Author Archives: Robert Zimmerman

Treasury employee arrested for revealing confidential bank info to press

Working for the Democratic Party: An anti-Trump Treasury employee was arrested today for revealing confidential bank info to press.

Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, 40, a senior official at the department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), is accused of illegally giving a reporter bank reports documenting several suspicious financial transactions, known as Suspicious Activity Reports (“SARs”), from October 2017 to the present. The financial transactions involved Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort, campaign official Richard Gates, accused Russian agent Maria Butina and the Russian Embassy, federal law enforcement officials said Wednesday.

An unidentified, higher-ranking Treasury colleague was cited in court papers as a co-conspirator with Edwards, but was not charged. That person, identified only as an “associate director” at FinCEN to whom Edwards reported, exchanged more than 300 messages with a reporter via an encrypted messaging application. [emphasis mine]

I wonder why this higher-ranking has not been arrested and charged as well.

The article also includes details about other anti-Trump officials now in trouble, including the former security director for the Senate Intelligence Committee, who pleaded guilty in connection with his leaking of national security information to the press, as well as recent revelations about the “leak strategy” of anti-FBI officials.

Share

Moon Express and Canada cement business relationship

Capitalism in space: Moon Express today signed deals with seven Canadian companies, further cementing an agreement with that country’s space agency to work together to provide Canada with a lunar mission capability.

The news comes just two weeks after Moon Express had signed an MOU with the Canadian Space Agency whereby “the CSA and Moon Express will explore the possibilities of using Moon Express lunar orbiter and lander systems for potential CSA payloads and will promote possibilities for collaboration between Moon Express and the Canadian space industry and academia.”

Moon Express was co-founded by Canadian Bob Richards who has strong ties to Canada’s space sector having started his career in Canada. Richards moved to the U.S. to pursue his dream of building a company that would be an enabler for a sustained economy based on lunar resources.

Moon Express has been working for some time on developing relationships and laying the necessary groundwork, to expand into Canada. More agreements could come as result of today’s Industry Day.

The company has not said when the first mission will fly, though there are hints they are aiming for late 2019 or early 2020.

These deals however point to the future of planetary exploration. Rather than create a big lumbering space program, Canada is hiring a private company to build its lunar probe so that it gets it quickly and for little cost. I expect other nations will soon follow.

Share

U.S. astronaut describes Soyuz launch failure

Link here. There really isn’t any news here, but it is definitely interesting to read his perspective on the experience of returning to Earth during a launch abort. Up until now, the only humans to have experienced this have been Russians.

This article provides more info.

Meanwhile the Russians have made it clear that this crew will fly in the spring of 2019. Both were trained to do specific spacewalks on ISS, and the Russians think it wise to use that training.

Share

Rocket Lab chooses Wallops as first U.S. launch site

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab has picked the spaceport at Wallops in Virginia as its first U.S. launch site.

The company is planning its first launch of Electron from U.S. soil and its Wallops facility for Quarter 3 of 2019, less than a year from today’s announcement. “We needed to get pad and support up quickly, and Wallops met the bill completely for what we needed to achieve in this time,” said Mr. Beck to NASASpaceflight.

Overall, the Wallops launch pad, known as Launch Complex 2 (LC-2), will be Rocket Lab’s second dedicated launch complex, will be capable of supporting monthly orbital launches, and is designed to serve U.S. government and commercial missions. The site will bring Rocket Lab’s global launch availability across two launch complexes to more than 130 missions per year.

It really does appear that once they successfully complete their next two launches in November and December, the company will be aiming to meet a launch cadence of at least one orbital launch per week.

Share

A new virus that mimics polio appears in U.S.

Not good: Several dozen children in twenty-two U.S. states have been struck by a new polio-like virus that causes paralysis.

Sixty-two AFM cases in 22 states have been confirmed in recent weeks, scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta said at a news conference today; 65 more are under investigation.

Similar waves occurred in 2014 and 2016, and scientists have fingered a relative of the poliovirus, called enterovirus D68 (EV-D68), as a possible culprit. But the evidence isn’t conclusive yet, and it’s unclear why the virus would only paralyze a small minority of children it infects. Solving these mysteries is urgent because the paralysis can be severe and irreversible. AFM is “pretty rare, but it’s pretty devastating,” says Priya Duggal, a genetic epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, who’s studying whether some patients may have a genetic vulnerability to the virus. “And it appears that it’s cyclical. It’s not going away.”

It appears that in most cases the virus simply causes cold-like symptoms that go away like a cold. In a few cases, however, it produces paralysis.

Share

Atlas 5 launches Air Force military satellite

ULA successfully launched an Air Force military satellite early today using its Atlas 5 rocket.

You can watch the launch at the link.

The leaders in the 2018 launch race:

28 China
17 SpaceX
8 Russia
8 ULA
6 Europe (Arianespace)

China leads the U.S. in the national rankings 28 to 26. Note that Russia has now been tied by ULA in the number of successful launches this year, and has a chance of topping Russia before by year’s end, a possibility that would have been impossible only a few years ago. The Russian launch count has crashed in the past four years. Nor is Russia alone in this. ULA’s numbers have also slumped slightly. Prior to last year, ULA routinely had had a dozen launch per year. It only had 8 launches last year, and it does not look like it will a dozen again in 2018.

This slump is not because of an overall slump in launches. It is because SpaceX has grabbed the commercial market with its less expensive rockets.

Share

Gerry & Pacemakers – Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying

An evening pause: I haven’t posted this band since 2011. Time to do it again. The sound is the from the studio recording, sync’d to this stage performance. I’d rather have seen the live version, but I suspect the sound quality was so poor this is a better choice.

Hat tip Jim Mallamace.

Share

Mini-drones for the military

A new drone design for the military would allow vehicles to carry four miniature helicopter camera drones, capable of flying two at a time.

The Black Hornet drone feels like a movie prop. Roughly the size and weight of a sparrow, the robotic scout helicopter has already seen use with British special forces. At the 2018 Association of the United States Army exposition in Washington, D.C., Black Hornet-maker FLIR showed off the latest way to carry the drone into combat: a miniature hanger for four drones, roughly the size of a large breadbox. It’s called the Vehicle Reconnaissance System.

Like a description from a lost G.I. Joe catalog, the VRS fits four helicopters into chambers known as cassettes. The box containing cartridges full of robots can be mounted on vehicles, including people-transporting machines and also uncrewed ground vehicles. That’s right, this is a box full of robots that can go on a robot and launch more robots. It’s quite the exhibit of remote warfare.

The goal is to provide the soldier in the vehicle a way to gain information about nearby enemy positions from the air, in real time.

What is intriguing, and somewhat scary about this, is that it prefigures a time when many tiny drones will be instantly deployable, but with killing capabilities, not simply camera.

Share

Another Zimmerman op-ed: Congress Needs To Stop Pouring Money Into NASA’s Contractor Black Hole

The Federalist yesterday published an op-ed by myself, focused entirely on the disaster that is big government space, both here and in Russia: Congress Needs To Stop Pouring Money Into NASA’s Contractor Black Hole. Key section, beginning with my description of SLS:

That’s approximately $40 billion over 20 years to launch a single manned mission, in an Apollo-style capsule on a Saturn-type rocket, reusing (supposedly to save money) already built shuttle engines and upgraded shuttle solid rocket boosters. I repeat: It will take NASA more than 20 years and $40 billion to fly one manned mission on SLS. And that’s not including the almost $18 billion NASA will spend to build the Orion capsule that will fly on that mission. Does no one in Congress and in the Trump administration see anything wrong here?

The story gets worse. In September, NASA released what it has dubbed its “National Space Exploration Campaign Report,” a 21-page document outlining the agency’s plans for deep space exploration through 2030, using SLS and Orion as well as a new NASA boondoggle to be built in lunar orbit, dubbed the Gateway. To label this road map a joke would be an insult to comedians everywhere. It lays out deadlines and budgets that are so vague and ambiguous that the project could take a half century, cost a trillion, and still have never launched.
Lawmakers Need to Wise Up to This Black Hole

The worse part of this sad story is that it appears Congress and the Trump administration are buying into it, pushed partly by heavy lobbying by the big space companies — Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman — that hope to get the contracts to build it. It must be understood, however, that the companies advocating Gateway and all future big space projects using SLS and Orion don’t really care if anything ever actually gets built. Like SLS and Orion, what they really want is endless appropriations and cost-plus contracts that will funnel money to them endlessly, even as the launch dates of their projects recede forever into the future.

Nor are Congress and the bureaucracies in NASA and the executive branch interested in accomplishing anything. All Congress wants is to be able to claim they brought jobs to their districts and states, even if those jobs never accomplish anything at all and waste the taxpayers’ money. The bureaucrats merely want to perpetuate their jobs, building empires in fancy Washington offices while attending lots of conferences on the taxpayers’s dime.

None of them care about the national interest. Their goal is to line their pockets, regardless of the harm it does the United States. This must change. If Trump truly wants to empty the swamp, he has to stop funding such boondoggles. This does not mean that Americans should cede the future exploration of space to China and others, but we can clearly do this in a better and smarter way.

Read it all.

Share

Paul Allen dead at 65

Paul Allen of Microsoft fame and the man behind Stratolaunch passed away today at the age of 65.

Allen ranked among the world’s wealthiest individuals. As of Monday afternoon, he ranked 44th on Forbes’ 2018 list of billionaires with an estimated net worth of more than $20 billion.

Through Vulcan, Allen’s network of philanthropic efforts and organizations, the Microsoft co-founder supported research in artificial intelligence and new frontier technologies. The group also invested in Seattle’s cultural institutions and the revitalization of parts of the city.

What this will mean for Stratolaunch of course cannot be predicted. Its design — using a giant airplane to air-launch payloads into orbit — is somewhat radical, a fact that generally requires the will and power of a single individual to force it to fruition. Allen’s absence here could make the completion of their effort much more difficult.

Share

China launches two GPS-style satellites

In launching two more GPS-style satellites with its Long March 3B rocket, China today also did their first test of equipment to be used in a parachute system designed to recover the rocket’s first stage.

The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) confirmed the mission to be a success four hours later, following direct insertion of the Beidou-3 satellites into their intended medium Earth orbits (MEO).

The China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) which developed the Long March 3B rocket reported that data logging and active tracking equipment was placed aboard for tests to determine to altitude and timing for future parachute landings for boosters.

The trial phase of parachute booster landings is expected in 2019. Expended rocket boosters frequently land in or near populated areas downrange of Xichang.

It is about time. The article also included a short video showing the booster wreakage that landed near a town during a previous launch. For any nation to allow rocket stages crashing near habitable areas speaks poorly of that nation.

The leaders in the 2018 launch race:

28 China
17 SpaceX
8 Russia
7 ULA
6 Europe (Arianespace)

In the national rankings China leads the U.S. now 28 to 25. I must add that with every launch China is setting a new record for itself in its annual totals. Previously its highest total of launches in a year had been 20.

Share

Giant planets around young star defy model predictions

The uncertainty of science: The recent discovery of four Saturn/Jupiter-sized planets orbiting a star only about two million years old throws a wrench into all existing solar system formation theories.

The star, CI Tau, is located about 500 light years away in a highly-productive stellar ‘nursery’ region of the galaxy. Its four planets differ greatly in their orbits: the closest (the hot Jupiter) is within the equivalent of the orbit of Mercury, while the farthest orbits at a distance more than three times greater than that of Neptune. The two outer planets are about the mass of Saturn, while the two inner planets are respectively around one and 10 times the mass of Jupiter.

The discovery raises many questions for astronomers. Around 1% of stars host hot Jupiters, but most of the known hot Jupiters are hundreds of times older than CI Tau. “It is currently impossible to say whether the extreme planetary architecture seen in CI Tau is common in hot Jupiter systems because the way that these sibling planets were detected – through their effect on the protoplanetary disc – would not work in older systems which no longer have a protoplanetary disc,” said Professor Cathie Clarke from Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy, the study’s first author.

According to the researchers, it is also unclear whether the sibling planets played a role in driving the innermost planet into its ultra-close orbit, and whether this is a mechanism that works in making hot Jupiters in general. And a further mystery is how the outer two planets formed at all.

“Planet formation models tend to focus on being able to make the types of planets that have been observed already, so new discoveries don’t necessarily fit the models,” said Clarke. “Saturn mass planets are supposed to form by first accumulating a solid core and then pulling in a layer of gas on top, but these processes are supposed to be very slow at large distances from the star. Most models will struggle to make planets of this mass at this distance.” [emphasis mine]

In other words, the present models are absurdly premature. We simply don’t know enough to formulate any theory that can be taken seriously.

This is not to say that models shouldn’t be formulated, only to emphasize that no one should consider them predictive of any part of reality. They give astronomers some guidance on what to look for, but if they take them too seriously they might not look in the right places.

Share

Hayabusa-2 will do two touchdown rehearsals prior to landing in January

In order to test whether they can bring Hayabusa-2 down to the surface within a circle only 20 meters (65 feet) across (the largest smooth landing area they have found so far on Ryugu), their engineering team has decided to first do two more touchdown rehearsals in October.

In the area where the spacecraft will touchdown, it is dangerous to have boulders with a height greater than about 50cm. Since the length of the sampler horn is about 1m and the spacecraft will be to be slightly inclined during the touchdown, there is a possibility that if a boulder with a height above about 50cm is present, it will strike the main body of the spacecraft or the solar panels. Viewed from the position in Figure 2, there is no boulder larger than 50cm in the area L08-B. L08-B is the widest part within all the candidate sites without a boulder larger than 50cm.

The difficulty is that area L08-B is only about 20m in diameter. Originally, it was assumed that a safe region for touchdown would be a flat area with a radius of about 50m (100m in diameter). This has now become a radius of just 10m; a fairly severe constraint. On the other hand, during the descent to an altitude of about 50m during the MINERVA-II1 and MASCOT separation operations, we were able to confirm that the spacecraft can be guided within a position accuracy of about 10m for a height 50m above the surface of Ryugu (Figure 3). This is a promising feature for touchdown.

Although the spacecraft can be controlled with a position error of 10m at an altitude down to 50m, there remains the question of whether this accuracy can be retained as the spacecraft descends to the surface. This must be confirmed before touchdown operations. Therefore, the touchdown itself will be postponed until next year, during which time we will have two touchdown rehearsals; TD1-R1-A and TD1-R3.

After the rehearsals in October they must wait until January to do the landing because in November and December the sun will be in-between the Earth and the spacecraft, making operations more difficult. They want to also use this time to review the results of the rehearsals to better prepare for the January landing.

Share

Curiosity sends down images for the first time in weeks

Good news! For the first time since September 15 Curiosity has sent back images.

The last raw images were received on Sol 2171, equivalent to September 15. Today’s images (Sol 2199) from the front and rear hazard cameras and the two navigation cameras suggest that the engineers have solved the computer issues that prevented the rover from sending its science data to Earth.

No press release has yet been released, but I suspect we shall see something shortly.

Share

Updates on Russian investigation of Soyuz launch failure

Three stories from Russia today on the investigation into last week’s launch failure during a Soyuz launch to ISS.

The first two simply outline additional changes in the Russian upcoming Soyuz launch forced upon them by the failure. It is already clear that the December launch of a new crew will be delayed also.

The third story has one piece of information that I think is intriguing:

The emergency commission looks into the Baikonur spaceport staff who worked on the Soyuz-FG carrier rocket preparing it for the launch with the manned capsule Soyuz MS-10 atop, but the liftoff ended up in a failure, a source said.

“Some members of the emergency commission are staying at the Baikonur Cosmodrome to investigate the circumstances of the failure of the Soyuz-FG rocket. They will have to check all the employees who were working on the rocket,” he said.

That they specifically mention the investigation of the employees who worked on both the rocket and the capsule suggests that they are seriously considering the possibility that one of those individuals might be the cause of both this failure as well as the drill hole in the Soyuz capsule now at ISS.

Nor can anyone blame them. The evidence so far surrounding the drill hole suggests it was done when the capsule was being prepared for launch at Baikonur. If there is an individual working there with an animus toward the Russian government or its space program, they might have possibility done something to this rocket as well.

Share

The Facebook political purge

Link here. The article provides a list of almost 200 of the over 800 political pages that Facebook purged from their site on October 11.

A quick scan of those pages undeniably suggests they are almost all conservative or religious. Some might have been spam distributors, but many were clearly not, especially those with followers of one million and more.

It is Facebook’s right to decide who gets to use their platform. It is everyone else’s right to decide whether they wish to support Facebook. This is another one of many reasons to dump them, and go elsewhere.

This action also confirms my decision to refuse to use Facebook. I don’t deal with unethical companies or organizations (even if it costs me money). And what makes Facebook unethical here is their dishonesty. They claim to be non-partisan, that they are not a Democratic Party leftist operation. Meanwhile, they continually prove by their actions, such as this, that they are lying and that their agenda is to help get Democrats elected and to further leftist policy, while squelching the speech of their opponents.

Life is too valuable for me to make deals with the devil. If it means I will have 30 pieces of silver less in my bank, I think that is a very good deal.

Share

Trump scraps academic EPA air pollution panel

The head of EPA in the Trump administration has scrapped the academic EPA air pollution panel that has dominated the agency’s air quality control standards for decades.

Andrew Wheeler, the acting chief of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), yesterday fired a panel of scientific experts charged with assisting the agency’s latest review of air quality standards for particulate matter. He also scrapped plans to form a similar advisory panel to aid in a recently launched assessment of the ground-level ozone limits.

Those steps, coupled with Wheeler’s previously announced decision to concentrate authority in a seven-member committee made up mostly of his appointees, quickly sparked objections that the agency is intent on skewing the outcome of those reviews in favor of industry.

…Under the Clean Air Act, EPA is supposed to review the adequacy of the standards for particulate matter, ozone and four other common pollutants every 5 years with help from outside experts. While the seven-member committee, officially known as the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC), has the lead in the process, the [scrapped] review panels are supposed to provide additional know-how in assessing the relevant scientific literature, which can span a variety of academic disciplines.

Essentially the acting administrator is continuing the effort of the former EPA head, Scott Pruitt, to de-emphasize the domination of the leftist academic community in these matters. Naturally, the academics are screaming, but then, screaming has recently become the left’s only debating point in all matters of national discussion.

Share

Chandra goes into safe mode

When it rains it pours: The Chandra X-ray Observatory went into into safe mode on October 10 for reasons that are either not yet understood or have not yet been revealed.

Chandra, Spitzer, and Hubble are the three remaining of the original four great observatories proposed in the late 1980s, with the Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory the fourth. Compton was de-orbited in 2000. Spitzer’s infrared observational capabilities became limited when its cryogenic cooling gas became exhaused in 2009.

Hubble and now Chandra are both in safe mode, leaving astronomy badly crippled.

This situation is actually the fault of the astronomical community, which in the early 2000s put all its money behind the James Webb Space Telescope, leaving little for the construction of replacement space telescopes for either Hubble or Chandra. In addition, the astronomical community has continued to put is money behind similar big, expensive, and giant projects like Webb, pushing for WFIRST with its 2011 decadal survey. Like Webb, WFIRST will cost billions and take almost a decade to build and launch, assuming there are no delays.

Meanwhile, the workhorses in orbit are failing one by one.

Share

Update on Hubble: no real news

NASA today released an update on the effort to bring the Hubble Space Telescope out of safe mode and back to full operation.

The only new information they really provide is what they will do, depending on whether they can fix the back up gyroscope or not.

If the team is successful in solving the problem, Hubble will return to normal, three-gyro operations. If it is not, the spacecraft will be configured for one-gyro operations, which will still provide excellent science well into the 2020s, enabling it to work alongside the James Webb Space Telescope and continue groundbreaking science.

In other words, if they cannot find a way to get this third gyro functioning properly, they will shut down one of the two remaining working gyros so that it can operate as a backup, and operate the telescope on one gyroscope.

I find the last section of the quote above very amusing, in a dark sort of way. Not only does NASA rationalize the sad loss of Hubble’s ability to take sharp images, it tries to rationalize the decade-long delays it has experienced building the James Webb Space Telescope. Webb was supposed to have been launched in 2011. It should have been up there already, working alongside Hubble for the past seven years.

Now, the best we can hope for is that Webb will finally reach space while Hubble is still functioning, in a crippled condition. I would not be surprised however if Webb is further delayed, and Hubble is gone before it gets into space.

Share

Branson suspends negotiations with Saudi Arabia

Virgin Group chairman Richard Branson today announced that he is suspending negotiations with Saudi Arabia’s investment funds because of their involvement in the disappearance and possible murder of a journalist in the Saudi consulate in Turkey.

“What has reportedly happened in Turkey around the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, if proved true, would clearly change the ability of any of us in the West to do business with the Saudi government,” Branson said in a statement.

It was expected that Saudi Arabia was going to invest about a billion dollars in Branson’s space companies, Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit.

Branson has also suspended his directorship in two Saudi tourism projects.

I must wonder if what really has happened is that the Saudi’s were becoming reluctant to commit funds to Branson because of the lack of success at Virgin Galactic, and Branson is therefore providing himself cover for the failure of the negotiations by claiming it was he that pulled out, for different reasons.

At the same time, what happened to Khashoggi might justify Branson’s actions.

He had an appointment at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to collect some documents he needed to marry his Turkish fiancee — a certificate showing that he was divorced from his first wife. He entered the consulate on Oct. 2 at 1:14 p.m., asking his fiancee to wait outside for him. She did. Until 2 a.m. He never emerged.

A number of news outlets, citing Turkish sources, are reporting that Jamal Khashoggi, the former editor of a Saudi newspaper, regime critic and Washington Post contributor, was murdered. The New York Times quoted sources who said that 15 Saudi agents from the security services, including one autopsy expert, entered Turkey that same day on two chartered flights. They departed that evening. The Saudis claim that Khashoggi left the consulate an hour after he arrived and have no idea what became of him. The Turks would like to send a forensic team inside, but the Saudis have refused.

Share
1 2 3 630