Tag Archives: freedom

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.
» Read more

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Rocket Lab & China launch satellites

Both Rocket Lab and China today launched rockets to put satellites into orbit, though it is as yet still unclear whether the Chinese launch was successful.

Rocket Lab successfully placed four smallsats into orbit. It was the company’s eightth consecutive successful launch, continuing its perfect launch record.

More important, the company now has completed four launches in 2019. Their goal, announced early this year, was to achieve a monthly pace by summer, then ramp up to twice a month by the end of the year. So far they are not quite meeting that goal, averaging one launch every 1.5 months (March, May, June, August). Still, this record is quite impressive, considering they are a very new and very small private company that it now is beginning to match or exceed the launch pace of other nations (India) as well as well-established companies (ULA).

China’s Long March 3B launched a civilian communications satellite, but according to the story at the link, “the usual announcement of a successful separation has yet to published by Chinese State media.” For the purposes of the launch standings, I will assume at the moment that this was a successful launch, but will revise this post should we learn the satellite did not reach orbit. Update: It appears the launch was successful, but the satellite is having problems. This would mean the launch counts below.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

13 China
12 Russia
10 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)
4 India
4 Rocket Lab

The U.S. now leads China 18 to 13 in the national rankings.

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1.7 million protest China in Hong Kong

A gigantic protest — estimated to be 1.7 million people strong — against China’s effort to limit freedoms in Hong Kong filled that city’s streets today, despite pouring rain and in defiance of police orders.

Sunday’s action, billed as a return to the peaceful origins of the leaderless protest movement, drew more than 1.7 million people, making it one of the largest rallies since the protests began about three months ago, according to organisers the Civil Human Rights Front.

It ended a weekend of protests that, as of early Monday, saw no major confrontations with police for the first time in weeks.

Hong Kong has always been China’s equivalent of West Berlin in East Germany, a leak in the monolith communist state that in the long run can only make that communist state unsustainable. Khrushchev temporarily solved this problem (for about forty years) by building a wall around West Berlin that blocked East Germans from entering it. Khrushchev’s act eventually failed, and when it did it took down the Soviet Union.

What will China do? In 1989 the Chinese communists shut down all opposition, far more brutally than Khrushchev, killing thousands in Tiananmen Square. Can the do the same now in Hong Kong?

At the moment this is very unclear.

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Israel to block entry to Muslim anti-Israeli Congresswomen

The Netanyahu Israeli government today announced that it will not allow Muslim congresswomen Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) to enter their country because of their anti-Israeli boycott stances.

“As a vibrant and free democracy, Israel is open to any critic and criticism, with one exception,” Netanyahu said. “Israel’s law prohibits the entry of people who call and operate to boycott Israel, as is the case with other democracies that prevent the entry of people whose perception harms the country. “The same is true of the US towards an Israeli Knesset and other public figures in the world.”Congressmen Talib and Omar are leading activists in promoting boycott legislation against Israel in the US Congress. Only a few days ago, we received their visitation plan, and it became clear that they were planning a campaign whose sole purpose was to strengthen the boycott and negate Israel’s legitimacy.”

That both congresswomen are anti-Semites might also have been a factor in this decision.

Recognize this: Democrat politicians can spout ugly lies as much as they want (“All Trump voters are white supremacists!”), they can act to silence all opposition, they can even threaten the lives of anyone who disagrees with them, but should even one conservative dare, dare, to fight back it is considered behavior worse than Hitler.

Bah. I say good for Netanyahu and the Israelis. Tell these bigots to go jump in a lake. Let them scream and yell and throw tantrums. It will only better reveal how hateful these congresswomen really are.

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French solar road a total failure

The first French attempt to build a road that had solar panels embedded in it to produce power has turned out to be a total failure, after only two years.

Despite the hype surrounding solar roads, two years after this one was introduced as a trial, the project has turned out to be a colossal failure — it’s neither efficient nor profitable, according to a report by Le Monde.

The unfortunate truth is that this road is in such a poor state, it isn’t even worth repairing. Last May, a 100-meter stretch had deteriorated to such a state that it had to be demolished. According to Le Monde’s report, various components of the road don’t fit properly — panels have come loose and some of the solar panels have broken into fragments.

On top of the damage and poor wear of the road, the Normandy solar track also failed to fulfill its energy-production goals. The original aim was to produce 790 kWh each day, a quantity that could illuminate a population of between 3,000 and 5,000 inhabitants. But the rate produced stands at only about 50% of the original predicted estimates.

The article notes that a 230-foot-long Dutch solar bicycle path has been more successful, meeting its energy goals. It also has not deteriorated. I suspect that both results are because it is being used by bicycles and pedestrians, not cars.

What always bothers me about these projects is not their sincere good intentions, but the unwillingness of their promoters to honestly assess the final results, good or bad. They laud the project’s good intentions as if that is all that matters, and rip into anyone who questions the practicality of the project. When the project fails these same promoters, usually politicians, disappear into the darkness, ignoring the bad result as they promote some new pie-in-the-sky proposal.

In this context I am especially reminded of Democratic politicians who loved Venezuela’s socialist experiment, until it went bankrupt as every socialist experiment always does.

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A review of Glenn Reynolds’ The Social Media Upheaval:
A Modern Call for Freedom

We have a free speech problem in America, and it isn’t because our government is trying to restrict our speech.

The problem exists because almost all our speech today is fed through a tiny handful of giant social media outlets, Google, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, and Twitter, all of whom seem dominated by leftists and partisan Democratic Party ideaology.

Only last week we saw a perfect example of this problem. A mob of protesters had gathered outside the private home of Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) because he refused to acquiesce meekly to draconian new gun control laws.

Several protesters shouted threatening obscenities against McConnell and his wife, with the leader of the local Kentucky chapter of Black Lives Matter, Chanelle Helm, screaming for someone to “just stab the mother-%#$&!&/!”

McConnell’s campaign office then followed the next day with the following tweet:

Last night, an angry left-wing mob of Amy McGrath supporters stormed Senator McConnell’s Louisville home screaming obscenities and hoping someone would “just stab the mother****** in the heart.”

The tweet then linked to a video showing this mob’s violent chants and death threats.

Twitter’s response? It suspended McConnell’s account, even though he threatened no one and merely wanted to highlight the vicious ugliness of his opponents. Meanwhile the tech giant continued to allow direct statements of violence against the right by many leftists, including one thread dubbed “#MassacreMitch,” with no consequences.

Only after the Republican Party threatened to pull all of its advertising from Twitter did that social media giant finally back down and reinstate the McConnell account, though it added a warning tag to the video.

Twitter, like Google and Facebook, has decided to take sides in the political battles that this country is now undergoing. And with their almost godlike total power over internet access, these tech giants are in a position to very effectively censor any opposition to their political goals.

So what do we do? In an effort to make an intelligent stab at this issue, Glenn Reynolds, law professor at the University of Tennessee and the manager of the internet site Instapundit, has recently written a book on the subject, The Social Media Upheaval (Encounter Books 2019). As the book’s Amazon page notes,
» Read more

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Hong Kong airport reopens as protesters retreat

It appears the actions by Chinese riot police yesterday has caused the airport protesters in Hong Kong to back off and allow the airport to reopen.

Most of the protesters left the airport Tuesday after riot police tried to enter the terminal, fighting with demonstrators who barricaded entrances with luggage carts. The brief clash led to several injuries.

The violence included protesters beating up at least two men they suspected of being undercover Chinese agents. Airport security appeared unable to control the crowd, and paramedics later took both men away. Police have acknowledged using “decoy” officers, and some protesters over the weekend were seen being arrested by men dressed like demonstrators — in black and wearing face masks.

Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the Global Times, identified one of the men as a journalist at the nationalistic Chinese tabloid. “Fu Guohao, reporter of GT website is being seized by demonstrators at HK airport,” Hu wrote on his Twitter account. “I affirm this man being tied in this video is the reporter himself. He has no other task except for reporting.”

The protesters apologized that some of them had become “easily agitated and overreacted.” On posters, the demonstrators said they have been “riddled with paranoia and rage” after discovering undercover police officers in their ranks.

Meanwhile the article describes other clashes elsewhere in Hong Kong. The conflict in Hong Kong does not appear to be over, by any means.

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SpaceX gets 2nd boat to catch rocket fairings

Capitalism in space: It appears, from a Elon Musk tweet, that SpaceX has obtained a second boat to catch its rocket fairings for reuse.

Based on previous comments by Musk, the company is now on the verge of recovering and reusing about 70% of its Falcon 9 rockets during each launch. I’d say that’s pretty good, especially considering industry rocket experts have been saying for half a century that none of this was even possible or practical.

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Riot police attack Hong Kong airport protesters

Riot police today attacked the Hong Kong airport protesters, storming into their midst with batons and pepper spray.

CNN International reported, following the police operation that reporters witnessed at least four arrests and that officers appeared to be targeting specific people. To get through the protesters, police used pepper spray and batons to push back the crowd. According to an official statement from Hong Kong police, airport officials requested that the riot officers enter the airport to rescue a man who protesters had apprehended and accused of being an undercover police officer. The South China Morning Post also reported that the airport received a court injunction requesting police remove the protesters from the premises, though Hong Kong police did not issue an official statement to that effect and officers left without clearing out every protester.

Pro-democracy protesters shut down the airport Tuesday for the second day in a row, forcing administrators to cancel all flights, in a bid to get the China-controlled Hong Kong government to listen to their demands. Some protesters appeared to panic and target others suspected of working for the communist government after officials admitted this weekend that officers had dressed up as protesters to infiltrate the marches.

So far this attack today does not appear to be an effort to shut the protest down with violence. It appears that after extracting two men, possibly pro-China reporters, the police retreated, though the authorities are now limiting access to the airport, probably with the goal of starving the protest with a lack of new supporters.

A very sad messy situation. The Chinese want to impose its tyranny on Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s citizens want to remain free. The result are street protests that can only turn violent, one way or the other, because China’s government is very unlikely to back down.

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NASA extends life of private BEAM module

Capitalism in space: Having found that Bigelow’s privately built ISS module BEAM has exceeded its design capabilities, NASA has now decided to leave it docked to ISS for at least five more years, using it as a storage bin.

BEAM cost NASA a whopping $17 million, considerably less than it has traditionally spent (a billion-plus) for its previous ISS modules, designed and built under full NASA supervision.

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Blue Origin protests Air Force launch procurement process

Blue Origin has submitted a protest to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) yesterday about the Air Force plan to pick two launch providers now for all its satellite launches after 2026.

According to a copy of the protest obtained by FLORIDA TODAY, the ordering period for the launches would run from 2020 to 2024 and ultimately select two contractors for flights beginning in 2026.

“The most recent market research, however, indicates the total global addressable space launch market, including NSSL launches, could support three or even four U.S. launch companies,” the protest reads. “Even the Agency’s own LSP source selection support contractor – the Aerospace Corporation – predicts that the space launch market has significant potential to suffer from a launch capacity shortfall because U.S. and foreign government launches will require most of the available launch capacity.”

I couldn’t agree with Blue Origin more. The Air Force wants to limit competition in the 2020s to only two companies, which will almost certainly be ULA and SpaceX since they are the only two presently flying, when by the 2020s there might be several more companies available providing competition that can lower the price.

There is no reason for the Air Force to make this decision now. None. When they need to order these launches in the early 2020s they should open that bidding process to all comers, and pick appropriately, then. Everything about this Pentagon plan stinks, reeking of the corruption that permeates Washington. I even wonder if some people have gotten pay-offs in connection with the decision to favor only two companies. It wouldn’t surprise me. (I myself have been offered money to let military lobbying companies ghostwrite op-eds using my name, supporting this Air Force plan, offers that I very bluntly turned down.)

Also, even if Blue Origin’s protest now fails, expect whoever doesn’t get picked by the Air Force now to file lawsuits in the 2020s when they are denied the right to bid on those future launches. And expect the Air Force to then back down, as it was forced to do when SpaceX was denied the right to bid on Air Force contracts early in this decade.

One more thought: This protest suggests Blue Origin already expects to not get picked. This expectation might also explain why Jeff Bezos decided to sell more Amazon stock last week, raising almost $3 billion in capital. He might be anticipating that Blue Origin will be cut out of those Air Force contracts, and so needs more of his own money to develop its New Glenn rocket.

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As protesters shut down Hong Kong airport, government brings military into city

Be prepared for bad news: While protesters against a new Chinese law in Hong Kong have shut the airport down, the Chinese government has begun to bring its military into the downtown area.

The initial cause of these protests is an attempt by China to impose a new extradition law on Hong Kong that would allow them to extradite people from Hong Kong into mainland China.

The changes will allow for extradition requests from authorities in mainland China, Taiwan and Macau for suspects accused of criminal wrongdoings, such as murder and rape. The requests will then be decided on a case-by-case basis.

Several commercial offenses such as tax evasion have been removed from the list of extraditable offenses amid concerns from the business community. Hong Kong officials have said Hong Kong courts will have the final say whether to grant such extradition requests, and suspects accused of political and religious crimes will not be extradited.

The government has sought to reassure the public with some concessions, including promising to only hand over fugitives for offenses carrying maximum sentences of at least seven years.

It appears that the population in Hong Kong does not trust the Chinese government that has ruled them since the British left in 1999. They fear the misuse of this law in order to arrest anyone the Chinese government doesn’t like.

The question is whether the Chinese can do in Hong Kong what they did in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Then the government moved the military in and massacred the protesters, effectively ending any political opposition to communist rule. If they do this in Hong Kong they will also end the lingering freedom in that city left over from British rule..

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Vector changes CEO, might have money issues

Capitalism in space: Jim Cantrell, who had been the CEO of smallsat rocket company Vector Launch since inception, has apparently left the company.

Vector, a micro-launch company founded in 2016 to build small rockets for payloads of up to 60kg, may be in financial trouble, multiple industry sources told Ars on Friday. A spokeswoman for Vector did not comment on that. However, she did confirm the company has parted ways with its chief executive: “Jim Cantrell is no longer with Vector effective today. John Garvey has assumed the role of CEO.”

I wish this story wasn’t so, though I also admit my instincts were telling me things were going sour with the continuing delays in their test launch schedule.

Jim Cantrell was an unusual CEO, always available and open. He generously took me on personal tours of Vector facilities, twice, first in March 2017 and again in January 2019. I wish him well in whatever future endeavors he undetakes.

As for Vector, they need to get off the ground. They had had a substantial head start over many of the other new smallsat rocket companies, but that lead has now evaporated.

More information here. It appears one of their major investors might have pulled out. It also appears they have temporarily suspended operations, shuttering their offices.

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IAU approves 2nd set of Pluto names chosen by New Horizons team

My heart be still! The International Astronomical Union (IAU) has now officially given its glorious stamp of approval to a second set of fourteen names given by the New Horizons’ team to features on Pluto.

Several people and missions who paved the way for the historic exploration of Pluto and the Kuiper Belt – the farthest worlds ever explored – are honored in the second set of official Pluto feature names approved by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), the international authority for naming celestial bodies and their surface features.

The new names were proposed by NASA’s New Horizons team, which carried out the first reconnaissance of Pluto and its moons with the New Horizons spacecraft in 2015. Along with a short list of official names the IAU had already approved, the mission science team had been using these and other place names informally to describe the many regions, mountain ranges, plains, valleys and craters discovered during the first close-up look at Pluto’s surface. [emphasis mine]

In case you don’t get it, I am being very sarcastic above. I consider the IAU to be incredibly arrogant in its claim that it, and it alone, can approve the names given to surface features on other worlds. Initially the IAU was given the task by the astronomical community of organizing the naming of celestial bodies seen in telescopes, to reduce confusion. Somehow the IAU has expanded that responsibility to include the naming of every rock and pebble on every world in the universe.

To this I say bunk. I also know that future spacefarers in space will say the same thing, and tell the IAU to go jump in a lake. In a sense, the New Horizons team did exactly that when they made their name choices very public from the beginning, essentially telling the IAU that the New Horizons’ team is picking the names, not the IAU.

In related news, the IAU has now approved the naming convention the OSIRIS-REx team intends to use to name features on Bennu. However, in this case the IAU is doing its real job, helping to organize the naming conventions to reduce confusion.

The named features on Bennu will include several terrain classification types that the IAU also approved for asteroid (162173) Ryugu’s surface features (currently being explored by the Japanese Space Agency’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft). These include craters, dorsa (peaks or ridges), fossae (grooves or trenches) and saxa (rocks and boulders). The last of these types – saxum – is a new feature classification that the IAU introduced earlier this year for small, rocky asteroids like Ryugu and Bennu. These surface features on Bennu will be named after mythological birds and bird-like creatures, complementing the mission’s existing naming theme, which is rooted in Egyptian mythology.

The actual names the OSIRIS-REx team will chose for each unique feature will however be their choice, not the IAU’s. Though the IAU will eventually announce it has “approved” those choices, it will never really have the right to have a say in those decisions.

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OneWeb: LauncherOne too expensive

In asking that Virgin Orbit’s lawsuit against internet satellite manufacturer OneWeb be dismissed, OneWeb has claimed that their contract allowed for the cancellation of launches without cause, and that they have a cause anyway, which is that LauncherOne is too pricey.

In its court filing, OneWeb said the $6 million price tag for a LauncherOne mission is two to three times current market prices.

…The original contract, OneWeb claims, allowed for termination without cause, and for prior payments to apply to the termination fee. Those contract termination rules, and the fact that Virgin Orbit has yet to conduct any LauncherOne missions, invalidate Virgin Orbit’s revenue expectations, according to OneWeb. [emphasis mine]

Based on my estimate of the launch market, LauncherOne’s price is higher than others, but not by very much. I think the highlighted text is more significant. LauncherOne had announced plans to fly its first mission last summer. More than a year later that inaugural flight has still not taken place.

In the meantime, this decision by OneWeb is a boon to Russia’s space industry, especially its Soyuz rocket, as it will now get the contracts for launching the majority of OneWeb’s 648-satellite constellation.

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Are you a decent human being?

In recent weeks I have grown so horrified by the blatant hate being screamed by Democrats and leftists in the mainstream press against Republicans, conservatives, and Trump supporters that I have found myself unable to write about this stuff.

It is just too disgusting. Here are just a few examples that barely represent the full gamut of anger and hate being expressed by Democrats and their willing accomplices in the press:

All of the accusations against Trump and Republicans in these stories are outright lies, worthy of Joseph Goebbels. And the actions of Democratic politicians like Biden and Castro to attack and smear Trump and his supporters is equally vile, and worthy of the worst form of scapegoating done by anti-Semites. Worse, these people are using terrible mass murders, committed by clearly unstable and sick individuals, to score political points. Such behavior is beyond the pale.

One might, if one was willing to stretch the truth beyond the breaking point, to find some justification in the criticisms of Trump. However, though Trump’s twitter comments are often ugly and crude and insulting, the one thing a careful reading of all those statements reveals is that he has always tried to state the truth, honestly and bluntly. Moreover, there is no evidence of racism in any of his comments. He has merely been attacking those who deserve attacking.

The Democratic attacks, however, on the decency of the American population, especially its non-minority population, are especially vile and dishonest. Remember, this is the same population that only a few years ago twice voted for a black president. For Democratic politicians and mainstream press pundits to accuse it of being in favor of white supremacy is more than just absurd, it is a lie and slander.

The problem I have is that I try to be a decent human being. I don’t like to give these liars and slanderers a platform to spread their hateful lies. In fact, I don’t even wish to read or discuss their childish and mean-spirited behavior. Thus, I have posted nothing until now about the mass murders that occurred this past weekend and the reactions to them.
» Read more

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FCC streamlines and cuts fees for smallsat licensing

Capitalism in space: In an effort to ease its bureaucratic obstacles to private enterprise, the FCC has streamlined its licensing process for new smallsats, while cutting its licensing fees by more than 90%.

Under the optional licensing regime, which stands to take effect this year, smallsat operators with spacecraft that meet certain criteria will be able to obtain a spectrum license about twice as fast and pay only $30,000 instead of nearly $500,000. A maximum of 10 satellites at a time can be licensed under the streamline process.

…Operators will be able to use the streamlined licensing for satellites that weigh 180 kilograms or less, operate below 600 kilometers (or have propulsion) and will deorbit within six years, among other criteria.

One component of these new regulations is that they require new smallsats to never be smaller than 10 centimeters on their smallest dimension, thus essentially forbidding the launch of nanosats smaller than that.

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Vector gets Air Force launch contract

Capitalism in space: Vector has signed its first Air Force launch contract for an orbital cubesat launch in 2021.

The Air Force must know something about Vector’s rocket development that we don’t. The company had planned a suborbital test launch for March/April, delayed it until June, and has still not flown it. These delays put the company behind its original launch schedule by a considerable amount, which originally had called for its first orbital launch in 2018.

Hopefully we shall soon see some actually progress from Vector. At the moment however their lack of launches has allowed a number of other smallsat rocket companies to gain on them from behind.

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ULA’s Atlas 5 launches military communications satellite

Early this morning ULA used its Atlas 5 rocket to successfully launch an Air Force military communications satellite.

This was the third ULA launch this year, which means they remain off the leader board below. This number of launches is also below the pace set the last two years, where they completed eight launches per year.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

12 Russia
11 China
10 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)
4 India

The U.S. now leads in the national rankings 17 to 12.

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Smallsat rocket company Orbex signs two launch deals

Capitalism in space: The new smallsat rocket company Orbex today announced the signing of two different launch deals, one with In-Space and the other with Innovative Space Logistics both with companies focused on procuring launch services for smallsat companies.

Both are for its as yet untested Prime rocket, which they hope to launch by 2021 from the United Kingdom’s new spaceport in Scotland.

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Cygnus undocks from ISS, will remain in orbit for five more months

Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus cargo capsule has undocked from ISS, but will remain in orbit until December.

First, the capsule, dubbed the S.S. Roger Chaffee, will deploy a bunch of cubesats and nanosats. Then,

Northrop Grumman plans several months of long-duration spaceflight experiments using the Cygnus spacecraft after release of the CubeSats. Four miniaturized control moment gyroscopes are flying on the cargo freighter for the first time, and engineers will assess their performance in controlling the spacecraft’s pointing without consuming rocket fuel.

Ground teams also want to evaluate how the Cygnus spacecraft’s avionics function on a long-duration mission, and Northrop Grumman plans to demonstrate dual Cygnus operations for the first time after the launch of the company’s next resupply mission — NG-12 — in October.

Northrop Grumman has gotten a NASA contract to use Cygnus as the basis for the habitable module of NASA’s Lunar Gateway project, and this extended flight is a way to test the engineering for that module now during operations.

Though I continue to have many doubts about Gateway, I laud Northrop Grumman for this approach. It speeds things up and saves money.

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Rocket Lab to attempt recovery and reuse of Electron 1st stage

Capitalism in space: Faced with stiff competition from both other smallsat rocket companies as well as the big players like SpaceX, Rocket Lab has announced that they are going to try to recover the first stages of their Electron rocket for later reuse.

Their plan is to use the atmosphere and parachutes to slow the stage down as it returns to Earth, and then have a helicopter snag it and land it on a ship.

They had looked into the idea of vertically landing it, like SpaceX does with its Falcon 9, but found it would make their rocket to big and expensive.

This plan is not as radical as it sounds. The Air Force did something similar for almost a decade in the 1960s to recover film from its surveillance satellites.

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SpaceX and Arianespace complete successful launches

Today, as I was giving my lecture in Denver, both Arianespace and SpaceX successfully completed launches.

SpaceX put a commercial communications satellite in orbit. The first stage was not recovered, but this was intended. The company however was successful in catching one half fairing in the giant net of its recovery ship Mrs. Tree., the second time they have done so.

Arianespace used its Ariane 5 rocket to launch a commercial communications satellite and a European Space Agency data relay satellite.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

12 Russia
11 China
10 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)
4 India

The U.S. now leads Russia 16 to 12 in the national rankings.

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Hundreds arrested in Moscow demonstrating for open elections

Continuing protests in Moscow demanding the right of independent candidates to run for election have resulted in hundreds of arrests in the past week.

I am very much reminded of the protests that led to the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. The difference is that then the government did little to stop them, and then allowed their candidates to run for office, sweeping the communists from power.

Now, Putin’s government seems to be following China’s approach to such protests, which cracked down hard against its own protests in the early 1990s and was thus able to stay in power.

Meanwhile in Hong Kong China is faced with its own new protest movement, now in its ninth week. At this moment China has held off using its full military power to stop the protests, but that might change soon. If so, things will get very bloody.

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SpaceX to launch Super Heavy/Starship from Florida

Capitalism in space: According to a SpaceX environmental report submitted to NASA, the company now plans to launch Super Heavy/Starship missions from Florida, and only Florida.

The report details the work they want to do at launch complex 39A, where they presently launch both Falcon 9s and Falcon Heavies.

The facilities will be able to support up to 24 Starship/Super Heavy launches a year, the company said in the report, with a corresponding decline in Falcon launches from the complex. “Due to the higher lift capability, Starship/Super Heavy could launch more payloads and reduce the overall launch cadence when compared to Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy,” the report states.

SpaceX ruled out performing Starship/Super Heavy launches from its other two existing launch sites, Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral and Space Launch Complex 4 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The company ruled out the sites because they would require more modifications and because the Vandenberg site didn’t support trajectories for the “vast majority” of missions.

Falcon Heavy launches especially will vanish once this new rocket is operational, as it will be cheaper to use and have greater capabilities, should it succeed in being everything SpaceX hopes it to be.

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Why drastic education cuts in Alaska tell us everything about the coming dark age

Faced with a gigantic $1.6 billion budget deficit, last month Alaska’s Republican governor, Mike Dunleavy, used his line item power to veto about $444 million from the state’s total budget of $8.3 billion. Among those cuts included an unprecedented almost 41% cut in the state’s university system.

Understanding the background for these cuts is not something easy to pin down in today’s partisan press. I first came across the story today in this Nature article, clearly written to lament the cuts and the harm they will do to education and science. This quote will give you the flavor:

Researchers are waitivng anxiously to see how university administrators will apply the cuts, which could fundamentally reshape science in the state — including UA’s world-class Arctic and climate research programmes. The first hint came on 30 July, when the university’s governing board voted to consolidate the system’s three main branches — in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau.

“It’s awful,” says Milligan-Myhre. “I had to turn away a student planning on starting in the fall because I just don’t know what the department or his degree would look like in a year or two.” She’s also encouraging her current students to graduate as soon as possible.

The problem with the article is that it gave literally no background into the cuts, and Dunleavy’s reasoning for doing them, a example of today’s typically bad journalism. We might justly oppose these education cuts, but before we as sane citizens can do that we must at least understand why they are being made. Nature failed to give us that information, and instead spent its time propagandizing for the blind spending of money for education.

I started doing searches on the internet to find out some background information. (More on that experience later.) Most of the articles were very superficial, though this article at least outlined the difficult budget situation faced by Dunleavy.

After a lot of searches on two different search engines requiring me to dig down several pages on both, I finally found this article at U.S. News & World Report that outlined in a very non-partisan way the issues.
» Read more

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