Category Archives: Points of Information

The real facts about COVID-19 show the panic about it is absurd

UPDATE 2: The article censored by Medium has now been posted at zero hedge, and I have changed the link below. As I said, spend some time reading it. The information is substantial, the analysis thoughtful and detailed, and the perspective calm and rational.

UPDATE 1: The article I link to has been blocked by the server. You get this message:

Error
410
This post is under investigation or was found in violation of the Medium Rules.

Or to put it more bluntly, “Medium Rules” are hostile to thoughtful, fact-based analysis. Quite disgusting. If I was the writer I would switch servers in a heartbeat. And if I was another writer on the same server I’d tell them to go to hell as well.

You can read another analysis of the article here, which provides a few more quotes from the article. I will also not be surprised if the article reappears shortly.
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Original post:

Link here. The article is incredibly detailed about every single aspect of the virus, and finds that it is simply not significantly different from the flu. The numbers outlined also confirm my conclusions from earlier in the week, that the panic over the Wuhan/COVID-19/coronavirus are simply unwarranted. More than anything else, this fact about the virus illustrates this fact:

Dr. Paul Auwaerter, the Clinical Director for the Division of Infectious Diseases at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine echoes [other findings], “If you have a COVID-19 patient in your household, your risk of developing the infection is about 10%….If you were casually exposed to the virus in the workplace (e.g., you were not locked up in conference room for six hours with someone who was infected [like a hospital]), your chance of infection is about 0.5%”

According to Dr. Auwaerter, these transmission rates are very similar to the seasonal flu.

To put it mildly, this epidemic is a nothing burger. Yes, it is killing a small percentage of the population worldwide, but almost all of those are old and already sick. Yes, it is spreading fast, but the spread is comparable to the flu and is thus not special or unusual.

And yes, actions to slow the spread will be helpful to both the scientists trying to come up with treatments and cures and the healthcare system that has to treat this new influx of patients, but the autocratic restrictions being imposed by state and city governments in the U.S. are almost all counter-productive. As the article notes:

Local governments and politicians are inflicting massive harm and disruption with little evidence to support their draconian edicts. Every local government is in a mimetic race to one-up each other in authoritarian city ordinances to show us who has more “abundance of caution”. Politicians are competing, not on more evidence or more COVID-19 cures but more caution. As unemployment rises and families feel unbearably burdened already, they feel pressure to “fix” the situation they created with even more radical and “creative” policy solutions. This only creates more problems and an even larger snowball effect. The first place to start is to stop killing the patient and focus on what works.

Start with basic hygiene: The most effective means to reduce spread is basic hygiene. Most American’s don’t wash their hands enough and aren’t aware of how to actually wash your hands. Masks aren’t particularly effective if you touch your eyes with infected hands. Ask businesses and public places to freely distribute disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer to the customers and patrons. If you get sick or feel sick, stay home. These are basic rules for preventing illness that doesn’t require trillions of dollars.

Meanwhile, our federal government is about to pass a one to two trillion dollar stimulus bill that will further bankrupt the government, aimed at distributing money, not for developing and making available the necessary drugs to combat the virus, but to their buddies and to Americans as a pay-off for their terrible policies that are destroying jobs, incomes, lives, and the economy.

Read it all. Take your time doing it, as the amount of information is substantial. The bottom line, however, is that if you inform yourself properly about COVID-19, you will realize that we are panicking for no reason. And with our panic we are allowing corrupt politicians to destroy our freedoms and rights while they increase their power over us.

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OneWeb faces bankruptcy, even as it is about to launch more satellites

According to reports today, OneWeb, one of two companies presently building a constellation of satellites for providing worldwide internet access, is facing a serious cash crunch and might have to file for bankruptcy.

The main investor, Softbank, apparently is short of cash due to bad investments, worsened further by the stock market crash due to the Wuhan virus panic this week. Furthermore, the panic has caused Arianespace, which is launching many of OneWeb’s satellites, to suspend all launches from its French Guiana spaceport.

OneWeb has already launched 74 satellites, with a Soyuz launch of 34 more from Russia tomorrow. While fewer than the 360 that its main competitor SpaceX has launched of its Starlink constellation, OneWeb doesn’t need as many based on constellation’s design to become operational. After tomorrow’s launch, OneWeb will have launched about 18% needed, compared to SpaceX’s 24%.

If OneWeb goes out of business, it will do great harm to both Russia’s launch industry as well as Europe’s Arianespace, both of which have contracts for launching most of OneWeb’s satellites. In fact, for Russia, OneWeb is pretty much the only commercial customer they have. If they lose that it will be a serious financial blow.

Similarly, Arianespace’s next generation rocket, Ariane 6, has had problems garnering contracts. Losing the OneWeb launches will also hurt their bottom line.

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Justice Dept abandons Mueller indictments of Russian companies

Earlier this week the Justice Dept quietly announced that it was dropping the indictments that the Robert Mueller Russian collusion investigation had made against several Russian-based companies.

Though I missed reporting this when it happened because of other events, it merits comment, even a few days late.

For one thing, when Mueller announced these indictments, I read them, and concluded that they were absurd, and nothing more than a political maneuver.

Mueller’s indictment is first and foremost a political document. If you read it, it is quite obvious that its purpose was not to bring these Russians to justice, but to imply that Russia was working with Trump to get him elected, even though a careful analysis of everything the Russians did shows that this is not the case.

Why do I say this? The indictment spends numerous pages describing in incredible detail every single pro-Trump action taken by these Russians, from organizing social media campaigns to anti-Clinton protests to pro-Trump rallies, while providing only one or two very short summaries of the anti-Trump actions they took, thus giving the impression if you do not read the indictment closely that they were essentially a Trump operation.

This however is false. Not only does the indictment lack any evidence of any links between the Russians and the Trump campaign, the details indicate strongly the non-partisan nature of the Russian strategy. While prior to the election it appears they favored Trump, once he was the candidate they shifted tactics to attack both him and Clinton. The goal was not so much to get Trump elected but to cause the most negative disruption to the American election process as possible. The indictment itself admits this, though almost as an aside.

People far more expert on this subject than I, such as Andrew McCarthy at the link above, had quickly come to the same conclusion. And McCarthy had predicted two years ago that the indictment would never fly if the Russian companies challenged it in court (something Mueller’s team clearly never expected). They did challenge it, resulting in some incredibly embarrassing moments in court for these Democratic Party hacks.

I think this story is only one example of the corrupt nature of Mueller’s Russian investigation. It was a political action against a duly and legally elected president, through and through, created by those in DC who did not like the result, and wished to overturn it illegally, by any means necessary.

Or to put it bluntly, it was an attempted political coup.

People in that operation should be the ones indicted, and convicted. I wait with great pessimism whether the investigations by Trump’s attorney general will result in such indictments. They should, but I have little faith they will. In Washington DC we now have two sets of rules.The little people must obey all laws, or they will be severely punished. Those in Washington however are exempt from any prosecution, and can do as they please.

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Inactive hot springs on Mars?

Inactive hot springs on Mars?
Click for full image.

Overview of Vernal Crater

Cool image time! In prepping my report of the interesting abstracts from Friday of the cancelled 51st annual Lunar & Planetary Science conference (to be posted later today), I found myself reading an abstract [pdf] from the astrobiology session about the possibility of now inactive hot springs on Mars! This was such a cool image and possibility I decided to post it separately, first.

The top image to the right, cropped and expanded to post here, was taken by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2009. It shows some dark elliptical splotches inside the floor of a crater dubbed Vernal. The second image to the right, taken from the abstract, shows the context, with the top image a wide shot showing the southern half of Vernal Crater where these features are located, and the bottom image zooming into the area of interest. The white box focuses on the elliptical features seen in the first image above. From the abstract:

The elliptical features consist of concentric halos of high but varying albedo, where the highest albedo in each occurs in a small central zone that mimics the shape of the larger anomaly. Each feature is also traversed by circumferential fractures. Several similar tonal features extend for 5-6 km, on stratigraphic trend with the elliptical features. Hypotheses considered for the origin of the elliptical features included springs, mud/lava volcanoes, pingos, and effects of aeolian erosion, ice sublimation, or dust, but the springs alternative was most compatible with all the data.

The abstract theorizes that the small ligher central zone is where hot water might have erupted as “focused fluid injection” (like a geyser), spraying the surround area to form the dark ellipses.

I must emphasize that this hypothesis seems to me very tenuous. We do not really have enough data to really conclude these features come from a formerly active hot spring or geyser, though that certainly could be an explanation. In any case, the geology is quite intriguing, and mysterious enough to justify further research and even a future low cost mission, such as small helicopter drone, when many such missions can be launched frequently and cheaply.

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NASA considering shutting down Curiosity in 2021

Even as the space agency is about to launch a new rover to Mars, it is considering cutting operations for the rover Curiosity as well as considering shutting down its operation as soon as 2021.

Other ongoing missions are threatened by the administration’s fiscal year 2021 budget proposal. “The FY21 budget that the president just recently submitted overall is extremely favorable for the Mars program, but available funding for extended mission longevity is limited,” [said Jim Watzin, director of NASA’s Mars exploration program].

That request would effectively end operations of the Mars Odyssey orbiter, launched in 2001, and reduce the budget for Curiosity from $51.1 million in 2019 to $40 million in 2021, with no funding projected for that rover mission beyond 2021.

The penny-wise-pound-foolish nature of such a decision is breath-taking. Rather than continue, for relatively little cost, running a rover already in place on Mars, the agency will shut it down. And why? So they can initiate other Mars missions costing millions several times more money.

Some of the proposed cuts, such as ending the U.S. funding for Europe’s Mars Express orbiter, make sense. That orbiter has accomplished relatively little, and Europe should be paying for it anyway.

These decisions were announced during a live-stream NASA townhall that was originally to have occurred live at the cancelled Lunar & Planetary Science conference. I suspect its real goal is to garner support for more funding so that the agency will not only get funds for the new missions, it will be able to fund the functioning old ones as well.

Sadly, there would be plenty of money for NASA’s well-run planetary program if our Congress and NASA would stop wasting money on failed projects like Artemis.

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NASA shuts down all in-house work, suspending SLS/Orion testing

In its panicky response to COVID-19, NASA is now requiring all workers to work from home, forcing the agency to suspend all in-house testing of SLS and Orion hardware.

NASA will temporarily suspend production and testing of Space Launch System and Orion hardware. The NASA and contractors teams will complete an orderly shutdown that puts all hardware in a safe condition until work can resume. Once this is complete, personnel allowed onsite will be limited to those needed to protect life and critical infrastructure.

We realize there will be impacts to NASA missions, but as our teams work to analyze the full picture and reduce risks we understand that our top priority is the health and safety of the NASA workforce.

This guarantees further delays to the first Artemis unmanned launch sometime in 2021. It also is par for the course for NASA’s entire effort to build this rocket. In just the past two weeks three different blistering inspector general reports have blasted different components of this project at NASA (overall management, construction of the launch systems, and development of software), proving that out-of-control cost overruns and endless delays in building SLS and Orion have been systemic throughout the agency.

Now they have shut down testing, even though the Wuhan virus is probably going to end up no more dangerous than the flu (now that treatment options exist).

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California: where politicians consider criminals their base and ordinary citizens their enemy

Three stories (two from today and one from two days ago) illustrate starkly the fascist mentality of California Democrats, clearly more interested in giving criminals as much freedom as possible while restricting the freedoms of ordinary law-abiding citizens.

The first story is especially grotesque. Senator Harris (D-California) wants to release criminals into the general population, even though these individuals cannot generally be relied upon to follow any quarantine restrictions. In prison however they are in the perfect quarantine, easily isolated from others.

Harris however is horrified by this. As she writes,

[The Federal Bureau of Prisons] is responding to the threat of coronavirus with extreme measures that both maintain current levels of incarceration and penalize the incarcerated community— including by suspending social and legal visitation, suspending inmate facility transfers, and potentially locking down institutions.

O the horror! We must release these individuals immediately, since restricting their freedom is so against what America stands for!

Meanwhile, the second story illustrates how California politicians have no problem imposing these same restrictions on innocent citizens. While Harris wants to release criminals, San Francisco politicians have imprisoned every citizen in these counties, while shutting down numerous businesses at great cost to their owners.

And the third story reveals the hidden fascist reasons for these actions in California. Because a flu-like virus might someday infect a lot of people, San Jose officials decide they have to shut down a gun shop.

Makes sense to me. We can’t have those evil Wuhan viruses buying guns, can we?

The goal of Democratic politicians in California (and elsewhere) isn’t to stop the virus. Their goal is to establish a totalitarian state, with them in power. This epidemic is only making this fascist desire more obvious.

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More Boca Chica residents move out, accepting SpaceX offers

More Boca Chica residents have accepted SpaceX purchase offers, and are finding other places to live.

While not all are thrilled with the circumstances, the article suggests that there is far more good will then unhappiness. It appears the excitement of what SpaceX is doing, and its willingness to give these residents special viewing privileges in the future, has done wonders to ease the pain for many of them for having to sell their homes.

It has also produced youtube channels providing 24 hour live streams of SpaceX operations.

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SpaceX recovers both fairing halves from Starlink launch

Capitalism in space: The two reused fairing halves that SpaceX used in yesterday’s Falcon 9 Starlink launch were both successfully recovered.

Starlink V1 L5 is now the second time ever that SpaceX – or anyone, for that matter – has successfully reused an orbital-class launch vehicle payload fairing, while the mission also marked the first time that SpaceX managed to recover a reused Falcon fairing. The burn from booster issues certainly isn’t fully salved, as twin fairing catchers Ms. Tree and Ms. Chief both missed their fairing catch attempts, but both twice-flown fairing halves were still successfully scooped out of the Atlantic Ocean before they were torn apart.

The first reused fairing however was not recovered, making this recovery the first of used fairings. The company now has the ability to study them in order to better design future reusable fairings.

The article provides a lot of information about the difficulties of catching the fairings before they hit the water. It also notes that the reused fairings have all been fished out of the ocean, suggesting that in the end catching them in the ship’s nets will be unnecessary.

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NASA confirms May target date for first manned Dragon flight

Capitalism in space: In announcing today it is beginning media accreditation for SpaceX’s first manned Dragon flight to ISS, the agency confirmed earlier reports from SpaceX that they are now aiming for a mid-to-late May launch.

Much can change before then. COVID-19 could get worse, shutting down all launches. The engine failure on yesterday’s successful Falcon 9 launch could require delays.

However, right now, things look good for May, which will be the first time since 2011 that Americans will launch from American soil on an American-built rocket, an almost ten year gap that has been downright disgraceful. Thank you Congress and presidents Bush and Obama! It was how you planned it, and is also another reason we got Trump.

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NASA’s inspector general finds more budget overruns at Artemis

A new report [pdf] released today from NASA’s inspector general has found more budget overruns and managerial issues relating to developing the ground software required by both Orion and SLS.

There are two software components involved, called SCCS and GFAS for brevity. This report focuses on the latter. A previous report found that “SCCS had significantly exceeded its initial cost and schedule estimates with development costs increasing approximately 77 percent and release of a fully operational version of the software slipping 14 months.” According to that previous report [pdf], that increase went from $117 million to $207 million.

As for GFAS:

Overall, as of October 2019 GFAS development has cost $51 million, about $14 million more than originally planned.

This report, as well as yesterday’s, are quite damning to the previous management of NASA’s manned program under Bill Gerstenmaier. It appears they could not get anything done on time and even close to their budget.

It also appears to me that the Trump administration has removed the reins from its inspector general offices. During the Obama administration I noticed a strong reticence in IG reports to criticize government operations. Problems as outlined in both yesterday’s and today’s reports would have been couched gently, to obscure how bad they were. Now the reports are more blunt, and are more clearly written.

Also, this sudden stream of releases outlining the problems in Artemis might be part of the Trump administration’s effort to shift from this government program to using private commercial companies. To do this however the administration needs Congressional support, which up to now has strongly favored funding SLS and Orion. Having these reports will strengthen the administration’s hand should it propose eliminating these programs, as it is now beginning to do with Gateway.

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French and American studies find drug that can treat COVID-19

It isn’t a vaccine that will prevent infection, but tests in France and in the U.S. now show that a drug normally used to treat malaria is very effective in reducing the symptoms of the Wuhan virus.

He said that the first Covid-19 patients he had treated with the drug chloroquine had seen a rapid and effective speeding up of their healing process, and a sharp decrease in the amount of time they remained contagious.

Chloroquine – which is normally used mainly to prevent and treat malaria – was administered via the named drug, Plaquenil.

The drug is readily available and can be prescribed to anyone who is considered threatened by the virus to help them get better why reducing the chances of them giving it to others.

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Apollo 15 command module pilot Al Worden passes at 88

Their numbers slowly shrink: Al Worden, who orbited the Moon as commander of the Apollo 15 command module, has passed away at the age of 88.

For three days in 1971, Worden circled the moon as Dave Scott and Jim Irwin worked on the lunar surface — including driving a rover for the first time. Being a command module pilot has been called the loneliest job in humanity. In the spacecraft alone, not able to talk to anyone when the capsule was on the back side of the moon. But Worden told NPR in a 2016 interview, “I was pretty comfortable with being by myself.”

After Scott and Irwin returned from the lunar surface and the crew was on its way back home, Worden conducted a spacewalk, the first ever in deep-space. He ventured outside the capsule to retrieve film from the scientific cameras.

The link is to an NPR obituary, so of course it makes a big deal about the effort by the astronauts to make some extra money by selling postage stamp covers that they bought with them post-flight.

Worden remembers it this way, “Jim and I were told that this was something that happened on every flight. No big deal. Well, it turned out to be a huge deal.” Even though previous crews had profited off lunar souvenirs, it became a public relations nightmare for NASA. The three astronauts never flew again. Worden said he regretted what happened: “I think the flight speaks for itself. I think the science that we did on the flight speaks for itself.”

I always thought it was quite offensive that the American government, the press, NASA, and the public took offense then about this. These guys were not paid that much, slightly above an ordinary middle class salary, for doing something totally unique and incredibly dangerous. If they had a chance to make some extra cash on the side, all power to them.

This was just after the 1960s, however, and private enterprise and commercial profit was steadily going out of fashion. We as a culture had bought into the Soviet model of top-down government programs that were centrally controlled. For any of the individuals involved to make some independent cash for themselves was considered crass and corrupt.

Regardless, God speed, Al Worden.

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Comet C/2019 ATLAS brightening

Comet ATLAS, discovered in 2019 by a telescopic survey looking for near Earth asteroids, is brightening more than expected as it approaches the Sun, and could by May be visible to the naked eye.

Jonathan Shanklin, Director of the British Astronomical Association’s Comet Section, reports that the current comet, C/2019 Y4, brightened quite rapidly in mid February, and adds “as of March 11 there is no sign of a slowdown in the rate of brightening. It is already visible in large binoculars . . . The uncertainty in brightness at the time of perihelion is large, though the worst case indicator is 2nd magnitude. It will remain well placed for UK observers into May and could become a prominent object.”

If 2nd magnitude is the dimmest they presently expect, this comet will be one of the brightest objects in the sky come May. Stay tuned!

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Secondary impacts in water ice on Mars

Secondary impact in water ice on Mars
Click for full resolution image.

Cool image time! Today the science team for the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) released a beautiful captioned image of a secondary impact of an object into the icy plains of Utopia Planitia, the northern lowlands northeast of where the rover Perseverance will land in 2021. The image to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, shows one of several secondary craters in the full image. As planetary scientist Alfred McEwen explains in the caption,

One interpretation [for the crater’s unusual appearance] is that the impact crater exposed nearly pure water ice, which then sublimated away where exposed by the slopes of the crater, expanding the crater’s diameter and producing a scalloped appearance. The small polygons are another indicator of shallow ice.

Note the dunes at the bottom of the crater. This has become a trap of wind-blown sand and dust. Note also how this secondary impact gives us a rough idea of the thickness of this ice, based on the area sublimated away.

There is a lot of relatively accessible ice in those northern lowlands, which is why SpaceX likes them for its possible landing site for Starship. That candidate site is in Arcadia Planitia, on the other side of Mars, but it is still in these same northern lowlands, where scientists have found lots of evidence of buried ice.

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More overruns in NASA’s SLS program, this time with the mobile launchers

A new inspector general report [pdf] has found massive cost overruns in NASA over the building of the two mobile launch platforms the agency will use to launch its SLS rocket.

The original budget for the first mobile launch was supposed to be $234 million. NASA has now spent $927 million.

Worse, this platform will see limited use, as it was designed for the first smaller iteration of SLS, which NASA hopes to quickly replace with a more powerful version. Afterward it will become obsolete, replaced by the second mobile launch platform, now estimated to cost $486 million.

That’s about $1.5 billion just to build the launch platforms for SLS. That’s only a little less than SpaceX will spend to design, test, build, and launch its new Starship/Super Heavy rocket. And not only will Starship/Super Heavy be completely reusable, it will launch as much if not more payload into orbit as SLS.

But don’t worry. Our geniuses in Congress will continue to support SLS no matter the cost, even if it bankrupts NASA and prevents any real space exploration. They see its cost overruns, long delays, and inability to accomplish anything as a benefit, pumping money into their states and districts in order to buy votes.

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SpaceX launches another sixty Starlink satellites

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully launched another sixty Starlink satellites into orbit, using a reused first stage for the fifth time, the first time they have done this. They also for the first time reused the fairing, for the second time. All told, the cost for this launch was reduced by approximately 70% by these reuses.

However, during launch one 1st stage Merlin engine shut down prematurely, the first time since 2012. You can see the consequence of this during the re-entry burn. After the burn, the rocket seems far more unstable then normal. Soon after the video cut out, and they must have missed the drone ship upon landing, making it a failure. They intend to do a full investigation before their next launch.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

5 China
5 SpaceX
3 Russia
2 Arianespace (Europe)

The U.S. now leads China 8 to 5 in the national rankings.

One additional detail: At the beginning of their live stream, they touted Starship/Super Heavy, and put out a call for engineers to apply to work for SpaceX.

The launch is embedded below the fold.
» Read more

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Sea Launch arrives in Russia

The floating launch platform, built privately by an international partnership in the late 1990s and now owned by a Russian airline company, has arrived in Russia after a one month sea voyage from California.

Though supposedly owned now by S7, Sea Launch is really controlled by the Russian government and Roscosmos. They hope to use it as launch platform for their new Soyuz-5 rocket, intended as a family of rockets that would replace their venerable the Soyuz rocket originally developed in the 1960s.

Having a floating launch platform will also give Russia the ability for the first time to place satellites in low inclination orbits. The high latitudes of most of Russia means that any launches from any of their spaceports, including the one in Kazakhstan, will have a high inclination as well.

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Russia successfully launches GPS-type Glonass satellite

Russia on March 16 successfully launched a GPS-type Glonass satellite, using a Soyuz-2 rocket launched from a launchpad at they Plesetsk spaceport that had not been used in seventeen years.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

5 China
4 SpaceX
3 Russia
2 Arianespace (Europe)

The national ranking remains unchanged, with the U.S. leading China 7 to 5.

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Arianespace suspends all launches from French Guiana due to COVID-19

The insanity mounts! Arianespace today announced it is suspending all launches from its French Guiana launchsite due to COVID-19.

No word on how long this suspension will last. So far, French Guiana has six confirmed cases of the Wuhan virus. In recent years that nation has routinely seen between one to two thousand flu cases. I wonder why they didn’t shut down then?

Or if they can ever reopen, considering the severity of flu cases annually?

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Launch failure for China’s new Long March 7A rocket

The first launch attempt of China’s newly upgraded Long March 7 rocket, dubbed the 7A, ended in failure today.

As is usual for China, very little concrete information was released, about the payload or the failure.

State news agency confirmed failure (in Chinese) just under two hours after launch, with no cause nor nature of the failure stated.

The Long March 7A is an effort by China to replace the use of rockets that use dangerous propellants and are launched in the interior of the country, sometimes dumping their first stages in habitable regions.

The Long March 7A is a variant of the standard Long March 7, which has flown twice. A 2017 mission to test the Tianzhou refueling spacecraft with Tiangong-2 space lab was its most recent activity. The launcher uses RP-1 and liquid oxygen propellant and could replace older models using toxic propellants.

It is also intended to launch from their new coastal spaceport in Wenchang. It did this today, though unsuccessfully.

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Falcon 9 aborts automatically at T minus 0

A SpaceX launch attempt today to put sixty more Starlink satellites into orbit aborted at T minus Zero when the rocket’s computer software shut things down just after the engines began firing.

I have embedded the video below the fold. According to the broadcast, they had “a condition regarding engine power,” suggesting that one or more of the Merlin engines did not power up as expected and the computers reacted to shut the launch down because of this.

Not surprisingly, they have not yet announced a new launch date.
» Read more

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Gateway dropped from NASA lunar landing plans

According to the head of NASA’s manned program, the agency has revised its 2024 lunar landing plans so that the Lunar Gateway space station is no longer needed.

In a conversation with the NASA Advisory Council’s science committee March 13, Doug Loverro, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, said he had been working to “de-risk” the Artemis program to focus primarily on the mandatory activities needed to achieve the 2024 landing goal.

…Later in the half-hour session, he said that means taking the lunar Gateway off the critical path for the 2024 landing. That was in part because of what he deemed a “high possibility” of it falling behind schedule since it will use high-power solar electric propulsion in its first module, the Power and Propulsion Element. “From a physics perspective, I can guarantee you we do not need it for this launch,” he said of the Gateway.

Loverro added that he wasn’t cutting Gateway, only pushing it back in order to prioritize their effort in getting to the lunar surface more quickly.

The Trump administration has been slowly easing NASA away from Gateway, probably doing so slowly in order to avoid upsetting some people in Congress (Hi there Senator Shelby!). They have probably looked at the budget numbers, the schedule, and the technical obstacles that are all created by Gateway, and have realized that they either can go to the Moon, or build a dead-end space station in lunar orbit. They have chosen the former.

Someday a Gateway station will be needed and built. This is not the time. I pray the Trump administration can force this decision through Congress.

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China on track for Mars launch in July?

Two stories today, one from Nature and the second from space.com, pushed the idea that China’s Mars orbiter/lander/rover mission is still on schedule to meet the July launch window.

A close read of both stories however revealed very little information to support that idea.

The Nature article provided some details about how the project is working around travel restrictions put in place because of the COVID-19 virus epidemic. For example, it told a story about how employees drove six scientific instruments by car to the assembly point rather than fly or take a train, thereby avoiding crowds.

What struck me however was that this supposedly occurred “several days ago,” and involved six science payloads that had not yet been installed on the spacecraft. To be installing such instrumentation at this date, only four months from launch, does not inspire confidence. It leaves them almost no time for thermal and vibration testing of the spacecraft.

The article also provided little information about the status of the entire project.

The space.com article was similar. Lots of information about how China’s space program is dealing with the epidemic, but little concrete information about the mission itself, noting “the lack of official comment on the mission.” Even more puzzling was the statement in this article that the rover “underwent its space environment testing in late January.”

I wonder how that is possible if those six instruments above had not yet been installed. Maybe the instruments were for the lander or orbiter, but if so that means the entire package is not yet assembled and has not been thoroughly tested as a unit. Very worrisome.

Posting today has been light because I was up most of the night dealing with a family health issue, meaning that I ended up sleeping for several hours during the day. All is well, nothing serious (it is NOT coronavirus), but it has left my brain and schedule very confused. Will likely take a good night’s sleep to get back to normal.

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Black dunes and weird hills on Mars

Black dunes and weird hills on Mars
Click for full image.

Cool image time! Or I should say a bunch of cool images! The photo on the right, rotated, cropped, reduced, and annotated by me, was taken by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on February 3, 2020. An uncaptioned image, it was entitled “Arabia Terra with Stair-Stepped Hills and Dark Dunes.” Arabia Terra is one of the largest regions of the transition zone on Mars between the northern lowland plains and the southern cratered highlands. It is also where Opportunity landed, and where Europe’s Rosalind Franklin rover will land, in 2022.

This image has so many weird and strange features, I decided to show them all, Below are the three areas indicated by the white boxes, at full resolution. One shows the black dunes, almost certainly made up of sand ground from volcanic ash spewed from a long ago volcanic eruption on Mars.
» Read more

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Sunspot update: The flatline resumes

NOAA this week released its February update of its monthly graph showing the long term sunspot activity of the Sun. Below is my monthly version, annotated as I have done every month since 2011.

After a tiny uptick in sunspot activity in January, the Sun resumed the unprecedented flatlining of sunspot activity that began last June. Since then, the Sun has produced practically no sunspots, a drought that as far as I can tell has never happened since the 11-year sunspot cycle resumed in the 1700s (after the grand minimum in the 1600s) and astronomers began counting sunspots.

February 2020 sunspot activity
The graph above has been modified to show the predictions of the solar science community for the previous solar maximum. The green curves show the community’s two original predictions from April 2007, with half the scientists predicting a very strong maximum and half predicting a weak one. The red curve is their revised May 2009 prediction, extended in November 2018 four years into the future.

February saw only one sunspot, and it belonged to the old solar cycle. It also occurred at the beginning of the month, and was followed by 33-day streak of blankness, into the middle of March, when a sunspot from the new cycle appeared and quickly faded.

The continuing overall lack of sunspots, from either the old or new cycle, does not mean that we are entering a new grand minimum, with no sunspots for decades (though some scientists believe we are). It does suggest however that the next solar maximum will be weak, and very likely weaker than the very weak maximum that just ended.

Why the Sun does this remains a mystery. Scientists really have no fundamental understanding of the magnetic processes that produce the Sun’s sunspot cycles. And since that cycle appears to have some effect on the Earth’s climate, it also means scientists do not yet have a fundamental understanding of the climate either.

Not that this lack of knowledge matters anymore. We are in an age of panic and certainty, based on emotion and feelings. All that matters is that many people feel they understand the climate and how the Sun works, just as everyone is sure that COVID-19 will destroy the world if we don’t shut down all human activity.

They are certain, and any additional data that illustrates that certainty is unwarranted is irrelevant and must be ignored.

Certainty however is a very dangerous thing. The universe is always more complicated than we know, and to assume we now understand all without doubt leaves us very vulnerable to some bad surprises, as well as the chance we will take actions that are foolish, inappropriate, and even downright evil.

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