Ingenuity’s flight schedule

Ingenuity’s first flight on Mars is now a go for late on April 11th, with the first data arriving in the early hours of April 12th.

The flight plan should that first flight go as expected is as follows:

The helicopter team has 30 Martian sols (roughly 31 days on Earth) to take the first tentative flights. Assuming Ingenuity survives the first flight, it will rest and transmit data before attempting a second flight with lateral movement. Subsequent flights will happen every three or four Martian sols. The fifth flight — if Ingenuity gets that far — will be a chance to really soar. “The probability is it would be unlikely it will land safely because we will go into unsurveyed areas,” Aung said.

They have unlocked and tested the rotary blades, with all working as planned.

To watch JPL will have a live stream which I will embed on Behind the Black when it goes live at about 3:30 am Eastern on the morning of April 12th.

Lava flooded mountains on Mars

Lava-flooded mountains on Mars
Click for full image.

Overview map

Today’s cool image to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, was taken in January 2012 by the context camera of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The location is a small section of the Tartarus mountain range that is cut by the Cerberus Fossae fissures, all located in Elysium Planitia, the large volcanic lava plain that lies between Mars’ big volcanoes. The white cross on the overview map below marks the location of the photo.

I picked this photo because it quickly shows us in one picture many of the typical features one finds in that lava plain.

For example, the distinct fissure that cuts across the mountains near the top of the picture is the northernmost large fissure of Cerberus Fossae. In my initial post on Cerberus I mistaken thought its large and many hundreds of miles-long fissures might be evidence of underground lava tubes. Since then I have learned while the depressions may signal underground voids, they are not a lava tubes but graben, cracks formed by the movement of the terrain on each side. The cracks opened when past volcanic activity caused the ground to swell upward, stretching and splitting it.

The dark splotch in the flat area just south of the fissure remains me of the maculae found in these lava plains to the west of Olympus Mons, splotches that for still undetermined reasons dust devils like to congregate, blowing off the red dust so that the dark basalt lava becomes visible. No high resolution image of this spot has yet been taken, so this is a pure guess on my part.

The mountains near the bottom of the photo illustrate the ancient lava flood that inundated these mountain peaks. The white box shows the area covered by the recent MRO high resolution image that I include below.
» Read more

Biden administration’s proposed ’22 NASA budget boosts spending in all programs

The just released summary budget by the Biden administration for 2022 includes a $1.5 billion increase in NASA’s budget, with increases for every NASA project across the board.

Maybe the only part of this that is surprising is the $325 million increase to the manned Artemis project to return to the Moon. Democrats have traditionally tried to cut such programs, even as they increased the spending in NASA’s climate budget. Though the Biden administration has shown that its priorities remain in line with this by increasing NASA’s climate budget by a hefty $2.3 billion, it did not cut Artemis but increased its budget also.

This budget proposal is also in line with the general trend in Washington, which is to spend money as if it grows on trees. Trump had also increased NASA’s budget, but tried to counter those increases with cuts in other areas, both in NASA and elsewhere. None of his proposed cuts however were ever really approved, as Congress has no interest in cutting anything.

Now that Biden and the bureaucracy is in power the money to them is going to flow like water from a burst dam. Whether the American people actually benefit from this spending remains to be seen. In general, since the 1960s the payoff from increased federal spending has been poor to terrible. I don’t see any reason to expect otherwise, even if the support of manned space exploration by the Biden administration helps fuel a new commercial renaissance in space. That renaissance cannot last if the country that supports it goes bankrupt.

Starship #11 debris fuels environmentalist opposition

They’re coming for you next: The debris that fell as far as five and a half miles away when SpaceX’s Starship #11 prototype exploded just before landing on March 30th has increased the already vocal opposition from various environmentalist activists of the space project.

Environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club, the Friends of Wildlife Corridor, and concerned citizens in the environmental research field have expressed their dissent about the SpaceX activities at Boca Chica.

Chris Sandoval, a science teacher in Brownsville with degrees in Wildlife and Fisheries and Ecotoxicology, has put forth a research paper explaining the possible effects of SpaceX activity in the surrounding natural habitats and economic consequences as a result of their expansion in the region.

Sandoval says research would show that contamination from rocket fluids would harm wildlife in the surrounding area. “Contaminants such as those of hydrocarbons are able to kill aquatic life, both vertebrate and invertebrate, at very low concentrations, especially when it’s in a semi-enclosed area as the Lagunas are,” explained Sandoval.

And yet, none of these claims seem to apply to the government-run spaceports in Florida and California, both of which are also surrounded by wildlife refuges. Why is that? Why do these environmentalists have a particular opposition to the spaceport of this private company, but none or little opposition to the government’s? Could it be that what they really oppose is private enterprise, and are using the environment as a tool to destroy it?

I should add, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that manages this refuge, SpaceX has been working closely with them on mitigating the damage, which in the end I suspect will be quite minimal. The ecology is far stronger than these environmentalist like to portray it. What SpaceX did hardly compares to the damage a hurricane would cause, and that is not an unusual event at this Gulf coast location.

Whether this environmental opposition to SpaceX will result in any major delays or obstacles remains to be seen. Under a Trump administration I would not be too concerned. Under today’s Democratic Party Biden administration, who knows? The tendency of Democrats is to regulate, and to use their power to squeeze others. So far that has not yet happened aggressively in connection to SpaceX, though there have been signs that the Biden administration is interested in increasing the regulatory roadblocks SpaceX must face. We will only have to wait and see.

Above all this increases the urgency for SpaceX to shift as soon as possible its Starship and Super Heavy test flights to the two oil-rigs it purchased and are refitting as floating launch and landing platforms. Once the bulk of those test flights are far away, out in the ocean, the political clout of these protesters will be minimized.

Today’s blacklisted American: Dennis Prager and his organization PragerU

They’re coming for you next: Joining a host of other big tech software companies in their blackballing of the website PragerU, founded by radio host Dennis Prager, the Chinese owned social media ap TikTok placed its own permanent ban on the site this week.

According to PragerU, TikTok claims the ban is because of “‘multiple violations’ of their community guidelines,” a claim that is utter garbage and a lie. PragerU is simply a conservative website touting the traditional American ideals of life, liberty, personal responsibility. Because these are values that the dominant socialist and Marxist culture in both America and China oppose, PragerU must therefore be censored.

Nor has TikTok been alone among the social media giants in its blacklisting of PragerU. Facebook, YouTube, and Spotify have all taken actions to either block the site and its videos or prevent people from finding them. In every case the reasons cited are always either “a mistake” or a claim that PragerU violated some vague unstated “community standard.”

Make no mistake. The people who work for these big social media companies want to squelch any dissent from the modern Marxist agenda, and will do whatever they can to censor that dissent. Expect this blacklisting to get worse in the next few years, especially because these tech bullies are discovering they pay no penalty for doing so.

Starship and Super Heavy update

Link here. The fifteenth Starship prototype has now been moved to its launchpad, which you can see here, while further work continues on Starship prototypes #16-20, the first Super Heavy prototypes, #1 and #2, and the orbital launchpad.

Starship #15 sports many changes in design from #11, and is expected to do its first test flight sometime in the coming weeks. As for the first Super Heavy prototype, it will be used to test some ground operations as well as the prototype itself, on the ground. Prototype #2 will hopefully make the first Super Heavy hop.

The construction of a full orbital launchpad lends great weight to SpaceX’s goal of making the first orbital flight before the end of the year.

Meanwhile, SpaceX has likely tightened security at this Boca Chica facility after a youtuber sneaked onto the site recently and posted video of himself wandering around the base of Starship #11, unmolested. He has since removed that video, but another youtuber grabbed it and has re-posted it for you to watch.

X-37B testing beamed solar power from space

The U.S. Space Force’s X-37B mini-shuttle, presently in orbit for more than 300 days, is testing technology for capturing solar energy and beaming it back to Earth for use in the electricity grid.

Most of the robotic space drone’s duties on this mission, known as Orbital Test Vehicle-6 (OTV-6), are a tightly held secret. However, one known bit of research that the craft carries is the Photovoltaic Radio-frequency Antenna Module Flight Experiment, or PRAM-FX.

PRAM-FX is a Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) experiment that’s investigating transforming solar power into radio frequency (RF) microwave energy. PRAM-FX is a 12-inch (30.5 centimeters) square tile that collects solar energy and converts it to RF power.

Paul Jaffe, the innovation power beaming and space solar portfolio lead at NRL, said that PRAM-FX is not beaming microwave energy anywhere. Rather, the experiment is gauging the performance of sunlight-to-microwave conversion. To be measured is how the PRAM is performing from an efficiency standpoint and also from a thermal performance stance, he said.

The first results from PRAM were released in January, and showed an “8% total module efficiency,” which I think means it was able to beam down 8% of the solar energy that it gathered. This might seem poor, but if solar panels can provide that much of their energy for Earth use the pay-off could be quite large.

A much larger demonstration project will fly three different spacecraft in ’23 and ’24, each testing different components of the system.

Commercial Japanese company about to test orbital space junk removal

Capitalism in space: The private Japanese company Astroscale has placed in orbit a satellite dubbed ELSA-d to test the use of magnets for capturing and removing space junk from orbit.

ELSA-d was launched March 22nd as part of a Soyuz commercial launch.

The ELSA-d mission will test new technology developed by Astroscale, which consists of two satellites stacked together: a 385-lb. (175 kilograms) “servicer” and a 37-lb. (17 kg) “client.” The servicer is designed to safely remove debris from orbit, while the client spacecraft will serve during the demonstration as a piece of debris to be cleaned up. Once the two satellites separate, they will perform a cosmic game of cat and mouse over the next six months.

…Using a series of maneuvers, Astroscale will test the satellite’s ability to snatch debris and bring it down toward the Earth’s atmosphere, where both servicer and debris will burn up. The servicer is equipped with a magnetic docking plate, as well as GPS technology to estimate the exact position and motion of its target. This debris removal demonstration project is the first of its kind by a commercial satellite operator, according to the statement.

During the trial mission, the company will test whether the servicer can catch the client satellite in three separate demonstrations.

The company’s goal is to convince satellite companies to place its client component on their satellites so that when it comes time to decommission the satellite Astroscale’s servicer can be sent up to remove it.

Rocket Lab to recover 1st stage on next flight

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab yesterday announced that in its continuing program to make the first stage of its Electron rocket reusable, it will attempt to recover the stage after splashdown in the ocean during its next launch in May.

While Electron’s second stage delivers the satellites to orbit, Electron’s first stage will undertake a series of complex maneuvers designed to enable the stage to survive the extreme heat and forces of atmospheric re-entry on the way back to Earth.

As the rocket reaches speeds of around eight times the speed of sound on its descent, the air around Electron heats up to 2,400 °C generating an extremely hot plasma that creates a red-orange glow around the re-entering stage. Because Electron will enter the atmosphere engines first, the nine 3D printed Rutherford engines on the first stage will bear the brunt of this extreme heating. To withstand the immense temperatures, this Electron features an evolved heat shield designed to protect the engines and direct the force of the plasma away from the rocket. After entering the atmosphere, Electron will deploy a drogue parachute to help begin the process of slowing the rocket down and stabilizing its descent. Once Electron is at subsonic speeds, a circular parachute is deployed to help further slow the rocket in preparation for a gentle ocean splashdown. A Rocket Lab vessel will then rendezvous with the stage in the splashdown zone, approximately 650 km from Launch Complex 1, and retrieve it for transport back to Rocket Lab’s Production Complex for inspection.

They did the same thing on the previous launch. This second test will be to validate what was learned then.

If all goes as planned, they hope the next recovery attempt will be an in-air snatch by a helicopter, before the stage hits the water. If that is successful that stage will then be capable of re-use.

Soyuz-2 launches three astronauts to ISS

Russia today successfully used its Soyuz-2 rocket to launch three astronauts to ISS.

Because this flight is occurring three days before the 60th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s first human flight in space, the Russians gave the Soyuz capsule his name to honor him and the event. The spacecraft docked with ISS only two orbits later.

The crew also included an American, Mark Vande Hei, who is flying as part of the new barter agreement with Russia, whereby Americans fly in Soyuz in exchange for Russians flying in American commercial capsule. This was the first time NASA paid nothing for a flight on Soyuz since the shuttle retired a decade ago.

The return to Earth of Vande Hei and his fellow crew member Pyotr Dubrov will be on the next Soyuz capsule to launch in October, MS-19, in order to accommodate a short visit by a Russian movie director and actress.

Roscosmos will launch Soyuz MS-19 no earlier than October 5 with Commander Anton Shkaplerov and two civilian spaceflight participants. Russian film director Klim Shipenko and a Russian actress, who is yet to be named, will film a movie called “The Challenge” and spend approximately a week aboard the ISS before returning to Earth aboard Soyuz MS-18 with Novitsky.

With this commercial manned flight there will be two such flights in the fall, the Dragon Inspiration4 flight that will not dock with ISS and this Russian one. Both will then be followed by the Axiom commercial tourist flight on a Dragon capsule early in ’22. Expect such commercial manned flights to become somewhat routine in the coming years.

UPDATE: China also launched an Earth observation satellite yesterday, using its Long March 4B rocket
The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

10 SpaceX
8 China
6 Russia
2 Rocket Lab

The U.S. still leads China 14 to 8 in the national rankings.

Mars’ icy high latitudes

Mars' icy high latitudes
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, was taken on November 29, 2020 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). Labeled simply as “periglacial survey,” it is one of almost two hundred such images taken by MRO over the years, almost all of which are in the high latitudes above 60 degrees, with most being in the southern hemisphere. Most appear to be close to or above Mars’s Arctic Circle, which means these are locations that will see little or no sunlight for a portion of the year.

I have been unable to contact the scientists doing this survey, so I will have to make an educated guess as to its purpose and goals. “Periglacial” refers to the outer fringes or margin of a glacier or large ice sheet. Thus, in the context of this survey, the scientists appear to be studying places where they think the Martian high latitude ice sheets are beginning to sublimate away. Today’s photo is a good example. It is located at 67 degrees south latitude, in the southern cratered highlands but in an area that appears to be relatively free of craters. Instead, the terrain appears somewhat flat with only periodic depressions and scarps. The MRO context camera photo below of the same area, rotated, cropped, and expanded to post here, illustrates this.
» Read more

Today’s blacklisted American: Cinderella, because cast was “too white”

Cinderella banned

They’re coming for you next: A theater company in Minnesota decided to cancel its production of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical Cinderella because the cast was “too white.”

Chanhassen Dinner Theatres was planning to stage Rogers & Hammerstein’s classic play later this year but a director scrapped the show this week — slamming its lack of racial diversity, twincities.com reported.

“It was 98 percent white,” the theater’s director, Michael Brindisi, said of the show’s actors Wednesday. “That doesn’t work with what we’re saying we’re going to do.” Brindisi said he considered recasting but instead decided to put a self-inflicted spin on cancel culture — and “scrap this and start fresh with a clean slate.”

“Recasting” is a mealy mouthed word that really means he would have fired some white actors he had already chosen and replaced them with black actors. And the only reason he would be firing them is because of their skin color, since he had already done his auditions and decided that these people were qualified.
» Read more

New data suggests muon is more magnetic that predicted

The uncertainty of science: New data now suggests that the subatomic particle called the muon is slightly more magnetic that predicted by the standard model of particle physics, a result that if confirmed will require a major rethinking of that standard model.

In 2001, researchers with the Muon g-2 experiment, then at Brookhaven, reported that the muon was a touch more magnetic than the standard model predicts. The discrepancy was only about 2.5 times the combined theoretical and experimental uncertainties. That’s nowhere near physicists’ standard for claiming a discovery: 5 times the total uncertainty. But it was a tantalizing hint of new particles just beyond their grasp.

So in 2013, researchers hauled the experiment to Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Illinois, where they could get purer beams of muons. By the time the revamped experiment started to take data in 2018, the standard model predictions of the muon’s magnetism had improved and the difference between the experimental results and theory had risen to 3.7 times the total uncertainty.

Now, the g-2 team has released the first result from the revamped experiment, using 1 year’s worth of data. And the new result agrees almost exactly with the old one, the team announced today at a symposium at Fermilab. The concordance shows the old result was neither a statistical fluke nor the product of some undetected flaw in the experiment, says Chris Polly, a Fermilab physicist and co-spokesperson for the g-2 team. “Because I was a graduate student on the Brookhaven experiment, it was certainly an overwhelming sense of relief for me,” he says.

Together, the new and old results widen the disagreement with the standard model prediction to 4.2 times the experimental and theoretical errors.

That result is still not five times what theory predicts — the faux standard physicists apparently use to separate a simple margin of error and a true discovery — but it is almost that high, has been found consistently in repeated tests, and appears to be an unexplained discrepancy.

Not that I take any of this too seriously. If you read the entire article, you will understand. There are so many areas of uncertainty, both in the data and in the theories that this research is founded on, that the wise course is to treat it all with a great deal of skepticism. For example, the anomaly reported involves only 2.5 parts in 1 billion. While this data is definitely telling us something, but it is so close to the edge of infinitesimal that one shouldn’t trust it deeply.

Investigation: Top German scientist fabricated data

Fraud in science: A just released investigation has found that one of Germany’s most cited psychologists fabricated data in a government-financed study.

Hans-Ulrich Wittchen, one of Germany’s top psychologists and an expert in treating anxiety and phobias, is not shy about promoting himself. His email signature says he is a “highly cited researcher,” and with good reason. He has almost 1000 articles to his name, according to the Web of Science, and has racked up nearly 70,000 citations. He is an editor of Germany’s diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders—the bible of clinical psychology—and until 2017, he led a psychology research institute at the Dresden University of Technology (TU Dresden).

Yet his reputation is under fire after an investigation into one of his studies found evidence of manipulation—and elaborate efforts to cover up the misdeed. The investigation report, turned over to TU Dresden in February and obtained by Science, also shows Wittchen intimidated whistleblowers and pressured senior TU Dresden staff. The Federal Joint Committee (G-BA), a public health organization, is suing the company it paid to do the study. And the Dresden public prosecutor’s office is now investigating criminal charges related to the study.

Apparently the study only surveyed about 75% clinics on its list, and then simply copied data to complete the survey for the other clinics. Then Wittchen made veiled threats to investigators, manipulated documents to hide what had been done, and even tried to get two whistle-blowers fired, accusing them of doing the misdeeds.

This report illustrates a reality that few are willing to recognize. The science field is rife with corruption in the areas where government funds and government-employed scientists converge. The dishonest scientists are likely a very tiny minority, but they are often the ones who have pushed their way up to the most powerful posts, not by doing science but by playing the politics required to gain power. The result is that the science coming from the government institutions they run is now frequently suspect.

We have seen this in the past year in the world’s health agencies worldwide. Their leaders have repeatedly made statements concerning COVID-19 that simply have no backing in research, have no consistency, are repeatedly contradictory, and seem based on politics rather than data. This same problem has also exhibited itself for decades in the climate field, as well as many other sociological and medical fields.

The only long term solution that will really work would be to separate government from science, a goal that is likely unrealistic. At a minimum at least we should be trying to shift the government research money so that it goes to independent private companies on a case-by-case basis, rather than permanent government agencies that are run by the government.

Europe and China discussing future space cooperation

The new colonial movement: The heads of the space agencies of both Europe and China held a virtual face-to-face discussion on April 1st, discussing their space operations as well as the possibility of future cooperation.

Zhang Kejian, administrator of the CNSA, and new ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher, who entered the post March 1, discussed a range of topics according to a short CNSA press release (Chinese). The parties outlined upcoming activities, with China recently approving a 14th Five-year plan for 2021-2025, and discussed lunar and deep space exploration, Earth observation, and cooperation in ground station.

Josef Aschbacher tweeted after the meeting that he had congratulated Zhang on the Chang’e-5 lunar sample return mission, which in December 2020 delivered to Earth 1.73 kilograms of lunar samples from Oceanus Procellarum on the moon’s near side.

…Karl Bergquist, ESA’s international relations administrator, told SpaceNews that ESA and CNSA went over ongoing activities including telemetry, tracking, and control support activities for the Chinese exploration program.

Apparently Zhang raised the issue of Europe contributing to China’s proposed lunar base. Aschbacher made no commitments, though he later stated that while there is “no ESA stance on this topic”, he anticipates future discussions on the topic.

Some of this is similar to the recent discussions between NASA and China, focused on exchanging telemetry of various orbiters to avoid the possibility of collisions or interference with their operation. I would not be surprised however if Europe expands this conversation and joins China in its space plans. The U.S. is shifting from a government-run space program — which both China and Europe favor — to a commercial model mostly run by private enterprise. Under that model there will be less opportunity for European participation in American space projects.

OSIRIS-REx completes last close-fly of Bennu

OSIRIS-REx today successfully completed its last close-fly of Bennu before it will fire its engines on May 10th and begin its journey back to Earth to return its samples.

During the flyby, OSIRIS-REx imaged Bennu for 5.9 hours, covering more than a full rotation of the asteroid. It flew within 2.1 miles’ (3.5 kilometers) distance to the surface of Bennu – the closest it’s been since the TAG sample collection event.

It will take until at least April 13 for OSIRIS-REx to downlink all of the data and new pictures of Bennu’s surface recorded during the flyby. It shares the Deep Space Network antennas with other missions like Mars Perseverance, and typically gets 4–6 hours of downlink time per day. “We collected about 4,000 megabytes of data during the flyby,” said Mike Moreau, deputy project manager of OSIRIS-REx at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Bennu is approximately 185 million miles from Earth right now, which means we can only achieve a downlink data-rate of 412 kilobits per second, so it will take several days to download all of the flyby data.”

While they will get images of the asteroid’s entire surface, the region scientists are most interested in is the Nightingale sample return site where the spacecraft grabbed its samples. To best understand the asteroid they need to have before and after shots, and this last fly-by gave them the latter.

Today’s blacklisted Americans: Anyone under 50 in Vermont who is not a minority

14th amendment banned
We don’t need no stinkin’ 14th amendment in Vermont!

You want to get a COVID-19 vaccine shot in Vermont? Well, if you are not part of the new BIPOC community (Black, Indigenous, People Of Color) you have to go to the back of the bus.

This according to a decision by Vermont’s state government on April 3rd:

Governor Phill Scott, a Republican who voted for Joe Biden, explains. “If you or anyone in your household identifies as Black, Indigenous, or a person of color (BIPOC), including anyone with Abenaki or other First Nations heritage, all household members who are 16 years or older can sign up to get a vaccine!

Before this announcement the rules had limited vaccinations to all those over 50. The new rules opened up shots to everyone but whites over 16 years or older.
» Read more

Perseverance as seen from orbit

Perseverance landing site prior to landing
Click for full image.

Perservance on the ground
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The two photos to the right show the landing site for the Perseverance rover in Jezero Crater on Mars. The first image was taken in 2016 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The second image was made available today in the monthly release of photos taken that camera on MRO.

The arrow points to a small white streak that is not visible in the 2016 photo. A closer look reveals that the streak is actually two fanlike white deposits expanding outward in opposite directions from a central point.

What we are seeing are the exhaust fans blown onto the Martian surface by the retro-jets on the Sky crane that was lowering Perseverance to the ground. The rover was put down at the centerpoint, and was still at that spot on March 2nd when this photo was acquired.

The highest resolution version of this image requires special software, so in this version you cannot see the rover itself. Nor can you see the Sky crane after it crashed landed or the parachutes.

The new photo was taken one week after the first high resolution image from MRO, as part of what will become a routine periodic monitoring of the site, along with obtaining mapping information for picking the rover’s upcoming route They will also probably use both images to try to locate both the Sky crane and parachutes, on the ground.

SpaceX successfully launches another sixty Starlink satellites

Falcon 9 today, with booster on 7th flight

SpaceX this morning successfully launched another 60 Starlink satellites, bringing the total number in orbit to more than 1,500.

The first stage, on its seventh flight, successfully landed on the drone ship. During SpaceX’s live stream they noted that every launch by the company this year has used a previously flown first stage. Both fairings on this flight were also reused.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

10 SpaceX
7 China
5 Russia
2 Rocket Lab

The U.S. now leads China 14 to 7 in the national rankings.

I have embedded SpaceX’s live stream below the fold. Because of the clear weather this was a particularly beautiful launch. The video during the landing of the first stage was especially spectacular, with the camera on the booster showing the entire landing.
» Read more

Watching Ingenuity’s flight

NASA has now announced the planned flight time for its Ingenuity helicopter now on the Martian surface, including information for watching the live stream of the attempt.

A livestream confirming Ingenuity’s first flight is targeted to begin around 3:30 a.m. EDT Monday, April 12, on NASA Television, the NASA app, and the agency’s website, and will livestream on multiple agency social media platforms, including the JPL YouTube and Facebook channels.

I will embed the JPL live stream on Behind the Black when it goes live.

Meanwhile, Perseverance’s weather station is now functioning, providing its first weather reports from Jezero Crater.

[E]ngineers now have atmospheric data from three different locations on the Red Planet – Perseverance, Curiosity, and NASA’s InSight lander, which hosts the Temperature and Wind sensors for InSight (TWINS). The trio will enable a deeper understanding of Martian weather patterns, events, and atmospheric turbulence that could influence planning for future missions. In the near term, MEDA’s information is helping decide the best atmospheric conditions for the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter flights.

As Ingenuity achieved pre-flight milestones, a MEDA report from the 43rd and 44th Martian days, or sols, of the mission (April 3-4 on Earth) showed a temperature high of minus 7.6 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 22 degrees Celsius) and low of minus 117.4 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 83 degrees Celsius) in Jezero Crater. MEDA also measured wind gusts at around 22 mph (10 meters per second).

Those numbers are about normal for Jezero Crater at 18 degrees north latitude in the spring.

Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2 reactivated for 29th lunar day

Chinese engineers have reactivated their Chang’e-4 lander and Yutu-2 rover, beginning their 29th lunar day on the far side of the Moon.

As is usual from the state-run Chinese press, the article provides little other detail, other than stating that Yutu-2 ” will continue to move northwest toward the basalt distribution area located about 1.2 km away from the rover.” That’s about 3,900 feet. Based on Yutu-2 pace of moving about 100 feet per lunar day, it will be more than three years before it reaches that goal.

Study: a Martian crater lake fed by glacial run-off

Map of crater lake and run-offs
From figure 1 on the research paper.

A new study of a 33-mile-wide Martian crater in its southern cratered highlands has found evidence that a lake had once existed on the crater floor, and was fed entirely by glacial run-off in a cold climate, coming from its interior walls, not from outside the crater.

In a study published in Planetary Science Journal, a research team led by Brown Ph.D. student Ben Boatwright describes an as-yet unnamed crater with some puzzling characteristics. The crater’s floor has unmistakable geologic evidence of ancient stream beds and ponds, yet there’s no evidence of inlet channels where water could have entered the crater from outside, and no evidence of groundwater activity where it could have bubbled up from below.

So where did the water come from?

The researchers conclude that the system was likely fed by runoff from a long-lost Martian glacier. Water flowed into the crater atop the glacier, which meant it didn’t leave behind a valley as it would have had it flowed directly on the ground. The water eventually emptied into the low-lying crater floor, where it left its geological mark on the bare Martian soil.

You can read the full paper here. The crater is considered very old, which means this evidence dates from a very early Mars when the climate was very different. As the scientists note in their conclusion:
» Read more

Today’s blacklisted American: Whites at Cornell University

The Civil Rights Act of 1964: repealed by Cornell
The Civil Rights Act of 1964: repealed by Cornell

Continuing my weeklong series documenting the modern bigotry of our culture, today’s bigot is Cornell University, who recently offered a segregated rock-climbing course that whites were forbidden to attend. From the course’s original description:

This class is for people who identify as Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, or other people of color.

Moreover, that original course description made it very clear that the course was limited to such students only.

The original description gave no indication that BIPOC [Black, Indigenous People, Others of Color] students were the “special focus” of the course, instead of the only eligible category for enrollment. While [that original version] said students “will also talk about BIPOC individuals and groups in rock climbing,” that sentence was immediately followed by the restriction to “people who identify as” BIPOC.

Such a class would be illegal under both federal and New York state law.
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SpaceX’s decision to build launchpad with Starship tanks proves the rocket will be cheapest ever built

Capitalism in space: The decision by SpaceX’s to build the tank farm for its Starship/Super Heavy launchpad at Boca Chica using Starship tanks, rather than inexpensive off-the-shelf storage tanks, strongly suggests that the company’s manufacturing facility for building those tanks makes them very inexpensive, and also suggests that the final rocket will be as cheap to launch as SpaceX has promised.

SpaceX is effectively taking identical rocket parts, slightly tweaking a handful of those parts, and turning what could have been a rocket into a propellant storage tank. This is significant because relative to all other rockets in history, even including SpaceX’s own Falcon 9 and Heavy, building storage tanks with unchanged rocket parts on a rocket assembly line would be roughly akin to hiring Vincent van Gogh to paint lane lines.

Ever since Elon Musk made the radical decision to switch from composite structures to stainless steel, Starship has always aimed to be radically different than any large rocket before it. Crucially, by using commodity steel, the CEO imagined SpaceX would be able to build Starships fairly easily and for pennies on the dollar next to even SpaceX’s exceptionally affordable Falcon 9. In the last 18 months, it’s become apparent that SpaceX has built a factory capable of churning out one or two massive steel rockets per month and is willing to consign at least four or five of those Starship prototypes to all-but-guaranteed failures for the sake of data-gathering and iterative improvement.

Technically, the most logical conclusion would be that Musk was right and that SpaceX has quickly developed the ability to build steel rockets larger than any other launch vehicle on Earth for perhaps just $5M or less apiece.

The analysis at the link is detailed and worth reading. If correct, this decision by SpaceX proves that Starship and Super Heavy will be the cheapest rocket ever flown, even though it will be the largest ever flown, and also completely reusable.

Russia’s first private space tourism company shuts down

Capitalism in space? Russia’s first private space tourism company has been forced to close before it even launched its first rocket because of the obstacles placed before by Russia’s government.

Kosmokurs’ operations will cease due to “insurmountable difficulties” in coordinating with local authorities on the cosmodrome project as well as the company’s “inability to obtain needed regulatory documents from the Defense Ministry” for the design of a suborbital tourist rocket, its CEO Pavel Pushkin told RIA Novosti.

However, the government-run Roscosmos, which controls the rest of Russia’s aerospace industry, has graciously announced it will hire Kosmokurs’ fifty employees.

Do you see a pattern? I do. Kosmokurs was cutting into Roscosmos’s territory. That could not be tolerated, and so the government moved to sabotage it. Now that it is dead, the government can absorb it to try to build its rocket and make money using it.

This kind of mob rule by the Russian government is why that country’s space industry is failing to compete with the new commercial industry coming out of the U.S. and elsewhere. It does not tolerate free competition, only top-down control by the government. The result is that while Russia might eventually fly its own space tourism rockets, it will have only one, and it will likely not be as efficient or as competitive. The only cost advantage it will likely have is Russia’s low wages.

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