Conscious Choice cover

From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

 
Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.

 

“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.

 

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


NOAA struggles with concept of letting private commercial space build its satellites

Capitalism in space? An article today in Space News, “NOAA to take first step toward a small satellite constellation”, describes at great length NOAA’s recent effort to rethink how it builds its weather satellites, shifting from large and expensive single satellites launched years apart to constellations of smallsats that provide more redundancy and are cheaper and easier to replace.

What the article misses, as does NOAA apparently, is that this shift should not be designed by NOAA at all. During the Trump administration there was pressure on this agency to do what NASA had, stop designing and building its satellites but instead become a customer that hires private satellite companies to do it instead.

Not much came of that pressure. NOAA hired one private company to study the idea of building a private satellite to observe the Sun. It also awarded three companies experimental contracts to provide NOAA weather data from already orbiting smallsats.

That was it. NOAA made no other attempts to encourage private companies to design and build weather satellites for it, even as it struggled to get its own satellites off the ground. The second new GOES satellite in a constellation of four for providing global weather coverage failed almost immediately after launch in 2018. Overall, that constellation is expected to cost $11 billion, $4 billion more than initially budgeted. And it is years behind schedule.

What the article above suggests is that, with the Trump administration gone, NOAA has now abandoned the effort to transition to privately-built weather satellites. Instead the article describes at great length the effort by NOAA to redesign its satellites from big, rare, and costly to small, frequent, and cheap.

This effort will fail. Government agencies like NOAA are incapable of accomplishing such a task. They do not think in terms of profit, and keeping costs down to maximize those profits. Instead, such government institutions see high costs as beneficial, as they pump more money into their operations.

Until elected officials force NOAA to change, it will not, and its weather satellites will continue to be late, expensive, and untrustworthy. Sadly, the elected officials we have today, especially in the Biden administration, are not going to do that. They are as satisfied with the present situation as NOAA is.

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10 comments

  • Ray Van Dune

    There is also the fact that NOAA regularly jiggers historic climate data to further the Climate Change hoax. They are professional hucksters, hardly the folks that could pull off an actual scientific accomplishment.

  • mkent

    During the Trump administration there was pressure on this agency to do what NASA had, stop designing and building its satellites but instead become a customer that hires private satellite companies to do it instead.

    Say what? NOAA has never designed and built its own satellites. It has always used private satellite companies to do that. The current GOES satellites are being designed and built by Lockheed Martin. The previous generation were designed and built by Boeing. The generations before that alternated between what are now Boeing and Space Systems Loral.

    JPSS-1 and its NPP prototype were designed and built by Ball Aerospace. JPSS-2 is being designed and built by Northrop Grumman. The POES predecessors to JPSS were designed and built by Lockheed Martin.

    NOAA has been doing what you want for 50 years now.

    The second new GOES satellite in a constellation of four for providing global weather coverage failed almost immediately after launch in 2018. Overall, that constellation is expected to cost $11 billion, $4 billion more than initially budgeted. And it is years behind schedule.

    Well, yeah. That’s because they chose Lockheed Martin to design and build their satellites. Nearly all of Lockheed’s satellite projects are years behind schedule and billions over budget: GOES, MUOS, AEHF, SBIRS, GPS III. The previous generation built by Boeing was on schedule and on (a much smaller) budget.

    The problems you cite are due to the choice of contractor, not because there isn’t one.

  • David Eastman

    Mkent, you could say on that basis that SLS isn’t being designed and built by NASA, it’s all Boeing. Yes, we understand that there isn’t a factory somewhere staffed by NASA employees, the actual production is handled by a contractor. But that production is overseen, managed, and totally driven by a highly detailed government specification. In the NOAA case, while the contractor might “design” the satellite in the sense of what components physically go where, all the key details about it are controlled, and frequently changed, by NOAA. That’s a big difference from “I want 10m resolution temperature data, everything else is up to you.”

  • mkent: You might want to go to the link under the word “failed,” which reviews the government report into the failure of GOES. Lockheed Martin might have contributed to the failure, but that report strongly suggested NOAA itself helped considerably, and might have been the prime cause.

    And there is a difference between contracting out work to private companies to build your satellite, for your sole use (which is what NASA used to do and NOAA still does) and buying use of a satellite designed, built, and owned by a private company. In the former the only purpose for the satellite is what the government agency wants, which means it is the only customer. In the latter the private company can tailor the product to serve many customers, and make a lot more money from it.

    As SpaceX is now doing with its Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket.

  • Col Beausabre

    Here’s a radical suggestion. Get rid of NOAA. There’s obviously a market out there for weather forecasts – I was even employed as a college senior by one firm in the industry, Accuweather, which means they’ve been a viable economic entity for a half century. There’s also the Weather Channel and who knows what else. This isn’t 1881 when the Army was telegraphing weather observations to Washington. People will pay for the information, so there’s no reason for the government to be in the business. Yes, the government has to be aware of the weather – but FEMA, Commerce and Agriculture can contract out, or just turn on the TV. The Air Force’s Air Weather Service provides the DOD and sister services what they need (way back in 75 we were getting “MifMifs” – “Meteorological Information Messages” every four hours from out colleagues in light blue).

  • mkent

    In the NOAA case, while the contractor might “design” the satellite in the sense of what components physically go where, all the key details about it are controlled, and frequently changed, by NOAA.

    No. The GOES R satellite series is based on the A2100 satellite bus. It is a commercial satellite bus developed by Lockheed Martin for the commercial market and has over 40 customers that include SES Americom, DISH network, Sky Perfect JSAT, the U. S. Air Force, the U. S. Navy, and the NRO.

    The GOES N satellite series was based on the HS-601 satellite bus. It was a commercial satellite bus developed by then Hughes (now Boeing) for the commercial market with 84 orders that include DirecTV, Intelsat, PanAmSat, JSAT, and SES.

    The JPSS-2 series is based on the LEOSTAR-3 satellite bus. It was developed by then Orbital Sciences Corp. (now Northrop Grumman) for commercial, military, and NASA customers. Previous satellites using the bus include Deep Space 1, SWIFT, GLAST, GeoEye-1, Landsat 8, and Icesat-2.

    In each case, only the payload module is different in that the communications transponders are swapped out for the environmental sensors. The sensors themselves are being designed and built by private companies, including Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and L3 Harris.

    That’s a big difference from “I want 10m resolution temperature data, everything else is up to you.”

    What you’re after here is different than what Bob suggested. What you want is called a data purchase. This has been tried before with near disastrous results. The George W. Bush administration tried to replace the Landsat satellites with a data purchase. None of the commercial offerings could replace the Landsat data (continuity of data from 1972 is an important research requirement), and forcing the issue is what caused the 14-year gap between Landsat 7 and Landsat 8. Fortunately Lockheed Martin’s Tiros bus (developed when the satellite division was still owned by RCA) came through, and the satellite designed with a five-year life lasted for 21 years.

    You might want to go to the link under the word “failed,” which reviews the government report into the failure of GOES. Lockheed Martin might have contributed to the failure, but that report strongly suggested NOAA itself helped considerably, and might have been the prime cause.

    The satellite didn’t fail. It’s still in place and serving Alaska, Hawaii, and the West Coast. What did fail was the loop heat pipe built by Orbital ATK (now Northrop Grumman) in the Advanced Baseline Imager (developed by L3Harris), most likely by foreign object debris. This failure results in extra noise in the data.

    And there is a difference between contracting out work to private companies to build your satellite, for your sole use (which is what NASA used to do and NOAA still does)…

    And what NASA still does. James Webb, Percy, DART, IceSat, SWOT, Swift, etc. are all owned by NASA for its sole use.

    …and buying use of a satellite designed, built, and owned by a private company. In the former the only purpose for the satellite is what the government agency wants, which means it is the only customer. In the latter the private company can tailor the product to serve many customers, and make a lot more money from it.

    There are no other customers for this data. The JPSS constellation, which is what the original article was about, is a whole lot more than just temperature data. It also replaces NASA’s Earth Observing System (the Terra, Aqua, and Aero satellites). These satellites provide the data that feed the climate change models used by the government. There’s no consumer-grade use for most of the data.

    You can claim the climate models do more harm than good, but neither the Congress nor the White House (not even the Trump administration) wants to abandon this line of research completely.

    The best you’re going to do is a commercial satellite bus with many customers and a custom sensor suite designed by private industry to government specifications. Which is exactly what we have.

  • bright dark

    Lockheed is also the company that dropped a satellite as it was building it. The infamous NOAA-19 incident.

  • wayne

    Elon Musk 🚀 & Akira The Don
    “If You Don’t Make Stuff, There is No Stuff” (June 2020)
    https://youtu.be/nA4Ya-yKJ0A
    3:23

  • Jeff Wright

    Accuweather was an enemy of farmers. NOAA provide data at no cost an Santorum’s Weather Duties act would have been corp welfare-and proof that privatization can cost consumers more, not less. Boeing and GM seeking profit over performance hurt them both-even as open borders and free trade hurt America. That having been said…private smallsats may poke holes in the claims of doom and gloomers…so I urge the private world to do it on their own dime…just keep Santorum out of it this time.

  • Edward

    mkent,
    I agree with Robert. So far NOAA has owned its own satellites, setting such strict requirements that NOAA has been largely responsible for the design of the payload, the mission of the satellite. Just because the bus was designed by the various contractors does not mean that Robert is wrong about NOAA being responsible for the satellite design. Think of the choice of contractor, and thus the choice of bus, being part of NOAA’s design of the spacecraft. It is similar to the bus manufacturer’s choice of reaction wheels for use in its bus, which is part of the bus design.

    I worked on a NOAA instrument, a telescope photographing the sun in the x-ray spectrum (space weather), and the requirements document was very thick, specifying a large part of how the instrument was to be designed. It even specified the detector, and it was a difficult task getting it changed to a CCD, which was fairly new at the time. However, we did get to choose the size of screws to use.

    The concept Robert prefers is to switch over to collecting data from commercial satellites. This is not a new proposal, as Robert noted, and over the past half decade NOAA has experimented with buying data from commercial operators. The idea is to save hundreds of millions of dollars by not building NOAA-dedicated satellites. You have missed the point of Robert’s commentary and of the article.

    From the Space News article:

    “We would like to start the process of adopting more commercial practices in low orbit and seeing how we might implement them,” said Greg Mandt, NOAA JPSS program director. “If we spend the next five or six years seeing what we could do, that could produce quite an interesting paradigm shift.”

    NOAA is not the only government agency exploring the benefits of gathering weather data with small satellites. The U.S. Space Force is funding development of small satellites to characterize clouds and provide weather data in military theaters of operations. The European Space Agency is developing a prototype for a constellation of small Arctic Weather Satellite spacecraft.

    Government agencies are eager to profit from the steady stream of commercial innovation.

    A huge difference between the NOAA-designed satellite and the commercial satellite is that NOAA will only specify the data to be collected and the required quality of the data. The commercial company is then responsible for designing a satellite that meets these general requirements. This is one way that these commercial weather satellites are similar to Dragon, Falcon 9, Cygnus, Dream Chaser, and Starliner.

    There are no other customers for this data.

    Oh, yes there are.

    There are a whole lot of customers. NOAA does not currently charge them for the data. The commercial companies want to charge for the data, but NOAA thinks that the data should be free for all to use. The commercial companies seem willing to charge for fresh data, charge a lower price for “day old” data which is about to become stale for weather prediction, and give away old data for use in such things as research or education. The last I heard (a year ago, or maybe two), NOAA was still pondering this kind of price structure. The commercial companies believe that the more customers that buy the data, the less expensive it will be for each customer, especially NOAA, which is the point of the exercise. On the other hand, the customers who now receive the data for free from NOAA will actually pay more.

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