Tag Archives: capitalism

Want to get off gmail? A possible Behind the Black option

On July 3rd I put out a feeler to see if there was sufficient interest among my readers for providing a private email service through Behind the Black. As I wrote then:

I am exploring the possibility of offering email services through my server for those who want to get off of gmail and google. However, before such a service can be offered, we need to know the amount of interest there might be. The demand will effect the cost, which means I can’t even give you an idea of what we might charge.

Regardless, if you are interested in having “your.name@behindtheblack.com” as your email address, please say so in the comments. There will be no obligations, by you or me or my server, but the response however will help us decide if we can do it.

And if we can do it, and many people sign on, we will then be taking the proper free enterprise approach for combating the corrupt business practices of giants like Google. Our federal government might still act to break Google up, but I think it would be far better if the free market did the job instead.

About a dozen people expressed interest at that time. In discussing this with my server, we both agreed that this is too small a number for us to begin this service. However, we are also both quite willing to do this, if the initial number of subscribers was higher.

I am therefore posting this feeler out again. If you expressed a desire to sign up as a comment in the previous post, then there is no need to comment again. However, if you did not comment previously, and think this service will be what you want, then post a comment here saying so.

It would also help me to get an idea what you would be willing to pay per month for this service. For this information I request everyone comment, including those who commented earlier.

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Europe completes 1st rollout of Ariane 6 mobile launch gantry

The mobile launch gantry that Europe will use for its new Ariane 6 rocket successfully completed its first rollout tests last week.

This gantry is the equivalent of NASA’s VAB building. Within this gantry they will assemble Ariane 6 vertically, then roll the gantry back for launch.

Assembling a rocket vertically I think is more costly, but it also makes it possible for the rocket to launch payloads that must be installed in this manner. Thus, Ariane 6 will have this selling point over rockets like the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, which are assembled horizontally.

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Private lunar landing company backs out of NASA contract

Capitalism in space: The commercial lunar landing company, OrbitBeyond, has told NASA that it cannot fulfill its $97 million contract, only two months after that contract was announced.

NASA announced July 29 that OrbitBeyond informed the agency that “internal corporate challenges” will prevent it from carrying out a task order that NASA awarded the company May 31 as part of its Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. The company asked to be released from that contract, and NASA agreed.

NASA didn’t elaborate on what specific issues caused OrbitBeyond to scrap its contract with NASA, and the company didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. At the May 31 event where NASA announced the contracts, Siba Padhi, chief executive of OrbitBeyond, said the company was still in the process of closing a round of funding. The company has not subsequently announced a funding round.

Considering its receipt of a $97 million NASA contract, it would be very puzzlingly for the company to be unable to obtain further investment capital. If anything, that contract should have encouraged funding. If the lack of funding is the cause of this termination then it also suggests the company had other problems.

This leaves NASA with two private lunar lander companies. I expect NASA will look to award the contract to a third company. The company Firefly and its team of Israeli Beresheet engineers comes immediately to mind.

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Japanese private smallsat rocket company launch failure

Capitlism in space: Interstellar Technologies, a Japanese private smallsat rocket company, experienced on July 27 its third suborbital launch failure in four attempts.

The vehicle only reached an altitude of 13 kilometers following the launch at 4:20 p.m., falling into the sea some 9 kilometers (about 5.5. miles) offshore from Taiki, Hokkaido, its test site, Interstellar Technologies said. The rocket is the same model as Momo-3, measuring about 10 meters long, 50 centimeters in diameter and weighing 1 ton.

After failed attempts in 2017 and 2018, the startup finally found success with its third launch in May, with the rocket reaching an altitude of around 113 km before falling into the Pacific Ocean.

The failure occurred when an onboard computer detected something wrong and shut the engine down.

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Starhopper has hopped

Capitalism in space: SpaceX last night successfully completed the first untethered flight of its Starship/Super Heavy prototype dubbed Starhopper.

This hop attempted and flew about 65 feet. They hope to do next flight, planned to be about ten times higher, in a week or two, according to a Musk tweet.

Below the fold is video of the hop. You can’t see much as the viewing angle is ground level, it is night, and the engine flames obscure things. Expect better footage from future hops.
» Read more

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SpaceX launches used Dragon to ISS with used Falcon 9

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully used a Falcon 9 rocket to launch a Dragon freighter to ISS.

The Dragon is making its third flight to ISS. The first stage, which landed successfully, was making its second flight, and will likely be used on the next Dragon cargo mission.

Video of the launch and 1st stage landing is below the fold. The launch is at about 15 minutes. The first stage landing is one of the most spectacular yet.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

10 China
9 Russia
9 SpaceX
5 Europe (Arianespace)
4 India

The U.S. now leads China 15-10 in the national rankings.
» Read more

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Starhopper’s 1st test hop aborts

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s first attempt to fly Starhopper untethered in a short vertical flight was aborted only a few seconds after engine ignition.

Video of the test is below the fold. The vehicle never leaves the ground, and there are flames visible near its top, something one should not see. Obviously this is a development program, so failures like this are to be expected. More significant is the speed in which the company is moving. It is only a week since their last StarHopper test, which also had issues. Rather than take years to move forward (like NASA), they are pushing forward aggressively.
» Read more

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Images confirm LightSail-2 deployment success

LightSail-2 sail deployed
Click for full resolution image.

Capitalism in space: The LightSail-2 engineering team has now confirmed, based on images from the cubesat, that its light sail has successfully deployed.

Flight controllers at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in California commanded the spacecraft to deploy its solar sails yesterday at about 11:47 PDT (18:47 UTC). Images captured during the deployment sequence and downloaded today show the 32-square-meter sail, which is about the size of a boxing ring, deploying as the spacecraft flew south of the continental United States.

Image caption: This image was taken during the LightSail 2 sail deployment sequence on 23 July 2019 at 11:48 PDT (18:48 UTC). Baja California and Mexico are visible in the background. LightSail 2’s dual 185-degree fisheye camera lenses can each capture more than half of the sail. This image has been de-distorted and color corrected.

To the right is a reduced version of this image. As they note, the sail is distorted because of the fisheye nature of the camera lens. Nonetheless, it looks like the sail is deployed, and will be able to do its job, testing how one maneuvers in space using only sunlight.

UPDATE: Rex Ridenoure from Ecliptic Enterprises emailed me to explain that the distortion is only seen in the image above, that the image at the link has been corrected for this (as noted in the caption above). If you compare the two, you will see that the Earth is round in the corrected image.

Since the sail is much closer to the lens, I remain unsure how much of what we see of its shape is real, or a function of the fisheye lens. Later thumbnails show the sail more flat and tightly stretched, suggesting that this image was taken during deployment.

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LightSail-2 successfully deploys light sail

Capitalism in space: The LightSail-2 engineering team today successfully deployed its boxing ring-sized light sail from its cubesat.

All indications are that LightSail 2’s solar sail has deployed successfully. Flight controllers sent the deployment command at approximately 11:45 PDT (18:45 UTC). Telemetry showed the motor count increasing as expected, and the motor appeared to halt at the correct time. LightSail 2’s cameras also appeared to capture imagery as planned.

The mission team will now confirm successful deployment by downloading imagery during subsuquent ground station passes today.

Once checked out, they will begin tests to see how they can use sunlight to change the light sail’s orbit, literally sailing in space.

The wonders of freedom: This mission was privately paid for and built by the Planetary Society.

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Apollo 11 videotapes sell for $1.82 million

The three original 2″ videotapes showing the astronauts on the lunar surface during Apollo 11, purchased by an engineering student as part of a lot of more than a thousand reels in 1976 for just over $200 have now sold at auction for $1.82 million.

The auction house, Sotheby’s, did not say who purchased the tapes. Hopefully whoever has intends to release the visuals, since it appears the quality is better than what we presently have.

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LightSail-2 to deploy sail July 23

The LightSail-2 engineering team has decided to attempt deployment of the light sail on July 23.

The spacecraft is a cubesat about the size of a loaf of bread. Once deployed, the light sail will be about the size of a boxing ring. If deployment is successful, they will then attempt to use the sail and sunlight to change the sail’s orbit, thus learning the techniques for using light to travel through space.

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ULA delays Delta 4 and Atlas 5 launches for same reason

Because of a concern about the same component used on both its Atlas 5 and Delta 4 rockets, ULA has now delayed the upcoming launches of both rockets.

Concerns over an unspecified part flying on the upper stages of United Launch Alliance’s rockets have delayed the launch of a GPS satellite on a Delta 4 booster from July 25 to no earlier than Aug. 22.

The same issue has also delayed an Atlas 5 launch.

The delays are related to engineers’ concerns over a common component that flies on the upper stages of the Atlas 5 and Delta 4 rockets, a ULA spokesperson said Wednesday.

Both rockets use the same Aeroject Rocketdyne engine in their upper stages, but an official from that companY said that its engine is not the issue. The upper stages also use the same avionics systems.

Posted from the rim of the Grand Canyon.

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Starhopper static engine test engulfs vehicle in flames

Capitalism in space: A Starhopper static engine test yesterday testing the newly installed Raptor engine resulted in the vehicle being engulfed in flames.

While the test itself appeared to fire for its full duration, events relating to this test appeared to cause some issues with Hopper, later seen when a secondary fire rose up to engulf the test vehicle. This is understood to have been related to two small fires – one on the vehicle and one on the pad.

A discharge of methane – during the safing of the vehicle, which involved a fire hose being directed at the small fires – ignited and caused a fireball to rise from the aft of the vehicle.

However, the vehicle survived and photos show it is suffering from no obvious damage from external views. This was backed up by a successful detanking and power down overnight.

I have embedded a slow motion video of the test below the fold, with that secondary fire occurring at about 50 seconds in, at about the moment it appears a stream of water hits a smaller fire.

Their plans had been to follow this static test with a 20 meter vertical flight of Starhopper, unattached. When this will occur is now unclear.
» Read more

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SpaceX pinpoints cause of Dragon explosion during test

SpaceX today revealed that it has pinpointed the cause of the explosion that destroyed a Dragon manned capsule during an engine test in April.

The company believes that the problem originated with the Crew Dragon’s emergency abort system, which consists of a series of small thrusters embedded within the capsule. If all goes well during a mission, these tiny thrusters are never really meant to be used. But if there is some kind of failure during a future launch, the thrusters can ignite and carry the Crew Dragon safely away from a disintegrating rocket.

SpaceX says that a leaky valve caused the propellant needed for these thrusters to cross into another system — one of really high pressure. When this contamination occurred, the high forces slammed the liquid around, causing valuable components to fail and leading to the ultimate loss of the capsule.

Koenigsman said that this contamination definitely was not anticipated, though the kind of valve that leaked has been known to have some internal leakage problem. Ultimately, he acknowledged that, to some extent, this was a design issue. “It’s something that the components should not have done,” Koenigsman said. “But at the same time, we learned a very valuable lesson on something going forward, one that makes the Crew Dragon a safer vehicle.”
““it was a huge gift for us.” ”

SpaceX will replace all of these types of valves with another component known as a burst disk, which is supposed to be much more reliable, according to Koenigsman.

The company is still hoping to fly before the end of the year, but admits that this may not be possible. Right now they have a tentative launch date in November.

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Russia successfully launches Spektr-RG carrying two X-ray space telescopes

Russia today successfully used its Proton rocket to launch Spektr-RG, carrying two X-ray space telescopes.

Spektr-RG was first conceived in the 1990s, but got shelved then because Russia did not have the money to launch it. The project got revived in 2005 when the Germans came on to build one of the two telescopes.

“We had an ambitious plan for the project which didn’t correspond to the power of the country of that moment,” [lead scientist Mikhail] Pavlinsky told Spaceflight Now. “We decided to restart it with a smaller version.”

The Russian and German space agencies signed an agreement in 2009 to jointly develop the Spektr-RG mission, but the project faced additional schedule delays due to technical problems and a decision to switch the observatory from a Zenit launcher to a Proton rocket.

Designers also changed Spektr-RG’s observing location from an orbit around Earth to a looping trajectory around the L2 Lagrange point.

Spektr-RG is the largest Russian astronomy satellite to launch since the Spektr-R radio observatory in 2011. Spektr-R stopped responding to commands from the ground in January after exceeding its planned five-year mission lifetime, and Russian officials declared the mission over in April.

Spektr-RG’s planned mission is set for seven years.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

9 China
8 SpaceX
8 Russia
5 Europe (Arianespace)

The U.S. continues to lead China in the national rankings 14 to 9.

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Arianespace Vega launch fails

The launch of a United Arab Emirates military satellite on an Arianespace Vega rocket failed tonight two minutes after liftoff.

Luce Fabreguettes, Arianespace’s executive vice president of missions, operations and purchasing, said the failure occurred around the time of ignition of the Vega rocket’s solid-fueled Zefiro 23 second stage.

“As you have seen, about two minutes after liftoff, around the Z23 (second stage) ignition, a major anomaly occurred, resulting in the loss of the mission,” Fabreguettes said. “On behalf of Arianespace, I wish to express our deepest apologies to our customers for the loss of their payload.”

Prior to this failure the Vega had flown fourteen times successfully since its inauguration in 2012.

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Virgin Orbit successfully completes rocket drop from 747

Capitalism in space: Virgin Orbit today successfully completed a drop of a dummy rocket from the fuselage of its 747.

Although the rocket was “fully loaded,” as the company put it, its engines never fired—nor were they meant to. Instead, the rocket fell freely to Earth so the company could see how it performed during its first few seconds of freefall. This was the last major test for Virgin Orbit’s air-launch system, which will launch rockets from a gutted jumbo jet, known as Cosmic Girl, to boost small satellites into orbit. It’s a complicated maneuver, but it could significantly reduce the costs of getting to space.

The article says they plan their first orbital test flight in the fall. Whether today’s success and that launch can get the company back on track after OneWeb cancelled the bulk of its contract remains to be seen. If they succeed in launching to orbit this year that will make them the only operational competitor to Rocket Lab in the smallsat market, with a system that might be cheaper.

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White House objects to House language on military space

The White House today released a detailed statement listing its objections to the House language on the upcoming military space authorization bill and threatening a veto if the Senate version is not passed.

Their objection seem to center on two issues. First, while the administration has accepted the idea of a space corp within the Air Force rather than a separate new military branch, they appear prefer the Senate language for this change. This disagreement appears relatively minor in the entire scheme of things.

Second, and more significantly, the White House has objections to the planned launch contract set up the Air Force has been pushing that would have them pick two launch providers now for all their launches through 2024, rather than allow all comers to bid on those launches as they came up.

On the National Security Space Launch program, the administration “strongly objects” to HASC [House Armed Services Committee] Chairman Adam Smith’s Section 1601 language “as it would increase mission risk for the nation’s national security satellites.”

Section 1601 would mandate that the Air Force compete contracts for any launches beyond 29 launches during the period from fiscal year 2020 to fiscal year 2024. This section would also mandate that the Air Force provide up to $500 million to launch companies that either win a Phase 2 contract after fiscal year 2022 or win a Phase 2 contract but are not part of a Launch Service Agreement, in order to meet national security-unique infrastructure and certification requirements for a Phase 2 contract. This section also require a notification of the selection in fiscal year 2020 of the two providers for Phase 2 launches.

The administration opposes these provisions. “After careful and considered study, DoD determined that a contract for national security space launch requirements over the course of five years would optimize warfighter flexibility, minimizes mission risk, and provides exceptional value to the taxpayer,” says the White House statement. “Confining Phase 2 to fewer missions would increase per-launch cost while simultaneously introducing risk and costs for some intelligence payloads. Finally, notifying Congress prior to a contract would be a departure from long-standing tradition and might put DoD at a greater risk of a protest.”

To put this in simple terms, the House language was an attempt to open up the bidding, while also offering $500 million development money to any company who missed out initially. The White House, and the Air Force, wish to restrict the bidding process, and don’t want to pay that extra $500 million.

All of this I think will become irrelevant the first time the Air Force issues a bid offer for a launch contract but restricts bidding to only two launch companies, even if a third or fourth is available and capable of fulfilling the contract. The excluded launch companies will sue for the right to bid, and they will win.

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Beresheet design adopted by Firefly & Israeli private partnership

Capitalism in space: The American smallsat launch company Firefly Aerospace announced today that they will be partnering with a private Israeli company to use the design of Beresheet to build their own lunar lander for NASA.

Firefly Aerospace announced that it is partnering with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) to create a new lunar vehicle based on the crashed spacecraft’s blueprints. Firefly says this lander will build upon “lessons learned” from the accident to ensure that the new lander does not meet the same fate.

…If Firefly does mount a lunar mission, the company’s lander, called Genesis, will leverage much of the Beresheet design as well as the IAI team’s flight experience. “Firefly Aerospace is excited to partner with Israel Aerospace Industries to provide the only NASA CLPS program flight-proven lander design,” Shea Ferring, Firefly’s vice president of mission assurance, said in a statement. The name of the lander is also a nod to Beresheet, which means “Genesis” in Hebrew.

It appears that a group of engineers from the non-profit SpaceIL, that built Beresheet, have teamed up to form their own company. It also appears that they have some rights to the spacecraft’s design, and could take them with them.

Firefly is competing for a NASA contract to land on the Moon. This deal strengthens their bid considerably.

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Private lunar lander company files for bankruptcy

Capitalism in space: Former Google Lunar X-Prize competitor Part Time Scientists has now filed for bankruptcy.

The company, with about 60 employees, has emphasized a number of partnerships with major corporations, such as Audi, Vodafone and Red Bull Media House, a subsidiary of beverage company Red Bull. The company is also teamed with ArianeGroup to study development of a lunar lander mission for ESA.

PTScientists, though, had suffered delays in the development of its lunar lander. The company said last November its lander could launch as soon as late 2019, a date it revised in January to no earlier than the first quarter of 2020. However, at a conference in early June, a company official said that lander mission would now launch no earlier than the second half of 2021 as it continues to work on the lander’s design.

It appears to me that they simply were never able to raise the capital necessary to build their lander, despite these partnership deals.

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Light Sail 2 beams back first images

Capitalism in space: The Planetary Society’s privately funded spacecraft Light Sail 2, launched June 25 on SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, sent back its first images from orbit on July 7.

The images are not very interesting to look at, mostly because their purpose is engineering. Two cameras took pictures of the light sail’s deployment equipment inside the spacecraft to show that it is still in good shape. Another picture showed the Earth, demonstrating that the camera will be able to image the deployment of the solar sail, which might occur as early as today. UPDATE: They have announced that the deployment will not occur prior to July 21.

Once deployed from a cubesat about the size of a loaf of bread, the sail will be about the size of a boxing ring. They will then attempt to use the sunlight bouncing off it to sail in space, changing the sail’s orbit.

The science team also announced the debut of a mission control website, where the public can see live updates whenever the spacecraft sends back new information. As I write this the solar sail is still listed as “stowed,” but that status will change once they attempt the deployment.

For the public this website will be especially useful once the sail deploys, because it will be very bright to observers on the ground. The site shows Light Sail 2’s present position, making it possible for viewers to better anticipate when they will be able to see it fly overhead.

Update: This post has been revised slightly to make it more accurate, as per a comment by reader Rex Ridenoure.

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Amazon releases more details about proposed Kuiper satellite constellation

Capitalism in space: Amazon on July 4 submitted to federal regulators a more detailed description of its proposed 3,000+ Kuiper satellite constellation.

Amazon’s Kuiper System satellites will have a design life seven years — less than half that of a traditional geostationary communications satellite — and will be launched in five waves, according to a July 4 filing with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

The first wave consists of 578 satellites that would provide internet service in two horizontal coverage bands, one between 39 degrees north and 56 degrees north (roughly from Philadelphia north to Moscow) and another from 39 degrees south down to 56 degrees south (roughly from Hastings, New Zealand, to the top of Great Britain’s South Sandwich Islands in the Atlantic Ocean). The subsequent four waves would fill in coverage to the equator.

Amazon didn’t say when those satellites would launch or what launch vehicle they would use to reach orbit. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, also owns launch company Blue Origin, whose New Glenn orbital rocket is slated for a first launch in 2021.

If Amazon intends to use Bezos’ New Glenn rocket, this system cannot launch prior to 2021, at the earliest, and that means it will likely enter the internet competition with SpaceX and OneWeb late. This is not fatal for Amazon, but it will require them to offer something to their customers that will draw them away from the earlier constellations.

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Fire at SpaceX Starhopper facility in Florida

A fire in SpaceX’s Florida facility yesterday, where it is building a Starship prototype, caused between $50,000 to $100,000 damages.

City spokesperson Yvonne Martinez confirmed a small fire broke out at the facility on Cidco Road around noon and that the Cocoa Fire Department was able to quickly extinguish it. She said crews suspected an electrical fault as the source of the fire.

“This afternoon, a small fire occurred at a SpaceX facility in Cocoa,” SpaceX spokesperson James Gleeson told FLORIDA TODAY. “The fire was contained to a sea van on site and extinguished thanks to the Cocoa Fire Department, which responded within minutes.”

“There were no injuries as a result of the fire, and the cause is under investigation,” he said.

Martinez said the fire department estimates about $50,000 to $100,000 in damages were sustained by the shipping container and equipment inside, as well as the adjacent building.

This will be a blow to the Florida SpaceX unit that is competing with the Boca Chica unit on the construction of Starship.

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Branson sells 49% of Virgin Galactic, stock to be publicly listed

Capitalism in space: Richard Branson has sold 49% of Virgin Galactic in a deal that will have the company’s stock publicly listed by the end of 2019.

The firm will list its shares as part of a merger deal with Social Capital Hedosophia, a special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC) created by venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya. Social Capital Hedosophia, formed by Palihapitiya’s Social Capital and venture capital firm Hedosophia in 2017, will invest $800 million for a 49% stake in the combined company. The firm will have an enterprise value of $1.5 billion, Virgin Galactic said.

…Branson’s space venture would be the first publicly-listed human spaceflight firm, with the stock market listing slated to take place in the second half of 2019.

Branson had been in talks with Palihapitiya since he suspended talks over a Saudi investment in his space companies last year. Riyadh had planned to invest a total of $1 billion into Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit, which focuses on small satellites, but the deal fell through over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Branson was the person who said the Saudis backed out because of Khashoggi, but I personally do not believe that story. What I think happened was that, after 15 years of empty promises and no tourist flights, the Saudis suddenly realized that Virgin Galactic was a bad investment, and backed out. Branson now needs cash to keep the company afloat.

I am honestly unfamiliar with the ways of Wall Street. I do not know whether being “publicly listed” means the stock will be available for trade. If so, I expect the stock value to quickly plunge.

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Reused Falcon 9 wins NASA launch contract instead of Pegasus

Captalism in space: NASA has awarded SpaceX a Falcon 9 launch contract using a reused first stage for its next X-ray telescope, the Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE)..

SpaceX will charge NASA just over $50 million, its normal price for a reused Falcon 9 and significantly less than NASA has previously paid for this kind of launch. More important, the telescope had been designed with the expectation that it would be launched using Northrop Grumman’s Pegasus rocket. It appears NASA had instead decided to bypass Pegasus, partly because it probably costs more, and partly because there is some issue with Pegasus that has delayed the launch of NASA’s ICON since 2017.

In fact, that ICON launch is the only contract that Pegasus presently has, and it is charging NASA $56 million for that launch, with NASA also having to bear the additional costs associated with the delays caused by Pegasus. All these issues, plus the loss of the IXPE launch, strongly suggests that Pegasus is in big trouble. It does not appear that, as it is presently being marketed, it is able to garner any business.

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Man who wanted to be the first African in space killed in road accident

A South African man who had won a competition to fly on a suborbital tourist flight has been killed in a motorcycle accident.

Mandla Maseko, 30, was killed on Saturday, a family statement says.

In 2013, the South African Air Force member beat one million entrants to win one of 23 places at a space academy in the US. Nicknamed Afronaut and Spaceboy, Maseko described himself as a typical township boy from Pretoria.

…He had spent a week at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida doing tests in preparation for an hour-long sub-orbital flight, originally scheduled for 2015. Challenges included skydiving to earth from 10,000 feet and a test charmingly known as the “vomit comet”.

But the chance never came to go into space. The company organising the flight, XCOR Aerospace, went bankrupt in 2017, news site Space.com reported.

All around a terrible tragedy.

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Russian Soyuz rocket successfully launches 33 satellites into orbit

In its first Vostochny launch in 2019, Russia today used its Soyuz rocket to successfully launch a variety of weather, engineering, and Earth observation satellites totaling 33 into orbit.

As I write this the satellites are in orbit but have not yet been deployed by the rocket’s Fregat upper stage, a process that will take several hours as it moves them into a variety of orbits.

Many of the smaller satellites on this rockets are commercial cubesats, and are Russia’s effort to regain some of its lost commercial business that had been captured by SpaceX. They are also a sign of the changing launch business. Previously Russia’s commercial flights were all on its larger Proton rocket because the satellites were larger. Now the business is shifting to the smaller and recently more reliable Soyuz, because smaller satellites are beginning to dominate the industry.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

9 China
8 SpaceX
6 Russia
5 Europe (Arianespace)
3 India
3 Rocket Lab

The U.S. continues to lead China 14 to 9 in the national rankings.

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Want to get off gmail? Behind the Black might provide an option

I am exploring the possibility of offering email services through my server for those who want to get off of gmail and google. However, before such a service can be offered, we need to know the amount of interest there might be. The demand will effect the cost, which means I can’t even give you an idea of what we might charge.

Regardless, if you are interested in having “your.name@behindtheblack.com” as your email address, please say so in the comments. There will be no obligations, by you or me or my server, but the response however will help us decide if we can do it.

And if we can do it, and many people sign on, we will then be taking the proper free enterprise approach for combating the corrupt business practices of giants like Google. Our federal government might still act to break Google up, but I think it would be far better if the free market did the job instead.

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Apollo landing tapes for sale

An intern who in 1976 purchased more than a thousand surplus 2-inch videotapes from NASA for $218 is now going to auction off three of those reels that show the Apollo 11 moon walk.

Back in 1976, NASA gave 1,150 reels of 2-inch Quadruplex videotape to a government surplus auction. Gary George, a former intern at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, snapped up the lot of them for $218, in the hopes of selling them to news stations to record over for $50 a pop. He never watched them, but because his dad was a space buff, kept three of the tapes marked as “Apollo 11 EVA” (aka Extravehicular Activity, better known as a spacewalk). When he eventually watched the tapes, he realized that he had one of three surviving copies of one of the greatest feats of human ingenuity, the July 20, 1969 Moon landing. Now, those videotapes will be auctioned off to the highest bidder when Sotheby’s will mark the 50th anniversary of the moon landing by putting the tapes up for sale on July 20th, at a starting bid of $700,000.

“I had no idea there was anything of value on them,” George said in an interview with Reuters. He started to get suspicious in 2006, after NASA admitted they had lost the tapes, and believed they could have been in the 2,614 boxes of Apollo mission tapes that were sent to a storage facility in late 1969. George got in touch with video archivist David Crosthwait in California, who had the necessary equipment to view the vintage tapes. In December 2008, George played the reels and quickly realized what he had been storing over the last few decades. He contacted NASA about the reels but “an agreement could not be reached,” according to the auction listing, and off to the auction block they go as part of an auction dedicated to Space Exploration.

The saddest part of this story are the tapes George sold to television stations to use to back-up their daily broadcasts. Some of those tapes probably contained historical recordings of the Apollo missions. While I suspect these tapes were not NASA’s only copies, I cannot be sure, which means some of the source material for the Apollo missions was likely lost.

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