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 oppressive tech companies and I get 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

Eroding Martian lava?

Eroding Martian lava?
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, was taken on April 19, 2021 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). Requested by Colin Dundas of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Astrogeology Science Center in Arizona, the image was entitled “Enigmatic Terrain in Elysium Planitia.” The image is labeled so because, as Dundas explained,

Flood lava is a key part of the feature, best seen at the north and south ends of the image. What’s unusual is the knobby terrain at the center. … I haven’t yet been able to do a more thorough study of these features, so plenty of puzzles remain!

The higher material in the upper right is likely flood lava. A 2016 paper [pdf] led by Dundas on similar features in Elysium Planitia that were not as knobby found their origin somewhat baffling. The evidence suggested that lava, mud, wind, and ice could all be involved in their formation, but the evidence was also not sufficient to eliminate any possibility.

In the case of today’s image, the explanation might also be any of these possibilities. For example, we might be looking at the erosion of the flood lava, exposing harder knobs of different material that had been there before and had been covered by the lava. Or maybe the knobs are simply the last bits of that layer of flood lava that has not yet eroded away.

As always, the overview map provides some context.
» Read more

Today’s blacklisted American: Leftist radical feminist Naomi Wolf

Persecution is now cool! Despite a thirty year career as a published feminist condemning the male patriarchy of American society while also working in the campaigns of both Bill Clinton and Al Gore, leftist radical feminist Naomi Wolf has found herself banned permanently by Twitter for daring to write posts condemning the lockdowns and mandates of the past year, while also raising concerns about the vaccines being offered to prevent COVID-19.

Twitter booted Wolf shortly before she intends to release her new book, Step Ten, that will explain how COVID-19 is being used by elites to grease the skids toward authoritarian fascism. “A much-hyped medical crisis,” Wolf argues, “has taken on the role of being used as a pretext to strip us all of core freedoms.”

The ironies here are endless. First, Twitter’s ban literally proves Wolf’s point. That Twitter executives don’t see that further illustrates their intolerance.

Second, the irony of Wolf’s banning might actually be somewhat amusing if it weren’t so suppressive to free thought. » Read more

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

Tens of thousands of Georgia Biden ballots were likely just duplicate copies of one ballot

It appears the reason a Georgia judge decided to unseal all 147,000 mail-in ballots for close inspection were the affidavits from four poll workers stating that tens of thousands of mail-in ballots voting for Biden appeared to be mere photocopies of the same ballot, and should have been invalidated and were not.

Voyles [one of the poll workers] said she noticed that all of the ballots were printed on paper different from others she handled as part of a statewide hand recount of the presidential election.

She also said none were purportedly folded or creased, as she typically observed in mail-in ballots that had been removed from envelopes.

“All of them were strangely pristine,” said Voyles, who for 20 years has monitored elections in Fulton County, which includes much of Atlanta.

The watchdogs suspect as many as tens of thousands of the ballots may have been manufactured in a race that Biden won by just 12,000 votes, in large part because of the late surge in mail-in ballots counted after election monitors were asked to leave State Farm Arena in Atlanta.

This is the same issue that is suspected for many mail-in ballots in other states, thousands of fake ballots that appeared out of nowhere late in the vote counting, all of which were for Biden and all of which appeared very questionable.

If after inspection these allegations are found to be true , it very likely will invalidate the certified results in these states. At a minimum, it will show that the election of Joe Biden was fraudulent.

Senate passes NASA authorization that calls for second lunar lander contract

The Senate today passed a new NASA authorization that requires the agency to award a second manned lunar lander contract in addition to the one it gave SpaceX for its Starship spacecraft.

The bill also recommended a $10 billion increase over five years in this specific lunar lander program to pay for that second contract.

None of this is law yet, as the House must agree also. In addition, as this is an authorization, not an appropriation, the extra money has not been appropriated, which means it does not yet exist. And should it be approved at these recommended numbers, it means that NASA will be forced to stretch out the creation of both lunar landers, as the money appropriated is still less than required to build either.

I suspect that this budget shortfall will not delay SpaceX’s Starship significantly, as that company has obtained sufficient private funding to build it regardless. More likely the second lunar lander will face longer delays, unless its builders decide to do what SpaceX has done, and obtain private capital to get it done fast.

Note too that this recommendations follows Congress’s general policy of imagining money grows on trees and that there is an infinite supply. While it might be a good idea to pay for two landers, the country’s debt suggests otherwise. Maybe a wiser course would be for the government to only offer a tiny percentage of the capital, and demand the builders find their own funding, as SpaceX has done.

Leaving Earth cover

With only 10 9 8 copies left of the now out-of-print hardback of Leaving Earth, I have raised the price to $100 for buying an autographed copy of this rare collector's item. That price is only going to apply until I have five books left. After that the price will go up again, substantially.


To get your copy while the getting is good, please send a $105 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

Juno takes first close-up images of Ganymede since 2000

Ganymede as seen by Juno
Click for full image.

Ganymede as seen by Juno
Click for full image.

On June 7th the Jupiter orbiter Juno made its first close fly-by of Ganymede, taking the first close-up images of this Jupiter moon since the orbiter Galileo flew past in 2000.

The first two images from NASA Juno’s June 7, 2021, flyby of Jupiter’s giant moon Ganymede have been received on Earth. The photos – one from the Jupiter orbiter’s JunoCam imager and the other from its Stellar Reference Unit star camera – show the surface in remarkable detail, including craters, clearly distinct dark and bright terrain, and long structural features possibly linked to tectonic faults.

…Using its green filter, the spacecraft’s JunoCam visible-light imager captured almost an entire side of the water-ice-encrusted moon. Later, when versions of the same image come down incorporating the camera’s red and blue filters, imaging experts will be able to provide a color portrait of Ganymede. Image resolution is about 0.6 miles (1 kilometer) per pixel.

In addition, Juno’s Stellar Reference Unit, a navigation camera that keeps the spacecraft on course, provided a black-and-white picture of Ganymede’s dark side (the side opposite the Sun) bathed in dim light scattered off Jupiter. Image resolution is between 0.37 to 0.56 miles (600 to 900 meters) per pixel.

Both images are to the right, each slightly reduced to post here. These images of this moon of Jupiter, the largest moon in the solar system and about 26% larger than the planet Mercury, reveal many of the same unsolved geological mysteries uncovered when the Galileo orbiter photographed it two decades ago. As I wrote in my Chronological Encyclopedia

Closer inspection of Ganymede revealed a strange topography, including patches of grooved terrain (not unlike the surface of a vinyl record) overlaying other patches of grooved terrain, the different patches oriented in random and totally unrelated directions. Moreover, the surface is overlain by bright and dark patches (the bright patches thought to be caused by water frost) that often had no apparent correspondence to topographical features. Planetary geologists could only scratch their heads in wonderment.


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Today’s blacklisted American: Veteran pilot under investigation by American Airlines for expressing his opinions

Coca-Cola's bigoted company policy
Examples of Critical Race Policy materials that
were being used at Coca-Cola

Blacklists are back and American Airlines want ’em! American Airlines has instituted an investigation into the opinions of one of their pilots, Guy Midkiff, because he committed the “crime” of criticizing the introduction of the bigoted and Marxists program called Critical Race Theory (CRT) in his local schools.

The attacks against him by one group that supports CRT have been vicious and slanderous, as documented at this story. The members of this group, the Southlake Anti-Racism coalition (SARC), have repeatedly commented on American Airlines’ Twitter feed, accusing Midkiff of harassing students and women while calling him a racist, all without any evidence. Some examples:
» Read more

China releases orbital image showing Zhurong on Mars

Zhurong on Mars
Click for original image.

China’s state-run press today released two images taken by its Tianwen-1 Mars orbiter showing its Zhurong rover on the surface of Mars.

Those photos are to the right. The top shows the location prior to the rover’s landing. The bottom, taken on June 2nd, shows the rover and its landing platform, as well as its entry capsule, heat shield, and parachutes.

In the image, taken by a high-resolution camera installed on the orbiter of Tianwen-1 at 6 p.m. on June 2 (Beijing Time), two bright spots are visible in the upper right corner. The larger one is the landing platform, and the smaller one is the Zhurong Mars rover, the CNSA said.

…The dark area surrounding the landing platform might be caused by the influence of the engine plume during landing. The symmetrical bright stripes in the north-south direction of the landing platform might be from fine dust when the landing platform emptied the remaining fuel after landing, the CNSA said.

The bright spots in the center of the image are the back cover of the entry capsule and the parachute jettisoned during the landing. Another bright spot in the lower left of the image is the heat shield of the entry capsule, the CNSA said.

Based on the second photo, it appears that Zhurong has barely moved far from the lander since it rolled off on May 22nd.

And that’s all we really know. The Chinese press release provides no details about how well the rover is functioning, where exactly this location is on the surface of Mars, nor anything else of interest. The rover might be in the region covered by the MRO photos I posted yesterday, but if so the resolution isn’t good enough for me to find the spot. I am sure however that MRO scientists are presently carefully comparing their highest resolution version with these Tianwen-1 images to pinpoint it. They will then follow-up with their own high-resolution images of Zhurong from MRO.

The rover has a planned mission length of 90 Martian days, which runs through the end of August. How much the Chinese government will reveal about its operations and results however remains completely unknown. If it functions as planned expect science papers published in about a year. If not we will only get silence.

Relativity raises $650 million in investment capital to build bigger rocket

Capitalism in space: The rocket startup Relativity today announced that it has raised $650 million in investment capital for building a much larger version of its Terran rocket, one designed not only to be completely reusable, but to be able to launch more payload than SpaceX’s Falcon 9.

The company says the funding, which comes barely half a year after it raised a $500 million Series D round, will allow the company to accelerate development of the Terran R, a much larger rocket than the Terran 1 it is currently building and one that is intended to be fully reusable. Relativity is targeting a first launch of Terran R in 2024.

In an interview, Tim Ellis, chief executive of Relativity, said the plans for Terran R date back to the company’s founding in the Y Combinator business accelerator. “It’s actually been in the plans since five years ago, when I founded the company. We just haven’t talked about it yet,” he said. “But even in Y Combinator, we were talking about building a fully reusable rocket that was larger than Falcon 9.”

…Another key element of Terran R is Relativity’s intent to make the vehicle fully reusable, including its upper stage and payload fairing. “There won’t be a part that’s not reusable on the vehicle,” Ellis said, crediting that to the company’s significant investment in 3D-printing technologies.

It is not clear exactly how they will get this new rocket’s upper stage to return to Earth unscathed. SpaceX considered trying it with the Falcon 9 upper stage and decided it was not worth the cost. If Relativity succeeds however they will have a rocket that can beat SpaceX in price.

And about time. Right now none of the commercial rocket companies aiming to compete directly with SpaceX — ULA, Arianespace, Blue Origin — seem willing to really compete. They are either not working to build reusable rockets or have been doing so at a pace that is much too slow. Instead, they all seem to think that they can rely on big government contracts to stay afloat.

Not only is having no competition unhealthy in the long run for SpaceX, it is very bad for the customers who are looking for transportation into orbit. For a new company like Relativity to come forward with new ideas, new technology, and (most important) lots of cash to directly challenge SpaceX is a welcome development. Now they need to deliver.

Investors sue Virgin Galactic for stock fraud

Capitalism in space: A federal complaint has been filed against Virgin Galactic, claiming the company made false and misleading reports concerning its financial state.

Investor Shane Levin and other unnamed plaintiffs claim in their complaint that Virgin Galatic CEO Michael Colglazier, former CEO George Whitesides, CFO Doug Ahrens and former CFO Jon Campagna knowingly presented incorrect financial statements to inflate the company’s stock price and entice buyers.

The lawsuit is seeking class-action status and unspecified damages, in addition to legal fees.

Also today an anonymous source claimed that, assuming Virgin Galactic can get FAA approval, the company has suddenly changed its test flight schedule and is now planning to fly Richard Branson on its SpaceShipTwo Unity spacecraft on July 4th. This would have Branson reach suborbital space about two weeks ahead of Jeff Bezos, who is presently scheduled to fly on a suborbital flight his own New Shepard spacecraft on July 20th.

Branson for almost two decades has promised he would fly on the first commercial operational flight of SpaceShipTwo, while also promising repeatedly that this flight was only months away. All of those promises were bunkum. Now faced with Jeff Bezos grabbing that first flight, Branson is suddenly scrambling to finally get it done, even if it means disrupting Virgin Galactic’s already announced test schedule.

The first story above tells us something about the honesty of Virgin Galactic’s finances. The second story tells us something about the trustworthiness of its management and engineering. I might consider the pace of Blue Origin in the past five years to have been far too slow, but they have at least shown a careful deliberate path to flight. Bezos’ July 20th flight might be a stunt, but it is being done to demonstrate his trust in his product.

Not so much from Branson and Virgin Galactic. For Branson, feeding his ego seems more important.

Mini-volcanoes (mud or lava?) near Zhurong’s Mars landing site

Mosaic of features near Zhurong's planned landing site on Mars
Click here, here, and here for full images.

Cool image time! Though we still do not know exactly where the Chinese Mars rover Zhurong landed on Mars, we have a rough idea based on the latitude and longitude numbers leaked to the Chinese press in October 2020 and were apparently confirmed by photos taken by the Tianwen-1 orbiter soon after reaching Mars. We also know Zhurong’s engineers wanted to land in the northern lowland plains dubbed Utopia Planitia, a region that is relatively flat and thus makes a safe landing spot for their first attempt to reach the surface of Mars.

The mosaic to the right, rotated and reduced to post here, is made from three context camera images taken by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The white cross on the right edge is essentially Zhurong’s leaked landing spot. The red box indicates the area covered by one of only two photos that China has released that were taken by its Tianwen-1 orbiter.

The white box in the upper left shows the area covered by today’s cool image, shown below.
» Read more

Today’s blacklisted American: College volley ball player blackballed for her opinions

The Bill of Rights cancelled at Amazon
Doesn’t exist at the University of Oklahoma.

They’re coming for you next: A college volley ball player at the University of Oklahoma, Kylee McLaughlin, was blackballed from her team because she refused to endorse the agenda of Black Lives Matter and voiced her own conservatives opinions during a team discussion after viewing a left-wing political film about American prisons.

When she also expressed some of her conservative opinions on social media, her coach demanded she delete the post immediately and call all the team’s coaches and players to apologize.

The legal document says: ‘Although (McLaughlin) supports equality, social justice, and finds racism despicable, she disagreed with the WOKE culture and critical race theory advocated and practiced by two of her coaches who are the Defendants in this action.’

She said coaches and administrators later told her she did not fit in with the culture and gave her three options to continue at the university without playing time. She was given the choice of transferring, continuing on scholarship as a non athletic student or taking a redshirt year, keeping her scholarship and practice separately from the rest of the team. During the redshirt year, she was made to carry out more than 10 hours of online diversity and inclusion training, she said.

She didn’t say anything racist, she merely disagreed with the leftist agenda of the movie they saw. But since “one black teammate” was offended and determined without challenge that she was racist, the coaches decided they had to blackball her.

The good news? » Read more

More evidence the COVID-19 panic was just that: an unwarranted panic

The Scream by Edvard Munch
The Scream by Edvard Munch, the absolute wrong response
to any emergency, and sadly the very response Americans adopted
against COVID-19.

Three more stories in the past few weeks have proven once again what I and many others saw unequivocally more than a year ago: The panicky response to COVID was unwarranted and not based on the actual facts on the ground but on manipulated and unproven assumptions.

Those assumptions were touted for purely political reasons. Worse, too many Americans meekly accepted those assumptions without any of the kind of mature skepticism that is required of adult citizens in a democratic republic. The result: Our rights were violated and false and corrupt politicians gained power, power they eagerly abused.

First, officials in Alameda County in California revealed on June 4th that they have reduced the number of COVID deaths in that county for the past year by about 25%, from 1,634 to 1,223.

“There are definitely people who died from reasons that were clearly not caused by COVID,”said Neetu Balram, a spokesperson for the Alameda County Public Health Department. Balram couldn’t give specifics about the true cause of death for the 411 people removed from the COVID-19 data, but she said the cases were identified after reviewing codes entered by county coroners into CalREDIE, the state’s database for disease reporting and surveillance.

None of this is a surprise to anyone who was open-minded enough to pay attention. The federal government provided hospitals and doctors a bonus for claiming as many deaths as possible as caused by COVID. They thus inflated the numbers grossly. Moreover, encouraging a panic in 2020 over the Wuhan flu served the political ends of the Democratic Party (to which almost all health officials belong) because it then justified the illegal easing of election laws so that Democrats could commit election fraud in November with ease.

Thus, doctors had both financial and political incentives to inflate the COVID numbers, which apparently they did with glee.

Two research papers published in mid-May added further weight to these conclusions:
» Read more

Astra buys space tug company that builds electric engines

Capitalism in space: The smallsat rocket company Astra announced today that it has brought Apollo Fusion, a space tug company that builds electric engines designed to move satellites from orbit to orbit.

Astra is purchasing Apollo Fusion for $30 million in stock and $20 million in cash in a deal announced June 7. The deal includes an additional $95 million in earn-out incentives if Apollo Fusion reaches certain technical and revenue milestones. Astra will incorporate Apollo Fusion’s Apollo Constellation Engine electric propulsion systems in satellite buses the company is developing to provide an integrated solution to customers.

Astra however has still not completed its first orbital flight. Its last test launch, in December 2020, almost reached orbit but did not. Company officials are now saying the next launch will be this summer, followed by monthly launches in the fall.

Bezos to fly on first manned New Shepard suborbital flight in July

Capitalism in space: Jeff Bezos announced today that he and his brother Mark will be passengers on the first manned commercial New Shepard suborbital flight, now scheduled to launch on July 20th.

“I want to go on this flight because it’s a thing I wanted to do all my life. It’s an adventure. It’s a big deal for me,” Bezos says in the brief video.

In that video, Bezos asks his younger brother Mark, to accompany him on the flight. “I think it would be meaning to have my brother there,” he said.

Mark Bezos accepted. “I wasn’t even expecting him to say that he was going to be on the first flight,” he said in the video. “And when he asked me to go along, I was just awe-struck.”

Right now the high bid in the auction for the other passenger seat remains stuck at $2.4 million. The bidding ends on June 12 with a live auction instead of an online one, but it appears that whoever bid that amount has no competitors and will be the passenger.

As for Bezos’ flight, his announcement means he will beat out Richard Branson for this honor. Bezos’ victory is especially embarrassing to Branson, who had been promising everyone that he would be the first suborbital passenger on his Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo suborbital spacecraft for almost twenty years. Those promises were bunkum. Bezos meanwhile made no such promises, and will deliver.

If you had to choose between these two car salesmen, who would you pick?

I however would choose neither. These suborbital car salesmen are fighting over the honors to launch what is equivalent to a rowboat. Elon Musk’s SpaceX is meanwhile building the equivalent of an ocean liner (Starshp) even as it is about to launch the equivalent of the first passenger steam ship (Falcon 9 with paying civilian passengers). I pick Musk.

SpaceX launches commercial radio satellite with reused Falcon 9

Capitalism in space: SpaceX tonight successfully launched a Sirius-XM commercial radio satellite using its Falcon 9 rocket.

The first stage, making its third flight, successfully landed on the drone ship in the Atlantic. Note too that this launch took place only three days after SpaceX’s previous launch. Watching it take place, I was struck by how completely routine everything seemed. While rocketry will never be easy, SpaceX now makes it look so, and they do so because, unlike all other rocket companies, they did not stop upgrading and improving their rocket once it became somewhat reliable. Instead, they focused on making it more reliable than any rocket ever by making it reusable. That effort has now paid off, giving them a rocket that works like clockwork, practically every time.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

18 SpaceX
15 China
8 Russia
2 Rocket Lab

The U.S. now leads China 24 to 15 in the national rankings.

Today’s blacklisted American: Doctors fired and blackballed for calling for race-neutral policies in medicine

Lysenko with Stalin
Trofim Lysenko preaching to Stalin. His policies destroyed
Soviet plant research, persecuted anyone who disagreed
with him, and caused famines that killed millions. And they are
all policies now being adopted by the American medical field.

Persecution is now cool! Last year, the University of Pittsburgh fired cardiologist Norman Wang because he wrote and published a peer-reviewed paper calling for race-neutral policies in medicine.

In addition, he was publicly denounced by the American Heart Association (AHA) and the journal retracted his paper, even though no one could cite any errors in his work.

As the criticism mounted, Wang was removed from his position as the director of a fellowship program in clinical cardiac electrophysiology at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and was prohibited from making any contact with students. His boss reportedly told him that his classroom was “inherently unsafe” due to the views he expressed.

Unsafe, eh? Can’t have those students hear any opinions or facts that might contradict the modern “woke” narrative!

Wang is suing both the AHA and the University of Pittsburgh for defamation and violating his first amendment rights. Whether he wins or not remains quite unknown, especially considering the increasingly intolerant nature of today’s society.

The article at the link however goes far beyond simply telling Wang’s story. First, it describes the cases of two other doctors who were forced to resign for similar reasons: they questioned the modern obsession with race and suggested that things would be far better if “race was taken out of the conversation.” The mob immediately rose up against both, and their medical organization, the American Medical Association (AMA), then moved to get them fired or removed.

The article then however goes even farther, outlining how this evil oppressive blacklisting culture is beginning to have a much wider and very negative impact on the practice of medicine and the treatment of patients.
» Read more

Curiosity’s dramatic path forward

Curiosity's future travels
Click for full image.

Cool image time! In the coming weeks and months the view from Curiosity is going to give us the most spectacular views of another world since the Apollo astronauts walked on the Moon.

In today’s download of new images from the Mars rover Curiosity was the photo above, reduced to post here. Taken by rover’s right navigation camera, it looks west directly in line with Curiosity’s future travels, and shows that it is now finally entering mountain country.

The overview map below provides the context.
» Read more

New investment capital pours into commercial space

Launcher's E2 engine
Launcher’s 3D printed E2 engine, claimed by the company
to be the highest performance engine for small rockets.

Capitalism in space: Three stories today underlined superbly the robust and steadily growing state of the commercial space industry. Moreover, these stories suggest that this growth will be permanent with almost no limit to its possibilities.

To begin, we have the public appearance of another startup smallsat rocket company, dubbed Launcher.

Small launch vehicle developer Launcher has raised $11.7 million in a Series A funding round, which the company says puts it on a path to reaching orbit with a fraction of the total investment of other launch startups. Launcher said June 2 that the Series A round was co-led by Boost.VC and the company’s founder, Max Haot, both of whom earlier provided seed funding to the startup. Haot invested $5 million using proceeds of a camera company,, that he sold earlier this year to Logitech. Other existing and new investors also participated in the round, which Haot told SpaceNews was oversubscribed.

…Launcher is working on a small launch vehicle called Launcher Light, intended to be similar in performance to Rocket Lab’s Electron, which can place up to 300 kilograms into low Earth orbit. Launcher Light is a smaller version of Rocket-1, the company’s original vehicle, which Haot said in March should speed up development since it will require fewer engines.

The company hopes to launch by ’24, and is also planning another fund-raising round next year to raise an additional $40 million.

Considering the large number of new rocket companies raising capital, who knows if this company will make it. Certainly some will grab market share and survive, but more likely in the coming decade there will be a shake-out where many will either consolidate or disappear, similar to what happened in the early days of the automobile industry.

That so many similar new rocket companies are attracting so many investors however shows that people with money are now convinced that space is the place, and the future there is very bright for profit. And what lends weight to this sentiment are the other two stories today, both of which involve new space startups that are not rocket companies but the kind of ground facilities required by the satellites those rockets launch.
» Read more

Third set of new results from Parker released

The scientists using the Parker Solar Probe on June 2nd released their third set of new results as part of a special issue of the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

The latest articles include data analysis, theory, and modeling. Among the major topics covered are magnetic switchbacks first discovered by Parker Solar Probe, the role of waves in heating solar plasma, solar angular momentum, the near-Sun dust environment, and the diversity of small energetic-particle events.

The most interesting paper I think is the one describing data that lends strong weight to the theory, proposed in 1929 by astronomer Henry Norris Russell, that a dust-free zone exists close to the Sun and all stars. From the abstract:

The observed brightness decrease in the axis of symmetry is interpreted as the signature of the existence of a dust density depletion zone between about 19 [solar radii] and 3 [solar radii] which at the inner limit of WISPR’s field of view of 7.65 [solar radii] has a dust density that is ~5% lower than the density at 19 [solar radii], instead of the expected density which is three times if no depletion zone exists.

In plain English, the data shows that from about 1.3 million to 8.2 million miles from the Sun Parker found far less dust than predicted by other models. As the probe continues to lower its orbit and get closer to the Sun with each fly-by these numbers will be better refined, and are likely to in the end prove Russell’s hypothesis.

Today’s blacklisted American: The American flag

Banned by the NAACP
The American flag: Banned by the NAACP.

The local NAACP chapter at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) was badly triggered over Memorial Day weekend by the horrible sight of an American flag hanging from the end of a crane’s cable at a university construction site, and demanded the cable and flag be removed.

The NAACP claimed that what really upset them was the standard cable loop just below the flag at the end of the cable, which they immediately assumed was a noose!

Ronald Davis, president of the New Britain NAACP, told FOX 61 that “Regardless of what someone else says about that, what I see, as a black man? That’s a noose. Period. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Take it down.”

But one intrepid College Fix reader noticed there are several steel cable loops hanging from the crane, and the only one that appears to bother another is the one with the American flag on the end of it. He cites one image of the crane in which viewers can see three or four cable loops.

“I guess they noticed only the one holding the flag, which means that it’s the flag that triggers them,” the reader said. [emphasis mine]

It is clear that because he and the NAACP specifically focused on the one loop where the American flag hung tells us what really offended them. They really wanted the American flag removed. And I am sure if they had their way it would be banned forever.
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SpaceX successfully launches cargo Dragon to ISS

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully launched a cargo Dragon to ISS.

The first stage booster successfully landed on its drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean.

This Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule were entirely new, making their first flights. This was the first new Falcon 9 to fly since November 2020, with sixteen launches during that period using reused boosters exclusively.

In fact, since November 2020 SpaceX has completed a total of 21 launches, all done in less than seven months. Moreover, the company has scheduled 34 (!) more launches through the rest of the year. If they achieve this ambitious schedule, they will complete 51 launches in ’21, more than doubling their previous annual record of 25 set last year. With all other American companies added in, there will be a good chance the United States launch total could exceed 70, breaking the country’s own annual launch record set in 1966 at the height of the first space race.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

17 SpaceX
15 China
8 Russia
2 Rocket Lab

The U.S. now leads China 23 to 15 in the national rankings.

FAA grants Rocket Lab permission to resume launches following launch failure

Capitalism in space: According to a press release from Rocket Lab yesterday, the FAA has granted it permission to resume launches following its May 15th launch failure when a problem with the rocket’s upper stage prevented it from reaching orbit.

Apparently the FAA is satisfied with the thoroughness of Rocket Lab’s investigation into the launch failure, and is thus willing to let launches resume, when the company itself decides it is ready. Rocket Lab’s investigation into the failure however is not complete. According to the press release:

The review team is working through an extensive fault tree analysis to exhaust all potential causes for the anomaly and the full review is expected to be complete in the coming weeks, following which Rocket Lab anticipates a swift return to flight.

Though that review continues, the company has not yet revealed what it thinks caused the upper stage to send the rocket and payload in the wrong direction upon ignition.

United Airlines buys 15 Boom Supersonic airplanes

United Airlines today announced that it has signed a deal with Boom Supersonic to buy fifteen of its supersonic Overture airplanes.

Under the terms of the agreement, United will purchase 15 of Boom’s ‘Overture’ airliners, once Overture meets United’s demanding safety, operating and sustainability requirements, with an option for an additional 35 aircraft. The companies will work together on meeting those requirements before delivery. Once operational, Overture is expected to be the first large commercial aircraft to be net-zero carbon from day one, optimized to run on 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). It is slated to roll out in 2025, fly in 2026 and expected to carry passengers by 2029.

Boom has been developing this supersonic passenger plane since 2016, though little progress has appeared to take place during most of the last five years. This contract appears to be the company’s first real sale. It also appears that it makes United a partner in the plane’s development.

Meanwhile, another company, Aerion, is developing its own supersonic passenger jet, in partnership with Boeing and scheduled for launch in 2023.

We shall have to wait to see which company wins the race to begin commercial flights.

Problem with Ariane 5 rocket causes Arianespace to delay Webb telescope launch

As first revealed in mid-May, Arianespace has been forced to delay the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope by at least one month because of a problem with the fairing on its Ariane 5 rocket, found during an August 2020 launch.

There have been no Ariane 5 launches since. According to yesterday’s press briefing, however:

“The origin of the problem has been found. Corrective actions have been taken,” Daniel de Chambure, acting head of Ariane 5 adaptations and future missions at ESA, said. “The qualification review has started, so we should be able to confirm all that within a few days or weeks.” He did not elaborate on the problem or those corrective actions, beyond stating that the problem took place during separation of the payload fairing. Industry sources said in May that, on the two launches, the separation system imparted vibrations on the payload above acceptable limits, but did not damage the payloads.

It appears this new delay to Webb’s launch is because two commercial payloads must lift off first before Webb, with the first now scheduled for July. According to Arianespace, it will take two months prep for the next commercial launch, followed by two months prep for the Webb launch. That puts the launch of Webb in November.

Overall this particular delay is slight, only a few weeks, and pales in comparison to the ten years of delays experienced by NASA during development and construction of Webb. It also will add very little to the telescope’s overall budget, which has grown from an original price of $500 million to now about $10 billion.

China’s Long March 3B rocket launches new weather satellite

China early this morning successfully placed a weather satellite into orbit using its Long March 3B rocket.

No word on where the first stage crashed, though we know because the launch was from an interior launch site that it had to have crashed somewhere within China, hopefully not on any village anywhere.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

16 SpaceX
15 China
8 Russia
2 Rocket Lab

The U.S. still leads China 22 to 15 in the national rankings.

This list should change in only a few hours, as SpaceX has a Falcon 9 launch scheduled for 1:29 pm (Eastern), carrying a Dragon cargo freighter to ISS.

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