Author Archives: Robert Zimmerman

Announcement: Week Two: 10th Anniversary Fund-Raising Drive for Behind the Black

Readers

We now begin the second week of my annual July fund-raiser for Behind the Black. The response so far been breath-taking. Thank you all for your support, from the bottom of my heart!

The July fund-raising campaign must continue however or else I will not be able to afford to continue my work here for another year.

This year’s fund-raising drive is more significant in that it is also the 10th anniversary of this website’s founding. It is hard to believe, but I have been doing this for a full decade, during which I have written more than 22,000 posts, of which more than 1,000 were essays and almost 2,600 were evening pauses.

This year’s fund drive is also more important because of the growing intolerance of free speech and dissent in American culture. Increasingly people who don’t like what they read are blatantly acting to blackball sites like mine. I have tried to insulate myself from this tyrannical effort by not depending on Google advertising or cross-posts on Facebook or Twitter. Though this prevents them from having a hold on me, it also acts to limit my exposure.

I therefore am entirely dependent on the generous support of my readers, which has been growing steadily and sometimes exponentially in the past six years (which is about when I gave up on advertising to go directly to my readers). While asking for voluntary donations is a harder way to make money, it sets me free to say and write anything I wish. No one has a hold on me. No one tells me what to write. From me you will always get my honest perspective on space, science, culture, and politics.

I therefore ask you to please consider donating to Behind the Black, either by giving a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar below or in the column to the right. You can also consider buying my books, all of which are available in the boxes scattered throughout the webpage. You will have my eternal gratitude, and you will help me continue my work.

This announcement will remain at the top of the webpage for the next month. Scroll down for new posts.

Midnight repost: Al Gore and the silencing of debate

The Behind the Black tenth anniversary retrospective: Today’s repost is from August 29, 2011, and was one of my earliest essays describing the real meaning of the scientific method.

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Al Gore and the silencing of debate

Yesterday I posted a link to a story about Al Gore claiming that any expression of skepticism about global warming is to him no different than racism. Here again is what Gore said,

“There came a time when friends or people you work with or people you were in clubs with — you’re much younger than me so you didn’t have to go through this personally — but there came a time when racist comments would come up in the course of the conversation and in years past they were just natural. Then there came a time when people would say, ‘Hey, man why do you talk that way, I mean that is wrong. I don’t go for that so don’t talk that way around me. I just don’t believe that.’ That happened in millions of conversations and slowly the conversation was won. We have to win the conversation on climate.”

More than at any other time, Gore here has very successfully illustrated the differences between how climate skeptics debate the scientific questions of climate change versus how global warming advocates do it.
» Read more

Police seize guns of Missouri couple used to defend their home from rioters

They’re coming for you next: St. Louis police today used a warrant to search the home of the Missouri couple and seize the weapons they had used to ward off threatening rioters last month.

Authorities in St. Louis executed a search warrant Friday evening at the home of Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the couple who made headlines last month when they took up arms to defend their homes from protesters. During the search, police seized the rifle that Mark McCloskey was shown holding during the June 28 incident, KSDK-TV of St. Louis reported, citing information from a source.

The pistol that Patricia McCloskey held during the June confrontation was already in the possession of the couple’s attorney, the station reported.

There was no immediate indication that the McCloskeys were arrested or charged with a crime. [emphasis mine]

It appears to me that their only crime was that they are white and that they took up arms to defend their lives and home from a group of trespassers linked to Black Lives Matter/Antifa.

It might be possible that they did not have the guns legally (in the original video it clearly appeared they, especially the woman, had never held or used guns before). Nonetheless, they hurt no one, they were on their own property, the protesters were trespassers, and those trespassers had also made actual threats against them, their property, and even their dog. Their description of what happened matches well with the videos available.

In the June incident, Patricia McCloskey said, the couple was startled just before dinnertime when “300 to 500 people” entered the gated community where they live. “[They said] that they were going to kill us,” Patricia McCloskey told Hannity on Monday night. “They were going to come in there. They were going to burn down the house. They were going to be living in our house after I was dead, and they were pointing to different rooms and said, ‘That’s going to be my bedroom and that’s going to be the living room and I’m going to be taking a shower in that room’.”

So what does the local Democratic government do? Do they prosecute any rioters? No, they release them, and then go after these citizens to deny them the ability to defend themselves.

The McCloskeys fortunately have enough resources to hire a security company to protect themselves. Other ordinary citizens in St. Louis however be warned. If you take action to defend yourself, your local Democratic politicians will come after you. And they will move to disarm you so you will be helpless to the mob.

A great hike to do on Mars!

Knife Mesa at the exit from Kasei Valles
Click for full image.

Time to take a cool image and go sight-seeing. The photo to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, was taken by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on May 25, 2020, and shows a spectacular knife-edge mesa, its cliffs more than 650 feet high on either side.

This knife mesa sits among a bunch of similar mesas, and appears to be in a region that could be called chaos terrain, formed by flowing water or ice along faults, cutting criss-crossing canyons with mesas between.

This mesa points east out from the Kasai Valley, the second largest canyon draining out from the Tharsis Bulge that contains Mars’ largest volcanoes. The overview map below provides some context, with the white cross indicating the location of today’s cool image.
» Read more

COVID-19 and launchpad issues delay Ariane 6

The European Space Agency (ESA) confirmed today that the first launch of Arianespace’s Ariane 6 rocket will be delayed at least six months, to late 2021, due to lock downs related to the Wuhan flu panic, as well as construction issues at the rocket’s new launchpad.

“While we know that the maiden flight will not take place before the second semester of 2021, we cannot at this moment precisely quantify the delay, and we cannot provide an exact launch date,” Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA’s director of space transportation, said according to an ESA translation of remarks at a July 9 press event provided to SpaceNews. The French Association of Professional Journalists in Aeronautics, organized the event at ArianeGroup’s headquarters in Paris.

ESA hopes to have greater clarity on the delays in a few months, he said, according to the ESA translation.

It bodes bad for this rocket that they, at this time, have so little handle on the issues and the length of the delays.

Launch failure for China’s new Kuaizhou-11 rocket

For reasons not yet specified, China’s new Kuaizhou-11 rocket today failed on its inaugural launch.

Many reports will say that this is a commercial rocket developed by the private company Exspace. That is not true. Like all Chinese aerospace companies, they do their work wholly under the supervision of the Chinese government.

The development of the KZ-11 began in 2015, with a maiden launch originally scheduled for 2018. The rocket is developed by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASIC) and commercialized by the China Space Sanjiang Group Corporation (Expace).

The launch vehicle can loft a 1,500 kg payload into a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) or 1,00 kg to a 700 km sun-synchronous orbit.

The KZ-11 solid launch vehicle adopts a mobile launch platform, integrated power supply equipment, test and launch control facilities, aiming facility and temperature control facility, to carry vehicles from the technical support center to launch site, complete temperature control of payload, vehicle test and launch.

CASIC is in many ways China’s equivalent of NASA. And everything described in the last paragraph above, from solid rockets to mobile launches, are technologies developed expressly for military purposes. China will not let such things out for commercial companies to use however they wish, no matter what they claim.

Midnight repost: Switching to Linux

The tenth anniversary retrospective of Behind the Black continues: My contempt for Microsoft and its terrible Windows operating system is quite well known. I successfully switched to Linux back in 2006 and have never regretted it.

After seeing a number of my posts noting the advantages of Linux (or anything) over Windows, one of my readers, James Stephens, offered to write a series for Behind the Black describing step-by-step the process by which one gets and installs Linux on either a desktop or laptop computer. Below are the links to this series. I have since used it myself as a guide to convert two used Windows 7 notebooks (purchased for about $35 each) to my favorite flavor of Linux, both of which I use regularly as my travel computers.

I wish more people would do the same. I am sure almost everyone has an old computer they don’t use anymore. It will work like new with Linux. Dig it out, follow James’ instructions, and free yourself from Windows. I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Genocide is coming to America

In my last visit to Israel in 2018, my brother and sister-in-law took me sight-seeing to the northern parts of Israel near the Sea of Galilee. On our first night, we stayed at the home of one of their older friends, a man in his seventies.

That night we sat around their kitchen table so that they could catch up on family matters. At one point in the conversation our host reminisced about an older woman, now gone, who he had known in his childhood in the 1950s who had lived in Germany before and during World War II and had survived a concentration camp.

To paraphrase the story he told us, what this woman always remembered most starkly about that time, especially in the 1930s, was how difficult it was to get German friends who were not Jewish to believe the horrors she and other Jews were going through. To her, their calm nonchalant dismissal of the Nazi bigotry and oppression of Jews — too unbelievable to take seriously — was what had horrified her the most. Even twenty years later, it was this dismissal that appalled her the most, despite her time in a concentration camp and the death she had seen around her.

As he told us this story, what struck me was how similar my own experience has been. Time after time for the past four decades my liberal friends and relatives have refused to believe anything I say to them — always based on actual events — about politics and the growing corruption and bigotry within the Democratic Party. Like those decent Germans in the 1930s, these decent Americans find reasons to quickly dismiss what I say, without making any effort to find out if there is any merit to it.

In fact, less than two days after this very conversation it happened again. » Read more

Falcon 9 landing leg falls during retraction

Capitalism in space: During the processing to bring a used Falcon 9 first stage back to its hanger after its June 30th launch, one of the landing legs unexpectedly fell back to the ground during retraction.

I have embedded the video of the incident, cued to the event, below the fold. No one was hurt, and it appeared that nothing was damaged. It appears it happened because a cable holding the leg vertical snapped just before the leg got latched in place on the side of the rocket.
» Read more

Solar Orbiter operational, first images to be released

Engineers have now confirmed that Solar Orbiter, having completed its first close fly-by of the Sun, is working perfectly and is producing images and data better than expected.

They will release to the public the first images on July 16.

“The first images are exceeding our expectations,” says Daniel Müller, Solar Orbiter Project Scientist at ESA. “We can already see hints of very interesting phenomena that we have not been able to observe in detail before. The 10 instruments on board Solar Orbiter work beautifully, and together provide a holistic view of the Sun and the solar wind. This makes us confident that Solar Orbiter will help us answer profound open questions about the Sun.”

No other images of the Sun have been taken from such a close distance. During its first perihelion, the point in the spacecraft’s elliptical orbit closest to the Sun, Solar Orbiter got as close as 77 million kilometres from the star’s surface, about half the distance between the Sun and Earth. The spacecraft will eventually make much closer approaches to the Sun. The spacecraft is now in its cruise phase, gradually adjusting its orbit around the Sun. Once in its science phase, which will commence in late 2021, the spacecraft will get as close as 42 million kilometres from the Sun’s surface, closer than the planet Mercury. The spacecraft’s operators will gradually tilt Solar Orbiter’s orbit to enable the probe to get the first proper view of the Sun’s poles.

A previous spacecraft, Ulysses, flew over the Sun’s poles, but it did it from far away, and was designed not to take images but to study the Sun’s solar wind. Solar Orbiter is getting in close.

China launches communications satellite

China today successfully used its Long March 3B rocket to launch a communications satellite.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

16 China
10 SpaceX
7 Russia
3 ULA

The scrub yesterday of a SpaceX Starlink launch as well as the launch failure by Rocket Lab this week has allowed China to catch up with the U.S. Both countries are now tied, 16-16, in the national rankings.

Midnight repost: Mars!

The tenth anniversary retrospective of Behind the Black continues: Despite my many essays on culture and politics, Behind the Black remains mostly a site reporting on space and science. Since the modern exploration of Mars is probably the most significant on-going event now in space, it seemed unsatisfactory to only repost one or two of my past articles on this subject, when I have probably have posted hundreds. Instead, this midnight repost will provide links to a bunch, divided into several topics.

Martian geology, shown in cool images

First, we have the many cool images I have posted on Mars, often tied to detailed descriptions of what scientists are now beginning to learn about the red planet’s mysterious geological history. The following are the most important, and will help readers better understand future cool images.

Future colonization

Next, two posts, both focused on the future exploration and colonization of Mars.
» Read more

Spring at the Martian South Pole

Geysers on Mars?
Click for full image.

Geysers on Mars
Click for full image.

It is now full spring at the Martian south pole, and as should be expected much has been happening there. Like the Martian north pole, when sunlight arrives after the dark winter it hits the seasonally-placed mantle or cap of carbon dioxide snow and begins to melt it, in the alien ways things like this occur on Mars.

The two images to the right illustrate this process for one particular place located in what are called the south polar layered deposits. The two images, just released on July 1, 2020 from the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and taken on May 14 and May 30 respectively, had immediately caught my attention because they were labeled “Active Geyser Locale Dubbed Macclesfield.” Active geysers?! I immediately contacted Candy Hansen of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, whom I correctly guessed had requested these photos. She explained,

The name for this site is of course informal, and it dates back to when I first started picking sites to monitor. I was so certain we would see active geysers here! We see their deposits, the fans on the surface, but so far we have not caught an actual eruption in progress.

The overview map of the south pole below provides some context.
» Read more

Putin gov’t arrests journalist working as advisor to Roscomsos

The Putin government yesterday arrested Ivan Safronov, a former journalist presently an advisor to that country’s space agency Roscosmos, for passing military secrets to the Czech government back in 2017 when he was employed by a daily newspaper.

It seems the press in Russia is highly skeptical of these charges.

Kommersant [the daily newspaper in which he had worked] put out a statement in support of Safronov, hailing him as one of the country’s top journalists and a “true patriot” who was deeply concerned about the state of the military and space industries that he covered. The newspaper described the accusations against him as “absurd.” The paper noted that rights activists, journalists, scientists and corporate officials who faced treason accusations found it difficult to defend themselves because of secrecy surrounding their cases and lack of public access. “As a result, the public has to rely on the narrative offered by special services, whose work has increasingly raised questions,” Kommersant said. “Journalists asking those questions find themselves under blow.”

About 20 journalists, including those who worked with Safronov for years, were detained outside FSB headquarters in Moscow when they picketed to protest his arrest. Some were handed court summons for violating a ban on street gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic, an offense punishable by an administrative fine.

Many former colleagues of Safronov alleged that the authorities may have wanted to take revenge for his reporting that exposed Russian military incidents and opaque arms trade deals.

It also appears that the charges have nothing to do with Safronov’s work at Roscosmos.

NASA completes Starliner review, finds more issues

Capitalism in space: NASA yesterday released the results of its investigation into the issues that prevented Boeing’s manned Starliner capsule from successfully completing its unmanned demo flight to ISS in December, finding an additional 20 issues over the 61 initially identified shortly after the mission.

In closing out the seven-month investigation, NASA officials said Tuesday they have now identified 80 corrective actions, mostly involving software and testing, that must be done before the Starliner capsule launches again. The previous count was 61.

NASA officials also admitted that they had been so focused on making sure SpaceX’s Dragon capsule was going to work that they became lax in reviewing Boeing’s work. Now they not only are going to focus more on Boeing, they actually want to use SpaceX’s approach to software development throughout NASA.

NASA is also borrowing SpaceX’s “robust” approach to software, which involves going back to the designers following testing for feedback, said Kathy Lueders, NASA’s new human spaceflight chief who until a month ago managed commercial crew. She wants to see more of that type of approach across other NASA programs.

Though it seems absurd and incredible that NASA has not been consulting with its designers after testing, it is also not surprising. When it comes to designing and building anything at NASA the management processes there have routinely done a bad job for many years.

As for Starliner, it is expected it will take a few more months to fix these issues, which means the next unmanned test flight is likely still set for sometime in the fall, with the manned mission to follow next spring.

Results from Yutu-2 determine “gel-like” rocks are impact melt

Chinese scientists have now published their analysis of the “gel-like” rocks seen by China’s Yutu-2 lunar rover back in October 2019, and have concluded that they are glasses produced from melt occurring during an impact.

The authors describe the material as a dark greenish and glistening impact melt breccia, measuring 20 inches by 6 inches (52 by 16 centimeters). These features are signs of possible presence of glasses, which are usually sourced from impact melts or from volcanic eruptions.

According to the paper, the breccia — broken fragment of minerals cemented together — was formed by impact-generated welding, cementing and agglutinating of lunar regolith and breccia. The material, they say, resembles lunar impact melt breccia samples returned by NASA’s Apollo missions. In particular, similarities with the Apollo samples designated 15466 and 70019 are noted, a comparison made earlier by lunar scientist Clive Neal at the University of Notre Dame. Sample 70019, collected by astronaut and trained geologist Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, is made of dark, broken fragments of minerals cemented together and black, shiny glass.

The results are not definitive, however. The paper notes that the analysis is limited by the fact that VNIS measurements were taken under bad illumination conditions and other factors.

This conclusion is not surprising, as the rover has been traveling through a region dominated by impact ejecta.

Proposed House NASA budget flat, with some surprising support for Artemis

While the first House proposal for NASA’s 2021 budget has rejected the Trump administration’s request for a total $3 billion increase for the agency to fund Artemis so that it can complete a manned mission to the Moon by 2024, it also provided about 18% of the funds requested for building the manned lunar lander required for that mission.

Back in February, the White House asked for $3.37 billion in fiscal year 2021 to accelerate development of the lander.

Democrats in the House have been skeptical of the 2024 launch date—some see it as political due to the timing of the next presidential election—and so have been slow to fund the lander. In its budget, the House appropriates $1.56 billion for “Exploration Research and Development.” This includes funding for the lander, Lunar Gateway, and other activities related to the Moon’s surface, of which more than $600 million can be used for the lander.

The House also provided a boost of $343 million to SLS.

My guess is that the Democrats in the House are working to keep Artemis going because of the jobs it brings to their districts, but want to slow it down enough so that it cannot succeed while Trump is in office. Thus, the release of some funds for the lunar lander, but not enough to build it, now.

The House proposal also includes a loosening on Congress’s mandate that Europa Clipper must launch on SLS. NASA is now given the option to consider other alternatives if SLS is not avaiable, which means that NASA can now consider using the Falcon Heavy instead.

This proposal must still pass the Republican-controlled Senate, so expect more changes.

InSight’s mole is bouncing again

Plan of action for InSight's mole

The engineering team for InSight’s German-built digging tool, dubbed the mole, yesterday reported that it is once again no longer driving into the ground.

Previously they had been able to make progress by having InSight’s scoop press down on the mole. Once the top of the mole however was below ground, the scoop could no longer provide that support, and at that point the mole began bouncing again with each hammer-stroke, the surrounding Martian dirt unable to provide the friction to hold the mole down.

As shown by the illustration above, they are now going to try using the scoop to fill the hole and then use the scoop to press down on the dirt, with the hope this will provide the structural friction required to hold the mole in place after each hammer stroke. This effort will take time, and will prevent the scoop from doing its other work. They are therefore taking a pause until August before beginning the hole-filling operation.

Midnight repost: No obscenities on Behind the Black

The tenth anniversary retrospective of Behind the Black continues: I first posted these rules pertaining to commenting on Behind the Black on December 31, 2017, but have always adhered to them.

Anyone, without registering, can come this website and comment about anything (though preferably in connection to something I have posted), as long as they act like an adult. If they want to point out an error in something I’ve written, great. If they want to disagree with me civilly, even better. All they have to do is keep their language clean and not resort to childish insults.

Over the years since I have been amazed how many people in today’s increasingly barbaric culture can’t seem to do this simple thing. Thus I think these rules bear repeating, if only to outline to my many new readers where I stand on this issue. (Note that since I posted this I have relaxed the rules slightly. First time offenders are now issued a warning instead of being suspended immediately.)
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No obscenities on Behind the Black

I have stated this now bluntly more than a few times. I will not tolerate obscenities or curse words on this website. Despite this, today two different regular commenters thought it was perfectly fine to ignore these rules. One I have suspended for a week. The other might be.

The rest of the world might want to wallow in barbarism and ill behavior, but it will not happen here. This is my workplace. If you want to participate in the conversation on Behind the Black, I expect you to act like a civilized adult. If you can’t abide by these rules, then go somewhere else.

And don’t think it is okay to quote someone else verbatim and get away with this. As I noted just now in a reply to the suspended commenter, when Richard Nixon’s White House used the term [expletive deleted] everyone knew what it meant. It wasn’t a great solution, but it at least showed that they recognized that it was inappropriate to nonchalantly print obscenities, even ones spoken by the president. At the same time, they knew they couldn’t edit the transcripts, so they found a way to make it clear what was on the tapes without adding to the misbehavior.

Consider this a final warning. From now on I will not simply delete the obscenity and issue a warning. From now on, any violation of this rule will get an immediate suspension for a week. A second violation by the same person will get them banned.

July 5, 2020 Zimmerman podcast on Task Force Gryphon

The podcast of my two hour appearance on Task Force Gryphon on KGRA radio two days ago on July 5th is now available for download here [mp3]

Twas another fun show. The host did a nice job of allowing me to talk at length about a number of space and science stories, with the lead being almost a half hour about what I call the Wuhan flu panic. According to him, the show’s live stream ratings put it number two at that time, ahead of Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin. Quite nice.

COVID-19 is dying; no evidence of second wave

Link here.

Lots of detailed information, all of which confirm what I have been reporting for the past week or so. This quote however I think says it all:

The COVID-19 virus is on its final legs, and while I have filled this post with graphs to prove everything I just said, this is really the only graph you need to see, it’s the CDC’s data, over time, of deaths from COVID-19 here in the U.S., and the trend line is unmistakable:

[Click to see]

If virologists were driving policy about COVID-19 rather than public health officials, we’d all be Sweden right now, which means life would effectively be back to normal. The only thing our lockdowns have done at this point is prolong the agony a little bit, and encouraged Governors to make up more useless rules.

His graph is a smoothed version of the graph I have posted several times recently, showing the continuing decline in daily deaths nationwide from COVID-19.

The bottom line: The Wuhan flu epidemic is petering out. Almost all of us have nothing to fear from it. We need to reject that fear and go back to life as normal.

Sadly, I doubt anyone will believe either him, or me.

Rover update: Curiosity’s future journey

Mount Sharp, with Curiosity's future travels
Click for full image.

[For the overall context of Curiosity’s travels, see my March 2016 post, Pinpointing Curiosity’s location in Gale Crater. For the updates in 2018 go here. For a full list of updates before February 8, 2018, go here.]

Today the science team of Curiosity issued a press release outlining their travel plans for the rover over the next year. In conjunction, they also released a mosaic of 116 images taken by the rover showing that route, a reduced in resolution version shown above.

The rover’s next stop is a part of the mountain called the “sulfate-bearing unit.” Sulfates, like gypsum and Epsom salts, usually form around water as it evaporates, and they are yet another clue to how the climate and prospects for life changed nearly 3 billion years ago.

But between the rover and those sulfates lies a vast patch of sand that Curiosity must drive around to avoid getting stuck. Hence the mile-long road trip: Rover planners, who are commanding Curiosity from home rather than their offices at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, expect to reach the area in early fall, although the science team could decide to stop along the way to drill a sample or study any surprises they come across.

Overview map sol 2804 of Curiosity's route

This journey actually began in late May, at about the time of my last rover update. The overview map to the right shows in red their approximate planned route to avoid that large dune field to the south. The meandering yellow line indicates Curiosity’s actual route. The straight yellow lines indicates I think the area covered by the mosaic above. As you can see, since the end of May they have quickly returned to their planned route. Note also that the dune field extends about twice the distance beyond the eastern edge of this overview map.

The next big goal when they reach that sulfate-bearing unit will be to not only study it but to also study a recurring slope lineae on the slopes of that unit, a streak that darkens and lightens seasonally that might be caused by seeping brine from below. Because the sulfate unit and the linneae are both major geological goals, they are going to be moving fast to get there. I am sure they will periodically stop to do geology, but I think the travel will be, as it has been for the past month, quick-paced.

Once the rover gets to the sulfate unit, Curiosity will at last have actually reached the base of Mount Sharp. Up until now it has been traveling first in the surrounding plains, then in the mountain’s foothills. The terrain will get much rougher and be far more spectacular, as Curiosity will be entering canyons as it begins to climb the mountain itself.

Air Force looking to buy flying cars

The Air Force is looking to buy commercially-made flying cars designed using drone technology.

The advantages of vertical landing and take-off are many. For example, they would not need runways that are targets and must be defended. They can take off and land practically anywhere. In the past however the cost and practicality of making an airplane do this has been a major obstacle.

Normally I would see an article like this in the military press as simply a lobbying effort by a government agency to garner a bigger budget for itself. That still might be the case, but this part of the Air Force’s proposal stood out:

Because a key aim of Agility Prime is to work with commercial industry, there are currently no plans to modify the design of the orbs for military use or arm them for strike missions. “We will not put any military unique requirements on them because the last thing you want to hear as a commercial backer of one of these companies is that the military is coming in and changing a vehicle away from a type that would have domestic use,” Roper said. “We want to create a supply chain in the U.S. that is dual commercial and military.”

In other words, the Air Force wants to buy these unmodified from commercial civilian companies, both to save money and speed utilization. They have issued the general specs for the two types of vehicles they want (one larger than the other) and are accepting bids from private companies for delivery.

If true and if the Air Force sticks to this policy (which is essentially the approach I advocated for NASA in my 2017 policy paper Capitalism in Space), they hope to have these vehicles flying operationally by 2023, and at a cost of only “a few hundred thousand dollars to a few million dollars per unit.”

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