Tag Archives: Congress

A review of the Trump administrations’s SLS/Orion reprogramming options

Link here. This is a nice summary of the technical and political options being considered for the first unmanned Orion test flight, presently scheduled for June 2020, including replacing SLS with commercial launch rockets.

The article also noted that NASA is also looking at simplifying that test flight, because both SLS and Orion are behind schedule and this would make using a commercial rocket easier.

The currently baselined EM-1 [the test] mission would launch an uncrewed Orion spacecraft on a trans-lunar injection (TLI) trajectory; once released from the launch vehicle, it will fly solo for the first time. The Orion would then make two large engine burns to insert itself into a Distant Retrograde Orbit (DRO) around the Moon. Depending on the time of year, Orion would stay in the DRO for a half or one and a half orbits before making two more large engine burns to return to Earth. Preliminary analysis indicates a June, 2020, launch of the full-up mission would fall into the “long-class” category, with Orion staying in a DRO with a twelve-day long period for one and a half laps and flying a five-week long flight.

Prior to Administrator Bridenstine’s announcement of the alternate launch study for EM-1, notes passed to [this website] indicated that NASA Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD) Associate Administrator Bill Gerstenmaier had sent out a memo in early March indicating that studies to look at ways to keep the EM-1 launch in 2020 could not compromise any of the mission objectives; besides that, everything else was on the table.

The highest priority objective of the EM-1 mission is a lunar-velocity reentry test of the redesigned Orion heatshield, along with a full end-to-end test of the re-entry sequence and an in-space demonstration of Orion systems, many of which are flying for the first time.

Although Bridenstine’s public comments stressed flying EM-1 as a lunar orbit mission, there has been speculation that launching Orion out to near lunar distance without attempting either a lunar orbit or a lunar flyby could meet the highest priority objectives. Dropping the lunar orbit requirement or lunar flyby options would also relax launch opportunity constraints created by flying to the Moon and could perhaps reduce launch vehicle performance requirements enough to drop the [Earth orbit rendezvous] proposal and [docking] development work. [emphasis mine]

To use commercial rockets and still go into lunar orbit would require at least two commercial launches to get the required material up to orbit. It would also require developing Orion’s docking software now, something NASA had not planned to do until prior to Orion’s third flight several years hence. Avoiding lunar orbit means they can use a single Falcon Heavy launch and avoid these issues.

The highlighted phrase above indicates the most important priority of the test flight. This does not require lunar orbit. In fact, the Apollo mission tested its heat shield without leaving Earth orbit, and Orion can do the same.

It is still bothersome to read how haphazard NASA’s SLS/Orion program remains. They aren’t doing enough testing, their future flights are always in flux for political, schedule, and budgetary reasons, and they always seem to be in too much of a hurry to fly humans on very unproven vehicles. If NASA’s corrupt safety panel applied the same standards to SLS/Orion as it does to SpaceX and Boeing, the whole program would be shut down. It does not, because safety isn’t really its purpose. That panel’s goal is to serve NASA’s bureaucracy, and to protect its biggest projects (SLS/Orion) from any competition.

As for replacing SLS for that first Orion test flight, we shall see. The political forces opposing such a move are vast, and wield a lot of power.

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The Washington Empire strikes back!

In response to the revelation earlier this week by NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine that the agency is considering replacing SLS with commercial rockets for Orion’s first unmanned lunar test mission in June 2020, the swamp in Washington quickly rallied to SLS’s defense.

Not surprisingly, porkmeister Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) led the charge:

“While I agree that the delay in the SLS launch schedule is unacceptable, I firmly believe that SLS should launch the Orion,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said in a statement to SpaceNews.

This was followed by statements from industry groups and other lawmakers, all supporting SLS. Next came Bridenstine himself, who emphasized his strong support of SLS at a conference yesterday, then issued a memo to NASA employees reiterating that support.

As far as I can tell, the only way SLS will eventually die is when private companies begin doing things that SLS is designed for, for less money and faster, and for profit. And that won’t happen if this Washington swamp has its say. Rather than see an American success, these cronies have made it clear in the past decade that they will work to squelch any such success if poses any threat to their boondoggles. And it appears now that they are moving to block Bridenstine’s suggestion for that first Orion flight.

Whether this new big government campaign against private enterprise succeeds however is not clear.
» Read more

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Trump’s budget will not “destroy” or “gut” science

Our terrible press does it again. Yesterday the Trump administration released its proposed 2020 federal budget [pdf], and as usual the pro-government propagandists in the media got to work to lobby against it.

This proposed budget will do none of these things.

These articles all fail to apply even the slightest and tiniest bit of context to their analysis. The budget numbers proposed by the Trump administration might reduce the budgets of some science agencies from what they had gotten the year before, but overall the proposed budgets remain gigantic, far more than received by these same agencies only a few years before.

You don’t believe me? Let me open your eyes.
» Read more

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Canada commits to NASA’s Lunar Gateway boondoggle

Canada’s leftwing government has agreed to be NASA’s first official international partner in the agency’s Lunar Gateway project, designed to go nowhere and cost billions.

Canada has become the first nation to formally commit to NASA’s lunar Gateway project with a financial contribution to cover a 24-year period and the development of a new generation robotic Canadarm.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the announcement Wednesday that Canada would be partnering with NASA and spending 2 billion Canadian dollars ($1.4 billion) over 24 years on the Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway program, a human-tended facility in orbit around the moon, as well as other space programs. The announcement included funding of 150 million Canadian dollars over five years for a new Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program to help small and medium-sized businesses develop new technologies to be used and tested in lunar orbit and on the moon’s surface in fields that include artificial intelligence, robotics and health.

Canada will develop and contribute a smart robotic system – Canadarm3 – that will repair and maintain the Gateway, Trudeau announced.

I wonder if this Canadian program will survive a new rightwing administration. Such boondoggles often don’t, or get reshaped into something completely different.

Of course, this question assumes a truly rightwing government might someday retake power in Canada.

We are now entering a new cold war. This time the battle lines are not between the capitalist west and a communist Soviet bloc, but between the socialist big governments across the globe and the capitalist free citizenry struggling to survive independently under the thumb of those increasingly oppressive governments.

We can see this clearly in space. While big government space agencies in the U.S., Europe, Russia, and Canada are teaming up to get coerced government funding for Gateway (even as they work to simultaneously squelch any competing space exploration visions), private companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, and the new smallsat companies strive to launch their own private endeavors, using profits and any available investment capital they can convince others to freely provide them.

The big government space programs will spend a lot of money taken involuntarily, wield power to maintain their dominance, and likely accomplish relatively little for all that power and money. The small private efforts, if allowed to do what they want to do, will spend comparatively little capital (voluntarily committed to them), work very efficiently, and likely get a lot more done. The key is whether the former will allow the latter the freedom to operate.

Sadly, the track records of powerful government throughout the history of the world leaves me very pessimistic about this coming cold war. Those governments will quite likely use its growing unchecked power to squelch any competition, especially competition that makes them look foolish.

We have already seen this happen somewhat at NASA with its commercial crew program. Unless the public starts voting for politicians that favor them over the government — something that public simply hasn’t done for more than a century — I can only see this government dominance grow and worsen.

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NASA schedules Orion/SLS launch abort test

My heart be still! NASA has now scheduled June 12 for its second Orion/SLS launch abort test.

Called Ascent Abort-2, the upcoming uncrewed test will launch from a pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and last less than 3 minutes. Once Orion reaches an altitude of 31,000 feet (9,448 meters) about 55 seconds after liftoff, the tower-mounted abort rocket motor will rip the Orion space capsule from its booster to simulate a launch emergency escape.

The article also notes that this second abort test follows the last, which took place in May 2010, nine years previously. I want that amount of time to sink in. NASA allowed nine years to pass between its first and second Orion abort tests. Nine years. We fought and won World War II in about a third of that amount of time. The Civil War took about half that time. In fact, it took SpaceX less time to conceive, design, and launch the Falcon Heavy.

Any project that takes this long to accomplish anything is a fraud. It indicates that the goal of SLS/Orion is not to build and fly a manned capsule, but to suck money from the taxpayer for as long as possible.

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Trump signs directive outlining Space Force proposal

President Trump yesterday signed a directive that roughly outlines the creation of a Space Force office operating within the Air Force.

This directive lays out the groundwork that Congress and Air Force official must still work out in detail. The essence however is that this new office will initially be small, will takeover all military space operations, and will be a separate division within the Air Force, for now.

[The directive] does not kill the idea of a separate department but defers it to a later time, after the Space Force has a chance to mature as a service. “What we don’t want to do is do it all at once,” the senior administration official said. If the White House had pressed for a separate department, he said, “we would spend a lot of time dealing with bureaucracy and structure and not focusing on warfighting. We decided to leverage the capabilities and the expertise that is already resident in the Air Force.”

An Air Force spokesman said that if the draft legislative proposal is enacted, “it will be our responsibility to deter and defeat threats in space through the U.S. Space Force, which will organize, train, and equip military space forces.”

But while the Air Force has owned the space mission and has the technical expertise, it still faces enormous political and logistical challenges organizing a new branch that has to be independent and will have to be staffed with members from other services who must be qualified for space-related work.

“Personnel issues are critical,” the senior administration official said. “People in the space business tend to be very highly trained and specialized.” Key personnel issues are being addressed in the legislative proposal, which will suggest a process to transfer service members from other branches to the Space Force. “We’ll focus on the headquarters functions to begin with,” he said. So the Space Force initially would be a few dozen people and then would grow over time. [emphasis mine]

The reason they are emphasizing the small size initially is that they got a lot of opposition to the idea of creating a new and large bureaucracy, something the Air Force and Trump initially pushed. Whether its stays small once Congress joins in the negotiations remains doubtful, however, consider that at least one politician is already lobbying to have a new Space Force headquarters established in Florida.

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A good summary of the FBI coup attempt against Trump

Link here. After more than two years of “Trump colluded with Russia!”, it is now been clearly documented that there was never anything to this, and that it was instead a ploy by the Democratic Party, the FBI, and the hostile Democratic mainstream press to overturn the legal election of an American president.

This article provides a concise and clear summary of the FBI’s illegal and criminal participation in this coup attempt, now admitted to by fired FBI official Andrew McCabe. It lists and details the following seven takeaways:

  • 1. McCabe Proves Trump Firing Comey Was Justified
  • 2. McCabe and His Co-conspirators Only Ever Had The Dossier to Go On
  • 3. Much Of This Seems Like A Cover-up
  • 4. The Conspirators Might Be Turning On Each Other
  • 5. McCabe Might Be Telling The Truth About Rosenstein
  • 6. The Whole Russia Probe Is Tainted And Corrupt
  • 7. Comey, McCabe, Clapper, And Brennan Are Unpatriotic Dopes

For emphasis, I want to quote this description of McCabe’s actions, from the start of the article:

Here we have a formerly powerful and unelected government official, for all the world to see, admitting that the FBI tried to launch a coup against the constitutionally elected president of the United States, in only the first few months of his tenure.

McCabe however was not alone. He was part of a cadre of upper FBI management that teamed up to try to overturn an election, many of whom are still in office. We shall see if the new attorney general, William Barr, is willing to clean house. If he isn’t, this kind of misbehavior will only get worse.

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SpaceX protests NASA launch contract to ULA

Turf war! SpaceX has filed a protest against a NASA launch contract award to ULA for almost $150 million for the Lucy asteroid mission in 2023.

In a statement, SpaceX, the California company founded by Elon Musk, said it was the first time it had challenged a NASA contract.

“SpaceX offered a solution with extraordinarily high confidence of mission success at a price dramatically lower than the award amount,” the company said in a statement to The Washington Post. “So we believe the decision to pay vastly more to Boeing and Lockheed for the same mission was therefore not in the best interest of the agency or the American taxpayers.”

This protest might explain the politics of two other stories recently:

In the first case two California politicians are using their clout to pressure the Air Force for the benefit of SpaceX. In the second the Air Force inspector general office is using its clout to pressure the Air Force to hurt SpaceX.

All these stories illustrate the corrupt crony capitalism that now permeates any work our federal government does. In order to get government business, you have to wield political power, which means you need to kowtow to politicians and bureaucrats. Very ugly, and very poisonous.

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Military inspector general to review SpaceX’s launch certification

The swamp attacks! The inspector general for the Defense Department has begun a review of the process the Air Force used to certify SpaceX as a qualified military launch provider.

“Our objective is to determine whether the U.S. Air Force complied with the Launch Services New Entrant Certification Guide when certifying the launch system design for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle-class SpaceX Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles,” the inspector general said in a memo to Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson sent on Monday.

The only reason I can see for this investigation is that the launch companies that have development contracts with the military — ULA, Northrop Grumman, and Blue Origin — are applying pressure to get SpaceX eliminated as a competitor. And since there are many in the government aerospace bureaucracy who are in bed with these companies and are also hostile to SpaceX, that pressure has succeeded in getting this investigation started.

SpaceX meanwhile has successfully launched one military payload, and has two more military launches scheduled for 2019. Its prices are so low that these other companies cannot presently compete, not without political help. Worse, it appears these other companies, and the Air Force, do not appear interested in reducing the cost of their next generation rockets to become more competitive. Instead, they apparently have decided to turn the screws on SpaceX and get it eliminated as a competitor.

Meanwhile, SpaceX might be doing its own political push back, behind the scenes. At least, why else did two California lawmakers recently demand a review of the Air Force’s rocket development contracts to all of SpaceX’s competitors, but not SpaceX?

All of this has absolutely nothing to do with picking the best and cheapest launch companies to save the taxpayer money. Instead, the entire way our government operates today is completely uninterested in the needs of the nation. The focus of lawmakers and government officials is to play political games in an effort to take out their opponents. And in this battle the country be damned.

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Border wall to divide SpaceX’s Texas spaceport?

According to this article, the proposed location of the border wall in Boca Chica will bisect SpaceX’s spaceport facility there, and Democrats are working a deal to prevent this.

This article is part of the full court press being put on by the Democrats, with blatant media help, to block the wall, in any way possible, as I noted previously. I have very serious doubts the wall will cut across SpaceX’s property in any way that is significant, but if it is threatening to do so, the solution would not be to not build a wall there (which is what the Democrats want), but to work out an arrangement where the wall is built on the edge of their property and thus does them no harm.

If no wall is built here, the property then becomes a target for illegals, and thus will create even worst problems for SpaceX.

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Trump administration moves forward with reorganization of space bureaucracy

The Trump administration is moving ahead with its planned reorganization of the military’s entire space bureaucracy under the rubric of the Space Force.

The Pentagon is moving forward with plans to create a Space Force as a new military branch. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said the Space Force will be small in size and its advantage will come in the form of cutting-edge technology.

Shanahan also has concluded that the existing DoD bureaucracies are not equipped to deliver next-generation space technologies quickly enough. He has directed the establishment of a Space Development Agency that would report directly to Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin. Many details are still being worked out about the SDA, but Shanahan said in a memo that he wants it set up by March 29.

Because much of the modern press does such a bad job, working from a general ignorance, I must repeat again that the goal here is not to make a space army, with laser guns and uniforms, but to centralize the various military space departments, scattered across several divisions, into one office that has some clout because it reports directly to the White House. Right now these scattered offices report to different military agencies with different and competing agendas. The result has been a poorly coordinated space policy that has been expensive and also unable to accomplish much in recent years.

Whether this reorganization will streamline things as it is intended remains an open question. The bureaucratic culture in Washington is certainly never interested in streamlining. The usual result of such efforts is a larger bureaucracy that spends even more. We shall see.

This action is also related to another story today: Lawmakers: Air Force launch procurement strategy undermines SpaceX

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) are calling for an independent review of the Air Force’s space launch procurement strategy. They contend that the Air Force, in an effort to broaden the launch playing field, is putting SpaceX at a competitive disadvantage.

In a Feb. 4 letter addressed to Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, Feinstein and Calvert — both with strong ties to the space industry — argue that the path the Air Force has chosen to select future launch providers creates an unfair playing field. Although SpaceX is not mentioned in the letter by name, it is clear from the lawmakers’ language that they believe the company is getting a raw deal because, unlike its major competitors, it did not receive Air Force funding to modify its commercial rockets so they meet national security mission requirements.

This second story actually illustrates the bureaucratic concerns that the Trump administration is trying to address in the first story. It appears to the elected officials that the military’s award of this contract was not necessarily in the best interests of the military, but instead was designed to help some companies at the expense of others.

The $2.3 billion in funding went to ULA, Blue Origin, and Northrop Grumman to develop their next generation rockets. Why SpaceX, considered a favorite, did not receive any funding remains unclear, though SpaceX officials have indicated that in the past they have refused government development money (for building Falcon Heavy) because of the requirements attached. It could be that SpaceX did the same here, but it is also possible that the military bureaucracy played favorites.

It is this question that the elected officials want clarified.

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First SLS launch faces more delays

No surprise here: The scheduled June 2020 first unmanned launch of NASA’s Space System Launch (SLS), already delayed by three years, appears threatened by more delays.

[NASA needs to perform]a similar structural test of the liquid oxygen fuel tank before what is known as a “green run” test. For this exercise, NASA will assemble the two large tanks and then integrate them with the rocket’s four main RS-25 engines. Then, at a test stand in southern Mississippi, the rocket will fire its engines through a standard launch of the rocket.

NASA has yet to formally set a date for this “green run” test, but whenever it does occur will be a key indicator for when we will see the first actual launch of the SLS rocket. If the green run test is conducted late in 2019, there would still be a chance for a 2020 launch. However, the agency and its prime contractor for the core stage, Boeing, are on a tight timeline that has little margin for technical problems that might occur during the structural tests of the tank or the green run tests. Historically, during this integration and test process with other large rocket programs, major problems have often occurred.

It is not clear how deeply the shutdown affected the SLS timeline, even though core stage work did proceed. “The shutdown impacted at least day for day,” one source said of the schedule. “But I am sure it was more than that.”

NASA originally planned to launch the SLS rocket on its maiden flight in November 2017, so the rocket will now be at least three years later than originally anticipated. The program’s budget is more than $2 billion a year, so these delays have cost the agency considerably.

The article also outlines the problems NASA is having developing the rocket’s upper stage.

I predict that the June 2020 launch will slip, maybe as much as six months, into 2021. This means the first manned flight will also be delayed into 2024, at the earliest.

That means it will have taken NASA more than twenty years and more than $60 billion to build and fly a single manned mission. Moreover, the cost and difficulty of operating SLS will make it impossible to get the second manned flight off the ground any earlier than three to four years later, at the earliest.

There is no chance the U.S. will put new footprints on the Moon if it continues to rely on this boondoggle. Worse, a continued reliance on SLS will force the government, for political reasons, to use its power to squelch competing private efforts, something we are seeing with the endless delays NASA has imposed on the commercial crew program.

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Federal workers will get a bonus on top of salary for shutdown

The coming dark age: Because their pay will arrive late, federal workers deemed essential and required to work during the government shutdown should expect to get a significant bonus.

Hundreds of thousands of federal employees could collect late-pay penalties of at least $1,160 each — on top of anticipated back pay — after missing a second paycheck Friday due to the ongoing partial government shutdown.

The supplemental pay is being sought under a Great Depression-era law that authorizes damages for workers who are not paid on time, with potential government liability nearing $500 million as workers end a second pay cycle without a check.

A law firm representing workers suing under the Fair Labor Standards Act began a lawsuit sign-up drive Thursday on 2018governmentshutdown.com. FLSA lawsuits require opt-in, and many workers missed an opportunity to join a successful FLSA lawsuit following the 2013 federal shutdown, which resulted in four days of extra pay in addition to back pay.

It’s all a racket to fleece the taxpayer. This shutdown is and continues to be a joke designed to shovel tax dollars into the hands of government workers. Those that don’t work will still be paid, according to a bill passed by the Democratic-controlled House, the Republican-controlled Senate, and signed by so-called swamp-killer President Trump. Now we find that those that do work will not only get their salary but will receive bonuses costing the taxpayer millions.

Don’t complain however. We get the government we deserve, and based on recent elections, we don’t deserve much. The voters should have fired practically everyone in office in the past two decades, based on their repeated and continuing failure to do their job, while accumulating a debt that cannot be paid off for generations. Instead, the voters send them back, again and again and again. The turnover in Congress is pitiful in the past half century, so much so that these power-hungry crooks have found themselves well cemented to their cushy positions and able to use those positions to screw the country and the taxpayers.

The future of our country looks very bad. And it is even worsened in that no one is paying attention, being too busy fighting childish twitter wars over nothing.

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Democratic House threatens Webb cancellation

The House, now controlled by the Democratic Party, has threatened cancellation of the James Webb Space Telescope should that project, already overbudget by $8 billion and 9 years behind schedule, fail to meet its present budget limits.

[The House budget] bill includes the full $304.6 million requested for JWST in 2019, but the report accompanying the bill offered harsh language, and a warning, regarding the space telescope given the cost overruns and schedule delays announced last year.

“There is profound disappointment with both NASA and its contractors regarding mismanagement, complete lack of careful oversight, and overall poor basic workmanship on JWST,” the report states. “NASA and its commercial partners seem to believe that congressional funding for this project and other development efforts is an entitlement, unaffected by failures to stay on schedule or within budget.”

The bill does increase the cost cap for JWST by about $800 million, to a little more than $8.8 billion, to address the latest overruns. “NASA should strictly adhere to this cap or, under this agreement, JWST will have to find cost savings or cancel the mission,” the report states.

I really don’t take this Congressional threat seriously. Our Congress is universally known in Washington as an easy mark for big money. The technique is called a buy-in, where you initially lowball the budget of your project, get it started, and then when it goes overbudget, Congress routinely shovels out the money to continue. Webb is a classic and maybe the worst example of this, but this game has been going on since the 1960s, with no sense that the Congresses of the last half century have had any problem with it.

And I especially don’t take it seriously from the Democrats who, even more than the Republicans, like to shovel money out.

The bankrupt unwillingness of both parties to care for the interest of the country for the past few decades in this matter explains why we have federal debt exceeding $20 trillion.

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Bill to pay federal workers will not pay those not working

UPDATE: Thanks to my readers (see comments below), it appears that the essence of this story is wrong, and that the bill did provide for payment of salaries, even to those who did not work during the shutdown, essentially giving these federal employees a free paid vacation. What makes it even more galling is that federal workers generally are paid about twice what employees in the private sector get, and also get far better benefits, including vacation and sick time that is far far far longer. Now they get a cherry on top of that.

Some fiscal sanity enters Washington: The bill passed and signed this week by President Trump to pay federal workers will only provide pay to those who actually worked during the government shutdown.

While this might seem cruel to these workers, it is no different that the reality experienced by everyone in the private sector, and it is very fair to the taxpayers.

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Astronomers begin their 2020 decadal survey

The astronomy community has begun work on their 2020 decadal survey, the report they issue at the start of every decade since the early 1960s outlining their space priorities for the upcoming ten years.

While the first four decadal surveys were very successful, leading to the surge in space telescopes in the 1990s, the last two surveys in 2000 and 2010 have been failures, with the former proposing the James Webb Space Telescope and the latter the Wide Field Infared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), both of which have not launched, are behind schedule, and significantly over-budget.

The new survey appears focused on addressing this.

The 2020 decadal survey will develop detailed cost estimates for each project, as well as guidance for what managers can do if money gets tight. “We have to look at the budget reality while also doing things that are visionary,” says Fiona Harrison, an astronomer at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and co-chair of the effort.

Unfortunately, it is also going to focus on leftist identity politics.

Responding to problems of racism and harassment in science, the survey will also assess the state of astronomy as a profession and make recommendations for how it can improve. “We’re going to go there,” says the other co-chair, Robert Kennicutt, an astronomer at the University of Arizona in Tucson and Texas A&M University in College Station.

I do not have high hopes for this decadal survey, or for space science in the 2020s. The space astronomy community chose badly in the past twenty years, and it is likely going to take another decade for it to recover. For example, WFIRST appears to be going forward, and it also appears that it will be the same financial black hole that Webb was, eating up the entire space astrophysics budget at NASA for years.

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Congress and Trump give free paid vacation to federal workers during shutdown

The swamp wins: President Trump yesterday signed a Democratic Party bill guaranteeing the pay for all furloughed federal employees for the time they are either furloughed from work or working now without pay.

The signing of the Government Employee Fair Treatment Act of 2019, sponsored by Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., requires that all government employees be compensated for “wages lost, work performed, or leave used” during the shutdown, the Whitehouse announced in a news release.

Obviously, it seems just to pay for their time those who have been forced to work without pay. Why those who have not been needed are getting paid however seems very unjust, to the taxpayer. It would seem to me that they should not be paid for work they did not do. More apropos would be to consider removing them from the payroll permanently, as it appears based on this shutdown that most are likely unneeded to begin with.

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

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

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

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

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

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Corrupt Washington moves to permanently fund itself

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

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

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

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

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

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FBI union says FBI operations hurt by shutdown

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

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

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

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Watching New Horizons’ flyby of Ultima Thule

NASA has announced that the partial government shutdown will no longer prevent full coverage by the agency of the New Horizons’ fly-by of Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule just past midnight on January 1, 2019.

This entire shutdown is pure theater, and a joke. If the government was truly out of money, it would be impossible for NASA to suddenly obtain funds to finance a New Horizons’ fly-by broadcast. The problem is that legally the government should be out of money, as Congress has the power of the purse and has not approved funding. Unfortunately, we no longer obey the law, and so our government can now do whatever it wants, free from all legal constraints.

Meanwhile the article at the link provides some good information on watching the fly-by:

Though people can now continue to enjoy the coverage through NASA’s New Horizons twitter account and NASA TV, APL will continue providing coverage in their own YouTube channel, as well as with Stern’s personal twitter account and New Horizon’s account.

The twitter feeds will mostly be junk. I would focus on the streaming links.

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Obamacare struck down by judge

A federal judge in Texas on Friday ruled that the entire Obamacare law is no longer valid based on changes passed by the Republican Congress in the past two years.

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor in Fort Worth sided with the argument put forward by a coalition of Republican-leaning states, led by Texas, that Obamacare could no longer stand now that there’s no penalty for Americans who don’t buy insurance.

The U.S. Supreme Court had upheld the law in 2012, by classifying the legislation as a tax. But since Congress removed the individual mandate in 2017, O’Connor ruled, there’s no way the ACA can be allowed to stand.

“The Individual Mandate can no longer be fairly read as an exercise of Congress’s Tax Power and is still impermissible under the Interstate Commerce Clause — meaning the Individual Mandate is unconstitutional,” O’Connor wrote. “The Individual Mandate is essential to and inseverable from the remainder of the ACA.”

Without the system being upheld by a wide pool of mandated participants, the ACA cannot stand, O’Connor ruled.

All of this has been unconstitutional from day one, but what does that matter in the banana republic we now live in, where childish twitter mobs rule, unelected bureaucrats have more legal power than presidents, and elected officials can pick and choose the laws they obey?

Trump, returning to his liberal roots, immediately called for a new law to protect “pre-existing conditions.” To quote his tweet: “Now Congress must pass a STRONG law that provides GREAT healthcare and protects pre-existing conditions. Mitch and Nancy, get it done!”

Forcing insurance companies to accept anyone, regardless of their health, makes insurance impossible. Why would anyone buy insurance when they are healthy under Trump’s system? Instead, everyone will wait until they are diagnosed with an illness, and buy the insurance then. Lacking a pool of healthy customers, insurance companies will go bankrupt.

The silver lining here is that Congress is divided, and might find it impossible to make a deal. At the same time, I would not be surprised if both parties teamed up to give voters this fake present, continuing our slide to bankruptcy.

In the meantime, expect the reappearance of low-cost catastrophic insurance plans, the kind of plans that Obama called “junk” and banned with Obamacare, but provide lower-class people without a fancy health plan an affordable way to insure themselves against a ruinous illness or accident.

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Date set for first unmanned launch of manned Dragon

Capitalism in space: NASA announced today that SpaceX has set January 7, 2019 as the launch date for its first unmanned test flight of its manned Dragon capsule.

SpaceX is targeting Jan. 7 for launch of its first Crew Dragon commercial ferry ship on an unpiloted test flight to the International Space Station, NASA announced Wednesday, a major milestone in the agency’s drive to end its sole reliance on Russian Soyuz crew ships for carrying astronauts to orbit.

If the shakedown flight goes smoothly — and if a NASA safety probe unveiled Tuesday doesn’t turn up any show stoppers — SpaceX could be ready to launch the first piloted Crew Dragon atop a Falcon 9 rocket in the June timeframe, carrying veteran NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley to the space station. [emphasis mine]

As I said during a taping today for my appearance on WCCO radio tomorrow at 11:10 am (Central), the only thing standing in the way of SpaceX getting its manned capsule off the ground is NASA. June is a long time from now, and the agency, egged on by corrupt politicians, could easily find ways to delay that first manned launch in that time. Nor would I put it past the corrupt Washington in-crowd, led by Senator Richard Shelby (R- Alabama), having no interest in the national interest, to do what they can to sabotage that flight. What they care about is diverting tax dollars to either their own pockets or to the pockets of their allies (which also helps bring them pay-offs campaign contributions as well).

Still, it is encouraging that SpaceX is pushing forward, and that there appear to be strong elements in NASA supporting them. Keep your fingers crossed.

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New cost figures for Space Force

A budget analysis by a Washington think tank has proposed a new range of cost figures for a Defense Department unit devoted to space operations.

Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis and senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, unveiled a highly anticipated report on Monday, detailing cost estimates for standing up a Space Force as a separate military branch. Harrison made headlines in September when he criticized Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson’s estimate — $13 billion over five years to establish a new service and a space command — as overinflated.

Harrison estimated it would cost the Pentagon an additional $1.5 billion to $2.7 billion over five years to stand up a new service, based on the assumption that more than 96 percent of the cost would be covered from existing budget accounts within DoD. Harrison’s numbers, however, are hard to compare directly with the Air Force secretary’s because they do not include costly items that Wilson put into her proposal, such as a Space Command and additional programs and people she argued would be needed to fight rising space rivals China and Russia.

Harrison laid out cost numbers for three options — a Space Corps, a Space Force Lite and a Space Force Heavy. The total annual budget of the new service would range from $11.3 billion to $21.5 billion under the three options. None includes the National Reconnaissance Office whose size and budget are classified.

These options are a much more realistic analysis of the costs for a military reorganization of its space operations. For example, most of the money for these options is already being spent, with the cheapest option including $11 billion of its $11.3 billion cost figure from present allocations.

I however now ask: Why are we spending $11 billion for offices in the Pentagon, with staffing exceeding 27,000? From what I can gather, these budget numbers do not appear to include the cost for any actual military satellite launches. It seems to me this should be doable with far fewer people, especially if the Pentagon is hiring private companies to build the satellites themselves.

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NASA suggests retirement of SLS when BFR and New Glenn fly

Capitalism in space: During an interview at a November 1st conference, a NASA official mentioned that if SpaceX’s Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) and Blue Origin’s New Glenn begin flying successfully the agency will seriously consider retiring SLS.

“I think our view is that if those commercial capabilities come online, we will eventually retire the government system, and just move to a buying launch capacity on those [rockets],” Stephen Jurczyk, NASA’s associate administrator, told Business Insider at The Economist Space Summit on November 1.

However, NASA may soon find itself in a strange position, since the two private launch systems may beat SLS back to the moon – and one might be the first to send people to Mars.

I have been saying that this should happen since almost the first day this website was started in 2011. To quote from a September 14, 2011 post:

To be really blunt, this new rocket, like all its predecessors, will never fly either. It costs too much, will take too long to build, and will certainly be canceled by a future administration before it is finished. It is therefore a complete waste of money, and any Congress that approves it will demonstrate how utterly insincere they are about controlling spending.

It appears that I was wrong with this prediction on one count. SLS might actually fly a few times, but only to allow its supporters in Congress and NASA to justify that support. When the private rockets come on line in the early 2020s, cheaper, faster, and better designed (with re-usability), NASA and Congress will then finally say that these rockets are better and that SLS will die, and they will also both make believe they were saying that from the very beginning.

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Defense offers much lower $5 billion Space Force cost

The deputy defense secretary yesterday said that the cost for creating a Space Force should be around $5 billion, not $13 billion as proposed by the Air Force.

The cost to create President Trump’s Space Force could be lower than $5 billion and certainly will be in the single-digit billions, Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said at a briefing Thursday, pushing back against Air Force estimates that put the price tag at $13 billion or more.

Shanahan, the lead Pentagon official working on the Space Force, expressed confidence the project would come to fruition — even though Democrats taking over the House have opposed it and the White House has broadly ordered the Pentagon to cut costs.

It appears that he is proposing that the military avoid the creation of a full-fledged new branch of the military and simply reorganize its space bureaucracy into a single office. This would not require Congressional approval, and is also what the military has been considering for the last few years.

Five billion however for an office still seems an ungodly amount of money to me. But then, this is how corrupt Washington functions.

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Airbus to deliver the first Orion service module to NASA this week

My heart be still! Airbus will deliver this week the first Orion service module to NASA.

Airbus will deliver the first European Service Module (ESM) for NASA’s Orion spacecraft from its aerospace site in Bremen, Germany on 5 November 2018. An Antonov cargo aircraft will fly the ESM to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, USA. This is the result of four years of development and construction, and represents the achievement of a key milestone in the project. ESA selected Airbus as the prime contractor for the development and manufacturing of the first ESM in November 2014.

Four years to simply build a single manned capsule’s service module. At this pace we might be able to colonize Mars and the Moon in about 200 years, maybe!

Note however that NASA only has funding to build 1.5 of these European service modules. It is possible that Congress has allocated additional funds, but if so, I missed it.

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Trump moves forward on Space Force; commercial space reorganization

In a speech by Mike Pence yesterday the Trump administration outlined its continuing plans to moves forward with a new military branch focused on space as well as a reorganization of the bureaucracies that regulate commercial space into a single Commerce Department agency.

Pence said the National Space Council and National Security Council will review space operational authorities “to ensure that our warfighters have the freedom and flexibility they need to deter and defeat any threat to our security in the rapidly evolving battlefield of space.” A lack of centralized leadership and accountability threatened U.S. ability to “advance our national security in space,” Pence said. “The time has come to stop studying the problem and start fixing it.”

The Trump administration in August announced an ambitious plan to usher in a new “Space Force” as the sixth branch of the military by 2020. Such a change, which the Defense Department has estimated would cost $13 billion in the first five years, must first be approved by Congress. Pence said at an earlier Washington Post forum that China and Russia have established similar space forces. “This is what our competitors are already doing. And the president is determined to make sure that America leads in space, as well, from a military standpoint,” he said.

…The proposed bill would also create the Bureau of Space Commerce under the U.S. Department of Commerce to liaise with industry representatives and organizations, according to a copy provided to Reuters. It also calls for $10 million per year for five years starting in 2020 to fund the commerce arm.

I am traveling up to Phoenix as I write this to be a talking head on a Science channel television show, so I haven’t yet reviewed carefully this proposal. Based on the quote above, the cost for the Space Force is absurd. This is an office, not a military force. At $13 billion it looks more like gold-plated pork.

Meanwhile, the proposed Commerce agency makes sense only if it truly replaces other bureaucracies. I am not yet sure that will happen.

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Democratic doxxer threatened to also release the health data of the children of Republicans

They’re coming for you next: The Democratic congressional aide who has been arrested for releasing private information of at least three Republican elected officials also threatened to release the health information and social security numbers of their children if anyone turned him in.

Jackson Cosko, who recently worked for Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, was arrested for allegedly posting the personal information (or “doxxing”) of a number of senators including Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah on Wikipedia — with information such as their home addresses and phone numbers. Graham, Lee and Hatch’s information was published on Thursday.

According to a sworn statement by Capitol Police Captain Jason Bell, a witness Tuesday saw Cosko at a computer in a senator’s office, where he used to work, a day after two other unnamed senators’ information had been put on Wikipedia. Cosko worked for other Democratic senators including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., and former Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. While earlier reports identified Cosko as an intern for Jackson Lee, his lawyer said that he was working as a fellow in her office, paid by an outside institution.

Sources familiar with the case tell Fox News Cosko was in Sen. Hassan’s office, where he was caught using a login he was not authorized to use. Cosko earlier was let go by Senator Hassan’s office. A spokesman for Hassan says she “strongly denounces the alleged actions.”

According to Bell’s statement, Cosko is alleged to have been confronted by the staffer and then walked out. Hours later the witness received an email from “livefreeorpwn@gmail.com” saying: “If you tell anyone I will leak it all. Emails signal conversations gmails. Senators children’s health information and socials.”

While his actions have been disavowed by the Democratic lawmakers for whom he worked, his actions reveal once again the fascist and hateful culture that presently permeates the entire left. They are willing to do you real harm, and if that doesn’t make you shut up and stop opposing them, they will go after your children.

Don’t believe me? You still think this is only a rare exception? Then read this letter from the wife of Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky):

Paul wrote Wednesday that she and her family had “experienced violence and threats of violence at a horrifying level” over the past 18 months. “I now keep a loaded gun by my bed,” she said. “Our security systems have had to be expanded. I have never felt this way in my life.”

For decades the Democrats have allowed this kind of behavior to go unpunished. It is now getting out of their control. Bad things are coming. If you don’t tow the leftist line, get ready. Be prepared. You will need to defend not only yourself, but all your loved ones.

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Bill increases funding to FAA space office, adds other provisions

A bill about to be approved by Congress increases funding to the FAA Office of Commercial Transportation while also requiring that office to create several new regulatory positions.

The bill authorizes a significant increase in spending for the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, or AST, from the $22.6 million it received in fiscal year 2018 to a little more than $33 million in 2019, growing to nearly $76 million in 2023. Appropriators, though, have not matched that authorized increase for 2019, with House and Senate versions of spending bills funding the FAA offering just under $25 million for AST.

The reauthorization bill includes several policy provisions associated with commercial spaceflight as well. One would require the FAA to designate an official within its air traffic organization to serve as the single point of contact for working with the head of AST on airspace issues associated with commercial launch activity.

Another provision establishes an “Office of Spaceports” within AST intended to support commercial licensing of launch sites and develop policies to promote infrastructure improvements at such facilities. It also requires AST to develop a report within one year of the bill’s enactment on spaceport policies, including recommendations on government actions to “support, encourage, promote, and facilitate greater investments in infrastructure at spaceports.” It directs the Government Accountability Office to prepare a separate report on ways to provide federal support for spaceports.

The bill creates a category of commercial spaceflight vehicles known as “space support vehicles” that cover parts of launch vehicles systems flying for other purposes, such as training or testing. Such vehicles would include the aircraft used by air-launch systems. The bill allows commercial flights of space support vehicles without the need for a full-fledged airworthiness certificate from the FAA.

It is hard to say if these provisions will help or hurt the growth of commercial space. It does appear that Congress’s goal was to help, but their methods always include more spending and greater bureaucracy.

The article also reviews a number of bills not yet agreed to by Congress that would address the regulation of Earth observation satellites as well as satellite servicing. It quotes a number of industry experts supporting the laws being proposed, but once again, it is unclear if those laws would help or hurt. My previous review of one of these laws presently working its way through the House was decidedly mixed. It will clarify and simplify many of the regulatory problems that presently exist, while creating more bureaucracy.

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