Watching Astra’s launch attempt tonight

Capitalism in space: Astra has made its live stream available for its orbital launch attempt tonight, scrubbed last night about ten minutes before liftoff.

This will be the company’s fourth attempt to launch a payload into orbit. The first three attempts failed in some manner.

I have embedded the company’s live stream, provided by NASASpaceflight LLC and Astra Space Inc., below the fold.
» Read more

Today’s blacklisted American: School bans all pro-Israeli clothing

No freedom of speech in New York
No freedom of speech for conservatives in
NY schools. Photo: Leo Reynolds.

The new dark age of silencing: Neal Singh, the principal of a middle school in Brooklyn, forbid a teacher from wearing a t-shirt that said “Proud Zionist” because it was “politically explosive.”

An outraged Park Slope teacher says he learned the hard way that it’s OK to wear Black Lives Matter T-shirts to work at his “woke” Brooklyn school — but not pro-cop or pro-Israel garb.

Jeffrey Levy, an English as a Second Language teacher at MS 51 in the liberal Brooklyn enclave, told The Post that school principal Neal Singh ordered him to stop wearing his “Proud Zionist” T-shirt in the building — even though other staffers have worn shirts touting BLM and women’s rights. Levy filed a discrimination complaint over not being allowed to wear his self-made shirt, which features the Star of David.

He said he was told by Singh that students and staffers complained about it — and also the pro-police “Back the Blue” T-shirt he’s previously worn. “Singh told me that my T-shirt with an Israeli flag on it and the words ‘Proud Zionist’ were ‘politically explosive,’” Levy says in his complaint, filed Sept. 30 with the city Department of Education’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity.

The excuse Singh uses to ban the pro-Zionist t-shirt is that it offended some students, which means that Singh hasn’t the slightest idea what freedom of speech entails. To have free speech everyone must be allowed to offend others. Silencing someone because their opinion offends you is blatantly oppressive.

Note too that I am sure Levy was offended by the Black Lives Matter banners and t-shirts, since many of that movement’s leaders are outright bigots and anti-Semites. He however did not call for their banning. He did the right thing, responding with more speech.

The NY Department of Education (DOE) is supporting Singh by noting that teachers are not supposed to advocate political positions while at work. Sounds good, eh? The problem is that the DOE did nothing to stop teachers from promoting BLM and feminist causes, continuously. It clearly has a double standard, designed to silence one side of the debate.

I doubt Levy will win his case. I even expect he will find himself fired for daring to make this complaint. After all, he lives in New York, a place that increasingly resembles the Soviet-style dictatorships of Eastern Europe during the Cold War.

Video of Ingenuity’s 13th flight

Using the high resolution camera on Perseverance, the science team has now released two videos taken of Ingenuity’s 13th flight on Mars, on September 4, 2021.

One is a very wide view, which makes it hard to see the helicopter. The closer view can be seen here.

At the beginning of the video, Ingenuity is near the lower left of frame, at a distance of about 980 feet (300 meters) from the rover. It climbs to an altitude of to 26 feet (8 meters) before beginning its sideways translation. The helicopter leaves the camera’s field of view on the right. Soon after, the helicopter returns into the field of view (the majority of frames that did not capture helicopter after it exited the camera’s field of view were purposely not downlinked from Mars by the team) and lands at a location near its takeoff point.

Scientists: NASA needs to catch up to SpaceX for using its Starship for future manned and unmanned missions

In a white paper [pdf] submitted to the committee presently writing the next decadal survey for NASA’s planetary science program, a large group of well-recognized planetary scientists essentially pleads with NASA to recognize the gigantic possibilities created by SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft for future manned and unmanned exploration, and rethink its management style.

The capabilities of the Starship vehicle to transport unprecedented quantities of cargo and crew to the lunar and Martian surface will require a new support structure within NASA to enable the NASA planetary science community to participate and provide payloads for these flights. SpaceX envisions an accelerated schedule for flights, but NASA’s traditional schedule for selecting and flying planetary payloads is not necessarily consistent with this timeline.

For example, SpaceX is aggressively developing Starship for initial orbital flights, after which they intend to fly uncrewed flights to the Moon and conduct initial test flights to Mars at the earliest Mars mission opportunity, potentially as soon as 2022, or failing that in the 2024 window. Since the launch window is significantly less restricted for the Moon, it is likely that the first Starship landings will be on the lunar surface. (Even in the case of a first Starship launch to Mars, during its six-month trip to the Red Planet it would be feasible to send a Starship to land on the lunar surface prior to the Mars landing).

In order to take advantage of these opportunities, a new funding program within NASA is needed to provide the opportunity for members of the community (within and outside of NASA) to fly robotic payloads on these flights. … In order to be successful given the flight schedule for SpaceX missions, this funding program must be nimble enough to select proposals for funding and make grants within just a few months after proposal submission.

In other words, NASA’s way of doing things when it comes to planetary exploration is simply too slow and cumbersome to take full advantage of Starship’s capabilities.

I found this white paper through this article at Teslarati, which focuses more on what SpaceX plans to do in its manned planetary exploration using Starship. The paper however is less about what SpaceX will do and more about the need for NASA and the planetary community that has depended on the agency for decades to undergo a paradigm shift. With Starship, missions to the Moon and Mars will no longer be very constrained in terms of weight. Nor will launch schedules be slow and far between. Rather than plan a few billion dollar NASA unmanned missions taking a decade to plan and launch, using Starship NASA could have many planetary missions launching fast and for relatively little cost, with far greater capabilities.

The scientists recognize this, and wrote their paper in an effort to make NASA’s hide-bound management recognize it as well.

What I suspect is going to happen is that the scientists will eventually bypass NASA entirely. Because of the lowered cost provided by Starship, they will find other funding sources, many private, to finance planetary missions. Those other sources will also be much more capable than NASA for reacting quickly to Starship’s fast timetable and gigantic capabilities.

Things are going to get really really exciting in the next few years.

Court: Blue Origin bid for NASA’s lunar lander contract a failure on all counts

The U.S. Court of Federal Claims today released its detailed report on why it dismissed Blue Origin’s lawsuit against NASA’s contract award to SpaceX’s Starship for its manned lunar lander, essentially saying that the lawsuit was a joke. From the report itself [pdf]:

The Court finds that Blue Origin does not have standing because it did not have a substantial chance of award but for the alleged evaluation errors. Its proposal was priced well above NASA’s available funding and was itself noncompliant. Blue Origin argues that it would have submitted an alternative proposal, but the Court finds its hypothetical proposal to be speculative and unsupported by the record. The Court also finds that several of Blue Origin’s objections are waived.

Even if Blue Origin had standing and its objections were not waived, the Court finds that it would lose on the merits. Blue Origin has not shown that NASA’s evaluation or its conduct during the procurement was arbitrary and capricious or otherwise contrary to law. NASA provided a thorough, reasoned evaluation of the proposals, and NASA’s conduct throughout the procurement process was not contrary to law.

The court’s analysis makes Blue Origin’s effort here look embarrassing. The company submitted a weak, overpriced bid, and when it lost on the merits, it then cried foul and said it would have done something different had it known. Neither the court, the GAO, or NASA considered this approach a good recommendation for Jeff Bezos’ company.

The time for lawsuits is over. If Blue Origin wants to compete in the new commercial space industry, it had better start doing it. Right now it acts like it is entitled to success, instead of working hard to achieve it.

Sierra Space raises $1.4 billion in investment capital

Capitalism in space: Sierra Space, the space subsidiary of Sierra Nevada, has raised $1.4 billion in investment capital in a recent round of fund-raising.

The company will use the funds to support development of Dream Chaser, the lifting-body vehicle it is building for to transport cargo for the International Space Station starting in late 2022. The company originally developed Dream Chaser to carry people as a competitor in NASA’s commercial crew program, and company executives have frequently stated they still plan to develop a crewed version at a later date.

The funds will also support development of its Large Integrated Flexible Environment (LIFE) inflatable module. Both LIFE and Dream Chaser are part of Orbital Reef, the commercial space station concept announced Oct. 25 by a team that includes Sierra Space along with Blue Origin, Boeing and Redwire.

It appears that the investment community likes the Orbital Reef commercial space station concept, and especially likes Sierra Space’s part in it. This influx of cash also suggests that the investors got a good look at the status of Dream Chaser, and were satisfied its development was proceeding as planned.

Lucy update: Instruments all working, no action yet on solar array

According to an update from the Lucy science team today, they have completed the checkout of the asteroid probe’s instruments, and found them all operating properly. However, no action has yet been taken to try to correct the partially deployed solar panel.

The team has used an engineering model of the solar array motor and lanyard to replicate what was observed during the initial solar array deployment. The test data and findings suggest the lanyard may not have wound on the spool as intended. Testing continues to determine what caused this outcome, and a range of scenarios are possible. The team isn’t planning to attempt to move or further characterize the current state of the solar array deployment before Wednesday, Dec. 1, at the earliest.

It appears the spacecraft is still on its planned course.

Hubble’s 2021 survey of the outer solar system

Jupiter in 2021 by Hubble
Click for full Jupiter image.

Saturn in 2021 by Hubble
Click for full Saturn image.

Uranus in 2021 by Hubble
Click for full Uranus image.

Neptune in 2021 by Hubble
Click for full Neptune image.

NASA today released the annual survey of images taken each year by the Hubble Space Telescope of the large planets that comprise the outer solar system, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.

These Hubble images are part of yearly maps of each planet taken as part of the Outer Planets Atmospheres Legacy program, or OPAL. The program provides annual, global views of the outer planets to look for changes in their storms, winds, and clouds. Hubble’s longevity, and unique vantage point, has given astronomers a unique chance to check in on the outer planets on a yearly basis. Knowledge from the OPAL program can also be extended far beyond our own solar system in the study of atmospheres of planets that orbit stars other than our Sun.

The four photos, all either cropped or reduced slightly to post here, are to the right. Each shows some changes in these planets since the previous survey images the year before.

On Jupiter for example the equatorial region shows several new storms, with that band remaining a deep orange color longer than expected.

On Saturn the various bands have continued to show the frequent and extreme color changes that the telescope has detected since it began these survey images back in the 1990s.

The photo of Uranus meanwhile looks at the gas giant’s northern polar regions, where it is presently spring. The increased sunlight and ultraviolet radiation has thus caused the upper atmosphere at the pole to brighten. The photo also confirms that the size of this bright “polar hood” continues to remain the same, never extending beyond the 43 degree latitude where scientists suspect a jet streams acts to constrain it.

The image of Neptune, the farthest and thus hardest planet for Hubble to see, found that the dark spot in the planet’s northern hemisphere appears to have stopped moving south and now appears to be heading north. Also,

In 2021, there are few bright clouds on Neptune, and its distinct blue with a singular large dark spot is very reminiscent of what Voyager 2 saw in 1989.

Today’s blacklisted American: Professor defends free speech, is canceled by MIT and attacked by students, yet fights back and wins

No free speech allowed at MIT
No free speech allowed at MIT.

Today’s blacklist story illustrates how it is possible to win the battle against the petty leftist tyrants who now dominate our culture and are trying to silence free speech and destroy anyone who disagrees with them.

Dorian Abbot is an associate professor of planetary geology at the University of Chicago. Beginning in 2020 he began as a side activity posting videos advocating free speech in academia while condemning the growing oppressive movement to blackball anyone who says the “wrong” thing.

For the next year he found himself under increasing pressure from the leftist mob both at his school and outside it. His videos were taken down repeatedly by Google’s YouTube. A group of graduate students from his school wrote a letter denouncing him and demanding the school exempt all students from attending his classes while limiting his abilities to teach to a point where it was impossible. Later, in response to an op-ed Abbot co-wrote for Newsweek condemning the race-based identify politics that now dominate academia, a leftist Twitter mob came after him, demanding he be removed from all venues.

Fortunately, his superiors at the University of Chicago supported him, and refused to bow to these repressive demands. However, when Abbot was scheduled to give a lecture at MIT on his actual field of study, planetary science, “a new Twitter mob, composed of a group of MIT students, postdocs, and recent alumni, demanded that Abbot to be uninvited.”

MIT bowed to the pressure, and blackballed Abbot.
» Read more

Europe’s Solar Orbiter to make last flyby of Earth

Solar Orbiter, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) probe to work in tandem with NASA Parker Solar Probe in studying the inner regions surrounding the Sun, will make last flyby of Earth on November 27, 2021, thus putting it into its planned science orbit.

While the press release gives a good overview of the mission, it focuses on the risk during that fly-by of the spacecraft hitting something during its close approach.

Solar Orbiter’s Earth flyby takes place on 27 November. At 04:30 GMT (05:30 CET) on that day, the spacecraft will be at its closest approach, just 460 km above North Africa and the Canary Islands. This is almost as close as the orbit of the International Space Station.

The manoeuvre is essential to decrease the energy of the spacecraft and line it up for its next close pass of the Sun but it comes with a risk. The spacecraft must pass through two orbital regions, each of which is populated with space debris.

The first is the geostationary ring of satellites at 36 000 km, and the second is the collection of low Earth orbits at around 400 km. As a result, there is a small risk of a collision. Solar Orbiter’s operations team are monitoring the situation very closely and will alter the spacecraft’s trajectory if it appears to be in any danger.

While there is a risk, it seems to me that ESA is taking advantage of the recent news outburst in connection with the Russian anti-sat test and the space junk it created to sell this mission. The risk of impact during this fly-by is very low, especially in the geostationary ring.

NASA awards Intuitive Machines another contract to deliver science instruments to Moon

Capitalism in space: NASA yesterday awarded Intuitive Machines its third contract to use its Nova-C lander to deliver four science instruments in 2024 to an unusual geological feature on the Moon.

The investigations aboard Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C lander are destined for Reiner Gamma, one of the most distinctive and enigmatic natural features on the Moon. Known as a lunar swirl, Reiner Gamma is on the western edge of the Moon, as seen from Earth, and is one of the most visible lunar swirls. Scientists continue to learn what lunar swirls are, how they form, and their relationship to the Moon’s magnetic field.

…Intuitive Machines will receive $77.5 million for the contract and is responsible for end-to-end delivery services, including payload integration, delivery from Earth to the surface of the Moon, and payload operations. This is Intuitive Machines’ third task order award, the first of which is a delivery to Oceanus Procellarum on the Moon during the first quarter of 2022. This award is the seventh surface delivery task award issued to a CLPS partner.

Below is the present schedule for these commercial unmanned lunar landers:

  • 2022: Astrobotic to deliver 11 instruments to the crater Lacus Mortis.
  • 2022: Intuitive Machines to deliver 6 payloads to Oceanus Procellarum.
  • 2022: Intuitive Machines to deliver a drill and two instruments to the lunar south pole.
  • 2023: Firefly to deliver 10 instruments to Mare Crisium.
  • 2023: Masten to deliver nine instruments to the lunar south pole region.
  • 2023: Astrobotic to deliver VIPER rover to lunar south pole region.
  • 2024: Intuitive Machines to deliver 4 payloads to Reiner Gamma.

No one should be surprised if some of these landers fail. The goal of this program is to jumpstart a commercial industry of private lunar landers, which is why NASA is awarding so many contracts. Some will fail. Some will succeed. In the end both NASA and the general public will have several competing options for landing payloads on the Moon.

Axiom sets launch date for first private commercial manned mission to ISS

Capitalism in space: Axiom has set February 21, 2022 as the target launch date for its first private commercial manned mission to ISS, carrying one employee and three passengers for eight days.

In making the announcement the company emphasized the science research the passengers — Larry Connor, Mark Pathy, and Eytan Stibbe — will do:

The crew activities of Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1) will focus on science, education, and outreach, conducting approximately 25 experiments while onboard the ISS. Critical data from studies in human research, life and physical sciences, technology demonstrations, and Earth observation will expand the applicability of microgravity research to new sectors. The crew has submitted over 100 hours of human-tended research to conduct during their stay on station.

The commander will be former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría, who now works for Axiom. This will be his fifth spaceflight.

Musk lays out Starship testing plan

Capitalism in space: In a meeting in Washington today, Elon Musk laid out SpaceX’s upcoming testing plan for developing its Starship/Superheavy heavy-lift reusable rocket.

“We’ve completed the first orbital booster and first orbital ship, and we’ll be complete with the launch pad and launch tower later this month, and then we’ll do a bunch of tests in December, and hopefully launch in January,” Musk said. “There’s a lot of risk associated with this first launch, so I would not say it is likely to be successful, but I think we’ll make a lot of progress,” musk said. “We’ve also built a factory for making a lot of these vehicles. So this is not a case for just one or two. We’re aiming to make a great many.

“We intend to do hopefully a dozen launches next year, maybe more,” Musk said. “And if we’re successful with it being fully reusable, that means we build up the fleet just as we are with the Falcon 9 booster, which is reused.”

Musk says the cost of a Starship launch will eventually fall below the cost of a Falcon 9 rocket flight, which a SpaceX manager said last year can fall below $30 million with reused parts.

“Basically, we intend to complete the test flight program next year, which means it’s probably ready for valuable payloads that are not for testing, but actual real payloads, in 2023.”

According to this schedule 2022 will be devoted to refining the rocket to make it dependable, and 2023 will be used to fly unmanned cargo flights to prove it out for later manned flights.

SpaceX will also likely develop in parallel the various expected versions of Starship, including the refueling ship, the manned lunar lander, and ships used for point-to-point transportation on Earth.

Rocket Lab successfully launches two satellites; recovers 1st stage in ocean

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab tonight successfully launched two Blacksky satellites, a launch that had been delayed for several months because of the New Zealand COVID lockdowns.

The company also recovered the first stage after it splashdowned in the ocean. A helicopter stood by to observe the stage as it came down by parachute, getting data in preparation for a later recovery attempt where the helicopter will snatch the stage in the air by its parachutes and then transport it back to land.

This was Rocket Lab’s fourth launch in 2021, which brings it back into a tie with Northrop Grumman and ULA. All three however do not make the leader board. The leaders in the 2021 launch race remain unchanged:

41 China
25 SpaceX
18 Russia
5 Europe (Arianespace)

China now leads the U.S. 41 to 39 in the national rankings.

Haley Reinhart & Casey Abrams – Time of the Season

An evening pause: Hat tip Dan Morris.

Readers! I am in need of evening pause suggestions! If you’ve seen something you think would work, say so in the comments, without providing a link. I will email you. For those interested in participating in making this webpage fun, here are my guidelines for suggesting evening pauses:

1. The subject line should say “evening pause.”
2. Don’t send more than three in any email. I prefer however if you send them one email at a time.
3. Variety! Don’t send me two or three or five from the same artist. I can only use one. Pick your favorite and send that.
4. Live performance preferred.
5. Quirky technology, humor, and short entertaining films also work.
6. Search BtB first to make sure your suggestion hasn’t already been posted.
7. I might not respond immediately, as I schedule these in a bunch.

Volcanic vent on Mars

Overview of Arsia Mons pits

To understand today’s cool image we really should start from a distance and zoom in. The overview map to the right focuses in on the two southernmost giant volcanoes in the string of three that sit to the east of Mars’ biggest volcano, Olympus Mons, and to the west of the planet’s biggest canyon, Valles Marineris.

The black dots mark the locations of the many high resolution photos taken by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter that I have featured previously on Behind the Black. Many are isolated openings with no related geological features. Others appear to be skylights into a more extensive lava tube, hinted at by either a continuing surface depression or a series of similar skylights.

The white dot marks the location of today’s cool image, about 350 miles south of Arsia Mons’ caldera.
» Read more

Today’s blacklisted American: David Horowitz Freedom Center banned from Breakers hotel in Florida

No free speech allowed at The Breakers
No free speech allowed at The Breakers. Photo: David Broad

The new dark age of silencing: The Breakers hotel in Palm Beach, Florida has banned the conservative David Horowitz Freedom Center (DHFC) from holding an event there, despite the fact that it has allowed such an event every year without problems for the past twenty years.

The reason?

“After a 20-year relationship with The Breakers resort, the Freedom Center was informed that we would no longer be allowed to have our annual Restoration Weekend event at the resort due to the Center being too controversial,” DHFC President Michael Finch told The Epoch Times. [emphasis mine]

The hotel claims the ban isn’t because of politics, but because the “logistical and operational requirements” of holding the annual event had become more complex. While the hotel was not specific, its statement strongly implied that the increased cost of security against leftist threats of violence caused it to cancel the contract.

In other words, the hotel endorses the heckler’s veto. Threaten violence against someone who disagrees with you and The Breakers will bend over backwards to silence that speaker for you.

I would say that anyone planning to visit Palm Beach should celebrate The Breakers new policy of cowardice and find some other hotel to stay at. It certainly seems that this hotel really isn’t interested in protecting conservatives from violence. It would rather ban them from existence.

UAE Al-Amal Mars orbiter finds surprising variations in Mars atmosphere

Oxygen variations in Martian atmosphere
Click for full graphic.

The United Arab Emirates Al-Amal (“hope” in English) Mars orbiter has discovered unexpected variations of oxygen and carbon monoxide in the Martian atmosphere.

The EMM team had expected to observe a relatively uniform emission from oxygen at 130.4 nm across the planet and yet here we are, faced with unpredicted variations of 50% or more in the brightness.

The image to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, shows the variations in oxygen on Mars’s dayside. Though the map does not indicate the geography below, the concentration of oxygen in the northern latitudes appears to correspond to the planet’s northern lowland plains. In fact, the variations should not have been a surprise, since the surface of Mars has such a stark dichotomy between its northern and southern hemispheres.

Ingenuity’s 16th Martian flight is now scheduled for November 18

According to an update today from the Ingenuity science team, Ingenuity’s sixteenth flight on Mars is scheduled for no earlier than November 18th, and will be a relatively short hop of about 100+ meters to the north, compared to previous flights.

It appears the roughness of the terrain on this flight can cause an accumulating error in its flight software. Because the landing area is also rough, they want to bring the helicopter down sooner to make sure it lands close to where it should.

The present plan is to hop north to return to the location of Ingenuity’s first flight, at Wright Brothers Field. Along the way they will also consider installing an update in the flight software to improve the helicopter’s capabilities.

NASA expected to finally certify Rocket Lab’s Virginia launchpad by end of year

It appears that after more than a year of delays, the NASA bureaucracy might finally approve launches at Rocket Lab’s new spaceport at Wallops Island, Virginia by the end of the year.

The article at the link is mostly about Rocket Lab’s planned acquisition of another company that builds satellite deployment systems. However, its real story was in the last paragraph:

[T]he company is still waiting for NASA to complete certification of an autonomous flight termination system the company needs to launch from Wallops Island, Virginia. Delays in NASA’s certification of that system has, in turn, delayed the use of Launch Complex 2 there for Electron missions. “The current expectation is that it could be done as early as the end of the year,” [Adam Spice, Rocket Lab’s chief financial officer] said of that certification, “which would allow us to commence flight operations out of LC-2 and Wallops in the first half of 2022.”

The company got FAA approval for launches more than a year ago, and had hoped to launch shortly thereafter. NASA however has blocked that launch, refusing for more than a year to approve the flight termination system Rocket Lab uses to destroy rockets should something go wrong just after launch.

The delay is baffling. Rocket Lab has successfully proven that its system works in that it has used it several times to safely abort launches in New Zealand. This success apparently has not been good enough for NASA’s bureaucrats, and the result is that Rocket Lab’s ability to launch rockets has been seriously hampered in ’21.

Europe joins U.S. in condemning Russian anti-satellite test

Europe’s top space policy chief today joined the U.S. in strongly condemning the Russian anti-satellite test that produced a cloud of several thousand pieces of orbiting space junk.

European Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton condemned Russia’s anti-satellite missile system test, which led to the destruction of a satellite in low orbit.

“As European Union (EU) Commissioner in charge of EU Space policy and in particular of Galileo & Copernicus, I join the strongest condemnations expressed against the test conducted by Russia on Monday November 15, which led to the destruction of a satellite in low orbit (COSMOS 1408),” Breton wrote on Twitter late on Tuesday.

The Russians continue to insist the debris poses no threat to ISS, but their own state-run press proves them wrong. This TASS report claims the debris is no threat because it orbits 40 to 60 kilometers (25 to 35 miles) above the station.

That the debris is presently orbiting above the station is exactly why it poses a threat. While mission controllers will periodically raise ISS’s orbit to counteract the loss of altitude due to friction from the very thin atmosphere at that elevation, the various orbits of the satellite debris will continue to fall. Eventually that entire cloud will be drop into ISS’s orbit.

It is likely that the debris spread over time will make it easy for controllers to shift ISS to avoid individual pieces, but the need to dodge will certainly increase with time, raising the odds that something will hit the ISS.

The test seems almost so stupid an act by Russia that one wonders if its purpose was to create a long term threat to ISS itself. At least one private U.S. company, Axiom, plans to attach its own modules to ISS and use it as a base for the next few years for commercial operations. Others want to use ISS as a hotel for private tourists.

The Russians meanwhile are planning to launch their own new station. If the Russians put it in an orbit safe from this debris cloud, this test will have thus conveniently damaged their main competitor in commercial space operations.

UAE to raise private money to help refurbish Baikonur launchpad

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has struck a deal with both Russia and Kazakhstan to jointly work together to upgrade the oldest Soyuz launchpad at Baikonur, the one used to put Yuri Gagarin into orbit in 1961.

The most interesting aspect of the deal is its private investment component:

The modernisation of the spaceport involves reconstructing the site to allow for more launches, including commercial and human space flights to the International Space Station.

As part of the agreement, all three parties will bring investors forward to contribute towards the upgrade.

“The UAE space agency is not investing or facilitating as the government. We’re looking for private partners within the UAE to partake. There’s a lot of interest,” Mr Al Qasim said.

This suggests that in exchange for providing private capital, the UAE will obtain launching rights at Baikonur, available for its own privately-built rockets. None yet exist, but it is clear the UAE government is encouraging such activity.

History Unplugged – The Age of Discovery 2.0: Episode 5

Episode five of the six part series, The Age of Discovery 2.0, from the podcast, History Unplugged, is now available here.

On this episode Scott Rank interviews Rand Simberg. From the show summary:

The history of exploration and establishment of new lands, science and technologies has always entailed risk to the health and lives of the explorers. Yet, when it comes to exploring and developing the high frontier of space, the harshest frontier ever, the highest value is apparently not the accomplishment of those goals, but of minimizing, if not eliminating, the possibility of injury or death of the humans carrying them out.

To talk about the need for accepting risk in the name of discovery – whether during Magellan’s voyage in which 90 percent of the crew died or in the colonization of Mars – is aerospace engineer and science writer Rand Simberg, author of Safe Is Not An Option: Overcoming The Futile Obsession With Getting Everyone Back Alive That Is Killing Our Expansion Into Space.

For decades since the end of Apollo, human spaceflight has been very expensive and relatively rare (about 500 people total, with a death rate of about 4%), largely because of this risk aversion on the part of the federal government and culture. From the Space Shuttle, to the International Space Station, the new commercial crew program to deliver astronauts to it, and the regulatory approach for commercial spaceflight providers, our attitude toward safety has been fundamentally irrational, expensive and even dangerous, while generating minimal accomplishment for maximal cost.

Rand explains why this means that we must regulate passenger safety in the new commercial spaceflight industry with a lighter hand than many might instinctively prefer, that NASA must more carefully evaluate rewards from a planned mission to rationally determine how much should be spent to avoid the loss of participants, and that Congress must stop insisting that safety is the highest priority, for such insistence is an eloquent testament to how unimportant they and the nation consider the opening of this new frontier.

Definitely worth a listen, especially considering our society’s panic over COVID. Our society appears incapable of accepting any risk at all, even though risk cannot be avoided, and to do great things you must embrace it in some manner.

Hubble operations contract extended to 2026, even as engineers work to fix it

NASA announced today that it has extended the contract for operating the Hubble Space Telescope through 2026, even as it also provided an update on the effort of engineers to bring all the telescope’s science instruments out of safe mode.

[T]he agency has awarded a sole source contract extension to the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) in Washington for continued Hubble science operations support at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, which AURA operates for NASA. The award extends Hubble’s science mission through June 30, 2026, and increases the value of the existing contract by about $215 million (for a total of about $2.4 billion).

…Currently, the spacecraft team at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is investigating an issue involving missed synchronization messages that caused Hubble to suspend science observations Oct. 25. One of the instruments, the Advanced Camera for Surveys, resumed science observations Nov. 7, and continues to function as expected. All other instruments remain in safe mode.

During the week of Nov. 8, the Hubble team identified near-term changes that could be made to how the instruments monitor and respond to missed synchronization messages, as well as to how the payload computer monitors the instruments. This would allow science operations to continue even if several missed messages occur. The team has also continued analyzing the instrument flight software to verify that all possible solutions would be safe for the instruments.

In the next week, the team will begin to determine the order to recover the remaining instruments. The team expects it will take several weeks to complete the changes for the first instrument.

It appears that it is going to take some time to bring all the instruments back in line, considering that they are fixing the instruments one-by-one, in sequence, and that the first fix is taking weeks. Hopefully as they get each instrument back they will be able to move faster once they know what works.

1 2 3 4 5 834