Tag Archives: freedom

The Artemis Accords: The Trump administration’s effort to bypass the Outer Space Treaty

Capitalism in space: The Trump administration yesterday released the guidelines it will require any international or private partner to follow if they wish to participate in its Artemis lunar and planetary manned program.

The guidelines, which you can download here [pdf], list ten very broad and vague principles. Most reiterate support for the most successful requirements of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, such as:

  • the requirement that all activities be conducted for peaceful purposes
  • the requirement that everyone design equipment for interoperability and to international standards
  • the requirement that everyone take reasonable steps possible to render assistance to astronauts in distress
  • the requirement that everyone publicly register anything they launch
  • the requirement that everyone release their scientific data publicly
  • the requirement that all parties take actions to mitigate space junk

The remaining four principles appear designed to bend the Outer Space Treaty in the direction of allowing countries and companies to have some control over the territories they occupy in space.
» Read more

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The uncertainties of mask use demand that no one be forced to wear them

The uncertainty of science: Regular readers of Behind the Black will know that I have made it very clear I consider the requirement to wear a mask by government officials to be an incredible and inappropriate overreach of their authority, partly because they don’t have that legal right, and partly because the science is very uncertain, with some studies strongly suggesting that the mask could have serious negative health effects.

Still, the science remains uncertain. Because of this uncertainty, it seems to me in a free society, where everyone respects the idea of freedom, wearing a mask must be left up to each individual.

Sadly, the social justice warriors of our society no longer believe in freedom, and will try to shame and discredit you if you say publicly you will not wear a mask. In the past week I have had two friends tell me bluntly that they will never again be in the same room with me, because they insist that everyone should wear a mask in public, all the time. (This saddens me because I had considered them friends, and it appears those friendships are now over.) One even said “Not wearing a mask in public or with people who are not your immediate family is a true sign of disrespect for others, to put it mildly.”

The context of that last quote is important. » Read more

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Flash from a 2050 news report: Strange forgotten legal document found in Washington ruins

The following news story from 2050 just arrived across my desk, coming from private sources I cannot reveal:

Archeologists, while digging in some ruins in the abandoned city of Washington, DC, today discovered a previously unknown government document, apparently once protected by glass and considered important in ancient times. The document, the title of which was so damaged that only the words “The Bill of” could be read, was mostly burnt and crumpled, with much of the text obscured by spray-paint, spelling out the holy words “No Justice! No Peace!”. A few sentences however were decipherable:

–The right of the people to be secure in their persons, house, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violat–

–No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury–

–nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken–

We all can thank heaven that such a document was not the law of the land, here in the U.S., during the horrible COVID-19 pandemic years past. It might have prevented our heroic governors and wise scientists in Washington from acting to shut down society so that the the disease would not spread, thus protecting us all from its evil power.

We all know that surfing on a beach, buying plant seeds, going to the barber, running a restaurant or a sports bar, buying jewelry, going to school or the library, are all deadly acts that could spread the disease, and anyone who encouraged such behavior had to be arrested immediately, with their worldly goods confiscated. It was the only way we were able to keep us all safe!

Because such rules were not in effect in 2020, our glorious supreme leader, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (blessed be her name), is now able to rule us in peace and prosperity. The schools and libraries are shut, the roads are silent, the skies are empty, no fossil fuels are burnt, and we manage well on our daily rations of corn meal and bread, safely ensconced in our protective cells, away from all others who could hurt us.

Moreover, with the help of the government’s partners Google and Facebook, the internet and social discourse is now peaceful and reasonable, with only correct thoughts allowed. No more are we troubled by those ill-tempered fools with strange opinions that only stirred up trouble and prevented our leaders from ruling properly without limitations.

It is now the best of all possible worlds. Hail the new millennium!

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Kevin James – Out of Touch

This short film epitomizes the fascist nature of today’s lock down, social distancing crowd, working in lockstep with government power. It has been making the rounds on a variety of news websites. I think it needs to be highlighted.

The time has come to tell these ugly snitches that we don’t care what they think, and that we are going to live as we decide, freely.

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The salty liquid water on Mars

Map of seasonal salty liquid water on Mars
Click for full unannotated image.

The map above, reduced and annotated by me, comes from a new science paper that has attempted to model where on Mars we might find liquid very salty water, based on the planet’s known temperature and make-up. From the press release:

The team of researchers used laboratory measurements of Mars-relevant salts along with Martian climate information from both planetary models and spacecraft measurements. They developed a model to predict where, when, and for how long brines are stable on the surface and shallow subsurface of Mars. They found that brine formation from some salts can lead to liquid water over 40% of the Martian surface but only seasonally, during 2% of the Martian year.

“In our work, we show that the highest temperature a stable brine will experience on Mars is -48°C (-55° F). This is well below the lowest temperature we know life can tolerate,” says Dr. Rivera-Valentín. “For many years we have worried about contaminating Mars with terrestrial life as we have sent spacecraft to explore its surface. These new results reduce some of the risk of exploring Mars,” noted Dr. Alejandro Soto at the Southwest Research Institute and co-author of the study. [emphasis mine]

I have added a red rectangle to the map, showing the candidate landing zone for SpaceX’s Starship. This paper illustrates again that this choice is a good one. We know from other research that there is a lot of ice very close to the surface here. This research indicates that for a little less than one percent of each year, some of that ice will turn to liquid brine.

Whether it will be easier to process the ice or the brine into drinkable water remains unknown. This location however will give future colonists that option.

That this model also suggests that there is little risk of contaminating Mars accidently with terrestrial life is really not a surprise. All the research of Mars for decades has found that it is inhospitable to terrestrial life. This data however is further confirmation, and tells us once again that worrying about contaminating the planet is a irrelevancy. For scientific reasons some precautions should be taken, but to spend a lot of time and money sterilizing the spacecraft we send there will be a fool’s errand. For humans to settle Mars will require a very very high level of engineering and adaptation, something we humans are very naturally good at, but something that shouldn’t be burdened with unnecessary tasks or restrictions.

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Musk: Tesla leaving California due to government-imposed shut down

Good: Elon Musk yesterday announced in a furious tweet yesterday that he has had enough of the government-imposed shut down in California due to the Wuhan flu panic, and will be shifting Tesla operations from that state.

“Frankly, this is the final straw,” Musk tweeted. “Tesla will now move its HQ and future programs to Texas/Nevada immediately. If we even retain Fremont manufacturing activity at all, it will be dependen (sic) on how Tesla is treated in the future. Tesla is the last carmaker left in CA.”

He is also suing Alameda County, since its order to stay closed contradicted the okay he had gotten from fascist governor Gavin Newsom. How these actions here will effect SpaceX is not yet clear. Last I heard that company was going to put its factory to build Starship in the port of Los Angeles. Maybe not now.

I expect more businesses that can will be shifting their operations from the dictatorial Democratically-controlled blue states to places that are more friendly to freedom and free enterprise.

A bit of history: This flight from leftist states mirrors what happened in East Germany during the 1950s during the Cold War. The Soviets, direct ancestors to today’s Democratic Party, were insistent on imposing communism in East Germany, which quickly resulted in poverty and an inability of anyone to make a living. In response people and businesses fled in great numbers, making East Germany the only country in Europe to be losing population.

To solve this, Khrushchev decided in 1961 to build the Berlin Wall and make everyone in East Germany a prisoner. I will not be surprised if the leftist states, such as California, Oregon, Washington, New Jersey, and New York, soon consider the same solution. Nor would I be surprised if soon these very states find large portions seceding from them to also escape this tyranny.

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NASA considering consolidating two Gateway launches into one

Capitalism in space: NASA’s Artemis program is now considering using a single launch to place two different Gateway modules into space, rather than two separate launches.

Originally, NASA wanted to launch the PPE and HALO modules – together representing the absolute bare minimum needed to build a functional Gateway – on separate commercial rockets in 2022 and 2023, respectively. Now, according to NASA associate administrator Doug Loverro, the space agency has made the decision to launch both modules simultaneously on the same commercial rocket.

This decision was made in large part because it makes sense from a technical simplicity and overall efficiency standpoint but also because several commercial launch vehicles – either currently operational or soon to be – are set to debut extremely large payload fairings. As a combined payload, the Gateway PPE and HALO modules would be too big for just about any existing launch vehicle, while the tiny handful it might fit in lack the performance needed to send such a heavy payload to the Moon.

Falcon Heavy apparently has the performance needed, as NASA used the rocket and a new stretched fairing developed by SpaceX for military customers as a baseline to determine whether PPE and HALO could launch together. Given that NASA could have technically used any of the vehicles expected to have large payload fairings for that analysis, the explicit use and mention of Falcon Heavy rather strongly suggests that the SpaceX rocket is a front runner for the new combined launch contract. This isn’t exactly surprising, given that the massive rocket has already completed three successful launches and will attempt at least another four missions between now and 2023.

Note the rocket that is not mentioned: SLS.

My regular readers know my consistent opposition to Gateway. That opposition was based on its initial design, depending for launch and operations entirely on NASA’s SLS rocket, and requiring it to be built before we landed on the Moon. Based on the SLS program’s track record, I believed Gateway would become, like SLS, nothing more than a pork barrel project accomplishing nothing but funneling government payroll to congressional districts while failing to launch any missions into space.

If NASA however is shifting gears, and aiming to allow private enterprise to build, launch, and operate Gateway, for considerably less cost and time, than Gateway might actually be of some value, mostly because there is actually a chance it might really be built, within a few short years.

I remain skeptical however. I still have questions about this lunar station’s utility, at this time. We might be spending a lot of money for a space station that won’t get us anywhere. Or maybe if NASA rethinks it properly it could provide us the real opportunity to test construction of an interplanetary spaceship, in lunar orbit.

We will have to see how this plays out. This story does appear encouraging however.

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Successful static fire Raptor engine test on 4th Starship prototype

Capitalism in space: SpaceX yesterday successfully completed the first static fire Raptor engine test on its fourth Starship prototype, laying the foundation for a planned 150-meter vertical hop later this month.

The test lasted about three seconds.

I want to make a quick comparison between SpaceX’s approach for developing Starship, and NASA’s development of SLS. The differences are stark.

First, SpaceX began cutting metal a little over one year ago, and is already testing a full scale prototype, fully fueled, with its planned flight engine.

SLS began development officially around 2011. It uses the engines from the Space Shuttle, so those are already flight proven. However, even after almost a decade of development NASA as yet to do a single static fire test with those engines actually installed on an SLS rocket, either a prototype or the real thing.

Second, in the past year SpaceX has been aggressively testing the fueling of Starship, using a series of prototypes. With this fourth iteration they have apparently gotten the fueling process and the tanks to work effectively. Further tests of course will increase their confidence in the system’s reliability.

SLS, even after almost a decade of development, has yet to do any similar tank tests. Instead, NASA has done separate individual tests of the rocket’s tanks, but never with everything fully assembled. The agency, and its lead contractor Boeing, hope to finally do their first full scale SLS tank test and static fire test sometime later this year. As they have never filled the tanks in this manner before, they have admitted that problems could arise, including the possibility that the tanks could leak.

Note the big difference. SpaceX has done this testing very early in development. NASA is doing it very late in development. Which to you seems the better approach?

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Blue Origin to deliver first BE-4 engines to ULA this summer

Capitalism in space: Development of Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine, to be used in both its New Glenn rocket as well as ULA’s new Vulcan rocket, appears to be finally reaching its conclusion with the planned delivery this summer of two operational engines to ULA.

The bulk of the article at the link is mostly a summary of stuff that had already been revealed about the development of the New Glenn rocket. The only new piece of information that I could glean was this engine delivery date. It is significant, however, because no rocket company can ever really design its rocket before it has finished building the rocket’s engines. With the BE-4 now complete, I would expect the development of both New Glenn and Vulcan to proceed with great speed.

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Trump administration drafting new space agreement to supersede Outer Space Treaty

The new colonial movement: According to this Reuters article, the Trump administration is presently drafting a new space agreement, which they have dubbed the “Artemis Accords,” that would allow private property ownership in space and thus supersede Outer Space Treaty’s restrictions on sovereignty.

The Artemis Accords, named after the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s new Artemis moon program, propose “safety zones” that would surround future moon bases to prevent damage or interference from rival countries or companies operating in close proximity.

The pact also aims to provide a framework under international law for companies to own the resources they mine, the sources said.

In the coming weeks, U.S. officials plan to formally negotiate the accords with space partners such as Canada, Japan, and European countries, as well as the United Arab Emirates, opening talks with countries the Trump administration sees as having “like-minded” interests in lunar mining.

They at the moment are not including Russia or China in the discussions, since those countries have little interest in promoting private enterprise and ownership in space.

Back in 2017 I proposed in an op-ed for The Federalist that Trump do almost exactly this:

Trump should propose a new Outer Space Treaty, superseding the old, that would let nations plant their flags in space. This new treaty should establish the rules by which individual nations can claim territory and establish their law and sovereignty on other worlds or asteroids.

The American homesteading acts of the 1800s could work as a good guide. Under those laws, if an American citizen staked a claim and maintained and developed it for five years, that claim and an accompanying amount of acreage would then become theirs.

In space, Trump could propose that in order for a nation to make a territorial claim, a nation or its citizens must establish a facility. If they occupy and use it for a minimum of five years, that nation can claim it, plus a reasonable amount of territory around it, and place it under that nation’s sovereignty.

Now consider this quote from the Reuters article:

The safety zones – whose size would vary depending on the operation – would allow for coordination between space actors without technically claiming territory as sovereign, he said. “The idea is if you are going to be coming near someone’s operations, and they’ve declared safety zones around it, then you need to reach out to them in advance, consult and figure out how you can do that safely for everyone.”

In other words, the safety zones would essentially be the claimed property of the colonizers, a completely reasonable position.

It is hard to say at this moment whether the Trump administration will succeed in this tactic, of side-stepping a renegotiation of the Outer Space Treaty by working out a new agreement with other interested players. Canada for example has expressed reservations about the Trump administration’s recent public announcement encouraging private ownership of resources in space.

Regardless, that the administration now appears to be addressing the limitations of the Outer Space Treaty is very heartening news. Let us hope they can make it happen.

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Sierra Nevada names its first Dream Chaser spacecraft “Tenacity”

Capitalism in space: Sierra Nevada yesterday announced that it is giving the name “Tenacity” to its first Dream Chaser spacecraft.

Though the press release does not say so, this decision essentially confirms the company intention to build more Dream Chaser spacecraft, once this one proves itself in flight. And I would expect those later craft will be aimed at manned flight.

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SpaceX successfully completes Dragon parachute tests

Capitalism in space: SpaceX successfully completed the last planned parachute test yesterday for its manned Dragon spacecraft, clearing the way for its first manned launch on May 27th.

NASA also said that it has closed its investigation into the Merlin engine issue from a March Falcon 9 launch, leaving nothing but the weather in the way for that May manned flight.

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SpaceShipTwo Unity makes first New Mexico glide flight

Capitalism in space: Virgin Galactic’s Unity suborbital spaceship successfully completed its first glide test flight from its New Mexico launch site yesterday.

They still have not set a date for their first commercial flights, so the company still claims those first flights will occur this year. I will believe it when I see it.

There does appear to be one apparent positive development for Virgin Galactic. It increasingly appears as if Blue Origin is slowly abandoning its effort to compete for suborbital tourism with its New Shepard spacecraft. Blue Origin has not said so, but the extreme slow down in test flights the last two strongly implies it. Moreover, that company’s success in garnering big government contracts, a billion from the military for its orbital New Glenn rocket and about a half billion from NASA for its proposed Blue Moon manned lunar lander, reinforces the sense that the company is shifting its focus away from suborbital space.

If so, that will clear the market for Virgin Galactic, assuming a viable market still exists with the coming of private commercial orbital spaceships like Dragon and Starliner.

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Funding breakdown for three lunar landing contracts

Capitalism in space: The contracts awarded by NASA yesterday to build manned lunar landers totaled almost a billion dollars, distributed as follows:

  • Blue Origin: $579 million
  • Dynetics: $253 million
  • SpaceX: $135 million

That Blue Origin got the biggest amount might have to do with the bid’s subcontractors, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. This gives these traditional big space partners, who normally rely on these kinds of government contracts and have little ability to make money outside them, some financing. This will also please their political backers in Congress.

For SpaceX, this is the first time they have taken any government money in connection with Starship. It also appears that NASA is going to stay back and generally let SpaceX develop it without undue interference.

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NASA contract award for manned lunar landers rejects SLS

Capitalism in space: NASA today announced the award of contracts to three different private companies to develop manned lunar landers for the 2024 Artemis Moon mission, all of which will not use the SLS rocket to get to the Moon.

The press release described the awards as follows:

  • Blue Origin of Kent, Washington, is developing the Integrated Lander Vehicle (ILV) – a three-stage lander to be launched on its own New Glenn Rocket System and ULA Vulcan launch system.
  • Dynetics (a Leidos company) of Huntsville, Alabama, is developing the Dynetics Human Landing System (DHLS) – a single structure providing the ascent and descent capabilities that will launch on the ULA Vulcan launch system.
  • SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, is developing the Starship – a fully integrated lander that will use the SpaceX Super Heavy rocket.

All, including NASA and the Trump administration, are aiming to get these landers built and launched by the Trump administration’s 2024 deadline.

The first thing that stands out like a beacon is the exclusion of SLS as the rocket to launch any of these landers. Instead, the aim is to use the cheaper privately built rockets of either SpaceX, ULA, or Blue Origin.

The second thing that stands out is the commitment by SpaceX to use its Super Heavy/Starship rocket, not its Falcon Heavy. This means they are directly telling the world that they expect this rocket to be in operation much sooner than most expect. It also suggests that they hope this rocket will supplant SLS as the main rocket to get to the Moon. The award also means that NASA is agreeable to this.

The third thing that stands out is the exclusion of Boeing, which submitted a bid but did not win. Not only does this exclusion reinforce the sense gotten from an earlier report that NASA was very dissatisfied with Boeing and was thus going to rank it very low in future bidding considerations, it also indicates once again that NASA is seriously looking at other options to SLS. Boeing’s rejected bid was apparently the only one linked to SLS, and was rejected.

In fact, that SLS was not mentioned as the rocket for any of these landers strongly indicates that NASA and the Trump administration is finally abandoning SLS as the rocket to get Americans to the Moon.

Which immediately raises the question: Why the hell are we spending any money building it? It no longer has any purpose at all.

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Air Force study rubber-stamps Air Force desire to limit launch companies

Garbage in, garbage out: An Air Force commissioned RAND study released yesterday has confirmed the Air Force’s desire to restrict the award of launch contracts for the next decade to only two companies.

“We asked RAND to independently double check the assumptions we used to build our acquisition strategy,” said Col. Robert Bongiovi of the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center in California. “What we found was that our acquisition strategy encompasses RAND’s recommendations as we are already making prudent preparations for a market that will only sustain two providers with our phase two contract structure.”

…Part of the RAND report also recommended that the military closely watch companies over the coming years to see which are the most stable. “The U.S. Space Force should make prudent preparations for a future with only two U.S. providers of NSS-certified heavy lift launch, at least one of which may have little support from the commercial marketplace,” RAND Corporation said of its first main recommendation.

Though the report does suggest that the military continue its development program to help three companies through 2023, it reiterates the military’s belief that there simply isn’t enough business to support more than two companies.

For this reason, the Air Force space division, now the Space Force, had wanted to restrict bidding in the 2020s on its future satellite launches to only two companies out of the four (ULA, SpaceX, Northrop Grumman, Blue Origin) that hope to compete for this business. This report is their attempt to justify that decision.

However, the decision has been repeatedly delayed, partly because of a protest of the plan by Blue Origin and partly because a lot of political pressure in the background from those four companies, none of which want to be excluded from future bidding. It was originally going to be made last year, and is now delayed to later this year.

With the release of the report, the military also suggested that if Congress gives it more money, it might be able to open up bidding to more companies. How typical. Instead of trying to trim costs by allowing competition, the Space Force is now maneuvering elected officials to pump up its budget so that these companies all get more cash while picking the pockets of the taxpayer.

This is the same thinking that caused Boeing and Lockheed Martin to merge their launch operations into ULA and for the Air Force to give that new company a monopoly on launches in 2005. The Air Force assumed then that there wasn’t enough launch business for both companies. Rather than compete to lower costs so that both the Air Force and the private sector could afford more launches, the two companies agreed with this Air Force conclusion and teamed up with the Air Force to form a cartel to control the bulk of the U.S. launch market, while charging the Air Force $200-$500 million per launch.

Then SpaceX comes along and proves them completely wrong. It not only gets more than enough business to make a lot of money (in the billions), it charges only $60 million per launch. When the Air Force tried to deny it the right to bid against ULA for military launches, SpaceX sued, and won.

Now the Space Force wants to do the same thing in the 2020s, limiting to two the number of companies that can bid on contracts. All this will do is raise launch costs, and limit competition.

In the end, I doubt seriously if the Space Force effort here will work. All four companies are developing rockets, and all four should have the right to bid on all future launches. If the military tries to exclude any, they will sue, as SpaceX did, and win. Moreover, the military’s assumption that all four companies cannot survive because it doesn’t have enough business for all four is patently false. SpaceX proved them wrong. All these companies have to do is what SpaceX did, keep their launch costs low enough so that other private customers can buy their services.

There will then be more than enough business to go around, for all.

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Small rocket start-ups disqualified by SBA for Wuhan flu relief loans

Capitalism in space: Because of its arcane rules for defining what makes a small company, the Small Business Administration (SBA) has disqualified hundreds of small rocket start-ups from relief loans being issued to help companies whose business has been suspended due to the government-imposed shut downs due to Wuhan flu.

[Space industry groups] claim that hundreds of U.S. startups have been disqualified from loan programs — created under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the Paycheck Protection Program — because of the way the SBA defines “small business.”

Many startups are funded by venture capital firms that typically invest in a portfolio of companies. To be eligible for the SBA loan program a business has to have fewer than 500 employees. When defining a small business, the SBA applies an “affiliation rule,” requiring companies to include in their worker count all the employees of companies with which they are “affiliated.” That rule requires venture-backed startups to aggregate the employees of all the unrelated companies in which their investors have equity positions, pushing many beyond the 500-employee threshold.

According to the industry groups, 98 percent of U.S. startups have fewer than 100 employees.

In other words, the SBA counts the employees of the venture capital firms as part of the company, when all they are essentially are investors. The start-up itself generally has far less than 100 people employed.

What really has to happen is to shut down the government shut downs. The government has got to get out of the way, and allow freedom to function again. Sadly, I do not see that ever happening, which means that many of these companies will fail, not because they couldn’t get it done but because our fascist new government rulers killed them.

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Rocket Lab completes new launchpad at Wallops

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab has signaled the completion of new launchpad at Wallops Island in the U.S. by the first roll out of an Electron rocket.

The actual launch of a Space Force test satellite is set for sometime in the summer.

Meanwhile, the company is ready to resume launches in New Zealand, but is stymied by the Wuhan panic.

Beck tells the Herald that his company’s Mission Control centre in Auckland is now fully operational with NZ’s move to level 3.

However, its “Don’t Stop Me Now” mission from Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula – originally planned for March 24 – is still on hold, with no estimated launch date. “We’re now ready to launch, but currently border restrictions are preventing specialists from entering the country, which is having a negative impact. Our team is on standby to launch as soon as those restrictions are eased,” Beck says.

I hope the company has the resources to weather these government-imposed delays.

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Freedom rallies planned nationwide for May 1st

The growing movement to force governors to end their nationwide house arrest of the American citizenry is now coalescing into a swelling number of freedom rallies set for May 1st:

The “drive-in” rallies for freedom encourage participants to head to their state capitol or local government building to protest the nationwide lockdowns and demand independence from China, not allowing the country to “control trade, supply chains, or anything else that affects the daily life, health, happiness of American citizens.”

A schedule shows events slated to pop up in Honolulu, Hawaii; Phoenix, Arizona; Northampton, Massachusetts; Los Angeles, California; Huntington Beach, California; San Diego, California; San Francisco, California; Ventura, California; Louisville, Kentucky; Salem, Oregon; Chicago, Illinois; Springfield, Illinois; Atlanta, Georgia; Morehead City, North Carolina; Smithfield, North Carolina; Brookfield, Wisconsin; Carson City, Nevada; Boise, Idaho; and Limerick, Pennsylvania.

“It shouldn’t need to be said that the US Constitution will not be infringed upon, but it is under attack by local and state government tyrants across the country,” the event’s page reads:

This slate of protests is a warning. Right now the demonstrators are trying to be peaceful and law-abiding, but if the Constitution-nullifying restrictions are not removed soon, we should not be surprised if things turn violent. Americans were raised with the expectation that they will be free to follow their pursuit of happiness, and these fascist shut down orders by state governors are preventing that pursuit.

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Europe turns to private enterprise for future space transportation

Capitalism in space: The European Space Agency (ESA) has announced a permanently open call for private companies to develop “space transportation to space, in space, returning from space, or any combination of these.”

To be eligible, the economic operator should demonstrate that its space transportation service is a ‘complete offering’. This means that customers should not need to procure any additional essential service elements such as access to facilities, transport or logistics, to obtain the full service.

The economic operator should take full responsibility for the service project, including finding the funding and resources necessary to develop and deploy the service.

The new space transportation services should justify commercial viability, oriented toward private sector customers, without relying on a guaranteed European institutional demand during the operational phase and with a long-term vision of service provision. Preference will be given to such service projects that are conceived, developed and commercialised in the Participating States.

Though the announcement is filled with the typical hard-to-translate bureaucratic language typical of ESA’s projects, the intent here seems clear. The ESA no longer wishes to do any designing and developing of its rockets, as they have done from the beginning of the space age. This also means they are facing the reality that the Ariane 6 rocket, developed for them by the joint partnership of Airbus and Safran dubbed ArianeGroup, is going to be a financial failure, unable to compete against the lower cost SpaceX and Russian rockets now on the market.

Instead, they are now following what appears to be NASA’s path — the path I outlined in Capitalism in Space — to have ESA act merely as a customer, buying these services from competing private companies (not just ArianeGroup) who will develop the rockets themselves and (most important) own the rockets themselves.

If this is so, it is very good new for the future of space travel. It ups the competition, and it will allow for the development of European rockets able to provide this service at low cost.

The one wrench in the process is that this announcement also includes a bidding process for allowing these new private companies to get development money and technical assistance from ESA. That process appears to have some strings attached that might in the end prevent competing private companies to grow, independent of this governmental body. For example, the submission process allows “ESA to check compliance with Programme objectives and general eligibility. After a positive assessment, ESA will invite the economic operator to submit a full service proposal.” In other words, if you want ESA’s help, you will have to have ESA’s stamp of approval.

Still, this proposal does not require ESA’s help. The agency does appear to be willing to now entertain the use of any rocket system developed by any private operators within the participating ESA’s member nations of Germany, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

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4th Starship prototype passes tank pressure test

Capitlism in space: SpaceX’s fourth Starship prototype has successfully passed a tank pressure test, the first to do so, allowing engine testing to now begin.

In the end, SN4 passed the cryogenic proof test – hitting 4.9 bar. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk admitted in a tweet that this was “kind of a soft ball…” However, “that’s enough to fly,” he added. It is now expected to move on to engine testing within the coming days.

Currently, SpaceX has three flight-ready Raptor engines waiting for the opportunity to participate in the testing. One of these engines will be installed on SN4. A Raptor engine is not installed until after the cryogenic proof test, as that test uses hydraulic pistons to simulate the forces created by Raptors during flight.

After SpaceX performs the Raptor installation on SN4, teams will need to conduct checkouts of the engine on the vehicle. These will include gimbal, ignitor, and fuel pre-burner tests, among others. Only then will SpaceX be ready to attempt a static fire. April 29 was originally the target for a static fire test, but a one day delay with the cryogenic proof test means that the static fire is now likely targeting no earlier than April 30

All in all, the company’s target of doing a hop with this prototype this summer appears increasingly likely.

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SpaceX rolls out next Starship prototype

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has completed construction of its next Starship prototype and has moved it to its test stand in preparation for further tests.

This is the fourth prototype. If the tank pressure tests go well, they hope to add engines and do a twelve mile hop with this prototype, landing vertically. If not, they will try again with later prototypes. Regardless, the goal is to do that hop this year.

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Swarm and Momentus team up to launch and position satellites

Capitalism in space: Swarm, builder of the tiny cubesats dubbed SpaceBees, has teamed up with Momentus to use that company’s Vigoride cubesat upper stage to position its satellites in different orbits after launch.

Under an agreement announced April 22, Momentus will arrange rides for 12 Swarm SpaceBee satellites on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rideshare mission in December 2020 with additional SpaceBee launches scheduled in 2021 and 2022.

To offer global coverage for customers seeking to relay messages through the internet, Swarm satellites must be stationed in different orbital planes and spread out within those orbital planes like a string of pearls, Sara Spangelo, Swarm co-founder and CEO, told SpaceNews.

For the Falcon 9 launch in December, Momentus will not move Swarm SpaceBees to a new orbital plane. In the future, Momentus’ Vigoride in-space shuttle will offer Swarm the option of moving SpaceBees from the rocket’s drop-off point to different locations, Negar Feher, Momentus vice president of product and business development, said by email.

Both companies have raised significant investment capital.

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Firefly signs deal with satellite broker Spaceflight

Capitalism in space: Firefly Aerospace has signed a deal whereby the satellite broker Spaceflight will provide the payloads for one of Firefly’s Alpha rocket launches, planned for 2021.

The smallsat launch company already has several other launch contracts, even as development of its rocket proceeds.

Firefly is in the final phases of development of Alpha, and hopes to perform its first launch later this year. Markusic said the company is assembling the first flight vehicle, with plans to perform static-fire tests of the second stage in May and the first stage in June. Once those tests are complete, the vehicles will be shipped to Vandenberg, where work is continuing to modify Space Launch Complex 2 West, a former Delta 2 pad.

A lot can happen between now and 2021, but so far Firefly appears a strong candidate to launch and compete with Rocket Lab.

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The first complete geologic map of Moon

Geologic map of Moon

Using data from several recent lunar orbiters, scientists have compiled and now released the first comprehensive geologic map of the Moon.

To create the new digital map, scientists used information from six Apollo-era regional maps along with updated information from recent satellite missions to the moon. The existing historical maps were redrawn to align them with the modern data sets, thus preserving previous observations and interpretations. Along with merging new and old data, USGS researchers also developed a unified description of the stratigraphy, or rock layers, of the moon. This resolved issues from previous maps where rock names, descriptions and ages were sometimes inconsistent.

“This map is a culmination of a decades-long project,” said Corey Fortezzo, USGS geologist and lead author. “It provides vital information for new scientific studies by connecting the exploration of specific sites on the moon with the rest of the lunar surface.”

The image to the right shows the Moon’s near side.

The complete map file is free to download, and I guarantee that scientists and engineers in China are downloading it even as I type, planning to use it to establish their ownership to the Moon’s most valuable real estate that we scouted for them.

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SpaceX successfully launches 60 more Starlink satellites

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully launched 60 more Starlink satellites.

The launch was significant in several ways. They reused the first stage for the fourth time, landing it successfully. They reused the fairing for the second time.

And with this launch, the Falcon 9 has now flown more than the Atlas 5, and has the most launches of any active American rocket.

This flight marks a major point in U.S. launch operations, as Falcon 9 reaches 84 flights to its name and officially takes the mantle from Atlas V as the most flown, currently operational U.S. rocket.

Atlas V began flying on 21 August 2002 and has 83 flights to its name after 18 years — for an annual rate of 4.6 launches. Falcon 9 began flying on 4 June 2010 and will reach 84 flights in just under 10 years with a flight rate of 8.4 launches per year.

That SpaceX overtook the Atlas 5 so quickly indicates exactly how successful SpaceX has been in grabbing market share from all its launch competitors.

I have embedded the video of the launch below the fold.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

6 China
6 SpaceX
5 Russia

The U.S. now leads China 10 to 6 in the national rankings.
» Read more

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Russians slash their launch prices by 39%

Capitalism in space: Having lost their entire commercial market share because of SpaceX’s lower prices, the Russians have finally decided to slash their launch prices by 39%.

As the article notes, the cost for a Proton rocket launch was once $100 million. Then SpaceX came along with a $60 million pricetag. At first the Russians poo-pooed this, and did nothing. When their customers started to vanish however they decided to finally compete, so a year ago they cut the Proton price to match SpaceX’s.

Because of SpaceX’s ability to reuse its first stages, however, that $60 million price no longer worked. SpaceX had a year earlier lowered its prices even more, to $50 million, for launches with used first stages.

This new price slash by Roscosmos probably brings their price down to about $36 million, and thus beats SpaceX.

We shall see whether it will attract new customers. It definitely is now cheaper, but it is also less reliable. Russia continues to have serious quality control problems at its manufacturing level.

That SpaceX’s arrival forced a drop in the price of a launch from $100 million to less than $40 million illustrates the beautiful value of freedom and competition. The change is even more spectacular when you consider that ULA, the dominant American launch company before SpaceX, had been charging between $200 to $400 million per launch. For decades the Russians, ULA, and Arianespace refused to compete, working instead as a cartel to keep costs high.

SpaceX has ended this corrupt practice. We now have a competitive launch industry, and the result is that the exploration of the solar system is finally becoming a real possibility.

Correction: I originally called ULA “the only American launch company before SpaceX.” This was not correct, as Orbital Sciences, now part of Northrop Grumman, was also launching satellites. It just was a very minor player, with little impact. It was also excluded from the military’s EELV program, and thus could not launch payloads for them after around 2005.

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