Piece from SpaceX Dragon service module falls on Canadian farm

Though not yet confirmed a 90-pound piece of burned debris that crashed on a Canadian farm and found in late April appears to be a section from the trunk section of a SpaceX Dragon service module.

Jonathan McDowell, who tracks space launches and re-entries, posted on X (formerly Twitter) that the trunk from the private Axiom Space Ax-3 mission fell over Saskatchewan on Feb. 26.

This incident, along with several others over the last few years, tells us that not everything engineers thought would burn up upon re-entry does so. A major rethinking of how objects are de-orbited could be necessary.

SpaceX launches another 23 Starlink satellites

This bunny never stops. SpaceX today successfully launched 23 more Starlink satellites, its Falcon 9 rocket lifting off from Cape Canaveral.

The first stage set a new record for reflights, completing its 21st flight after landing on a drone ship in the Atlantic. The company has said it is upgrading these stages to last for 40 launches instead of 20, and this launch clearly is the first step in that direction.

The leaders in the 2024 launch race:

52 SpaceX
21 China
7 Russia
5 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise now leads the world combined in successful launches, 59 to 34, while SpaceX by itself still leads the rest of the world, including other American companies, 52 to 41.

Starliner launch delayed again, to May 25, 2024

Boeing, ULA, and NASA have decided to delay the first manned flight of Boeing’s Starliner capsule another four days to 3:09 pm (Eastern) on May 25, 2024.

The additional time allows teams to further assess a small helium leak in the Boeing Starliner spacecraft’s service module traced to a flange on a single reaction control system thruster. Pressure testing performed on May 15 on the spacecraft’s helium system showed the leak in the flange is stable and would not pose a risk at that level during the flight. The testing also indicated the rest of the thruster system is sealed effectively across the entire service module. Boeing teams are working to develop operational procedures to ensure the system retains sufficient performance capability and appropriate redundancy during the flight.

It appears they simply want to give themselves extra time to review their data thoroughly, with no rush, before lighting the rocket.

A really really big landslide on Mars

A really really big landslide on Mars
Click for original image.

Sometimes the cool geological features I find in the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) image archive are so large they are difficult to present on this webpage. Today is an example. The picture to the right, cropped, reduced, and sharpened to post here, was taken on March 13, 2024 by the high resolution camera on MRO. It shows the distinct run-out of debris from a landslide that flowed downhill to the north as a single unit of material. Along the way it carved its track in the ground, almost like a ramp.

The full picture however suggested something much more spectacular. In that full image this landslide is merely a small side avalanche to a landslide many times larger. And that high resolution picture only shows what appears to be a small section of that giant slide. Obviously, this required a look at the global mosaic produced by MRO’s context camera to find out how far that avalanche actually extended.
» Read more

NASA signs new agreement with ESA to partner on Franklin Mars rover

NASA yesterday signed a new agreement with the European Space Agency (ESA) that confirmed its previous commitment to help land ESA’s Franklin rover on Mars.

With this memorandum of understanding, the NASA Launch Services Program will procure a U.S. commercial launch provider for the Rosalind Franklin rover. The agency will also provide heater units and elements of the propulsion system needed to land on Mars.

Previously NASA had committed $30 million to pay for that launch provider, as yet undetermined. It now wants $49 million for the Franklin mission, with the extra money likely to pay for the new additional equipment outlined in this agreement.

Whether NASA gets this money from Congress however remains unknown. It has not yet been appropriated.

This overall European project has been fraught with problems. It was first designed as a partnership with NASA. Then Obama pulled NASA out in 2012, and ESA switched to a partnership with Russia, which was to provide the rocket and lander. Then in 2022 Russia invaded the Ukraine and Europe broke off all its partnerships with Russia.

Since then ESA has signed a deal with the company Thales Alenia to build the lander.

As these political foibles were going on, the rover also had parachute issues that forced ESA to cancel its original launch date in 2022, using the Russian rocket.

It is likely Congress will approve this additional funding, though it seems to me that Europe should be able to afford paying for its own launch, especially if it is buying that service from the much cheaper U.S. market.

Russia’s Soyuz-2 rocket launches classified payloads

Russia yesterday placed an unnamed number of classified satellites into orbit, its Soyuz-2 rocket lifting off from its Plesetsk spaceport in the northern part of Russia.

The flight path went north, so the rocket’s four strap-on boosters and lower stages all fell in remote regions or in the Arctic Ocean.

The leaders in the 2024 launch race:

51 SpaceX
21 China
7 Russia
5 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise still leads the world combined in successful launches, 58 to 34. SpaceX by itself still leads the rest of the world, including other American companies, 51 to 41.

NASA versus Isaacman/SpaceX on upgrading Hubble

Link here. The NPR article is a long detailed look at NASA on-going review of the proposal by billionaire astronaut Jared Isaacman and SpaceX to to do a maintenance mission to the Hubble Space Telescope.

The NPR spin is subtly hostile to the mission, because it would be funded privately and run entirely by private citizens, not the government. Like all modern leftist news outlets, it can only imagine the government capable of doing such things properly.

Reading between the lines, however, what I instead sense is that NASA and the scientific community is generally quite enthusiastic about this proposal, but wants to make sure it not only is done safely but does nothing to harm Hubble in any way, both completely reasonable concerns. While there appear to be some individuals who are opposed for purely political and egotistically reasons — a desire to keep control of this turf no matter what — I don’t see that faction having much influence long term.

Whether this project can go forward I think will be largely determined by the success or failure of Isaacman’s next manned flight, dubbed Polaris Dawn and scheduled for this summer. On it he will attempt the first spacewalk by a private citizen, using SpaceX’s Resilience capsule and EVA spacesuit. If that spacewalk is a success, and he can demonstrate the ability to accomplish some complex tasks during the EVA, it will certainly ease the concerns of many about a follow-up repair mission to Hubble.

If it does proceed, the goal appears to be to attach new gyroscope hardware to the outside of Hubble, rather than replace the failed gyroscopes already in place. Such an approach will be simpler and more in line with the capabilities of a Dragon capsule, compared to the repair work the astronauts did on the space shuttle.

AST SpaceMobile makes deal with ATT to use its cell-to-satellite constellation

AST SpaceMobile, which launched in 2022 its first satellite for direct cellphone-to-satellite communications and has been successfully testing it since, has now signed a deal with ATT, which wants to use the company’s planned constellation of five such satellites, scheduled for launch this summer.

Nor is this the only satellite company launching such satellites. SpaceX has already launched several dozen Starlink satellites adapted for direct cell-to-satellite service. In addition, it appears that all the companies making smart phones are adding features to their phones that would allow this capability in the future.

Once operational, these satellites will act as orbiting cell towers, and will thus eliminate most of the dead zones in all the populated regions on Earth.

Private satellite snaps picture of ISS in orbit

ISS as seen by HEO Robotics satellite
Click for original image.

One of the satellites in the commercial satellite constellation run by the Australian company HEO Robotics to monitor objects in space successfully took a picture of ISS this week as it zipped by only 43 miles away.

That picture is to the right, reduced to post here. The relative speeds between the satellite and ISS was about 3.7 miles a second. The station’s main truss, which holds up its solar panels and heat radiators, is the vertical structure going from upper left to lower right. The habitable modules cross this at right angles, with what appears to be the Russian section on the right with a Soyuz or Progress docked to the port at the end. A Dragon capsule can be seen at the opposite end, docked to the American section on the left.

The company’s satellites have previously provided imagery of other objects in orbit, including the ERS-2 satellite just before it was de-orbited as well as China’s Tiangong-3 space station during its assembly.

Potentially serious problem on BepiColombo Mercury mission

According to the European Space Agency (ESA), engineers have discovered what could be a potentially serious problem on BepiColombo mission that is presently on its way to Mercury.

The solar arrays and electric propulsion system on the Mercury Transfer Module are used to generate thrust during the spacecraft’s complex journey from Earth to Mercury.

However, on 26 April, as BepiColombo was scheduled to begin its next manoeuvre, the Transfer Module failed to deliver enough electrical power to the spacecraft’s thrusters.

A combined team from ESA and the mission’s industrial partners set to work the moment the issue was identified. By 7 May, they had restored BepiColombo’s thrust to approximately 90% of its previous level. However, the Transfer Module’s available power is still lower than it should be, and so full thrust cannot yet be restored.

The press release implies that this issue won’t prevent the spacecraft from entering orbit around Mercury as scheduled in December 2025, but one wonders how that could be if it doesn’t have sufficient power to do the proper course correction during its last major flyby of Mercury in September 2024. If it misses its precise route in ’24 it could miss Mercury entirely in ’25.

Engineers are analyzing the situation to see what can be done to get it to Mercury, while also trying to figure out what caused this power problem in the first place in order to fix it.

Juno looks down at Jupiter

Jupiter as seen by Juno on May 12, 2024
Click for original image.

Cool image time! The picture to the right, rotated, reduced, and annotated to post here, was taken on May 12, 2024 by the camera on the Jupiter orbiter Juno during its most recent close-fly of the gas giant, its sixty-first since it arrived in 2016. The picture was snapped when Juno was about 34,674 miles away from Jupiter as it flew over the northern hemisphere.

Citizen scientist Thomas Thomopoulos then took that raw image and enhanced and enlarged it to bring out the storm details. You can see the distinct bands that cut across Jupiter’s equatorial and mid-latitudes. The reddish band is where the Great Red Spot is located, though that spot is not seen in this picture.

As we move north those bands slowly transition into the chaotic storms of the polar regions, which also circle the pole but do not form bands.

For scale I have added a circle that approximates the Earth’s size in comparison to Jupiter. You will notice that some of those polar storms are as big if not bigger than the Earth itself. To think we presently have any real understanding of the processes that create Jupiter’s climate and weather systems is to be arrogant beyond belief.

Fortunately, the scientists who study Jupiter are not that arrogant, though they often can’t admit it and are forced to sound otherwise when ignorant journalists and NASA managers demand more answers from them then are possible. The scientists understand that what makes pictures like this intriguing is not what it tells us but the amount of ignorance it reveals. To get funding for future research however sometimes requires they sound more knowledgeable than they are.

FAA schedules first three public meetings for Starship/Superheavy impact statement review

The FAA has now scheduled the first three public meetings as part of its new environmental impact statement review of SpaceX’s proposed construction plans at Cape Canaveral.

The in-person open houses will feature information stations where the FAA will “provide information describing the purpose of the scoping meetings, project schedule, opportunities for public involvement, proposed action and alternatives summary, and environmental resource area summary. Fact sheets will be made available containing similar information,” the project website says.

“At any time during the meetings, the public will have the opportunity to provide verbal comments to a court reporter or written comments via a written comment form at one of several commenting stations,” the website says.

It appears that SpaceX is proposing two different options for establishing an additional launchpad for Superheavy/Starship. Its preferred option is to refurbish pad LC-37, which was most recenly used by ULA to launch its Delta-4 Heavy in April. A second option is to develop a new pad entirely, dubbed LC-50.

Though the FAA claims this new impact statement is necessary because SpaceX has upped the planned annual Superheavy/Starship launches from 24 to 44, that claim is bogus. The difference is not that significant, and more important, rockets have been launching from these pads now for almost three-quarters of a century, and the environment has not only not been harmed by that activity, the wildlife surrounding the cape has prospered tremendously by the creation of a large zone where no development can occur.

That history is the real impact statement, and it proves the new red tape is unecessary. What the FAA (and the Air Force) are now doing is simply lawfare against SpaceX.

Ispace gets a new payload for its first NASA lunar landing mission

Capitalism in space: The Japanese company Ispace has won a contract with the European company Control Data Systems (CDS) to place CDS’s precise localization instrument on Ispace’s APEX lunar lander, its first NASA mission.

CDS’s technology, which combines precision localization with telecommunications, uses Ultra-Wideband for determining precise positions and was developed specifically for space applications with support from the European Space Agency. The lack of a GPS-like system on the Moon, makes the technology ground-breaking for future applications related to lunar exploration.

The agreement … also represents the first Romanian payload to be delivered to the lunar surface. The technology will be integrated into the APEX 1.0 lunar lander as part of ispace technologies U.S. (ispace-U.S.) Mission 3, currently scheduled for 2026. A lunar rover will transport the CDS equipment on the surface to test the localization technology using an antenna that will remain on the APEX 1.0 lander.

Though Ispace is based in Japan, it has divisions in both the U.S. and Europe, which is allowing it to sign contracts with NASA and companies in both locations.

Atlas-5 launch of Starliner slips to May 21, 2024

While ULA has successfully replaced the valve in the upper stage of the Atlas-5 rocket, the first manned launch of Boeing’s Starliner capsule has slipped another four days, to May 21, 2024, because a newly discovered helium leak in the capsule’s service module.

Starliner teams are working to resolve a small helium leak detected in the spacecraft’s service module traced to a flange on a single reaction control system thruster. Helium is used in spacecraft thruster systems to allow the thrusters to fire and is not combustible or toxic.

NASA and Boeing are developing spacecraft testing and operational solutions to address the issue. As a part of the testing, Boeing will bring the propulsion system up to flight pressurization just as it does prior to launch, and then allow the helium system to vent naturally to validate existing data and strengthen flight rationale.

The prevous launch scrub was entirely due to the ULA’s rocket, not anything related to Boeing. This delay however is a Boeing issue, and it only reinforces the general uneasiness everyone feels about Boeing’s quality control work.

SpaceX launches 20 more Starlink satellites

SpaceX last night successfully placed another 20 Starlink satellites into orbit, its Falcon 9 rocket lifting off from Vandenberg in California.

The first stage completed its eighteenth launch, landing on a drone ship in the Pacific.

The leaders in the 2024 launch race:

51 SpaceX
21 China
6 Russia
5 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise now leads the world combined in successful launches, 58 to 33. SpaceX by itself now leads the rest of the world, including other American companies, 51 to 40.

Curiosity looks forward and back

Panorama looking north
Click for original image.

Overview map
Click for interactive map

The images above and below are small sections from 360 degree panorama created on May 13, 2024 from 31 photos taken by the right navigation camera on the Mars rover Curiosity.

The overview map to the right provides the context. The red dotted line indicates Curiosity’s planned route, while the white dotted line its actual route. The rover’s present position is marked by the blue dot. The yellow lines indicate the area covered by the picture above, while the green lines indicate the area covered by the picture below.

The image above looks north, back down Gediz Vallis and across to the north rim of Gale Crater, about 20-25 miles away. The red dotted line marks the rover’s path to get up to this point. All told, Curiosity has climbed about 2,500 feet in elevation since it left the floor of Gale Crater about nine years ago.

The image below looks south, up Gediz Vallis and towards the peak of Mount Sharp (not visible), about 26 miles away and about 16,000 feet higher up. Curiosity might move forward about 500 feet to the small hill on the left (indicated by the red dot), or it might turn west from this point, as indicated by the red dotted line on the overview map.

Panorama looking south
Click for original image.

A planet with the density of cotton candy?

The uncertainty of science: According to data obtained from ground-based telescopes of a newly discovered transiting exoplanet, that planet has the density of cotton candy.

This new planet, located 1,200 light-years from Earth, is 50% larger than Jupiter but seven times less massive, giving it an extremely low density comparable to that of cotton candy. “WASP-193b is the second least dense planet discovered to date, after Kepler-51d, which is much smaller,” explains Khalid Barkaoui, a Postdcotral Researcher at ULiège’s EXOTIC Laboratory and first author of the article published in Nature Astronomy. Its extremely low density makes it a real anomaly among the more than five thousand exoplanets discovered to date. This extremely-low-density cannot be reproduced by standard models of irradiated gas giants, even under the unrealistic assumption of a coreless structure.”

Such a gas giant is not impossible. For example, Saturn’s density is so low that if you could find an ocean large enough it would float. The scientists theorize that this exoplanet is likly comprised mostly of hydrogen and helium.

Nonetheless, there are phenomenon here that we certainly do not understand.

Air Force sends letter of concern about Vulcan to ULA

According to a report yesterday [behind a paywall], the Air Force has sent a letter of concern to ULA and its joint owners, Boeing and Lockheed Martin, about the long delays getting its new Vulcan rocket operational.

When the military chose in 2021 ULA and SpaceX to be its two launch providers for the first half of the 2020s, it expected ULA to complete 60% of the launches and SpaceX 40%. It also expected Vulcan to being launching within a year or two, at the latest.

Instead, the first launch of Vulcan did not occur until 2024, and its second launch — required by the military before it will allow Vulcan to launch its payloads — won’t occur until late this year. Worse, the military has a large backlog of launches it has assigned to Vulcan that need to launch quickly.

“I am growing concerned with ULA’s ability to scale manufacturing of its Vulcan rocket and scale its launch cadence to meet our needs,” [Air Force Assistant Secretary Frank] Calvelli wrote. “Currently there is military satellite capability sitting on the ground due to Vulcan delays. ULA has a backlog of 25 National Security Space Launch (NSSL) Phase 2 Vulcan launches on contract.”

These 25 launches, Calvelli notes, are due to be completed by the end of 2027. He asked Boeing and Lockheed to complete an “independent review” of United Launch Alliance’s ability to scale manufacturing of its Vulcan rockets and meet its commitments to the military. Calvelli also noted that Vulcan has made commitments to launch dozens of satellites for others over that period, a reference to a contract between United Launch Alliance and Amazon for Project Kuiper satellites.

ULA says that once operations ramp up, it plans to launch Vulcan twice a month. The Air Force doubts about whether that will be possible however are well founded. To meet that schedule ULA will need delivery per month of at least four BE-4 engines from Blue Origin, and so far there is no indication the Bezos company can meet that demand. Delays at Blue Origin in developing that engine are the main reason Vulcan is so far behind schedule in the first place.

In order to get Vulcan operational, ULA needs to fly a second time successfully. The second launch of Sierra Space’s Tenacity mini-shuttle is booked for that flight, and was originally supposed to launch this spring. Tenacity however was not ready, as it is still undergoing final ground testing. The launch is now set for the fall, but both ULA and the Pentagon are discussing replacing it with a dummy payload should Tenacity experience any more delays.

The source of all of these problems points to Blue Origin. Not only has it been unable to deliver its BE-4 rocket engine on schedule — thus blocking Vulcan — the long delays in developing its own New Glenn orbital rocket (which uses seven BE-4 engines) has given the military fewer launch options. As a result the military has been left with only one rocket company, SpaceX, capable of launching its large payloads.

To put Blue Origin’s problems in perspective, for Blue Origin to finally achieve its many promises and get both Vulcan and New Glenn flying regularly, it will need to begin producing a minimum of 50 to 150 BE-4 engines per year, with two-thirds for its own New Glenn rocket. Right now all evidence suggests the company is having problems building two per year.

In other words, the Pentagon might send a letter of concern to ULA, but it should instead be focusing its ire on Blue Origin.

XRISM X-ray space telescope functioning despite closed “aperture door”

XRISM, a joint X-ray space telescope built by NASA and Japan’s space agency JAXA, is collecting data despite the failure on one instrument of an aperture door to open.

In January, project scientists said that XRISM was working well except for an aperture door, also called a gate valve, for the Dewar on its imaging instrument, Resolve, which failed to open. The instrument can still operate with the door closed, although the door, made of beryllium, does attenuate some X-rays at lower energies.

At the time, efforts were underway to try and open the gate valve. However, speaking at a May 7 meeting of the National Academies’ Board on Physics and Astronomy, Mark Clampin, director of NASA’s astrophysics division, said those efforts were on hold for the next year and a half.

Instead, the science team decided to proceed with science operations, since the telescope has two other working instruments, and can get data even from this hindered third.

XRISM is a replacement of a previous JAXA X-ray telescope that launched in 2016 but failed immediately.

A detailed look, using satellite imagery, of North Korea’s coastal spaceport

North Korea

Link here. The article, written by analysts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, describes in detail the work being done in the past few years at North Korea’s Sohae spaceport on that nation’s western coast, as shown on the map to the right.

This work allowed North Korea to complete its first successful orbital satellite launch of its Chollima-1 rocket in November, after two previous failures.

As North Korea releases almost no information, the analysis depended entirely on high resolution orbital data.

While construction of the coastal launch pad is largely complete and work on refurbishing the original launch pad is largely suspended, work is now concentrated on constructing a large new processing/assembly building and an associated underground facility. Several smaller construction projects are also being pursued.

Overall it appears that North Korea is very serious about developing a full spaceport for both satellite and missile launches.

SpaceX launches 23 more Starlink satellites

SpaceX tonight successfully launched 23 Starlink satellites, its Falcon 9 rocket lifting off from Cape Canaveral.

This was the 50th successful launch by SpaceX this year, in only a little more that five months. Reaching the company’s goal of 150 launches in 2024 (six of which were planned to be Starship/Superheavy test launches) remains a challenge, but if the company reaches even 80% of that goal (120) it will have set a record for launches greater than what the entire world achieved for every year of the space age until 2020.

This was also the 15th launch of the rocket’s first stage, landing successfully on a drone ship in the Atlantic.

The leaders in the 2024 launch race:

50 SpaceX
21 China
6 Russia
5 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise now leads the world combined in successful launches, 57 to 33. SpaceX by itself now leads the rest of the world, including other American companies, 50 to 40.

China today launches “experimental” satellite

China today successfully launched what it called an “experimental” satellite designed to “monitor the space environment”, its Long March 2C rocket lifting off from its Jiuquan spaceport in the northwest of China.

The state-run press provided no other information. Nor did it tell us where the rocket’s lower stages, which use toxic hypergolic fuels, crashed inside China.

The leaders in the 2024 launch race:

49 SpaceX
21 China
6 Russia
5 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise still leads the world combined in successful launches, 56 to 33. SpaceX by itself now leads the rest of the world, including other American companies, 49 to 40.

Serbia joins China’s lunar base project

Serbia this week signed an agreement with China to become the eleventh nation to join its International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) lunar base project.

China’s project now has eleven partner nations (Azerbaijan, Belarus, Egypt, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Russia, Serbia, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, and Venezuela) and eleven academic or governmental bureaucracies.

Except for China and Russia, the other partners are very minor players in space, and will likely contribute relatively little to the lunar base other than providing China some shallow positive PR.

Nonetheless, the two competing alliances in settling the solar system are becoming clear. On one side you have the alliance led by the U.S. under the Artemis Accords, while on the other you have an alliance led by China, under its lunar base project. Both right now appear only interested in establishing government power in space.

In the middle will be ordinary people, dreaming of building new societies to live in on other worlds. Sadly it increasingly appears they will be crushed between these two big government alliances. Though the U.S. alliance was initially established to foster private property and ownership so that those settlers could have as free and as prosperous a life as the Americans who settled the United States, it no longer seems interested in that goal.

FAA and Air Force initiate new environmental impact statements for Starship/Superheavy launchpads in Florida

We’re here to help you! Really! Late yesterday, in a typical Friday story dump just before the weekend to reduce any notice, the FAA announced it has begun a new environmental impact statement (EIS) of SpaceX’s Starship/Superheavy launchpad infrastructure being built in Florida, working in parallel with a similar environmental impact statement now being conducted by the Air Force.

The EIS will be the second environmental review involving SpaceX’s plans to use LC-39A for Starship launches. NASA completed an environmental assessment (EA) in 2019 of the company’s plans at the time to build launch infrastructure at LC-39A for Starship, finding it would have no significant impact. At the time SpaceX was planning up to 24 Starship launches from that pad annually. A new EIS, the FAA concluded, is needed because of changes in the design of Starship and its operations since the 2019 assessment.

The FAA claims a new assessment is needed because SpaceX is now planning as many as 44 launches. The Air Force has not said why its new assessment is needed. That EIS, which began in March, covers a launchpad previously used by the Saturn-1B and Delta-4 rockets from 1964 to 2022, another pad use by the Air Force’s Titan rocket from 1965 to 2005, as well as a new pad, dubbed SLC-50.

LC-39A meanwhile has been used for launches since the 1960s. The Saturn-5, the space shuttle, and the Falcon 9 all launched from this pad.

The dishonest absurdity of these impact statements can not be overstated. There is zero reason to do new assessments. All the pads have been in use for decades, with all kinds of rockets, some comparable to Superheavy/Starship. The environment and the wildlife refuge at Cape Canaveral have both thrived.

Moreover, to force completely new impact statements because the design and plans for Superheavy/Starship have changed somewhat (but not fundamentally) is even more stupid. This is a new rocket, being developed day-by-day and launch-by-launch. Will the FAA and the Air Force require new EIS’s every time SpaceX changes anything? It seems so.

This is clearly lawfare against Elon Musk and SpaceX by the White House and the administration state. It doesn’t like Musk, and it is now searching at all times for ways to block or damage him.

I confidently predict that neither statement will be completed by the end of 2025. Based on the timeline of most EIS’s, which when politics are involved are almost always slowed by the legal action of activists, the earliest either will be approved will be mid-2026, though likely later.

What is not clear is whether the FAA and Air Force will stop all work while this red tape is being unwound. If so, then the first operational launches of Superheavy and Starship cannot happen out of Cape Canaveral until well into 2027, which means NASA entire Artemis program will be seriously delayed. My previous prediction that the first manned lunar landing can’t happen before 2030 is becoming increasingly too conservative.

And remember this: If Joe Biden and the Democrats remain in power after November, all bets are off. At that point they are certain to ramp up the lawfare against those they see as political enemies, even if their targets are doing great things for the nation and the American people.

Perseverance looks ahead, out of Jezero Crater

Panorama May 9, 2024, low resolution
Click for high resolution. Go here and here for original images.

Cool image time! The panorama above, recropped, reduced, and annotated to post here, was created from two pictures taken by Perseverance’s right navigation camera on May 9, 2024 (here and here). It looks almost due west, out the gap in the rim of Jezero Crater to the mountains beyond.

The blue dot in the overview map below marks Perseverance’s location when these photos were taken. The yellow lines indicate the approximate area covered by the panorama. The red dots indicate the rover’s planned route.

It is obvious this panorama was taken as part of the science team’s planning for Perseverance’s upcoming traverse across Neretva Vallis. The picture also gives us a nice view of the barren terrain found here in the dry tropics of Mars. There is no ice or water present anywhere, though the geology strongly suggests H2O in one form or another once shaped this landscape.

Nor is there any visible life. As much as NASA and many others devoutly wish to find some, I doubt any will be found. There is a very tiny chance the remains of long-gone microbiotic life might be found, but I wouldn’t bet much money on that either.
Overview map
Click for interactive map.

The spiral dust streams within the Andromeda galaxy

Andromeda in infrared
Click for original image.

Cool image time! The picture above, cropped and reduced to post here, was released yesterday and uses archival infrared data from the now retired Spitzer Space telescope to highlight the dust found within the Andromeda galaxy, about two million light years away.

Spitzer’s infrared view was similar to Webb’s but at a far lower resolution. In the picture above the red indicates cool dust.

By separating these wavelengths and looking at the dust alone, astronomers can see the galaxy’s “skeleton” — places where gas has coalesced and cooled, sometimes forming dust, creating conditions for stars to form. This view of Andromeda revealed a few surprises. For instance, although it is a spiral galaxy like the Milky Way, Andromeda is dominated by a large dust ring rather than distinct arms circling its center. The images also revealed a secondary hole in one portion of the ring where a dwarf galaxy passed through.

The data also suggested that the dust is flowing at a very steady rate into Andromeda’s central black hole. According to computer simulations, this steady rate would explain why the supermassive black holes at the center of both Andromeda and the Milky Way are relative inactive. If the dust fell in clumps rather than a steady flow, both black holes would exhibit bursts of high activity, similar to active galactic centers.

A side note for anyone wishing to star-gaze: Andromeda is actually the largest visible galaxy in the night sky, about six times with width of the full Moon. If you can get to a very dark-sky location, get your eyes very dark-adapted, and you know where to look, you can actually see it with the naked eye. I did this once at a star party, helped by a bunch of amateur astronomers. The galaxy is very faint, and it helps to use binoculars to help locate it, but once identified its size in the sky truly is breath-taking.

Update of the reusable cargo capsule by the French company, The Exploration Company

Link here. The article provides a detailed look at the development of the company’s second demonstrator capsule, dubbed Mission Possible, which it hopes to fly in an orbital test sometime in ’25.

Beforehand a smaller demonstrator capsule, dubbed Mission Bikini, will fly on the first launch of the Ariane-6, set for this summer.

Both demonstrators will lay the groundwork fo the launch of the company’s Nyx capsule, designed to provide freighter services to any one of the four private space stations presently being built.

German startup loses prototype of aerospike spaceplane during test

The prototype aerospike test spaceplane of the German startup Polaris Spaceplanes was destroyed recently during its first test flight.

The MIRA I, from German aerospace startup Polaris Raumflugzeuge, was traveling at approximately 105 mph during takeoff when a “landing gear steering reaction” plus a side wind caused a “hard landing event,” rendering the space plane inoperable and it’s fiberglass airframe damaged beyond repair.

Its subsystems remained mostly intact – however, rather than attempt to repair the prototype spaceplane, Polaris has opted to decommission 13.9-foot-long MIRA I to go ahead with the identically shaped 16 foot MIRA II and III design.

Had it flown, it would have been the first flight test ever of an aerospike nozzle. Such a nozzle has been proposed by engineers for decades to take full advantage of the changing atmospheric pressure as a rocket lifts off. Traditional nozzles can only be shaped for one specific air pressure, and lose efficiency as the pressure changes. By using the air pressure to form one wall of the nozzle, an aerospike uses that changing pressure to always function at the highest efficiency.

The company hopes to use this design to eventually create a spaceplane that will take off from a runway, reach orbit, and then return to a runway, all without any additional stages.

Neither of the upcoming prototypes however will be able to do this. Their purpose will mostly be to test the aerospike engine at various altitudes. The company hopes to fly its full scale spaceplane, dubbed Aurora, in ’26 or ’27.

Pentagon: SpaceX effectively blocking Russian illegal use of Starlink

According to one Pentagon official, SpaceX has effectively blocked Russia’s illegal use of captured or illegally purchased Starlink terminals.

Plumb declined to elaborate on what tactics, techniques or procedures are being used to stem Russia’s use of the highly portable communications terminals that connect to SpaceX’s fleet of low-orbiting satellites. Ukrainian government officials had no immediate comment.

Starlink terminals continue to be advertised for sale in Russia on platforms such as e-commerce site Ozon. Their sellers say they function through subscriptions taken out in the name of residents of European countries where the technology is licensed, and they say that connections work — not within Russia’s heartlands but near border regions such as Ukraine’s occupied territories.

This week, however, users complained of unprecedented connectivity issues. On the messaging app Telegram one of the sellers recommended transferring onto a more expensive global service plan. Bloomberg hasn’t been able to independently verify whether those workarounds restore connectivity for illicit Starlink use in Russia.

The official tried to make it sound as if the Pentagon was an equal partner with SpaceX in accomplishing this work, but that’s absurd. The military is without doubt helping SpaceX anyway it can, but the bulk of the technical work is almost certainly being done by SpaceX.

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