Author Archives: Robert Zimmerman

Justice expands investigation into coup attempt against Trump

The Justice Department investigation by John Durham into the Obama-initiated spying on the Trump campaign, followed by an effort to frame Trump with the fake accusation that he colluded with the Russians, has now been expanded.

Fox News previously reported that Durham would be reviewing the days leading up to the 2016 election and through the inauguration.

However, based on what he has been finding, Durham has expanded his investigation adding agents and resources, the senior administration officials said. The timeline has grown from the beginning of the probe through the election and now has included a post-election timeline through the spring of 2017, up to when Robert Mueller was named special counsel.

Meanwhile, the Democrats effort to frame Trump again, this time in connection with his phone call with the head of Ukraine, continues to unravel. Some recent stories:

As I noted in my October 1 essay on the fake nature of the Democrat’s impeachment effort, this mirrors the situation with their fake Russian-collusion accusations. As more evidence is uncovered the more untrustworthy those accusations appear.

I remain skeptical at the seriousness of the Trump Justice Department’s new investigation however. The MO of the Washington Republican crowd so far has been to gather information that shows the corruption within the federal government, release it, and then do nothing. Unless they move forward with actual indictments this will all be another variation of failure theater.

UPDATE: This article, Who Does the Whistleblower Know?, provides a nice timeline and summary of what we presently know, all of which appear to point to real corruption on the part of both Joe Biden and the Democrats in Congress and the executive bureaucracy.

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Musk confirms: Dragon launch abort test in about 10 weeks

Captalism in space: According to a series of tweets by SpaceX head Elon Musk today, the company now expects they will be ready to fly their launch abort test of their Dragon capsule in about ten weeks, about the third week in December.

Musk noted that they need only do a static fire test and then “reconfigure for flight.”

Expect more detailed information at tomorrow’s press event at SpaceX in California with both Musk and NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine.

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First images from Chandrayaan-2

One of Chandrayaan-2's first hi-res images
Click for the full image.

India has released the first image from the high resolution camera on its Chandrayaan-2 lunar orbiter.

The image on the right, cropped to post here, is from that image and shows objects as small as 10 inches across, which is better than the 20 inch resolution obtained by the U.S.’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). Depending on orbit, they should therefore eventually be able to image their crashed Vikram lander with more detail. It also means they can supplement and improve on data from LRO, a significant achievement for India.

Additionally they report that all instruments on board are functioning normally.

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Proton flies last commercial mission

Scheduled for retirement by Russia and having its entire commercial business taken by SpaceX, Russia’s Proton rocket today successfully launched its last commercial mission.

The primary payload was a European communications satellite. The secondary payload is more significant as it is Northrop Grumman’s Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV-1), designed to grab defunct satellites that are out of fuel and bring them back to life using its own fuel and engines.

The docking mechanism of the MEV spacecraft allows it to link up with a spacecraft which carries no specialized rendezvous and docking hardware. According to Northrop Grumman, MEV, can use its proximity sensors and docking hardware to reliably attach itself to 80 percent of typical satellites deployed in geostationary orbit. The developer also said that after completing the work assisting the first spacecraft, the MEV vehicle could be undocked and moved multiple times during its more than 15-year operational life span to support satellites from other customers.

They plan to revive one of Intelsat’s satellites and operate it for five years.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

19 China
17 Russia
10 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)

The U.S. and China remain tied at 19 in the national rankings.

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Boeing to buy $20 million minority stake in Virgin Galactic

HorizonX, a venture capital division of Boeing, today announced that it will purchase a $20 million minority stake in Virgini Galactic once the company goes public later this year.

Boeing’s venture arm HorizonX announced on Tuesday it will invest $20 million in Sir Richard Branson’s space tourism company Virgin Galactic to help develop the technologies needed to make hypersonic air travel possible one day.

All I can say is I do not understand how Richard Branson can fool so many people for so long for so much, while delivering practically nothing.

Hat tip Robert Pratt of Pratt on Texas.

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Roger Hodgson – The Logical Song

An evening pause: Hat tip to Edward Thelen, who continues to be the one evening pause suggester who tries to find sources other than youtube. Competition is a good thing, and Google and youtube need some competition.

Unfortunately, there was no way to embed the video shown at the Brighteon link, so sadly I still had to use youtube.

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World’s largest camera lens arrives safely for assembly into LSST

Link here. The lens will be part of the camera used in the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), planned for first light in Chile in 2021, and the video at the link showed the moment they removed the shipping container to inspect the lens to make sure it wasn’t damaged during transport.

The lens will next be installed inside the 3.2 gigapixel camera that will be used by LSST, which will do the following:

The LSST will live on a mountain in Chile, where it will use a 3.2-gigapixel camera and some massive optics to capture a 15-second exposure of the night sky every 20 seconds. At this rate, the LSST will be able to image the entire visible southern sky every few nights.

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I have embedded the video below the fold. This five foot diameter lens is quite astonishing, though the technology that produced it is merely a variation of the same engineering that now routinely produces telescope mirrors 26 feet across.

Hat tip Mike Nelson.
» Read more

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Swirls and layers in Martian depression

Close-up on swirls and layers

Context of depressions in Columbus Crater
Click for full resolution image.

Cool image time! The southern highlands of Mars is littered with numerous craters, making it look from a distance not unlike the Moon. A closer inspection of each crater and feature, however has consistently revealed a much more complex history than seen on the Moon, with the origins of many features often difficult to explain.

The two images on the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, shows one such feature in the floor of one southern highlands crater, dubbed Columbus Crater. The top image is a close-up of the area shown by the box in the bottom image.

The uncaptioned full photograph was taken on May 20, 2019 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and was simply titled “Depression in Columbus Crater.” Since the photo included two large depressions, as shown in the wider view in the bottom image, I’m not sure which depression this title refers. In both cases the features do not appear to be impact craters. The top depression is far too irregular, while both do not have the upraised rims that are found on most impact craters.

I have zoomed into the top depression because of its many swirls and layers. On Earth such terrain is usually caused by either water or wind erosion, slowly carving a smooth path across multiple geological layers. Here, there is no obvious evidence of any flows in any direction. Something ate out the material in this depression, exposing the many layers, but what is not clear.

The lower depression reminds me of sinkholes on Earth, where the ground is subsiding into a void below ground The same process could have also formed the top depression.

The surrounding terrain is equally baffling, resembling the eroded surface of an ice block that has been sprayed with warm water. In fact, the entire floor of Columbus Crater appears to have intrigued planetary scientists, as they have requested a lot of images of it from MRO. So far they do not have enough of these images to produce a full map. Since the terrain appears to change drastically over short distances, it is therefore hard to fit the geology of each image together. The overall context is missing.

When I first saw this image I tried to reach the scientist who requested it in the hope he might provide me a more nuanced explanation of what we see here, but despite repeated requests he never responded. Therefore let me propose one theory, based on my limited knowledge of Martian geology.
» Read more

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UN faces financial shortfall

My heart bleeds: The head of the UN today announced that it faces a financial shortfall in October that might force it to cut its bloated budget and reduce the number of posh conferences it holds.

The United Nations (UN) is running a deficit of $230 million, Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Monday, and may run out of money by the end of October.

In a letter intended for the 37,000 employees at the UN secretariat and obtained by AFP, Guterres said unspecified “additional stop-gap measures” would have to be taken to ensure salaries and entitlements are paid. “Member States have paid only 70 per cent of the total amount needed for our regular budget operations in 2019. This translates into a cash shortage of $230 million at the end of September. We run the risk of depleting our backup liquidity reserves by the end of the month,” he wrote.

To cut costs, Guterres mentioned postponing conferences and meetings and reducing services, while also restricting official travel to only essential activities and taking measures to save energy.

For a short but detailed explanation of the present status of the U.S. policy and politics towards funding the U.N., see this Congressional Research document [pdf]. It appears that the effort by the Trump administration to stop funding certain UN operations, including Palestinian terrorist organizations, might be a major contributing factor to this shortfall.

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Russia strips Sea Launch platform of foreign equipment

In an effort to get the U.S. government to allow them to transport the Sea Launch platform from California to a Russia port in the far east, the Russians have now stripped the platform of all Boeing and Ukrainian equipment.

Originally built by a partnership of Russia, Ukraine, and Boeing, the platform is supposedly now owned by S7, a Russian airline company, but in truth it is controlled entirely by the Russian government, which wishes to refit it to launch the new Soyuz-5 rocket they are now developing.

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Bridenstine to hold press event at SpaceX on Oct 10

NASA yesterday announced that its administrator Jim Bridenstine will hold a press event with Elon Musk at SpaceX headquarters this coming Thursday, October 10.

Also at this event will be the two astronauts who have been assigned to fly on the first demo mission of SpaceX’s manned Dragon capsule.

I am speculating, but I suspect that they will be announcing the launch schedule for both this manned mission as well the launch abort test that must precede it.

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Hetty & the Jazzato Band – Tu Vuo’ Fa’ L’Americano

An evening pause: The title means “You Want to Be American”. The song was written in 1956, and is “about an Italian who affects a contemporary American lifestyle, drinking whisky and soda, dancing to rock ‘n roll, playing baseball and smoking Camel cigarettes, but who still depends on his parents for money.”

Hat tip Tom Biggar.

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Sunspot update Sept 2019:
The blankest Sun in decades

With the release yesterday by NOAA of its September update of its graph showing the long term sunspot activity of the Sun, we find ourselves in what might be the longest stretch of sunspot inactivity in decades, part of what might become the most inactive solar minimum in centuries.

In the last four months the Sun has produced practically no sunspots. There were two in June, two in July, and one in August. The September graph, posted below with additional annotations by me to give it context, shows that the past month was as weak as August, with only one sunspot again.

September 2019 sunspot activity

The graph above has been modified to show the predictions of the solar science community for the previous solar maximum. The green curves show the community’s two original predictions from April 2007, with half the scientists predicting a very strong maximum and half predicting a weak one. The red curve is their revised May 2009 prediction, extended in November 2018 four years into the future.

The 2008-2009 solar minimum was one of the deepest and longest ever recorded. Yet, it never produced a stretch of four months with so few sunspots, as shown in the graph above. Moreover, during that minimum the Sun was blank 71% of the time in 2008 and 73% of the time in 2009 (a record). Right now, with almost three months to go in 2019, the Sun has already been blank 73% of time, with every indication that it will top that number before the year is out.

Furthermore, the trend continues to suggest we are heading for a period of very few sunspots. Though one of the six sunspots seen since June 1 had a polarity that belonged to the next solar cycle, we have seen no further such next-cycle sunspots since July. There was one active region on October 6 with a next solar cycle polarity, but it was never able to gather enough magnetic energy to mature into a sunspot.

As I noted in my July 8 sunspot update,
» Read more

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Astronomers find 20 more moons orbiting Saturn

Astronomers have discovered an additional twenty moons orbiting Saturn, bringing the total known to 82, three more than the 79 moons known to circle Jupiter.

Each of the newly discovered moons is about five kilometers, or three miles, in diameter. Seventeen of them orbit the planet backwards, or in a retrograde direction, meaning their movement is opposite of the planet’s rotation around its axis. The other three moons orbit in the prograde—the same direction as Saturn rotates.

Two of the prograde moons are closer to the planet and take about two years to travel once around Saturn. The more-distant retrograde moons and one of the prograde moons each take more than three years to complete an orbit.

The astronomers have also created a contest allowing the public to help name these new moons.

I will make one prediction: They are going to find many more.

In fact, Saturn’s rings and its numerous moons raise the question of what defines a moon. At present, a moon is defined as any object orbiting a planet, regardless of size. With Saturn’s rings however we have millions of objects orbiting that planet, many very tiny. It seems we have never put a size limit on the definition of a moon, and really need to.

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The drying out of Mars

Edge of wash
The Murray formation as seen in 2017

A new paper based on data gathered by the rover Curiosity in 2017 when it was lower on the slopes of Mount Sharp, as well as data obtained more recently at higher elevations, has confirmed that the past Martian environment of Gale Crater was wetter, and that deeper lakes formed lower down, as one would expect.

In 2017 Curiosity was traveling through a geological layer dubbed the Murray formation. It has since climbed upward through the hematite formation forming a ridge the scientists dubbed Vera Rubin Ridge to reach the clay formation, where the rover presently sits. Above it lies the sulfate-bearing unit, where the terrain begins to be get steeper with many very dramatic geological formations.

Looking across the entirety of Curiosity’s journey, which began in 2012, the science team sees a cycle of wet to dry across long timescales on Mars. “As we climb Mount Sharp, we see an overall trend from a wet landscape to a drier one,” said Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. JPL leads the Mars Science Laboratory mission that Curiosity is a part of. “But that trend didn’t necessarily occur in a linear fashion. More likely, it was messy, including drier periods, like what we’re seeing at Sutton Island, followed by wetter periods, like what we’re seeing in the ‘clay-bearing unit’ that Curiosity is exploring today.”

Up until now, the rover has encountered lots of flat sediment layers that had been gently deposited at the bottom of a lake [the Murray Formation]. Team member Chris Fedo, who specializes in the study of sedimentary layers at the University of Tennessee, noted that Curiosity is currently running across large rock structures [Vera Rubin Ridge and the clay formation] that could have formed only in a higher-energy environment such as a windswept area or flowing streams.

Wind or flowing water piles sediment into layers that gradually incline. When they harden into rock, they become large structures similar to “Teal Ridge,” which Curiosity investigated this past summer [in the clay formation]. “Finding inclined layers represents a major change, where the landscape isn’t completely underwater anymore,” said Fedo. “We may have left the era of deep lakes behind.”

Curiosity has already spied more inclined layers in the distant sulfate-bearing unit. The science team plans to drive there in the next couple years and investigate its many rock structures. If they formed in drier conditions that persisted for a long period, that might mean that the clay-bearing unit represents an in-between stage – a gateway to a different era in Gale Crater’s watery history.

None of these results are really surprising. You would expect lakes in the flatter lower elevations and high-energy streams and flows in the steeper higher elevations. Confirming this geology however is a big deal, especially because they are beginning to map out in detail the nature of these geological processes on Mars, an alien world with a different make-up and gravity from Earth.

Below the fold is the Curiosity science teams overall map, released in May 2019, showing the rover’s future route up to that sulfate unit, with additional annotations by me and reduced to post here.
» Read more

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Capsule and booster for SpaceX launch abort test arrives in Florida

Capitalism in space: The Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 first booster for SpaceX’s launch abort test have both arrived in Florida and are being readied for flight.

SpaceX’s launch license suggests this test will occur no earlier than November 1, so it looks like the company is getting close. However, don’t hold your breath about the manned launch. It appears that NASA is still hassling SpaceX “with certification and safety reviews,” which in plain language is mostly paperwork and filling out forms that NASA’s safety panel can then rubber stamp.

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Protests in Iraq

Three days of protests in Iraq have now resulted in the deaths of 60 demonstrators, many shot by sniper fire.

The violence is the worst since Iraq put down an insurgency by Islamic State two years ago. The protests arose in the south, heartland of the Shi’ite majority, but quickly spread, with no formal leadership.

Security and medical sources gave a death toll on Friday of 60 killed across Iraq in three days of unrest, the vast majority of the deaths in the last 24 hours as the violence accelerated.

“It is sorrowful that there have been so many deaths, casualties and destruction,” Iraq’s most influential cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, said in a letter read out by his representative during a sermon. “The government and political sides have not answered the demands of the people to fight corruption or achieved anything on the ground,” said Sistani, who stays out of day-to-day politics but whose word is law for Iraq’s Shi’ites. “Parliament holds the biggest responsibility for what is happening.”

Populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who leads the largest opposition bloc in parliament, ordered his lawmakers to suspend participation in the legislature until the government introduces a program that would serve all Iraqis.

Many government officials and lawmakers are widely accused of siphoning off public money, unfairly awarding contracts in state institutions and other forms of corruption.

It is suggested that the demonstrators are protesting government corruption. This could easily be true, since bribery, payoffs, embezzlement, etc, are very normal in Arab culture. At the same time, the factionalism that divides Iraq has not gone away, and these demonstrations could be a tactic by the opposition to damage the ruling party. Moqtada al-Sadr (who had been nicknamed “Mookie” by U.S. troops) has a long history of using force for his own political gain. I wouldn’t be surprised if he is behind these protests.

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Chinese head in Hong Kong invokes emergency powers

Escalation: Carrie Lam, the Chinese-appointed chief executive in Hong Kong, today invoked emergency powers in her effort to stem the anti-Chinese demonstrations that have been on-going now for four months.

[P]rotesters here can now face criminal penalties of up to than $3,000 and a year’s imprisonment simply for wearing the masks they have used to defend themselves against tear gas and the possibility of arrest.

And, having invoked emergency powers, Lam is now in a position to do almost anything. As the New York Times sums it up: “Under the emergency powers, Mrs. Lam has a wide discretion to create new criminal laws and amend existing laws — all without going through the legislative process.” Newspapers can be censored or shuttered, web sites closed down, property seized, searches carried out galore, and so forth.

It appears that China is beginning the process of cracking down, and will likely do it incrementally, in the hope this will defuse the response, both by the Hong Kong population and the international community.

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Astronomers photograph baby binary system

Baby binary stars dance in joint accretion disk
Click for full image.

Using the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA), astronomers have obtained the first high resolution image of a baby binary system, its two young stars dancing within a joint accretion disk.

Most stars in the universe come in the form of pairs – binaries – or even multiple star systems. Now, the formation of such a binary star system has been observed for the first time with high-resolution ALMA (Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array) images. An international team of astronomers led by the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics targeted the system [BHB2007] 11, the youngest member of a small cluster of young stellar objects in the Barnard 59 core in the Pipe nebula molecular cloud. While previous observations showed an accretion envelope surrounding a circum-binary disk, the new observations now also reveal its inner structure.

“We see two compact sources, that we interpret as circum-stellar disks around the two young stars,” explains Felipe Alves from MPE, who led the study. “The size of each of these disks is similar to the asteroid belt in our Solar System and their separation is 28 times the distance between the Sun and the Earth.” Both proto-stars are surrounded by a circum-binary disk with a total mass of about 80 Jupiter masses, which contains a complex network of dust structures distributed in spiral shapes. The shape of the filaments suggests streamers of in-falling material, which is confirmed by the observation of molecular emission lines.

Why most stars form as binary systems is as yet not understood. This data is a major first step towards figuring this out.

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Weird glacial features in Martian crater

weird glacial feature in crater on Mars
Click for full image.

Cool image time! In reviewing today’s October release of new images from the high resolution camera of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), I came across the strange geology shown in the image to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here.

The uncaptioned image calls these “glacial features within crater.” The crater is located at 35 degrees north latitude in Arabia Terra, one of the more extensive regions of the transition zone between the northern lowlands and the southern highlands. It is also located within the northern band from 30 to 60 degrees latitude where most of the buried Martian glaciers are found.

The most abundant type of buried glaciers are called concentric crater fill (CCF) because they are found inside craters, and often show decay in a concentric manner. This weird feature likely falls into that category, though I would hardly call these glacier features concentric.

I’m not even sure if this is an impact crater. If it is, its rim has been heavily obscured, making it look instead like an irregular depression with one outlet to the south. In fact, I suspect it is possibly one of the lakes that scientists believe pepper this part of Arabia Terra and might have contained liquid water two to three billion years ago. That water would have later frozen, and possibly become covered by dust and debris to protect it.

According to present theories, Mars is presently in a period where its mid-latitude glaciers are shrinking, the water sublimating away and being transported back to its poles. The weird formations here suggest this process. Imagine what happens when you spray warm water on a big block of ice. It dissolves, but randomly to form weird shapes.

In this case the glacier is shrinking randomly where the ice has gotten exposed. In the thin Martian atmosphere, it transitions directly from a solid to a gas, sublimating into the atmosphere to leave these inexplicable shapes.

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Italy buys tickets on Virgin Galactic’s suborbital VSS Unity

Capitalism in space: Italy yesterday announced that it has purchased seats on Virgin Galactic’s suborbital VSS Unity for a research flight sometime in 2020.

The deal marks the first time a government has bought a ride on a private, suborbital space mission to conduct any kind of human-led experiments. The first research flight could take place as early as next year, the company said. “We’re delighted to work with the Italian Air Force to further space-based research and technology development through this historic mission,” Virgin’s chief executive, George Whitesides, said in a news release.

The contract announcement, plus the 2020 mission date, both lend some weight to Virgin Galactic’s recent claims that it will begin commercial operations next year. However, forgive me if I remain skeptical. Virgin Galactic and Richard Branson have been making promises like this for more than a decade, with none ever coming true.

Right now I will only believe it when they actually do it.

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Astronomers roughly map out Andromeda’s history

The uncertainty of science: Astronomers have now roughly mapped out the history of the Andromeda galaxy, identifying two major events whereby it had absorbed nearby dwarf galaxies.

“It’s been known for 10 to 15 years that Andromeda has a vigorous history of accumulating and destroying its neighbours,” Mackey says. In fact, he says, “It seems to have a much more intense history of that than the Milky Way.”

…[New data] “tells us there were two main events that formed the halo of Andromeda,” Mackey says. “One occurred very long ago. The other must have happened relatively recently.”

Not that Andromeda couldn’t also have eaten innumerable smaller galaxies. ”We can’t trace them with galactic clusters, because they didn’t have any to begin with,” Mackey says.

Most of the news reports about this new research have been very overwrought (Andromeda is “violent” and is going to “eat us!”) and very unaware that the assimilation of nearby small galaxies by Andromeda is not really news. Astronomers have known for years that big galaxies like Andromeda and the Milky Way absorb the dwarf galaxies around them. All this story does is postulate a more detailed though very rough timeline.

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Blue Origin hints at the New Shepard ticket price

Capitalism in space: For the first time a Blue Origin official has provided a very rough estimate of what the company will charge per ticket for someone to take a flight in its suborbital New Shepard spacecraft.

But today, Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith hinted at a ballpark figure. “It’s going to not be cheap,” Smith said at TechCrunch’s Disrupt SF conference.

Although he stressed that the price for passengers hasn’t yet been published, he indicated that Blue Origin now has a price range in mind. “Any new technology is never cheap, whether you’re talking about the first IBM computers or what we actually see today,” Smith said. “But it’ll be actually in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for people to go, initially.”

Smith added that over time, “we’re going to get this down to the point where middle-class people” can afford a ticket to space. [emphasis mine]

This price sounds somewhat comparable to the prices being offered by Virgin Galactic. For the first people who had been willing to put down a deposit years ago they will pay $250K. Future buyers will pay more, at least at first.

Of course, neither company appears ready to put passengers on board, though both seem finally close and aiming for commercial flights no later than 2021. (Having said that, please don’t quote me, as I don’t really believe it, based on the endless delays coming from both companies.)

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InSight robot arm to help mole dig

Mole in hole, with robot arm and scoop above
Click for full image.

In their effort to solve the issues that have prevented InSight’s mole from penetrating more than fourteen inches into the ground on Mars, engineers now plan to use the scoop on the robot arm to “pin” the mole up against one wall of the hole so that it will have the friction necessary to drill downward.

The image to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, illustrates what they have been doing and what they will do. Previously the hole was much larger, which prevented the mole from moving downward because it needed the friction from the material around it to hold it in place after each hammer action. (Think of pounding a nail into a wooden board: The nail is gripped tightly by the wood around it as it goes down, so that after each hit it goes further in.)

Since June they have been using the arm and scoop to fill in the hole around the mole. Now I think they intend to bring the scoop around to the mole’s left side, as shown in the image, and pin it upright against the right wall of the hole. When it resumes hammer-drilling they hope both the wall and the scoop will provide enough friction for the mole to drill downward.

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SpaceX wins launch contract for NASA privately-built lunar lander

Intuitive Machines, one of the three companies awarded NASA contracts to build unmanned lunar landers, has awarded SpaceX the launch contract for its planned 2021 mission.

The Houston-based company’s first robotic Nova-C lander will carry up to 220 pounds, or 100 kilograms, of payloads to the moon’s surface. Launch and landing are scheduled for July 2021, according to Trent Martin, vice president of aerospace systems at Intuitive Machines.

Intuitive Machines previously stated plans to launch the first Nova-C mission on a SpaceX rocket, but Martin said in an interview Wednesday that the company held a “fully open competition” among multiple launch service providers before signing a contract for a Falcon 9 launch.

In a statement, Intuitive Machines said it “ultimately selected SpaceX for its proven record of reliability and outstanding value.” The company said the Nova-C mission will take off from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. [emphasis mine]

That “outstanding value” almost certainly was the lowest price by far offered by any rocket company, a reality that continues to bring SpaceX business while taking market share from everyone else.

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Hayabusa-2 releases last mini-lander/rover to Ryugu

The Hayabusa-2 science team today released their last mini-lander, dubbed MINERVA-II2, toward Ryugu, with an expected landing expected no later than October 8.

After MINERVA-II2 lands, it will do the same as the first, operate for about two days on the surface, moving by a series of bounces/rolls and taking close-up pictures of the surface as it does so.

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