Category Archives: Points of Information

As protesters shut down Hong Kong airport, government brings military into city

Be prepared for bad news: While protesters against a new Chinese law in Hong Kong have shut the airport down, the Chinese government has begun to bring its military into the downtown area.

The initial cause of these protests is an attempt by China to impose a new extradition law on Hong Kong that would allow them to extradite people from Hong Kong into mainland China.

The changes will allow for extradition requests from authorities in mainland China, Taiwan and Macau for suspects accused of criminal wrongdoings, such as murder and rape. The requests will then be decided on a case-by-case basis.

Several commercial offenses such as tax evasion have been removed from the list of extraditable offenses amid concerns from the business community. Hong Kong officials have said Hong Kong courts will have the final say whether to grant such extradition requests, and suspects accused of political and religious crimes will not be extradited.

The government has sought to reassure the public with some concessions, including promising to only hand over fugitives for offenses carrying maximum sentences of at least seven years.

It appears that the population in Hong Kong does not trust the Chinese government that has ruled them since the British left in 1999. They fear the misuse of this law in order to arrest anyone the Chinese government doesn’t like.

The question is whether the Chinese can do in Hong Kong what they did in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Then the government moved the military in and massacred the protesters, effectively ending any political opposition to communist rule. If they do this in Hong Kong they will also end the lingering freedom in that city left over from British rule..

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OSIRIS-REx team picks four finalist sample return sites on Bennu

After months of photographing and analyzing the very rocky-shrewn surface of the rubble-pile asteroid Bennu, the OSIRIS-REx team has chosen four finalist sites, one of which they will do a touch-and-go sample grab.

This fall, OSIRIS-REx will begin detailed analyses of the four candidate sites during the mission’s reconnaissance phase. During the first stage of this phase, the spacecraft will execute high passes over each of the four sites from a distance of 0.8 miles (1.29 km) to confirm they are safe and contain sampleable material. Closeup imaging also will map the features and landmarks required for the spacecraft’s autonomous navigation to the asteroid’s surface. The team will use the data from these passes to select the final primary and backup sample collection sites in December.

The second and third stages of reconnaissance will begin in early 2020 when the spacecraft will perform passes over the final two sites at lower altitudes and take even higher resolution observations of the surface to identify features, such as groupings of rocks that will be used to navigate to the surface for sample collection. OSIRIS-REx sample collection is scheduled for the latter half of 2020, and the spacecraft will return the asteroid samples to Earth on Sept. 24, 2023.

They given the four sites the names Nightingale, Kingfisher, Osprey and Sandpiper.

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Monitoring Martian pits not near Arsia Mons

Second look at Hephaestus Fossae pit
Click for full image.

In reviewing the August image release from the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), I came upon two different new pit images, the more interesting of which is highlighted on the right, cropped to post here..

Finding new pit images from MRO isn’t surprising, since the spacecraft has been photographing pits almost monthly since November (see: November 12, 2018, January 30, 2019, February 22, 2019, April 2, 2019, May 7, 2019, and July 1, 2019).

What makes these two new pit images more intriguing are their location, and the fact that both pits were previously photographed by MRO and posted on Behind the Black on June 5, 2018 and July 24, 2018. Both are located in Hephaestus Fossae, a region of fissures on the edge of the great Martian northern lowlands to the west of the great volcano Elysium Mons.

Almost all the pits from past MRO images have been found on the slopes of Arsia Mons, the southernmost of the three giant volcanoes southeast of Olympus Mons. In fact, last month I even asked the question, “Why so many pits there, and so few pits elsewhere?” The explanation from Chris Okubo of the U.S. Geological Survey, who is requesting these images, was that maybe it was due to geology, or maybe it was because we simply do not yet have enough information and might not have identified the many caves/pits elsewhere.

It appears that this same question had already been on the minds of Okubo and his partner, Glen Cushing, also of the USGS. As Okubo wrote me when I asked him about these new images:
» Read more

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Protesters allow research to resume, within limits, at other Mauna Kea telescopes

How special of them! The protesters blocking construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) have now agreed to allow limited access to Mauna Kea for the researchers and technicians for the other telescopes there.

The Maunakea Access Road remains blockaded. However, activists agreed, after the Emergency Proclamation was withdrawn, to allow all existing observatory employees, including astronomers, to access Maunakea using the Old Saddle Road and a section of unpaved lava. This route is unimproved and lined with tents, cars and people. However, pursuant to this agreement, on Wednesday, August 7, 2019 the state laid cinder and cones in an attempt to address safety concerns. The people blocking the road also agreed to allow larger vehicles to access Maunakea by going around the tent blockade. This means the vehicles will travel on the road’s shoulder.

The current process of gaining access to Maunakea requires the observatories to provide pre-arranged notification of all vehicles seeking access. To accomplish this, the people blocking the road will be provided a list of which vehicles are going up and when. This requires the observatories to contact the Office of Maunakea Management, which then contacts law enforcement, who then provides the list to the activists. The observatories are also aware that activists have been keeping a log of who goes up and down. [emphasis mine]

Essentially the protesters now run Mauna Kea, and have the right to ban anyone they don’t like from going there. This is essentially mob rule, since the law does not give them that right, and in fact has always given access rights to everyone.

The highlighted words indicate the possibility of increased risk by this mob rule. I’ve been on that road. It is gravel but well-graded. Its shoulders are not gigantic, however, and often border steep slopes and cliffs.

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NOAA revises upward its ordinary average 2019 hurricane season prediction

NOAA last week announced that it is revising upward its hurricane prediction for the 2019, changing it from average and ordinary to slightly higher than average and ordinary.

Seasonal forecasters with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center have increased the likelihood of an above-normal Atlantic hurricane season to 45% (up from 30% from the outlook issued in May). The likelihood of near-normal activity is now at 35%, and the chance of below-normal activity has dropped to 20%.

The number of predicted storms is also greater with NOAA now expecting 10-17 named storms (winds of 39 mph or greater), of which 5-9 will become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or greater), including 2-4 major hurricanes (winds of 111 mph or greater). This updated outlook is for the entire six-month hurricane season, which ends Nov. 30.

The problem with NOAA’s desire to imply that we are all going to die from massive hurricanes is twofold. First, take a look at the most recent hurricane graphs at Weatherstreet.com. NOAA’s unrevised prediction for Atlantic hurricanes was totally in the center of the average for the years from 1966 to 2009. It also was significantly below 2005, the worst hurricane year on record that was used by global warming activists to claim global warming was causing more storms that were more extreme.

The problem is that 2005 was an outlier. For almost a dozen years afterward no category 3 or more hurricanes made landfall in the U.S. and only a very few have followed since.

The newly revised prediction still predicts an average and ordinary number of hurricanes in 2019, just very slightly above the average for the past half century.

But no matter. The number will be higher! We are all going to die! We must silence anyone who disagrees because their denialism will cause more deaths!

Welcome to the coming dark age.

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Forbes censors climate article questioning human-caused global warming

An August 9th article at the magazine Forbes — discussing the skepticism that many scientists have about human-caused global warming — was removed today by the magazine “for failing to meet our editorial standards.”

Or to put it more accurately, they censored it for failing to follow the knee-jerk blind demands of the global-warming political movement.

The Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) has now published the article in full, so that “interested readers [can] make up their own minds about the research by Nir Shaviv and Henrik Svensmark.”

Read the article. The only things unreasonable in it is the suggestion that there is a 97% consensus among climate scientists. That claim is false, as noted by the authors of the paper [pdf] where the claim comes from, in their own abstract.

We find that 66.4% of abstracts expressed no position on AGW [human-caused global warming], 32.6% endorsed AGW, 0.7% rejected AGW and 0.3% were uncertain about the cause of global warming.

What these statistics actually prove is that 66.4% of all climate scientists understand that it is inappropriate to endorse or even reject a theory, when the data is insufficient. The remaining third, whether they endorse or reject human-caused global warming, do not understand the scientific method, in the slightest.

As for the censored Forbes article, it first outlines some of the most reasonable uncertainties of science surrounding the climate, focusing most specifically on the influence of the Sun, as shown by research by Shaviv and others. Then it notes how the climate community is working to squelch such research, dishonestly, as noted by Shaviv:

Any scientist who rejects the UN’s IPCC report, as he does, will have trouble finding work, receiving research grants or publishing, he said.

I must add that I have interviewed Nir Shaviv myself in connection with several astronomy articles, and found him to be a rigorous and intelligent scientist interested only in pursuing knowledge and the truth.

The bottom line now however is that the pursuit of knowledge and truth is no longer allowed in the climate field. Step out of line and the modern global warming inquisition will move in quickly to silence you, to smash its jack-booted foot into your face.

Hat tip to one of my readers, who when he sent this article to me opened by quoting me and Scott Adams: “They’re coming for you next.” Fortunately, I have tried very hard to anticipate such attacks, which is why I created Behind the Black. This website has made me free and independent of such oppressive tyranny. The only thing that would stop me from expressing my thoughts freely would be a lack of support from my readers. Fortunately, my readers have been increasingly generous, suggesting that they like the idea of freedom and open debate.

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Environmentalist group opposes Scottish spaceport

An environmentalist group is working to organize opposition to the construction of a spaceport on an island in the Hebrides Islands.

The North Uist Conservation Group is concerned that the proposal would damage the coastal wilderness of Scolpaig, and tourism from nature lovers who visit the island to see otters, golden and white-tailed eagles, wading birds and the corncrake.

It is also worried about the impact on the nearby North Uist Machair, a designated Special Area of Conservation, and an area of peatland, which is a carbon sink. The RSPB bird reserve at Balranald is five kilometres from the proposed spaceport, it added.

They think a spaceport will hurt tourism? They might want to take a look at Florida in the U.S. If handled right, a spaceport will bring many more tourists to this very remote location.

As for the nearby wildlife and peat, they should take a look at Florida again. When the Kennedy Space Center was created the U.S. government also made the large surrounding territory, needed to remain undeveloped so that launches could occur safely, a gigantic wildlife preserve. That preserve has prospered magnificently in the ensuring decades, since the launches do it no harm.

Of course, these facts matter little. The people opposing this spaceport are, like the protesters in Hawaii that oppose TMT, not really interested in facts. Nor are they really interested in preserving anything. What really motivates them is the desire for power. If they aren’t in charge of something, then they must be given the power to prevent it.

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Nurse gets death threats for posing with Trump

They’re coming for you next: A hospital nurse who worked to save lives after the Dayton massacre this past weekend was doxxed on Twitter and has since gotten death threats for posing in a photograph with Trump

I’d like you all to meet Rita. She’s an ICU Nurse at Miami Valley Hospital. She was one of the many heroes that helped save lives in Dayton following the mass shooting.

While President Trump was visiting the hospital, he was told about her hard work. He personally approached her, thanked her and asked for a photo. She was so happy and ecstatic to meet the President.

She posted the photo online and has since received numerous death threats, harassing messages and pure bullying. As a result, she deleted her Facebook and now has to be escorted in and out of work.

The link quotes the tweet that doxxed her, which in a sense is only worsening the situation.

Much of this problem comes from twitter, where you can post anything you want completely anonymously, and if you are attacking conservatives or Republicans, face no punishment. Truly an evil company.

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Reports of another ExoMars parachute failure during test

Following a failure of ExoMars’ parachutes during a May test, there are now reports that a second failure occurred on August 5.

A fresh test of the parachute system for the Russian-European mission ExoMars-2020 have failed again as a structural mockup of the Russian-built lander crashed during the simulated landing, a source familiar with the test results told Sputnik.

The test with the use of a high-altitude balloon was carried out on August 5 at a Swedish Space Corporation’s test site in northern Sweden.

“Tests of the parachute system at the Esrange test site in Sweden failed. A full-size mockup of the landing module of the ExoMars-2020 Martian station crashed during the landing,” the source said.

I have seen this report in two other sites, but it has not yet been confirmed by the European Space Agency.

If these reports are true, the chances of ExoMars launching in July 2020 is likely almost nil. They haven’t even begun assembling the spacecraft, and have had two parachute failures in tests, with the second destroying the prototype used for those tests.

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Vector changes CEO, might have money issues

Capitalism in space: Jim Cantrell, who had been the CEO of smallsat rocket company Vector Launch since inception, has apparently left the company.

Vector, a micro-launch company founded in 2016 to build small rockets for payloads of up to 60kg, may be in financial trouble, multiple industry sources told Ars on Friday. A spokeswoman for Vector did not comment on that. However, she did confirm the company has parted ways with its chief executive: “Jim Cantrell is no longer with Vector effective today. John Garvey has assumed the role of CEO.”

I wish this story wasn’t so, though I also admit my instincts were telling me things were going sour with the continuing delays in their test launch schedule.

Jim Cantrell was an unusual CEO, always available and open. He generously took me on personal tours of Vector facilities, twice, first in March 2017 and again in January 2019. I wish him well in whatever future endeavors he undetakes.

As for Vector, they need to get off the ground. They had had a substantial head start over many of the other new smallsat rocket companies, but that lead has now evaporated.

More information here. It appears one of their major investors might have pulled out. It also appears they have temporarily suspended operations, shuttering their offices.

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Watching the yearly vanishing of Mars’ north pole dry icecap

Buzzell dunes, March 19, 2019
Click for full image.

Buzzel dunes, April 4, 2019
Click for full image.

Buzzell dunes, June 4, 2019
Click for full image.

For the northern hemisphere of Mars it is presently spring. The season began sometime in April 2019 and will last until about October, twice as long as on Earth because of the Martian year is twice as long.

During the fall and winter the permanent water-icecap, which forms the bulk of the Martian icecap, gets covered by a mantle of dry ice, settling there as a layer of carbon dioxide snow about six feet thick. With the arrival of spring that dry icecap slowly begins sublimate away entirely.

Using the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) planetary scientists are monitoring this process, taking pictures periodically.

On June 6, 2019 I had written a detailed story describing the Martian North Pole and outlining the process by which this sublimation of the dry icecap mantle takes place.

When winter ends and the sun reappears at this Arctic location, a small percentage of that sunlight, about 10%, goes through the dry ice and warms the sand that the dry ice mantles. This in turn warms the bottom of the dry ice layer, causing this to sublimate into a gas that is now trapped.

When the pressure builds sufficiently, that gas breaks free at the weakest spots in the dry ice layer, which are either at the dune crest or at its base, or sometimes on its face where cracks form. When it does so the CO2 gas carries with it material from below, which appears dark relative to the bright dry ice on the surface. As the summer season progresses and more dry ice sublimates away, the dark smudges disappear as they slowly blend in with the now-exposed original sand surface.

The first two pictures to the right were posted in that June 6, 2019 story, showing the initial evidence of sublimation on a set of dunes that the scientists have dubbed Buzzell. Below these, I have now added the newest image of the Buzzell dunes, taken on June 4, 2019 and just released in the August MRO image dump.

When this third image was taken, spring was only about two months old. Yet, this sublimation process is clearly accelerating. You can see many more dark patches at the crests and bases of many dunes, especially in the upper left of the image. According to Dr. Candice Hansen of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, who is requesting these monitoring images, by sometime in October “you’ll see how the entire spring progresses from dunes completely covered with dry ice to the summer when they are just bare sand. Then you could comment on the whole spring series.”

I fully intend to do this. No harm however in providing an interim report or two. Stay tuned to Behind the Black for future on-going and up-to-date reports on the shrinking north pole dry icecap of Mars!

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IAU approves 2nd set of Pluto names chosen by New Horizons team

My heart be still! The International Astronomical Union (IAU) has now officially given its glorious stamp of approval to a second set of fourteen names given by the New Horizons’ team to features on Pluto.

Several people and missions who paved the way for the historic exploration of Pluto and the Kuiper Belt – the farthest worlds ever explored – are honored in the second set of official Pluto feature names approved by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), the international authority for naming celestial bodies and their surface features.

The new names were proposed by NASA’s New Horizons team, which carried out the first reconnaissance of Pluto and its moons with the New Horizons spacecraft in 2015. Along with a short list of official names the IAU had already approved, the mission science team had been using these and other place names informally to describe the many regions, mountain ranges, plains, valleys and craters discovered during the first close-up look at Pluto’s surface. [emphasis mine]

In case you don’t get it, I am being very sarcastic above. I consider the IAU to be incredibly arrogant in its claim that it, and it alone, can approve the names given to surface features on other worlds. Initially the IAU was given the task by the astronomical community of organizing the naming of celestial bodies seen in telescopes, to reduce confusion. Somehow the IAU has expanded that responsibility to include the naming of every rock and pebble on every world in the universe.

To this I say bunk. I also know that future spacefarers in space will say the same thing, and tell the IAU to go jump in a lake. In a sense, the New Horizons team did exactly that when they made their name choices very public from the beginning, essentially telling the IAU that the New Horizons’ team is picking the names, not the IAU.

In related news, the IAU has now approved the naming convention the OSIRIS-REx team intends to use to name features on Bennu. However, in this case the IAU is doing its real job, helping to organize the naming conventions to reduce confusion.

The named features on Bennu will include several terrain classification types that the IAU also approved for asteroid (162173) Ryugu’s surface features (currently being explored by the Japanese Space Agency’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft). These include craters, dorsa (peaks or ridges), fossae (grooves or trenches) and saxa (rocks and boulders). The last of these types – saxum – is a new feature classification that the IAU introduced earlier this year for small, rocky asteroids like Ryugu and Bennu. These surface features on Bennu will be named after mythological birds and bird-like creatures, complementing the mission’s existing naming theme, which is rooted in Egyptian mythology.

The actual names the OSIRIS-REx team will chose for each unique feature will however be their choice, not the IAU’s. Though the IAU will eventually announce it has “approved” those choices, it will never really have the right to have a say in those decisions.

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OneWeb: LauncherOne too expensive

In asking that Virgin Orbit’s lawsuit against internet satellite manufacturer OneWeb be dismissed, OneWeb has claimed that their contract allowed for the cancellation of launches without cause, and that they have a cause anyway, which is that LauncherOne is too pricey.

In its court filing, OneWeb said the $6 million price tag for a LauncherOne mission is two to three times current market prices.

…The original contract, OneWeb claims, allowed for termination without cause, and for prior payments to apply to the termination fee. Those contract termination rules, and the fact that Virgin Orbit has yet to conduct any LauncherOne missions, invalidate Virgin Orbit’s revenue expectations, according to OneWeb. [emphasis mine]

Based on my estimate of the launch market, LauncherOne’s price is higher than others, but not by very much. I think the highlighted text is more significant. LauncherOne had announced plans to fly its first mission last summer. More than a year later that inaugural flight has still not taken place.

In the meantime, this decision by OneWeb is a boon to Russia’s space industry, especially its Soyuz rocket, as it will now get the contracts for launching the majority of OneWeb’s 648-satellite constellation.

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New Hubble image of Jupiter

Jupiter as seen by Hubble in 2019
Click for full image.

The Hubble science team today released a new global image the telescope took of Jupiter on June 27, 2019. The photograph on the right is that image, reduced and cropped to post here. As noted by the press release about the Great Red Spot,

The Great Red Spot is a towering structure shaped like a wedding cake, whose upper haze layer extends more than 3 miles (5 kilometers) higher than clouds in other areas. The gigantic structure, with a diameter slightly larger than Earth’s, is a high-pressure wind system called an anticyclone that has been slowly downsizing since the 1800s. The reason for this change in size is still unknown.

A worm-shaped feature located below the Great Red Spot is a cyclone, a vortex around a low-pressure area with winds spinning in the opposite direction from the Red Spot. Researchers have observed cyclones with a wide variety of different appearances across the planet. The two white oval-shaped features are anticyclones, like small versions of the Great Red Spot.

Another interesting detail is the color of the wide band at the equator. The bright orange color may be a sign that deeper clouds are starting to clear out, emphasizing red particles in the overlying haze.

In many ways Hubble’s images of Jupiter are comparable to those taken by Juno, except that Hubble can’t zoom in as close.

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Crater on the Basement of Mars

Crater in the bottom of Hellas Basin
Click for full image.

Cool image time! In the July release of images from the high resolution camera of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) was the image to the right, cropped to post here, showing what I suspect is a relatively young crater located in the lowest part of Hellas Basin, what I call the bottom of Mars.

Though this crater is not located at the lowest point in Hellas, it is not far off from there. What makes it important to geologists are two facts. First, there are not a lot of craters in Hellas, which helps indicate it is a relatively young feature. Second, and more important, the impact has made accessible material from below the surface, indicated by the different colors in this image. From this information they can better constrain their theories about the Basin’s formation and where it fits in Mars’s overall geological history.

Make sure you take a look at the full photograph by clicking of the image, and compare it with the earlier Hellas Basin images I posted here. The surface of Hellas appears to have a lot of flow features, as if it was laid down by volcanic activity, or by the motion of water that covered it. In either case that would explain the overall lack of craters.

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FCC streamlines and cuts fees for smallsat licensing

Capitalism in space: In an effort to ease its bureaucratic obstacles to private enterprise, the FCC has streamlined its licensing process for new smallsats, while cutting its licensing fees by more than 90%.

Under the optional licensing regime, which stands to take effect this year, smallsat operators with spacecraft that meet certain criteria will be able to obtain a spectrum license about twice as fast and pay only $30,000 instead of nearly $500,000. A maximum of 10 satellites at a time can be licensed under the streamline process.

…Operators will be able to use the streamlined licensing for satellites that weigh 180 kilograms or less, operate below 600 kilometers (or have propulsion) and will deorbit within six years, among other criteria.

One component of these new regulations is that they require new smallsats to never be smaller than 10 centimeters on their smallest dimension, thus essentially forbidding the launch of nanosats smaller than that.

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Video of Long March 2C grid fins used in July

China Central Television has released a very short video showing the grid fins used during the July 26 launch of China’s Long March 2C rocket in order to better control the descent of that rocket’s expendable first stage.

I have embedded the video below the fold. It shows the four grid fins unfolding, but not much else. It also reveals that the Chinese very clearly were inspired by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 grid fin design.

The video also gives me the impression that the Long March 2C first stage does not have any thrusters, which were SpaceX’s primary mode for controlling its first stages, the grid fins added later when they understood better the engineering required. Thus I suspect that the fins were not very successful in controlling that stage’s flight.

Nonetheless, the Chinese are doing these tests during operations, which means they are only a first step on a path to success.
» Read more

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Vector gets Air Force launch contract

Capitalism in space: Vector has signed its first Air Force launch contract for an orbital cubesat launch in 2021.

The Air Force must know something about Vector’s rocket development that we don’t. The company had planned a suborbital test launch for March/April, delayed it until June, and has still not flown it. These delays put the company behind its original launch schedule by a considerable amount, which originally had called for its first orbital launch in 2018.

Hopefully we shall soon see some actually progress from Vector. At the moment however their lack of launches has allowed a number of other smallsat rocket companies to gain on them from behind.

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Yutu-2 and Chang’e-4 go to sleep again

Yutu-2's travels

Both Yutu-2 and Chang’e-4 have been put in dormant mode after completing their eighth lunar day on the far side of the Moon.

The article at the link provides a lot of new details about what both spacecraft have learned and done since they landed, including a nice detailed map showing Yutu-2’s exact path during those eight lunar days. The image to the right, reduced to post here, was taken by Yutu-2, and shows the rover’s tracks during what appears to be its seventh lunar day. It appears that the rover periodically stopped and did a pirouette, probably to obtain a 360 degree mosaic of the surrounding terrain.

Yutu-2’s travels have tended west from Chang’e-4, and on its eighth lunar day it continues that route, traveling 271 meters. After a period of short traveling days, they have now upped the distance traversed by a considerable amount. Since the planned nominal mission for both spacecraft had been three lunar days, both are demonstrating that the Chinese have figured out how to do this, and are now pushing Yutu-2 hard as a result.

The article vaguely describes some of the science obtained so far, but in general the Chinese remain tight-lipped about most of their discoveries.

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ULA’s Atlas 5 launches military communications satellite

Early this morning ULA used its Atlas 5 rocket to successfully launch an Air Force military communications satellite.

This was the third ULA launch this year, which means they remain off the leader board below. This number of launches is also below the pace set the last two years, where they completed eight launches per year.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

12 Russia
11 China
10 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)
4 India

The U.S. now leads in the national rankings 17 to 12.

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Smallsat rocket company Orbex signs two launch deals

Capitalism in space: The new smallsat rocket company Orbex today announced the signing of two different launch deals, one with In-Space and the other with Innovative Space Logistics both with companies focused on procuring launch services for smallsat companies.

Both are for its as yet untested Prime rocket, which they hope to launch by 2021 from the United Kingdom’s new spaceport in Scotland.

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Cygnus undocks from ISS, will remain in orbit for five more months

Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus cargo capsule has undocked from ISS, but will remain in orbit until December.

First, the capsule, dubbed the S.S. Roger Chaffee, will deploy a bunch of cubesats and nanosats. Then,

Northrop Grumman plans several months of long-duration spaceflight experiments using the Cygnus spacecraft after release of the CubeSats. Four miniaturized control moment gyroscopes are flying on the cargo freighter for the first time, and engineers will assess their performance in controlling the spacecraft’s pointing without consuming rocket fuel.

Ground teams also want to evaluate how the Cygnus spacecraft’s avionics function on a long-duration mission, and Northrop Grumman plans to demonstrate dual Cygnus operations for the first time after the launch of the company’s next resupply mission — NG-12 — in October.

Northrop Grumman has gotten a NASA contract to use Cygnus as the basis for the habitable module of NASA’s Lunar Gateway project, and this extended flight is a way to test the engineering for that module now during operations.

Though I continue to have many doubts about Gateway, I laud Northrop Grumman for this approach. It speeds things up and saves money.

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India’s new smallsat rocket gets its first launch contract

The new colonial movement: India today signed its first customer for its new and still untested SSLV rocket, designed to provide orbital launch services for the burgeoning smallsat market.

Spaceflight announced Aug. 6 that it will purchase the first commercial launch a new Indian vehicle scheduled to make its debut later this year. Spaceflight said it will launch payloads for an undisclosed U.S. satellite constellation customer on a flight of the Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV), a derivative of the existing, larger Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). The launch is scheduled for later this year and will be the second for the SSLV after a demonstration launch expected no earlier than September.

While the companies didn’t announce the customer for the mission, a July 25 filing with the Federal Communications Commission by Earth imaging company BlackSky Global sought a license for four of its satellites it said would launch on the SSLV in November 2019. The applications said the satellites would be deployed into two orbital planes, consistent with Spaceflight’s announcement.

While this Indian rocket is hardly a private operation, it has no military component, as do the new Chinese smallsat companies. ISRO, India’s space agency, is wholly civilian with no apparent ties to its military, as far as I know. Its goal is to purely make money and grab market share.

At the same time, the use of government funds to develop this rocket gives India the same advantage that China’s smallsat companies have over the privately funded rockets from the U.S. It allows them to set lower prices and undercut the competition.

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Chandrayaan-2 completes fifth orbital maneuver

Chandrayaan-2 has completed its fifth engine burn, raising the apogee of its Earth orbit to 142,975 kilometers.

The next engine burn, on August 14, will raise that apogee enough for the spacecraft to enter the Moon’s gravitational sphere of influence, when they will then transfer into lunar orbit.

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Rocket Lab to attempt recovery and reuse of Electron 1st stage

Capitalism in space: Faced with stiff competition from both other smallsat rocket companies as well as the big players like SpaceX, Rocket Lab has announced that they are going to try to recover the first stages of their Electron rocket for later reuse.

Their plan is to use the atmosphere and parachutes to slow the stage down as it returns to Earth, and then have a helicopter snag it and land it on a ship.

They had looked into the idea of vertically landing it, like SpaceX does with its Falcon 9, but found it would make their rocket to big and expensive.

This plan is not as radical as it sounds. The Air Force did something similar for almost a decade in the 1960s to recover film from its surveillance satellites.

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SpaceX and Arianespace complete successful launches

Today, as I was giving my lecture in Denver, both Arianespace and SpaceX successfully completed launches.

SpaceX put a commercial communications satellite in orbit. The first stage was not recovered, but this was intended. The company however was successful in catching one half fairing in the giant net of its recovery ship Mrs. Tree., the second time they have done so.

Arianespace used its Ariane 5 rocket to launch a commercial communications satellite and a European Space Agency data relay satellite.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

12 Russia
11 China
10 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)
4 India

The U.S. now leads Russia 16 to 12 in the national rankings.

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Bezos sells an additional billion dollars in Amazon stock

Jeff Bezos this week sold an additional billion dollars in Amazon stock, bringing his total cash-in in 2019 now to $2.8 billion, and his total cash sales of stock to about $5 billion since he said several years ago that he would sell about $1 billion per year to finance his space company Blue Origin.

He still owns 12% of Amazon.

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SpaceX offers new cut-rate prices for smallsats

Capitalism in space: SpaceX yesterday announced that the company is now offering new cut-rate prices to launch smallsats on its rockets.

The company is offering rideshare opportunities for satellites weighing up to 150kg at the price of $2.25 million. The rideshare-only missions, flying aboard the company’s workhorse Falcon 9 rocket, will launch at regularly scheduled intervals. “SpaceX is committed to serving the commercial market as it grows and changes,” a spokesperson for the company said. “And we believe we can address the needs of small satellite operators by offering reliable, cost-effective access to orbit through regularly scheduled, dedicated rideshare missions.”

The company has previously flown rideshare missions using its Falcon 9 rocket, but those flights were organized and integrated by a third-party provider, Spaceflight Industries. Now SpaceX will do all of that work directly for customers

This move makes SpaceX’s smallsat prices very competitive. It also makes it easier for smallsat companies to bypass China’s semi-private commercial companies, thus avoiding the risk of China stealing their technology.

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Water bears on the Moon!

A digital library carried by the Israeli lunar lander, Beresheet, that crashed on the Moon in April also carried with it dehydrated tardigrades, also called water bears.

Spivack had planned to send DNA samples to the moon in future versions of the lunar library, not on this mission. But a few weeks before Spivack had to deliver the lunar library to the Israelis, however, he decided to include some DNA in the payload anyway. Ha and an engineer on Spivack’s team added a thin layer of epoxy resin between each layer of nickel, a synthetic equivalent of the fossilized tree resin that preserves ancient insects. Into the resin they tucked hair follicles and blood samples from Spivack and 24 others that he says represent a diverse genetic cross-section of human ancestry, in addition to some dehydrated tardigrades and samples from major holy sites, like the Bodhi tree in India. A few thousand extra dehydrated tardigrades were sprinkled onto the tape used to secure the lunar library to the Beresheet lander.

The promising thing about the tardigrades, says Spivack, is that they could hypothetically be revived in the future. Tardigrades are known to enter dormant states in which all metabolic processes stop and the water in their cells is replaced by a protein that effectively turns the cells into glass. Scientists have revived tardigrades that have spent up to 10 years in this dehydrated state, although in some cases they may be able to survive much longer without water. Although the lunar library is designed to last for millions of years, scientists are just beginning to understand how tardigrades manage to survive in so many unforgiving environments. It’s conceivable that as we learn more about tardigrades, we’ll discover ways to rehydrate them after much longer periods of dormancy.

They suspect that the digital library probably survived the crash, which means the dehydrated water bears did also.

Don’t expect the Moon to be overrun by tardigrades. However, it will be a very interesting discovery if we find, years hence when explorers finally can recover that digital library, that the tardigrades can be re-hydrated and come back to life.

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