Scroll down to read this post.


Please consider supporting my work here at Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined below.


Regular readers can support Behind The Black with a contribution via paypal:

Or with a subscription with regular donations from your Paypal or credit card account:

If Paypal doesn't work for you, you can support Behind The Black directly by sending your donation by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to
Behind The Black
c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652


You can also support me by buying one of my books, as noted in the boxes interspersed throughout the webpage or shown in the menu above. And if you buy the books through the ebookit links, I get a larger cut and I get it sooner.

ESA admits Ariane-6 will not fly until the summer of 2024

The European Space Agency today announced that the first launch of its new Ariane-6 rocket will not take place in the first quarter of 2024 and is now targeting a summer launch instead.

At a Nov. 30 briefing, ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher announced a launch period for the inaugural Ariane 6 flight of June 15 through July 31. A more precise launch date will be provided after qualification reviews in the spring of 2024. The announcement comes after a Nov. 23 long-duration test firing of a model of the core stage of the Ariane 6. That test, conducted on the launch pad at Kourou, French Guiana, was intended to simulate a full burn by the core stage.

The delay is not significant by itself, but in the large scheme of things it continues for another few months Europe’s lack of any large rockets to launch any payloads. The original plan when the Ariane-6 project was announced in the mid-2010s was for it to begin flights in 2020 with a several year overlap as the Ariane-5 was retired around 2023. As planned, the last launch of Ariane-5 occurred this summer, but Ariane-6 is now four years behind schedule.

At the moment the rocket has one more major test required, an upper stage static fire test scheduled for December. That test must go well for this new schedule to go forward, which will include a second Ariane-6 launch in 2024 followed by “as many flights as possible” in 2025. ESA hopes to do 9 to 10 Ariane-6 launches per year, most to fulfill the contract of 18 launches with Amazon to put some of its Kuiper satellite constellation into orbit.

Real pushback: Corporate America eliminating college degree requirements for new hires

Increasingly viewed at useless educational institutes
Increasingly viewed at useless educational institutes

According to a new survey of 800 American companies, about half say they have now dropped their requirement that new employees have a college degree, with some businesses replacing this requirement with actual apprenticeship programs.

For example, Accenture launched an apprenticeship program in 2016 through which it has since hired 1,200 people, CNBC reported. Some 80 percent of those people joined the company without a four-year-degree.

Earlier this year, the company expanded the program with the goal of filling 20 percent of its US entry-level roles. ‘A person’s educational credentials are not the only indicators of success, so we advanced our approach to hiring to focus on skills, experiences and potential,’ CEO of Accenture North America, Jimmy Etheredge, told the outlet.

According to the report, 45% of all businesses surveyed intend to eliminate college degree requirements next year, while 55% say they have already done so. Major companies like Walmart, IBM, Facebook, Intel, and Microsoft have been public about their shift away from college degree requirments, while others like Google and Apple have done so more quietly.

According to this survey [pdf] from the Burning Glass Institute, which analyzed trends across 51 million job postings, this trend appeared to begin before the Wuhan panic, was accelerated significantly by it, but has continued subsequent. This short quote from that report however says it all:
» Read more

Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!


From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


All editions are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all book vendors, with the ebook priced at $5.99 before discount. All editions can also be purchased direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit, in which case you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.


Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from the author (hardback $29.95; paperback $14.95; Shipping cost for either: $6.00). Just send an email to zimmerman @ nasw dot org.

Astronomers: A solar system with six Earth-sized planets orbiting in perfect resonance

The resonances of this exo-solar system
Click for original image.

Astronomers today announced the discovery of a solar system with six Earth-sized exoplanets that orbit their Sun-like star in a synchronized manner, their orbits in a gravitational lock-step called resonance.

The graphic to the right illustrates that pattern. From the press release:

While multi-planet systems are common in our galaxy, those in a tight gravitational formation known as “resonance” are observed by astronomers far less often. In this case, the planet closest to the star makes three orbits for every two of the next planet out – called a 3/2 resonance – a pattern that is repeated among the four closest planets.

Among the outermost planets, a pattern of four orbits for every three of the next planet out (a 4/3 resonance) is repeated twice. And these resonant orbits are rock-solid: The planets likely have been performing this same rhythmic dance since the system formed billions of years ago. Such reliable stability means this system has not suffered the shocks and shakeups scientists might typically expect in the early days of planet formation – smash-ups and collisions, mergers and breakups as planets jockey for position. And that, in turn, could say something important about how this system formed. Its rigid stability was locked in early; the planets’ 3/2 and 4/3 resonances are almost exactly as they were at the time of formation. More precise measurements of these planets’ masses and orbits will be needed to further sharpen the picture of how the system formed.

All the planets have orbits less than 55 days long, and though all have masses less than six Earth-masses, data suggests they more resemble Neptune because of their expanded gaseous make-up caused by the close orbits to the star.

Future observations are planned, most especially with Webb because its infrared capability will detect much of the chemistry of this system.

House committee passes its new commercial space act on partisan vote

By a party-line vote of 21-17, the Republicans on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee yesterday passed the proposed new commercial space act that had been earlier formulated with industry input and approval, rejecting the alternative proposal that the White House had suddenly dropped on them two weeks ago.

The head of the committee, Frank Lucas (R-Oklahoma), outlined the problems with the White House proposal.

For Lucas, the Space Council’s proposal is a “needless expansion of government authority.” Instead of consolidating new regulatory authority at the Department of Commerce as proposed in H.R. 6131, the White House would assign some activities there and others to the FAA. “Whereas our bill creates a one-stop shop to the extent possible, under this proposal, organizations would be forced to get multiple licenses from multiple cabinet-level departments.” Along with other objectionable provisions, he concluded that “instead of streamlining already convoluted processes, the Space Council is adding to bureaucracy and stifling innovation.”

That White House proposal was also opposed by the industry, which saw it as a power grab that would stifle the industry.

Whether this bill will become law remains to be seen. The full House still has to vote on it, and then the Senate, and then Joe Biden has to be wheeled into his office, a pen handed to him, and someone must guide that hand to sign the bill. Considering that the White House staff opposes the bill, it might refuse to do this latter guiding. Similarly, the Democratic Party’s eagerness to expand regulation and the power of the federal government means that in the Senate it will likely oppose this bill as well.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.

The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News

Communications resume with Mars orbiters and rovers

It now appears that communications have resumed between Mars and the Earth, the planets having moved do that the Sun is no longer in between. From an update by the Curiosity science team today:

Mars has just emerged from its solar conjunction period, when sending commands to all Mars spacecraft was not safe for three weeks since the Red Planet was behind the Sun as seen from Earth. During that time, Curiosity followed a long plan of instructions covering Sols 4004-4022 which were uploaded to the rover during the week of October 30. The early word on is that the rover weathered the long blackout period just fine.

During the black-out the rovers had continued to upload data to the orbiters above, and some of that data was relayed back to Earth this past weekend, though the relay was “spotty” with some data packages lost.

Communications have now cleared up, and so we should expect both Curiosity and Perseverance to resume full operations again.

Hubble in safe mode due to gyroscope problem

One of the three working gyroscopes (three have already failed0 on the Hubble Space Telescope experienced repeated problems in mid-November, and has now put the telescope in safe mode while engineers trouble-shoot the problem.

Hubble first went into safe mode Nov. 19. Although the operations team successfully recovered the spacecraft to resume observations the following day, the unstable gyro caused the observatory to suspend science operations once again Nov. 21. Following a successful recovery, Hubble entered safe mode again Nov. 23.

The team is now running tests to characterize the issue and develop solutions. If necessary, the spacecraft can be re-configured to operate with only one gyro. The spacecraft had six new gyros installed during the fifth and final space shuttle servicing mission in 2009. To date, three of those gyros remain operational, including the gyro currently experiencing fluctuations. Hubble uses three gyros to maximize efficiency, but could continue to make science observations with only one gyro if required.

The long term plan when the telescope only has two working gyros, assuming no improvised maintenance mission is flown to Hubble to give it new gyroscopes, is to work with only one (treating the second as a back-up) in order to extend the telescope’s life as long as possible.

And though it is true that Hubble could continue to do science with only one gyro, images from that point will likely not be as sharp, and thus will end more than three decades of imagery that changed our perception of the universe.

The Chinese 2-meter Xuntian optical space telescope, now scheduled for launch in 2025, will likely then replace Hubble as the world’s top optical telescope. American astronomers better start learning Chinese, assuming China even allows them access. They will not have a right to complain, however, as it was their decision to not build a Hubble replacement, in their 2000, 2010, and 2020 decadal reports.

Leaving Earth cover

There are now only 3 copies left of the now out-of-print hardback of Leaving Earth. The price for an autographed copy of this rare collector's item is now $150 (plus $5 shipping).


To get your copy while the getting is good, please send a $155 check (which includes $5 shipping) payable to Robert Zimmerman to

Behind The Black, c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652


Leaving Earth is also available as an inexpensive ebook!


Leaving Earth: Space Stations, Rival Superpowers, and the Quest for Interplanetary Travel, can be purchased as an ebook everywhere for only $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit.


If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big oppressive tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


Winner of the 2003 Eugene M. Emme Award of the American Astronautical Society.

"Leaving Earth is one of the best and certainly the most comprehensive summary of our drive into space that I have ever read. It will be invaluable to future scholars because it will tell them how the next chapter of human history opened." -- Arthur C. Clarke

November 29, 2023 Quick space links

Courtesy of BtB’s stringer Jay.







Blacklisting is no longer enough, now the goal is justifying mass murder

Rick, stating the truth in Casablanca
When will Americans finally wake up?

It seems the rising effort of many — mostly on the left but not entirely — to blackball and censor their opponents in the past decade is no longer satisfied with these ugly goals.

Now it seems the goal is to justify mass murder and the rape and torture of women and children. We can see this by what happened during a city council event in Oakland, California yesterday. When one Jewish council member, Dan Kalb, attempted to add language condemning Hamas to a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, he was greeted by boos and an unrelenting stream of locals not only opposing his amendment but denying that the mass murder by Hamas had even occurred, that it was instead committed by Israeli troops, and that anyone who dared disagree with them was a “white supremacist.”

The video below provides a quick selection of this hate and ignorance:
» Read more

Thick windblown ash in Mars’ largest mountain region

Thick windblown ash near Mars' largest volcano
Click for original picture.

The cool image to the right, rotated, cropped, reduced, and sharpened to post here, was taken on September 1, 2023 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), and shows what the scientists label as “Erosional Features on Olympus Mons.”

What is eroding? Based on the picture itself the first guess is volcanic ash, as these features strongly resemble the many features seen in the Medusae Fossae Formation, the largest volcanic ash field on Mars — about the size of the subcontinent of India.

Medusae however is many thousand miles away, and is not apparently related to any specific volcano. These features are instead directly linked to Olympus Mons, the largest known volcano in the solar system. However, much of the terrain for many hundreds of miles around Olympus is covered with flood lava, which was deposited and hardened quickly to form smooth featureless plains that have resisted much erosion over the eons. Here the terrain is clearly eroded, which suggests that if the material here is volcanic, it was laid down not by flood lava but by falling ash that got compressed but was easily friable and could be blown away by the winds of Mars’ thin atmosphere.
» Read more

Japan’s space agency JAXA was hacked this summer

According to officials of Japan’s space agency JAXA, its computer system was hacked this summer but only learned of that break-in recently.

The illegal access is believed to have occurred around summer, but JAXA was unaware of the attack until the police contacted the agency, according to the sources. A full investigation was launched after JAXA reported the cyber-attack to the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, which has jurisdiction over the agency.

Although no large-scale information leakage has been confirmed at this stage, an official related to JAXA said: “As long as the AD server was hacked, it was very likely that most of the information was visible. This is a very serious situation.”

Earlier hacks to JAXA’s systems have also occurred in 2016 and 2017, with the culprits identified as working under the direction of the Chinese military. It is very likely that China is involved this time as well. China has previously been identified as the perpetrator of hacks of JPL from 2009 to 2019, during which much of JPL’s files on its planetary missions was stolen. It was thus no surprise when later Chinese planetary missions looked like upgraded copycats of those missions.

Why China is attempting to steal anything from Japan’s space program is puzzling however, considering its recent failures. If anything, China’s space program is presently far more advanced than Japan’s, and it should be Japan trying to steal from China.

NASA to fly Indian astronaut to ISS next year

During meetings in India between NASA and ISRO officials, instigated by administrator Bill Nelson’s visit this week, the mission details for the flight of an Indian astronaut to ISS in 2024 are now being worked out.

A Nasa delegation led by Nelson held a meeting with minister of state for science & technology Jitendra Singh on Tuesday. “I had a discussion with the minister on what the Indian astronaut would do on the space station. And the two of us talked about the fact that things that are important to India in scientific research, the Indian astronaut ought to have that as a choice to do. If there is a particular part of research that he or she would be interested in, then I want to encourage that,” Nelson later said at a media interaction. “Nasa will help train the Indian astronaut to fly to ISS by end of 2024. Those details are being worked out. Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) will announce that,” Nelson said.

Though this plan for NASA to fly Indian astronaut to ISS next year was first announced in June, it was overshadowed by India’s decision at that time to sign the Artemis Accords.

It is also important to recognize that the real arrangements are all being done by others, that Nelson and the India government officials are merely there to get their faces on television.

If this flight happens as planned, next year could be very exciting for India’s manned space program, since it also hopes to fly its own manned mission at that time.

SpaceX buys the company that makes its Dragon parachutes

According to a Florida bankruptcy filing dated November 22, 2023, SpaceX has purchased for $2.2 million Pioneer Aerospace, the company that has been manufacturing the parachutes used by its Dragon cargo and manned capsules.

Apparently SpaceX bought the company in order to make sure its parachutes would still be available. This purchase also brings that operation into SpaceX itself, so that the company is no longer dependent on an outside vendor. Since its early days SpaceX has attempted to build as much as possible in-house, and this buy follows that policy.

Dragonfly mission to Titan delayed by a year because of budget shortfalls

Even as NASA gave engineers approval to move forward on building the helicopter set to fly on the Dragonfly mission to the Saturn moon Titan, it also revealed that the mission’s launch has been delayed by at least one year because of budget shortfalls.

In a presentation at a Nov. 28 meeting of NASA’s Outer Planets Assessment Group (OPAG), Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s planetary science division, said agency leadership decided to postpone formal confirmation of the mission earlier this month, a milestone where the agency sets an official cost and schedule for the mission.

The delay in confirmation by NASA’s Agency Program Management Council (APMC), she said, is based on uncertainty about how much money will be available for the mission and other parts of NASA’s planetary science portfolio given broader budget pressures on the agency. “Because of these incredibly large uncertainties in FY ’24 and FY ’25 funding and budgets, the decision was made at that APMC to postpone the official confirmation,” she said.

The launch had been scheduled for 2027. When it will launch now is unclear.

Apparently (and not surprising since this is a NASA project) the mission is beginning to cost more than originally predicted. Furthermore, this shortfall is enhanced by the cost overruns from the Mars Sample Return mission. In fact, it appears that these cost overruns are impacting NASA’s entire planetary program, causing delays on many smaller missions in order to fund Mars Sample Return and the Europa Clipper mission (set to launch next year). Just as Webb wiped out most of NASA’s astrophysics missions in the 2000s and 2010s, this handful of big planetary missions is wiping out most of NASA’s planetary program.

The announced delay is also a typical NASA’s negotiating tactic with Congress, trying to pressure elected officials to cough up more money. For decades NASA would announce the need for crippling cuts to major and popular science projects unless Congress allocates it more cash for its most expensive projects, and for decades Congress has gladly done so. No one ever asks whether those expensive projects might be better off redesigned, or cancelled.

Space industry expresses opposition to White House regulatory proposal

Not surprisingly, the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF), the industry group that represents pretty much the entire new commercial space business, has sent a letter to both the House and Senate expressing strong opposition to the November 15th White House regulatory proposal that would impose heavy regulation on both launches and the construction of any private facility in space.

“We oppose the recently released National Space Council (NSPC) proposal on the topic in its current form, which fails to consider the points that CSF and many other stakeholders raised during the NSPC listening sessions last year,” CSF said in its letter to Congress.

The organization raised several concerns, including how responsibilities would be split between the two departments and the potential for “duplicative and conflicting” requirements between Commerce and Transportation. “For some operations, it is unclear which agency would hold the authority to issue a relevant license, or if multiple licenses would be needed,” it stated.

The group is concerned about giving additional responsibilities to the FAA’s commercial space transportation office without also significantly increasing its budget, noting that the office is struggling to keep up with its current launch and reentry licensing. At an October hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee’s space subcommittee, industry officials recommended increasing that office’s budget to handle launch licensing work, without any discussion of it taking on additional responsibilities.

CSF was also worried that the proposed mission authorization system could disrupt plans by NASA to shift from the International Space Station to commercial stations by the end of the decade. “Introducing a bifurcated and unclear regulatory regime for commercial space stations,” the letter stated, “could risk U.S. leadership in low-Earth orbit.”

Apparently the entire space industry came to the same conclusion I did after reading the White House proposal after its release:

Essentially, these new rules — purposely written to be vague — will allow the government to forbid any activity in space by private citizens it chooses to forbid. No private space station could launch without government approval, which will also include the government’s own determination that the station will be operatied safely. Once launched, the vagueness of these regulations will soon allow mission creep so that every new activity in space will soon fall under its review.

Since no one in the government is qualified to supervise things like this, in the end politics and the abuse of power will be the rule.

It must be noted that the entire Democratic Party caucus in the House apparently approves of this power grab, because they immediately abandoned all support of the previously negotiated proposal that the industry and Congress had worked out and a House committee was about to pass. Their opposition forced that committee vote to be canceled. According to that committee, it will resume its consideration of that bill today. We shall see if this industry opposition changes any of their minds.

November 28, 2023 Quick space links

Courtesy of BtB’s stringer Jay.






The next three links are all from China, touting either concepts or the engine tests. Some will turn out real, some not.

Close-up of Helene, one of Saturn’s many many moons

Helene, as seen by Cassini in 2011
Helene, as seen by Cassini in 2011

Cool image time! Though the Saturn orbiter Cassini is long gone, having been sent into Saturn’s atmosphere to burn up in 2017, its image archive of magnificent pictures is still available to peruse. To encourage others to do so, NASA today issued a series of press releases, listing the spacecraft’s top ten pictures from 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.

The picture to the right, cropped, reduced, and sharpened to post here, comes from the 2011 collection and was taken on June 18, 2011. It shows a close-up of 21-mile-wide Helene, one of Saturn’s many many moons and only discovered in 1980. Back in 2010 I featured another Cassini image of Helene, but that picture did not reveal the small surface features seen in the photo to the right.

The light and dark streaks probably indicate dust flowing downhill on the surface. Though the gravity of this object is tiny, it will be enough for dust to act like almost like a liquid, flowing down grade and then pooling in the central pond at the lowest point near the center of the picture. That process is so much like liquid flowing that it appears to have even eroded gullies on slopes near the top and bottom of the picture.

Side note: NASA’s “Science Editorial Team” also issued a press release today that falsely and ignorantly claimed these releases were “to celebrate 10 years since arriving at Saurn,” implying that Cassini arrived in 2013 and is still functioning.

The problem is that Cassini arrived in orbit around Saturn in 2004 and as I noted above ended its mission in 2017. It thus appears that the NASA Science Editorial Team is unable to do even one five-second web search to find out what really happened.

Just another data point indicating the dark age we now live in.

Postwar in Gaza: some educated guesses

The first child hostage, 9-year-old Ohad Mundar, being released by Hamas
The first child hostage, 9-year-old Ohad Mundar,
being released by Hamas. Click for video.

The ongoing pause in fighting in Gaza in order to get some of the hostages kidnapped by Hamas out of the war zone — most especially the children — has resulted in a lot of hand-wringing about whether Israel will allow this pause to short-circuit is effort to destroy Hamas.

It will not, though the post-war situation will remain complex and difficult, as is always the case in the Middle East.

First, we must recognize that Israel is not leaving Gaza at any time in the near or even distant future, no matter what Joe Biden and the United Nations demands. Its army has now captured and controls the northern half of the strip, and it fully intends to take full control of the southern half as well, once this hostage exchange agreement concludes. It made this intention very clear just before the hostage pause was announced, when it dropped leaflets in south Gaza, warning citizens to leave. That southern campaign has not yet happened, but only because of the ongoing hostage release operation.

Nor will it matter if that exchange agreement gets extended for weeks, day by day as Hamas releases ten hostages at a time. At some point Hamas will either run out of hostages, or decide it needs to keep the hostages it has left as later bargaining chips. At that moment Israel will resume its offensive with full force. And it will do so with even more force, as there will no longer be child hostages held in Hamas control.

The political situation in Israel demands this. The Israeli public wants nothing less. Politicians and pundits in the west might whine and demand appeasement from Israel, but Israel is no longer interested in appeasing Hamas. It will no longer tolerate a terrorist base on its southeastern border, and it fully intends to re-occupy all of Gaza and make sure its leadership there is completely cleansed of the Hamas gang.

The eventual result will be a Gaza strip controlled entirely by Israeli security forces. » Read more

Pentagon is now all-in on capitalism in space

Capitalism in space: Based on recent remarks from officials as well as a number of newly issued contracts, the U.S. military has now decided to completely shift from designing and building its own space hardware — which it has increasingly done badly at great cost — to simply becoming a customer buying products from the private sector.

First we have remarks and press announcements from top Pentagon officials, stating this policy change.

Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, who has spearheaded Pentagon efforts to bring cutting-edge technology into defense programs, is overseeing the military’s first commercial space integration strategy.

The new strategy comes as the Pentagon seeks to tap into advancements in commercial space technology to maintain an advantage over China, now seen as America’s top military competitor. “At Deputy Secretary Hicks’ direction, the Department is currently developing our first DoD Commercial Space Integration Strategy in order to drive integration and ensure the availability of commercial space solutions during competition, crisis and conflict,” Pentagon Spokesman Eric Pahon said Nov. 27 in a statement to SpaceNews.

Nor are these merely words. On November 22, 2023 the military announced a request for proposals from twenty different commercial space companies to provide all of its military needs in orbit, with potential contracts worth up to $900 million.

The Proliferated Low Earth Orbit (PLEO) Satellite-Based Services contract, first announced in July, is run by the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) on behalf of the Space Force’s Commercial Satellite Communications Office (CSCO), a central marketplace for satellite services operated by the Space Systems Command.

…The PLEO contract “supports the Department of Defense’s requirement to provide worldwide, low-latency PLEO services,” said DISA. The IDIQ contracting method allows the Department of Defense, other federal agencies and international allies “to procure fully managed satellite-based services and capabilities for all domains (space, air, land, maritime and cyber) with a consistent, quality-backed, low-latency offering.”

This shift is excellent news, not only for the commercial space industry but for the American military itself. The former is guaranteed to grow and innovate as these companies compete for military business, while the latter will get what it needs more quickly and at much lower cost.

Starlink now operating for Israel in Israel and Gaza

As part of Elon Musk’s trip to Israel this week he negotiated a deal with the Israeli ministry of communications to activate Starlink over both Israel and Gaza, allowing its use by the military there.

The deal is in addition to Tesla’s recent announcement that Israelis can now charge their cars for free at its charging stations.

Musk’s trip also has put the lie to the slanders of the left that have accused him of being an anti-Semite simply because he correctly noted the leftist bias of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), made worse by its effort to censor and blackball people. That slander has had no traction, because Elon Musk is very well known to the public, and it quickly recognized that it was an utter lie. Musk’s trip to Israel simply underlines the dishonesty of that accusation.

British scientists get their own Bennu sample to study

The British History Museum has now received a small sample of material from the asteroid Bennu, brought back to Earth by the planetary probe OSIRIS-REx.

The first two years of research at the Natural History Museum will focus on non-destructive tests, such as X-ray diffraction and electron microscopy to learn about Bennu’s mineral composition and structure. The largest grains in the sample are on the order of millimetres wide, while the smallest are mere dust particles. “It doesn’t sound like a lot of material, but it’s plenty to work with,” King said.

The museum is home to one of the world’s leading meteorite collections, and the staff are well-used to handling small amounts of extremely precious materials from outer space. Unlike meteorites that have been baked and battered on their fiery passage through Earth’s atmosphere, the dust and rocky fragments from Bennu were brought to Earth in pristine condition, allowing scientists a rare glimpse of the unaltered asteroid.

The last sentence says it all. Up until recently, researchers have had a distorted view of the overall make-up of asteroids because the oldest kinds, carbonaceous chondrite, are the most delicate and get significantly changed by their passage through the Earth’s atmosphere. The samples from Bennu and Ryugu are changing this, and will eventually revolutionize the understanding scientists have of our present solar system.

SpaceX launches 23 Starlink satellites

SpaceX last night successfully launched another 23 Starlink satellites into orbit, its Falcon 9 rocket lifting off from Cape Canaveral.

The first stage completed its seventeeth flight, landing on a drone ship in the Atlantic. That SpaceX now has several first stages that have been reused this much and it isn’t considered news is in itself a story. The company has actually gotten this rocket to perform like an airplane, a goal that Elon Musk aspired too more than a decade ago.

The leaders in the 2023 launch race:

87 SpaceX
53 China
15 Russia
7 Rocket Lab
7 India

American private enterprise now leads China 99 to 53 in successful launches, and the entire world combined 99 to 84. SpaceX meanwhile widens its lead over the rest of the world (excluding American companies) 87 to 84.

As a number of my readers have noted, the U.S. lead this year is entirely due to SpaceX, indicating a dominance that is actually unhealthy. Other American companies need to come forward and challenge it, because the competition will spark innovation and better rocketry. With no competition, it is inevitable that even SpaceX could get lazy.

November 27, 2023 Quick space links

Courtesy of BtB’s stringer Jay.


  • Astra obtains $2.7 million in new financing
  • The status of this company is right now entirely unknown. It is not clear how this financing impacts the proposal of the company’s founders to buy up the stock and take Astra private. Nor is it clear how this financing satisfies other loans that have already expired and had to be paid. Based on the article, it seems to me that the company will soon have to shut down due to lack of cash.




Mars’ giant sinkholes

The floor of one of Mars' giant sinkholes

Cool image time! The picture to the right, rotated, cropped, reduced, and sharpened to post here, was taken on June 27, 2023 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It shows a small section of the floor and northern slope of Hebes Chasma, one of the many very large enclosed pits that can be found to the north of Valles Marineris, the largest canyon in the solar system. Though Hebes seems small next to the 1,500 mile long Valles Marineris, it still is 200 miles long by 80 miles wide, and could easily fit a half dozen Grand Canyons within it.

For example, the Grand Canyon is from 4,420 to 5,400 feet deep, hiking down from the south and north rim lodges respectively, which sit about ten miles apart. On this picture, the peak on the right sits about 5,300 feet above and only about 3.8 miles from the low spot on the bottom left, which means this one small picture encapsulates the Grand Canyon. And yet, the northern rim of Hebes sits another 21,000 feet higher and twelve miles away. And the entire chasma itself extends 50 miles to the west, 150 miles to the east, and 50 miles to the south.
» Read more

Blue Origin begins third major expansion of Huntsville facility

Blue Origin has been issued a $8.4 million building permit by local Huntsville authorities as part of the third major expansion of its rocket-manufacturing facility there.

According to the report, of the 377 permits issued so far in October and November, this was the largest. All three expansions have occurred in the past three years.

The article however includes this ridiculous statement:

The aerospace company owned by Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin has emerged as one of the top commercial spaceflight companies as the country has placed a renewed effort on returning to the moon and eventually to Mars.

How could Blue Origin be “one of the top commercial spaceflight companies” when it has still not launched anything into orbit? Even the tiny rocket startup Astra, now on the verge of bankruptcy, put more mass into orbit than Blue Origin. Everyone has, since the mass Blue Origin has put into orbit so far equals a nice fat zero.

This expansion however does suggest that something positive might finally be happening at the company. With the removal of Bob Smith as CEO and Jeff Bezos now living in Florida and closer to the action it could be that the continuing string of non-accomplishment that has made Blue Origin a bit of a joke in the space industry might possibly be ending.

We shall have to wait and see, however.

Russia launches military satellite

Russia today successfully placed a classifed military satellite in orbit, its Soyuz-2 rocket lifting off from its Plesetsk spaceport in northern Russia.

The satellite is likely a reconnaissance satellite. No word on where the rocket’s core stage and strap-on boosters landed inside Russia, though launches from Plesetsk generally head north over very empty regions and the Arctic, and as the satellite appears to have an orbit with an inclination of 67 degrees that is likely in this case.

The leaders in the 2023 launch race:

86 SpaceX
53 China
15 Russia
7 Rocket Lab
7 India

American private enterprise still leads China 98 to 53 in successful launches, and the entire world combined 98 to 84. SpaceX meanwhile maintains its lead over the rest of the world (excluding American companies) 86 to 84.

1 2 3 4 5 989