LRO pinpoints Chang’e-4 landing site

LRO pinpointing Chang'e-4's location on Moon

By referencing the footage released by China of Chang’e-4’s descent onto the Moon, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) team has been able to pinpoint exactly where the lander touched down. The image on the right has been reduced slightly. Click on it to see it in full resolution.

The largest nearby crater to the lander is estimated to be about 80 feet across.

Because the images were in December 2018 before the lander’s arrival, they do not show it. However, the LRO team now knows exactly where to look when they take new pictures in the next few weeks. Moreover, this will allow them to monitor Yutu-2’s travels as it roves the surface over the coming months.

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Ceres’ bright spots in Occator Crater

Occator Crater bright spot

Cool image time! The Dawn science team has released some additional images taken shortly before the mission’s conclusion when Dawn was in its closest orbit of the dwarf planet Ceres. On the right is a tiny cropped portion of a much larger mosaic of the bright spots on the floor of Occator Crater, focusing on one large bright spot that also includes a fissure cutting across it. If you click on the image you can see the entire mosaic, covering an additional four more bright areas.

The mosaic was taken in June 2018 from a distance of 21 miles.

The press release describes these bright areas as “deposits of salts, in particular sodium carbonate, possibly extruded through fractures connecting the surface to a deep reservoir of salty liquid.” That surely looks confirmed by the fissures in the image to the right.

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Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of makng 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.
 

SpaceX to trim workforce by 10%

Capitalism in space: SpaceX announced yesterday that it plans to trim its workforce by 10% in an effort to reduce costs.

It might seem strange for the company to be doing this at this moment, when they are embarking on the construction of the very ambitious Super Heavy and Starship rockets. One would think they would need to expand (not shrink) their workforce to make that happen.

What I see is that they have recognized a need to reconfigure their workforce. This article today about their growing fleet of Falcon 9 first stage boosters, provides the clue.

SpaceX’s reusable Falcon fleet could feature as many as 12-15 boosters capable of something like 5-10 additional launches each by the second half of fourth quarter of 2019. At that point, SpaceX might have enough experience with Block 5 and enough flight-proven boosters to plausibly begin a revolutionary shift in how commercial launches are done. With far more boosters available than SpaceX has payloads to launch, multiple flight-ready Block 5 rockets will inevitably stack up at or around the company’s three launch pads and surrounding integration and refurbishment facilities.

In other words, they no longer need as many people employed building expendable first stages. Moreover, they might have found that many of the employees used to build new Falcon 9 first stages are not the kind they need to design and build the new rocket. This trimming allows them to cut some fat with the opportunity to add muscle later. It would not surprise me if their workforce once again starts to grow, but with new employees with new skills.

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Genesis cover

Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, and includes 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

Pressure builds on Trump to declare national emergency to fund border wall

The coming dark age: Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) joined a growing chorus from the right calling for President Trump to fund and build the border wall by declaring an national emergency.

Trump himself has raised this option, and has even looked into the legality. Whether he will do it remains at this moment unknown.

What is known is that to do such a step would continue the ugly process of increasing the arbitrary power of the president, irrelevant to Congress or elections. This process has been on-going since President Roosevelt in the 1930s and 1940s, but it accelerated significantly during Obama’s term. If Trump bypasses Congress he will further cement the idea that the President can do whatever he wants, without restrictions.

The eventual result will be a dictatorship, not by Trump but by a future President, in the not too distant future. I say this as a historian who has studied how democratic governments fall. We are heading that way.

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Corrupt Washington moves to permanently fund itself

The coming dark age: A group of Republican Senators have introduced legislation that would make future government shutdowns impossible by creating a permanent continuing resolution should budget negotiations fail.

Currently, when Congress fails to meet a deadline to pass a government funding bill, the agencies which remain unfunded shut down. Often, Congress chooses to pass what’s called a continuing resolution (CR) to delay and extend the deadline to pass funding bills, which keeps funding operations at their current levels. The “End Government Shutdowns Act” would automatically create a continuing resolution for any appropriations bill not passed by Oct. 1, the deadline to pass a bill funding the government for the next fiscal year. In theory, this would allow members of Congress to continue to negotiate over appropriations while keeping the government open.

CR funding would be reduced by 1 percent after 120 days, and would be reduced by another 1 percent every 90 days “until Congress does its job and completes the annual appropriations process,” according to the release announcing the bill.

To put this in plain language, this bill would make permanent all government funding, forever, while taking all power from the voters to influence what the government does. Congress would no longer need to do anything to get its money to its cronies, and no matter what the voters did, the money would still flow. The one percent reduction in funding every 90 days is worthless, a mere bone to make everything think they mean business. It would be years before any government department would feel a pinch from this reduction, and in that time they would easily have the opportunity to get the reduction canceled.

Note that the bill was introduced by Republican senators, including “libertarian” Mike Lee (R-Utah). If this doesn’t demonstrate that the people in Washington, from both parties, and from across the political spectrum, have no interest in the national interest, nothing will.

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The Great Red Spot from Juno

Jupiter's Great Red Spot

Cool image time! Citizen scientists Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran have released two new images that they have processed from the Juno raw image archive that were taken during the most recent spacecraft fly-by of Jupiter. The image to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, shows the Spot as the spacecraft was flying past. If you click on the image you can see their full image, processed by them to bring out the details and colors.

Even more spectacular, though unfortunately much too short, is the gif animation they have produced combining a number of images from this fly-by. I have embedded this animation below the fold. If you watch closely, you can see the rotation of this gigantic storm, including the motion of the jet streams within it.
» Read more

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China completes first launch of 2019, followed by SpaceX

The new colonial movement: China yesterday successfully completed the first launch of 2019, sending a military communications satellite into orbit with its Long March 3B rocket.

It is my impression, from various sources, that China might not launch quite as many rockets in 2019 as it did in 2018. Like SpaceX in the past two years, it was clearing out a backlog of launches caused by the failed launch of their biggest rocket, Long March 5, in 2017.

Still, I expect an active year from China. It is going to be very interesting to watch the 2019 launch race unfold. SpaceX for example has just successfully launched ten Iridium satellites into orbit, the first launch from Vandenberg this year, successfully landing the first stage on a barge.

Right now the U.S. and China are tied in the 2019 launch race, 1-1.

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SpaceX reveals picture of fully assembled suborbital Starship hopper

Starship Hopper

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has released pictures of the fully assembled suborbital Starship hopper, planned for its first test flights in the coming months. The image on the right is not a simulation, but the real thing.

In tweets by Elon Musk, he also revealed that they hope to have an orbital prototype of Starship built by June, with the Super Heavy booster beginning construction in the spring. More information here.

This is unquestionably an ambitious schedule, but the contrast with the development of SpaceX’s manned Dragon capsule, slowed absurdly by the government shutdown and NASA’s bureaucracy, highlights clearly the fundamental reason why SpaceX refused government money for the development of Super Heavy/Starship. By using private funds, SpaceX is free to proceed at its own pace, which is fast, rather than waiting for permission from the bean-counters sitting in NASA offices who have no real idea how to build anything.

It is likely they will not meet this schedule. It is also likely that they will also get this done in a time frame far faster than anyone expects.

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Chandrayaan-2 launch now scheduled for mid-April

The new colonial movement: India’s Chandrayaan-2 lander/rover mission to the south pole region of the Moon has now been re-scheduled for mid-April.

The launch date had to be pushed from the initially scheduled January-February window, as a few related tests could not be completed by the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro). Isro chairman K Sivan told the media on Friday that the next available slot is during March-April, and the launch could take place by mid-April. However, if this window is passed, the prestigious mission will have to be pushed again to June.

The article also suggests that they have made some changes to the mission’s flight plan.

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Want to see a panorama of Chang’e-4 landing site? You can!

If you want a really good look at the Chang’e-4 landing site on the far side of the Moon — with Yutu-2 about thirty feet away — photographer Andrew Bodrov has produced a spectacular 360 degree panorama from images sent down by the lander.

This panorama reveals two things. First, the lander landed close to two small craters, which it thankfully missed. Second, there are some hills in the distance which I suspect are central peaks of Von Kármán crater. They are probably beyond Yutu-2’s range, but would make a worthwhile exploratory target.

Meanwhile, the rover and lander have come back to life after a brief hibernation to protect them from the heat of the lunar mid-day.

Finally, China has released a video showing Chang’e-4’s descent and landing, which I have embedded below the fold. In it, you can see the spacecraft computer maneuver to land between those two craters shown in the panorama.
» Read more

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Air Force accepts first new Boeing tanker despite problems

The Air Force has accepted delivery of Boeing’s first new tanker airplane, despite problems that leaves the plane “years away from reaching their full operational potential.”

The U.S. Air Force has accepted the first Boeing KC-46A Pegasus tanker, an important milestone for the troubled program. However, the initial batch of aircraft will still have serious problems with their remote vision and refueling boom systems, meaning that the planes remain years away from reaching their full operational potential.

Foreign Policy was the first to report on the agreement between the Air Force and Boeing to proceed with the deliveries of the aircraft, citing anonymous sources, on Jan. 10, 2019. Defense News then reported that the Chicago-headquartered planemaker had agreed to fix the remaining deficiencies and that the Air Force’s top leadership reserved the right to withhold full payment for the planes – up to $1.5 billion in total if the service docks the company for each of the 52 aircraft in the first batch of planes – until it sees real progress.

…The acceptance and up-coming deliveries are a big deal for the KC-46A program, which has been mired in delays and controversy since Boeing won the Air Force’s KC-X competition in 2011. That decision itself followed nearly a decade of earlier, scandal-ridden Air Force attempts to procure a new tanker aircraft. Notably, in 2004, Darleen Druyun, a Boeing executive who had previously been the Air Force’s top procurement official, went to federal prison after receiving a conviction on corruption charges relating to an earlier tanker program.

The Air Force was supposed to have received a fleet of 18 KC-46As, the first tranche in the total initial buy of 52 aircraft, by the end of 2017 and reach an initial operational capability with the type shortly thereafter. Between 2011 and 2017, continuing technical difficulties…repeatedly pushed this schedule back. This continued into 2018, leading to an unusually public spat between the two parties over the program’s progress. Boeing’s contract is firm, fixed-price, and that company has already had to pay more than $3 billion of its own money to cover cost overruns. [emphasis mine]

Why is it that it seems to me that every single government program today is always “troubled” and “mired in delays and controversary?” Or maybe the question answers itself. These are government programs after all.

The one saving grace of this story is that the Air Force issued a fixed price contract here, so that the cost overruns fall on Boeing’s head, not the taxpayer (though Air Force errors in issuing the contract might negate this advantage). The delays however are shameful. It should not be so hard to build a tanker plane.

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Earth’s magnetic field undergoing unexpected changes

The uncertainty of science: For reasons that scientists do not understand, the Earth’s magnetic field has been undergoing unexpected shifts in the past two years, causing its north pole to move significantly and somewhat quickly from Canada across to Siberia.

Earth’s north magnetic pole has been skittering away from Canada and towards Siberia, driven by liquid iron sloshing within the planet’s core. The magnetic pole is moving so quickly that it has forced the world’s geomagnetism experts into a rare move.

On 15 January, they are set to update the World Magnetic Model, which describes the planet’s magnetic field and underlies all modern navigation, from the systems that steer ships at sea to Google Maps on smartphones.

The most recent version of the model came out in 2015 and was supposed to last until 2020 — but the magnetic field is changing so rapidly that researchers have to fix the model now. “The error is increasing all the time,” says Arnaud Chulliat, a geomagnetist at the University of Colorado Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) National Centers for Environmental Information.

Note that they have delayed the release of the World Magnetic Model until January 30, claiming the delay is caused by the government shutdown. Seems bogus to me. As I have already noted, these scientists aren’t slaves. If they think this is so important, and they have completed their work (which the article suggests they have), they can release the model, regardless of the federal government’s funding.

Hat tip reader Stephen Taylor.

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Lopsided ejecta from Martian crater

Crater with unequal ejecta

Cool image time! The image on the right, reduced and cropped to post here, comes from the December image release from the high resolution camera of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). (If you click on the image you can see the full resolution uncropped photograph.) Released without a caption, the release itself is intriguingly entitled, “Crater with Preferential Ejecta Distribution on Possible Glacial Unit.

The uneven distribution of ejecta material around the crater is obvious. For some reason, the ground was preferentially disturbed to the north by the impact. Moreover, the entire crater and its surrounding terrain look like the impact occurred in a place that was saturated somewhat with liquid, making the ground soft like mud.

That there might have been liquid or damp material here when this impact occurred is reinforced by the fact that this crater is located in the middle of Amazonis Planitia, one of the larger regions of Mars’ vast northern lowland plains, where there is evidence of the past existence of an intermittent ocean.

This however really does not answer the question of why most of the impact’s ejecta fell to the north of the crater. From the release title is appears the planetary geologists think that this uneven distribution occurred because the impact occurred on a glacier. As the ground has a lighter appearance just to the south of the crater, I suspect their reasoning is that this light ground was hard bedrock while the darker material to the north was that glacial unit where the ground was more easily disturbed.

This is a guess however (a common requirement by anyone trying to explain the strange features so often found on the Martian surface). Other theories are welcome of course, and could easily be correct as well.

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Democratic NY mayor promises to redistribute the wealth of citizens

They’re coming for you next: During his state of the city speech today the Democratic mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, promised bluntly to use the force of government to redistribute the wealth of the city’s citizens.

“Brothers and sisters, there’s plenty of money in the world. Plenty of money in this city,” his prepared speech reads. “It’s just in the wrong hands!”

I know whose hands this Democratic thug wants that money redistributed to: himself and his allies. This is what socialists/communists like him always do: steal from people to finance their own power and high class lifestyle.

And if you don’t live in New York City don’t make the mistake of thinking this doesn’t concern you. Politicians like de Blasio now run the Democratic Party, have significant power and control in many states and in Congress (with the willing support of large swaths of the populace), and are moving to institute these same oppressive policies nationwide. These mobs are coming, and they will be moving in on you, wherever you are, very soon.

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FBI union says FBI operations hurt by shutdown

My heart bleeds: The head of the union that represents FBI agents petitioned Congress today, stating that the government shutdown is now beginning to affect FBI operations.

Does this mean they will no longer be able to perform their duties as Democratic Party operatives, spying on Republican candidates and working to void legal elections where Democrats are defeated?

Or does it mean that he fears we may discover that we don’t need them that much, that the work they do is generally pointless and a waste of the taxpayers’ money?

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A visit to the Mexican border

Last night President Trump gave his first prime-time speech to the nation, focused specifically on the hot-button issue of illegal immigration. You can read the full text, with the Democratic response, here. A fair analysis can be read here, which also includes a thorough critique of the press’s mindless partisan reaction.

I usually don’t watch such speeches. I read the transcript afterward, to see if there is any substance there (usually not). It saves time.

What I did do yesterday however was visit the very location that is the subject and focus of these speeches, the border between the United States and Mexico. Diane and I and Earl, a visiting friend from back east, decided to give Earl a taste of international travel by driving down to Nogales to cross the border for lunch.

We do this periodically, not to go sightseeing but buy many of our prescription drugs, which tend to be about 75% cheaper in Mexico and do not require that prescription for purchase. For example, one of our cats has a fungal disease called valley fever which requires giving her a pill twice a day. In the states that drug costs more than $200 for a ninety day supply. In Mexico I can get that same amount for less than $50. (The cost difference illustrates well the mess our Congress has created of our drug industry, since the high cost is directly related to government regulations imposed in the last two decades and topped off by the passage of Obamacare in 2010.)

Anyway, below are some photos from this trip. They give you a sense of what it is like at one of the major populated border crossing points, which by the way and not surprisingly does not much resemble the impression given by our modern mainstream press.
» Read more

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A workout treadmill for cats

News you can use: A company has now designed a smart treadmill specifically designed for cats.

The Little Cat’s biggest selling point is that it has a built-in incentive – an LED light that moves up the center of the ring. As anyone who’s ever flicked a laser pointer around on the floor knows, cats go nuts for those lights, and this might be the missing ingredient that gets their lazy butts onto the treadmill. In some of the videos it seems to work, but in others the cat is far more interested in the LED and looks visibly uncomfortable as soon as the floor starts to move under it.

Where other wheels are passive and only move when the cat starts running, the Little Cat can be set to move on its own at different speeds, like a treadmill. It’s controlled through a smartphone app, letting users set the speed, move the LED around, watch the cat through a live camera feed and even record voice samples to play back when you’re not home. The app also works like a fitness tracker, recording your pet’s run data and apparently using that to develop a customized exercise plan.

No pricing is available as yet. I’ve embedded the company’s video below the fold, which proves once again that it is impossible to predict the strange and absurd places humans will take their ingenuity.
» Read more

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SpaceX completes fit test of two sections of Starship hopper

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has completed a fit test whereby they put the two main sections of their Starship hopper prototype together.

In a burst of activity that should probably be expected at this point but still feels like a complete surprise, SpaceX technicians took a major step towards completing the first Starship hopper prototype by combining the last two remaining sections (aft and nose) scarcely six weeks after assembly began.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk also took to Twitter late last week to offer additional details and post what appears to be the first official render of Starship’s hopper prototype, which is now closer than ever before to looking like the real deal thanks to the incredible drive of the company’s southernmost employees. With the massive rocket’s rough aeroshell and structure now more or less finalized, Musk’s targeted February/March hop test debut remains ambitious to the extreme but is now arguably far from impossible.

More details about the status of both the Super Heavy and Starship here. As noted in the first link above, SpaceX is moving very quickly, at a pace unheard of in the rocket industry, to get these hopper prototypes ready for test flights. For example, this new effort at Boca Chica in Texas went from a barren spot to a full facility with a giant spacecraft in less than eight weeks.

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Hayabusa-2 to grab asteroid samples in February

The Hayabusa-2 science team has decided that it will make their first attempt to land and grab samples from the asteroid Ryugu in February.

“The time has finally come,” JAXA senior project member Takashi Kubota said at a news conference on Jan. 8. “Two candidate landing spots have their own advantages and drawbacks, but we will robustly try to collect samples.” The two sites are near the equator of the asteroid. JAXA said it will pick one by early February.

Between Feb. 18 and Feb. 23, the Hayabusa 2 will start descending from its “home position” at an altitude of 20 kilometers from the asteroid. JAXA will use “target markers,” which will be dropped on Ryugu beforehand, to guide the probe.

Hayabusa 2 is scheduled to make three touch-and-go landings.

There are clearly risks here, since the asteroid is strewn so completely with rocks and boulders.

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Hubble’s main camera in safe mode

The coming dark age: The Wide Field Camera on the Hubble Space Telescope has experienced “an anomaly” that has forced its shut down.

The announcement is a mere one paragraph long, and provides no further information.

This camera was installed on the space telescope during the last shuttle mission in 2009. It is now almost a decade since that mission, which was expected to extend Hubble’s life for at least five years. It is therefore not surprising that things are beginning to fail. In October they had a serious gyroscope problem when a gyroscope failed and they had problems getting their last back-up gyroscope to work. They got it working, but this has left us with a telescope with no gyroscope backups. With the next failure they will have to shift to one gyroscope mode, meaning sharp images will no longer be possible. Now the main camera has shut down.

Unfortunately, it appears that we are reaching the end of Hubble’s life span. The sad thing is that this shouldn’t be necessary. It can be repaired, but this would require a robot mission, something that would have been very difficult a decade ago but is quite doable at a reasonable cost today. No such mission is being considered however.

Even worse, the bad planning that is routine for our modern intellectual class has left us with no replacement, for the foreseeable future. In the late 1990s the astronomy community chose this path, deciding to replace Hubble with an infrared space telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope. They and NASA also decided to push the limits of engineering with Webb, resulting in a project that is about a decade behind schedule with a budget that has ballooned from $1 billion to $9 billion. Meanwhile, there has been no money for any other major space telescopes. And the one the astronomy community proposed in 2011, WFIRST, is already over budget and behind schedule, in its design phase.

The astronomy community has also decided in the past two decades that it could replace Hubble with giant ground-based telescopes, a decision that has so far proven to be problematic. Though adaptive optics can eliminate some of the fuzziness caused by the atmosphere, it limits observations to very narrow fields of view, meaning it cannot obtain large mosaics of big objects, such as this Hubble release earlier this week of an image of the nearby Triangulum Galaxy. Moreover, almost all of the giant ground-based telescopes built so far have struggled with many engineering issues.

In terms of astronomy, we are thus about to go blind, returning to the days prior to the space age when our view of the heavens was fuzzy and out of focus.

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Video of SpaceX fairing drop test

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today released footage of a drop test of a fairing and the near miss catch by their ship Mr. Steven.

I have embedded the footage below the fold. After they drop the fairing from a helicopter, the ship comes within mere feet of catching the fairing in its giant net. Quite spectacular.
» Read more

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Shutdown and government politics slows some science work

The partial government shutdown appears to be causing problems for some researchers, some of it fake and some of it real.

The article doesn’t put it that way. Instead, it sells the shutdown as a terrible tragedy, blocking all work by scientists, a claim that simply isn’t true if you read the article honestly.

The real problems include cases where the closure of government buildings prevents scientists from accessing their labs or research samples. The fake problems include things like this:

Rattlesnakes, bears, hurricanes, and freezing weather haven’t stopped ecologist Jeff Atkins from taking weekly hikes into Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park for the past 8 years to collect water samples from remote streams. But Atkins is now facing an insurmountable obstacle: the partial shutdown of the U.S. government, in its third week.

Park managers have barred Atkins from entering since 22 December 2018, when Congress and President Donald Trump failed to agree on a deal to fund about one-quarter of the federal government, including the National Park Service. That has shut down the sampling, part of a 40-year-old effort to monitor how the streams are recovering from the acid rain that poisoned them in past decades.

There is no reason this scientist can’t enter the park and get his samples. In fact, Trump administration policy has kept the national parks open, even if no one is working there. I am thus very suspicious of the claim that he is “barred” from entering.

Then there are claims that government scientists are forbidden from attending conferences. Bah. They aren’t slaves. If the conference is that important, they should go on their own dime. And if they aren’t willing to go, it makes me suspect their work is not that important. In fact, I know this, as I have watched many government scientists attend conferences merely to tout the wonderful things their government agency is accomplishing, not to really report on science.

The article also makes a big deal about the loss of pay to these individual scientists. My heart bleeds. For one thing, as government workers they are generally paid at a far higher rate, with many more benefits, than most taxpayers, who for the past decade have been suffering far worst economic times. These government scientists can afford the loss of pay for a few weeks.

For another, based on what has happened after all other previous shutdowns, Congress will approve their pay during this time, meaning this shutdown is really nothing more than an extra paid vacation for them.

I thus find myself having little sympathy for these scientists. In fact, the facts in this article make me inclined to think the taxpayer might benefit from getting rid of them all.

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Chinese rocket company tests vertical landing

The new colonial movement: A Chinese rocket company has conducted its first vertical flight and landing tests of a prototype rocket.

Linkspace…has tested a tech demonstrator reusable rocket similar in utility to the Grasshopper rocket SpaceX used in its development of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle. The RLV-T5 technology demonstrator, also known as ‘NewLine Baby’, for vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) is designed to verify key technologies including variable thrust, multiple engine restarts and roll control with its flight and recovery tests, according to the press release (in Chinese).

The latest footage, released on Sunday, shows a tethered test which followed three months of preparations. The demonstrator is 8.1 metres high with a mass of 1.5 tonnes and uses five variable thrust engines. Linkspace now describes itself as the world’s third-largest recyclable rocket development team, after SpaceX and Blue Origin.

The article also describes an engine test by a different Chinese company. Both are being touted as part of China’s new private space effort, but I find myself somewhat skeptical. China might have given these companies some independent leeway, but in the end nothing they do is unsupervised by the Chinese government.

Regardless, they are making technical progress. It appears that Linkspace is aiming for a suborbital test flight later this year.

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