Today’s blacklisted American: Democrats introduce Senate bill demanding companies censor social media

Democrats: No soapbox free speech allowed
Democrats: No soapbox allowed! Photo: GeorgeLouis

Blacklists are back and the Democrats got ’em! Two Democrats, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) and Ben Ray Lujan (D-New Mexico), yesterday proposed a new law that would force social media companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter to immediately remove any posts on their platforms that includes medical information those Democrats disagree with.

If the companies do not do so, they will be held liable for those posts.

As has become typical of Democrats, they label any information they disagree with as “misinformation.” To make sure their definition is sustained, their bill would have the federal government determine what is correct and not correct. That definition would then be used to justify silencing any other opinions.

Such a law would essentially repeal the First Amendment of the Constitution. Free speech will be banned. Only government-approved speech in connection with health will be allowed. If such a law was upheld by the courts (a very distinct possibility in today’s legal culture), it could quickly be expanded to cover all speech on any subject.

There is some irony in this Democratic Party proposal. » Read more

The future of SLS?

In this long NASASpaceflight.com article describing the building the second core stage for NASA’s SLS rocket (the stage scheduled to take astronauts around the Moon in September 2023) was also additional information about the status of later core stages, still not entirely funded.

The key tidbit of information is this:

Core Stage-3 is the first build under the new “Stages Production and Evolution Contract” that was initiated in 2019; the contract is not yet completely finalized, with the latest estimate for definitization being early in Fiscal Year 2022 (which begins on October 1st, 2021).

Both NASA and Boeing are proceeding under the assumption that this Congress will approve full funding for later SLS rockets after flights one and two. While the signs strongly suggest that funding for at least two more rockets will arrive, that funding still depends largely on the success of the first unmanned SLS test flight, tentatively scheduled for November-December 2021.

It also depends on the political winds, and when Starship starts reaching orbit somewhat regularly (and cheaply). When that happens, all bets are off on the future of SLS. At some point it will become obvious that it can’t compete against that SpaceX rocket, and Congress will shift its funding appropriately.

Sadly, knowing Congress and the corrupt DC culture, this change will likely only happen after a lot of taxpayer money is wasted on a rocket that is simply too expensive and too cumbersome, and thus not practical for making space exploration possible.

House slams military for not reforming contracting for space missions

Government marches on, to nowhere! The House Appropriations Committee has issued a report strongly criticizing the Air Force and the new Space Force for its failure to reform in any way its contract acquisition management, even though that was the prime reason Congress created the Space Force in the first place.

The report dedicates an entire page to detailing the committee’s dissatisfaction with what it sees as foot-dragging on space acquisition reform — which was one of the primary congressional rationales for the creation of the new space service in the first place. Indeed, the [appropriations committee] reiterates: “The Committee believes the Space Force was established to bring greater attention and focus to fixing its acquisition issues because previous attempts to do so did not produce lasting results.”

The [committee’s] concerns include that that Department of the Air Force — which oversees the Space Force much as the Navy oversees the Marine Corp — still has no clear plan for creating a separate management chain for space acquisition. Similar concerns were voiced at a May hearing by both the chair and ranking members of the HAC defense subcommittee, Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., and Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., respectively.

None of this should be a surprise. The reason the Space Force was advocated by some reformers was to get it out from under Air Force control and allow it to decide for itself what it needed. The belief was that this would streamline contracting and project development.

The fear, which I expressed repeatedly, was that the swamp in Washington would instead use this as an opportunity not to streamline operations but to create a whole new bureaucracy. That is standard operating procedure for government bureaucracies. Any time Congress has mandated a new agency designed to reduce bureaucracy it has for more than a century instead led to a larger bureaucracy, with nothing streamlined.

It appears the latter is what is now happening with the Space Force.

NOAA struggles with concept of letting private commercial space build its satellites

Capitalism in space? An article today in Space News, “NOAA to take first step toward a small satellite constellation”, describes at great length NOAA’s recent effort to rethink how it builds its weather satellites, shifting from large and expensive single satellites launched years apart to constellations of smallsats that provide more redundancy and are cheaper and easier to replace.

What the article misses, as does NOAA apparently, is that this shift should not be designed by NOAA at all. During the Trump administration there was pressure on this agency to do what NASA had, stop designing and building its satellites but instead become a customer that hires private satellite companies to do it instead.

Not much came of that pressure. NOAA hired one private company to study the idea of building a private satellite to observe the Sun. It also awarded three companies experimental contracts to provide NOAA weather data from already orbiting smallsats.

That was it. NOAA made no other attempts to encourage private companies to design and build weather satellites for it, even as it struggled to get its own satellites off the ground. The second new GOES satellite in a constellation of four for providing global weather coverage failed almost immediately after launch in 2018. Overall, that constellation is expected to cost $11 billion, $4 billion more than initially budgeted. And it is years behind schedule.

What the article above suggests is that, with the Trump administration gone, NOAA has now abandoned the effort to transition to privately-built weather satellites. Instead the article describes at great length the effort by NOAA to redesign its satellites from big, rare, and costly to small, frequent, and cheap.

This effort will fail. Government agencies like NOAA are incapable of accomplishing such a task. They do not think in terms of profit, and keeping costs down to maximize those profits. Instead, such government institutions see high costs as beneficial, as they pump more money into their operations.

Until elected officials force NOAA to change, it will not, and its weather satellites will continue to be late, expensive, and untrustworthy. Sadly, the elected officials we have today, especially in the Biden administration, are not going to do that. They are as satisfied with the present situation as NOAA is.

Today’s blacklisted American: Christian nonprofit denied tax exempt status by IRS because such teachings are “partisan Republican”

Moses: A Republican Party lobbyist, according to the IRS
Moses: A Republican Party lobbyist, according to the IRS.

Blacklists are back and the IRS has got ’em! The IRS has denied a Christian nonprofit tax exempt status because it has deemed such “Bible teachings are typically affiliated with the [Republican Party]” and are therefore partisan.

From the IRS denial letter:

“Specifically, you educate Christians on what the Bible says in areas where they can be instrumental including the areas of sanctity of life, the definition of marriage, biblical justice, freedom of speech, defense, and borders and immigration, U.S. and Israel relations,” read a letter from IRS Exempt Organizations Director Stephen Martin to Christians Engaged, a nonprofit group seeking tax-exempt status. “The Bible teachings are typically affiliated with the [Republican Party] and candidates. This disqualifies you from exemption under IRC Section 501(c)(3).”

Heh. Well, at least the IRS has now admitted the satanic nature of the Democratic Party. According to this IRS official, only the Republican Party supports such biblical teachings as the ten commandments. The Democratic Party is opposed to this, which makes being Christian or Jewish a partisan political position.

Of course, the IRS itself is very partisan, as the article at the link notes:
» Read more

Today’s blacklisted American: Black Congressman blacklisted by Congressional Black Caucus

Banned for not being black or lefitst enough
Congressman Byron Donalds, banned by the
Democratic Party’s Congressional Black Caucus
for not being the “right kind” of black.

Blacklists are back and the Democrats’ have got ’em! Congressman Byron Donalds (R-Florida) has discovered that simply being black is insufficient to qualify for the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). Apparently he must also be a Democrat and flaming leftist who supports Marxist causes and the racist agenda of Critical Race Theory.

From the first link:

“Since starting in Congress, our office and the Congressman have engaged with several CBC members expressing his interest in joining, but all we’ve gotten is the cold shoulder,” Donalds’ Communications Director, Harrison Fields, told the Daily Caller. The CBC is denying Donalds entrance, individuals familiar with the caucus’s plans reportedly told Buzzfeed News.

From the second link, this statement from the CBC gives their vague explanation why Donalds has been blackballed:
» Read more

“The Endless SLS Test Firings Act”

The Senate passes a law! In the NASA authorization that was just approved by the Senate and awaits House action was an amendment — inserted by Senator Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) — that will essentially require NASA to build an SLS core stage designed for only one purpose, endless testing at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

The Stennis-specific provision says NASA should “initiate development of a main propulsion test article for the integrated core stage propulsion elements of the Space Launch System, consistent with cost and schedule constraints, particularly for long-lead propulsion hardware needed for flight.”

So what exactly is a “main propulsion test article,” and why does NASA need one? According to a Senate staffer, who spoke to Ars on background, this would essentially be an SLS core stage built not to fly but to undergo numerous tests at Stennis.

My headline above is essentially stolen from the Eric Berger article at the link. Because this ground test core is not funded, at best it would likely not be ready for testing prior to ’27 or ’28, at the earliest. By then who knows if SLS will even exist any longer, replaced by low-cost and far more useful commercial rockets. Thus, if this Wicker amendment survives, Stennis might be testing a core stage endlessly for a rocket that no longer exists.

And even if SLS is flying, what point is there to test a core stage that never flies? None, except if you wish to create fake jobs in Mississippi for your constituents, as Wicker obviously is trying to do.

Fortunately the bill is merely an authorization, and has not yet passed the House. Much could change before passage, and even after passage money will need to be appropriated to create this fake testing project.

Unfortunately, we are discussing our modern Congress, which has no brains, can’t count, and thinks money grows on trees. I would not bet against this fake testing program becoming law.

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.

Today’s blacklisted Americans: Biden administration working to blackball fossil fuel companies from obtaining financial services

Disagree with John Kerry? No more bank services for you!
Disagree with John Kerry?
No more bank services for you!

They’re coming for you next: The Biden administration, under the leadership of its “climate envoy” John Kerry, is apparently working behind the scenes to force banks to blackball fossil fuel companies from obtaining financial services.

Not surprisingly, the initial news stories from the mainstream press in mid-March describing this effort were written to hide the Biden administration’s goals. For example, Politico described a number of meetings arranged by Kerry and the Biden administration both with climate activist groups as well as financial institutes aimed at making those financial institutions “put your money behind your climate PR,” but the article only hinted at what the goals were.

Kerry has pitched banks on creating a U.S. net-zero banking alliance following the climate commitments from six major Wall Street banks, according to two people familiar with the discussions. Citi, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs all set 2050 net-zero goals and JPMorgan Chase has said its lending would be aligned with the Paris agreement although Kerry and his team are pushing for more specific financial commitments as part of this effort.

Kerry also wants clear near-term actions from banks by 2030, which would align with the Biden administration’s timeline for the new emissions target it intends to submit as part of the Paris Climate Agreement process. [emphasis mine]

Doesn’t meeting “net-zero” goals for climate change sound wonderful? But what does it mean?
» Read more

Viasat asks FCC to block further launches of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites

Capitalism in space? The geosynchronous communications satellite company Viasat has demanded the FCC freeze any further launches of SpaceX’s quickly growing constellation of Starlink satellites.

The company claims a recent modification of SpaceX’s FCC license should not have been granted without a new environmental review of the 4,000+ satellite constellation’s impact.

Viasat is asking the FCC to hit pause on further launches until federal courts can review the legality of the license modification.

Carlsbad, California-based Viasat, which provides broadband services from geostationary orbit (GEO), had petitioned the FCC to conduct an environmental review before granting the license modification as part of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which currently categorically exempts satellite systems, but says this did not happen despite megaconstellations bringing new considerations for regulators.

Some astronomers had also requested an environmental assessment, worried about how the constellation’s reflectivity affects ground-based telescope observations.

What is really happening here is that Viasat, having discovered its market share is seriously threatened by a competitor, is trying to use the government to squelch that competition. Viasat doesn’t really give a twit about the environmental issues. It is launching its own new three-satellite geosynchronous constellation next year to provide broadband services globally, and Starlink’s success threatens to cut into its profits.

The article also reveals one interesting tidbit about former NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine. During his short three-year tenure heading NASA he aggressively moved to encourage provide competition and private enterprise by transferring the design, construction, and ownership of rockets and spaceships from NASA to the commercial sector.

Now that he is out of the government however he — like most Washington swamp creatures — has discovered his true calling: using his influence to squelch private competition:

In April, former NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine joined Viasat’s board of directors. Bridenstine told SpaceNews in an interview at the time that the threat of megaconstellations to space safety, and the overall space access environment, were among issues on his radar.

Like a ventriloquist’s dummy, Bridenstine upon leaving NASA immediately began mouthing the manufactured concerns of his new patrons at Viasat. To hell with allowing real competition and freedom. It is much more important to manipulate the power of the government to prevent Viasat’s competitors from succeeding. And earn a nice big salary at the same time.

Bernie Sanders throws a wrench into Senate bill forcing NASA to award two lunar lander contracts

Capitalism in space? Senator Bernie Sanders (Socialist/Democrat-Vermont) has submitted a new amendment to the new NASA authorization bill, now being debated in the Senate, that eliminates the earlier changes added by senator Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) that required NASA to award a contract to a second company for building its manned lunar lander.

This earlier amendment, submitted by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), modified NASA’s Artemis Program. Cantwell’s amendment, in part, called for $10.03 billion in additional funding for NASA to carry out the Human Landing System program. This legislation was filed as Blue Origin and Jeff Bezos were urging Congress to add $10 billion to NASA’s budget—enough money to fully fund the development of a second Human Landing System. It was passed 11 days ago without any debate by the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

Sanders’ terse amendment seeks to excise the Cantwell language that provides additional funding for a Human Landing System.

While Sanders’ amendment probably makes more sense based on the money that Congress has actually appropriated for this task, he didn’t do it for that reason. More likely he did it as a petty attack on Jeff Bezos, whose company Blue Origin was likely expected to win that second contract.

Nothing is settled yet of course. The bill still has to pass the Senate and also be approved by the House, then signed by the president. Much will change before then.

Regardless, isn’t nice how NASA’s modern space effort is so well designed by our senators and congressmen? What would we do without them?

Senate revises NASA authorization to protect lunar lander award to SpaceX’s Starship

Even as the full Senate today begins its review of NASA’s newest authorization, the bill has been modified to grandfather in the contract award that NASA gave to SpaceX to build its manned lunar lander using Starship.

An earlier version of the bill had included language inserted by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) demanding NASA award within 30 days a contract for a second lunar lander. The modified bill extends that timeline to 60 days, but also specifically protects SpaceX’s contract award:

The Administrator shall not, in order to comply with the obligations referred to in paragraph (1), modify, terminate or rescind any selection decisions or awards made under the human landing system program that were announced prior to the date of enactment of this division.

The revised bill still puts NASA in a ridiculous position. Combined with Cantwell’s amendment, the agency will now be forced to name a second lunar lander contract within sixty days. Though it recommends doubling the money for this program ($10 billion over five years instead of ten), it does not actually appropriate it. Moreover, that new budget recommendation is still about one half of what NASA had originally requested in order to fund the construction of two lunar landers.

Not surprisingly, the entire bill [pdf] has become a pork-laden collection of spending put together without any concern for the needs for the nation. Instead, ithe 1,445-page long bill “is the proverbial ‘Christmas tree’ with a Table of Contents that alone is 15 pages” that different senators keep adding items to, making it a hodge-podge of incoherence.

The bill itself however still has to be approved by both the Senate and the House. While this should act as a corrective to make it more sane, don’t expect that. Instead, the more likely result will be that the two houses of Congress will combine together their own personal earmarks into one humongous bill.

Senate committee mandates NASA award 2nd lunar lander contract

More crap from Congress: A Senate committee has approved a new NASA authorization that requires the agency to award a second lunar lander contract — in addition to the one given to SpaceX — even though that authorization gives NASA no additional money to pay for that second contract.

This provision was inserted by senator Maria Cantwell (D-Washington). Washington state also happens to be the state where one of the rejected companies, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, is located. I wonder how much cash Bezos’ has deposited in Cantwell’s bank account.

This provision not only does not give NASA any cash to build two lunar landers, what NASA dubs the Human Landing System (HLS), it forces NASA to violate other laws.
» Read more

Bill Nelson: now an advocate of private commercial space?

Though this is certainly not a firm rule, I rarely pay much attention to the nomination hearings in the Senate that take place whenever a new administration from another party takes over and nominates a new set of Washington apparatchiks to run various government agencies. Almost always, you can glean most of what you need to know by reading the nominee’s opening statement as well as later news reports. Saves a lot of time.

Last week came the nomination hearing of former senator Bill Nelson as NASA’s new administrator. As I had expected, based on all reports the hearing was a lovefest, with almost all questions friendly and enthusiastic. This is generally what happens when a Democrat gets nominated, as the Democrats have no reason to oppose the nominee and the Republicans generally don’t play “we oppose all Democrats, no matter what.” It also always happens when the nominee is a former member of that exclusive senatorial club, as Bill Nelson was.

The first news reports also mentioned that Nelson seemed surprisingly enthusiastic towards commercial space, given his past hostility towards it. This report by Mark Whittington today at The Hill provides a much deeper look, and notes that, as his report’s headline states, Nelson is now “a born-again” believer in the idea of capitalism in space, with NASA now merely being the customer. This is a major change from his position when he was a senator, when he tried repeatedly to strangle commercial space and give its money to SLS.

Nelson also announced that he was totally committed to continuing the Artemis program and timetable as laid out by the Trump administration:
» Read more

Today’s blacklisted American: Democrat wants IRS to shut down conservative organization

The future show trials desired by Democratic Party Senator Sheldon Whitehouse
Show trials are what Sheldon Whitehouse and the Democrats really want

Blacklists are back and the Dems’ have got ’em: Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) has demanded that the IRS strip the conservative college organization Turning Point USA of its non-profit status because it had held large events in the last year (similar to many Black Lives Matter protests during the same time period).

According to Whitehouse, the Turning Point USA events were “superspreader” events and a threat to public health. Apparently he also believes that the coronavirus can’t appear at comparable Black Lives Matter protests, nor does he appear interested in finding out if any such superspreader events actually occurred following the Turning Point USA gatherings (they did not). From Whitehouse’s letter:
» Read more

NASA’s choice of Starship proves government now fully embraces capitalism in space

Five years ago, before Donald Trump had even announced he was running for president, before Elon Musk had proposed his Starship/Superheavy rocket, and even before SpaceX had successfully begun to dominate the launch market, Jerry Hendricks at the Center for for New American Security (CNAS) asked me to write a policy paper on the state of the American launch industry, providing some background and more importantly, some recommendations that policy makers in Washington, dependent on that launch industry, could use as guidance in the coming years.

CNAS is a Washington, D.C., think tank that was founded in the middle-2000s by two political Washington insiders, one a Democrat and the other a Republican, with a focus on foreign policy and defense issues and the central goal of encouraging bi-partisan discussion. Hendricks’ area of focus was defense and aerospace matters, and at the time he thought the changes being wrought by SpaceX’s with its partly reusable Falcon 9 rocket required in-depth analysis. He had heard my many reports on this subject on the John Batchelor Show, and thought I could provide him that analysis.

The result was my 2017 policy paper, Capitalism in Space: Private Enterprise and Competition Reshape the Global Aerospace Launch Industry. In it I reviewed and compared what NASA had been getting from its parallel rocket programs, the government-designed and owned Space Launch System (SLS) rocket versus the privately-designed commercial rockets of SpaceX and Orbital ATK (now part of Northrop Grumman). That review produced this very simple but starkly revealing table:

SLS vs Commercial space

From this data, combined with my extensive knowledge as a historian of American history and culture, resulted in the following fundamental recommendations:
» Read more

SpaceX wins competition to build Artemis manned lunar lander, using Starship

Starship prototype #8 on first flight test
Starship prototype #8 on its first flight test,
December 2020

Capitalism in space: NASA has just announced that it has chosen SpaceX to build the Artemis manned lunar lander, using Starship.

The award, a $2.9 billion fixed price contract, also requires SpaceX to complete an unmanned demo lunar landing with Starship that also returns to Earth, before it lands NASA astronauts on the Moon. The contract also still retains the goal to get this to happen by 2024, though NASA official emphasized that they will only launch when ready.

After these flights the agency says it will open bidding again to the entire industry, which means that others are now being challenged to come up with something that can beat SpaceX in the future.

Nonetheless, the contract award was a surprise, as NASA originally intended to pick two teams to provide redundancy and encourage competition. Instead, the agency completely bypassed lunar landers proposed by Dynetics and a team led by Blue Origin that included Lockheed Martin and Draper.

Even more significantly, though NASA explained in the telecon that they still plan to use SLS and Orion to bring astronauts to Gateway, who will then be picked up by Starship for the landing, this decision is a major rejection of the Space Launch System (SLS), since Starship will not use it to get to the Moon, while the other two landers required it.

In fact, this decision practically makes SLS unnecessary in the Artemis program, as NASA has also awarded SpaceX the contract for supplying cargo to the Lunar Gateway station as well as launching its first two modules, using Dragon capsules and Falcon Heavy. SLS is still slated to launch Orion to Gateway, but Starship can replace Orion as well, since Starship is being designed to carry people from Earth to the Moon. This makes SLS and Orion essentially unneeded, easily abandoned once Starship starts flying.

NASA’s decision also means the Biden administration is willing to use its clout to push for Starship over SLS in Congress, which has favored SLS for years because of the pork it brings to their states and congressional districts. They apparently think that Congress is now ready to risk the end of SLS if it comes with a new program that actually accomplishes something. These developments firmly confirm my sense from February that the political winds are bending away from SLS.

This decision is also a major blow to Blue Origin and the older big space companies that Jeff Bezos’ company partnered with. Their dependence on the very costly and cumbersome SLS rocket meant that their ability to launch on a schedule and cost desired by NASA was severely limited. NASA looked at the numbers, and decided the time was right to go with a more radical system. As was noted by one NASA official during the press teleconference, “NASA is now more open to innovation.”

Based on the details announced during the announcement, NASA was especially drawn to Starship’s payload capability to bring a large payload to the Moon, at the same time it brings humans there as well. It also appears SpaceX’s recent track record of success also added weight to their bid.

Today’s blacklisted American: A congresswoman because she speaks her mind

The cancelled Bill of Rights

They’re coming for you next: Since her election in November 2020 Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia) has repeatedly irritated many people for her strong and very outright conservative opinions on everything from election fraud to religion to Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

As a result she has become the target by many on the left, resulting in her Twitter account being suspended more than once. In one case it was because she had said posted a tweet celebrating Easter and glorifying the resurrection of Jesus. In another case it as because she called for the supporters of Trump to rally against election fraud and the possibility that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. In both cases her account was reinstated by Twitter within twelve hours, with the social media platform claiming the first suspension was a mistake while the second was not (having violated Twitter’s partisan rules that forbid anyone from suggesting that there might have been election tampering that led to Biden’s victory).

These Twitter attacks are ugly and illustrate that platform’s anti-Republican and leftist agenda, but it is still a private company. More important have been the efforts to muzzle Greene in Congress, led by the Democrats.
» Read more

FAA says it will “lead” investigation into Starship #11 crash yesterday

They’re coming for you next: The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced today that it will “oversee” the investigation into the crash at landing yesterday by SpaceX’s eleventh Starship prototype.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which had an inspector at SpaceX’s facilities to observe the test flight, said in a statement that the FAA will oversee the company’s investigation into the “prototype mishap.” The FAA has conducted similar mishap investigations after previous Starship test flights. “The [Starship] vehicle experienced an anomaly during the landing phase of the flight resulting in loss of the vehicle,” an FAA spokesperson said. “The FAA will approve the final mishap investigation report and any corrective actions SpaceX must take before return to flight is authorized.”

The FAA noted that it will also work with SpaceX to identify reports of light debris in the area, saying that there have yet to be any reported injuries or damaged to public property.

What will really go on here is that an FAA official will observe closely as SpaceX conducts the investigation. That official might have some background in space engineering, but he or she will be completely unprepared to actually lead the investigation. Thus in the end the FAA will really only be able to rubber stamp SpaceX’s conclusions, though it might as all governments do, demand its own pound of flesh before issuing that stamp.

Up to now the FAA has tried very hard to work with the new commercial space companies, especially SpaceX, doing as little as it can to impede their progress. There are strong signs however that this might now change with the Democrats in control of the White House and Congress. If so, expect the FAA to cause SpaceX some grief during this investigation, grief that could significantly delay further test flights.

NASA in contact with China to get the orbital data of its Tianwen-1 Mars Orbiter

Though by law NASA and the scientists cannot exchange data or communications with China due to security concerns, NASA and Chinese officials did exchange communications recently in order to coordinate the orbits of their orbiters presently circling Mars.

Jurczyk noted that NASA’s knowledge of China’s space program is largely limited to publicly available information because of restrictions placed by federal law on its interactions with Chinese organizations. Those restrictions do allow NASA to engage with China if approved by Congress. “Most recently, we had an exchange with them on them providing their orbital data, their ephemeris data, for their Tianwen-1 Mars orbiting mission, so we could do conjunction analysis around Mars with the orbiters,” he said.

In a brief statement to SpaceNews late March 29, NASA confirmed it exchanged information with the China National Space Administration (CNSA), as well as other space agencies that operate spacecraft at Mars. “To assure the safety of our respective missions, NASA is coordinating with the UAE, European Space Agency, Indian Space Research Organisation and the China National Space Administration, all of which have spacecraft in orbit around Mars, to exchange information on our respective Mars missions to ensure the safety of our respective spacecraft,” the agency said. “This limited exchange of information is consistent with customary good practices used to ensure effective communication among satellite operators and spacecraft safety in orbit.”

Such limited communications are actually permitted under the law that Congress passed, as long as they do not involve any exchange of technical information. There has been a push, however, in the planetary community for years to increase direct communications with China, allowing the transfer of all kinds of information, both scientific and technical. Until the law gets changed none of this should happen.

Of course, what matters laws these days? I will not be surprised if the Biden administration, rather than demanding a change in the law, instead begins expanded communications between NASA and China, in complete and utter contempt for the law, with no one objecting.

Congress taking aim at SpaceX and Starship testing

They’re coming for you next: The Democratic Party leaders on the House committee that normally does not overseer the FAA’s commercial space office have now raised their concerns about the recent test flights of SpaceX’s new rocket, Starship, in particular demanding an investigation into the flight of prototype #8, which the FAA claims had occurred despite one FAA issue.

The latest version of SpaceX’s FAA launch license for the Starship suborbital test flight program, issued March 12, allows those test flights to take place “only when an FAA Safety Inspector is present at SpaceX’s Boca Chica launch and landing site.”

The change stemmed from an investigation into SpaceX’s violation of that launch license during the SN8 test flight in December. SpaceX proceeded with the flight despite the FAA determining that the flight profile exceeded the maximum allowed risk to the uninvolved public for “far field blast overpressure” in the event of an explosion. While the SN8 vehicle exploded upon landing, there were no reports of damage outside of the SpaceX test site.

FAA directed SpaceX to investigate the incident, delaying the flight of the next Starship prototype, SN9. That investigation included “a comprehensive review of the company’s safety culture, operational decision-making and process discipline,” the FAA said in a Feb. 2 statement.

The FAA cleared SpaceX to proceed with launches, with SN9 and SN10 launching and landing — and both exploding upon or shortly after landing — on Feb. 2 and March 3, respectively. Neither caused any damage outside of the SpaceX test site.

The FAA’s response to SpaceX’s launch license violation, including the lack of any penalties beyond the investigation, prompted criticism from two key members of Congress. In a March 25 letter to FAA Administrator Steve Dickson, Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) sought to “register our concerns” with the incident. DeFazio is chair of the House Transportation Committee and Larsen the chair of its aviation subcommittee.

Much of these claims about the flight of prototype #8 however only appeared to become a significant concern after the Biden administration and the Democrats took power in January. Prior to that the FAA did not seem very troubled by that flight. In fact, the so called risk, “far field blast overpressure,” seems very contrived, especially since we have now had four Starship crashes on its landing pad, with no evident damage to even SpaceX’s own equipment nearby. Prior to January 20th the FAA was untroubled. After January 20th it suddenly became a deadly issue requiring stricter supervision by the government, though what that FAA inspector on sight can do or even know about the launch is baffling.

What these Democrats really don’t like is that someone is freely accomplishing something without their supervision or control. Like mobsters looking to exhort money, they are essentially telling SpaceX, “Nice business you got here. Sure would be a shame if something happened to it.”

With today’s fourth Starship crash, expect the Demorats in Congress now to swarm like flies over manure, all aimed at shutting down the most innovative new American space company in decades.

Today’s blacklisted Americans: Democrats go after Parler and its investors

Our modern Congress, as controlled by the Democratic Party
What the modern Congressional show trials will resemble,
as demanded by the Democratic Party

In February Democratic Party congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-New York) and her fellow Democrats demanded the social media platform Parler provide Congress a detailed list of all its investors and creditors, while also demanding the FBI investigate the company.

The Democratic Party demands were based on an outright falsehood, that Parler was part of a conspiracy to overthrow the government during the protests at the Capitol on January 6th.

In her letter, the congresswoman goes on to claim that Parler “allowed Russian disinformation to flourish on its platform prior to the November 2020 election, facilitating Russia’s campaign to sow chaos in the American electorate.”

“Individuals with ties to the January 6 assault should not — and must not — be allowed to hide behind the veil of anonymity provided by shell companies,” continued Maloney in her letter.

The problem with this fantasy is that the evidence shows that the public social media planning for the January 6th protest was done on all the platforms, not just Parler, with the bulk taking place on the more established older forums like Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit.

Moreover, Parler this week responded to Maloney by pointing out that it had teamed up with the FBI — prior to January 6th — in order to track any posts that might suggest violence or illegal activity.
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Biden nominates former senator Bill Nelson for NASA administrator

The Biden administration today announced that it has nominated former Democratic senator Bill Nelson for Florida to be the next NASA administrator.

Nelson was a big proponent of SLS. He also was a big opponent of commercial space for many years, changing his mind only during the last few years in the Senate.

He is also old, 78. Though that age by itself does not guarantee failing mental abilities, the last time I saw Nelson live was during 2017 hearings instigated by senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) related to the Outer Space Treaty. During those hearings he struck me as confused, unaware of the most recent developments in commercial space, and repeatedly struggling to express himself on the simplest topics.

In this sense he will make a great bookend with Joe Biden. In both cases the weak-minded elected official does not run things. Instead, it is the unelected Washington bureaucracy in charge.

How this will impact the growing and successful commercial space market at this moment remains unclear. Within NASA there are two camps, one favoring private enterprise and the other wanting to control it so that NASA decides everything. For the last half of the 20th century through the first decade of the 21st the latter was in charge. In the past decade the former has gained ascendancy.

As a longtime supporter of the latter group, Nelson’s appointment therefore could shift that battle in a way that aborts America’s new private space effort.

Biden fires Boeing on SLS; gives job to Acme

In an interesting announcement today, the Biden administration fired Boeing as the prime contractor for SLS and gave the job to a well-known southwest company dubbed Acme.

Anticipating critical comment, White House spokesmen pointed out that Acme had a long history of use of solid-fuel rockets for crewed applications, “without loss of human life or serious injury” despite some less-than-fatal mishaps.

…The spokesperson also added, “It should be noted that Acme’s products have never killed anybody. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for Boeing.”

Before you comment, make sure you read the article at the link closely, and also click on the two links in the article to get some detailed background on Acme, from some original sources.

Military admits F-35 is impossible to use, expensive, and an utter failure

Another typical federal project: The military has now admitted that Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jet, a decades-long project to replace the F-16, is an utter failure and must be replaced.

The list of basic problems with the jet are truly appalling.

In spite of its advanced technology and cutting-edge capabilities, the latest stealth fighter suffers from structural flaws and slew of challenges.

Most recent among them is a structural engine flaw and shortage in its production. The F-35’s engine problem is partly based in not being able to deliver them for maintenance as fast as needed, in addition to a problem with the heat coating on its rotor blades which shortens engine lifespan considerably. Defense News described it as a “serious readiness problem”, suggesting that as soon as 2022, nearly 5 to 6 per ent of the F-35 fleet could be effectively grounded as it waits for engine replacements.

Another challenge is the plane’s software. Most modern fighter jets have between 1 to 2 million lines of code in their software. The F-35 averages 8 million lines of code in its software, and it’s suffering from a bug problem. To fix this, the US Department of Defense is asking three American universities to help figure it out.

The fighter jet also suffers from a slightly embarrassing touchscreen problem. After making the switch from hard flipped switches to touch screens, pilots report that unlike a physical switch that you’re confident has been activated, touch screens in the plane don’t work 20 percent of the time says one F-35 pilot.

The worst part of this story is that this kind of incompetence has been par for the course for big federal projects like this for decades. Our government in Washington is corrupt and unqualified to even be dog catcher, but we voters don’t seem to have the courage to fire them. We certainly don’t fire the politicians who appear quite willing to encourage this corruption.

Another detailed essay demanding SLS be cancelled

Link here.

The analysis is detailed, thoughtful, thorough, and technical. It is worthwhile to read every word, slowly, carefully, and with an open-mind. The lead:

The SLS axiomatically cannot provide good value to the US taxpayer. In that regard it has already failed, regardless of whether it eventually manages to limp to orbit with a Falcon Heavy payload or two.

The question here is whether it is allowed to inflict humiliation and tragedy on the US public, who so richly deserve an actual legitimate launch program run by and for actual technical experts.

The best time to cancel SLS was 15 years ago. The second best time is now.

While this essay is brilliant, its real significance is that it is another data point in the growing sense I have that the Washington community is preparing itself for cancelling SLS at last. Such an essay would not have been written or paid attention to five years ago. I know. I wrote my own and got no traction.

Today attention is getting paid. More importantly, we are seeing a range of people and news organizations advocating similar anti-SLS positions, positions that would have been thought politically impossible only a few short years ago.

The clock is ticking on SLS. If any of its planned upcoming tests or flights fail, it will face a firestorm of hostility. And even if they succeed, its days appear numbered.

Rumors: Biden considering former Senator Bill Nelson for NASA administrator

According to leaks to the press yesterday, the Biden administration is considering hiring former Florida senator Bill Nelson to become NASA’s administrator.

That the DC rumor mill is abuzz with this story suggests that the White House is putting out a trial balloon to see the reaction to such a choice. At first glance Nelson appears a good pick. Before he was defeated in his last election by Republican Rick Scott (R-Florida), he had been one of Congress’s biggest advocates for space exploration and NASA. He had even flown as an astronaut on the shuttle back in 1986, just weeks before Challenger broke up during launch.

However, there are several issues that would make this a very poor choice. First, Nelson’s advocacy for NASA was centered on funding big space, not private enterprise. Nelson was one of those legislators who mandated the construction of SLS, and resisted for years NASA’s new commercial space effort.

Second, Nelson’s last years in Congress revealed that he had lost touch with some of the basic concepts of freedom and property rights that founded the United States. For example, he was one of a group of bi-partisan senators that in 2018 proposed a law that would have denied Americans their second, fifth, sixth, and seventh amendment rights by proactively forbidding them the right to buy firearms merely because a Washington bureaucrat decided to put them on a no-fly list. The law was a mindless emotional response to a terrible school shooting that killed a lot of children, and its proposal illustrated that its sponsors were no longer thinking, but emoting blindly.

That Nelson joined in and was willing to give the government so much power does not make him the best choice to lead NASA as it tries to become just another customer being served by an independent robust and free market of space companies.

Finally, and maybe most important, Nelson is 78 years old. In his last years in office he showed his age. I watched him struggle as both a speaker and legislator during hearings in 2017. His enthusiasm for space was unchecked, but his sharpness was gone.

If chosen to run NASA he will make a good bookend for his president, who has also shown clear signs of failing mental health. Under such weak leadership, it will be the bureaucracy that will rule, and the track record of NASA’s bureaucracy has not been good. It resisted for decades ceding power to the private sector, wanting instead to maintain control over all rocket and spacecraft development, including what those rockets and spacecraft would do. Only in the past decade has that power been wrested from its grasp.

Given power again I expect it to use that power to return to its old ways and squelch the emerging free and competitive aerospace market. This will not be good for either the exploration of space, or for America itself.

Today’s blacklisted Americans: All Republicans who questioned the November election count

The dead Bill of Rights
The now cancelled Bill of Rights.

They’re coming for you next: The list of Americans whom the left and Democratic Party wish to blacklist just keeps getting longer. Now, in league with its chief slander organization, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), any Republican politician who wanted an investigation into the numerous and often very credible allegations of fraud and vote tampering in the November presidential election has been slated for cancelling and the destruction of their lives.

The SPLC, which has routinely slandered ordinary conservatives and organizations by falsely labeling them as a racists and hate groups merely because they believe in certain entirely mainstream positions, such as being against abortions and in favor of family rights, is now demanding the removal and deplatforming of more than half the Republicans in Congress, because they questioned that election.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has an answer, and it amounts to blacklisting more than half of the Republicans in Congress — if not expelling them altogether. For good measure, the SPLC also calls for the permanent social media “deplatforming” of every “public figure” who questioned the 2020 election results.

The SPLC’s annual “Year in Hate and Extremism” report presented this cancel culture overdrive as the solution to “far-right and racist narratives.” While the SPLC has long branded mainstream conservative and Christian organizations “hate groups,” listing them alongside the Ku Klux Klan, and urging Big Tech to blacklist them, this latest cancel culture demand seems extreme, even for the SPLC.

To quote the report itself:
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ESA contracts Airbus to build three more Orion service modules

The European Space Agency (ESA) late last week announced that it has awarded Airbus a contract to build three more service modules for NASA’s Orion capsule.

This new contract supplements the existing contract that already has Airbus building three service modules. With six service modules in the pipeline, the ESA is signaling that it is very confident the Artemis program will continue.

The key question remains: Will it continue with SLS as the rocket of choice? Right now there simply aren’t the funds to build six SLS rockets. Congress has only funded two. Moreover, the pace of construction for SLS means that, if funded, it will likely take a decade at least for it to launch these six capsule/service modules. Since SpaceX’s Starship/Super Heavy will likely be operational in about half that time, and will also be capable of much more for far less, I suspect that if these additional Orion capsules get launched, they will do so on something other than SLS.

Today’s blacklisted American: Democrats working to fire civil servant

They’re coming for you next: Congressional Democrats and the Biden administration have been on a campaign to fire a recently hired civil servant because he had previously been a Republican political appointee.

Michael Ellis, who last served as the former senior director for intelligence on the National Security Council during the Trump administration, was put on administrative leave from his new position as the general counsel at the National Security Agency, just hours after President Joe Biden was inaugurated.

Ellis — a Navy Reserve intelligence officer, Yale Law School graduate, and Jeopardy! winner — had first applied for the position in January 2020, and went through an extensive months-long vetting process conducted by a panel of non-partisan civil servants, according to the two former officials. Ellis was ultimately selected for the position in mid-November by Paul Ney, the Pentagon’s general counsel whose first job at the department came during the George W. Bush administration as the Navy’s principal deputy general counsel. He started his position on Tuesday, January 19.

However, recent news reports revealed that a day later, on Inauguration Day, NSA Director Army Gen. Paul Nakasone placed Ellis on administrative leave, pending the outcome of an inquiry by the Department of Defense inspector general into the circumstances of his hiring.

It is no secret that Democrat lawmakers for months opposed Ellis going from an appointed position in the Trump administration to a non-partisan civil service position in the government — a practice commonly referred to as “burrowing in.”

The Democrats might have a complaint about Ellis’ civil servant hiring if this “burrowing in” strategy was a new one, but in fact, far more Democratic Party political appointees have used it over the years to become civil servants — who are difficult to remove — than Republicans, and as far as I know, the Republican Party has almost never moved to get them fired when it took power.

No, what the Democrats are doing here is part of their on-going purge from government of any Republicans, as I have already shown by previous posts in this daily stream of blacklisted Americans. The bureaucracy in Washington is almost completely controlled by their supporters. Can’t have anyone there who might dissent from the Democratic Party’s agenda. They must all be removed, now!

Moreover, if this effort at a purge was unique, applied only to this one Republican, it might be more understandable in the dog-eat-dog world of politics. The Democrats might have justifiable reasons for opposing strongly this one person.

In this new age of Democratic Party blacklists and censorship, however, this kind of blacklisting effort is instead par for the course. The Democrats are trying to destroy all Republicans wherever they can, not because of any policy differences but merely because they are Republicans. This story is just one of many.

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