Category Archives: Points of Information

Wisconsin HS students win U.S. rocketry competition

A team of high school students from Wisconsin have won U.S. rocketry competition and will now represent this country in the international competition to be held at the Paris International Air Show in June..

The team’s victory follows months of preparation designing, building, and testing a rocket capable of meeting rigorous mission parameters set by the contest’s sponsors – the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), National Association of Rocketry, and more than 20 industry sponsors. This year’s rules celebrated the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 by requiring each rocket to carry three eggs in a separate capsule to symbolize the three astronauts that made the journey to the Moon and back.

The Top 101 teams, hailing from 25 states from Hawaii to New York, competed for a total of $100,000 in prize money and scholarships at the national finals – an all-day event held at Great Meadow in The Plains, Va., outside of Washington, D.C. The $100,000 prize pool will be split among the Top 10 teams, with Madison West taking home the top prize of $20,000 as U.S. champions. In addition, the top twenty-five finishers receive an invitation to participate in NASA’s Student Launch initiative to continue their exploration of rocketry with high-powered rockets and challenging mission parameters.

The growth of this competition is clearly tied directly to the boom in commercial rocketry going on worldwide.

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Wales Day 6

Sheep on the flanks of Cader Edrisc

Stone walls on the flanks of Cader Edris

Approaching the halfway point in the hike up Cader Edrisc

After yesterday’s long hike on Mount Snowdon, today was planned as an easier day. First we changed locations, driving south to the village of Dolgellau.

In the morning we heard two short presentations, first about the first discovery of Wales by tourists in the 1700s, and second a more scholarly look at the place names of Wales that appear connected to Arthur. In this case the speaker, Scott Lloyd of the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, was focused more on what is really known, and was thus less sure about Arthur’s links to Wales than our previous expert, Gareth Roberts. Lloyd has documented the many place names (see his book, The Arthurian Place Names of Wales), but he has also documented the important detail that most started appearing after the first writings about Arthur started to appear, with most appearing several centuries after Arthur supposedly lived. This suggests that the names were chosen because of the legend, not because the man had been there.

In the afternoon some of us did a short hike halfway up the nearby mountain Cader Edris. The first picture shows the mountain at the top right, with sheep in the center, and a hawthorn tree in bloom to the left. The second picture shows the trail going uphill parallel to one of the many typical stone walls found everywhere in Wales. The land is very rocky, and to make it better for grazing farmers would clear the stones from the fields, putting them in piles to the side. Then, when the enclosure laws were passed in the early 1800s they used those stones to build the walls to define their property lines.

The third picture shows Taff and Barbara ahead of me, with Cader Edris in the distance. Shortly thereafter we stopped to lie on the soft heather to chat and admire the countryside and the grey rocky slope going up to the peak ahead of us. We then headed back down for dinner and an evening in town.

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Wales Day 5

Lower part of Rhyd Ddu trail

Walking through West Snowdon Quarry

Taff Roberts on the stair climb up Clogwyn Du

Our crew with the summit in view

The goal today was to hike up to the top of Mount Snowdon, the highest point in Wales, as well as the island of England. Diane and I didn’t make it, but not for want of trying.

The route we took started at the trailhead of the Rhyd Ddu trail, one of the more popular routes up the mountain. The top photo to the right shows the view from the lower elevations of this trail, and gives a good sense of the beauty, barrenness, and dampness of the day. Though it never really rained on us, the sky was almost always overcast and the cloud cover sometimes came down to engulf us.

Rather than take Rhyd Ddu straight north to the top, however, our route has us head right (east) up the Clogwyn Du trail through the now inactive West Snowdon slate quarry, and then turn left (north) up the nose of a very steep ridgeline to meet up with Rhyd Ddu close to the summit. The second image on the left shows Diane standing on the trail surrounded by slate tailings from that quarry.

The next picture shows Hywel “Taff” Roberts, our leader and the owner of Wild Wales Tours, with the distant mountain floor below us. We have begun the climb up the nose of that ridgeline, with the initial section up a very steep stone staircase cut into the ground. I could not help but think of the stairs of Cirith Ungol from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.

The last photo was taken by Taff showing our entire crew, with the peak of Mount Snowdon hidden by clouds at the top center of the image. From left to right we have Pat, Dennis, the sisters Penny and Barbara, our second guide Haf, and then Diane and myself. The peak at the top-left is actually the start of the knife-edge ridgeline that leads to the peak. Where that ridgeline begins Clogwyn Du meets up again with Rhyd Ddu, which follows that very narrow knife-edge ridge to the summit, with 1000 foot drop-offs on either side.

When we got to Rhyd Ddu on that ridgeline Diane and I decided to head back down on Rhyd Ddu. We were now in the clouds, so going on to the peak seemed silly as we likely wouldn’t be able to see anything. Moreover, it was colder than either of us are used to or like. While Taff came down with us, everyone else continued to the peak. As I write this they have not yet returned, though I have no doubt they had a spectacular time crossing that ridge to the summit. UPDATE: The rest of the crew made the peak, but could see nothing for that entire section of hike, because of the clouds.

Not making the summit does not bother me much. I like to get to the top, but also know that we could it do another time should we decide to try. Diane and I have been doing this for a lot of years. We know our capabilities. We don’t need to prove them to others or ourselves.

Besides, the views up until then had been breath-taking, and they continued to be as good on the hike down. This was why we came, and it paid us amply in beauty every step of the way.

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China launches GPS-type satellite

China yesterday launched another one of its Beidou GPS-type satellites using its Long March 3C rocket.

This is their fourth backup BeiDou placed in orbit, and the 45th total that has been launched.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

7 China
5 SpaceX
4 Europe (Arianespace)
3 Russia

The U.S. still leads China 10 to 7 in the national rankings.

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Wales Day 4

Sygun Fawr

Today's hike

Merlin's Pool

Foundation at top of hill

Today’s adventure in Wales was a pleasant seven mile hike up onto a small hill, Dinas Emrys, nestled in the pass in Snowdonia National Park that crosses from north to south Wales past Mount Snowdon. Our hotel, Sygun Fawr, can be seen in the lower left corner in the first picture on the right, which I took from the top of this hill. If you look close, you can see the window of our second floor room, looking out at the mountains.

The hike was through some of the lushest green woods I’ve ever seen, as illustrated by the second picture on the right. The trail itself was clearly very old, with stone steps and even a simple bridge made of flat stones and laid across a stream with a single larger rock in the center for support.

The hill itself is associated with Merlin in a number of ways. For example, the pool at the base of the waterfall in the third picture has been called Merlin’s Pool for centuries. Furthermore, Merlin supposedly hid a treasure in a cave somewhere on the hill, which will only be discovered by someone with golden hair and blue eyes and who will be guided to the cave by a bell ringing.

Legend also tells this tale:

Fleeing Anglo-Saxon invaders Vortigen came to Wales and chose the hillfort as his retreat. However all efforts at building on the site failed, with workers returning daily to find collapsed masonry. Vortigern was counselled to seek the help of a young boy born of a virgin mother; a suitable boy was found named Myrddin Emrys (Merlin Ambrosius). Vortigern’s plan to kill Myrddin to appease the supernatural powers preventing him from building his fortress was scorned by Myrddin who instead explained that the fort could not stand due to a hidden pool containing two dragons. The White Dragon – he explained – of the Saxons would in time be defeated by the British Red Dragon.

The fourth pictures shows Gareth Roberts, our guide who as mentioned yesterday has been researching Welsh Arthurian place names, standing on the foundation of the ruin at Dinas Emrys’ top. To his left and slightly lower down on the hill in a gully was a second foundation and a pool from a natural spring. This spring was another reason this hilltop was a favored site for a stronghold, as it not only gave clear views both up and down the valley, was very defensible, but also had a ready supply of water. A fortress here would withstand attack for a considerable time.

Tomorrow we climb Mount Snowdon itself, The hike’s length will likely be about nine miles, and will gain 2,900 feet in elevation, somewhat comparable to many hikes in southern Arizona. The weather looks excellent, with spring temperatures at the mountain’s base.

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New LRO pictures showing Beresheet impact site

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) science team yesterday released an image showing the impact site where the privately-built Israeli lunar lander Beresheet crashed onto the surface of the Moon on April 11, 2019.

“The cameras captured a dark smudge, about 10 meters wide, that indicates the point of impact,” said NASA. “The dark tone suggests a surface roughened by the hard landing, which is less reflective than a clean, smooth surface.”

The image released does not see the spacecraft but the surface evidence that an impact took place. Higher resolution images will be required to spot any surface wreckage.

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Hayabusa-2 aborts close-in drop of visual marker on Ryugu

Japan’s asteroid probe Hayabusa-2 automatically aborted a planned drop of a visual markee on the asteroid Ryugu at the site where the probe created a crater in April.

Thursday’s mission was to observe the targeted area in detail and drop a marker from an altitude of 10 meters. But officials say the probe automatically suspended the operation after it descended to about 50 meters above the surface. It then headed toward its standby position of 20 kilometers above Ryugu. Hayabusa2 is designed to automatically abort its landing if it detected any irregularity. The agency is looking into the cause of the arrested descent.

Once the marker is eventually in place, they will use it for guidance during a a second touchdown to grab further samples, this time hopefully of material churned up by the explosion that created the crater.

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Wales Day 3

Bryn Celli Ddu

Arthur's Table

John Jo splitting slate

Our travels today in Wales took us to three sites, all completely different.

First we visited Bryn Celli Ddu, a neolithic burial chamber, built about 5,000 years ago and shown in the top right photo. After following a well-defined path along the edge of two fields, we all entered this mound and stood in the chamber inside. The entrance shown in the image was aligned with the summer solstice so that the sun at sunrise would beam directly into the inner chamber.

Next, we drove to the northeast corner of the island of Anglesey to climb a flat-topped hill called Arthur’s Table. Our guide, Gareth Roberts, has been doing extensive research on the place names in Wales that appear to link directly to the legend of King Arthur. It is his contention (supported by those place names as well as research by others) that Arthur was actually a Welsh military leader, born of Roman parents (who had integrated into Welsh society) and who united the tribes to fight the Saxon invaders in the sixth century, after the Romans had abandoned the British Isles. He has found more than a hundred place names in this part of Wales named in honor of Arthur. He has also found in the written record much evidence linking Arthur to Wales and the war to resist the Saxons.

This particular hilltop has been identified by archeology as the location of a significant Welsh village from the time the Romans were conquering Great Britain. The middle right photo, taken from the top, looks east across the Menai Strait that separates Anglesey from the mainland, with the mountains of Snowdonia beyond. This strait is where the Romans crossed in their first attempt to conquer Anglesey and Wales.

Roberts’ thinks that the Round Table from the King Arthur legends was a misinterpretation by later French and British storytellers of this important Welsh hilltop village. Instead of being a table where Arthur ruled with his knights, the table was this hilltop, where that Roman invasion was first spotted during their initial invasion. Five hundred years later, when the Saxons invaded and Arthur led the resistance to them, Roberts’ believes the name was given because in some way Arthur was connected to it.

The third image shows slate cutter John Jo as he demonstrates how to split slate into the thin slate tiles that are used to cover rooftops. We watched this demonstration as part of a full tour of the National Slate Museum, nestled within the mountains on the way to Snowdonia, where for more than hundred years one of the world’s biggest slate mines mined, processed, and sold slate. Closed since 1969, the mine facility now serves as a museum. The most spectacular feature of this mine facility was the still functioning giant water wheel, more than fifty feet in diameter, that was turned by a stream of gravity-fed water at its base and was used to run all the belts that powered all the belt-driven machinery in the facility. The video of the wheel, embedded below the fold, shows the wheel as we saw it today. Unfortunately it does not include any people in it for scale, though one of the last shots shows a ladder for accessing the wheel’s top. Trust me, a person seems dwarfed by this wheel.

We then drove up over the mountain pass in Snowdonia National Park to our hotel, nestled at the base of Mount Snowdon. We shall be spending the rest of our trip hiking these mountains. The hike tomorrow will once again be led by Gareth Roberts and will show us further links between Arthur and Wales. On Sunday we will attempt to hike to the top of Mount Snowdon.
» Read more

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Wales Day 2

South Stack

Din Lligwy

Ynys Llanddwyn

Our journey through Wales continues. Today, as with yesterday, we explored the island Anglesey, which forms the northwest corner of Wales.

The day began going to Anglesey’s northwest coast to hike north to the South Stack lighthouse, as shown in the top right image. At this resolution you cannot see them, but the greyish-green rock faces rising one third to halfway up these cliff faces are covered with thousands and thousands of birds, including the guillemots, razorbills, chough, and puffins. Among them also stalks the herring gull, which is hoping to pick off an easy meal by grabbing the young offspring of the other birds.

We walked about two miles along these high dramatic cliffs to the lighthouse, which unfortunately was closed today because it had been reserved for an elementary school class trip.

We then drove to the little visited ruins of Din Lligwy (don’t ask me to explain how to pronounce it), shown in the second image to the right. These ruins are hidden behind trees on a high hill overlooking the part of the Irish Sea north of Wales and are what is left of a Welsh/Roman village. The ruins include the circular stone structures used as foundations for Welsh homes as well as the square stone wall/foundations used by the Romans. It is thus thought that after the Romans conquered Wales and before their abandonment of the British Isles the Romans intermarried with the Welsh and added their architectural designs to that used by the Welsh. The image shows the largest square foundation, with the two standing stones delineating the building’s entrance. To the left, out of frame, is a Welsh circular structure that to my eye looked exactly like a kiva that one sees in all the American Indian ruins of the southwest.

After visiting a number of other ruins, we then headed to the island’s southernmost point, to the peninsula of Ynys Llanddwyn, also called Dwynwen’s Island. It is no longer an island, because in the 1400s a giant storm, followed by several more, dumped a gigantic amount of sand along the shore, thus extending that shoreline several miles seaward and connecting the island to the mainland.

The bottom picture shows the peninsula’s distance lighthouse, and the ruins of a church (the arch) built to honor Dwynwen, who had been a Welsh princess. According to legend, she had been betrothed but fell in love with another man, who when he found out about the betrothal attacked her. This broke her heart, and she ended up running away to live unmarried on this island for the rest of her life, dedicated to helping unhappy lovers. For this she was made the patron saint for lovers by the Catholic Church.

To visit all these sites required us to cross Anglesey practically from the top to the bottom, generally traveling secondary roads. The land was a gentle rolling terrain, covered with numerous small farms whose amazingly lush and well-kept fields were devoted almost entirely to grazing sheep and cattle. The villages were all small, whose packed trim homes were either built during the 1800s or built to fit that style. Overall I got the impression that though this part of Wales might not be wealthy, its people had a strong sense of civic pride.

Tomorrow we head to Mount Snowden and the mountains. The scenery should get a bit more dramatic.

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In Wales

747

The view from the Village of Rhosneigr

This will be a short post, as we are about to leave on our second day’s adventures.

To the right is the plane that finally got us out of the U.S. to London, where we had to transfer again to get to Dublin. Twas nice to fly on a 747, rapidly disappearing from the fleets of American airline companies. British Airways however appears to still be flying a lot of them. A super smooth flight on this magnificent plane.

Transferring planes in Heathrow as horrible, as it seems all international travel is becoming. Even though we were never leaving the terminal they still forced us to go through customs.

The second picture shows the view from the coastal village of Rhosneigr at the end of the day. We had met up with our group and had just completed a 4 mile hike along the beach. It seems there are a lot of bird watchers among us. It also seems in a way like we were back at Cannon Beach, without any crowds at all.

Time to go! More later.

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Fascist scientists propose excluding 85% of solar system from human use

The tyrannical Earth moves to oppress future spacefarers: Scientists have now proposed a new fascist plan designed to exclude any human development in 85% of the entire solar system.

Great swathes of the solar system should be preserved as official “space wilderness” to protect planets, moons and other heavenly bodies from rampant mining and other forms of industrial exploitation, scientists say.

The proposal calls for more than 85% of the solar system to be placed off-limits to human development, leaving little more than an eighth for space firms to mine for precious metals, minerals and other valuable materials.

While the limit would protect pristine worlds from the worst excesses of human activity, its primary goal is to ensure that humanity avoids a catastrophic future in which all of the resources within its reach are permanently used up. [emphasis mine]

These fascists really only want power. They really have no interest in preserving anything. If their proposal was ever made law it would put control over that 85% in the hands of bureaucrats on Earth, not the people who will be living and working in space and who would also know best how to handle the situation. Also, their justification for the proposal, to prevent humans from using up all the available resources, is beyond ludicrous. We haven’t yet come close to using up Earth’s resources, even though doomsayers have been predicting that to happen repeatedly for the past century.

This story more than anything provides a window into the future political conflicts that will occur once humans finally establish space colonies. Much as the American colonies had to revolt from Great Britain’s overbearing power, colonists in space will have to do the same to get away from the same overbearing power coming from Earth.

Posted on a ferry taking us from Dublin, Ireland, to Holyhead, Wales.

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America’s 10 largest cities drowning in debt

The coming dark age: According to a new report [pdf] from an independent government watchdog, the United States’ ten largest cities are all deep in debt, with taxpayer burdens for that debt ranging from $119K to $13K per taxpayer.

Almost all the cities on this list are and have been run by Democrats for decades, with Democratic strongholds Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia holding the four top spots. Nor have the Republicans been innocent or responsible. In cities where they had some control, such as New York when Rudy Giuliani was mayor, little was done to rein in spending. Still, Democrats have held the bulk of political control in big American cities for the last century, so much of this debt comes from their policies.

The watchdog group that issued the report, Truth in Accounting, also focused on the dishonest accounting practices used by all these cities to hide their debt.

“The largest cities in the U.S. issue so-called ‘Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports,’ but most of them aren’t so comprehensive,” Bill Bergman, Truth in Accounting’s director of research, told Fox News via email.

The report questioned if cities’ annual financial reports “comprehensively track municipal accounts such as school districts, transit agencies, utility systems, etc.” Annual financial reports “for a city doesn’t present the full picture of their fiscal position, and is deceptive to the public,” the report said.

None of this is news. Politicians of all strips at every level of government have been faking their accounting for decades to allow them to spend more money than they have. The result is debt across the board, at every level of American government, with the worst debt held by our out-of-control federal government.

Are the politicians to blame? Yes, but the source of their corruption really falls on the voters, who have favored such politicians because they have been giving money away to those taxpayers. Rather than be responsible citizens, Americans for the past half century have been greedy and selfish, using their governments to get as many free handouts as possible. Or they have been willing to countenance big payouts to unions and others, sometimes for naive idealism, and sometimes because of pure laziness to pay attention to such matters.

Can the U.S. clean up this mess before the whole house of cards collapses? That remains unknown. Trump’s election hints that the voters might be willing to try, but then, Trump is no budget-cutting hawk. He believes in lots of government spending as well, from NASA to infrastructure. It remains to be seen whether the American public has begun to recognize this unsustainable situation. My sense is that they have become aware, but are still unwilling to make the hard sacrifices necessary to fix the problem. For example, the worst political offenders here remain the Democrats, and there is absolutely no indication of them losing power in the big urban cities named in this report. The debt grows, but the voters continue to support them.

Until we see a full house-cleaning in the Democratic Party, the situation is simply not going to improve.

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Trump seeks $1.6 billion more for NASA, cuts money to Gateway

The Trump administration, in order to support its desire to accomplish a lunar landing by 2024, is requesting a $1.6 billion increase in NASA’s budget for fiscal year 2020. The key detail however is this:

NASA shortly thereafter published a summary of its budget amendment, which calls for nearly $1.9 billion in new funding for developing lunar landers and accelerating work on the Space Launch System and Orion. It would also go towards exploration technology development and additional science missions to the moon. That increase would be offset by cutting funding for the lunar Gateway by $321 million, reflecting the agency’s plan for only a “minimal” Gateway needed to support a 2024 landing.

In other words, in total Trump wants $1.6 billion more. The good news: He is de-emphasizing Gateway in his future plans. This might even lead to its cancellation as a project.

The bad news? He is pumping more money into SLS/Orion. However, this might not be that bad, when one considers how our bankrupt Washington government functions. Trump doesn’t have the political backing to cut SLS/Orion outright. Instead this proposal is that project’s Hail Mary pass for a touchdown. While private efforts continue to mature to develop cheaper rockets and manned capsules, SLS/Orion will have this one last chance to finally prove itself. If it finds it can’t get it done, and those private options show that they can, then Trump might finally be able to harness the political will in our dumb Congress to dump SLS/Orion.

And if SLS/Orion does succeed? The victory will likely still be a Pyrrhic one. SLS/Orion will still be too expensive and too slow to do much else but a single lunar landing, a stunt much like Apollo, with far less long term possibilities. Meanwhile, those private efforts will continue to develop. By 2024 a switch by NASA to private enterprise and competition will still make sense anyway, even if SLS/Orion gives the nation a spectacular lunar landing.

This action indicates that the Trump administration is paying attention to these matters. They are creating a situation that will put them in a strong negotiating position to get what they want, for the nation. One way or the other, we will be heading back to the Moon.

One minor detail: NASA has chosen “Artemis” as the name for its project to land on the Moon by 2020.

Bridenstine also … announce[d] that this 2024 lunar landing mission will be named Artemis, after the sister of Apollo and the Greek goddess of the moon. “I think it is very beautiful that, 50 years after Apollo, the Artemis program will carry the next man and the first woman to the moon.”

No one should be fooled by this. Apollo was a full program, with a well-thought slate of missions designed to get us to the Moon quickly. This SLS/Orion project is still an off the cuff mishmash, with only two or three flights at most, and without much of a plan behind those flights. It has been and continues to be an improvised mess.

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Are Boeing and SpaceX having parachute issues with their manned capsules?

There appears to be a significant conflict between what NASA has been saying about the parachute development tests for both SpaceX’s Dragon capsule and Boeing’s Starliner capsule and what the companies have reported.

The head of NASA’s manned program, Bill Gerstenmaier, has said that both programs have had “anomalies” during their tests. Both companies have said otherwise, with both companies claiming that all their parachutes have been successful. The article looks into this, and what it finds tends to support the companies over Gerstenmaier. There have been issues, but not as terrible as implied by Gerstenmaier.

So what is going on? I suspect that Gerstenmaier is overstating these issues as part NASA’s game to slow-walk the private capsules in order to make SLS not look so bad. He would of course deny this, but that denial won’t change my suspicions, in the slightest. I’ve seen NASA’s bureaucracy play too many games in connection with getting these capsules approved for flight to be generous to Gertenmaier or NASA. I don’t trust them. I’ve seen them make dishonest accusations against SpaceX and Boeing too many times already.

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Finally in Dublin

Because American Airlines cancelled our Sunday night flight to Dublin (on the way to Wales), we ended up getting here one day late. The result is that we are both exhausted, partly from two days of travel, and partly because the messed up flights has made it harder to adjust to the time change.

My impression of American Airlines drops with every flight. This time they were very disorganized in every way in dealing with the cancellation, caused because our airplane had a maintenance issue. We managed to get our new flight plus our hotel, taxi, and food vouchers quickly because we did some smart quick thinking, working as a team. However, though American told us we were now going to be on a British Airways flight and would send me an email confirmation within minutes, that confirmation never arrived, and when we got to the BA ticket counter the next day they knew nothing about us. Fortunately,. the BA ticket person was great. She called American and got our tickets issued.

I should add that we had an almost identical experience coming home from Oregon on Southwest only a little more than a week ago. Not only did Southwest keep us better informed, they also were able to find another plane and crew and got us out the same night, though six hours late. Moreover, Southwest gave everyone on the flight a $100 voucher, unasked, as an apology for the delay. American meanwhile offered us nothing as recompense. And their food vouchers were pitiful, failing to cover the cost of any meal at the airport.

I will try to post more tonight, but likely I won’t get much done until tomorrow.

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The floor of Marineris Valles

Close-up of the floor of Marineris Valles

Larger view
Click for the full image.

To the right is small section cropped out of an image, taken by the high resolution camera of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on March 30, 2019, of one very tiny area of the floor of the 2,500 mile long Marineris Valles, the biggest known canyon in the solar system.

Below this on the right is a larger section of the full image, with the white box showing the part covered by the top photograph. The general flow direction is to the east.

The photograph, uncaptioned, is titled “Terminus of Pitted Materials Emanating from Oudemans Crater.” Oudemans Crater is about 55 miles across and is located near the head of Marineris Valles to the east of the giant volcanic region dubbed the Tharsis Bulge. The meteorite that caused this crater is estimated to have been a little less than 3 miles in diameter. It is believed by some scientists that the impact heated up subsurface carbon dioxide permafrost which then explosively flooded down the Valles Marineris into the Northern Plains of Mars, pushing a lot of pulverized debris in front of it..

Instead of liquid water, what is stored underground on Mars is liquid CO2 and when a collapse occurs, this boils almost instantly and explosively to CO2 vapour, blasting the rock and regolith to dust, except for the most resistant fragments such as igneous rocks. The rest of the regolith is composed of dust and gravel, weakly cemented by water ice. On Mars, water is not a fluid, but behaves as a mineral in most situations. Grains of ice would be tumbled along in the cryogenic flows, and transported as passive solids just like quartz grains are transported as sand by rivers on Earth.

This theory, if correct, would eliminate the need for liquid water on the surface, and would explain many of the planet’s geological surface features.

Overview

The overview thumbnail to the left shows the location of both Oudemans Crater and this MRO image, indicated by the very tiny blue rectangle near the thumbnail’s center..

The “pitted materials” in the image’s title refers to that flowing avalanche of pulverized ice, rock, and dust, shown in the picture by the curved terraced cliffs descending to the east. This is where this material settled as it flowed eastward, pushed by that explosive CO2 flood.

You can see another example of this eastward flow in another MRO image taken just to the west. The canyon floor is pitted, confused, and rough, but there is an obvious flow trend to the east.

In fact, much of the floor of Marineris Valles that has been photographed at high resolution is similarly rugged. It will be a challenge to explore this place, especially because we have only imaged a small percentage at high resolution. There is much there that remains unseen and unknown.

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Off to Wales for two weeks

Today Diane and I are off for a two week vacation hiking and sightseeing in Wales, beginning with a day in Dublin and finishing with two days in London. During that time I will continue to post, but expect my posts to show up at very odd hours, as I settle into the British time zone, five hours ahead of New York.

Along the way I should also post, as I usually do, some commentary and pictures about our trip and my impressions of this insistently different part of Great Britain. The description of the tour itself can be found here.

For me this trip will be a very different experience, in that in all my other travels I always made all the arrangements, in order to save money. This time we decided to splurge and let someone else do that work. Should be fun, and most interesting.

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Yutu-2 travels more than 600 feet during its fifth lunar day on the Moon

The Chinese press today revealed that during its fifth lunar day on the Moon’s far side China’s lunar rover Yutu-2 traveled about 623 feet.

Where exactly it went, and what it learned, they did not reveal. We will have to wait for Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter images to learn the rover’s route.

They have now put both Yutu-2 and the lander Chang’e-4 into sleep mode for the long lunar night.

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Virgin Galactic to move flight operations to New Mexico

Capitalism in space: As promised more than a decade ago, Virgin Galactic yesterday announced that is finally going to move its SpaceShipTwo flight operations from Mohave to the Spaceport America facility in New Mexico this summer.

This fulfills Virgin’s original agreement with New Mexico, where the company agreed to base its commercial operations there if the state spent money to build the spaceport. The move is beginning now, but will mostly occur in the summer. It suggests the company might finally be getting ready to at last begin commercial tourist flights, only a decade-plus later than originally promised.

As is usual, Richard Branson made this a big public relations event. And as is usual, numerous press outlets have swooned over it. I remain very skeptical.

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Fractured and collapsed Martian crater floor

Fractured and collapse Martian crater floor
Click for full image.

Time for some puzzling Martian geology. The image on the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, comes from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) high resolution archive, and shows a strangely collapsed and fractured crater floor. In fact, like a number of other Martian craters, rather than having a central peak, the center of the crater floor, shown at the image’s center right, seems depressed.

The crater is located in a region dubbed the Cerberus Plains, in a hilly subregion called Tartarus Colles. Of the transition zone between the northern lowlands and the southern highlands these plains comprise the second largest region.

Being in the transition zone I would guess that the geology here is strongly influenced by the ebb and flow of the slowly retreating intermittent ocean that is thought to have once existed in the nearby lowlands. As water came and went, it created a variety of shoreline features scattered about, but not in a single sharp line as we would expect on Earth. Think more like tidal pools, where in some areas water gets trapped and left behind only to sublimate away at at later time.

We can see some hints of these processes in the images of the floors of two other craters that I have previously highlighted, here and here.

With this geological overview in mind, the broken plates here remind me of features I’ve seen in caves. Mud gets washed into a passage, partly filling it. Over time a gentle water flow over the surface of the mud deposits a crust of calcite flowstone on top of the mud. Should the water flow suddenly increase, it will wash out the mud below the crust. If the crust is not very strong or thick, it will crack into pieces as it falls, and thus resemble what we see here in this Martian crater.

There are cases where the crust becomes thick enough to remain standing, which produces some spectacular hanging calcite draperies that seem to defy explanation.

The collapse in the center of the crater is more puzzling, but suggests, based on comparable-looking Earth geology, that any perched water in this canyon might have actually drained out through underground drainage, accessed through the depression.

Be warned: All my explanations above are based on what exists on Earth, and Mars is very different from Earth. The lower gravity, colder temperatures, and different chemistry guarantee that the geological processes there will not be identical. We start by using what we know here, but recognize that we need to learn more about Mars to truly understand what goes on there.

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Will India’s private space industry take off?

Link here. The article describes the presentations given during an event in India that included both government and commercial representatives of its space industry.

It appears that one of the concerns of India’s private space sector is the recent creation of a new division in ISRO, the country’s space agency, focused on making ISRO’s technology available to the private sector, for a fee. From the second link:

Reports citing official documents suggest that in order to facilitate transfer of technology, NSIL [Newspace India Limited] will take license from ISRO before sub-licensing them to the commercial players. The technology transfer envisaged through the NSIL will include India’s small satellite program, the small satellite launch vehicle (SSLV) program and the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). This would mean that services including launching of satellites can be undertaken by private entities once the license is procured by the NSIL.

Speaking to Times of India, Dr. Sivan, head of the ISRO, said that the NSIL will essentially become the connecting link for ISRO with commercial players to aid in technology transfer for a fee. As he put it: “We wanted a mechanism to transfer the technologies of our new projects like SSLV and even lithium-ion cells. With this company, ISRO will be able to smoothly transfer these technologies after charging fees. Once companies start mass production of small satellites and launchers, ISRO will be charging them for using its launch services.” In another interview, he had stated that he expected a demand for 2-3 SSLV rockets per month.

It appears the speakers at the conference had mixed opinions about NSIL. Some saw it as a direct competitor, holding significant advantages because already has guaranteed government funding. Others were more optimistic.

What strikes me is the decision by ISRO to have NSIL charge private companies for its technology. This is a very bad idea, for a number of reasons. First, it makes NSIL a power-broker over the private sector, able to pick its own favorites in that industry. Second, such schemes in government always lead to corruption and bribery. Third, the fees will act to squelch new companies unable to afford them.

The U.S. approach has always been that any technology developed by its government agencies is public knowledge, paid for by the taxpayer, and thus instantly available for use by any private operation at no charge. While this policy has its own pluses and minuses, in general it works far better at encouraging development and growth in the private sector, while limiting the power of government entities.

The structure of India’s new government entity, combined with the oppressive language proposed in 2017 for India’s space law, does not bode well for the growth of an independent and competitive commercial Indian aerospace industry. In fact, both suggest that India’s government-controlled space program is beginning to travel the typical road that all government programs all eventually travel: First they are innovative and successful. Then they grow in size and power. Finally they use that power to squelch any private competition to protect their turf.

It looks like ISRO is beginning to enter that third stage.

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Rocket Lab announces next launch

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab today announced that it has scheduled the launch window in June for its next commercial launch.

The press release did not state exactly when in June. Either way, it is clear that the company is steadily ramping up its launch operations towards its goal of bi-monthly launches by the end of the year.

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Ten secondary craters produced on Ryugu by Hayabusa-2’s manmade impact

The Hayabusa-2 science team has announced that it has found ten additional secondary craters produced from ejecta from the manmade impact the spacecraft created on Ryugu on April 5.

The secondary craters appear to be about a yard across each, while the initial crater is about thirty feet wide with a depth of six to ten feet.

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Blue Origin unveils proposed lunar lander

Capitalism in space: Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Blue Origin, today unveiled his company’s proposed lunar lander, dubbed Blue Moon, that Bezos claims will land on the Moon by 2024.

It harnesses many of the same ‘propulsion, precision guidance, vertical landing and landing gear systems’ utilized by New Shepard, Blue Origin’s rocket meant to ferry humans to the moon. The craft is equipped with fuel cells to provide ‘kilowatts of power’ that are capable of lasting for long-distance missions. Once Blue Moon arrives at its destination, it uses machine learning algorithms to land with precision on the lunar surface.

Blue Moon can deliver several metric tons of payload to the moon, thanks to its top deck and lower bays, the latter of which will allow for ‘closer access to the lunar surface and off-loading,’ the firm said.

With this technology, Blue Origin hopes it will prepare us to be able to send humans back to the moon as soon as 2024.

The article also mentions a new rocket engine that Bezos said Blue Origin is developing, called the BE-7, specifically designed for these lunar landers.

Blue Origin is clearly lobbying to get the job of building the lunar landers NASA needs and has said it will buy from the private sector. And its New Shepard reusable suborbital craft, with a booster that has successfully landed vertically now eleven times, shows that it understands this technology.

Nonetheless, I must admit that Bezos is beginning to remind me of Richard Branson, big with promises but late on delivery. New Shepard was going to start flying humans in 2017, then 2018, now this year. New Glenn was supposed to fly by 2020. They have now delayed that until 2021. Development of the BE-4 engine that Blue Origin wants to use in New Glenn and also sell to ULA for its Vulcan rocket seems to have stalled. The last update on its status was more than a year ago, which was also about the time of the last mention of any engine tests. They could be keeping things quiet, but I wonder. At that time they appeared close to certifying the engine for flight. They have never announced that this has happened, though ULA subsequently did choose the engine for Vulcan.

In fact, in writing the last paragraph and reviewing my posts on Behind the Black, I realized that there has been little or no press for the past year on either New Glenn or BE-4. I wonder why. I can’t imagine any reason at all for not announcing the engine’s certification as operational, yet no such announcement has ever been made.

Anyway, if Blue Origin delivers on today’s hyped-up press announcement, it will be very exciting. He definitely is pushing the right buttons for getting the government work from NASA.

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The temperature on Phobos

The temperature on Phobos
Click for full image.

The Mars Odyssey science team today released false color images of the Martian Moon Phobos showing the temperature range that the spacecraft has detected, shown above in a reduced form.

The April 24, 2019 image is the first time Mars Odyssey had gotten a full moon look at the Moon. Not surprisingly, the hottest spots on the surface are at the center, at noon, with it getting cooler as one gets to the outer edges near dawn and dusk and at the poles.

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North Korea does second missile test in a week

North Korea today did its second short-range missile test in the past week.

They launched two missiles, each traveling about 260 miles.

This is clearly a negotiating tactic on their part. This spat of launches now might also have been encouraged by their sponsor, China, which is also in negotiations with the Trump administration about trade. China gains negotiating leverage with Trump in that it can say: Give us what we want and we will pressure North Korea to cease missile tests.

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Russia to launch two more American astronauts on Soyuz

A news report from Russia today announced that NASA has extended its contract with Roscosmos so that two more American astronauts will fly to ISS using a Soyuz rocket and capsule.

Russia and the United States have agreed on two additional places on board of Soyuz carrier rockets for journeys of NASA astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), Roscosmos Executive Director for Manned Programs Sergei Krikalyov told TASS. “The documents have been approved,” Krikalyov said adding that it the procedure to sign the papers took place before a recently reported incident with Crew Dragon spacecraft.

According to Krikalyov, there was no new draft of the document as it was “Simply an update to the previously signed contract, everything was in work order and there was no solemn ceremony to mark the signing of the documents.”

This agreement practically guarantees that there will be no Americans flying on American-built spacecraft in 2019. Rather than push SpaceX and Boeing to get their technical problems solved quickly so they can start flying, NASA can continue to slow-walk their development by going to the Russians. For NASA bureaucrats, using the Russians is to their advantage. Any failures can be blamed on the Russians, not NASA due diligence, which would be the case if an American privately-built capsule failed.

Moreover, slow-walking the American spacecraft helps NASA avoid further embarrassment with its own manned system, SLS/Orion, which is years behind schedule. By slowing the private capsules, the delays with SLS/Orion won’t seem so bad.

In other words, NASA’s approach here favors itself and the Russians over the interests of our country and American private companies. It is too bad no one in the Trump administration notices, or cares.

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April parachute test for manned Dragon had problems

In testimony yesterday before Congress NASA’s chief of human spaceflight, Bill Gerstenmaier, revealed that during a test of the parachute system SpaceX will use on its manned Dragon capsule there was a problem.

The test appears to have occurred last month at Delamar Dry Lake in Nevada, where SpaceX was conducting one of dozens of drop tests it intends to perform to demonstrate the safety of its Crew Dragon spacecraft. This was a “single-out” test in which one of Dragon’s four parachutes intentionally failed before the test. “The three remaining chutes did not operate properly,” Gerstenmaier said.

…The test sled, Gerstenmaier confirmed, was “damaged upon impact with the ground.”

The cause of the failure, which might have been parachute design or a failure in the test equipment (such as the release from the airplane) is still being investigated.

This news, combined with the failure during Dragon thruster tests, also in April, likely guarantees that SpaceX will not launch in 2019. If it were up to SpaceX, I think they could get these issues dealt with and fly, but their customer is NASA, and NASA is notoriously slow at investigating and fixing engineering test problems like these.

My next post above underlines this conclusion.

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