.
On September 16, 2023 the Ingenuity engineering team successfully flew the Mars helicopter for its 59th flight, a vertical hop lasting two minutes and twenty-three seconds that set a new altitude record of 66 feet in the air.

This flight matched the flight plan precisely. Six pictures from the flight were downloaded today, showing the helicopter as it hovered at this top altitude while tilting itself to the ground. To see this tilting, go here and set the date to Sol 915. Click on the first picture and then use the right and left arrow keys to scroll from picture to picture, essentially creating a short animation that shows the change in the helicopter’s shadow on the ground.

On the overview map above, the green dot marks Ingenuity’s location during this flight, with the blue dot marking Perseverance’s present location. It is possible that by tilting, the helicopter was able to take a color picture from the air of the rover to the south, but this is unconfirmed. It could have also tilted to get a view of the ground ahead.

Update on Curiosity’s journey in Mount Sharp, including its future route

Curiosity's future planned route
Click for original image.

The Curiosity science team yesterday released a new 360 panorama taken on August 19, 2023 by the rover’s high resolution camera, as part of an effort to document an important geological location finally reached after two previous attempts failed.

Three billion years ago, amid one of the last wet periods on Mars, powerful debris flows carried mud and boulders down the side of a hulking mountain. The debris spread into a fan that was later eroded by wind into a towering ridge [dubbed Gediz Vallis Ridge], preserving an intriguing record of the Red Planet’s watery past.

Now, after three attempts, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has reached the ridge, capturing the formation in a 360-degree panoramic mosaic. Previous forays were stymied by knife-edged “gator-back” rocks and too-steep slopes. Following one of the most difficult climbs the mission has ever faced, Curiosity arrived Aug. 14 at an area where it could study the long-sought ridge with its 7-foot (2-meter) robotic arm.

That panorama can be viewed here. The rover spent eleven days at this geological location, and has since moved on.

Because that panorama covers some of the same ground I have previously posted from the rover’s navigation cameras, I have instead posted above the graphic from the press release, with additional annotations, because that graphic provides new information about Curiosity’s future travels.

The white line marks Curiosity’s past travels as well as the planned route as previously released by the science team. The red line marks the additional route that the rover will follow beyond, weaving its way up Mount Sharp.

SpaceX sues to get Justice’s discrimination suit thrown out on constitutional grounds

SpaceX on September 15, 2023 filed suit in Texas to get the Justice Department’s August 24th discrimination suit — which claims that the company discriminates against illegal aliens because it obeys State Department security regulations forbidding such hiring — thrown out on constitutional grounds.

From the complaint [pdf]:

But aside from being factually and legally insupportable, the government’s proceedings are unconstitutional for at least four reasons: (1) the administrative law judge (ALJ) adjudicating the government’s complaint was unconstitutionally appointed; (2) the ALJ is unconstitutionally insulated from Presidential authority because she is protected by two layers of for-cause removal protections; (3) the ALJ is unconstitutionally purporting to adjudicate SpaceX’s rights in an administrative proceeding rather than in federal court; and (4) the ALJ is unconstitutionally denying SpaceX its Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial.

The suit specific names two of these administrative judges, as well as attorney general Merrick Garland, as defendents. It also outlines in detail how SpaceX follows the State Department’s law protecting U.S. technology scrupulously, while hiring the most talented people of all races, including non-citizens after getting State Department permission. Even so, the company’s complaint focuses on the unconstitutionality of the Justice Department’s administrative attack, demanding its dismissal for these reasons alone.

As I noted when the Justice Department’s lawsuit was first announced,

This suit is utter garbage and puts SpaceX between a rock and a hard place. I guarantee if SpaceX had hired any illegal or refugee who was not yet a legal citizen, Biden’s State Department would have immediately sued it for violating other laws relating to ITAR (the export control laws mentioned) which try to prevent the theft of technology by foreign powers.

That SpaceX has chosen to fight this lawsuit first on constitutional grounds suggests the company has fundamentally come to the same conclusion. Musk has decided to fight back hard against Biden’s effort to squash him both politically and legally.

OSIRIS-REx makes last course correction before releasing asteroid sample return capsule

OSIRIS-REx’s engineers on September 17, 2023 successfully completed the last course correction necessary before releasing the sample return capsule carrying about nine ounces of material from the asteroid Bennu, set to land in Utah on September 24th.

The spacecraft briefly fired its thrusters Sunday to change its velocity by 7 inches per minute (3 millimeters per second) relative to Earth. This final correction maneuver moved the sample capsule’s predicted landing location east by nearly 8 miles, or 12.5 kilometers, to the center of its predetermined landing zone inside a 36-mile by 8.5-mile (58-kilometer by 14-kilometer) area on the Defense Department’s Utah Test and Training Range.

Details on that landing can be found here. The capsule will be coming in at speeds comparable to that of an Apollo capsule, returning from the Moon, and will use the same maneuvers and parachutes to slow its speed to only eleven miles per hour at landing. Four helicopters will than rush to recover the capsule as quickly as possible to reduce the chance the sample will be contaminated by the Earth’s environment.

OSIRIS-Rex (renamed OSIRIS-Apophis Explorer or OSIRIS-APEX) will meanwhile fire its engines and head towards the potentially dangerous asteroid Apophis, with a rendezvous scheduled in 2029.

Electron rocket fails during launch

Rocket Lab tonight (September 19, 2023 in New Zealand) experienced a launch failure during a launch of its Electron rocket from its New Zealand spaceport.

The failure occurred right after separation of the first stage from the upper stage. From that point all video from the rocket ceased, and the data indicated it was losing velocity, suggesting some failure of the second stage when its engines should have ignited.

This launch was to have been the second in a four-launch contract with the American company Capella Space, aimed at launching its constellation of commercial radar satellites for Earth observation.

The leaders in the 2023 launch race remain unchanged:

65 SpaceX
43 China
13 Russia
7 Rocket Lab
7 India

American private enterprise still leads China in successful launches 76 to 43, and the entire world combined 76 to 69. SpaceX by itself still trails the rest of the world combined (excluding American companies) 65 to 69.

September 18, 2023 Quick space links

Courtesy of BtB’s stringer Jay.


The American Geophysical Union shows off its ignorance of the scientific method

Recently a climate scientist caused an uproar among scientists and peer-review journals when he admitted in an op-ed that the only way he could get his climate paper published in the journal Nature was to fake his results in order to fit them to the narrative that human-caused global warming is causing all our environmental problems.

In my paper, we didn’t bother to study the influence of these other obviously relevant factors. Did I know that including them would make for a more realistic and useful analysis? I did. But I also knew that it would detract from the clean narrative centered on the negative impact of climate change and thus decrease the odds that the paper would pass muster with Nature’s editors and reviewers.

While that op-ed brutally exposed the political biases at Nature that make it impossible to get honest research published, it only told a part of the story. Nature is only one journal, and if it was the only place this corruption of science was occurring, the problem would be manageable.

In truth it is only one example of a far more widespread problem, because it is now practically impossible for any skeptic of global warming to get his or her work published in almost any scientific journal. Worse, most of the major science organizations worldwide no longer simply favor pro-global warming climate research, they act aggressively to promote only one kind of result, to the point that the things they publish sometimes are little different than Soviet propaganda.

The American Geophysical Union, where science is no longer practiced
The American Geophysical Union, where
science is no longer practiced

As a prime example, I want to focus today on the American Geophysical Union (AGU), an scientific organization initially formed as an umbrella group to help American scientists publish and publicize their research on the study of the Earth, its interior, and its nature as a planet. To do so the AGU publishes a wide range of peer-review journals, all intended as fair-minded outlets for new research.

Sadly, in the past two decades the AG abandoned that primary function. For example, it has made its global-warming biases clear for several decades, essentially telling every climate scientist worldwide that if you submit any paper that raises any questions about global warming, it will be rejected outright.

More recently however the AGU has become even more up front and public about its close-minded approval of the as-yet unproven theory that humans are causing the climate to heat up. » Read more

Two galaxies merging

Merging galaxies
Click for original image.

Cool image time! The picture to the right, cropped, reduced, and sharpened to post here, was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope as part of a survey project to photograph the entire Arp catelogue of 338 “peculiar galaxies,” put together by astronomer Halton Arp in 1966. From the caption:

The larger galaxy (in the left of this image) is an extremely energetic galaxy type known as a Seyfert galaxy, which house active galactic nuclei at their cores. Seyfert galaxies are notable because despite the immense brightness of the active core, radiation from the entire galaxy can be observed. This is evident in this image, where the spiraling whorls of the whole galaxy are readily visible. The smaller companion is connected to the larger by a tenuous-seeming ‘bridge’, composed of dust and gas. The colliding galactic duo lie about 465 million light-years from Earth.

Note that if you ignore the blue whorls of the left galaxy, the two bright cores of these merging galaxies are about the same size. As it is unclear how long this merger has been on-going, it is possible that the galaxy on the right, in circling the left galaxy, drew out those whorls and that tenuous bridge. Other scenarios are also possible, however, such as the galaxy on the left stripping and scattering the arms of the galaxy on the right.

Federal government continues to block the return of Varda’s commercial capsule, carrying drugs to treat HIV

Even as the FAA continues to block Varda from returning its capsule back to Earth, the Air Force has now joined in to block its landing at its Utah Test and Training Range, the same location NASA will use on September 24 to drop the return capsule from OSIRIS-REx, carrying material from an asteroid.

Varda originally planned to bring back a capsule containing crystals of ritonavir, a drug used to treat HIV, in mid-July. After announcing that had been delayed [due to the FAA’s refusal to issue a landing license in July], the company was looking at September 5 and 7, a source told TechCrunch. This information was confirmed by USAF.

The company declined to comment, but posted on X that the “spacecraft is healthy across all systems” and that they are continuing to collaborate with regulators to bring the capsule back to Earth. They added that the spacecraft can survive for up to a year on-orbit.

“Sept. 5 and 7 were their primary targets,” a spokesperson for the USAF said in an emailed statement. “The request to use the Utah Test and Training Range for the landing location was not granted at this time due to the overall safety, risk and impact analysis. In a separate process, the FAA has not granted a reentry license. All organizations continue working to explore recovery options.”

The spokesperson further said that Varda “is working on presenting alternate plans,” but would not elaborate further whether that meant seeking an alternate landing site. A spokesperson for the FAA told TechCrunch that Varda’s application was denied on September 6 because the company “did not demonstrate compliance with the regulatory requirements.”

“On September 8, Varda formally requested that the FAA reconsider its decision. The request for reconsideration is pending,” the spokesperson said.

The actions of these agencies is unconscionable and a outright abuse of power. There is no rational reason for the FAA to continue to deny Varda the right to bring its capsule back to Earth. Its claims of environmental impact are bogus, especially since capsules and spacecraft have been returning to Earth like this for more than three-quarters of a century. Nor is there any reason for the Air Force to have blocked the return now. Its claim of issues of “safety, risk, and impact” is utter garbage, especially since it is allowing a NASA capsule to land in this exact same facility in only days, and that capsule is carrying material from an asteroid.

One might question why Varda apparently flew its capsule prior to getting these landing approvals, but it did exactly the right thing, for two reasons. First, if it waited for approvals before flying, it would have no leverage on these power-hungry federal agencies and it likely would still be on the ground, going bankrupt (think of Virgin Orbit in the United Kingdom). This by the way is the same tactic used by SpaceX. You don’t wait on them, you put them under the gun by moving forward as fast as possible.

Second, this situation helps highlight the power grab by these agencies. While the FAA has some concerns relating to conflicts with airplane traffic, that should simply be a matter of coordination and involve no great delay. Similarly, landing on an Air Force base is merely scheduling. Since when did government agencies have the power to block a landing beyond those points? They don’t, not legally, morally, or practically.

Though I am sure most workers at the FAA and Air Force are likely trying to do their best to help
Varda, the structure of such regulatory agencies always encourages the power-hungry to grab power. The result has been endless mission creep, to the point where today no space activity can happen without some government agency sticking its nose in to demand control.

India’s Aditya-L1 solar telescope initiates some science observations

According to India’s space agency ISRO, its Aditya-L1 solar telescope has begun science observations with one instrument, even as it continues its journey to its final position at L1, one million miles from the Earth.

The activation of STEPS occurred on September 10, 2023, at a distance exceeding 50,000 km from Earth. This distance equates to more than eight times the Earth’s radius, placing it significantly beyond the Earth’s radiation belt region. Following the successful completion of essential health checks for the instrument, the data collection process continued until the spacecraft had travelled beyond the 50,000 km mark from Earth.

All units of STEPS are currently operating within normal parameters. A graphical representation illustrates the measurements, showcasing fluctuations in the energetic particle environment within Earth’s magnetosphere, which were collected by one of the instrument’s units.

It is expected Aditya-L1 will reach L1 in January, where it will begin round-the-clock observations of the Sun, in parallel with NASA’s Soho telescope, which has been at L1 since the 1990s.

Russian investigators pin down cause of Luna-25 failure

Though the investigation is not yet complete, reports out of Russia indicate that the cause of the failure of Luna-25 during an engine burn while in orbit around the Moon has been identified.

The article at the link provides the details, which involve problems with two “BIUS-L accelerometers” during the flight, which for reasons not yet understood were switching from the primary to the secondary randomly during the journey to the Moon, apparently because of some failure.

However, ahead of the fateful lunar orbit correction on August 19, both accelerometers worked correctly, but once the maneuver started, one set failed again, while the flight control system never switched to data from the second set. As a result, onboard computers were not receiving data about critical parameters required for properly completing the orbit correction, such as orientation of the spacecraft in space, velocity and altitude.

If confirmed, this crash scenario would likely implicate deficiencies in the development or testing of the flight control system and its software rather than any mechanical problem of the propulsion system, which was implied in the initial statement about the incident. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted sentence says it all. The serious quality control problems that have hampered Russia’s space efforts remain, and in fact appear systemic throughout its entire aerospace industry. In fact, this failure of a planetary probe helps explain the many difficulties Russia has been having in its war in the Ukraine, attributable to these same issues.

China launches military reconnaissance satellite

China today successfully launched a classified military reconnaissance satellite, using its Long March 2D rocket lifting off from its Xichang spaceport in the south of China.

No word on where the rocket’s lower stages crashed in China. All the stages use hypergolic fuels, which are extremely toxic.

The leaders in the 2023 launch race:

65 SpaceX
43 China
13 Russia
7 Rocket Lab
7 India

American private enterprise still leads China in successful launches 76 to 43, and the entire world combined 76 to 69. SpaceX by itself now trails the rest of the world combined (excluding American companies) 65 to 69.

SpaceX launches another 22 Starlink satellites

SpaceX last night successfully launched another 22 Starlink satellites into orbit, its Falcon 9 rocket lifting off from Cape Canaveral.

The first stage completed its fifth flight, landing on a drone ship in the Atlantic.

The leaders in the 2023 launch race:

65 SpaceX
42 China
13 Russia
7 Rocket Lab
7 India

American private enterprise now leads China in successful launches 76 to 42, and the entire world combined 76 to 68. SpaceX by itself now trails the rest of the world combined (excluding American companies) 65 to 68.

Don Rickles, Ruth Buzzi, and Arte Johnson – bloopers from Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In

An evening pause: This sequence shows the almost vain attempt to shoot a series of quick jokes using the running gag of Buzzi playing her character “Gladys” on a park bench being “accosted” by Arte Johnson, playing his character “Tyrone”. Rickles adds another element. It shows again that humor is at its heart silliness. If you can’t be silly you can’t be funny, and these three comedians certainly understood that.

Hat tip Cotour.

September 15, 2023 Quick space links

Courtesy of BtB’s stringer Jay.




Virgin Galactic sets Oct 5th launch date for its fifth commercial suborbital flight in ’23

Virgin Galactic today announced that the launch window for its fifth commercial suborbital flight this year and ninth overall will open on Oct 5th.

The flight will include three private passengers, two Americans and one Pakistani, and a crew of five Virgin Galactic employees.

At this point I don’t consider these suborbital flights to be very newsworthy. However, I decided to highlight this news release because of its stark contrast with Blue Origin. Even before last year’s mishap that grounded Blue Origin’s own suborbital spacecraft, New Shepard, it never flew this frequently. Virgin Galactic took far too long to begin flying (two decades), but it does appear that is now wasting no time trying to catch up.

Blue Origin meanwhile continues to drift along, accomplishing little and appearing to do even less with time.

FAA confirms: No Starship/Superheavy launch license until Interior approves

The Kafkaesque Interior Department strikcs again!
The Kafkaesque Interior Department
strikcs again!

They’re coming for you next: In an email today, the FAA confirmed what I had reported yesterday, that though it hopes to issue a launch license for the next orbital test flight of SpaceX’s Starship/Superheavy rocket by the end of October, no license will be issued until Fish & Wildlife in the Interior Department agrees.

Before it is authorized to conduct a second Starship/Super Heavy launch, SpaceX must obtain a modified license from the FAA that addresses all safety, environmental, and other regulatory requirements. As part of that license application determination process, the FAA will review new environmental information, including changes related to the launch pad, as well as other proposed vehicle and flight modifications.

The FAA will complete a Written Reevaluation (WR) to the 2022 Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) evaluating the new environmental information, including Endangered Species Act consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. If the FAA determines through the WR process that the contents of the PEA do not remain valid in light of the changes proposed for Flight 2, additional environmental review will be required. Accordingly, the FAA has not authorized SpaceX’s proposed Flight 2. [emphasis mine]

Tragically, my April prediction is coming true. This launch is almost certainly not going to occur before November, and will almost certainly be delayed until next year.

Note again that until the Biden administration, SpaceX was not required to get a detailed environmental reassessement after every Boca Chica test launch. Fish & Wildlife was not involved, as it shouldn’t be. SpaceX made its engineering investigation, the FAA reviewed it quickly, and the company launched again, at a pace of almost one test launch a month, with almost every launch resulting in a crash landing or an explosion.

Under the Biden administration the rules suddenly changed. Now, all launches are environmental concerns, even though we have empirical data for more than seventy years at Cape Canaveral that rocket launches not only do no harm to wildlife, they allow it to thrive because the spaceport creates large zones where nothing can be developed.

In other words, the Biden administration is playing a raw and cruel political game, designed to kill Starship/Superheavy. And it is succeeding, because it will be impossible to develop this rocket on time for its investors and NASA at a pace of only one test launch per year.

Today’s blacklisted American finally wins his four-decade-long fight against the federal government

So Kafkaesque even Kafka would be astonished
So Kafkaesque even Kafka would be astonished

Bring a gun to a knife fight: In 1982 Sidney Longwell bought a federal oil and gas lease from the Interior Department, with the intention of making money from the oil he extracted from Montana’s Lewis and Clark National Forest. Such leases were not unusual up until then, and in this case was obtained in a perfectly legal manner.

It was not to be, at least for the next four decades, as the Interior Department under five different Presidents repeatedly changed the rules and made arbitary decisions in an effort to somehow illegally cancel that lease. The story, as described by his non-profit law firm, Mountain States Legal Foundation, is quite ugly.

Sidney Longwell first bought his federal oil and gas lease in 1982. But after years of back-and-forth, the Clinton Administration suspended his lease indefinitely in 1993, placing it in regulatory limbo. A decade of fruitless bureaucratic review followed. Finally, in 2013, and with help from Mountain States Legal Foundation, he took the DOI to court, where the agency was forced to address Sidney’s lease. When pressed in 2016 for a decision, the DOI canceled the lease! So, Mountain States and Sidney sued them again.
» Read more

A triangular Martian hill

A triangular Martian hill
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The picture to the right, cropped, reduced, and sharpened to post here, was taken on May 29, 2023 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It shows what the science team labels an “unusual shaped hill” that is estimated to be about 20 to 40 feet high.

What makes it unusual? First, it sticks up out of the endless northern lowland plains for no obvious reason, though its shape suggests the existence of bedrock topography that is now buried by the dust and debris that coats the surface of those plains.

Second, the hill itself suggests that it formed after it was covered with debris. Note the crater near its northeast cliff. It appears that the cliff chopped off part of the crater, suggesting that the hill was once level with the surrounding terrain. Some later underground pressure pushed it upward, with its angled sides determined by existing faults.

Why those forces tilted the hill upward as it did, with only its eastern fringes raised, is a question a wide view might answer.
» Read more

New analysis of Chandrayaan-1’s lunar orbital data might explain its detection of widespread surface hydrogen on the Moon

The Earth's magnetic field, shaped by the solar wind
The Earth’s magnetic field, shaped by the solar wind

One of the significant finds coming from India’s first lunar orbiter, Chandrayaan-1, was the detection of hydrogen in many places across the entire lunar surface, in places where it seemed impossible for hydrogen to be there, even if it was locked in a molecule like water.

Researchers in Hawaii now think they have found an explanation by linking that data to the Earth’s long magnetotail, formed by the solar wind pushing against the Earth’s magnetic field. The graphic to the right illustrates that process. The scientists focused on the kind of weathering processes that occurred both when the Moon was inside that tail, and when it was not.

Li and co-authors analyzed the remote sensing data that were collected by the Moon Mineralogy Mapper instrument onboard India’s Chandrayaan 1 mission between 2008 and 2009. Specifically, they assessed the changes in water formation as the Moon traversed through Earth’s magnetotail, which includes the plasma sheet.

“To my surprise, the remote sensing observations showed that the water formation in Earth’s magnetotail is almost identical to the time when the Moon was outside of the Earth’s magnetotail,” said Li. “This indicates that, in the magnetotail, there may be additional formation processes or new sources of water not directly associated with the implantation of solar wind protons. In particular, radiation by high energy electrons exhibits similar effects as the solar wind protons.”

In other words, the evidence suggests that the hydrogen signal seen by Chandrayaan-1 might have been a very temporary implacement of that hydrogen by the solar wind, which ceases during the Moon’s periodic passages through the magnetotail. The Moon’s harsh environment then causes that hydrogen to vanish, only to reappear when it is once again exposed to the solar wind.

None of this is confirmed, so some skepticism is required. If true, however, it would provide further evidence that the hydrogen signal seen at the lunar poles that scientists hope is evidence of ice in the permanently shadowed craters might be nothing of the sort, and we shall find little ice there.

Germany signs Artemis Accords

Germany today finally signed the Artemis Accords, becoming the 29th nation to do so. More important, its signing puts most of Europe within the accords, as well as all of the major players in space except for China and Russia.

The full list of signatories to the Artemis Accords is now as follows: Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Brazil, Canada, Columbia, Czech Republic, Ecuador, France, Germany, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Poland, Romania, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, the Ukraine, and the United States.

We now can essentially see the alliance that will compete with China, Russia, and the handful of third world leftist nations such as Venezuela and South Africa. Though there are some nations on this list that have not flown in space and have a very weak infrastructure for space (Nigeria, Romania, and Ecuador for example), most of the signatories have major aerospace industries with a strong space component. More important, while the Biden administration has been deemphasizing the original conception of the accords, aimed at strengthening property rights in space, the members of the alliance are still mostly capitalist countries, with legal systems that support individual rights.

On the other side are nations that have traditionally or are now pushing for communism and strong authoritarian rule.

Thus, we can now see the rough outline of the political competition that will exist as the solar system is explored and colonized in the coming centuries.

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