More delays to Boeing’s Starliner manned capsule schedule

Capitalism in space: Though no new launch date has been announced, both NASA and Boeing are now likely aiming for a summer launch of the second unmanned Starliner demo mission to ISS.

This is largely due to traffic at the International Space Station rather than the readiness of Starliner itself. Two NASA sources said the vehicle is “close” to being ready, with only a few small tests to certify the spacecraft for flight remaining. Starliner is therefore expected to be ready to fly by early summer.

The primary issue is the availability of space station docking ports fitted with an “international docking adapter,” which are used by SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, Cargo Dragon 2, and Starliner vehicles. There are presently two such ports on the station, and for NASA, the priority for access to these ports are crew rotations followed by supply missions. So the question becomes when the Starliner test flight can find an open slot on station.

It appears that they are now targeting the window of availability for either of those ports in the late July into August time period.

While this might be the main reason for this new delay, it also appears that there might be technical issues as well. In early March Boeing and NASA had announced that they were delaying this demo mission for the same scheduling reasons, but then they said they were targeting a May launch date, during a period after one manned Dragon mission had left in late April and before the next Dragon cargo mission arrived in June.

It now appears they cannot meet that window any longer, and are therefore aiming for the next, in July.

Meanwhile, the first manned Starliner demo mission appears to have also pushed back, from late this year to early next year.

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy wins launch contract for VIPER lunar rover

Capitalism in space: Astrobotic, the company building the lander to place NASA’s VIPER lunar rover on the Moon, has picked SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy as the rocket to launch the package.

This mission is part of a fleet of landers being sent to the Moon in the next two years, as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program to hire private companies to do this rather than NASA.

Intuitive Machines, which won CLPS task orders for two lander missions, will launch each on Falcon 9 vehicles late this year and in 2022. Masten Space Systems selected SpaceX to provide launch services for its XL-1 lander mission, which won a CLPS award for a late 2022 mission.

Astrobotic will launch its first CLPS mission, a smaller lunar lander called Peregrine, on the inaugural launch of United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur currently scheduled for late this year. Firefly Aerospace, which won the most recent CLPS award in January, has not selected a launch provider yet for its Blue Ghost lander, but noted the lander is too large to launch on the company’s own Alpha rocket.

That’s five American lunar missions, all built and owned by private companies. Nor will these be the only unmanned lunar missions, when you include the UAE rover targeted for a ’22 launch, along with additional planned Indian, Chinese, and Russian missions. Almost all are aimed at the Moon’s south polar regions.

It is going to get both crowded and busy on the Moon in the next few years.

UAE hires Japanese company as partner for its ’22 lunar rover mission

Capitalism in space: The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has chosen the private Japanese company Ispace to provide the lander bringing its Rashid rover to the Moon in 2022.

ispace’s 240 kg lander is 2.3 meters tall and 2.6 meters wide. It will be launched by SpaceX, Elon Musk’s rocket company, on a Falcon 9 rocket. Once the iSpace lander is placed in the Earth’s orbit, it will travel to the moon on its own, land and unload the rover.

The lander will use solar panels for power, which will also allow the rover to communicate with Earth. It will also carry a solid-state battery made by NGK Spark Plug, which intends to examine its battery’s lunar performance.

This UAE project is similar but a step up from its Al-Amal Mars orbiter. In that case UAE used its money to have the orbiter mostly built by U.S. universities as they taught UAE’s students how to do it. In this case, UAE engineers appear to be building the rover itself, with the purchased help of others to provide the lander..

A lonely dry lava spring on Mars

A lonely dry lava spring on Mars
Click for full image.

Today’s cool image from Mars takes us to the southern flank of the giant volcano Pavonis Mons. The photo to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, shows what appears to be a volcanic vent from more than a billion years ago when it is believed Pavonis was actively erupting. The picture was taken on March 2, 2021 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The grade is mostly downhill to the east and south east.

It is very possible that this is the resurgence of a lava tube, the point where the underground flow either emerged to the surface or got so close to the surface that the ceiling was thin enough to later collapse, creating this depression. No pits or skylights are visible in this high resolution picture, however, so whether there is an underground lava tube here is not known, an unknown that is amplified by the wider MRO context camera image below.
» Read more

Today’s blacklisted American: A congresswoman because she speaks her mind

The cancelled Bill of Rights

They’re coming for you next: Since her election in November 2020 Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia) has repeatedly irritated many people for her strong and very outright conservative opinions on everything from election fraud to religion to Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

As a result she has become the target by many on the left, resulting in her Twitter account being suspended more than once. In one case it was because she had said posted a tweet celebrating Easter and glorifying the resurrection of Jesus. In another case it as because she called for the supporters of Trump to rally against election fraud and the possibility that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. In both cases her account was reinstated by Twitter within twelve hours, with the social media platform claiming the first suspension was a mistake while the second was not (having violated Twitter’s partisan rules that forbid anyone from suggesting that there might have been election tampering that led to Biden’s victory).

These Twitter attacks are ugly and illustrate that platform’s anti-Republican and leftist agenda, but it is still a private company. More important have been the efforts to muzzle Greene in Congress, led by the Democrats.
» Read more

New calls for reworking or replacing Outer Space Treaty

Yesterday there were two different public statements calling for the international community to either amend or replace the Outer Space Treaty, one an op-ed in the U.S. and the other a statement by the head of Russia’s space agency.

At first glance these announcements seemed hopeful, especially because the op-ed, written by one of the authors of a just released new study [pdf] by a defense-oriented Washington think tank, made part of its focus the need to encourage commercial activities in space.
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Commerce increases sanctions on Russia impacting space commerce and trade

The Commerce Department last month announced that is increasing the level of sanctions against trade with Russia because it had determined that country had violated international law by using chemical weapons against specific dissidents both in and out of Russia.

On March 4, 2018, the Russia Government deployed a Novichok nerve agent in an attack against former Russian military officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal in the United Kingdom. In response, the U.S. Government imposed two sets of sanctions against Russia pursuant to the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991 (CBW Act) in August 2018 and August 2019.

On August 20, 2020, the Russian Government again deployed a Novichok nerve agent, this time against Russian opposition figure Aleksey Navalny, warranting a new determination by the Secretary of State and additional sanctions under the CBW Act.

While this ruling will have a negative impact on any space-related U.S./Russian activities, the full ruling specifically included these waivers:
» Read more

Ingenuity requires software update before flying

JPL engineers have determined that they need to upload a software update on Ingenuity in order to solve the issue that caused the first high-speed spin test of its rotary blades to end prematurely.

In an update released late Monday by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, mission managers said engineers identified a software fix for the “command sequence issue” that ended the high-speed spin-up test Friday.

Officials at JPL, which manages the Ingenuity helicopter project, did not announce a new target date for the rotorcraft’s first test flight. Ground teams hope to determine a new target date next week for the helicopter’s first flight.

According to the original plans, Ingenuity was to get about a 30 day test period, after which Perseverance would move on to its primary Mars science mission. It is not clear at this moment whether that test period will be extended because of these issues. I suspect they will extend it to get as many flight tests as possible, since Perseverance is functioning like a dream and can wait a few extra weeks before beginning what will be years of Martian roving. How often does one get to flight test a helicopter on another world?

Northrop Grumman’s MEV-2 successfully completes docking to commercial satellite

MEV-2 about 50 feet away from satellite

Capitalism in space: Northrop Grumman today announced that its second Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV-2) has successfully docked with an Intelsat geosynchronous communications satellite.

Northrop Grumman is the only provider of flight-proven life extension services for satellites, and this is the second time the company has docked two commercial spacecraft in orbit. The company’s MEV-1 made history when it successfully docked to the Intelsat 901 (IS-901) satellite in February 2020. Unlike MEV-1, which docked above the GEO orbit before moving IS-901 back into service, MEV-2 docked with IS-10-02 directly in its operational GEO orbital location.

…Under the terms of Intelsat’s satellite life-extension servicing contract, MEV-2 will provide five years of service to IS-10-02 before undocking and moving on to provide services for a new mission.

The image, provided by Northrop Grumman, was taken by MEV-2’s infrared wide field of view camera when it was still about 50 feet away from the Intelsat satellite. You can see the Earth in the background. As I understand it, MEV-2 uses the satellite’s own engine nozzle as a docking port, which is the smallest circular feature in the center of the satellite. If you look close you can see the nozzle’s shadow on the right.

NASA/Boeing begin prepping SLS core stage for transfer to Florida

NASA & Boeing have now agreed that the static fire test program of the core stage of their SLS rocket has ended successfully, and have begun preparing the stage for its shipment to Florida where it and the entire rocket will be assembled for launch.

While refurbishment activities continue, the team at Stennis has also started disconnecting the stage from the test stand to prepare for departure from Stennis. Weather will be a key factor in when the stage can be put on board the agency’s Pegasus barge to start the waterway tow trip from Stennis to Kennedy, but a late-April arrival at KSC is still possible — with KSC schedules currently forecasting attachment of the Core Stage to the SLS Boosters in the Vehicle Assembly Building in mid-May to prepare for launch of Artemis 1.

Though NASA still has a target of November for launch, NASA engineers estimate that it will take ten months to get the core stage in place and ready for launch. This places launch more likely in the February-March ’22 time frame. This schedule of course does not include any possible additional problems along the way, which may delay the launch further.

Even if all goes now as NASA plans, consider the length of this schedule. Though NASA will not require future SLS launches to do a static fire test, just transporting the stage and getting the rocket assembled will likely always take about this long, give or take a few months. Even if NASA streamlines this operation over time, I can’t see it getting shortened to less than five months. That means it will likely be impossible to launch more than one or maybe two SLS rockets per year, a pace that is not very effective if you really want to achieve anything in space. Moreover, that very very optimistic pace would cost about $3 to $5 billion per year, money that has not been appropriated, though considering Congress’s nonchalant attitude towards printing money these days that might not be a problem.

In the end, this rocket as designed is simply not practical or sustainable. It is a financial house of cards, and as soon as a more effective competitor like Starship (or even New Glenn) arrives that house will fall.

In fact, I still consider the odds of Starship/Super Heavy completing an orbital launch before SLS to be better than 50-50. With a likely spring ’22 SLS launch date and SpaceX aiming for a Starship orbital flight in ’21, the odds of SpaceX winning this race I think has just improved.

The start of avalanche season at Mars’ north pole

A narrow ridge with avalanches
Click for full image.

Every spring for the last seven Martian years scientists have eagerly aimed the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) at the steep 1,500 to 3,000 foot high scarp at the edge of northern polar ice cap in order to capture images of what is Mars’s most spectacular annual event, the occurrence of tens of thousands springtime avalanches along that scarp.

Well, spring has returned to the northern hemisphere on Mars, and the scientists have begun another monitoring campaign. The photo to the right, cropped to post here, was taken on March 7, 2021 by MRO. It shows a particularly dramatic part of that scarp, a place where the scarp separates two curved alcoves and is thus narrowed down to a ridge about 1,000 feet high.

The nose of the ridge is sloping downward to the northwest, so the horizontal bands on its crest are actually evidence of older and older layers exposed as the elevation drops. The blue and black markings on the left slope are likely evidence of this season’s first avalanches, or might even be avalanches occurring as the picture was snapped! As explained to me by Shane Byrne of the Lunar and Planetary Lab University of Arizona during the last Martian avalanche season,

On Mars half of the images we take in the right season contain an avalanche. There’s one image that has four avalanches going off simultaneously at different parts of the scarp. There must be hundreds to thousands of these events each day.”

The overview map below shows the location of this picture, as well as all the other places the scientists have routinely monitored in the fourteen-plus Earth years since MRO reached Mars orbit.
» Read more

Today’s blacklisted Americans: Trump supporters blackballed by employers

Survey graphic
Click for full image.

Blacklists are back and the Democrats got ’em: According to a new survey, those who publicly supported Trump or expressed conservative opinions on social media are being willingly blackballed by the hiring managers in corporate America.

A new survey of hiring managers provided to Secrets found that backing Trump on social media is the top reason to reject a job applicant.

The apparent reason: Human resources departments want to avoid “tiffs” between employees. “Likely to avoid future office tiffs, a significant portion of hiring managers admitted to negatively judging candidates based on the political content posted. For 27% of hiring managers, social media posts endorsing Donald Trump for president would negatively impact their decision to hire a candidate,” read the analysis of the poll done for Skynova, an online business software company.

While the list of political positions that causes employees heartburn in the graph above also includes some pro-Democratic Party positions — such as endorsing Joe Biden, supporting unions and a minimum wage — the majority are pro-Trump or conservative positions. Though there is a small chance you might be denied a job if you publicly stated your leftist beliefs, you almost certainly will be blackballed if you dared speak out against such beliefs.

Moreover, leftist workers are now eagerly looking for ways to blacklist conservative companies as well. From the survey:
» Read more

UAE picks two more astronauts

The new colonial movement: UAE has announced that it has chosen two more astronauts to raise its astronaut corp to four, one of whom has already flown to ISS.

The UAE government announced it picked Nora AlMatrooshi and Mohammad AlMulla from a pool of 4,305 applicants to join the country’s small astronaut corps. They join Hazzaa AlMansoori and Sultan AlNeyadi, the first Emirati astronauts selected in 2018.

AlMatrooshi is the first woman selected as an Emirati astronaut. A mechanical engineer, she has been working for the National Petroleum Construction Company in the UAE. AlMulla is a pilot and head of the training department of the Dubai Police’s Air Wing Centre.

Obviously, for an Islamic nation to pick a woman to be an astronaut is significant, and indicates the UAE’s commitment to moderating the more oppressive aspects of its religion.

As significant however is the fact that all four of these UAE astronauts are now undergoing training in the United States. Previously UAE’s astronauts trained in Russia. Though the UAE has not announced when its next manned flight will be, and has also said it wants to use both American and Russia spacecraft, the training in the U.S. strongly suggests the UAE wants to buy an American flight next time, most likely on a SpaceX Dragon capsule.

CDC admits its almost impossible to catch COVID from surfaces

The CDC last week finally admitted what had been well determined since May of last year, that there is no point in endlessly cleaning all surfaces everywhere because there is practically no chance of catching COVID-19 from surface contamination.

Turns out the risk of getting COVID-19 from touching an infected surface is “generally” 1 in 10,000, according to a new CDC study. That means “that each contact with a contaminated surface has less than a 1 in 10,000 chance of causing an infection,” the CDC explained in a statement.

Instead, the virus is mainly transmitted via the air — which essentially defeats the purpose of all the disinfecting wipes, and business owners feeling the need to obsessively make certain everything in their respective establishments was thoroughly scrubbed.

Of course, the CDC is still demanding everyone wear masks, even though the research for decades shows that unless you wear the right kind of mask properly, it likely does more harm then good. At a minimum it is nothing more than empty theater, a recommendation that has nothing to do with science and data and everything to do with emotions.

From the beginning of this epidemic the CDC has failed at being a trustworthy scientific organization, instead making pronouncements not based on scientific research but on feelings and sometimes a political agenda (defeating Donald Trump). Until there is a real-house-cleaning in that corrupt organization, there is no reason for anyone to trust anything they say.

Ingenuity test flight delayed

Due to a software issue identified during testing of the helicopter’s rotary blades, Ingenuity’s engineers have decided to delay its first flight for at least three days.

During a high-speed spin test of the rotors on Friday, the command sequence controlling the test ended early due to a “watchdog” timer expiration. This occurred as it was trying to transition the flight computer from ‘Pre-Flight’ to ‘Flight’ mode. The helicopter is safe and healthy and communicated its full telemetry set to Earth.

They are presently trouble-shooting the issue.

Ingenuity’s flight schedule

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

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

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

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

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

Lava flooded mountains on Mars

Lava-flooded mountains on Mars
Click for full image.

Overview map

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Starship #11 debris fuels environmentalist opposition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Starship and Super Heavy update

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

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

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

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

X-37B testing beamed solar power from space

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commercial Japanese company about to test orbital space junk removal

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rocket Lab to recover 1st stage on next flight

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

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

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

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

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

Soyuz-2 launches three astronauts to ISS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 SpaceX
8 China
6 Russia
2 Rocket Lab

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

Mars’ icy high latitudes

Mars' icy high latitudes
Click for full image.

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

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

Cinderella banned

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Investigation: Top German scientist fabricated data

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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