September 21, 2023 Quick space links

Courtesy of BtB’s stringer Jay.


Pushback: Professor blacklisted by North Texas U wins in Federal court

North Texas University: where censorship and blacklisting is celebrated

Bring a gun to a knife fight: Today’s blacklist story follows up on the case of professor Timothy Jackson, who was dismissed in 2021 by the University of North Texas (UNT) as the editor of a history of music journal he had founded because he and his student editors had organized an issue dedicated to disproving the anti-white and racist accusations of a different professor against a well known musical figure.

From his lawyer’s most recent press release:

The Journal of Schenkerian Studies is dedicated to a late 19th/early 20th-century Austrian-Jewish music theorist, Heinrich Schenker, and his systematic, graphic methods of music analysis. In July 2020, Timothy Jackson defended Schenker in the pages of the Journal from an attack by Hunter College Professor Philip Ewell. Professor Ewell labeled Schenker a “racist” and, indeed, the entire tradition of Western classical music as “systemically racist.” This dispute would have remained a typical academic tempest in a teapot, but the University of North Texas swiftly condemned Jackson’s defense of Schenker and classical music. At UNT, defending classical music and its theory against charges of “racism” is a “thought crime.”

Graduate students quickly condemned Professor Jackson for “racist actions” and various other derelictions that they claimed hurt their feelings. Calls for Professor Jackson to be fired quickly escalated, and the vast majority of Jackson’s fellow faculty members jumped on the bandwagon. Sixteen of them signed a graduate student petition calling for his ouster and for censorship of the Journal. Discovery revealed that at least one did so without even reading or understanding what the petition said.

Officials at the university subsequently removed Jackson as editor of the journal, apparently because he had freely expressed his first amendment rights to dissent publicly from Ewell’s false accusations against Schenker. As I noted in 2021,
» Read more

SpaceX shows off a Raptor-2 engine during local Texas parade

During the annual Founders Day parade in McGregor, Texas, SpaceX participated by including on its float a Raptor-2 engine, used by Starship and Superheavy.

Outside of an unannounced display of an engine in town one day, SpaceX, known for it’s secrecy, hasn’t had a public showing like this before. Residents waved as the engine passed by while SpaceX employees and their families waved and tossed candy from the trailer hauling the engine.

McGregor, whose population is only 6,000, is the location of SpaceX’s engine facility, where it builds and tests its rocket engines. Very clearly this parade proves this evil capitalist company is doing harm to these poor rural Texans and the environment that surrounds them. The hate that emanates from these citizens is truly overwhelming!

Hat tip to Robert Pratt of Pratt on Texas.

A close-up of the giant crack that almost splits Mars

A close-up of the crack that splits Mars
Click for original image.

Cool image time! The picture to the right, rotated, cropped, reduced, and sharpened to post here, was taken on June 28, 2023 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The intended science focus of the image is likely the floor of this canyon on the lower right, showing what appears to be a patch of uprised topography surrounded by what looks like glacial debris, which at this latitude of 39 degrees north is expected on Mars.

The grade at this location is downhill to the southwest, so if this is a glacier it is flowing in that direction.

The cliff is about 3,000 feet high, dropping that distance in about a mile and a half. Thus, this is only slightly less steep than the very steep cliff wall of the caldera of Olympus Mons, highlighted as a cool image two days ago.

What makes this canyon interesting — besides its spectacular scenery — is its larger context, recognized when one looks at this location from afar and thus sees how it shaped a vast portion of the global surface of Mars.
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FAA and FCC now competing for the honor of regulating commercial space more

Two stories today illustrate again the growing appetite of federal alphabet agencies to grab more power, even if that power is not included in their statutory authority.

First, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) proposed new rules governing the de-orbiting of the upper stages of rockets by commercial launch companies.

The FAA is proposing a new rule requiring commercial space companies to dispose of their rocket upper stages to limit the creation of more space debris. Five disposal methods are allowed: a controlled or uncontrolled deorbit within certain time limits, putting the stage into a less congested orbit or sending it into an Earth-escape orbit, or retrieving it. A 90-day public comment period will begin once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register.

Though this “appears to implement the updated U.S. Orbital Debris Mitigation Standard Practices issued in 2019,” it upgrades it from a “practice” that the government requests companies to follow to a “rule” they must follow. It also expands the power of the FAA to regulate commercial rocket companies, setting a new precedent of control that I guarantee with time will expand further.

Not to be outdone in this power grab, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) added its own new satellite rules to the satellite licenses of two constellations run by the companies Iceye and Planet. The rules however have nothing to do with regulating the use of the electromagnetic spectrum, which is the FCC’s sole purpose according to the law that created it:
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NASA requests proposals from private industry for deorbiting ISS

NASA on September 18, 2023 sent out a request for proposals from private industry for methods for deorbiting the International Space Station (ISS), with a deadline for such proposals of November 17, 2023.

You can review the request here. According to the press release at the first link, the bulk of any contract will be fixed price.

To maximize value to the government and enhance competition, the acquisition will allow offerors flexibility in proposing Firm Fixed Price or Cost Plus Incentive Fee for the Design, Development, Test and Evaluation phase. The remainder of the contract will be Firm Fixed Price.

That the development phase might be cost-plus allows a lot of room for budget growth, however, especially since the companies most likely to want such a contract are the old big companies (Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman) that routinely go overbudget and behind schedule.

The full proposal is more than 600 pages long, so I have not reviewed it in its entirety. I wonder therefore if NASA would entertain proposals that include salvaging any ISS modules for use on other space stations.

Chinese pseudo-company experiences launch failure

The Chinese pseudo-company Galactic Energy last night experienced the first launch failure of its solid-fueled Cere-1 rocket, launching from the Jiuquan spaceport in the northwest of China.

No details about the failure were released, including where in China the rocket crashed. The rocket has four stages, and is derived from Chinese missile technology. This was its tenth launch, and first failure.

Like all of China’s pseudo-companies, Galactic Energy obtains investment capital and then competes for government or commercial contracts. It is not a real company in that the government has closely supervised and controlled it (especially because of its dependence on missile designs), and can take it over at any time.

Wedding String Quartet – Le Onde by Ludovico Einaudi

An evening pause: This video breaks one of rules for a good evening pause, in that is is shot from one static wide shot camera. I normally reject such videos, as the visuals are boring. I make an exception here because of the music and the arrangement, which is so breath-taking you don’t care about the visuals at all. Makes me want to know more about this composer and his work.

Hat tip Alton Blevins.

September 20, 2023 Quick space links

Courtesy of BtB’s stringer Jay.


  • First satellite built in Hong Kong successfully completed
  • This satellite is the first in a proposed 360 satellite constellation for “communications and remote sensing,” with the first launch planned for November. I suspect the Chinese government’s take-over of Hong Kong, including the crushing of freedoms there, includes maintaining close control of this project as well.


No political column from me today. I needed a break.

Visible ice layers in a crater in the lower mid-latitudes of Mars?

Visible ice layers in the low-mid-latitudes of Mars?
Click for original image. For the original color image, go here.

Cool image time! The picture to the right, cropped, reduced, and sharpened to post here, was taken on July 14, 2023 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), and shows what appear to be horizontal layers in the inner wall of a small one-mile-wide and 150-foot deep unnamed crater on Mars. I have included the color version below, zoomed in to make those layers and their colors very clear.

As I have not contacted the scientists who requested this picture, I can only guess at its purpose. My guess however relates to those horizontal blue layers, reminiscent of the ice layers seen in Martian scarps at the high latitudes at about 50 to 55 degrees.

Normally it is rare to see horizontal layers like this in craters on Mars. Instead, what you usually see are downward-pointing gullies along with drainage and avalanche-type patterns, though the latter two might not be formed by either drainage or avalanches.

In this case these horizontal layers are clear and pronounced, making this crater a possibly important and somewhat unique find, based on its location.
» Read more

Another enthusiastic review of Conscious Choice

Cover of Conscious Choice

A new review of my latest book, Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, has just been published by American Thinker. I especially like this quote:

What makes Conscious Choice interesting is that it’s not just another social history of what happened, and who did what to whom in a horrible time of man’s inhumanity to man. It’s an effort to draw concrete knowledge from the past, for application to solving predictable problems in the not-too-distant, not altogether impossible future.

Conscious Choice reads easily, flows smoothly, is linguistically elegant, covers an extremely important topic, and asks important questions. Conscious Choice is also well referenced, with two appendices of additional data and sourcing information for the deepest dive. Conscious Choice is well worth reading simply to revel in the technical merits, which are far too rare these days. It would also pair well with a rereading of Robert A. Heinlein’s classic The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, possibly while listening to Jason Aldean’s “Rich Men North of Richmond,” and sipping a few pints of good New England beer.

As is to be expected, I don’t entirely agree with the reviewer’s interpretation of my book, but such disagreements are to be expected (and celebrated), as they enhance our knowledge. Moreover, in this case the disagreement is very minor, and provides me another piece of evidence that I was successful in conveying in a readable fashion the conclusions I drew from history.

As always, if my readers are interested in buying the book, it is available in hardback, paperback, and ebook editions. You can get it at all major book outlets, such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble, as well directly from my publisher, ebookit. You can also get an autographed hardback or paperback by buying it directly from me. Just email me at [my last name] at nasw dot org.

Image released of permanently shadowed floor of Shackleton Crater

Shadowcam-LRO mosaic
Click for original image.

NASA today released a mosaic combining images from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s high resolution camera LROC and the Shadowcam camera on South Korea’s Danuri lunar orbiter that shows for the first time the entire permanently shadowed floor of Shackleton Crater at the Moon’s south pole.

That mosaic, cropped, reduced, and sharpened to post here, is to the right. I have added the black cross to mark the location of the south pole, just inside Shackleton, the large crater on the right. The inset shows the floor of the crater at higher resolution.

LROC can capture detailed images of the lunar surface but has limited ability to photograph shadowed parts of the Moon that never receive direct sunlight, known as permanently shadowed regions. ShadowCam is 200-times more light-sensitive than LROC and can operate successfully in these extremely low-light conditions, revealing features and terrain details that are not visible to LROC. ShadowCam relies on sunlight reflected off lunar geologic features or the Earth to capture images in the shadows.

Thus, in the mosaic to the right the interior of Shackleton was imaged by Shadowcam, and then placed on a mosaic of LROC pictures.

If you click on the full image at high resolution and look closely at the crater floor, it is difficult to determine if there is any ice there. There are several mounds that could be ice, but could also be accumulated dirt and debris. What is most significant however is the smooth interior walls of the crater. It appears it will very possible for a rover to drive down those walls and into Shackleton.

German space plane company completes test program of prototype

The German space plane company Polaris Spaceplanes had now completed a 15-flight test program of the small prototype of its planned orbital and suborbital spaceplane.

The test-flights took place over the course of three days, between Aug. 22 and Sep. 8, and were meant to demonstrate the vehicle’s aerodynamics and flight control systems in preparation for a larger-scale spaceplane prototype the company plans to equip with a linear aerospike rocket engine.

MIRA-Light measures just 8.2 feet (2.5 meters) long, and flies using four electric fans. For 10 of MIRA-Light’s 15 flights, the mini-spaceplane was equipped with a mock aerospike engine to simulate its impact on vehicle performance. In total, the prototype accumulated about 40 total minutes of flight time, according to a report from European Spaceflight.

What makes this project interesting is its use of an aerospike engine, a rocket-engine concept that has been around for decades but never successfully implemented. If successful here, it will make the engines of Polaris’ spaceplane very efficient.

The company now plans a series of test programs using prototypes of increasing size, leading to flying its full-scale hypersonic space plane Aurora on commercial suborbital and orbital flights in ’26 or ’27.

High School students discover new orbital changes from asteroid impacted by DART

In observing Dimorphos, the small asteroid that the probe DART impacted in September 2022, researchers as well as students at a California high school have discovered unexpected orbital changes.

Recent observations have indicated the asteroid is tumbling since the impact. However:

Dimorphos also appeared to be continuously slowing down in its orbit for at least a month after the rocket impact, contrary to NASA’s predictions. California high school teacher Jonathan Swift and his students first detected these unexpected changes while observing Dimorphos with their school’s 2.3-foot (0.7 meter) telescope last fall. Several weeks after the DART impact, NASA announced that Dimorphos had slowed in its orbit around Didymos by about 33 minutes. However, when Swift and his students studied Dimorphos one month after the impact, the asteroid seemed to have slowed by an additional minute — suggesting it had been slowing continuously since the collision. “The number we got was slightly larger, a change of 34 minutes,” Swift told New Scientist. “That was inconsistent at an uncomfortable level.”

Swift presented his class’s findings at the American Astronomical Society conference in June. The DART team has since confirmed that Dimorphos did indeed continue slowing in its orbit up to a month after the impact — however, their calculations show an additional slowdown of 15 seconds, rather than a full minute. A month after the DART collision, the slowdown plateaued.

One explanation proposed for this slowdown points at the spray of rocks and boulders that surrounded Dimorphos after DART’s impact. When some of those boulders fell back onto the asteroid, they might have caused the orbital slowdown, and as the number of new impacts dropped, the slowdown stabilized.

Now that a full year has passed since the impact, it is possible to assess the full orbital changes to the asteroid. Thus, a new report is expected shortly.

Environmentalists appeal dismissal of their lawsuit against the FAA and SpaceX

The two environmentalist groups and Indian tribe that sued to get SpaceX’s Boca Chica spaceport shut down have now appealed the dismissal of their case by a Texas judge.

Two environmental groups and an Indigenous tribe on Wednesday will present appeals in their lawsuit over the repeated closures of a border beach to allow neighboring SpaceX to conduct test flights and other activity. The Sierra Club, Save RGV, and the Carrizo Comecrudo Nation of Texas are scheduled to present oral arguments before the 13th Court of Appeals on Wednesday morning in Edinburg.

Last summer, the groups filed a lawsuit accusing the state of not upholding the Texas Open Beaches Act, but a district court judge in Brownsville ruled against their lawsuit, saying they couldn’t sue the Texas General Land Office or Cameron County, where the popular beach and SpaceX are located. The Texas Constitution grants the public rights to all public beaches. At issue, however, is whether private groups have a constitutional right to sue.

Though I am not surprised that the lawsuit was dismissed because these groups have no standing, this the first I had heard of that dismissal. I suspect their appeal will fail as well, especially as the hearing is being held in the state courts, which are generally very sympathetic to SpaceX and the economic rebirth it has brought to south Texas.

Update on Blue Origin’s New Glenn

Link here. Based on this detailed update, the long delayed launch of Blue Origin’s orbital New Glenn rocket appears to finally be visible on the distant horizon.

Most of the work described involves building supporting facilities, such as a new building for refurbishing rockets after launch. However, this quote suggests the company might finally be getting close to doing something real:

During a panel at the World Satellite Business Week, Blue Origin’s Jarrett Jones stated Blue Origin has four boosters in various stages of production, and testing is going well.

In addition to the production of New Glenn, Blue Origin has continued to prepare LC-36 [the launchpad] to support the testing of the hardware currently being manufactured. In recent months, Blue Origin has conducted a number of tests with both the main transporter erector, which will be used to support a fully stacked New Glenn, as well as a smaller transporter erector, which appears to be used to test New Glenn’s second-stage on the launch pad. A second-stage simulator has already been observed on this transporter erector.

Though encouraging, the article at the link still left me with a feeling that a lot of work is being done on everything but the rocket itself. Hopefully this feeling will dissipate soon with the appearance of that first rocket on the launchpad. Right now Blue Origin officials have said they are aiming for that first launch next year, but they have made that same promise now for three straight years.

SpaceX launches 22 Starlink satellites, flies a first stage for a record 17th time

SpaceX tonight successfully placed 22 Starlink satellites into orbit, its Falcon 9 rocket lifting off from Cape Canaveral using a first stage flying for its seventeenth time, a new record.

That first stage successfully landed on a drone ship in the Atlantic.

By amortizing the cost for building and flying that first stage, the cost per launch for SpaceX has likely been reduced more than 90%, significantly raising the company’s profit margins, especially when it is launching its own Starlink satellites. Note too that SpaceX has two other boosters that have flown 16 and 15 times, plus others with more than ten flights. And of course, this success once again makes ridiculous the engineers and managers who for more than a half century said such reusability of a rocket first stage was either impossible, or financially impractical, and thus never tried it.

The leaders in the 2023 launch race:

66 SpaceX
43 China
13 Russia
7 Rocket Lab
7 India

American private enterprise now leads China in successful launches 77 to 43, and the entire world combined 77 to 69. SpaceX by itself now trails the rest of the world combined (excluding American companies) 66 to 69.

September 19, 2023 Quick space links

Courtesy of BtB’s stringer Jay.



The northern interior rim of the largest volcano in the solar system

Northern interior rim of Olympus Mons
Click for original image.

Cool image time! The picture to the right, cropped, reduced, and sharpened to post here, was taken on July 8, 2023 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It shows the northernmost interior rim of the caldera of Olympus Mons, the largest volcano in the solar system.

This one picture provides another way to illustrate the monumental scale of much of Mars’ topography. From the top to the bottom this steep scarp descends about 5,900 feet, in a little more than two miles. Compare that to the trails that descend the Grand Canyon’s south rim, which drop about the same distance but do it in distances ranging from three to five times longer.

In other words, this cliff wall is steep. Finding a route for a trail either up or down would be difficult at best.
» Read more

The emerging long term ramifications of the Ukraine War

With the war in the Ukraine now in the second half of its second year, with no clear outcome on the horizon, I thought it might be a good time to step back and look at what Russia’s invasion has wrought, not just on Russia and the Ukraine, but on the rest of the world, now and possibly into the long term future.

My goal in this essay is to look at the forest, not the trees, and to do so in very broad strokes, based on my experience as a historian who has taken this approach in all my histories.

First however it is necessary to give a short update on the war itself. In my previous two updates in April and July I concluded that the war was devolving into a stalemate, much like the ugly trench warfare of World War I. Nothing has changed that conclusion in the two months since July, a fact that is starkly illustrated by the two maps below, originally created by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) and modified and annotated by me to highlight the most significant take-aways.
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Ingenuity completes 59th flight, a hop setting a new altitude record

Overview map
Click for interactive map.
On September 16, 2023 the Ingenuity engineering team successfully flew the Mars helicopter for its 59th flight, a vertical hop lasting two minutes and twenty-three seconds that set a new altitude record of 66 feet in the air.

This flight matched the flight plan precisely. Six pictures from the flight were downloaded today, showing the helicopter as it hovered at this top altitude while tilting itself to the ground. To see this tilting, go here and set the date to Sol 915. Click on the first picture and then use the right and left arrow keys to scroll from picture to picture, essentially creating a short animation that shows the change in the helicopter’s shadow on the ground.

On the overview map above, the green dot marks Ingenuity’s location during this flight, with the blue dot marking Perseverance’s present location. It is possible that by tilting, the helicopter was able to take a color picture from the air of the rover to the south, but this is unconfirmed. It could have also tilted to get a view of the ground ahead.

Update on Curiosity’s journey in Mount Sharp, including its future route

Curiosity's future planned route
Click for original image.

The Curiosity science team yesterday released a new 360 panorama taken on August 19, 2023 by the rover’s high resolution camera, as part of an effort to document an important geological location finally reached after two previous attempts failed.

Three billion years ago, amid one of the last wet periods on Mars, powerful debris flows carried mud and boulders down the side of a hulking mountain. The debris spread into a fan that was later eroded by wind into a towering ridge [dubbed Gediz Vallis Ridge], preserving an intriguing record of the Red Planet’s watery past.

Now, after three attempts, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has reached the ridge, capturing the formation in a 360-degree panoramic mosaic. Previous forays were stymied by knife-edged “gator-back” rocks and too-steep slopes. Following one of the most difficult climbs the mission has ever faced, Curiosity arrived Aug. 14 at an area where it could study the long-sought ridge with its 7-foot (2-meter) robotic arm.

That panorama can be viewed here. The rover spent eleven days at this geological location, and has since moved on.

Because that panorama covers some of the same ground I have previously posted from the rover’s navigation cameras, I have instead posted above the graphic from the press release, with additional annotations, because that graphic provides new information about Curiosity’s future travels.

The white line marks Curiosity’s past travels as well as the planned route as previously released by the science team. The red line marks the additional route that the rover will follow beyond, weaving its way up Mount Sharp.

SpaceX sues to get Justice’s discrimination suit thrown out on constitutional grounds

SpaceX on September 15, 2023 filed suit in Texas to get the Justice Department’s August 24th discrimination suit — which claims that the company discriminates against illegal aliens because it obeys State Department security regulations forbidding such hiring — thrown out on constitutional grounds.

From the complaint [pdf]:

But aside from being factually and legally insupportable, the government’s proceedings are unconstitutional for at least four reasons: (1) the administrative law judge (ALJ) adjudicating the government’s complaint was unconstitutionally appointed; (2) the ALJ is unconstitutionally insulated from Presidential authority because she is protected by two layers of for-cause removal protections; (3) the ALJ is unconstitutionally purporting to adjudicate SpaceX’s rights in an administrative proceeding rather than in federal court; and (4) the ALJ is unconstitutionally denying SpaceX its Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial.

The suit specific names two of these administrative judges, as well as attorney general Merrick Garland, as defendents. It also outlines in detail how SpaceX follows the State Department’s law protecting U.S. technology scrupulously, while hiring the most talented people of all races, including non-citizens after getting State Department permission. Even so, the company’s complaint focuses on the unconstitutionality of the Justice Department’s administrative attack, demanding its dismissal for these reasons alone.

As I noted when the Justice Department’s lawsuit was first announced,

This suit is utter garbage and puts SpaceX between a rock and a hard place. I guarantee if SpaceX had hired any illegal or refugee who was not yet a legal citizen, Biden’s State Department would have immediately sued it for violating other laws relating to ITAR (the export control laws mentioned) which try to prevent the theft of technology by foreign powers.

That SpaceX has chosen to fight this lawsuit first on constitutional grounds suggests the company has fundamentally come to the same conclusion. Musk has decided to fight back hard against Biden’s effort to squash him both politically and legally.

OSIRIS-REx makes last course correction before releasing asteroid sample return capsule

OSIRIS-REx’s engineers on September 17, 2023 successfully completed the last course correction necessary before releasing the sample return capsule carrying about nine ounces of material from the asteroid Bennu, set to land in Utah on September 24th.

The spacecraft briefly fired its thrusters Sunday to change its velocity by 7 inches per minute (3 millimeters per second) relative to Earth. This final correction maneuver moved the sample capsule’s predicted landing location east by nearly 8 miles, or 12.5 kilometers, to the center of its predetermined landing zone inside a 36-mile by 8.5-mile (58-kilometer by 14-kilometer) area on the Defense Department’s Utah Test and Training Range.

Details on that landing can be found here. The capsule will be coming in at speeds comparable to that of an Apollo capsule, returning from the Moon, and will use the same maneuvers and parachutes to slow its speed to only eleven miles per hour at landing. Four helicopters will than rush to recover the capsule as quickly as possible to reduce the chance the sample will be contaminated by the Earth’s environment.

OSIRIS-Rex (renamed OSIRIS-Apophis Explorer or OSIRIS-APEX) will meanwhile fire its engines and head towards the potentially dangerous asteroid Apophis, with a rendezvous scheduled in 2029.

Electron rocket fails during launch

Rocket Lab tonight (September 19, 2023 in New Zealand) experienced a launch failure during a launch of its Electron rocket from its New Zealand spaceport.

The failure occurred right after separation of the first stage from the upper stage. From that point all video from the rocket ceased, and the data indicated it was losing velocity, suggesting some failure of the second stage when its engines should have ignited.

This launch was to have been the second in a four-launch contract with the American company Capella Space, aimed at launching its constellation of commercial radar satellites for Earth observation.

The leaders in the 2023 launch race remain unchanged:

65 SpaceX
43 China
13 Russia
7 Rocket Lab
7 India

American private enterprise still leads China in successful launches 76 to 43, and the entire world combined 76 to 69. SpaceX by itself still trails the rest of the world combined (excluding American companies) 65 to 69.

September 18, 2023 Quick space links

Courtesy of BtB’s stringer Jay.


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