Category Archives: Points of Information

Boeing cancels satellite deal involving hidden China funding

Boeing has canceled its sale of a communications satellite to a company that appears largely funded in secret by Chinese sources.

Boeing says it has canceled a controversial satellite order from a U.S.-based startup, which had received the bulk of its funding from a Chinese-government owned financial company. The deal, which critics warned could give China access to sensitive technology, comes amid a period of especially acrimonious relations between Washington and Beijing over a host of issues, including industrial espionage and intellectual property theft.

The Chicago-headquartered aerospace company announced its decision, which it said was only because of non-payment on the part of the customer, to nix the deal, worth more than $200 million, on Dec. 6, 2018. Two days earlier, the Wall Street Journal had published an expose detailing the links between the official buyer, Global IP, and a string of Chinese government operated entities and individuals with significant connections to China’s Communist Party and military establishment.

If carried out, the satellite sale would have provided the Chinese detailed information about the satellite’s technical design.

This story highlights the Chinese way of developing new technology: They generally steal it. Though their engineering upgrades are often brilliant, they have shown little innovation or originality in their work. Their entire manned program is an upgrade of the Russians Soviet-era space station program. Their decisions recently to build smallsat rockets as well as vertically landing reusable first stages only occurred after private commercial companies in the U.S. proved that both will work and can make money.

Boeing almost certainly backed out when it realized that the Chinese involvment was substantial, and exposed it to criminal penalties.

Hat tip Kirk Hilliard.

Share

New Horizons completes another course correction before flyby

On December 2 New Horizons successfully completed another engine burn to refine its course for its January 1, 2019 flyby of the Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule.

The maneuver was designed to keep New Horizons on track toward its ideal arrival time and closest distance to Ultima, just 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) at 12:33 a.m. EST on Jan. 1. At the time of the burn New Horizons was 4.03 billon miles (6.48 billion kilometers) from Earth and just 40 million miles (64 million kilometers) from Ultima – less than half the distance between Earth and the Sun. From that far away, the radio signals carrying data from the spacecraft needed six hours, at light speed, to reach home.

The team is analyzing whether to conduct up to three other course-correction maneuvers to home in on Ultima Thule.

The distance to Ultima Thule is still too much to produce detailed images. New Horizons however is going very fast, so in the coming three weeks this will change drastically, and for the better.

Share

China launches lunar rover/lander Chang’e-4; Saudi satellites

Using its Long March 3B rocket, China on December 7 successfully launched its Chang’e-4 rover/lander, aimed at being the first probe to land on the Moon’s far side.

It will take the probe five days to reach the Moon and land.

The same day China also launched two Earth observation satellites for Saudi Arabia, using its Long March 2D rocket.

The leaders in the 2018 launch standings:

35 China
20 SpaceX
13 Russia
10 Europe (Arianespace)

China has widened its lead over the U.S. 35 to 32 in the national rankings. China also looks like it is going to come close to meeting its prediction of 40 launches for 2018.

Share

Calculating Bennu’s future

In order to better constrain Bennu’s future fly-bys of the Earth, including the possibility that it could impact the planet, scientists will be using the data sent from OSIRIS-REx to better understand its orbit, its composition, its surface make-up, and its thermal properties, all factors that can influence its future path in space.

This is really important, as Bennu has a good chance of hitting the Earth in the future.

About a third of a mile, or half a kilometer, wide, Bennu is large enough to reach Earth’s surface; many smaller space objects, in contrast, burn up in our atmosphere. If it impacted Earth, Bennu would cause widespread damage. Asteroid experts at the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, project that Bennu will come close enough to Earth over the next century to pose a 1 in 2,700 chance of impacting it between 2175 and 2196. Put another way, those odds mean there is a 99.963 percent chance the asteroid will miss the Earth. Even so, astronomers want to know exactly where Bennu is located at all times.

The article provides a good overview of the difficulty of properly calculating Bennu’s orbit into the future, and how the data from OSIRIS-REx will help make those calculations more precise.

Share

InSight tests its robot arm

InSight has unfolded its robot arm and is beginning to use it to photograph the surrounding area to figure out where to place the spacecraft’s ground-sensing instruments.

With a reach of nearly 6 feet (2 meters), the arm will be used to pick up science instruments from the lander’s deck, gently setting them on the Martian surface at Elysium Planitia, the lava plain where InSight touched down on Nov. 26.

But first, the arm will use its Instrument Deployment Camera, located on its elbow, to take photos of the terrain in front of the lander. These images will help mission team members determine where to set InSight’s seismometer and heat flow probe – the only instruments ever to be robotically placed on the surface of another planet.

They are proceeding carefully, so actually deployment might not occur for several months, just make everything goes well.

Share

BepiColombo tests its ion engines

The joint European/Japanese mission BepiColombo has begun testing its ion engine thrusters for the first time in space as it heads to Mercury.

Testing took place during a unique window, in which BepiColombo remained in continuous view of ground-based antennas and communications between the spacecraft and those controlling it could be constantly maintained. This was the only chance to check in detail the functioning of this fundamental part of the spacecraft, as when routine firing begins in mid-December, the position of the spacecraft will mean its antennas will not be pointing at Earth, making it less visible to operators at mission control.

They have so far successfully tested two of the four engines.

Share

SpaceX sees no schedule impact from first stage landing failure

Capitalism in space: SpaceX officials expect the first stage landing failure during yesterday’s launch to have little impact on the schedule of upcoming launches.

They also indicated that the cause of the landing failure had something to do with a malfunction in the stage’s grid fins. More important however was this tidbit about the second stage:

Koenigsmann also revealed at the briefing that the rocket’s upper stage, which successfully placed the Dragon cargo spacecraft in orbit, used redesigned composite-overwrapped pressure vessels (COPVs) used to store helium to pressurize the stage’s propellant tanks. SpaceX redesigned those COPVs after a September 2016 pad explosion in order to meet NASA safety requirements for future commercial crew missions.

NASA requires SpaceX to perform at least seven launches with the redesigned COPVs before the agency will allow its astronauts to fly on the vehicle. Koenigsmann said he believed this was the second launch to use the redesigned COPVs, after the launch of the Es’hail-2 communications satellite Nov. 15.

SpaceX appears very unconcerned about getting those remaining five flights, which illustrates their expectation that 2019 will have a substantial number of launches in the first half of the year, prior to the tentative June launch date for the first manned Dragon mission.

Share

Solar scientists: sunspot increase in next solar cycle

The uncertainty of science: Using new computer models, two solar scientists are now predicting that the next solar cycle will begin in about a year and will see an increase in sunspot activity, compared to the weak cycle just ending.

Their ensemble forecast surprisingly suggests it could even be stronger than the cycle which is just ending. They expect the next cycle to start rising in about a year following the end of the current sunspot cycle minimum and peak in 2024. Bhowmik and Nandi predict space environmental conditions over the next decade would be similar or slightly harsher compared to the last decade. They find no evidence of an impending disappearance of sunspot cycles and thus conclude that speculations of an imminent Sun-induced cooling of global climate is very unlikely.

Their conclusion is different than other predictions that are claiming a weak next cycle, or even the beginning of a grand minimum, with no suspots at all. Since an real understanding of the sunspot cycle remains elusive, and all these predictions rely on computer models, it is hard to say which will be right. The advantage this particular prediction has is that their model appears able to match what has happened for the past 100 years.

Stay tuned.

Share

Falcon 9 launches Dragon; 1st stage return fails

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket today successfully launched a Dragon cargo capsule to ISS.

Unfortunately, a problem with the first stage had it fail to land on its target landing pad, instead landing in the ocean. This failure is the first in quite some time for a SpaceX first stage. It was the first failure however of their Block 5 first stages, which might impact the manned Dragon launch schedule set for this coming year.

The leaders in the 2018 launch race:

33 China
20 SpaceX
13 Russia
10 Europe (Arianespace)
8 ULA

This SpaceX launch was the 100th successful rocket launch for 2018, the first time the global rocket industry has reached the century figure since 1991, before the fall of the Soviet Union. As SpaceX’s 20th launch this year it sets a new record for launches by a private company. In fact, this total exceeds the average number of launches for the entire U.S. from 2001 to 2016, and clearly demonstrates how SpaceX has not only become the world’s dominate launch company, its effort to foster competition into the launch industry has served to energize it, for everyone.

In the national rankings, China continues to lead the U.S. 33 to 32.

Share

Ariane 5 launches two satellites

Arianespace yesterday successfully placed a South Korean weather satellite and an Indian communications satellite into orbit using its Ariane 5 rocket.

The Indian satellite was initially supposed to launch in the spring, but ISRO pulled it back to India just after its arrival in French Guiana to do more checks on it because of the failure of another satellite using similar components.

The leaders in the 2018 launch race:

33 China
19 SpaceX
13 Russia
10 Europe (Arianespace)
8 ULA

Arianespace had predicted it would do 14 launches this year. As this launch is described as its last 2018 launch, it appears they have fallen short of that prediction.

These standings will be updated later today, assuming SpaceX’s Dragon launch to ISS goes off as scheduled.

Share

Senate committee demands FBI explain whistleblower raid

The Senate Judiciary Committee has demanded the FBI answer some questions about its raid of a whistleblower’s home in November.

This is nice, but the reality is that, as far as I can tell, the FBI is now a rogue agency, working for the Democratic Party in defiance of the law, the Trump administration, and Congress. Consider for example the article’s closing paragraphs:

The raid on Cain’s house was permitted by a court order issued by federal magistrate Stephanie A. Gallagher in the U.S. District Court of Maryland for Baltimore. The court order and all the documents justifying the raid are sealed and not available for public viewing.

On Nov. 30, The Daily Caller News Foundation (DCNF) requested that Gallagher unseal the affidavit and any other documents that served to justify the raid. The court has not yet responded to the DCNF. The FBI did not respond to a request for comment. The IG declined to comment.

The weak response by the Trump administration to their behavior these last two years has taught them they can act with arrogance without fear. For example, why has Trump done nothing about this? He is by law (which in this case is the Constitution, the highest law in the land) entirely in charge of the FBI and what it does.

Share

The cameras that saved Hubble

Link here. It is the 25th anniversary this week of the space shuttle mission that installed the two cameras that fixed the mirror issue on the Hubble Space Telescope, and the press release at the link provides a nice short overview of that mission, and what was involved to make it happen.

Of course, for a much more detailed look at this story, you could also buy and read A Universe in a Mirror. There are a lot of very fascinating stories that no single press release can possibly mention that I described with glee in writing this book.

Share

SpaceX recovers fairings from ocean

Capitalism in space: In its launch on December 3, SpaceX was unable to catch either half of the Falcon 9’s fairings as they floated down by parachute. However, both halves were recovered, and the company plans to try to dry them out and reuse them.

The recovery ship, Mr. Steven, failed to catch either in its giant net. Since both fairings however landed gently in the ocean, and were quickly recovered, the article notes that SpaceX is now considering a change in its method of recover. The method of landing appears to have the fairing halves almost act like small boats, thus protecting the delicate equipment on their interiors. It appears they have increased their waterproofing, and may now only need to get them out of the water quickly to make then reusable.

Posted from the West Bank city of Modi’in Ilit.

Share

The bottom of Mars

Hellas Basin ripples

Cool image time! The photo on the right, cropped and reduced to post here, was taken by the high resolution camera of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on May 2, 2018, and shows some very strange ripples and erosion features in one of the lowest elevation locations on Mars, inside Hellas Basin. If you click on the image you can see the full photograph, at full resolution. There are a lot of strange features here, so make sure you take a look at it. The ripples highlighted in the image are between what appear to be three lower basins, and seem to my eye to be ridges created as liquid ebbed and flowed in the basins, depositing material at the shoreline at repeatedly higher and lower levels.

hellas basin

This particular location is not only in Hellas Basin, but it is also located in the deepest part of Hellas, a curved valley located in the basin’s northwest quadrant, as shown by the darker areas in the overview image to the right. The red boxes are other MRO high resolution images, with the cross indicating where this image is located.

This is the bottom of Mars, what could be called its own Death Valley. The difference however is that unlike Death Valley, conditions here could be more amendable to life, as the lower elevation means the atmosphere is thicker. The ripples also suggest that liquid water might have once been here, a supposition supported by other low area images of Hellas Basin, most of which show a flattish dappled surface that to me resembles what one would think a dry seafloor bed would look like The image in this second link also shows what looks like ghost craters that over time became partly buried, something one would also expect to happen if they were at the bottom of a lake, though this could also happen over time on Mars with wind erosion and the movement of dust.

It is also possible that these features come from lava events, so please take my theorizing here with a great big grain of salt. At the same time, recent results have found evidence of paleo lakes scattered all along the eastern rim of the basin, reinforcing the possibility that these were water filled lakes once as well.

Nonetheless, the ripples in the first image above are truly fascinating, as it is clear that at the highest peaks erosion has ripped those peaks away, leaving behind a hollow shaped by the ripples themselves. These features remind me of some cave features I have seen, where mud gets piled but by water flow, and then is over time covered with a crust of harder calcite flowstone. Later, water then washes out the mud underneath, leaving the curved flowstone blanket hanging in the air.

Here in Hellas Basin it looks like something similar has happened, except that at these peaks the outside crust got broken away, allowing wind to slowly suck out the material underneath, leaving these ripple-shaped pits. Whether it was liquid water or lava that helped create these features, the geology left behind is both beautiful and intriguing. I wonder at the chemical make-up of the crust as well as the materials below. And I especially wonder if there is water sources buried within Hellas Basin.

Share

Falcon 9 first stage successfully flies for the third time

Capitalism in space: During a successful launch today of 64 smallsats, SpaceX successfully landed for the third time the rocket’s first stage.

This first stage flew twice before, in May and August. With this flight it is primed for a fourth flight, I will bet sometime in the next two months.

SpaceX was also going to try to recover half of the fairing, but as I write this there is no word yet on that effort. Also, the deployment of the 64 smallsats will start momentarily and take more than an hour. During the live stream, which you can watch as a replay at the link, it was very clear that one of SpaceX’s commercial goals with this launch was to promote the Falcon 9 as an affordable and viable vehicle for launching smallsats. SpaceX is anticipating the growth of that business, and wants to encourage smallsat manufacturers to buy their services. As I like to say, the competition is heating up.

The leaders in the 2018 launch race:

33 China
19 SpaceX
13 Russia
9 Europe (Arianespace)
8 ULA

China remains ahead of the U.S. in the national rankings, 33 to 31.

Update: What I neglected to mention, partly because I was writing this post while traveling, is that with SpaceX launch the company set a new annual record for the most launches in a year, which is also the record for the most launches in a year by any private company, ever.

Share

OSIRIS-REx at Bennu

OSIRIS-REx has successfully completed its last maneuver engine burn to place it in proximity orbit around the asteroid Bennu.

The link takes you to the live NASA stream, which has been a bit hokey. This event is actually not that visually exciting, a bunch of engineers staring at computer screens awaiting data back from the spacecraft indicating that all has occurred as planned. In fact, some felt a bit staged, though the actual event was really happening.

The OSIRIS-REx team has released relatively little data so far, compared to most NASA missions. There will be a press conference in a week when they say they will release more information. I guess we will have to wait until then.

Update: the live stream has shifted to the docking of the manned Soyuz capsule at ISS, which is in itself a more riveting event than OSIRIS-REx’s last engine burn.

Share

Four more gravitational wave detections

The uncertainty of science: The scientists running the LIGO gravitational wave detector have announced the detection of four more gravitational waves, bringing to eleven the total number so far observed.

During the first observing run O1, from September 12, 2015 to January 19, 2016, gravitational waves from three BBH mergers were detected. The second observing run, which lasted from November 30, 2016, to August 25, 2017, yielded a binary neutron star merger and seven additional binary black hole mergers, including the four new gravitational wave events being reported now. The new events are known as GW170729, GW170809, GW170818 and GW170823 based on the dates on which they were detected. With the detection of four additional BBH mergers the scientists learn more about the population of these binary systems in the universe and about the event rate for these types of coalescences.

The observed BBHs span a wide range of component masses, from 7.6 to 50.6 solar masses. The new event GW170729 is the most massive and distant gravitational-wave source ever observed. In this coalescence, which happened roughly 5 billion years ago, an equivalent energy of almost five solar masses was converted into gravitational radiation.

In two BBHs (GW151226 and GW170729) it is very likely that at least one of the merging black holes is spinning. One of the new events, GW170818, detected by the LIGO and Virgo observatories, was very precisely pinpointed in the sky. It is the best localized BBH to date: its position has been identified with a precision of 39 square degrees (195 times the apparent size of the full moon) in the northern celestial hemisphere. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted quote above illustrates the amount of uncertainty here. Though these appear to be gravitational waves, and have been confirmed in multiple ways, the data is very coarse, providing only a limited amount of basic information about each event. This limited information is still very valuable, and certainly advances our understanding of black holes and their formation, but it is important to recognize the limitations of that data.

Share

Russian Soyuz successfully launches three astronauts

A Russian Soyuz rocket today successfully launched three astronauts on a mission to ISS, less than two months after an early launch had resulted in a launch abort.

Hopefully by the end of 2019 American astronauts will no longer have to rely on Russian rockets for their access to space.

The leaders in the 2018 launch race:

33 China
18 SpaceX
13 Russia
9 Europe (Arianespace)
8 ULA

China remains ahead of the U.S. in the national rankings, 33 to 30.

All these numbers will change repeatedly in the next few days, as their are a number of launches scheduled, including a SpaceX launch later today, when they will attempt, for the first time, to reuse a first stage for the third time.

Share

Unidentified object launched by Russians Nov 30?

Even though the Russians officially listed four objects launched during its November 30 launch, three military satellites and the rocket’s upper stage, the U.S. military says it has identified a fifth object.

The Rokot/Briz-KM launch vehicle blasted off from Pad 3 at Site 133 at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Western Russia at just before 5:30 PM local time on Nov. 30, 2018, according to RussianSpaceWeb.com. At approximately 7:12 PM, the three Rodnik communications satellites had deployed into their assigned orbits. Russia has named the trio of satellites Kosmos-2530, Kosmos-2531, and Kosmos-2532.

This would all be rather banal had the CSpoC, as well as the U.S.-Canadian North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), not recorded the launch slightly differently. Information on Space-Track.org, a U.S. government website that publicly releases data on space launches from the CSpoC and NORAD, listed Objects A through E as resulting from the launch from Plesetsk. This would include the three satellites and the upper stage, but the fifth object is unexplained.

It is possible that the upper stage simply fragmented into multiple pieces that were large enough for the U.S. military to track independently. Three of the objects – A through C – have essentially same perigee, the point in their orbit at which they are nearest to the earth. The other two objects – D and E – share a different general perigee.

The article speculates that this extra unidentified object might be part of Russia’s military program to develop tiny “inspector satellites” that can get close to other satellites and observe them, for both engineering and reconnaissance reasons. If so, this would be a significant violation by the Russians of the Outer Space Treaty, which requires them to list every object they launch. It would also be something they have not done before, which is why I am doubtful about this speculation. Though they are skilled at keeping their military space work secret, they have also obeyed this treaty scrupulously since the day they signed it. If they have decided they can get away with launching objects without listing them officially, then that means the treaty is showing its first signs of collapse, something I believe will happen more and more in the coming years as nations and private companies find themselves increasingly restrained by the unrealistic terms of the treaty.

Posted from Buffalo, New York. I stay here tonight, and go on to Israel tomorrow evening, which means I will be posting tomorrow during the day, and will be able to see the SpaceX launch and OSIRIS-REx’s arrival at Bennu.

Share

Off to Israel — and Buffalo

I am leaving early this morning for a two week trip to Israel. On my way back I will be stopping in Buffalo, New York for two nights to give lectures at the Niagara Aerospace Museum on Wednesday, December 12 at 7 pm, and then again to the Niagara Frontier Section of AIAA on Thursday, December 13. The first is definitely open to the public.

I will be posting from Israel, but my schedule will be somewhat confused, considering the travel times and all. This is especially frustrating because the next two weeks will be jam-packed with interesting space events, from OSIRIS-REx’s arrival at Bennu to numerous rocket launches. Nonetheless, I will be posting, regardless, even if those posts will happen at odd hours.

Share

Philadelphia’s civil forfeiture scam shut down

Theft by government: The civil forfeiture scam that the city of Philadelphia has been running for years to steal the property of innocent people in order to personally benefit the prosecutors running the program has been shut down by a legal court settlement.

Was it theft? You decide:

Philadelphia routinely threw property owners out of their homes without notice. It forced owners to navigate the notorious “Courtroom 478,” where so-called “hearings” were run entirely by prosecutors, without any judges or court-appointed lawyers to defend property owners. Again and again, prosecutors demanded that property owners appear in court, sometimes ten times or more. Missing even a single “hearing” meant that prosecutors could permanently take an owner’s property, sell it and use the proceeds for any law-enforcement purpose they wished. More than 35 percent of proceeds went to salaries, including the salaries of the very officials seizing and forfeiting property, thus creating a perverse incentive to abuse this system. Today’s landmark settlement brings all of that to an end.

The settlement doesn’t end civil forfeiture, which is itself constitutional illegal, but forces the program to function in a more reasonable manner. Revenues will now go a drug treatment program, judges will run the hearings, and the hearings will be fast and straightforward. In addition, the settlement provides for compensation for those harmed by the past policy.

Share

Annual Space Show fund-raising campaign

The Space Show has begun its annual fund-raising campaign.

As someone who has appeared on David Livingston’s show more times than anyone else, I hope my readers will consider supporting the Space Show with some generous donations. David was one of the few people, along with I, advocating commercial space back when the idea was considered insane. In many ways it was his effort with the Space Show that helped drive the revolution toward private space that is now remaking the entire aerospace industry and thus making the exploration and colonization of the solar system finally possible.

Share

FBI raids home of Clinton whistleblower

Working for the Democratic Party: Despite being protected under whistleblower laws, and despite his demonstrated cooperation with congressional committees, the FBI raided the home of Clinton whistleblower on November 19, spending six hours rummaging through his house.

FBI agents raided the home of a recognized Department of Justice whistleblower who privately delivered documents pertaining to the Clinton Foundation and Uranium One to a government watchdog, according to the whistleblower’s attorney.

The Justice Department’s inspector general was informed that the documents show that federal officials failed to investigate potential criminal activity regarding former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Clinton Foundation and Rosatom, the Russian company that purchased Uranium One, a document reviewed by The Daily Caller News Foundation alleges.

The delivered documents also show that then-FBI Director Robert Mueller failed to investigate allegations of criminal misconduct pertaining to Rosatom and to other Russian government entities attached to Uranium One, the document reviewed by TheDCNF alleges. Mueller is now the special counsel investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 election.

“The bureau raided my client to seize what he legally gave Congress about the Clinton Foundation and Uranium One,” the whistleblower’s lawyer, Michael Socarras, told TheDCNF, noting that he considered the FBI’s raid to be an “outrageous disregard” of whistleblower protections.

Sixteen agents arrived at the home of Dennis Nathan Cain, a former FBI contractor, on the morning of Nov. 19 and raided his Union Bridge, Maryland, home, Socarras told TheDCNF.

There is significantly more at the link. It appears most obviously that the FBI here was used to harass and intimidate this man, simply because he has taken action that threatens Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party.

I wonder once again if our legally elected president, mandated by the Constitution to run this agency, is really in charge, or if we have an agency run by its employees for political purposes, completely out of control. To me it sure looks like the latter. If Trump was the fighter he portrays himself to be, there would be wholesale firings over this raid, today.

Share

Astronomers get best and earliest view of supernovae ever

Using ground-based telescopes as well as the space telescope Kepler astronomers have obtained their best and earliest view of a Type Ia supernova.

The supernova, named SN 2018oh, was brighter than expected over the first few days. The increased brightness is an indication that it slammed into a nearby companion star. This adds to the growing body of evidence that some, but not all, of these thermonuclear supernovae have a large companion star that triggers the explosion.

Las Cumbres Observatory (LCO), based in Goleta, California, is a global network of 21 robotic telescopes that obtained some of the best data characterizing the supernova in support of the NASA mission. Wenxiong Li, the lead author of one of three papers published today on the finding, was based at LCO when much of the research was underway. Five other LCO astronomers, who are affiliated with the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB), also contributed to two of the papers.

Understanding the origins of Type Ia supernovae is critical because they are used as standard candles to map out distances in cosmology. They were used to discover Dark Energy, the mysterious force causing the universe to accelerate in its expansion. Astronomers have long known that a supernova is the explosion of a dense white dwarf star (A white dwarf has the mass of the sun, but only the radius of the Earth; one teaspoon of a white dwarf would weigh roughly 23000 pounds) What triggers the explosion is less well understood. One theory holds that the explosions are the merger of two white dwarf stars. Another is that the second star is not a white dwarf at all, but a normal-sized or even giant star that loses only some of its matter to the white dwarf to initiate the explosion. In this theory, the explosion then smashes into the surviving second star, causing the supernova to be exceedingly bright in its early hours.

Finding that Type Ia supernovae can be brighter than previously believed throws a wrench into the results that discovered dark energy, since those results made assumptions about the brightness and thus the distance of those supernovae. If the brightness of these supernovae are not as reliable as expected, they are also less of a standard candle for estimating distance.

Share

Moon rocks sell at auction for $855K

At a Sotheby auction of space memorabilia yesterday three Moon rocks brought back by a Soviet-era robot ship sold for $855K.

This was the second time these rocks have sold at auction, with their sale price more than doubling with yesterday’s sale. Though their value has apparently gone up a lot, I think the seller here made a very wise decision. Right now, practically all the rocks are controlled by NASA and are not for sale, thus creating a shortage and forcing the value of the available rocks to rise. Their value will drop however once private companies start hauling them back to Earth.

A number of other interesting space items sold during auction, including several unused spacesuits and several paintings by Chesley Bonestell, Alan Bean, and Norman Rockwell.

Share

Russia launches three military communications satellites

Russia today used one of its three remaining Rokot rockets to launch three military communications satellites.

They no longer make Rokot because it uses Ukrainian equipment.

The leaders in the 2018 launch race:

33 China
18 SpaceX
12 Russia
9 Europe (Arianespace)
8 ULA

China remains ahead of the U.S. 33 to 30 in the national rankings.

Share

Google considered burying conservative outlets in search results

Evil: After Trump’s 2016 election victory, Google management seriously considered rigging search results so that conservative news outlets would not show up.

They never did it, but instead created a short-lived fact check feature that was clearly aimed at discrediting conservative sites.

“We’re working on providing users with context around stories so that they can know the bigger picture,” chimed in David Besbris, vice president of engineering at Google. “We can play a role in providing the full story and educate them about all sides. This doesn’t have to be filtering and can be useful to everyone,” he wrote. Other employees similarly advocated providing contextual information about media sources in search results, and the company later did so with a short-lived fact check at the end of 2017.

Not only did the fact-check feature target conservative outlets almost exclusively, it was also blatantly wrong. Google’s fact check repeatedly attributed false claims to those outlets, even though they demonstrably never made those claims.

Google pulled the faulty fact-check program in January, crediting TheDCNF’s investigation for the decision.

Forgive me if I remain suspicious about how they rig search results these days. There are too many indications that the culture at this company is tyrannically liberal and willing to destroy anyone who dissents from that political position.

Share

NASA commits $2.6 billion for commercial lunar exploration

NASA today announced that it has committed $2.6 billion over the next ten years to buy delivery services to the Moon for its unmanned scientific missions, provided from nine different private companies.

The companies selected — Astrobotic Technology, Deep Space Systems, Draper, Firefly Aerospace, Intuitive Machines, Lockheed Martin Space, Masten Space Systems, Moon Express, Orbit Beyond — cover a range of companies from the well established to new companies not yet proven. This announcement essentially permits them all to bid on providing NASA delivery services to the moon for small unmanned probes. The press release states that:

These companies will be able to bid on delivering science and technology payloads for NASA, including payload integration and operations, launching from Earth and landing on the surface of the Moon. NASA expects to be one of many customers that will use these commercial landing services.

More information here. UPDATE: Doug Messier has published the press releases from most of the above companies, describing their individual projects, and I have added links to each.

The program appears modeled after NASA commercial cargo and crew programs, whereby the companies will own and control the orbiters, landers, and rovers they build, allowing them to market them to others for profit. It also appears designed to keep costs low, as did commercial cargo program. NASA is merely the customer.

This is good news. It suggests that the American space industry is continuing to transition away from big government programs, controlling everything, to a robust private industry that is in charge with the government merely one out of many customers.

Share

Electric cars routinely transmit info to Chinese government

The Big Green government: Manufacturers of electric cars design the cars so that they routinely transmit information about the car’s status and position to the Chinese government.

More than 200 manufacturers, including Tesla, Volkswagen, BMW, Daimler, Ford, General Motors, Nissan, Mitsubishi and U.S.-listed electric vehicle start-up NIO, transmit position information and dozens of other data points to government-backed [Chinese] monitoring centers, The Associated Press has found. Generally, it happens without car owners’ knowledge.

The automakers say they are merely complying with local laws, which apply only to alternative energy vehicles. Chinese officials say the data is used for analytics to improve public safety, facilitate industrial development and infrastructure planning, and to prevent fraud in subsidy programs.

Outside of China the information is also gathered, but by private companies. Car owners can opt out, but that seems to me to be the unethical way to arrange this. Owners should instead be asked if they want to opt in.

In fact, the gathering of this data, privately or by governments, without the permission of the car owner, is entirely unethical and immoral. That these companies and their managers see nothing wrong with this is another illustration of the abandonment of morality in modern culture. It is also another reason why I want my hi-tech equipment to be as dumb as possible. Above all, I do not want it linked electronically beyond itself.

Share
1 2 3 4 531