Tag Archives: engineering

Midnight repost: The Lie that is Orion

The tenth anniversary retrospective of Behind the Black continues: This essay, written in July 2016, might provide modern readers with some background and context into the uselessness of NASA’s over priced, over designed, and behind schedule Orion capsule. The only thing that has changed in the four years since is that NASA has stopped claiming Orion is an interplanetary spaceship. They now freely admit that to get to Mars they need to build and assemble much larger ships, of which Orion will only be a tiny part.

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The Lie that is Orion

Several weeks ago NASA put out one of its periodic press releases touting the wonders of the engineering the agency is doing to prepare for its future missions to Mars. In this case the press release described a new exercise device, dubbed ROCKY (for Resistive Overload Combined with Kinetic Yo-Yo), for use in the Orion capsule.

“ROCKY is an ultra-compact, lightweight exercise device that meets the exercise and medical requirements that we have for Orion missions,” said Gail Perusek, deputy project manager for NASA’s Human Research Program’s Exploration Exercise Equipment project. “The International Space Station’s exercise devices are effective but are too big for Orion, so we had to find a way to make exercising in Orion feasible.

As is their habit these days in their effort to drum up support for funding for SLS and Orion, the press release was filled with phrases and statements that implied or claimed that Orion was going to be the spacecraft that Americans will use to explore the solar system.

…engineers across NASA and industry are working to build the Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket that will venture to deep space for the first time together…

…Over the next several years, NASA’s Human Research Program will be refining the device to optimize it not only for near-term Orion missions with crew, but for potential uses on future long-duration missions in Orion…

These are only two examples. I have clipped them because both were very carefully phrased to allow NASA deniablity should anyone question these claims. For example, in the first quote they qualify “deep space” as specifically the 2018 unmanned lunar test flight. And the second quote is qualified as referring to missions to lunar space. Nonetheless, the implied intent of this wording is to sell Orion as America’s interplanetary spaceship, destined to take us to the stars!

Don’t believe me? Then take a look at NASA’s own Orion webpages, starting with the very first words on their Orion Overivew page.
» Read more

Monument Valley on Mars

Monument Valley on Mars
Click for full image.

Today’s cool image is located near the Martian equator, in the middle of Arabia Terra, the most extensive region of the transition zone between the low northern plains and the southern cratered highlands. Taken on May 9, 2020 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and cropped to post here, the photo shows some layered mesas surrounded by a terraced and scalloped terrain with dust filling the low spots.

This is likely to be a very dry place on Mars. At only 2 degrees north of the equator, the evidence so far suggests that if there is a buried ice table (like the water table on Earth), it will be much deeper than at higher latitudes. The terrain reflects this, looking reminiscent of Monument Valley in the American southwest. In fact, the satellite image below, which I grabbed from MapQuest, shows a typical mesa in Monument Valley.
» Read more

More indications of the decline of Russia’s space effort

Two stories today give further hints that Russia’s space effort, run under the centralized government control of its space agency Roscosmos, is struggling. Both stories involve comments by the head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, during an interview yesterday to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Putin government’s takeover of Russia’s entire aerospace industry.

First, Rogozin announced that they intend to continue using their Soyuz manned capsule for at least ten more years, even though they are working to develop the Oryol replacement capsule and hope to fly its first unmanned test flight by 2023.

“I am absolutely sure that the Soyuz MS will be exploitable for at least ten years. That is why, during the first years we will use both the Soyuz MS and a new spacecraft,” he said.

Though it makes sense for Russia to fly both spacecraft for a period of time, ten years seems exorbitant. It suggests that Rogozin is covering his behind in case Oryol ends up getting delayed significantly.

Based on Russia’s track record the past twenty years, it is very likely Oryol will not fly by 2023. Since the turn of this century they have been promising new spacecraft and rockets without ever delivering. They have also spent a quarter of a century building one module for ISS. It has become their mode of operations to go slow and not deliver. Rogozin must know this, and is covering his bets by announcing Soyuz that will fly for many more years.

Second, Rogozin made it a point to denigrate the U.S. manned space effort, calling it a “political project” not interested in “helping” its partners. To quote him precisely:
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Launch delays for SpaceX and UAE

The launches planned for tomorrow by SpaceX and Japan’s space agency JAXA have both been postponed, for different reasons.

The SpaceX launch of a South Korean military satellite was postponed in order to swap out equipment in the Falcon’s upper stage. No new launch date has yet been announced.

The JAXA launch, using Mitsubishi’s H-2A rocket, was to launch the United Arab Emirates’ Mars orbiter Hope. It was postponed due to bad weather. Their next launch window is July 16, but they have not yet announced a new launch date. Like Perseverance, they must launch this summer or they will have to wait two years for the next launch window to Mars to reopen.

In-flight camera analysis of Soyuz launch abort in October 2018

An evening pause: For the geeks who read Behind the Black. Nothing here is new, but the in-flight footage of the first stage as it failed during this manned Soyuz launch on October 11, 2018 is still fun to watch, and it gives us another taste of the continuing quality control problems in Russia’s aerospace industry.

Hat tip Tom Biggar.

As always, I am open to suggestions for my evening pauses. If you’ve sent me stuff in the past, you know the drill. If not and you want to suggest something, post a comment here, without mentioning your suggestion, and I will contact you with the guidelines.

Martian swirls and curlicues

glacial features in depression on Mars
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, is a great example of how a well known geological process on Earth, glaciers, can form features on Mars that appear most inexplicable.

The image was taken on May 13, 2020 and highlights the geology found in a depression, likely an eroded crater, on the northwest flanks of one of Mars’ largest basins, Argyre Planitia, located in the planet’s southern cratered highlands. The basin is thought to have been formed by a giant impact during the Late Heavy Bombardment around 3.9 billion years ago, when the inner terrestrial planets were sweeping up the last remnants of the Sun’s accretion disk, with that process causing the many craters we see on the Moon, Mercury, and Mars

This particular depression is at 41 degrees south latitude, in the mid-latitudes where scientists have found much evidence of buried glaciers. This is likely what we are looking at here. The section I’ve cropped has a dip to the south, which somewhat fits these flow features. If you look at the full image, you will see comparably weird flow features south of this section, flowing downhill in the opposite direction, to the north.

The problem is that not all the features fit the direction of flow, or any flow at all. I suspect we are seeing evidence of the waxing and waning of glaciers over this terrain over many eons. Disentangling that history however is confounding, especially when we are limited to only studying such objects from orbit.

I must also add that this image was labeled by the MRO science team a “terrain sample,” which means it wasn’t specifically requested by any scientist studying this geology. Instead, they needed to take an image to maintain the spacecraft’s camera temperature, and picked this spot for that snapshot. Their choice wasn’t random, but it also wasn’t based on any focused research.

SpaceX about to set reuse record for fastest turnaround ever

Capitalism in space: If tomorrow’s launch of a South Korean military satellite by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket succeeds, it will set a new all-time record for the fastest turnaround of a used rocket, 44 days.

The previous record was 54 days, set by the space shuttle Atlantis in 1984. The article notes however the spectacular differences:

By far the most impressive aspect of Falcon 9’s imminent record is the comparison between the resources behind Space Shuttle Atlantis’ 54-day turnaround and Falcon 9 booster B1058’s ~44-day turnaround. Around the time NASA and Atlantis set the Shuttle’s longstanding record, some 5000-10000 full-time employees were tasked with refurbishing Space Shuttles and the facilities (and launch pads) that supported them. Based on retrospective analyses done after the STS program’s end in 2011, the average Space Shuttle launch (accounting for the vast infrastructure behind the scenes) ultimately wound up costing more than $1.5 billion per launch – more than the Saturn V rocket the Shuttle theoretically replaced.

According to a uniquely detailed May 2020 AviationWeek interview with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, Falcon 9 booster turnaround may cost as little as $1 million apiece and can be managed from start to finish by several dozen employees at most. In other words, even though SpaceX boosters are suborbital and stressed quite a bit less than orbital Space Shuttles, Falcon 9 reuse is approximately a thousandfold more efficient that Space Shuttle reuse. [emphasis in original]

I should add that SpaceX also has three more launches on tap for the rest of July. If all lift off, the company will have launched four rockets in only three weeks, which in itself will be a record. No private rocket company has ever launched so frequently and so routinely. And only Russia during its Soviet Union heydays has come close to launching with this frequency.

Russia’s next module for ISS passes tests

At last! Russia’s long-delayed next module for ISS, dubbed Nauka, has finally passed its vacuum chamber tests and is now scheduled for shipment to the launch site on July 21 to 23.

Construction of Nauka began in 1995, a quarter of a century ago. For comparison, in the last quarter of the 20th century Russia launched Salyut 1, Salyut 3, Salyut 4, Salyut 5, Salyut 6, Salyut 7, Mir, and its first five modules for ISS. All told those launches involved building and putting into orbit 18 different modules, with 14 comparable to Nauka in size and mass, all built and launched in about the same amount of time it has taken Russia to build Nauka alone.

At this pace it will take centuries for Russia to build its next space station, no less get to the Moon or Mars.

Problems at Europa Clipper

NASA has fired the project scientist for one overbudget and behind schedule instrument on Europa Clipper, and restructured work on a second instrument for similar reasons.

“We’ve been struggling on cost growth on Clipper for some time,” said Curt Niebur, program scientist for the mission at NASA Headquarters. “Overall, we’ve been largely successful in dealing with it, but late last fall, it became clear that there were three instruments that experiencing some continued and worrisome cost growth.”

The outcome of the reviews, he said, could have ranged from making no changes to the instruments to, in a worst-case scenario, terminating the instruments. The leadership of NASA’s Science Mission Directive recently decided to keep all three instruments, at least for now.

The fired scientist had been in charge of the mass spectrometer. At the moment they have installed a temporary replacement, and have put the instrument team on notice that it now has a very low priority. Should it fall further behind in schedule or budget it could easily be terminated.

The spacecraft’s imaging system also has schedule and budgeting problems, so much so that NASA was considering dropping the wide field camera, leaving Europa Clipper with only a narrow field camera. Right now both have been retained, but the wide field camera might still be dropped if costs continue to rise.

A great hike to do on Mars!

Knife Mesa at the exit from Kasei Valles
Click for full image.

Time to take a cool image and go sight-seeing. The photo to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, was taken by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on May 25, 2020, and shows a spectacular knife-edge mesa, its cliffs more than 650 feet high on either side.

This knife mesa sits among a bunch of similar mesas, and appears to be in a region that could be called chaos terrain, formed by flowing water or ice along faults, cutting criss-crossing canyons with mesas between.

This mesa points east out from the Kasai Valley, the second largest canyon draining out from the Tharsis Bulge that contains Mars’ largest volcanoes. The overview map below provides some context, with the white cross indicating the location of today’s cool image.
» Read more

COVID-19 and launchpad issues delay Ariane 6

The European Space Agency (ESA) confirmed today that the first launch of Arianespace’s Ariane 6 rocket will be delayed at least six months, to late 2021, due to lock downs related to the Wuhan flu panic, as well as construction issues at the rocket’s new launchpad.

“While we know that the maiden flight will not take place before the second semester of 2021, we cannot at this moment precisely quantify the delay, and we cannot provide an exact launch date,” Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA’s director of space transportation, said according to an ESA translation of remarks at a July 9 press event provided to SpaceNews. The French Association of Professional Journalists in Aeronautics, organized the event at ArianeGroup’s headquarters in Paris.

ESA hopes to have greater clarity on the delays in a few months, he said, according to the ESA translation.

It bodes bad for this rocket that they, at this time, have so little handle on the issues and the length of the delays.

Launch failure for China’s new Kuaizhou-11 rocket

For reasons not yet specified, China’s new Kuaizhou-11 rocket today failed on its inaugural launch.

Many reports will say that this is a commercial rocket developed by the private company Exspace. That is not true. Like all Chinese aerospace companies, they do their work wholly under the supervision of the Chinese government.

The development of the KZ-11 began in 2015, with a maiden launch originally scheduled for 2018. The rocket is developed by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASIC) and commercialized by the China Space Sanjiang Group Corporation (Expace).

The launch vehicle can loft a 1,500 kg payload into a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) or 1,00 kg to a 700 km sun-synchronous orbit.

The KZ-11 solid launch vehicle adopts a mobile launch platform, integrated power supply equipment, test and launch control facilities, aiming facility and temperature control facility, to carry vehicles from the technical support center to launch site, complete temperature control of payload, vehicle test and launch.

CASIC is in many ways China’s equivalent of NASA. And everything described in the last paragraph above, from solid rockets to mobile launches, are technologies developed expressly for military purposes. China will not let such things out for commercial companies to use however they wish, no matter what they claim.

Midnight repost: Switching to Linux

The tenth anniversary retrospective of Behind the Black continues: My contempt for Microsoft and its terrible Windows operating system is quite well known. I successfully switched to Linux back in 2006 and have never regretted it.

After seeing a number of my posts noting the advantages of Linux (or anything) over Windows, one of my readers, James Stephens, offered to write a series for Behind the Black describing step-by-step the process by which one gets and installs Linux on either a desktop or laptop computer. Below are the links to this series. I have since used it myself as a guide to convert two used Windows 7 notebooks (purchased for about $35 each) to my favorite flavor of Linux, both of which I use regularly as my travel computers.

I wish more people would do the same. I am sure almost everyone has an old computer they don’t use anymore. It will work like new with Linux. Dig it out, follow James’ instructions, and free yourself from Windows. I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Falcon 9 landing leg falls during retraction

Capitalism in space: During the processing to bring a used Falcon 9 first stage back to its hanger after its June 30th launch, one of the landing legs unexpectedly fell back to the ground during retraction.

I have embedded the video of the incident, cued to the event, below the fold. No one was hurt, and it appeared that nothing was damaged. It appears it happened because a cable holding the leg vertical snapped just before the leg got latched in place on the side of the rocket.
» Read more

Solar Orbiter operational, first images to be released

Engineers have now confirmed that Solar Orbiter, having completed its first close fly-by of the Sun, is working perfectly and is producing images and data better than expected.

They will release to the public the first images on July 16.

“The first images are exceeding our expectations,” says Daniel Müller, Solar Orbiter Project Scientist at ESA. “We can already see hints of very interesting phenomena that we have not been able to observe in detail before. The 10 instruments on board Solar Orbiter work beautifully, and together provide a holistic view of the Sun and the solar wind. This makes us confident that Solar Orbiter will help us answer profound open questions about the Sun.”

No other images of the Sun have been taken from such a close distance. During its first perihelion, the point in the spacecraft’s elliptical orbit closest to the Sun, Solar Orbiter got as close as 77 million kilometres from the star’s surface, about half the distance between the Sun and Earth. The spacecraft will eventually make much closer approaches to the Sun. The spacecraft is now in its cruise phase, gradually adjusting its orbit around the Sun. Once in its science phase, which will commence in late 2021, the spacecraft will get as close as 42 million kilometres from the Sun’s surface, closer than the planet Mercury. The spacecraft’s operators will gradually tilt Solar Orbiter’s orbit to enable the probe to get the first proper view of the Sun’s poles.

A previous spacecraft, Ulysses, flew over the Sun’s poles, but it did it from far away, and was designed not to take images but to study the Sun’s solar wind. Solar Orbiter is getting in close.

China launches communications satellite

China today successfully used its Long March 3B rocket to launch a communications satellite.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

16 China
10 SpaceX
7 Russia
3 ULA

The scrub yesterday of a SpaceX Starlink launch as well as the launch failure by Rocket Lab this week has allowed China to catch up with the U.S. Both countries are now tied, 16-16, in the national rankings.

Midnight repost: Mars!

The tenth anniversary retrospective of Behind the Black continues: Despite my many essays on culture and politics, Behind the Black remains mostly a site reporting on space and science. Since the modern exploration of Mars is probably the most significant on-going event now in space, it seemed unsatisfactory to only repost one or two of my past articles on this subject, when I have probably have posted hundreds. Instead, this midnight repost will provide links to a bunch, divided into several topics.

Martian geology, shown in cool images

First, we have the many cool images I have posted on Mars, often tied to detailed descriptions of what scientists are now beginning to learn about the red planet’s mysterious geological history. The following are the most important, and will help readers better understand future cool images.

Future colonization

Next, two posts, both focused on the future exploration and colonization of Mars.
» Read more

Spring at the Martian South Pole

Geysers on Mars?
Click for full image.

Geysers on Mars
Click for full image.

It is now full spring at the Martian south pole, and as should be expected much has been happening there. Like the Martian north pole, when sunlight arrives after the dark winter it hits the seasonally-placed mantle or cap of carbon dioxide snow and begins to melt it, in the alien ways things like this occur on Mars.

The two images to the right illustrate this process for one particular place located in what are called the south polar layered deposits. The two images, just released on July 1, 2020 from the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and taken on May 14 and May 30 respectively, had immediately caught my attention because they were labeled “Active Geyser Locale Dubbed Macclesfield.” Active geysers?! I immediately contacted Candy Hansen of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, whom I correctly guessed had requested these photos. She explained,

The name for this site is of course informal, and it dates back to when I first started picking sites to monitor. I was so certain we would see active geysers here! We see their deposits, the fans on the surface, but so far we have not caught an actual eruption in progress.

The overview map of the south pole below provides some context.
» Read more

NASA completes Starliner review, finds more issues

Capitalism in space: NASA yesterday released the results of its investigation into the issues that prevented Boeing’s manned Starliner capsule from successfully completing its unmanned demo flight to ISS in December, finding an additional 20 issues over the 61 initially identified shortly after the mission.

In closing out the seven-month investigation, NASA officials said Tuesday they have now identified 80 corrective actions, mostly involving software and testing, that must be done before the Starliner capsule launches again. The previous count was 61.

NASA officials also admitted that they had been so focused on making sure SpaceX’s Dragon capsule was going to work that they became lax in reviewing Boeing’s work. Now they not only are going to focus more on Boeing, they actually want to use SpaceX’s approach to software development throughout NASA.

NASA is also borrowing SpaceX’s “robust” approach to software, which involves going back to the designers following testing for feedback, said Kathy Lueders, NASA’s new human spaceflight chief who until a month ago managed commercial crew. She wants to see more of that type of approach across other NASA programs.

Though it seems absurd and incredible that NASA has not been consulting with its designers after testing, it is also not surprising. When it comes to designing and building anything at NASA the management processes there have routinely done a bad job for many years.

As for Starliner, it is expected it will take a few more months to fix these issues, which means the next unmanned test flight is likely still set for sometime in the fall, with the manned mission to follow next spring.

Results from Yutu-2 determine “gel-like” rocks are impact melt

Chinese scientists have now published their analysis of the “gel-like” rocks seen by China’s Yutu-2 lunar rover back in October 2019, and have concluded that they are glasses produced from melt occurring during an impact.

The authors describe the material as a dark greenish and glistening impact melt breccia, measuring 20 inches by 6 inches (52 by 16 centimeters). These features are signs of possible presence of glasses, which are usually sourced from impact melts or from volcanic eruptions.

According to the paper, the breccia — broken fragment of minerals cemented together — was formed by impact-generated welding, cementing and agglutinating of lunar regolith and breccia. The material, they say, resembles lunar impact melt breccia samples returned by NASA’s Apollo missions. In particular, similarities with the Apollo samples designated 15466 and 70019 are noted, a comparison made earlier by lunar scientist Clive Neal at the University of Notre Dame. Sample 70019, collected by astronaut and trained geologist Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, is made of dark, broken fragments of minerals cemented together and black, shiny glass.

The results are not definitive, however. The paper notes that the analysis is limited by the fact that VNIS measurements were taken under bad illumination conditions and other factors.

This conclusion is not surprising, as the rover has been traveling through a region dominated by impact ejecta.

InSight’s mole is bouncing again

Plan of action for InSight's mole

The engineering team for InSight’s German-built digging tool, dubbed the mole, yesterday reported that it is once again no longer driving into the ground.

Previously they had been able to make progress by having InSight’s scoop press down on the mole. Once the top of the mole however was below ground, the scoop could no longer provide that support, and at that point the mole began bouncing again with each hammer-stroke, the surrounding Martian dirt unable to provide the friction to hold the mole down.

As shown by the illustration above, they are now going to try using the scoop to fill the hole and then use the scoop to press down on the dirt, with the hope this will provide the structural friction required to hold the mole in place after each hammer stroke. This effort will take time, and will prevent the scoop from doing its other work. They are therefore taking a pause until August before beginning the hole-filling operation.

Rover update: Curiosity’s future journey

Mount Sharp, with Curiosity's future travels
Click for full image.

[For the overall context of Curiosity’s travels, see my March 2016 post, Pinpointing Curiosity’s location in Gale Crater. For the updates in 2018 go here. For a full list of updates before February 8, 2018, go here.]

Today the science team of Curiosity issued a press release outlining their travel plans for the rover over the next year. In conjunction, they also released a mosaic of 116 images taken by the rover showing that route, a reduced in resolution version shown above.

The rover’s next stop is a part of the mountain called the “sulfate-bearing unit.” Sulfates, like gypsum and Epsom salts, usually form around water as it evaporates, and they are yet another clue to how the climate and prospects for life changed nearly 3 billion years ago.

But between the rover and those sulfates lies a vast patch of sand that Curiosity must drive around to avoid getting stuck. Hence the mile-long road trip: Rover planners, who are commanding Curiosity from home rather than their offices at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, expect to reach the area in early fall, although the science team could decide to stop along the way to drill a sample or study any surprises they come across.

Overview map sol 2804 of Curiosity's route

This journey actually began in late May, at about the time of my last rover update. The overview map to the right shows in red their approximate planned route to avoid that large dune field to the south. The meandering yellow line indicates Curiosity’s actual route. The straight yellow lines indicates I think the area covered by the mosaic above. As you can see, since the end of May they have quickly returned to their planned route. Note also that the dune field extends about twice the distance beyond the eastern edge of this overview map.

The next big goal when they reach that sulfate-bearing unit will be to not only study it but to also study a recurring slope lineae on the slopes of that unit, a streak that darkens and lightens seasonally that might be caused by seeping brine from below. Because the sulfate unit and the linneae are both major geological goals, they are going to be moving fast to get there. I am sure they will periodically stop to do geology, but I think the travel will be, as it has been for the past month, quick-paced.

Once the rover gets to the sulfate unit, Curiosity will at last have actually reached the base of Mount Sharp. Up until now it has been traveling first in the surrounding plains, then in the mountain’s foothills. The terrain will get much rougher and be far more spectacular, as Curiosity will be entering canyons as it begins to climb the mountain itself.

Air Force looking to buy flying cars

The Air Force is looking to buy commercially-made flying cars designed using drone technology.

The advantages of vertical landing and take-off are many. For example, they would not need runways that are targets and must be defended. They can take off and land practically anywhere. In the past however the cost and practicality of making an airplane do this has been a major obstacle.

Normally I would see an article like this in the military press as simply a lobbying effort by a government agency to garner a bigger budget for itself. That still might be the case, but this part of the Air Force’s proposal stood out:

Because a key aim of Agility Prime is to work with commercial industry, there are currently no plans to modify the design of the orbs for military use or arm them for strike missions. “We will not put any military unique requirements on them because the last thing you want to hear as a commercial backer of one of these companies is that the military is coming in and changing a vehicle away from a type that would have domestic use,” Roper said. “We want to create a supply chain in the U.S. that is dual commercial and military.”

In other words, the Air Force wants to buy these unmodified from commercial civilian companies, both to save money and speed utilization. They have issued the general specs for the two types of vehicles they want (one larger than the other) and are accepting bids from private companies for delivery.

If true and if the Air Force sticks to this policy (which is essentially the approach I advocated for NASA in my 2017 policy paper Capitalism in Space), they hope to have these vehicles flying operationally by 2023, and at a cost of only “a few hundred thousand dollars to a few million dollars per unit.”

Update on Starship test program: First tests for prototype #5

Link here. Lots of good information, including details about the growing assembly line of new Raptor engines.

Meanwhile, labeled “27”, the engine – logically assumed to be Raptor SN27 – SpaceX has just installed on Starship SN5 is also of interest. On top of Musk’s recent confirmation that SpaceX is already building Raptor SN30 (probably SN31 or SN32, now), SN27’s assignment to Starship SN5 confirms that the company has managed to complete (and test) at least one next-generation engines every other week since the first full-scale engine shipped to McGregor, Texas in February 2019.

For a brand new engine as complex as Raptor, that’s an impressive production milestone. Per Musk, the end-goal is to produce at least one Raptor per day in the near term – a necessity given that each Starship and Super Heavy booster pair will require at least 37 engines. To feasibly build a fleet of tens – let alone hundreds or thousands – of Starships and boosters, one engine per day is arguably the bare minimum required just for early orbital launch attempts and initial operations.

They hope to start static fire tests, with prototype #5 by July 8th. If these go well they will likely follow soon thereafter with the first short vertical hop.

Israel launches reconnaissance satellite

In its first launch since 2016, Israel yesterday successfully used its Shavit rocket to place a military reconnaissance satellite into orbit.

This was also Israel’s ninth successful launch since it completed its first in 1988. The country has averaged about one launch every four years since, almost of of which have been military reconnaissance satellites. Generally, the pattern has been for Israeli commercial satellites to get launched by other commercial rocket companies, leaving the military launches to Shavit.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race remain unchanged:

15 China
10 SpaceX
7 Russia
3 ULA

The U.S. leads China 16 to 15 in the national rankings.

China launches another Earth observation satellite

The new colonial movement: China yesterday successfully launched a military surveillance satellite using its Long March 2D rocket, its second launch in three days.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

15 China
10 SpaceX
7 Russia
3 ULA

The U.S. now leads China 16 to 15 in the national rankings.

Midnight repost: “We stand for freedom.”

The tenth anniversary retrospective of Behind the Black continues: This essay, portions of which was adapted from the fourth chapter of Genesis: The Story of Apollo 8, was posted originally on May 25, 2011, the fiftieth anniversary of Kennedy’s speech to Congress where he committed the nation to landing a man on the Moon by the end of the decade.

It seems fitting to repost on July 4th, Independence Day.

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Kennedy's speech

“We stand for freedom.”

Fifty years ago today, John Kennedy stood before Congress and the nation and declared that the United States was going to the Moon. Amazingly, though this is by far the most remembered speech Kennedy ever gave, very few people remember why he gave the speech, and what he was actually trying to achieve by making it.

Above all, going to the Moon and exploring space was not his primary goal.
» Read more

Rocket Lab launch failure

Electron 34 seconds from launch

UPDATE: Mere seconds after I uploaded the post below, Rocket Lab announced that something had gone wrong late in the launch, resulting in the loss of all seven satellites.

This failure is the company’s second since their first test launch attempt. It will certainly prevent them from their goal this year of monthly launches.

The failure also changes the launch standings below. Rocket Lab is no longer among the leaders, and the U.S. leads China 16 to 14.

The original post:
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Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab today successfully completed the thirteenth launch of its Electron rocket, placing seven smallsats into orbit.

The picture above, captured from their live feed 34 seconds before launch, is most amusing because of the white sheep and black cattle grazing in the foreground.

This launch, three weeks after their previous launch, was their fastest turn-around so far. They made no attempt this time to recover the first stage, but noted that they plan to do so on their seventeenth launch, four launches from now.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

14 China
10 SpaceX
7 Russia
3 ULA
3 Rocket Lab

The U.S. now leads China 17 to 14 in the national rankings.

A hanging crater on Mars

Hanging crater
Click for full image.

Overview

Cool image time! The image to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, was taken by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on May 1, 2020, and shows a truly intriguing crater that they dub a “Crater Hanging on Mesa Wall.”

Located in Deuteronilus Mensae, a chaos region of mesas and cross-crossing canyons in the transition zone between the northern lowland plains and the southern cratered highlands, the crater literally overhangs the edge of this canyon’s cliff. The overview map to the right, with this location indicated by the red box, illustrates what this region’s geology is like.

The most likely explanation is that the impact occurred prior to the creation of the canyon, and when the canyon eroded, the material in and of this crater was more resistant, probably because the impact had packed it together to increase its density.

At the same time, the features inside both craters in the photo, as well as below them on the floor of the canyon, suggest the presence of buried glaciers, something not unlikely at the 45 degree north latitude where this crater sits.

So, here’s a guess at the geological history. First we had the impact, then during the eons of glacial ebb and flow on Mars due to wide swings in the planet’s obliquity (its rotational tilt), the canyon was cut, with that erosion leaving the crater sitting high above the canyon floor below it.

One more curious detail: The material in the canyon seems asymmetric, suggesting that the crater actually dips down toward the canyon, as if it as a unit has tilted to the east as the canyon was worn out below it.

New storm outbreak on Jupiter

Clyde's Spot
Click for full image.

A new storm, dubbed Clyde’s spot after its discoverer, developed suddenly in late May on Jupiter, and has been imaged by Juno during its most recent close fly-by of the gas giant planet.

The image to the right, cropped to post here, focuses in on this spot. It is the feature in the center of the full image, with the Great Red Spot to the upper left.

The new feature was discovered by amateur astronomer Clyde Foster of Centurion, South Africa. Early on the morning of May 31, 2020, while imaging Jupiter with his telescope, Foster noticed a new spot, which appeared bright as seen through a filter sensitive to wavelengths of light where methane gas in Jupiter’s atmosphere has strong absorption. The spot was not visible in images captured just hours earlier by astronomers in Australia.

On June 2, 2020, just two days after Clyde Foster’s observations, Juno performed its 27th close flyby of Jupiter. The spacecraft can only image a relatively thin slice of Jupiter’s cloud tops during each pass. Although Juno would not be travelling directly over the outbreak, the track was close enough that the mission team determined the spacecraft would obtain a detailed view of the new feature, which has been informally dubbed “Clyde’s Spot.”

The feature is a plume of cloud material erupting above the upper cloud layers of the Jovian atmosphere. These powerful convective “outbreaks” occasionally erupt in this latitude band, known as the South Temperate Belt

The coolest thing about this is that the storm was spotted by an amateur, using a ground-based telescope, within hours of its inception.

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