Tag Archives: freedom

Test cubesat to launch to Gateway lunar orbit

NASA has awarded a $13.7 million contract to Advanced Systems to build a cubesat to test placement and operation in the orbit the agency wishes to place its Lunar Gateway space station.

The Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) is expected to be the first spacecraft to operate in a near rectilinear halo orbit around the Moon. In this unique orbit, the CubeSat will rotate together with the Moon as it orbits Earth and will pass as close as 1,000 miles and as far as 43,500 miles from the lunar surface.

The pathfinder mission represents a rapid lunar flight demonstration and could launch as early as December 2020. CAPSTONE will demonstrate how to enter into and operate in this orbit as well as test a new navigation capability. This information will help reduce logistical uncertainty for Gateway, as NASA and international partners work to ensure astronauts have safe access to the Moon’s surface. It will also provide a platform for science and technology demonstrations.

While proving the capability of cubesats for these unmanned planetary probes is all to the good, I must once again point out that making this orbit a way station on the way to the Moon actually makes it more difficult to get there. More fuel and equipment is required to transfer to the Moon once you are in Gateway’s planned orbit.

Based on our past experience with NASA boondoggles like this, Gateway will therefore act as a drag on future American lunar exploration. While other nations (China, India) will be landing on the surface, we will repeatedly find that our surface missions are delayed because of the added complexity of going from Earth to Gateway and then to the surface.

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Relativity gets another launch contract

Capitalsm in space: The smallsat rocket company Relativity has signed another launch contract, this time with Momentus, a company making orbital smallsat tugs capable of transporting smallsats to higher orbits.

The launch agreement, announced during Euroconsult’s World Satellite Business Week here, covers one launch of Relativity’s Terran 1 rocket in 2021 with an option for up to five additional launches. The companies did not disclose the terms of the agreement, but Relativity offers the Terran 1 for a list price of $10 million.

The 2021 launch will fly Momentus’ Vigoride Extended tug, capable of carrying up to 350 kilograms of satellites. The tug will transport the satellites from an initial low Earth orbit to geostationary orbit using its water plasma thruster technology.

This is Relativity’s fourth launch contract, all signed prior to their first test launch. Right now they hope to start test flights late in 2020, with their first operational flights in 2021.

Momentus meanwhile adds a capability to all these smallsat rockets, essentially providing them an upper stage that will get the smallsats they launch from low Earth orbit to geosynchronous orbit.

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Jon David Kahn – American Heart

An evening pause: On this day of remembrance, this song seems fitting. And as the lyrics boldly state,

I won’t be made to ever feel ashamed
that I’m American made
I got American parts
I got American faith
In America’s heart
Go on, raise the flag
I got stars in in my eyes
I’m in love with her
And I won’t apologize.

The image that best reveals what America represents, as a messenger of freedom, is that photograph of the American soldier gently cradling a baby refugee from war. Or as said in the 1993 movie Gettysburg, “We are here for something new. This has not happened much in the history of the world. We are an army out to set other men free.

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SpaceX wins launch contract for seven SES satellites

Capitalism in space: SES yesterday announced that it has awarded SpaceX’s Falcon 9 the launch contract for the next seven satellites in its next generation communications constellation.

This is a big win for SpaceX, made even more clear by a briefing held yesterday with reporters by Arianespace CEO Stéphane Israel. In that briefing Israel outlined that company’s upcoming launch contracts, where he also claimed that this launch manifest is so full he had to turn down SES’s launch offer.

Because of its full manifest, Arianespace was unable to offer SES launch capacity in 2021 for its next generation of medium Earth orbit satellites, mPOWER. SES announced plans Sept. 9 to fly mPOWER satellites on SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets from Florida’s Cape Canaveral. Arianespace launched the 20 satellites in the SES O3B constellation.

It was important to SES to launch in 2021, Israel said. Given Arianespace’s full manifest, it was difficult “to offer the guarantee they were asking for,” he added.

If you believe that I have a bridge I want to sell you. Arianespace has been struggling to get launch contracts for its new Ariane 6 rocket. They have begun production on the first fourteen, but according Israel’s press briefing yesterday, Ariane 6 presently only has eight missions on its manifest. That means that six of the rockets they are building have no launch customers. I am sure they wanted to put those SES satellites on at least some of those rockets, and couldn’t strike a deal because the expendable Ariane 6 simply costs more than the reusable Falcon 9.

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Vector loses Air Force contract

Vector has withdrawn from an Air Force launch contract, allowing the military to reassign the contract to another new launch startup, Aevum.

The Agile Small Launch Operational Normalizer (ASLON)-45 space lift mission had been originally awarded to Vector Launch Aug. 7. But Vector formally withdrew Aug. 26 in the wake of financial difficulties that forced the company to suspend operations and halt development of its Vector-R small launch vehicle.

The Rocket Systems Launch Program — part of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center Launch Enterprise — used a Federal Acquisition Regulation “simplified acquisition procedure” to expedite another agreement with a different contractor, the Air Force said in a news release. Aevum’s contract is $1.5 million higher than the one that had been awarded to Vector.

The full scope of Vector’s problems still remain unclear. My industry sources tell me that there was absolutely no malfeasance at all behind the resignation of former CEO Jim Cantrell. From what I can gather, the problems appear to stem from issues of engineering with their rocket, combined with an investor pull-back due to those problems.

Either way, Vector is no longer among the leaders in the new smallsat launch industry, and in fact appears to be fading fast.

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Update on SpaceX’s plans for Starship

According to FAA regulatory documents, SpaceX has updated its development plan for Starship, including changes in its overall plans for its Boca Chica facility.

The document also lays out a three-phase test program, which it says “would last around 2 to 3 years”:

Phase 1: Tests of ground systems and fueling, a handful of rocket engine test-firings, and several “small hops” of a few centimeters off the ground. The document also includes graphic layouts, like the one above, showing the placement of water tanks, liquid methane and oxygen storage tanks (Starship’s fuels), and other launch pad infrastructure.

Phase 2: Several more “small hops” of Starship, though up to 492 feet (150 meters) in altitude, and later “medium hops” to about 1.9 miles (3 kilometers). Construction of a “Phase 2 Pad” for Starship, shown below, is also described.

Phase 3: A few “large hops” that take Starship up to 62 miles (100 kilometers) above Earth — the unofficial edge of space — with high-altitude “flips,” reentries, and landings.

The first phase is now complete, with the company shifting into Phase 2.

Boca Chica meanwhile is no longer being considered a spaceport facility. Instead, its focus will now be a development site for building Starship and Super Heavy.

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San Fran government declares NRA (and its members) terrorists

They’re coming for you next: The San Francisco Board of Supervisors, all Democrats, yesterday voted unanimously to declare the National Rifle Association a domestic terrorist organization.

[The resolution blames the] NRA … for causing gun violence. “The National Rifle Association musters its considerable wealth and organizational strength to promote gun ownership and incite gun owners to acts of violence,” the resolution reads. The resolution also claims that the NRA “spreads propaganda,” “promotes extremist positions,” and has “through its advocacy has armed those individuals who would and have committed acts of terrorism.”

In addition to calling the NRA a domestic terrorist organization, the Board of Supervisors called on the city and county of San Francisco to “take every reasonable step to limit … entities who do business with the City and County of San Francisco from doing business” with the NRA.

You can read the resolution here [pdf]. Its aim is to blacklist this legal organization made of about five million Americans. It also aims to forbid any legal agreements between any businesses in San Francisco and the NRA, as well as encourage all other city, state, and federal governments to do the same.

Ah, blacklists! I remember them well. There was once a time that Democrats considered blacklists to be the font of all evil, and proof that anyone who suggested them was a fascist. Now that the left proposes such things they stand for justice and righteousness.

Nor is this the only example. Recently several Hollywood television actors called for the publication of all attendees to a Trump fundraiser in Beverly Hills, so that they could make a list of people to blacklist. Fortunately, a lot of other Hollywood stars balked, criticizing the idea.

Nonetheless, this is where the leftist Democratic Party is headed. Either you agree with them, or you must be squelched, in every way possible.

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China withdraws extradition bill that sparked Hong Kong protests

The Hong Kong government today announced that it is withdrawing the extradition bill demanded by China that sparked Hong Kong protests.

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, said Wednesday that the government would withdraw a contentious extradition bill that ignited months of protests in the city, moving to quell the worst political crisis since the former British colony returned to Chinese control 22 years ago.

The move eliminates a major objection among protesters, but it was unclear if it would be enough to bring an end to intensifying demonstrations, which are now driven by multiple grievances with the government.

“Incidents over these past two months have shocked and saddened Hong Kong people,” she said in an eight-minute televised statement broadcast shortly before 6 p.m. “We are all very anxious about Hong Kong, our home. We all hope to find a way out of the current impasse and unsettling times.”

Her decision comes as the protests near their three-month mark and show little sign of abating, roiling a city known for its orderliness and hurting its economy.

The article suggests that the protests will still go on, that the “genie is out of the bottle.” I am not so sure.

Regardless, what this means is that, as of now, China is admitting that its effort to eliminate Hong Kong’s democratic systems and fold it completely into the communist power structure of the mainland has failed. This does not mean that China will stop trying, merely that they will now pause in this effort.

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UK Tories purge 21 who opposed party today

The Conservative Party in Great Britain today expelled 21 members who voted against Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan to exit the European Union, deal or no deal.

[The expulsion plan was announced] just hours after lawmakers in Britain passed legislation designed to stop Johnson from taking the UK out of the European Union without a formal deal. The House of Commons earlier Tuesday passed a bill allowing members of Parliament to introduce legislation forcing Johnson to ask for a three-month extension from the EU if a deal is not made by Oct. 31, the Brexit deadline.

The bill passed in a 328 to 301 vote, with 21 members of the governing Conservative Party defecting and joining the opposition party, The Guardian reported.

Johnson has also announced that he will call for general elections, to decide if his party should remain in power. At the moment it appears he does not have a majority in parliament to rule.

At the same time, Johnson has soared in the polls for his hardline exit strategy, and it also appears this strategy is garnering him international political support.

If Johnson wins in the elections, he will have succeeded in purging his party of the equivalent of what conservatives in the U.S. call RINOs, fake conservatives who mouth the right thing but don’t really mean it and when push comes to shove always betray the people who voted for them. This will put Johnson in a very strong political position for doing what he was chosen to do, uphold the choice of the electorate when they voted to leave the European Union.

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SpaceX issues explanation for nonresponse in potential satellite collision issue

SpaceX today issued an explanation for why it had not responded when ESA officials had asked them to change the orbit of one of its Starlink smallsats to protect against a possible collision with ESA’s Aeolus spacecraft.

SpaceX, in a statement Sept. 3, said it was aware of a potential conjunction Aug. 28 and communicated with ESA. At that time, though, the threat of a potential collision was only about 1 in 50,000, below the threshold where a maneuver was warranted. When refined data from the U.S. Air Force increased the probability to within 1 in 1,000, “a bug in our on-call paging system prevented the Starlink operator from seeing the follow on correspondence on this probability increase,” a company spokesperson told SpaceNews.

“SpaceX is still investigating the issue and will implement corrective actions,” the spokesperson said of the glitch. “However, had the Starlink operator seen the correspondence, we would have coordinated with ESA to determine best approach with their continuing with their maneuver or our performing a maneuver.”

This incident increasingly strikes me as a tempest in a teapot created by ESA for any number of reasons, including their overall dislike of SpaceX (for generally making all government-run space programs look foolish). There is also this quote from an ESA official in the article above:

“The case just showed that, in the absence of traffic rules and communication protocols, collision avoidance has to rely on the pragmatism of the involved operators,” Krag said. “This is done today by exchange of emails. Such a process is not viable any longer with the increase of space traffic.” He said that, if the Space Safety initiative is funded, ESA would like to demonstrate automated maneuver coordination by 2023. [emphasis mine]

I can just see ESA officials drooling with eager anticipation the coming of more “traffic rules and communication protocols,” partly inspired by this fake crisis they just created. Imposing more rules and getting increased funding is what they do best, since it certainly isn’t exploring space with creative and efficient innovation.

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Boris Johnson loses one-vote majority in House of Commons

In the continuing political battle in the British parliament over the decision by the voters to leave the European Union and prime minister Boris Johnson’s effort to abide by that decision quickly, a member of his Tory Party defected from that party today in a public stunt.

Boris Johnson has seen his one-vote Commons majority vanish before his eyes, as a statement by the prime minister to parliament was undermined by the very public defection of the Conservative MP Phillip Lee to the Liberal Democrats.

The stunt, in which the pro-remain Bracknell MP walked across the chamber to the Lib Dem benches flanked by two of his new colleagues, happened as Johnson updated the Commons on last month’s G7 summit, a statement devoted mainly to Brexit.

At the start of a crucial day in the Commons, Johnson condemned a backbench plan aimed at delaying Brexit to avert a no-deal departure, calling it a “surrender bill”. Jeremy Corbyn responded by criticising the PM’s language. MPs will vote on Tuesday evening on whether to take control of the order paper to allow the passage of the bill. Johnson has promised to seek a general election if they do so.

It is very clear that Great Britain has the same political problem as the United States: an entrenched elitist power structure that doesn’t wish to abide by the popular will, and is willing to do almost anything to maintain its power, even if that means corrupting or even destroying the democratic institutions that have made western civilization possible.

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Lunar lander company PTScientists purchased

Capitalism in space: The private commercial lunar lander company PTScientists has been purchased by an unknown investor, thereby avoid liquidation after declaring bankruptcy in July.

Berlin-based PTScientists and the law firm Görg, which handled the company’s bankruptcy administration, announced the acquisition in a German-language statement published Sept. 2. The announcement said neither the company buying PTScientists nor the purchase price would be disclosed, but that the deal was effective Sept. 1.

The acquisition, the announcement stated, allows PTScientists to retain its staff of about 60 people who had been working on lunar lander concepts, including a study for the European Space Agency of a mission to send a lander to the moon to perform experiments for in-situ resource utilization. ESA awarded that study to a team that included PTScientists as well as launch vehicle company ArianeGroup in January.

It seems that someone decided that this company was worth saving, and that it (and the private construction of private planetary missions) has the potential to make them money in time.

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Police ramp up violence against Hong Kong protesters today

This weekend’s Hong Kong protests against China’s rule resulted in increased violence by the police against the protesters.

In the evening, clashes between police and demonstrators broke the peaceful rhythm in the afternoon rallies, repeating the pattern of past weekend protests. Police deployed water cannon trucks several times, unleashing blue-dyed water that would make it easier for police to identify frontline protesters. Police chased down protesters and beat them up with batons, injuring multiple people in the head. One person was injured in the left eye, reportedly by a police-fired projectile.

On Hennessy Road, where many protesters had gathered, police fired multiple rounds of tear gas and sponge grenades. Police also confirmed that they fired two live rounds near Victoria Park. There were no reported injuries in the area. It is unclear why police decided to deploy their service weapons at the time.

Toward midnight, violence spread into subway stations in Kowloon district. At the Prince Edward metro station and several other stations in Kowloon, police charged into the station and into train cars, deploying pepper spray and beating their batons. Officers arrested at least a dozen individuals. Several unarmed passengers were seen bleeding from injuries.

More details at the link. It appears that the protests were peaceful for most of the day, until the police decided to move in and try to shut them down.

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Hong Kong arrests three prominent protest leaders

In a sign that China has no intention of compromising with the protesters in Hong Kong, authorities there today arrested three of the most high-profile leaders of the protest movement.

Two were active in protests in 2014.

Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow, who rose to eminence as the student leaders of pro-democracy demonstrations in 2014, were detained Friday, ahead of what is expected to be a tense weekend in the city. Authorities banned a march planned for Saturday, and warned they would use force and possibly arrest those who defy the order.

Police said Wong and Chow face charges of participating in an unauthorized assembly and inciting others to participate in an unapproved assembly, while Wong faces an additional charge of organizing an unapproved assembly, in relation to a June 21 protest at police headquarters. Both were released on bail Friday. …

The sweep came ahead of a sensitive political anniversary in the semiautonomous Chinese territory. This Saturday marks five years since Beijing announced an electoral-reform plan that denied Hong Kong free elections — a decision that triggered 79 days of pro-democracy protests.

More here, including information about other arrests in addition to the three above.

I’m not sure China’s actions here are going to prevent demonstrations tomorrow. For example,

The bespectacled Wong, who was 17 when he became the face of the student-led civil disobedience movement in 2014 that blocked major roads for 79 days, has not been a prominent figure in the latest protests, which have no identifiable leaders.

The same thing applies to the others who were arrested. There doesn’t appear to be anyone in particular running these protests, which means arresting a few scapegoats and banning further demonstrations will probably not work. We shall find out this weekend.

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FAA required SpaceX to up its insurance for Starhopper test

The FAA’s office that regulates commercial space required SpaceX to increase its insurance coverage for this week’s Starhopper test to $100 million, thirty three times higher than their coverage for the previous Starhopper hops.

Lots of information at the link, though in summary it all makes perfect sense.

There are a number of likely reasons the federal regulator required SpaceX to boost its insurance coverage, says George Nield, a former FAA associate administrator who led its Office of Commercial Space Transportation (OCST) for more than a decade.

One is that Tuesday’s launch took Starhopper hundreds of feet higher than in July; during the prior flight, SpaceX’s vehicle only went about 60 feet (18 meters) up before landing. “The higher you want to go, the more propellant you’re going to have to load, and the more propellant you load, the bigger the boom if it were to explode,” Nield told Business Insider prior to Tuesday’s launch.

More importantly, their Boca Chica launch site is only a mile and a half from a small village of about twenty people, much closer than any other launchpad in the world. How SpaceX will manage this issue should they wish to test fly their fullscale Starship prototype from this site I really do not know. It could be that they won’t, and will confine all test flights to Kennedy, where they are also building a second Starship prototype.

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SpaceX begins hunt for Starship landing sites on Mars

Candidate landing sites for SpaceX's Starship

In the August image release from the high resolution camera of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) were five images whose title immediately caught my interest:

The overview map on the right shows the location on Mars for these five photographs. The second and third images are of the same location, taken to produce a stereo pair.

To put it mildly, it is most intriguing to discover that SpaceX is beginning to research a place where it can land Starship on Mars. I immediately emailed Nathan Williams, the JPL scientist who requested these images from SpaceX, but he was bound by a non-disclosure agreement with SpaceX and could not comment. I have since tried to get some information directly from SpaceX but so far the company has not responded. A 2017 news story had indicated the company’s interest in this Mars’ location, but gave no details either.

Based on what we now know of Mars, however, it is possible to figure out why they favor this location, on the border between the two large northern lowland plains Arcadia and Amazonis Planitia.
» Read more

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What Starhopper achieved

Starhopper in flight
Click for full image.

Captalism in space: While most news reports (including mine yesterday) have focused on the spectacular 150-meter flight of Starhopper, the real story here is the Raptor engine. As one of my readers said most succinctly in a comment:

As impressive as the flight was, there is so much more going on here. This is the most efficient rocket engine ever, with all fuel and LOX running through the combustion chamber – including exhaust from the turbopumps. The Russians tried it, and NASA tried it, but this is the first time such a design has flown. It’s also the first major engine using methane, so SpaceX is learning all the ground support processes for storing, fueling, and detanking methane (mostly) safely. (Still causing grass fires at launch…) They’re aiming for production cost below $2M per Raptor, and they’re about ready to go full production on the engines, around 500 engines per year.

In fact, Musk himself reveals the truth of Diane Wilson’s comment in a tweet, found in this news story about yesterday’s flight:

Starhopper’s flying days may be done, but the stubby prototype will be retasked rather than put out to pasture.

“Yes, last flight for Hopper. If all goes well, it will become a vertical test stand for Raptor,” Musk said via Twitter on Saturday.

In a sense, yesterday’s flight was no different. Starhopper was essentially a flying test stand for Raptor, which is in itself an incredible concept, when you think about it. Now it will continue to be used as a test stand, but will no longer fly.

I have been told by rocket engineers more than once that you need to build and test your engine before you can really start your rocket design. Once you know its capabilities you can then design and construct the rocket.

This is why Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo has generally been a failure. They built the ship before the engine, and when the engine had issues they had to improvise redesigns that have limited the ship’s capability and seriously delayed its launch.

SpaceX now has its engine ready. Construction on its two prototype Starships, in Boca Chica and Florida, will now proceed quickly. Based on how quickly it took SpaceX to do the first Starhopper test flights (announced in late 2018 and flying in about eight months), expect test flights within six to eight months. (Note that in this last link I expressed doubt they could get those Starhopper flights off in 2019. SpaceX proved me wrong.)

Finally, a minor news note: SpaceX today successfully brought a Dragon cargo capsule back to Earth after a month at ISS, completing its third flight in space. That this multi-use flight is hardly mentioned in the news illustrates how far SpaceX has reshaped space engineering in only a few years.

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Starhopper: Success!

Starhopper in flight
Click for full image.

It appears today’s 150 meter hop (about 500 feet) of SpaceX’s Starhopper prototype was a complete success. To the right, and also below, are screen captures grabbed by me from one private live stream as well as from SpaceX’s own live stream.

In fact, this quick hop appears to have gone amazingly smoothly. It launched almost exactly at the target time, and landed quite softly on the launchpad, as intended. You can see the nozzle of the Raptor engine shifting and adjusting throughout the flight, also another indication that their engineering here is working perfectly. Congratulations SpaceX!

I have embedded SpaceX’s video below the fold. The flight begins around 30 minutes in.

Starhopper near the top of its flight

Starhopper beginning its descent

Starhopper on the ground
» Read more

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Starhopper test flight scrubbed

The planned 150-meter-high test flight of SpaceX’s Starhopper test prototype was aborted at T-0 seconds last night when the Raptor engine did not ignite as expected.

A live video feed provided by SpaceX showed the squat, 30-foot-wide (9-meter) Starhopper vehicle counting down to a planned liftoff shortly after 6 p.m. CDT (7 p.m. EDT; 2300 GMT) Monday from the company’s facility in South Texas. The vehicle’s single methane-fueled Raptor engine could be seen swiveling side-to-side in a preflight steering check, as the Starhopper pad’s sound suppression system dumped water under the vehicle.

But the Raptor engine did not ignite as the countdown clock reached zero.

“Test aborted just after T-0,” read a text banner on SpaceX’s webcast. “Teams evaluating next test opportunity.”

They say they will try again today. If you want to watch this link provides some suggestions.

These test flights are testing the Raptor engine more than they are testing vehicle take-off and landing. This engine is a significant advancement from not only SpaceX’s Merlin engine but from almost every rocket engine previously built. It has the potential to set the record for the most efficient and powerful engine. It is therefore not unexpected that there will be issues during these test flights.

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Planned Starhopper test shuts down Boca Chica

SpaceX’s planned next hop of its Starhopper test vehicle is apparently forcing local residents from their homes, as well as threatening damage to buildings as much as two miles away.

Those residents live in tiny Boca Chica Village, Texas, which sits less than 2 miles (3 km) from a SpaceX-operated launch site near the US-Mexico border along the Gulf Coast. SpaceX’s test of the so-called “Starhopper”—a prototype of a reusable shuttle meant for human transit—may well create an “overpressure event” capable of breaking glass in buildings nearby. The police-delivered warnings advise residents to, at a minimum, exit their homes when they hear police sirens around the 4pm launch window.

Comments posted under the Brownsville Herald article include, “Doesn’t sound good to me that they have to evacuate their homes all because Space X is testing” and “I think spacex should be prepared to pay for the window replacements.”

The test is also forcing the closure of roads required by residents to access or leave their neighborhoods.

It seems that SpaceX’s decision to conduct their Starhopper tests in Boca Chica rather than at their McGregor, Texas, engine test facility might have been a mistake. Unlike Boca Chica, McGregor is a much larger facility, which means tests are farther away from local residences. While Boca Chica gives SpaceX great visibility (hence some great publicity) for Starhopper, it appears to also be causing some bad press because of these negative impacts on the local community.

Either way, expect news of Starhopper’s biggest hop in the next day or so.

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Hong Kong police fire water cannons, gunshot, against protesters

The first gunshot and use of water cannons by Hong Kong police occurred today against protests opposed to increased Chinese rule over that former British colony.

Earlier Sunday, after thousands of people marched peacefully in pouring rain, a group of hardcore protesters erected makeshift roadblocks and threw bricks and Molotov cocktails at riot police. After firing tear gas in an attempt to dispers the crowds, police drove water cannon vehicles onto the streets for the first time during the protests, unfurling signs warning demonstrators they would deploy the jets if they did not leave. The jets were later fired down from the moving trucks down a road towards a crowd of protesters who ran away.

There were no immediate reports of injuries.

There is also no additional information about the gunshot, though it appears it caused no injuries.

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Satellite company switches from Falcon Heavy to Ariane 5

Capitalism in space: The communications satellite company Ovzon has switched from SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy to Arianespace’s Ariane 5 for the launch of its first wholly owned satellite in 2021.

In an interview Aug. 24, Ovzon CEO Magnus René told SpaceNews the company received a more appealing launch offer from Arianespace. “It’s nothing political or anything like that, it’s not that we don’t trust SpaceX — it’s just that we could get a better deal in cost and time and so on from Ariane at this time,” René said.

SpaceX charges $100 million for a Falcon Heavy launch, about the same as Arianespace charges for one of the two berths on its Ariane 5. Arianespace must have therefore cut its standard price to make it more attractive, and win the deal.

Ain’t competition wonderful? Governments have been trying (and failing) to get us into space for half a century, using the model of international cooperation. Introduce some competition and suddenly it becomes both easier and cheaper to do it. Who woulda thunk it?

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Sierra Nevada unveils full scale Gateway habitat module prototype

Capitalism in space: Sierra Nevada yesterday unveiled a full scale prototype of a habitable module that it developed under a NASA contract for the agency’s proposed Lunar Gateway space station.

[The module] measures more than 8 meters long, and with a diameter of 8 meters has an internal volume of 300 cubic meters, which is about one-third the size of the International Space Station.

Sierra Nevada developed this full-scale prototype under a NASA program that funded several companies to develop habitats that could be used for a space station in orbit around the Moon, as well as potentially serving as living quarters for a long-duration transit to and from Mars. As part of the program, NASA astronauts have, or will, spend three days living in and evaluating the prototypes built by Sierra Nevada, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Bigelow Aerospace.

The selling point for Sierra Nevada’s habitat is its size, which is possible because the multi-layered fabric material can be compressed for launch, then expanded and outfitted as a habitat once in space. It can fit within a standard payload fairing used for launch vehicles such as SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan booster, or NASA’s Space Launch System. It is light enough for any of those rockets to launch to the Moon.

What we are seeing here is the unfolding of the Washington lobbying game to guarantee Gateway gets funded and built. NASA is spreading its available Gateway cash around to multiple companies, who will now have a vested interest in lobbying Congress to get this lunar space station funded and built.

The one very good component of this lobbying process is that NASA is not doing the building or the designing. It is hiring private companies, which means the project will act to stimulate the American aerospace industry. Moreover, it is leaving the ownership of the spacecraft and the decision on what launch vehicle to use to the companies, which means this cannot be used as a lever to fund the SLS boondoggle. Under this arrangement more will get done faster for less.

Even so, Lunar Gateway will mostly act to slow the United States’ effort to colonize the solar system. We will be spending our government space dollars on an orbiting lunar space station, thus generally trapping us in orbit, as we watch China, India, Russia and others land and explore the surface.

There is only one way Gateway could possibly be beneficial to the United States. NASA gets it built fast and cheaply, so that it then can be used as a jumping off point for further exploration. This would give the U.S. capabilities in space that far exceed other countries.

My fear is that NASA has a terrible track record in the past half century of doing anything fast or cheaply. Instead, NASA projects like Gateway end up taking forever and costing many times their initial proposed budget. SLS is a perfect poster child for this. Its goal is not so much to launch as to provide Congress endless pork.

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SpaceX’s Tesla has completed its first solar orbit

Capitalism in space: The first privately launched car, a Tesla placed in solar orbit on SpaceX’s first launch of its Falcon Heavy, has now completed its first orbit around the sun.

Its future?

Car and driver will probably make many more laps around our star. Last year, an orbit-modeling study calculated that the Roadster will eventually slam into either Venus or Earth, likely within the next few tens of millions of years. But there’s just a 6 percent chance of an Earth impact, and a 2.5 percent chance of a Venus impact, within the next million years, the study’s authors found.

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ULA wins private lunar launch contract

Capitalism in space: Astrobotic, the private company building a lunar lander for NASA, has chosen ULA’s Vulcan rocket for its launch vehicle.

Astrobotic announced today that it selected United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Vulcan Centaur rocket in a competitive commercial procurement to launch its Peregrine lunar lander to the Moon in 2021.

“We are so excited to sign with ULA and fly Peregrine on Vulcan Centaur. This contract with ULA was the result of a highly competitive commercial process, and we are grateful to everyone involved in helping us make low-cost lunar transportation possible. When we launch the first lunar lander from American soil since Apollo, onboard the first Vulcan Centaur rocket, it will be a historic day for the country and commercial enterprise,” said Astrobotic CEO, John Thornton.

This is the second contract announcement for ULA’s Vulcan rocket, with the first being Sierra Nevada’s announcement that it would use Vulcan for Dream Chaser’s first six flights.

Isn’t competition wonderful? It appears to me that ULA must be offering very cut-rate deals to get these contracts, since the rocket has not yet flown while SpaceX’s already operational Falcon Heavy (with three successful launches) could easily do the job and is a very inexpensive rocket to fly. These lower prices, instigated by competition and freedom, will mean that funding missions to the Moon will continue to become more likely, even if NASA and the federal government fail to get their act together.

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Facebook allows flat-Earthers to censor a space history book

A photographer trying to raise money for a self-published book of historical space artifacts had his Facebook ads repeatedly removed by Facebook because flat-Earthers and Moon hoax conspiracy theorists were offended.

About 24 hours after the ads were approved, he got a notification telling him the ad had been removed. He resubmitted it. It was accepted — and then removed again — 15 or 20 times, he said. The explanation given: He had run “misleading ads that resulted in high negative feedback.”

He understood that it was Facebook’s algorithm that rejected the ads, not a person. Getting additional answers proved difficult, a common complaint with advertising on Facebook. The best clues he could find came in the comments under the ads, which he and his colleagues captured in screenshots before they were removed and in responses to other posts about the project: There were phrases such as “The original moon landing was faking” and “It’s all a show,” along with memes mocking space technology. Some comments were hard to gauge, with users insisting that the earth was flat but that they’d buy the book anyway.

To fix the problem he had to hire an outside expert who knew how to get to a human being at Facebook, proving once again that Facebook is a very unethical and corrupt company. It should not have been so hard for Redgrove to get his problem fixed.

Update: In related news, Facebook has pulled a Trump campaign ad for a lot of vague reasons that really can be summed up as “We didn’t like it!”

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Obama’s legacy of hate

Of all of Obama’s achievements, probably the one that is going to ring down the decades the longest and maybe do the most to destroy the United States and western civilization was his willingness to either endorse or refuse to condemn the use of slanders and lies to advance the political power of his Democratic Party and the left.

The most obvious example of this were the false accusations by top Democrats that the Tea Party protesters against Obamacare were “racist”, despite zero evidence. (I speak from personal experience, as I was involved in Tea Party groups in both the DC and Tucson areas.) Obama was in a position to tamp down this hateful and dishonest rhetoric. Instead, he allowed members of his administration to encourage it.

This political tactic has now become pervasive and dominant throughout the Democratic Party and its minions in the mainstream press. This fact became especially evident to me this past weekend, during a demonstration in Portland by a group called the Proud Boys. This group was formed in 2016 in reaction to the modern political leftist pressure forcing Americans to adhere to leftist dogma. From their own webpage:

The basic tenet of the group is that we are “Western chauvinists who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world.” Like Archie Bunker, we long for the days when “girls were girls and men were men.” This wasn’t controversial even twenty years ago, but being proud of Western culture today is like being a crippled, black, lesbian communist in 1953.

…The Proud Boys confuse the media because the group is anti-SJW without being alt-right. “Western chauvinist” includes all races, religions, and sexual preferences.

I have reviewed their webpages, their videos, statements from their leaders, and can find nothing that suggests they have any links to fascism or white supremacy. Go to their webpage yourself and do the same. If anything, the actual evidence is that this group opposes such things, vehemently.

And yes, I am sure you could find bigots among them, as you can find bigots everywhere. The fundamental principles and goals of the organization however have nothing to do with bigotry. They merely wish to reassert the nobility of western civilization, an idea that all Americans should feel no shame asserting.

This past weekend, during their demonstration, they came with no masks, a lot of American flags, a lot of Trump “Make America Great Again” hats and t-shirts, and the ability to defend themselves if attacked. (The link takes you to a Daily Mail report, with lots of pictures that confirm my description but with text that generally describes the event poorly.)

It appears, from the information at this link, that the Proud Boys finished their morning demonstration after about 90 minutes — with no violence — and then went to have a barbeque.
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