Last two passengers on 1st entirely private manned spaceflight revealed

Capitalism in space: The last two passengers for the first entirely private commercial manned spaceflight, dubbed Inspiration4 and paid for by businessman Jared Isaacman, were announced yesterday, along with a launch date no earlier than September 15, 2021.

Isaacman bought the mission partly to fly in space, but also to raise money for St. Judes Children’s Research Hospital. Both Isaacman and Haley Arceneaux, a former St. Judes cancer patient, will fly. Their two new crew members are both experienced in aviation or spaceflight operations, though neither is a professional astronaut with any training in that field.

[Sian] Proctor describes herself as a scientist turned artist and an “analog astronaut” where people live in environments to simulate long-duration spaceflight. She has done four analog missions including NASA’s Hawai’i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) Habitat to simulate a trip to Mars. She is a pilot, scuba diver, “and loves geoexploring our world.” Born in Guam while her father was working at a NASA tracking station there during the Apollo program, she has a B.S. in environmental science, an M.S. in geology, and a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction: Science Education. She was a finalist in NASA’s 2009 astronaut selection.

While a U.S. Space Camp counselor, [Chris] Sembroski conducted simulated space shuttle missions and supported STEM-based education. He served in the Air Force maintaining a fleet of Minuteman III ICBMs and served in Iraq. After leaving the Air Force in 2007, he earned a B.S. in Professional Aeronautics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He now works for the aerospace industry in Seattle, although he did not specify what company.

Their spacecraft will be Resilience, the Dragon capsule that flew the first operational manned commercial crew to ISS, and is presently docked to the station. For the Inspiration4 flight however SpaceX is going to install a large domed window at the capsule’s nose, replacing the docking port that will not be needed.

Congress taking aim at SpaceX and Starship testing

They’re coming for you next: The Democratic Party leaders on the House committee that normally does not overseer the FAA’s commercial space office have now raised their concerns about the recent test flights of SpaceX’s new rocket, Starship, in particular demanding an investigation into the flight of prototype #8, which the FAA claims had occurred despite one FAA issue.

The latest version of SpaceX’s FAA launch license for the Starship suborbital test flight program, issued March 12, allows those test flights to take place “only when an FAA Safety Inspector is present at SpaceX’s Boca Chica launch and landing site.”

The change stemmed from an investigation into SpaceX’s violation of that launch license during the SN8 test flight in December. SpaceX proceeded with the flight despite the FAA determining that the flight profile exceeded the maximum allowed risk to the uninvolved public for “far field blast overpressure” in the event of an explosion. While the SN8 vehicle exploded upon landing, there were no reports of damage outside of the SpaceX test site.

FAA directed SpaceX to investigate the incident, delaying the flight of the next Starship prototype, SN9. That investigation included “a comprehensive review of the company’s safety culture, operational decision-making and process discipline,” the FAA said in a Feb. 2 statement.

The FAA cleared SpaceX to proceed with launches, with SN9 and SN10 launching and landing — and both exploding upon or shortly after landing — on Feb. 2 and March 3, respectively. Neither caused any damage outside of the SpaceX test site.

The FAA’s response to SpaceX’s launch license violation, including the lack of any penalties beyond the investigation, prompted criticism from two key members of Congress. In a March 25 letter to FAA Administrator Steve Dickson, Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) sought to “register our concerns” with the incident. DeFazio is chair of the House Transportation Committee and Larsen the chair of its aviation subcommittee.

Much of these claims about the flight of prototype #8 however only appeared to become a significant concern after the Biden administration and the Democrats took power in January. Prior to that the FAA did not seem very troubled by that flight. In fact, the so called risk, “far field blast overpressure,” seems very contrived, especially since we have now had four Starship crashes on its landing pad, with no evident damage to even SpaceX’s own equipment nearby. Prior to January 20th the FAA was untroubled. After January 20th it suddenly became a deadly issue requiring stricter supervision by the government, though what that FAA inspector on sight can do or even know about the launch is baffling.

What these Democrats really don’t like is that someone is freely accomplishing something without their supervision or control. Like mobsters looking to exhort money, they are essentially telling SpaceX, “Nice business you got here. Sure would be a shame if something happened to it.”

With today’s fourth Starship crash, expect the Demorats in Congress now to swarm like flies over manure, all aimed at shutting down the most innovative new American space company in decades.

Starship prototype #11 crashes at landing

Capitalism in space: The fourth prototype of Starship to fly, #11, experienced another failure at landing early this morning, crashing onto its launchpad.

Below is SpaceX’s live feed, cued to begin at T-10 seconds. The video cuts out at T+5:49, just before landing. I have reviewed other live feeds and all that I can find so far were obscured by the cloudy conditions at landing.

Musk later tweeted the following:

‘At least the crater is in the right place!”

“Looks like engine 2 had issues on ascent & didn’t reach operating chamber pressure during landing burn, but, in theory, it wasn’t needed. Something significant happened shortly after landing burn start. Should know what it was once we can examine the bits later today.”

The next Starship prototype will be #15 (numbers 12-14 pulled when they decided to redesign based on the earlier flights).

OneWeb to initiate commercial services in Canada by end of year

The competition heats up: The CEO of the satellite company OneWeb has announced that it will begin commercial internet service in the rural areas of Canada by end of ’21.

Neil Masterson, who took over as CEO of OneWeb late last year after the company raised fresh funds from the British government and Bharti Global Ltd. of India, says the operator is in talks with Canadian telecoms, local internet providers and municipal governments about providing them with broadband connectivity from its constellation of low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites.

Unlike SpaceX’s Starlink constellation, which is providing service directly to individual customers, OneWeb is aiming to serve businesses and government agencies, selling its service to large operations which can then dole it out to their own customers.

Regardless, two different internet companies, using satellites in low Earth orbit, are now becoming available. If Amazon ever moves forward on it Kuiper constellation that will be three.

Another launch attempt for Starship #11 today

Starship #11 on launchpad, March 28, 2021
Screen capture from LabPadre Nerdle camera live stream,
taken at 10:27 am (Central).

UPDATE: Launch scrubbed because an FAA official was unable to get to the launch site today. Next attempt set for tomorrow.

Gee, launching rockets his hard. For government officials, however, getting on an airplane and arriving on time seems far more difficult.

Original post:
SpaceX is going to make another launch attempt today with its eleventh Starship prototype. The following live streams are presently available if you wish to watch:

When SpaceX adds its own live stream I will embed it below.

The screen capture on the right shows the status for the launch in that left column. When I captured the image they had only closed the road, which means the launch is still probably two hours away, at the least.

South Korea’s leader announces his nation’s goals in space

The new colonial movement: Moon Jae-in, South Korea’s president since 2017, on March 25th gave his first speech focused on his nation’s goals in space, outlining plans to encourage private enterprise as well as achieving an unmanned mission to the Moon by 2030.

His speech listed three main programs. First, they are developing their own home-built rocket, dubbed the KSLV-2, which they hope to launch on its first orbital test flight by October of this year.

Second, he touted a project to send a probe to the asteroid Apophis in 2029. I described this probe in my November 2020 report on a science conference focused entirely on Apophis. If all goes well, they hope to have the probe fly in formation with the asteroid as it makes its close approach that year.

Third, he committed his nation to landing an unmanned lander on the Moon by the end of this decade. (Sound familiar?)

While much of this was the typical photo-op stuff that politicians love, designed mostly to enhance their public image, Moon did make it clear their goals are also to foster a new private aerospace industry that would compete in the emerging new space market.

Moon underscored the role of the private sector in enhancing Korea’s space development capabilities. To that end, he said, the government will step up efforts to build an “innovative industrial ecosystem that nurtures global space companies such as SpaceX.”

Another issue he put forth was strengthening international competitiveness of made-in-Korea satellite systems, in the lead-up to the introduction of 6G wireless networks, self-driving vehicles, and other products and services enabled or enhanced by satellites.

All-in-all, it is actually surprising that up to now South Korea has not made its presence felt in space. This announcement suggests they now intend to change that.

Bigelow sues NASA for $1 million

The commercial space station company Bigelow Aerospace has now sued NASA for $1 million, claiming that the agency has refused to pay it for work done.

Bigelow Aerospace said it entered into an agreement with NASA on the B330 project in August 2016 to perform and complete a certain long-term pressure leak test on its prototype. The purpose of the test was to demonstrate that the B330 meets NASA’s standards of construction and reliability.

According to the lawsuit, Bigelow Aerospace was required to perform a leak test on its module and “provide certain periodic test reports” to NASA. The reports were scheduled and were required to summarize the results of the test, specifically whether the B330 had met certain standards set by NASA. “Importantly, the Contract contains no requirement that Bigelow Aerospace had to provide NASA with continuous and/or raw” data, the lawsuit alleges.

Bigelow Aerospace said NASA breached its contract with the agency by refusing to pay the full amount to the company. The company said that its damages are in excess of $1 million because it had to hire attorneys to bring the lawsuit forward.

According to the suit, multiple attempts were made between January and February to demand payment. The lawsuit said that NASA’s attorney requested raw test data from Bigelow’s testing carried out under the contract as a prerequisite of being paid the amount owed. “However, this requirement was not a term of the Contract, and was an attempt by NASA to place additional requirements on Bigelow Aerospace that had not been part of the parties’ agreement,” according to the lawsuit.

Until 2016, when Bigelow’s prototype BEAM module was installed on ISS, this company seemed the world’s unmatched leader in the construction of private commercial space station modules. It had already flown two prototypes successfully, and then built BEAM for NASA in only two years for a mere $17 million.

Since then it seems Bigelow has been stalled by Washington politics and some insider maneuvering at NASA. In January 2020 NASA picked Axiom to build the first commercial operational private modules to be attached to ISS, not Bigelow. I wondered then why Bigelow had been bypassed by a company that had never built anything. Noting how Axiom had numerous NASA insiders in its management, many with links to Boeing, I concluded:
» Read more

Redwire to go public

Capitalism in space: Redwire, the space company created when it merged with Made in Space in exchange for providing it a large influx of capital, is now going public, merging with another investment capital SPAC.

Redwire, a firm that has acquired several space technology companies in the last year, announced March 25 that it will go public by merging with a special-purpose acquisition corporation (SPAC). Redwire said it will merge with Genesis Park Acquisition Corp., a SPAC that went public in November 2020. The merger will provide Redwire with $170 million in capital, valuing the company at $615 million. The companies expect the deal to close by the end of the second quarter of this year, at which point Redwire will be publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

…Redwire [is] unique among space companies going public through SPACs in that it has both revenues and profits. The company reported $119 million in revenue in 2020, with adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) of $13 million.

This company now joins Momentus, Rocket Lab, Astra, and a number of other new commercial space startups that have recently announced the decision to go public.

Starship prototype #11 launch attempt today-SCRUBBED

Starship #11 on launchpad, March 26, 2021
Screen capture from LabPadre Nerdle camera live stream,
taken at 8:30 am (Pacific).

UPDATE: The test flight has been scrubbed for today, March 26th. They have not yet indicated why they scrubbed, or when they will try again.

Original post:
Though SpaceX has not yet announced whether it will live stream the event, the company is going to attempt a six-mile flight of its eleventh Starship prototype today.

The following live streams are presently available if you wish to watch:

I will add other live streams as they become available. And if If SpaceX adds its own live stream I will embed it below.

UPDATE: SpaceX has now announced that it will live feed today’s Starship test flight. I will embed that broadcast below, when it goes live.

Georgia state legislature passes new election laws

In what might be the first sign that at least one Republican-controlled state legislature has recognized that their state’s voting system is corrupt and prone to tampering, Georgia’s government has passed and signed into law a range of changes designed to make election fraud more difficult.

Most of the changes appear to me to be either minor window-dressing or watered-down reforms that will help but not alleviate the problem. One change however is major, significant, and will likely guarantee that control of the voting system will now be under the supervision of the state’s elected officials, not the appointed bureaucrats in the election board.

The bill removes the secretary of state as the chair of the state election board, making the position instead elected by the state General Assembly. This, effectively, turns the five-person board over to the state legislature, with the chairperson elected by both chambers and one member each appointed by each chamber. The bill also gives the state election board the ability to suspend county election officials, who are replaced by an individual picked by the board.

In other words, come the next election should Georgia’s elected state legislature be unsatisfied by how the election is run — such as when election bureaucrats willy-nilly illegally revised the law at their whim (as happened in many states in 2020) — it will be in a position to stop such shenanigans in their tracks.

More important, this signals a willingness of this state’s elected government to reclaim some of its Constitutional power, something that state governments have been casually giving away for decades in the naive belief that taking them out of the equation would prevent corruption. Hah! NOT.

The best way for a representative democracy to limit corruption is to give as much responsibility as possible to the elected officials. At least if they do wrong the voters can vote them out of power. Appointed bureaucrats are immune from pressure by the electorate, and that is not a healthy situation for a democracy.

Other state governments, in Arizona and Pennsylvania for example, have their own reforms proposed, but Georgia is the only one to so far get the changes put into law. Hopefully many other states will soon follow. Such actions will be the only way to prevent the fraud that strongly points to a theft of the presidential election in 2020.

ESA awards UK’s Orbex 7.45 million euros to fund rocket development

Capitalism in space: The European Space Agency (ESA) has awarded the new United Kingdom smallsat launch company Orbex 7.45 million euros to help fund the development of its Prime rocket.

This will supplement the 4.7 million euros that Orbex has raised from private capital.

The funds from the award will go towards the completion of spaceflight systems in preparation for the first launches of Orbex’s 19-metre ‘microlauncher’ rocket, Prime. €11.25 million of the total funding will be assigned to work undertaken in the UK, in particular the lightweight avionics designed in-house by Orbex in Forres, and the guidance, navigation and control (GNC) software subsystem being designed by Elecnor Deimos, a strategic investor and partner of Orbex. The remaining €900,000 of the total funding package will support the development of the GNC for the orbital phase being developed by Elecnor Deimos for Orbex in Portugal.

If all goes right, Prime will make its first launch from Sutherland, Scotland, in ’22.

The contract award signals the shift at ESA that resembles what happened at NASA in the past decade, moving from designing and building its rockets and spacecraft to buying the product from private companies. While ESA might be providing a large bulk of the capital to develop Prime, it appears ESA is not involving itself heavily in the development itself, leaving that instead to the company.

A data-based broad look at the entire COVID epidemic, one year later

The Scream by Edvard Munch
The Scream by Edvard Munch

One year ago I posted an essay entitled COVID-19: the unwarranted panic. At that time we had just begun a “15-day-lockdown” to slow the spread of the virus, a lockdown that has ended up lasting a year with literally no signs of ending, even though vaccines for the coronavirus are now available and are being administrated widely to millions.

In that essay I reviewed four early science studies that provided some solid initial data about the coronavirus, all of which strongly suggested that it was not the plague many government healthy officials at that time were proclaiming it to be. Instead, these studies showed that it was only a threat to the elderly sick, that it was relatively harmless to a young population, and that the death rate was low, likely well below 1% and possibly very comparable to the flu.

These data strongly suggested to me that lockdowns, social distancing, masks, and restrictions on the freedom of the healthy and young were all a bad idea. Better to follow the traditional response to past such epidemics in which you quarantine the sick, protect the vulnerable (the elderly), and allow everyone else to go about their lives as normal.

We did not do this, however. Instead, as a society we chose in the past year to do the exact oppose, imposing strict lockdowns, mandating social distancing and mask use everywhere, while quarantining the healthy. We did this based on the worst scenarios and models put forth by health officials, who firmly believed COVID-19 was far worse than any past epidemic, and required a new, radical, and much harsher response.

I now want to ask, one year later: Whose conclusions about the seriousness of COVID-19 were more accurate? Was it just another type of flu, though maybe somewhat worse, as I posited, or was it the deadly pestilence predicted by the world’s health authorities?
» Read more

Today’s blacklisted Americans: The oppressed fight back at Boise State

The good black half of this student
A typical slide from a critical race theory class.

They’re coming for you next: Forced to attend a bigoted critical race education class at Boise State University where a white student was apparently treated like scum, it appears other students there taped the session and forwarded it to the Idaho state legislature.

The results were somewhat gratifying.

[A]dministrators have abruptly suspended all of the school’s general education classes called “University Foundations 200: Foundations of Ethics and Diversity.”

“We have been made aware of a series of concerns, culminating in allegations that a student or students have been humiliated and degraded in class on our campus for their beliefs and values,” states a March 16 memo from President Marlene Tromp to the campus community. “This is never acceptable; it is not what Boise State stands for; and we will not tolerate this behavior,” Tromp stated. “…Given the weight of cumulative concerns, we have determined that, effective immediately, we must suspend UF 200.” She goes on to note that academic leadership will determine next steps “to ensure that everyone is still able to complete the course.”

Tromp’s decision came around the same time as Idaho lawmakers passed a state education budget that takes away about $409,000 from Boise State University because of its social justice curriculum, Idaho Ed News reports. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted words provide us the real reason Boise administrators suspended these race lectures. » Read more

Another Starhip update: Static fire test today for #11

Link here. If the static fire goes well, the test flight for Starship prototype #11 should occur in the next few days, possibly as soon as tomorrow.

The article at the link also reviews the possible testing schedule for future prototypes. The next Starship prototype being prepared for flight, #15, will likely not fly next. Instead, it appears that SpaceX is gearing up to first begin tanking tests on its first Super Heavy prototype.

All could change of course depending on tests and flights and construction.

Update on SpaceX’s Super Heavy booster

Capitalism in space: According to this update on SpaceX’s Super Heavy booster, the first prototype is now stacked as two complete tank sections that only need to be welded together.

While a good amount of work still remains to weld the two halves together and connect their preinstalled plumbing and avionics runs, those tasks are largely marginal and will tweak the massive steel tower that’s now firmly in one piece. Comprised of 36 of the steel rings also used to assemble Starships, the first Super Heavy prototype – serial number BN1 – will stand roughly 67 meters (220 ft) tall from the top of its uppermost ring to the tail of its soon-to-be-installed Raptor engines.

At that height, Super Heavy BN1 is just 3 meters (~10 ft) shorter than an entire two-stage Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy rocket – the second and third tallest operational rockets today. Of course, Super Heavy is just a booster and SpaceX says the rocket will stand at least 120m (~395 ft) tall with a Starship upper stage and spacecraft installed on top, easily making it the tallest (and likely heaviest) launch vehicle ever assembled.

The report also adds SpaceX’s confirmation that this prototype will never fly, but will be used solely for ground tests. It is the second prototype that will do the first short test hops, hopefully sometime this summer.

SpaceX narrows Mars landing site for Starship to four prime locations

The prime and secondary Martian landing sites for Starship

Capitalism in space: During this week’s 52nd Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, one poster [pdf] caught my eye as something significant. It was titled “SpaceX Starship Landing Sites on Mars.” The map to the right is figure 1 from that poster, annotated slightly by me based my earlier stories about SpaceX’s use of the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) to research potential Martian landing sites for its Starship spacecraft. The stars indicate MRO images, most of which were described and linked to in my last major post about this SpaceX effort in November 2019.

The red spots covering some stars are the big story: SpaceX has narrowed its choice for its Starship landing site to four prime locations (indicated by the bright red spots) and three backup locations (indicated by the dark red spots). The images under the red spots numbered 2, 4, and 6 were linked to in my November 2019 post. The images under red spots marked by a “D” are earlier images taken by MRO when SpaceX was researching a potential Dragon landing site. The images under red spots labeled 1P and MRO are subsequent images taken by MRO since November 2019, with the 1P image previously linked to in a post in April 2020 entitled “The icy Phlegra Mountains: Mars’ future second city.”

The poster outlined why the prime candidate sites — PM1, EM16, AP1, and AP9 — were favored. For example, PM-1 in the Phlegra Mountains “…has the lowest latitude and elevation of the group, a clear association with LDAs [lobate debris aprons that resemble glacial features], well developed polygons, and has the highest SWIM [Subsurface Water Ice Mapping] score for geomorphic indicators of ice.”

EM 16 “…has a clear association with an LDA with nearby brain terrain and the strongest radar return for shallow ice and the highest combined SWIM score.”

AP1 “…appears to be the safest site and has a moderate combined SWIM score for ice.”

AP9 “…has the thickest ice from radar returns and geomorphology indicating shallow ice. It has the highest combined SWIM score for ice, but appears slightly rocky and rough.”

Below the fold are images, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, of the four primary landing sites, as well as links to the full images of all four plus the three back-up sites (AP8, EM15, and PM7).
» Read more

Musk confirms goal of orbital Starship flight this year

Capitalism in space: Musk today confirmed the stories published earlier this week that SpaceX has a target goal of completing the first test orbital flight of Starship before the end of this year, possibly as early as July.

The only new news in the article is Musk’s confirmation. It does outline again the challenges SpaceX faces to meet this goal, recognizing that these dates are thus merely targets that almost certainly will not be met. It also recognizes that the targets tell us that development will continue to move forward swiftly, and that an orbital test flight is also likely not that far in the future.

Who wants to bet that a Starship/Super Heavy rocket reaches orbit before SLS? Right now the odds I’d say are about 50-50.

Private Snafu – Coming!!

An evening pause: This was the first of a World War II cartoon series directed by Chuck Jones, voiced by Mel Blanc, and written by Theodor Geisel aka Dr. Seuss and designed to with humor raise the work ethic of soldiers and officers.

Hat tip Lazurus Long, who adds that “it was a bit racy and [thus] popular with the servicemen.”

Today our military authorities probably consider our servicemen and women to be too fragile for such stuff. And hopefully this evening pause will air before Google’s YouTube decides it must be banned.

Today’s blacklisted Americans: In Iowa the oppressed fight back

The Bill of Rights, not cancelled!
Not yet cancelled, at least in Iowa.

Today’s story about blacklisting might actually be revealing a hopeful sign, albeit only one which is still not resolved entirely in favor of freedom.

Our story begins in October 2020:

In October, David Johnsen, the dean for the college of dentistry at the University of Iowa, sent a mass email to the college criticizing an executive order issued by then-President Donald Trump. The email condemned the barring of certain types of diversity training that aim to promote “anti-American race and sex stereotyping.”

A conservative student, Michael Brase, “replied all” to the email, asking clarifying questions and sparking discussion on the email chain of about 1,200 students, faculty, and staff. Between two email threads, 18 emails were exchanged over the topic. According to the Daily Iowan, in one of his follow-up emails on the thread, Brase says “simply do the trainings without intentionally race/sex scapegoating people in those trainings. That shouldn’t be that hard.”

According to The Gazette, administrators at the university then summoned Brase to a disciplinary hearing for “unprofessional behavior.” The letter used to summon Brase included warnings of “dismissal” based on his actions.

This is very typical of our modern fascist and bankrupt academia. While partisan Democrats and leftists always have the right to say anything they want, and use all resources — some that are entirely inappropriate — to spread their message, partisan Republicans and even non-partisan neutrals have no right to question this behavior, and if they do must be punished immediately.

In this case however Iowa elected officials actually appear to be doing their job. After getting his disciplinary summons, Brase immediately contacted his local legislator, complaining that this behavior by administrators in a publicly financed institution seemed unjust and wrong. And unlike most modern legislators, who routinely run for the hills when such issues are brought before them out of fear of being called racist, these legislators heartily agreed with Brase.
» Read more

Starship update: Prototype #11 could fly tomorrow

Capitalism in space: According to this Starship update, the 11th Starship prototype is scheduled for its static fire dress rehearsal countdown today, with the possibility of its first flight as early as tomorrow.

This paragraph about SpaceX’s overall Starship program however is more significant:

Following SN11’s flight, SpaceX will move on to SN15, 16, and 17, alongside testing with Super Heavy prototypes BN1 and BN2, before shooting for an orbital launch with SN20 and BN3. In typical SpaceX-style, that orbital launch has an astonishing – and unlikely – “by July 1” target. At the very least, this target portrays SpaceX’s Starship drive to push the vehicle into operation.

The reason they are going directly from prototype #11 to #15 is because they scrapped #s 12, 13, and 14 after the flights of #9 and #10. They had learned enough, and those scrapped prototypes would not have taught them anything. Instead, they incorporated the learned changes to #15 and will fly that next.

The July 1st launch date is certainly overly optimistic. It also signals the company’s determination to try to get that first orbital flight off this year. Based on their pace, it would be foolish to dismiss this as a possibility.

It also signals what I think is an internal unstated goal within SpaceX to have Starship beat SLS into orbit. Nor would anyone be wise to consider that impossible. In fact, I consider it quite likely.

SpaceX launches another 60 Starlink satellites

Capitalism in space: SpaceX early this morning successfully launched another 60 Starlink satellites into orbit using its Falcon 9 rocket.

The company also successfully used a first stage for a record ninth time, landing it on its drone ship in the Atlantic. The booster did all nine flights in just over two years.

The 2021 launch race:

8 SpaceX
6 China
3 Russia
1 Rocket Lab
1 Virgin Orbit
1 Northrop Grumman
1 India

The U.S. now leads China 11 to 6 in the national rankings.

Today’s blacklisted Americans: South Alabama University suspends 3 professors for 2014 Halloween costumes

The cancelled Bill of Rights

They’re coming for you next: The University of South Alabama this month suspended three professors for wearing Halloween costumes back in 2014, seven years ago.

The photos show “then-Mitchell College of Business dean Bob Wood dressed as a Confederate general and professors Alex Sharland and Teresa Weldy posing with a whip and a noose,” WKRG5 reports.

The three teach in the university’s Mitchell College of Business. Wood and Sharland, who have tenure, have apologized, while Weldy, who is not tenured, “chose not to apologize,” the news station reports.

University brass is reportedly taking heat from the campus community for being aware of the photos since 2020 but not doing more about it. With that, [university President Tony] Waldrop upped his efforts on the nearly 7-year-old matter, calling the costumes and poses “offensive” and “contrary to our core principles of diversity and inclusion.” He pledged in his statement that the university will “address this situation in a manner that demonstrates our unwavering commitment to diversity, inclusion, and a safe and welcoming environment for every member of our community.” [emphasis mine]

» Read more

Space Force awards launch contracts (two each) to ULA and SpaceX

Capitalism in space: On March 9th the Space Force announced that it has awarded four new launch contracts, two each to ULA and SpaceX, for a total cost of just under $400 million, all to launch in ’23.

Under the task orders issued March 9, ULA and SpaceX will each launch two missions. ULA was awarded $225 million to launch and integrate the USSF-112 and USSF-87 missions on its Vulcan Centaur rockets while SpaceX was awarded $160 million to launch and integrate USSF-36 and launch NROL-69 on its Falcon 9 rockets.

Based on these numbers it appears ULA is charging about $113 million per launch for its new Vulcan Centaur rocket, while SpaceX is charging about $80 million using its Falcon 9.

For ULA, that is less that what it would charge using its Atlas 5 rocket, but not by much. For SpaceX this price is high, probably because the military might be demanding the company use new boosters for its launches.

These high prices for both are to me a sign of how little our federal government cares about saving any money for the taxpayer. While the competition brought on by SpaceX’s arrival is saving the military money, the way these contract awards are structured, with both ULA and SpaceX guaranteed to win them, neither company has an incentive to reduce its prices. Instead, they can overcharge and the military can do nothing about it.

In a more sane world the military would use the competition in the launch market to get an ever better deal. Instead, our federal government sees its budget as a blank check, and they are using it.

MEV-2 about to dock with communications satellite to extend its life

Capitalism in space: Northrop Grumman’s second Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV-2) is presently doing the last rendezvous maneuvers in the vicinity of one of Intelsat’s operating geosynchronous communications satellites in anticipation to its docking, when it will extend that satellite’s life by up to five years.

This is the second MEV to fly. The first successfully docked with a defunct 19-year-old satellite and brought it back into operation.

Meanwhile, in the Ukraine a new startup is proposing to use an upgrade of the automatic rendezvous and docking system once used by Progress and Soyuz capsules to create its own variation of MEV.

Kurs Orbital is raising $6.5 million in its first investment round this summer to start the demonstration vehicle that will rendezvous with an uncooperative object in low Earth orbit, he said. “I think that we will be on schedule for 2023 with a demonstration mission.”

The company plans to raise more money over the next few years to build a fleet of four vehicles to start offering de-orbiting services by 2025. Usov said de-orbiting is the low hanging fruit because it is a way to immediately help satellite operators make money.

Operators currently take geostationary satellites out of service to a graveyard orbit six to eight months before they are out of fuel. De-orbiting services would allow operators to keep the satellites in operation for several additional months and continue to generate revenues, Usov said. Those extra revenues would more than pay for the $10 million to $15 million de-orbiting service.

If successful, this company will be the third attempting to enter the robotic satellite serving business, with a number of others also aiming to make money removing space junk.

SpaceX successfully launches 60 more Starlink satellites

Capitalism in space: SpaceX last night successfully launched another sixty Starlink satellites, raising the total launched to 1,265, with more than a thousand operating.

The company also landed the Falcon 9’s first stage for the sixth time while reusing both fairings.

The 2021 launch race:

7 SpaceX
4 China
3 Russia
1 Rocket Lab
1 Virgin Orbit
1 Northrop Grumman
1 India

The U.S. now leads China 10 to 4 in the national rankings. In fact, SpaceX alone has as many launches as China and Russia combined.

Nicaragua forms space agency

The new colonial movement? In what appears to be a complete surprise within its own scientific community, the government of Nicaragua today announced the formation of its own space agency.

[T]he National Assembly approved the creation of the agency for the “defence of supreme interests” in space. It will seek “to expand the country’s capacities in the educational, industrial, scientific and technological branches”, according to president Daniel Ortega´s proposal.

The article at the link provides little information about this government effort, and instead is mostly filled with commentary by other scientists expressing their opposition to it. Nor can I blame them. Unlike rich countries like the UAE, Nicaragua is one of the poorest in Latin America. It can’t afford to buy the educational resources of the United States, as the UAE did.

Moreover, it is ruled by a socialist/communist government whose ability to produce wealth is exceedingly limited. If anything, the nation’s poverty is because of that government’s top-down policies. Establishing a space agency is merely another aspect of this approach, and will likely only act to provide photo ops for its leaders and little benefit to its citizens.

NASA forges deal with private company to put American on Russian Soyuz

Capitalism in space: It appears NASA used the private company Axiom as its go-between to obtain a seat for an American astronaut on the next Soyuz launch to ISS in April.

The deal is very complex.

Based on the initial partnership arrangement between the Russians and NASA, astronauts for both countries would fly in equal numbers on each other’s spacecraft in a barter arrangement that involved no exchange of funds. Russia however has been balking at flying its astronauts on Dragon, claiming it does not yet meet their standards for a manned spacecraft. Thus, they have been demanding that NASA pay them to fly an American on Soyuz.

NASA meanwhile doesn’t have the funds, but it still wants to make sure there is always an American on board ISS, and to do that requires a second ferry besides Dragon to provide redundancy. With Boeing’s Starliner delayed, they have been trying to get a seat on Soyuz as part of that barter deal, to no avail.

The solution? Private enterprise! To get that Soyuz seat at no cost it appears NASA made a barter deal with the private space company Axiom. Axiom is apparently paying the Russians for a seat on next month’s Soyuz flight, which will be filled by a NASA astronaut, and gets in return from NASA a free spare seat on a later American capsule.

The result? NASA pays nothing to the Russians, and still gets its seat on Soyuz. Where Axiom is getting the financing for its purchase is unclear, but because it is getting an extra seat at no cost that it can sell later for a big profit, I suspect that financing was not difficult to obtain.

The details for Axiom’s deal with Roscosmos have not as yet been revealed, though I am sure the Russians charged Axiom plenty for the seat on Soyuz. I also suspect that amount was far less then what the Russians would have charged NASA directly.

Once Starliner finally becomes operational NASA will have enough redundancy for getting Americans to ISS it will no longer need the Russians. Hopefully that will happen by the end of this year. If so, such shenanigans will no longer be required.

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