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I am now in the third week of my annual February birthday fund-raising drive. The first two weeks were good, but not record-setting.


There are still two weeks left in this campaign however. If you have been a regular reader and a fan of my work and have not yet donated or subscribed, please consider doing so. I take no ads, I keep the website clean from pop-ups and annoying demands (most of the time). Thus, I depend entirely on my readers to support me. Though this means I am sacrificing some income, it also means that I remain entirely independent from outside pressure. By depending solely on donations and subscriptions from my readers, no one can threaten me with censorship. You don't like what I write, you can simply go elsewhere.


You can support me either by giving a one-time contribution or a regular subscription. There are five ways of doing so:


1. Zelle: This is the only internet method that charges no fees. All you have to do is use the Zelle link at your internet bank and give my name and email address (zimmerman at nasw dot org). What you donate is what I get.


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December 5, 2023 Quick space links

Courtesy of BtB’s stringer Jay. Sorry about posting this late.







Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.

The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News


  • Jeff Wright

    The one good thing about company buy-ups is that engineers can learn each other’s secrets.

    Now if information wants to be free–I say a law needs be passed to where private individuals cannot be sued by Hollywood for making their own movies with Deep Fakes.

  • Ray Van Dune

    I believe I read that all of Tesla’s patents are royalty-free. Is that also true of SpaceX?

  • Ray Van Dune: It is my understanding that SpaceX does not waste time getting patents. It keeps its data in-house, using non-disclosure agreements to help keep its stuff private. However, Musk has said that he’d rather not waste money or time trying (and failing) to restrict new development by others.

    That doesn’t mean he will nonchalantly give the government anything willy-nilly.

  • Jay

    Ray Van Dune,
    Patents in the U.S. are good for 20 years. Copyrights are 120 years. Why bring up copyrights? Programming code can be copyrighted.

    In the U.S. we have a very broad scope to what a patent covers and what is infringement. In certain eastern countries, Japan for instance, one small change to a patent and it is a new patent. Of course there are countries where they don’t give a damn and will out right copy your patent and product. I have seen it in countries like Malaysia, South Korea, and let us not forget the biggest offender- China.

  • David Eastman

    SpaceX seems to have the mindset of “we’ll make some effort to protect our stuff, but if you steal it, well, by the time you have it reverse-engineered and in production, we’ll have iterated a dozen times and be using stuff that is completely different and five generations ahead anyways. Good luck keeping up when your mindset is ‘steal and copy’.”

  • David Eastman

    On the Vandenburg launch rate: I’ll be very impressed if they pull that off. That will be a huge change for Vandenburg, and I can see the locals getting very upset. I also see the weather being an issue.

  • Dick Eagleson

    David Eastman,

    Bingo on the SpaceX attitude toward IP theft, though it also directs considerable effort toward keeping its trade secrets secret. Successfully, too, it would seem. There is no evidence of any significant breach of SpaceX’s IP protection systems ever having taken place, though the PRC is tireless in making attempts. If the PRC had ever managed to get any significant F9 IP, for example, it wouldn’t still be a dozen or more years behind SpaceX in terms of rocket reusability.

    Re: Vandenberg, the base is in CA. There are always plenty of NIMBYs anywhere one goes in CA. But they don’t always get their way. As the linked article makes clear, there are also plenty of locals who will be delighted by the positive local economic impact of the planned increase in Falcon launch cadence from Vandy. Any soreheads can be – at worst – bought out by SpaceX.

  • Edward

    From the Space News article on whining NASA engineers:

    He said NASA wants to make those improved models available to the broader community, but that is restricted by limited data rights in those various agreements with companies working on the technology.

    “In some cases we can’t even force them to instrument the systems in the way we need them instrumented to get the data that we would need to validate,” he said. When NASA can get data, he said data rights restrictions may limit its ability to distribute it to others for use in validating models.

    All those guys really need is interface documentation. If they truly need more than they are getting, so that they can spread around the proprietary information, then they should have specified that in the contract.

    NASA is easy with other people’s hard work. Thirty-ish years ago, I was doing some work on a solar X-ray telescope for NASA, and the Japanese were making a similar, slightly larger, X-ray telescope. We would send NASA information that they requested, and a few months later we noticed that the Japanese telescope would incorporate exactly what we told NASA. We couldn’t really complain, because one of the downsides to a cost-plus contract is that if you don’t negotiate the contract right, everything you do belongs to NASA (similar to an employee’s invention belongs to his company). But it sure was annoying to know that your hard work in solving a problem was so freely distributed by NASA to everyone they knew. Just as the NASA guy said in the above quotes. No one was finding a different solution, maybe a better solution.

    So every company providing a service to NASA needs to keep their traps shut about any details of what they are doing, or valuable proprietary information will quickly be known to the entire world. No wonder virtually everything seen at Starbase is speculation, not informed by SpaceX itself. They neither confirm nor deny the speculation.

    The downside of this kind of privacy policy is that NASA does have a harder time copying Apollo’s success.

    Recently, Smarter Every Day’s Destin gave a talk to a bunch of aerospace people in which he touted NASA’s SP-287 document, What Made Apollo a Success?, (covering up to the Apollo 12 mission — it is clear that the document was written before Apollo 13). The essence of the reasons for success are: keeping everything simple; planning — lots of planning, confirming designs, workmanship, and changes through ground test; keeping everyone informed with every detail that they need in order to do their jobs; practicing every activity and many contingencies, developing the ability to solve unexpected problems; and knowing how to limit the contingency planning so that you don’t overwhelm yourselves. (one hour, Smarter Every Day)

    So, shouldn’t the question be, how much proprietary information do the other companies need from each other in order to make Artemis a success? NASA might be demanding such information just to make less work for themselves.

    Those slides also mentioned that SpaceX had “completed” the second Starship test flight recently, a term that one committee member took issue with. “I’m sure that some people would think that the word ‘completed’ should at least have quotation marks around it because of the anomaly that took place,” said retired Air Force general Lester Lyles.

    Keep that general away from my development program. Like the FAA, he does not understand the goals of test and when a test is extended beyond the goals in order to learn more than intended. It is a bit like performing a pressure test, then going on to find the actual burst pressure. The test succeeded despite the burst tank.

    Robert wrote: “It is my understanding that SpaceX does not waste time getting patents. It keeps its data in-house, using non-disclosure agreements to help keep its stuff private.

    My recollection is that SpaceX patents things that can be seen but not the things that cannot be seen. By it very nature, a patent just shows the world your idea so that they can copy it as soon as the patent expires. Sooner, if it is China.

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