Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

 

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

 

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.


He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

 

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit.

 

Scroll down for new updates.

A second exoplanet orbiting Proxima Centauri?

Worlds without end: Astronomers think they have found evidence of a second exoplanet orbiting the nearest star, Proxima Centauri.

The planet, a super-Earth called Proxima Centauri c (Proxima c for short), has at least six times more mass than Earth and orbits its star every 5.2 years.

…“Stars like Proxima Centauri are rather restless and continuously present eruptions and spots on their surface, which make the detection of a planetary-induced oscillation very complicated,” says coauthor Fabio Del Sordo (University of Crete and Foundation for Research and Technology-Hellas in Heraklion, Greece). Because the observations span almost two decades, the scientists have confidently ruled out those sources of noise, but they caution that follow-up observations are needed to confirm that the signal comes from a planet.

There is a lot of uncertainty here, requiring an independent confirmation of this result. It would not be surprising if this exoplanet vanished when others took a look, finding it a creation not of a periodic gravitation wobble but of the random fluctuations of the star itself.

If it does exist, it will not likely be a place where life exists. Too far from this very dim red dwarf star to get enough energy. However, as a super-Earth it might someday in the far future be a great mining world.

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Boeing releases video of Starliner’s first orbital demo flight

Capitalism in space: Boeing has released a video showing what it was like to be on its Starliner capsule during its first orbital demo flight on December 20, 2019.

Flying alongside the uncrewed Starliner’s only official passenger — a spacesuit-clad, instrumented dummy (or anthropometric test device) named “Rosie” (after the World War II icon Rosie the Riveter), Snoopy, in plush doll form, served as the vehicle’s “zero-g indicator.” The video shows the doll floating weightless at the end of its “leash” after the Starliner entered Earth orbit.

The video is embedded below the fold. It is relatively boring, which actually is a good thing. The interior of the capsule does not seem much disturbed during each phase of the flight, from launch, separation from launch vehicle, and touchdown.
» Read more

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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, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit.

 
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

Spitzer SpaceTelescope shutdown in a week

After sixteen years in orbit, NASA will shut down the Spitzer Space Telescope on January 22, 2020,

The telescope is still functional in a somewhat limited manner but NASA wishes to save the annual budget of $14 million to operate it. Moreover, it will become redundant and significantly superseded once the infrared James Webb Space Telescope launches and becomes operational next year.

NASA had hoped a private organization would take over Spitzer’s operation, but apparently got no takers.

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Readers!
 
For many reasons, mostly political but partly ethical, I do not use Google, Facebook, Twitter. They practice corrupt business policies, while targeting conservative websites for censoring, facts repeatedly confirmed by news stories and by my sense that Facebook has taken action to prevent my readers from recommending Behind the Black to their friends.
 
Thus, I must have your direct support to keep this webpage alive. Not only does the money pay the bills, it gives me the freedom to speak honestly about science and culture, instead of being forced to write it as others demand.

 

Please consider donating by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar 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. And if you buy the books through the ebookit links, I get a larger cut and I get it sooner.

SpaceIL gets $1 million grant for building Beresheet-2

The Israeli non-profit that built Beresheet-1 has received a $1 million grant in order to pursue building Beresheet-2.

The Blavatnik Family Foundation has provided a one million dollar grant to SpaceIL to support the “Beresheet 2” spacecraft program and advance the goal of landing an unmanned Israeli spacecraft on the Moon. “Beresheet 1”, launched on February 22, 2019, made Israel the 7th country in the world to reach the Moon’s orbit. The new Blavatnik grant will enable SpaceIL to recruit a new CEO to drive plans for “Beresheet 2” forward.

It remains unknown whether Beresheet-2 will ever get built. The money is insufficient to build a new lunar lander. Moreover, several of SpaceIL engineers have left the company and formed their own private space business, partnering with Firefly Aerospace to build their own lunar lander.

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Leaving Earth cover

In March I obtained from my former publisher the last 30 copies of the now out-of-print hardback of Leaving Earth. I quickly sold 10, and with only 20 left in stock I am raising the price. To get your own autographed copy of this rare collector's item please send a $75 check (includes $5 shipping) payable to Robert Zimmerman to
 

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

I will likely raise the price again when only ten books are left, so buy them now at this price while you still can!


  Also available as an inexpensive ebook!
 

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

 


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

Bernie Sanders campaign organizer: “I’m all aboard for gulags!”

In part two of Project Veritas’s new undercover video series focused on the workers in the Bernie Sanders’ campaign, we discover that Kyle Jurak, field organizer, is enthusiastic about the Soviet Union’s gulags, stating unequivocally that he loves the idea of imprisoning millions of Americans who disagree with him.

I’m all aboard for gulags, like, I feel there needs to be re-education for a significant portion of our society.

He also once again shows an incredible ignorance of what happened in the Soviet Union, claiming that those gulags, which in most ways were the Soviet version of Nazi concentration camps, were nothing more than the equivalent of a low security prison where non-communists were merely housed.

The most important statements however by him in this video, embedded below, is his claim that he knows at least four to six others in the Sanders campaign organization that are of like mind. As I noted yesterday, it appears that Jurek might sadly represent a typical worker in the campaign to make Bernie Sanders our next president. I will not be surprised if Project Veritas follows up with more videos to prove this.

I once again beg my Democratic Party readers to watch this video. Most Democrats are decent people. You need to know that the party you support has been badly infiltrated by some very bad people, and that in fact those people quite possibly dominate that party.

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Martian dry ice frost on glacial remains?

Frost on ridgelines and inside crater
Click for full image.

Close-up of frost

Cool image time! The photo on the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, was taken by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on November 30, 2019. Located just east of Hellas Basin in southern mid-latitudes, the color strip shows dry ice frost both in the crater as well as on the ridgelines to the north. As noted in the caption, written by Candy Hansen of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona,

When we acquired this image, it was [winter in the southern hemisphere] on Mars, but signs of spring are already starting to appear at latitudes not far from the equator. This image of Penticton Crater, taken at latitude 38 degrees south, shows streamers of seasonal carbon dioxide ice (dry ice) only remaining in places in the terrain that are still partially in the shade.

The turquoise-colored frost (enhanced color) is protected from the sun in shadowed dips in the ground while the sunlit surface nearby is already frost-free.

Note for example how the frost disappears in the southern half of the crater floor, the part exposed to sunlight.

What immediately struck me however were the underlying features. The entire northeast quadrant of the crater’s rim appears to have been breached by some sort of catastrophic flow, as if there had been a glacial lake inside the crater that at some point smashed through suddenly, wiping that part of the rim out as it ripped its way through.

To the right is a full resolution inset, indicated by the white box above, of the dry ice frost on the outside of the crater. I find myself however drawn more to the underlying features, which once again have a chaotic aspect suggesting a sudden violent event, coming from the south and moving north.

I have no idea if my visceral conclusions here have any validity. At this latitude, 38 degrees, scientists have found a lot of buried inactive glaciers of ice, so I could be right. Or not. Your guess is as good as mine.

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First asteroid discovered that circles Sun closer than Venus

Astronomers have detected the first asteroid circling the Sun in an orbit that lies entirely inside Venus’s orbit.

In addition to being the first known asteroid with this orbit, the space rock, called 2020 AV2, has the smallest aphelion, or distance from the sun, of any known natural object in the solar system, excluding Mercury. Moreover, by traveling around the sun in a mere 151 days, 2020 AV2 has the shortest orbital period of any known asteroid, according to The Virtual Telescope Project, an online observatory based in Italy.

The reason this is a first is because it is very hard to find such small objects orbiting closer to the Sun than Earth. The glare of the Sun limits what can be spotted. This fact is also why the scientists are unsure of the size of 2020 AV2.

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China completes 2nd launch in 2020

China today successfully launched a earth resource satellite plus two smallsats using its Long March 2D rocket.

Right now in 2020 only SpaceX and China have completed launches, with China leading 2-1. SpaceX however plans on launching another 60 Starlink smallsats on January 20th, which will tie them again.

I expect both to be neck and neck for the rest of the year.

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The fabled yacht Endeavour

An evening pause: Endeavour was built in 1934 in England in an attempt to win the America’s Cup from the U.S. It failed, but according to this Wikipedia page came closer than anyone until Australia II finally took the cup from the U.S. in 1983.

Hat tip Cotour, who notes that “the interior was rumored to cost about $1.2 million.”

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Gully on Mars

Gully in crater on Mars
Click for full image.

Cool image time! If we were told that the photo on the right was taken by an airplane over some southwest desert gully, no one should be surprised if we were to accept that description entirely. The gully sure looks like a lot of drainages one can routinely see when flying over the American southwest, dry, treeless, but showing the typical dendritic pattern seen for most desert water drainages.

Of course my readers all know that this is not in the American southwest, but on Mars, in a crater located in the transition zone between the southern highlands and the northern lowland plains. The image, cropped to post here, was taken by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on October 12, 2019.

It appears that this particular gully has been subject to repeated monitoring, since November 2015. A rough and very quick comparison of the earlier image with today’s image does not show any obvious change. This does not mean there hasn’t been any evolution, as my look was cursory, and I could easily be missing changes. Seasonal variations might also be occurring that I could be missing.

The reasons for the monitoring are of course obvious. This gully strongly suggests the flow of liquid downhill. Is that occurring today, or are we seeing the evidence of a past flow from long ago? Only some long term monitoring can tell.

There is also the possibility that we are looking at a buried glacier. The crater is located at 42 degrees north latitude, well within that mid-latitude band where scientists have located many buried Martian glaciers. If so, then the monitoring is to see if that glacier is active in any way.

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A typical worker in the campaign of socialist Bernie Sanders

Another Project Veritas undercover video series has begun, this time focused on the violent, hateful, and murderous beliefs of the workers in the Bernie Sanders campaign.

The first video in the series is embedded below. Lots of bad language, but I think it important that every decent American, from both parties, watch it. Kyle Jurek unfortunately is very typical for many in the inner circles of the Democratic Party. He hates anyone who disagrees with him, considers them evil incarnate, and is quite willing to put them all up against a wall and kill them. And he isn’t alone, for if he was, there would no way anyone with his goals would be a “field organizer” for the Sanders campaign.

If you are long time Democrat, it is time for you to face facts. The party you belong to has nothing to do with the party you joined. It is now a hate-rant, aimed at power achieved by any means necessary. Woe to us all if this crowd wins in November.

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More superEarth exoplanets found circling nearby stars

Worlds without end: Among a new bunch of thirteen exoplanets, astronomers have discovered two more superEarth-sized exoplanets circling nearby red dwarf stars.

The two potentially habitable planets are orbiting GJ180 and GJ229A, which are among the nearest stars to our own Sun, making them prime targets for observations by next-generation space- and land-based telescopes. They are both super-Earths with at least 7.5 and 7.9 times our planet’s mass and orbital periods of 106 and 122 days respectively.

The Neptune-mass planet—found orbiting GJ433 at a distance at which surface water is likely to be frozen—is probably the first of its kind that is a realistic candidate for future direct imaging. “GJ 433 d is the nearest, widest, and coldest Neptune-like planet ever detected,” Feng added.

For a lot of reasons it is likely that life as we know it probably does not exist on these planets. Nonetheless, their close proximity makes it possible to study them, and since we have no such planets in our own solar system they can teach us a lot about planetary formation and evolution.

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First head of Space Force to be officially sworn in

First head of Space Force, General John Raymond of the Air Force, will be officially sworn in today at the White House.

Raymond assumed the duties of the first head of the Space Force on December 20, 2019, when U.S. President Donald Trump signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act that officially launched the new force. “The Space Force will help us deter aggression and control the ultimate high ground,” Trump said at the NDAA signing last month. Officials say the Space Force will organize, train and equip military personnel who primarily focus on space operations.

Raymond was named commander of the new United States Space Command upon its creation in August of last year. That command, which sought to better organize the U.S. military’s space assets and operations, is being phased out as personnel are transferred to the Space Force.

Not surprisingly, a twitter mob immediately formed to protest the fact that a bible, officially blessed by religious leaders at the Washington National Cathedral, will be used during the swearing in. I especially like the over-the-top outrage expressed by the childish leader of this twitter mob:

Mikey Weinstein, president and founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said Sunday’s ceremony displayed overtones of “Christian privilege” within the Defense Department. “The MRFF condemns, in as full-throated a manner as is humanly possible, the shocking and repulsive display of only the most vile, exclusivist, fundamentalist Christian supremacy, dominance, triumphalism and exceptionalism which occurred at yesterday’s ‘blessing’ at the Washington National Cathedral,” he told Military.com on Monday.

My response to Mikey-boy: You are a very bigoted, very anti-Christian, and a very hateful person. You should get a life.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, it remains to be seen whether the establishment of a separate organization for handling the space-related military needs of the U.S. will do more harm than good. The idea makes sense, as the military for the past two decades has had a problem giving priority to space matters because of in-house turf wars between the various military branches, and thus the U.S. effort has stagnated somewhat.

The track record of Washington in the past half century when such things are attempted however is not good. Instead of getting more focused and accomplishing more, Washington has instead consistently grown a bloated bureaucracy that actually gets less done for more money. And in this case, it appears that might be what will happen here, as the giant budgets for the Space Force put forth by the Pentagon have suggested they are aiming to use it to build new empires rather than streamline and focus operations.

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Stardust found in meteorite older than Earth

Scientists studying what they think is grains of stardust in a meteorite the hit the Earth in 1969 have discovered the oldest material ever found on Earth, material that is actually older than the Earth itself.

The meteorite, dubbed the Murchison meteorite after the nearest city in Australia where it landed, has been a treasure trove of information for planetary scientists because so much of it was recovered right after impact.

About 30 years ago it was found that the rocks housed “presolar grains” – tiny grains of silicon carbide older than the Sun. But their exact age hadn’t been determined until now.

To figure that out, the researchers on the new study measured how long these presolar grains had been exposed to cosmic rays. These high-energy particles flit around space and can pass through solid matter, creating new elements inside the existing minerals as they interact with them. That means the scientists can measure the amount of these new elements in the grains to determine how long they were floating around in space – and, ultimately, how old they are.

In doing so, the team found that most of the grains were between 4.6 and 4.9 billion years old. The Sun itself is at the younger end of that range, at 4.6 billion years old, while the Earth didn’t form until 4.5 billion years ago.

But the oldest of the grains were dated to more than 5.5 billion years, making them the oldest known material on Earth. The team says that the history of these grains could be traced back even further, to the stars that birthed them some 7 billion years ago. According to the researchers, this finding suggests that our galaxy went through a period of intense star formation around that time.

Obviously there are uncertainties with this result, though their age estimates are quite reasonable and largely robust.

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Curiosity climbs a hill

Overview map of Curiosity's journey through sol 2643

[For the overall context of Curiosity’s travels, see my March 2016 post, Pinpointing Curiosity’s location in Gale Crater.

For the updates in 2018 go here. For a full list of updates before February 8, 2018, go here.]

Since my last Curiosity update on November 6, 2019, the science team has sent the rover climbing up what they call Western Butte, the butte directly to the west of Central Butte and part of the slope/escarpment that separates the clay unit from the Greenheugh Piedmont and the sulfate unit above that.

The overview map to the right gives a sense of the journey. The thick yellow line indicates its route since it climbed up from the Murray Formation onto Vera Rubin Ridge in 2017. The thick red line indicates their planned route, which they have only vaguely been following since their arrival in the clay unit.

Below the fold are two panoramas that I created from a sequence of images taken by Curiosity’s left navigation camera from the high point on Western Butte, the first looking north across the crater floor to the Gale Crater rim approximately 30 miles away and indicated by the thin yellow lines on the overview map. The second looks south, up hill towards Mount Sharp, and is indicate by the thin red lines.
» Read more

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Protests in Iran against Islamic government

The protests in Iran continue, fueled by the admitted shooting down of a Ukrainian passenger jet, killing everyone on board, as well as what appears to be a clear opposition to the Islamic government and the terrorists its supports.

The link has good video of both the protests and the government’s violent reaction. However, the best and most illustrative video indicating where these protesters stand is the one that shows Iranian protesters refusing to walk on the American and Israeli flags, painted on the ground by the government in the hope that they would be trampled.

Meanwhile, other protesters have been ripping down posters of Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Quds forces and master Iranian terrorist leader whom Trump killed last week.

It is unclear what will happen next. The situation in Iran today reminds a great deal of the protests that took place in the Soviet bloc shortly before the fall of the Soviet Union, and helped bring that communist empire down. They also remind me of the same protests in China at the same time, which were met with vicious force, killing thousands, which allowed that communist dictatorship to maintain power.

We don’t know which route the Islamic leadership in Iran will take. They have clearly shown themselves willing to kill thousands. At the same time, they are presently as economically weak as the Soviet communists were, which doesn’t give them the resources needed for resisting an aggressive revolt.

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No trend in hurricanes since 1970

The uncertainty of science: A new study has found no trend, up or down, in hurricanes that made landfall since the 1970s, despite many global warming predictions that said the numbers of catastrophic hurricanes would increase.

Key quote:

There are a lot of ups and downs in the data, but no obvious trends.

The scientists note that though they see no obvious trends, it is difficult to pin anything down because the variability from year to year is so great.

That large variability in occurrence means – as a simple matter of mathematics – that our ability to detect changes in tropical cyclones one or two magnitudes smaller (or more) on similar time scales is obviously made difficult, if not impossible.

So, when next you hear a global warming expert, either a teenager not attending school or a Democratic politician who doesn’t remember anything from school, claiming we are all going to die from giant hurricanes caused by human-caused global warming, remember this study. It demonstrates that those “experts” have no idea what they are talking about.

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Farmers swarming to buy used 40-year-old tractors

Buy dumb! The market for used 40-year-old tractors is booming, due to the “smart” but expensive-to-repair designs of modern computer-based tractors.

Tractors manufactured in the late 1970s and 1980s are some of the hottest items in farm auctions across the Midwest these days — and it’s not because they’re antiques. Cost-conscious farmers are looking for bargains, and tractors from that era are well-built and totally functional, and aren’t as complicated or expensive to repair as more recent models that run on sophisticated software.

“It’s a trend that’s been building. It’s been interesting in the last couple years, which have been difficult for ag, to see the trend accelerate,” said Greg Peterson, the founder of Machinery Pete, a farm equipment data company in Rochester with a website and TV show. “There’s an affinity factor if you grew up around these tractors, but it goes way beyond that,” Peterson said. “These things, they’re basically bulletproof. You can put 15,000 hours on it and if something breaks you can just replace it.”

Because of the computer software built into the new machines, a farmer can no longer fix it himself. He must call in a service truck, at high cost with long wait times. This extra cost is on top of the high cost to buy the new tractor, which cost a lot more than the used machines.

I predict that the cost for used tractors is going to continue to rise, until some smart entrepreneur realizes the market possibilities, and begins making new tractors without the bells and whistles.

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First image of Ganymede’s north pole

Ganymede's north polar region

During Juno’s 24th close approach to Jupiter the spacecraft was able to take the first images ever of the north pole of Ganymede, the largest moon in the solar system. The image to the right was processed by citizen scientist Roman Tkacenko, and shows a variety of light and dark features.

The Juno science team decided for some reason to highlight a different set of images processed by citizen scientist Gerald Eichstädt, using the same data. I prefer Tkacenko’s version, because he focused in on the planet itself, making it easier to see what’s there.

In either case, however, the fuzziness of the image reminds me of planetary astronomy in my early childhood. Images like this, taken by telescopes on Earth, were the best we had of any planet beyond the Moon. Made it very hard to understand what was there, or what it meant.

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More problems at Boeing, this time with military aircraft

In this article about Israel’s desire to obtain the new KC-46A airplane tankers being built by Boeing for the Air Force, it is revealed that Boeing has had numerous disturbing manufacturing problems on this particular plane.

Earlier in 2019 the U.S. air force resumed, after a two-month delay, accepting new KC-46As. That two-month delay was because of FOD (Foreign Object Debris), including tools and other metal objects, still showing up in various parts of the aircraft. This indicated a serious lapse in the management of assembly and quality control while producing these aircraft. By March, after nearly a month of effort to check out aircraft nearly ready for delivery as well as factory inspection procedures, the air force agreed to begin accepting KC-46s once more. Deliveries continued despite the recently discovered cargo lock (unreliable cargo tie down latches) problem. The Americans are now concerned about Boeing, the manufacturer while also needing the KC-46As as soon as possible. This is the same firm that is having worse problems with its new 737 Max commercial airliner.

In mid-2019 Boeing planned to deliver 36 KC-46As by the end of 2019 and later expected to meet that goal even though only 19 had been delivered by early September. At the end of the year the goal of 36 was missed but Boeing did fix the cargo lock problem and this allowed cargo to again be carried. There is one problem left with the accuracy of the remote viewing system used by the 46A boom operator. That does not prevent operation of the aircraft, just slows down refueling in some cases.

Boeing has had problems with its 737-Max commercial jet (now grounded), with the construction of the Space Launch System (SLS) for NASA (a decade behind schedule and billions over budget), and with its manned Starliner space capsule. The list of issues above for the KC-46A is equally troubling, and indicates that the management and quality control problems indicated by the other projects might very well be systemic to the entire company. Not good, not good at all.

Hat tip to reader Norm Donovan.

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Update on Dream Chaser

Link here. According to Sierra Nevada, the company that is building this mini-shuttle cargo ship, they are on track to launch next year. They are also aggressively working on a Dream Chaser version that would be able to transport humans to space.

SNC has “never stopped working” on the crewed version of Dream Chaser, Lindsey said. While the company’s focus right now is getting the cargo version ready for its first flight on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Vulcan-Centaur rocket next year, the first crewed flight “absolutely” will take place within 5 years.

“There’s interest, not necessarily from NASA, but other customers” that Lindsey expects to grow once the cargo version is flying. SNC will offer either a “taxi model” where it supplies the crew to fly it, or a “rental car model” where the customer provides the crew. It will be up to the customer to decide.

If they can get this spacecraft operational, they will join SpaceX as a leader in the reusability market, having built a ship that can be flown repeatedly on profit-making missions. In fact, it appears that the entire private American effort to get humans into space is aggressively shifting towards full reusability. SpaceX has got the first stage solved, and is also now routinely reusing its cargo Dragon capsules. It is also working to make both the upper stage (Starship) and manned capsules (crew Dragon) reusable. Sierra Nevada is in turn working on the manned spacecraft with Dream Chaser. Similarly, Blue Origin says the first stage of its New Glenn rocket will be reusable.

Those companies and nations that ignore this development (such as the Europeans Space Agency and Russia) will find themselves left far behind. Reusablity of rockets has been proven, and it lowers the cost to get to space so radically that without it you cannot compete.

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House committee approves bill coordinating the government’s space weather work

The House science, space, and technology committee has approved a new bill that establishes a coordinating structure for the many government agencies involved in observing and research space weather, the material that the Sun throws at us that can affect electrical grids and communications.

A similar bill has been approved by the Senate commerce committee, but with several important differences, the most important of which is likely this provision in the House bill:

The provision requires NOAA to establish a commercial space weather data pilot program within one year of the bill’s enactment. Through that program, NOAA is to offer to enter into contracts with “one or more entities in the commercial space weather sector” to provide data that meets standards and specifications that NOAA, in consultation with the Secretary of Defense, must publish within 18 months of enactment. The data may be ground-based, ocean-based, air-based, or space-based. NOAA “may offer” to award “at least one” competitively-bid contract within 12 months of when the Integrated Strategy required in the bill, as reviewed by the National Academies, is transmitted to Congress. “If” one or more contract is awarded, NOAA is to assess the value of the pilot program and report to Congress within 4 years of enactment.

The goal of this provision is to shift construction of new space weather facilities, including satellites, from the government to private industry. Like NASA and the Defense Department, NOAA in recent decades has generally done a poor job of building satellites cheaply and quickly to maintain its in-space monitoring network. The hope is that by depending on the growing private sector, the agency can get its satellites replaced more effectively, while also energizing the space private sector.

The Senate and House bills both have only passed through committee. We shall see if the Senate agrees to add this provision to its version of the bill.

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Arecibo shut temporarily due to earthquakes

The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico has suspended all operations temporarily because of the swarm of earthquakes that have hit the island in the past two weeks.

The strongest of those quakes was a 6.4 temblor early in the morning of Tuesday (Jan. 7). An initial survey conducted by drone after that event found no damage to the massive radio dish or the equipment above it, an Arecibo Observatory representative said here at the 235th meeting of the American Astronomical Society on Tuesday (Jan. 7).

However, safety protocols mean that observatory personnel can’t examine the dish or its accessories until the ground stops shaking, and it’s difficult to predict when that will happen.

The observatory was about to embark on a yearlong refitting to repair damage caused by Hurricane Maria in 2017. They have set January 10th as a tentative reopen date.

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Probe to visit 8 asteroids, not 7

Scientists developing the Lucy mission to visit seven Trojan asteroids that share an orbit with Jupiter have found an eighth satellite they will also be able to visit.

This first-ever mission to the Trojans was already going to break records by visiting seven asteroids during a single mission. Now, using data from the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), the Lucy team discovered that the first Trojan target, Eurybates, has a satellite. This discovery provides an additional object for Lucy to study.

“If I had to bet that one of our destinations had a satellite, it would have been this one,” said SwRI’s Hal Levison, principal investigator of the mission. “Eurybates is considered the largest remnant of a giant collision that occurred billions of years ago. Simulations show that asteroid collisions like the one that made Eurybates and its family often produce small satellites.”

The mission is targeting a 2021 launch date.

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UK parliament approves Brexit deal at last

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s deal to leave the European Union on January 31, 2020 was finally approved today by Parliament 330 to 231.

Not so fast. The deal calls for eleven months of negotiations on the various issues involved for the exit, and the head of the EU was in London calling for an endless extension of that deadline.

The new president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen came to London yesterday for her first face-to-face talks with Mr Johnson. She was accompanied by the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier who will now lead trade discussions on behalf of the bloc after managing the divorce stage.

…During a speech at the London School of Economics, where she spent a year in hiding as a student in the late 1970s after becoming a target of the left-wing terrorist Baader-Meinhof gang, she said that a full deal would not be achievable in just 11 months. She said: ‘Without an extension of the transition period beyond 2020 you cannot expect to agree on every single aspect of our new partnership. We will have to prioritise.’

Mr Barnier echoed a similar sentiment in a speech in Stockholm today as he said: ‘We are ready to do our best and to do the maximum in the 11 months to secure a basic agreement with the UK, but we will need more time to agree on each and every point of this political declaration.’

This game by these elitists is getting very tiresome. Johnson responded by saying that there would be no extensions.

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