Tag Archives: freedom

Worldview balloon completes 16-day flight

Worldview Stratollite flight

Capitalism in space: Worldview has successfully completed a sixteen day flight of its Stratollite high altitude balloon.

The map on the right is from their press release [pdf]. From the first link above:

During the 16-day flight, World View was able to spend up to eight days total in an area about 75 miles wide. It also demonstrated more precise station-keeping, says Hartman, by spending 55 straight hours in a region 62 miles wide and also 6.5 hours in an area a little less than 6 miles wide.

Staying within such a small area is crucial for the Stratollite system, as that capability could be useful for a number of different applications for customers, according to Hartman. He notes that such a system above Earth could be used by the military to aid certain missions operations, or the Stratollite could help monitor natural disasters like tornadoes and hurricanes, and help with disaster relief. “There’s just all kinds of very important use cases when we can provide a station keeping capability in an area as small as a [6-mile] diameter area,” says Hartman.

Throughout this flight, the Stratollite covered a distance of 3,000 miles, making its way to the Grand Canyon, Nevada, Oregon, and Utah. Once the World View team decided to bring the Stratollite back down to Earth, the company was able to land it within 400 feet of a targeted area in the Nevada desert where the vehicle was then recovered. World View even hopes to fly some of the components from this flight on an upcoming mission.

The company’s goal these days is not space tourism, but ground observations, and this flight is certainly a solid proof that they are getting close to achieving that goal.

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New study calls for government to center its space policy around private enterprise

Link here. The study is detailed, thoughtful, and strongly reiterates the same policy recommendations I put forth in Capitalism in Space.

The paper outlines what the authors think the government should do over the next decade-plus to encourage the take-over of the American space effort by private enterprise. While much of this makes sense, when they get into outlining the specific projects that they want to happen in the 2020s it comes the stuff of fantasy, what the authors wish would happen.

If the government transitions away from a “space program” and instead creates a chaotic and free space industry, it will then be impossible to lay out a specific step-by-step “program” of achievement. Instead, the engine of freedom will take over, and what it will generate can never be predicted, except that it will be vigorous, surprising, and successful, doing things quickly and with exuberance.

That should be the fundamental goal of our government.

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Commercial space unhappy with proposed regulations

An industry advisory panel has expressed strong objections to the proposed new regulations for commercial remote sensing that were intended to streamline the space bureaucracy.

The proposed rule is intended to streamline how such systems are licensed by NOAA as the volume of license applications the office receives increases. However, many [advisory council] members argued that proposal missed the mark and could create new burdens for companies. “I find, at the moment, that the draft rule is wanting across the board, and it’s not close,” said Gil Klinger, chair of [the advisory council] and a Raytheon vice president who spent most of his career at the Defense Department and the intelligence community.

It appears that the government’s proposed revisions don’t accomplish much, and in fact might make things worse.

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New Zimmerman op-ed at The Federalist

In the piece, Trump’s Promising New Space Plan Won’t Work Without Cutting The Pork, I take a close look at Trump’s Moon plan and actually come away somewhat encouraged.

For one, it is pretty clear that Gateway has been dumped, or at least deemphasized significantly. Second, the plan shifts the focus from NASA being the builder of the program to NASA being a customer of the private sector.

Read it all. There’s a lot more.

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Astronomers call for regulations to stop commercial satellite constellations

The astronomical community is now calling for new regulations to restrict the number of satellites that can be launched as part of the coming wave of new commercial constellations due to a fear these satellites will interfere with their observations.

Not surprising to me, it is the International Astronomical Union (IAU) that is taking the lead here.

The IAU statement urges satellite designers and policymakers to take a closer look at the potential impacts of satellite constellations on astronomy and how to mitigate them.

“We also urge appropriate agencies to devise a regulatory framework to mitigate or eliminate the detrimental impacts on scientific exploration as soon as practical,” the statement says. “We strongly recommend that all stakeholders in this new and largely unregulated frontier of space utilisation work collaboratively to their mutual advantage.”

When it comes to naming objects in space, the IAU likes to tell everyone else what to do. That top-down approach is now reflected in its demand that these commercial enterprises, with the potential to increase the wealth and knowledge of every human on Earth, be shut down.

The astronomy community has a solution, one that it has been avoiding since they launched Hubble in 1990, and that is to build more space-telescopes. Such telescopes would not only leap-frog the commercial constellations, it would routinely get them better results, far better than anything they get on Earth.

But no, they’d rather squelch the efforts of everyone else so they can maintain the status quo. They should be ashamed.

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Dragon cargo capsule successfully returns to Earth

Capitalism in space: After a month docked to ISS SpaceX’s seventeenth Dragon cargo freighter successfully splashed down yesterday.

I think that makes eighteen successful splashdowns. While NASA keeps demanding SpaceX do more tests of its manned Dragon parachute system, which has been made even more robust than the cargo capsule in that it includes four chutes, not three, for greater redundancy, the company keeps demonstrating that they already know how to do this.

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Stratolaunch shutting down?

According to a Reuters story today based upon anonymous sources within the company, Stratolaunch is about to cease operations.

The key quote from the article:

As of April 1, Stratolaunch had only 21 employees, compared with 77 last December, one of the four sources said. Most of the remaining employees were focused on completing the carrier plane’s test flight.

The decision to set an exit strategy was made late last year by Allen’s sister, Jody Allen, chair of Vulcan Inc and trustee of the Paul G. Allen Trust, one of the four people and the fifth industry source said. Jody Allen decided to let the carrier aircraft fly to honor her brother’s wishes and also to prove the vehicle and concept worked, one of the four people said.

If true, this is hardly a surprise. The company was never able to find a viable path to orbit. It had built a spectacular plane, but could not find a rocket for that plane to launch.

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Mexico’s president responds to Trump’s imposition of tariffs

Mexico’s president Andres Manuel López Obrador has issued a response to Trump’s announcement yesterday of the imposition of tariffs, set to escalate monthly, until Mexico makes some effort to help with the illegal immigration problem.

In his letter (pdf) translated by the Wall Street Journal, the socialist leader pushed back at Trump’s announcement, accusing him of transforming the United States from “a country of fraternity for the world’s migrants into a ghetto.” He also attacked Trump’s “America First” slogan, calling it a fallacy as they should be seeking instead the socialist principles of “universal justice and fraternity.”

Obrador then proposed to “deepen the dialogue” instead of using “taxes or coercive measures” to resolve the illegal immigration issue, which has overwhelmed the immigration system at the U.S.-Mexico border. “It is worth remembering that, within a short period of time, Mexicans will not need to migrate into the United States and that migration will become optional, not compulsory. This is because we are fighting corruption, the main problem in Mexico, as never before!” Obrador said as he tried to convince Trump to “seek alternatives to the immigration problem.”

He added that the Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Mexico is leading a delegation to Washington to discuss with the Trump administration in order to seek “an agreement for the benefit of the two nations.”

The last paragraph is the important part. Everything else is bluster. Obrador needs to get those tariffs lifted, so he needs to negotiate something with the U.S. to get Trump to remove them. Whether he is really willing to help shut down the illegal traffic remains to be seen.

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NASA selects three companies to provide lunar landers for its science instruments

Captalism in space: NASA today announced the selection of three new companies to provide the agency lunar landers on which to fly its science instruments to the Moon.

The companies chosen:

  • Astrobotic of Pittsburgh has been awarded $79.5 million and has proposed to fly as many as 14 payloads to Lacus Mortis, a large crater on the near side of the Moon, by July 2021.
  • Intuitive Machines of Houston has been awarded $77 million. The company has proposed to fly as many as five payloads to Oceanus Procellarum, a scientifically intriguing dark spot on the Moon, by July 2021.
  • Orbit Beyond of Edison, New Jersey, has been awarded $97 million and has proposed to fly as many as four payloads to Mare Imbrium, a lava plain in one of the Moon’s craters, by September 2020.

If successful as awarded, the cost for these spacecraft will be minuscule compared to what NASA normally spends for its own planetary probes.

These contract awards are puzzling however in one way. All three companies are relatively unknown. None competed in the Google Lunar X-Prize, as did the American company Moon Express, which at one time was thought to be very close to launching. That Moon Express is not one of the winners here is mysterious. The only explanation I can come up with is the lawsuit that Intuitive Machines won from Moon Express in January 2018. Maybe that suit killed Moon Express, and made Intuitive Machines the winner today.

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Anomaly during static fire test of Northrop Grumman OmegaA rocket motor

Capitalism in space: During a static fire test of the first stage solid rocket motor for Northrop Grumman’s OmegaA rocket, the rocket’s nozzle suddenly broke apart two minutes into the firing.

I have embedded video of the test below the fold. The anomaly occurs about 2:11 into the video.

OmegA is being developed as part of a contract awarded to Northrop Grumman by the Air Force:

After the end of the Ares 1 and Liberty launch vehicle projects, Orbital ATK developed a next generation launch vehicle concept to compete for future US Air Force and NASA launches, and won a rocket propulsion system (RPS) contract in January 2016 as part of the Air Force’s effort to end its dependence on Russian RD-180 engine imports, due to increased geopolitical tensions between the West and Russia.

The contract enabled Orbital ATK to keep working on the next generation launch system, which was later named OmegA, with the first and last letters capitalized to incorporate the company’s initials.

In June 2018 Orbital ATK was acquired by Northrop Grumman to become Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems (NGIS), and in October of that year the US Air Force awarded NGIS a launch service agreement (LSA) contract initially worth $181 million for the first 18 months, and ultimately worth $792 million, to develop, build, and test the OmegA rocket, culminating in four test flights of two configurations starting in 2021.

» Read more

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Trump imposes escalating tariffs on Mexico

President Trump announced today the imposition of escalating tariffs on Mexico until it acts to stop illegal immigration traveling through its country from Central America.

From the White House statement:

To address the emergency at the Southern Border, I am invoking the authorities granted to me by the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. Accordingly, starting on June 10, 2019, the United States will impose a 5 percent Tariff on all goods imported from Mexico. If the illegal migration crisis is alleviated through effective actions taken by Mexico, to be determined in our sole discretion and judgment, the Tariffs will be removed.

If the crisis persists, however, the Tariffs will be raised to 10 percent on July 1, 2019. Similarly, if Mexico still has not taken action to dramatically reduce or eliminate the number of illegal aliens crossing its territory into the United States, Tariffs will be increased to 15 percent on August 1, 2019, to 20 percent on September 1, 2019, and to 25 percent on October 1, 2019. Tariffs will permanently remain at the 25 percent level unless and until Mexico substantially stops the illegal inflow of aliens coming through its territory.

It seems to me a perfectly reasonable position, considering how unwilling Mexico has been to enforce its own immigration laws in connection with illegals heading to the U.S. The illegal immigrant caravans crossing Mexico last year from other Central American countries could have been stopped if the Mexico government had taken action. Instead, it provided aid and comfort to these illegals, often to the distress of its own citizens.

Since then that government’s policies on illegal immigration have been very mixed.

Trump’s action here might serve to clarify the situation.

The bottom line remains the same as always. The law should be obeyed. The federal government is obligated to enforce that law. And, as the White House statement noted, “Workers who come to our country through the legal admissions process, including those working on farms, ranches, and in other businesses, will be allowed easy passage.” Nothing the Trump administration has done has contradicted that statement.

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Oregon official who oppressed Christian bakers loses election

Update: One of my readers pointed out something I completely missed when I read the story below today: The story is from 2016, describing an election then, not recently. Thus, this isn’t recent news and does not indicate anything about the present state of politics in Oregon.

Essentially this is a “Never mind.”

Very good news: The Oregon labor official who used the law to put a Christian bakery out of business because they would not bake a gay wedding cake has lost a statewide election to a Republican.

In his bid for Secretary of State, Avakian promised a push for “progressive values” like wage equality and reproductive freedoms. His conservative opponent promised to adhere to the position’s basic, more traditional roles, like auditing public records and officiating elections.

In the end, the opponent, Dennis Richardson won 48% of the popular vote, beating Avakian by nearly 100,000 votes. The victory makes Richardson the first Republican to win a statewide office in Oregon since 2002.

Maybe Oregonians are finally getting a bit sick and tired of how the left is giving their state the reputation as a failing fascist state.

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Nevada’s governor vetoes bill to void electoral college

Good news: Nevada’s Democratic governor has suprisingly vetoed a bill to that would have given all of Nevada’s electoral college votes to whichever candidate won the national popular vote.

It appears he actually put the interests of his state and its citizens above Democratic partisan politics.

“After thoughtful deliberation, I have decided to veto Assembly Bill 186,” [Governor Steve] Sisolak said in a statement. “Once effective, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact could diminish the role of smaller states like Nevada in national electoral contests and force Nevada’s electors to side with whoever wins the nationwide popular vote, rather than the candidate Nevadans choose.”

This is a major blow to the effort by Democrats to void the electoral college, which would almost guarantee their victory in every future presidential election, due to their domination in high population states like California and New York.

Some related good news: Maine’s House today defeated a similar bill that had been approved by its Senate two weeks ago.

While the Senate vote fell largely on along party lines, with all Republicans and two Democrats opposing it, the House saw a more bipartisan rejection of the measure, after at least 20 lawmakers made speeches from the floor.

In other words, once they were made aware of the harmful nature of the bill to Maine’s interests, more Democrats, like Nevada’s governor, chose their state’s interests over national Democratic partisan politics.

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Netanyahu calls for new elections

Having failed to form a coalition, Benjamin Netanyahu has called for new elections, only seven weeks after his coalition of parties won the previous election.

Like all the Israeli news sources I’ve read, this one is also somewhat vague about the disagreement, which is between the orthodox parties and another smaller party within Netanyahu’s coalition.

At the heart of the impasse was the issue of drafting ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students: Yisrael Beiteinu’s Avigdor Lieberman, without whom Netanyahu can’t form a coalition, refused to back down on the bill’s terms, while ultra-Orthodox parties claimed they have already yielded enough ground.

It appears the disagreement involves a new law related to the requirement that orthodox yeshiva students be liable for the military draft, as are all other Israeli citizens. Because of a deal made many decades ago by Ben-Gurion, those students had been exempted from the draft until just a few years ago. It seems the negotiations were either an attempt to expand their exemption again, or reduce it further. None of the stories I’ve read have been clear on this point.

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SpaceX investigation into test explosion ongoing

A NASA update yesterday into SpaceX’s investigation into the test explosion that destroyed a manned Dragon capsule revealed that while the company is still working to launch humans by the end of the year, this schedule remains tentative until the investigation is completed.

The update included two important details. First, SpaceX is going to use for its launch abort test the Dragon capsule it had previously planned to fly on its first manned demo mission, and for that mission will use the capsule intended for the first operational manned flight. That first operational flight will then use a new capsule from their assembly line.

Second, the update confirmed that the anomaly that caused the explosion occurred as they were activating the SuperDraco thruster system, but prior to the firing of the thrusters. While this suggests once again that the failure might have not have involved the capsule but the test procedures, we will not know for sure until they release their investigation conclusions.

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Super Heavy/Starship construction now in SpaceX facilities in Texas and Florida

Capitalism in space: Even as it prepares for more Starhopper vertical test flights next month, SpaceX has now initiated Super Heavy/Starship construction in its facilities in both Boca Chica, Texas, and Cape Canaveral, Florida.

SpaceX is working a dual test flow for its new Super Heavy and Starship systems, with construction ongoing in Florida while Starhopper prepares to restart test operations in Texas. Two orbital Starship prototypes are now in staggered stages of production while the first Super Heavy booster is set to begin construction in the next three months. However, the focus will soon return to Starhopper, as it prepares for an incremental series of untethered test hops.

Earlier this month it came to light that SpaceX crews at Cocoa Beach in Florida were starting to assemble a second orbital Starship prototype vehicle, similar to the first of such articles that are currently located at the company’s launch and testing facility in Boca Chica, Texas.

According to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, these two builds were going to be the center of a cooperative/competitive effort between the two sites and their respective team members, in which they would share insights and lessons learned during development – although they were not required to put them to use.

There is another aspect to this that must be emphasized. Super Heavy and Starship are not rockets as we have come to think of them. They are the names for a class of vehicle, each of which is intended to fly many times. SpaceX is therefore not building the first version of a throwaway rocket, but a ship it will use over and over. Because of this, they are not going to be building many of these ships, as you would with an expendable rocket. Instead, they are going to build only a handful, like a ship company that builds luxury ocean liners.

Building two ships simultaneously thus allows them to hone the engineering more quickly and efficiently. It also means that when they are done, SpaceX will have two giant space liners for getting people and cargo into orbit, literally a small fleet that will give them redundancy and make quick flight turnarounds possible.

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Foreign elections: UK, India, France, Italy, Israel

Foreign elections in the past week all suggest that Trump’s victory in the U.S. is no accident, and that our so-called betters in the elitist class in DC had better recognize this or they will find themselves out of work.

In Europe supporters of the European Union generally got crushed:

Turn-out was up across the board, which with these victories for the populist parties also indicates the public favors them, and wanted to give them victories. As one would expect, the press has routinely labeled the winners here as “far-right,” a slander aimed at discrediting them.

The European Union was without doubt a good idea. Sadly, its implementation by the elitists in Europe was terrible, as bad if not worse then the terrible job the U.S. establishment has done for the past three decades, failing to do anything right while simultaneously drowning the country in debt and stifling regulation.

Meanwhile in India, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi came away with a landslide victory. In many ways Modi’s win mirrors the European elections. Overall, Modi has worked to shift India away from the centralized socialist/communist policies that dominated its government in the last half of the 20th century, policies that are very similar to the policies followed by the ruling EU parties. In India those centralized policies worked as badly as they have in Europe and the U.S., which is why they experienced a political collapse.

Modi’s shift to private enterprise has resulted in a booming economy and great prosperity, so much so that it has allowed India to expand its space program significantly.

Finally, in Israel, the victory several weeks ago of Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition has not yet resulted in a new government. It appears Netanyahu is having trouble forming a government.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced that he would meet with the leaders of the prospective coalition parties in the coming hours in a final effort to save the new government and avert new elections. “I am now making my last-ditch effort to form a right-wing government and to prevent unnecessary elections. I gave the partners a proposal for a solution. It is based on the principles that the army has established and on the data that the army has established – there is no reason to reject it, “Netanyahu said.

It appears that the conservative haredi religious parties that normally ally themselves with Netanyahu’s Likud party have been playing hard ball, preventing an agreement. In other words, the demand is that the government shift even more righward, a pattern comparable to Europe.

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SpaceX raises more than a billion in investment capital

Capitalism in space: SpaceX announced this week that it has raised more than a billion dollars in investment capital.

The launch provider turned satellite operator raised $486.2 million in one round, and $535.7 million in another, the company said in May 24 filings to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The filings show SpaceX sold all but $18.8 million of the shares available between the two rounds. The company raised $1.022 billion in total.

It appears the money will be used to finance the construction of both Super Heavy/Starship and their Starlink satellite constellation. The article also notes that SpaceX generated $2 billion in revenues last year. All told, the company seems to be in very healthy shape financially.

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Boeing completes Starliner thruster tests

Capitalism in space: Almost a year after the company experienced a fuel leak during thruster tests of its Starliner manned capsule, Boeing announced this week that those tests have now been completed successfully.

In a statement, Boeing said it completed hot-fire testing May 23 of the spacecraft’s entire propulsion system, including various thrusters, fuel tanks and related systems within a “flight-like” service module of the spacecraft. Those tests took place at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico.

A series of tests demonstrated thruster firings for in-space maneuvers, high-altitude aborts and low-altitude aborts. The company said the tests were all successful.

They now plan their launchpad abort test this summer.

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SpaceX successfully launches 60 prototype Starlink satellites

Capitalsm in space: SpaceX this morning successfully launched 60 prototype Starlink satellites as the first part of their planned constellation of thousands of satellites designed to provide worldwide internet access.

The first stage, already used twice before, landing successfully on their drone ship. You can watch the launch here.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

7 China
6 SpaceX
4 Europe (Arianespace)
3 Russia
3 India

The U.S. now leads China 11 to 7 in the national rankiings.

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Justice charges man with falsifying inspection reports for rocket parts

The Justice Department has charged an employee of a company now out of business for falsifying inspection reports of rocket parts intended for use on both the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rocket.

The complaint states that in January 2018, an internal audit by SQA Services, Inc. (SQA), at the direction of SpaceX, revealed multiple falsified source inspection reports and non-destructive testing (NDT) certifications from PMI Industries, LLC, for Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy flight critical parts. SpaceX notified PMI of the anomalies. Source inspections and NDT are key tools used in the aerospace industry to ensure manufactured parts comply with quality and safety standards. Specifically, the signed source inspection report had a forged signature of the SQA inspector. SpaceX and SQA officials believed the signature of the inspector was photocopied and cut and pasted onto the source inspection report with a computer.

On February 16, 2018, the NASA Launch Services Program alerted the NASA Office of Inspector General (OIG), and Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Resident Agency, regarding the falsified source inspection reports and false NDT certifications created by PMI. Some of the false source inspection reports and false NDT certifications were related to space launch vehicle components that, at the time of discovery, were to be used for the upcoming Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission, which launched from a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on April 18, 2018.

Based on this report, it appears that SpaceX identified the problem before launch and that none of the questionable parts ever flew.

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Wisconsin HS students win U.S. rocketry competition

A team of high school students from Wisconsin have won U.S. rocketry competition and will now represent this country in the international competition to be held at the Paris International Air Show in June..

The team’s victory follows months of preparation designing, building, and testing a rocket capable of meeting rigorous mission parameters set by the contest’s sponsors – the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), National Association of Rocketry, and more than 20 industry sponsors. This year’s rules celebrated the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 by requiring each rocket to carry three eggs in a separate capsule to symbolize the three astronauts that made the journey to the Moon and back.

The Top 101 teams, hailing from 25 states from Hawaii to New York, competed for a total of $100,000 in prize money and scholarships at the national finals – an all-day event held at Great Meadow in The Plains, Va., outside of Washington, D.C. The $100,000 prize pool will be split among the Top 10 teams, with Madison West taking home the top prize of $20,000 as U.S. champions. In addition, the top twenty-five finishers receive an invitation to participate in NASA’s Student Launch initiative to continue their exploration of rocketry with high-powered rockets and challenging mission parameters.

The growth of this competition is clearly tied directly to the boom in commercial rocketry going on worldwide.

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New LRO pictures showing Beresheet impact site

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) science team yesterday released an image showing the impact site where the privately-built Israeli lunar lander Beresheet crashed onto the surface of the Moon on April 11, 2019.

“The cameras captured a dark smudge, about 10 meters wide, that indicates the point of impact,” said NASA. “The dark tone suggests a surface roughened by the hard landing, which is less reflective than a clean, smooth surface.”

The image released does not see the spacecraft but the surface evidence that an impact took place. Higher resolution images will be required to spot any surface wreckage.

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Fascist scientists propose excluding 85% of solar system from human use

The tyrannical Earth moves to oppress future spacefarers: Scientists have now proposed a new fascist plan designed to exclude any human development in 85% of the entire solar system.

Great swathes of the solar system should be preserved as official “space wilderness” to protect planets, moons and other heavenly bodies from rampant mining and other forms of industrial exploitation, scientists say.

The proposal calls for more than 85% of the solar system to be placed off-limits to human development, leaving little more than an eighth for space firms to mine for precious metals, minerals and other valuable materials.

While the limit would protect pristine worlds from the worst excesses of human activity, its primary goal is to ensure that humanity avoids a catastrophic future in which all of the resources within its reach are permanently used up. [emphasis mine]

These fascists really only want power. They really have no interest in preserving anything. If their proposal was ever made law it would put control over that 85% in the hands of bureaucrats on Earth, not the people who will be living and working in space and who would also know best how to handle the situation. Also, their justification for the proposal, to prevent humans from using up all the available resources, is beyond ludicrous. We haven’t yet come close to using up Earth’s resources, even though doomsayers have been predicting that to happen repeatedly for the past century.

This story more than anything provides a window into the future political conflicts that will occur once humans finally establish space colonies. Much as the American colonies had to revolt from Great Britain’s overbearing power, colonists in space will have to do the same to get away from the same overbearing power coming from Earth.

Posted on a ferry taking us from Dublin, Ireland, to Holyhead, Wales.

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Are Boeing and SpaceX having parachute issues with their manned capsules?

There appears to be a significant conflict between what NASA has been saying about the parachute development tests for both SpaceX’s Dragon capsule and Boeing’s Starliner capsule and what the companies have reported.

The head of NASA’s manned program, Bill Gerstenmaier, has said that both programs have had “anomalies” during their tests. Both companies have said otherwise, with both companies claiming that all their parachutes have been successful. The article looks into this, and what it finds tends to support the companies over Gerstenmaier. There have been issues, but not as terrible as implied by Gerstenmaier.

So what is going on? I suspect that Gerstenmaier is overstating these issues as part NASA’s game to slow-walk the private capsules in order to make SLS not look so bad. He would of course deny this, but that denial won’t change my suspicions, in the slightest. I’ve seen NASA’s bureaucracy play too many games in connection with getting these capsules approved for flight to be generous to Gertenmaier or NASA. I don’t trust them. I’ve seen them make dishonest accusations against SpaceX and Boeing too many times already.

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Off to Wales for two weeks

Today Diane and I are off for a two week vacation hiking and sightseeing in Wales, beginning with a day in Dublin and finishing with two days in London. During that time I will continue to post, but expect my posts to show up at very odd hours, as I settle into the British time zone, five hours ahead of New York.

Along the way I should also post, as I usually do, some commentary and pictures about our trip and my impressions of this insistently different part of Great Britain. The description of the tour itself can be found here.

For me this trip will be a very different experience, in that in all my other travels I always made all the arrangements, in order to save money. This time we decided to splurge and let someone else do that work. Should be fun, and most interesting.

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Virgin Galactic to move flight operations to New Mexico

Capitalism in space: As promised more than a decade ago, Virgin Galactic yesterday announced that is finally going to move its SpaceShipTwo flight operations from Mohave to the Spaceport America facility in New Mexico this summer.

This fulfills Virgin’s original agreement with New Mexico, where the company agreed to base its commercial operations there if the state spent money to build the spaceport. The move is beginning now, but will mostly occur in the summer. It suggests the company might finally be getting ready to at last begin commercial tourist flights, only a decade-plus later than originally promised.

As is usual, Richard Branson made this a big public relations event. And as is usual, numerous press outlets have swooned over it. I remain very skeptical.

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Will India’s private space industry take off?

Link here. The article describes the presentations given during an event in India that included both government and commercial representatives of its space industry.

It appears that one of the concerns of India’s private space sector is the recent creation of a new division in ISRO, the country’s space agency, focused on making ISRO’s technology available to the private sector, for a fee. From the second link:

Reports citing official documents suggest that in order to facilitate transfer of technology, NSIL [Newspace India Limited] will take license from ISRO before sub-licensing them to the commercial players. The technology transfer envisaged through the NSIL will include India’s small satellite program, the small satellite launch vehicle (SSLV) program and the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). This would mean that services including launching of satellites can be undertaken by private entities once the license is procured by the NSIL.

Speaking to Times of India, Dr. Sivan, head of the ISRO, said that the NSIL will essentially become the connecting link for ISRO with commercial players to aid in technology transfer for a fee. As he put it: “We wanted a mechanism to transfer the technologies of our new projects like SSLV and even lithium-ion cells. With this company, ISRO will be able to smoothly transfer these technologies after charging fees. Once companies start mass production of small satellites and launchers, ISRO will be charging them for using its launch services.” In another interview, he had stated that he expected a demand for 2-3 SSLV rockets per month.

It appears the speakers at the conference had mixed opinions about NSIL. Some saw it as a direct competitor, holding significant advantages because already has guaranteed government funding. Others were more optimistic.

What strikes me is the decision by ISRO to have NSIL charge private companies for its technology. This is a very bad idea, for a number of reasons. First, it makes NSIL a power-broker over the private sector, able to pick its own favorites in that industry. Second, such schemes in government always lead to corruption and bribery. Third, the fees will act to squelch new companies unable to afford them.

The U.S. approach has always been that any technology developed by its government agencies is public knowledge, paid for by the taxpayer, and thus instantly available for use by any private operation at no charge. While this policy has its own pluses and minuses, in general it works far better at encouraging development and growth in the private sector, while limiting the power of government entities.

The structure of India’s new government entity, combined with the oppressive language proposed in 2017 for India’s space law, does not bode well for the growth of an independent and competitive commercial Indian aerospace industry. In fact, both suggest that India’s government-controlled space program is beginning to travel the typical road that all government programs all eventually travel: First they are innovative and successful. Then they grow in size and power. Finally they use that power to squelch any private competition to protect their turf.

It looks like ISRO is beginning to enter that third stage.

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