Tag Archives: government

NASA solicits proposals for manned lunar landers

NASA yesterday issued its final solicitation for proposals for private companies to build its manned lunar landers, with one major change resulting from comments to their earlier preliminary announcements.

Those comments resulted in some modifications intended to streamline the process and give companies more flexibility. One of the biggest is that NASA will no longer require lunar landers to dock with the lunar Gateway to serve as a staging point, at least for initial missions to the lunar surface.

“The agency’s preferred approach to a lunar landing is for the crew in the Orion spacecraft and the uncrewed human landing system to launch separately and meet in lunar orbit at the Gateway, which is critical to long-term exploration of the moon,” the agency said in a Sept. 30 statement about the solicitation. “NASA wants to explore all options to achieve the 2024 mission and remains open to alternative, innovative approaches.” [emphasis mine]

If these landers, using Orion, bypass Gateway in getting to the lunar surface, then there will literally be no reason to build that lunar station. NASA knows this, which is why they spent a lot of time hiding this fact by touting the requirement that any proposal must be designed to eventually dock with Gateway. The agency has been using Gateway to garner support on Capital Hill for its manned program, since the project will take decades to build and thus create a lot of jobs while generally taking few risks in space. (Politicians love this kind of space jobs program.) NASA now probably fears a pushback from both Congress and the big contractors building SLS and Gateway, and want to defuse that.

Nonetheless, this decision signals the Trump administration’s desire to get itself an off ramp from SLS and Gateway. Since NASA plans on issuing two lander contracts, I think they hope to issue one using Gateway, and one that does not. This way, when (not if) Gateway is delayed, they will still be able to fly manned lunar missions.

Yesterday’s solicitation also set a fast deadline for submissions, one month.

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UAE astronaut completes telecast to UAE

The new colonial movement: The first astronaut from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) yesterday completed his fifth day in orbit on ISS, answering questions from students during two telecasts.

The goal from the start for this mission was to encourage a new space agency in the UAE, thus diversifying its economy. These telecasts are clearly aimed at doing that.

His flight is about half over.

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Russia to reduce manned missions to ISS in 2020

According to a Roscosmos, Russia will halve the number of manned Soyuz missions it will fly to ISS in 2020, from the normal four per year that they have been doing since 2009 to only two.

The article provides little additional detail, other than those two flights will be in the second and fourth quarters of the year, and that there will be three Progress freighter launches as well.

In May the Russians had announced that NASA had agreed to buy two more astronaut tickets on Soyuz. Since then there have been two manned launches, one of which I think was covered by this purchase. If not, then both launches next year are to launch Americans to ISS, and that Russia will not launch otherwise.

Either way this information tells us two things. First, NASA is probably getting very close to finally approving the manned flights of Dragon and Starliner, after many delays by their safety panel.

Second, Russia’s reduction in launches suggests that they are short of funds, and can’t launch often without someone buying a ticket. It is unclear what they will do when the U.S. is no longer a customer. I suspect they will fly the minimum number of crew in the fewest flights while still allowing them to maintain their portion of the station. Periodically they will likely add a flight, when they sell a ticket to either a tourist or to another foreign country, as they are doing right now with an Soyuz-flown astronaut from the United Arab Emirates.

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Sweden is no leftist utopia

Link here. This quote gives the flavor:

‘Nowhere else has the direct link between individual and state evolved as far as in Sweden,” Asbrink writes. “You don’t expect your family or relatives or friends or charity organizations to help if you become vulnerable,” she said. “You expect the state to help you.” Swedish parents have no obligation to their children once they turn 18. The elderly turn to the state rather than their adult offspring for support.

“This of course means freedom from family bonds or ties,” Asbrink said. “But it also means isolation. People feel lonely. There is a built-in depression that comes with this deal with the state.”

From the 1950s through the 1970s, that translated into some of the developed world’s highest suicide rates and had a noticeable impact on Sweden’s artists.

There’s more in the article, including detailing how in the past few decades Sweden has been moving back to individual responsibility and private enterprise. This information is important in connection with American politics, as Democrats routinely tout Sweden as the paradise they wish to build in America. The article questions their assumptions.

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NASA awards 14 companies small development contracts

Capitalism in space: NASA yesterday announced the issuing of fourteen small contracts totaling $43.2 million to a variety of big and small new space commercial companies, all aimed at developing technology for exploring the solar system.

The link has a detailed list, which includes Blue Origin and SpaceX, though most of the companies are relatively unknown.

NASA’s public statements in connection with these awards suggest they are support for Artemis, but that’s not true as is merely being done to sell Artemis, falsely. As designed these contracts will do more to accelerate the alternatives to Artemis. For example, the contract to SpaceX is “to develop and test coupler prototypes – or nozzles – for refueling spacecraft such as the company’s Starship vehicle.” Similarly, the contract to the small company ExoTerra will

build, test and launch a 12-unit CubeSat with a compact, high impulse solar electric propulsion module. Once flight-ready, the system will be demonstrated in-space as the CubeSat moves from low-Earth orbit to the radiation belts surrounding Earth. This small electric propulsion system could open up the inner solar system for targeted science exploration missions, using affordable spacecraft that range from 44 to 440 pounds.

Both might be applicable to Artemis, but won’t be, as NASA’s SLS, Orion, and Gateway contractors are likely uninterested in such things. Moreover, these technologies will be owned by the companies developing them, as the contracts are designed like the Space Act Agreements that fueled the Dragon and Cygnus commercial cargo capsules. The companies are to pay 25% of the cost, and then get to keep whatever is developed. NASA in turn gets access to this new technology, almost all of which appears designed to encourage alternatives to Artemis.

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Adventures in TSA fantasyland

Another airplane journey, another idiotic example of the stupidity of the Transportation Security Agency (TSA).

I am in the airport in Panama City, Florida, waiting for my flight home. As I was putting my shoes and belt back on at the security conveyor belt, I watched as an older couple was having their carry-on bags opened and inspected. The woman was wearing an Islamic scarf. (Despite this I am sure neither posed any threat, because both were somewhat elderly, and had been given passes that I think signified this, since anyone over 75 years old is allowed to keep shoes and belts on.)

What was amazing to me was what happened when the TSA officer discovered that the women had brought a take-out lunch with her, as well as a full set of metal silverware to eat it. The officer hardly glanced at silverware, seeming more interested in her lunch in a plastic food container. While he inspected this the woman put the silverware back in her purse, and after the officer was satisfied that the take-out food was not dangerous, he allowed them to leave, silverware and all.

As they left I was right there, putting my wallet and keys back in my pockets, with that officer only about two feet away. I couldn’t help it. I said, “Excuse me, it is now permissible to bring metal silverware, forks, knives, so forth, on an airplane?”
» Read more

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Soyuz launches military surveillance satellite

Russia today completed its second Soyuz launch in twenty-four hours, launching the third in a constellation of military satellites designed to detect incoming missiles.

With this launch Russia has topped its total from 2018, and looks very likely finish the year with the most launches since 2016.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

18 China
16 Russia
10 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)

The U.S. continues to lead China 19 to 18 in the national rankings.

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Three launches today, including launch of three astronauts and UAE’s first spaceman

Three launches today, by China, Japan, and Russia. China launched a Yunhai-1 weather satellite using its Long March 2D rocket. Japan in turn successfully launched, on its second attempt, its HTV cargo freighter to ISS. This was Japan’s second launch this year.

Finally, Russia has just successfully put three astronauts into orbit using its Soyuz rocket, including the first astronaut of the United Arab Emirates.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

18 China
15 Russia
10 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)

The U.S. lead over China in the national rankings is now 19 to 18.

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Australia signs on to NASA’s Artemis project

Australia has committed $150 million to help its private sector contribute to NASA’s Artemis project and Trump’s goal to land a manned mission on the Moon by 2024, signing a joint agreement with NASA on September 21.

The government is investing $150 million over five years for Australian businesses and researchers to join NASA’s endeavour, and deliver key capabilities for the mission. “We’re backing Australian businesses to the moon, and even Mars, and back,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said. “We’re getting behind Australian businesses so they can take advantage of the pipeline of work NASA has committed to.”

The specifics, as quoted from the agreement, are somewhat vague.

This agreement is part of NASA’s effort to accumulate allies for both Artemis and its lunar space station Gateway. Australia has now joined Russia, Europe, Japan, and Canada. All of these nations and their space agencies desperately want the U.S. project to take place, most especially Gateway, as it will firm up funding for them all for decades.

NASA already has the big space contractors behind Artemis, though Boeing has expressed some opposition to Gateway. It has also awarded a lot of small contracts to a number of companies in the new commercial space industry to support Artemis. On top of this, it has distributed the project’s management within NASA so as to solidify support in Congress.

By accumulating these allies whose interests are in line with NASA’s goals, the agency hopes to convince Congress to fund the project. Unfortunately, the House, controlled by the Democrats whose only policy goal these days is to oppose Trump, have so far refused to fund the Trump 2024 manned mission.

Whether Artemis and Gateway will happen remains an open question. Congress wants the pork both projects will bring them. I predict that if both houses of Congress return to Republican control in 2020 they will fund this boondoggle.

Unfortunately, this won’t get us anywhere near the Moon, as the project as designed actually makes lunar landings more difficult and expensive. Getting from Gateway to the lunar surface requires more equipment and fuel than going directly there. If built as NASA has proposed, our astronauts will watch from Gateway as China and India land and begin settling the Moon.

But it will justify the spending of a lot of taxpayer money in congressional districts for decades to come. Hooray!

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Mitsubishi IDs cause of launchpad fire, reschedules launch

Mitsubishi, the Japanese company that builds the H-2B rocket for Japan’s space agency JAXA, has identified the cause of the dramatic launchpad fire that broke out only about three hours before the launch of their HTV unmanned ISS cargo freighter.

MHI announced Friday that officials believe the fire started near an “exit hole” on the mobile launch platform. Investigators believe the blaze was most likely caused by static electricity, and exacerbated by a flammable oxygen-rich environment inside the mobile launch platform.

Low winds at Tanegashima during the Sept. 10 countdown allowed oxygen vapors to build up at the launch pad in higher concentrations than previous countdowns, officials said. Super-cold oxygen is used as an oxidizer in both stages of the H-2B rocket, and also flows through the first stage’s twin LE-7A main engines during pre-launch “chilldown” conditioning procedures.

“As a result of the investigation, it was confirmed that there was a high possibility that the fire spread due to the static electricity generated by the oxygen dripping from the engine exhaust port during the propellant filling operation, which continued to blow on the heat-resistant material in the exit hole at the movable launch pad,” MHI said in a statement. “We have taken corrective measures and have confirmed normal functioning of the rocket and facility,” MHI said.

They have rescheduled the launch for September 26. Initially they were aiming for September 24, but rescheduled because there might be an orbital conflict between their rocket’s second stage and the launch of a Soyuz to ISS that same day.

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Climate forum disrupted by screaming protesters

They’re coming for you next: A climate forum set up by the Republican club at Georgetown University College was so disrupted by screaming protesters that the police had to clear the room.

At the start of “Climate Forum: A Rebuttal,” protestors packed the room and, beginning with the introduction of the first speaker, shouted talking points, various obscenities, and hostile chants.

Despite campus free speech policies announced clearly by the hosts at the start of the event, the harassment continued. Amid the frequent disruptions, a protester dressed as a clown intermittently honked a horn.

The College Republicans called campus police, who tried to remove those interrupting the event, but the students refused to comply. They argued with the officers, refused to show the officers their student IDs, and declared the room an “open forum.”

Eventually, police had to clear the room entirely in an attempt to gain control of the situation. The hallway flooded with protestors — as well as students who appeared genuinely interested in listening to the panelists. Numerous campus administrators and even more officers arrived as the event remained postponed.

The panel finally restarted after police had blocked all but one doorway and refused entrance to anyone with signs. But some hecklers made it through, including one protester who had to be escorted out, but not before ensuring all attendees they are “on the wrong side of history.”

Note also that prior to the event and before they had heard anything, the Georgetown Democratic club condemned the forum,

Let us summarize what this event has taught us:

1. Those who believe in global warming are so close-minded that they are entirely unwilling to listen to another perspective.

2. Those who believe in global warming are so close-minded that they are determined to prevent anyone else from hearing another perspective.

3. Those who believe in global warming are so close-minded that they are determined to prevent anyone with a different perspective from speaking.

4. Those who believe in global warming are even willing to commit acts of violence to enforce numbers 2 and 3 above.

5. Law enforcement and the college administration at Georgetown are terrified of these protesters, and are unwilling to do anything to enforce the law and prevent those protesters from doing numbers 2, 3, and 4.

None of these lessons are very hopeful, because eventually this behavior will routinely lead to violence and possible death. In fact, it already has nearly done so in a number of places, such as the shooting at a Republican congressional baseball practice in Washington in 2017, and the routine violence in Portland whenever conservatives try to publicly demonstrate.

And it is why we got Trump, because unlike the police and administrators at Georgetown, Trump does not bow to this kind of childish and close-minded behavior. He fights back.

Finally, in what way do these protesters think they are going to persuade anyone to their perspective, with this kind of behavior?

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Boeing pushing to kill Gateway for more SLS funds?

Turf war! According to Eric Berger at Ars Technica today, the House hearings yesterday about Gateway and the Trump effort to complete a manned mission to the Moon by 2024 suggest that Boeing is lobbying to kill both Gateway as well as NASA’s effort to use multiple commercial rockets, in order to get its SLS rocket more funding.

Essentially, Boeing is getting almost no contracts in connection to Gateway. Furthermore, the much cheaper commercial rockets are a serious competitive threat to its SLS rocket. However, if Gateway was dropped and the money instead committed to building a more powerful upper stage for SLS, which is Boeing’s baby, the money would go to them. Moreover, doing this would make it unnecessary for NASA to use other commercial rockets, since SLS could do it all.

Berger’s analysis seems right on target. While Gateway is a bad idea, what Boeing proposes instead would be no better. As Berger notes,

What was surprising is that [lawmakers] at the hearing also appeared to be swayed by [Boeing’s] view that bypassing commercial rockets and the Gateway would lead to a simpler and faster lunar mission. “I believe there is value in developing commercial capabilities,” [one lawmaker] said toward the end of the hearing. However, she added, “I am concerned that the decisions are not being driven by what is most efficient or effective and what is most cost efficient.”

This is an interesting viewpoint given that commercial rockets cost $100 to $200 million, at most, versus the $1 billion to $2 billion cost of a single SLS rocket—not including the hundreds of millions of dollars, at a minimum, the agency would have to invest in Exploration Upper Stage development contracts with Boeing. Moreover, one of the commercial rockets—the Falcon Heavy—already exists and has flown three successful missions. Other boosters, including Blue Origin’s powerful New Glenn rocket, should be ready to fly in two or three years. An SLS rocket with the better upper stage almost certainly wouldn’t be ready by 2024, and NASA knows this.

“At this point, there is no path by which the Exploration Upper Stage will be ready for Artemis 3 in 2024,” the NASA administration source told Ars. “Hence, it is not in the critical path (for the Moon landing).”

This lobbying effort provides us a perfect illustration of the overall incompetence and corruption that permeates our government in Washington. No one there appears the slightest bit interested in serving the national interest. Instead, the focus is on how they can get politicians to give them money.

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Russia and China to team up on lunar lander/orbiter missions

Russia and China have signed an agreement to cooperate on several future lunar lander and orbiter unmanned missions.

The agreements will see cooperation in Russia’s Luna-26 orbiter spacecraft and Chang’e-7 polar landing mission, according to Roscosmos, which could involve contributions of science payloads to the respective spacecraft. Both missions are currently scheduled for the early-to-mid 2020s.

The two sides also committed to previously announced plans to create a joint lunar and deep space data center, which will consist of hubs in both Russia and China.

How they will specifically cooperate on those specific space missions was not made clear. From what I can gather, the real heart of this agreement are those joint data centers for both missions.

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Bridenstine will ask Russia for explanation about drill hole

NASA’s administrator Jim Bridenstine, when asked by journalists about the decision by Russia to keep secret the origins of the drill hole in a Soyuz capsule that caused a leak on ISS, said he will politely beg Russia for some answers.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine vowed Thursday to speak to the head of the Russian space agency after reports that the cause of a hole found on the International Space Station last year would be kept secret.

But he was careful to point out that he doesn’t want this situation to destroy the country’s relationship with Russia, a partner in space since 1975. “They have not told me anything,” Bridenstine told the Houston Chronicle during a question and answer session at a Houston energy conference. “I don’t want to let one item set (the relationship) back, but it is clearly not acceptable that there are holes in the International Space Station.”

Sure, let’s not offend those Russians so we can keep flying Americans on their capsules, even though they won’t tell us who drilled a hole in a Soyuz capsule prior to launch, then patched it badly so that it began leaking after a few months in space.

This kind of logic could only make sense in Washington government circles.

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Senate appropriations bill slams new commercial space regulations

In releasing its report yesterday on the Senate’s appropriations bill for transportation and housing, the Senate appropriations committee has demanded the FAA’s review and revise its proposed new regulations for commercial space, intended originally to streamline the red-tape but instead increased it. From their report:

Prior to drafting the rulemaking, the FAA convened an Aviation Rulemaking Committee [ARC] consisting of both traditional and emerging commercial space companies. However, the draft rule does not include relevant language approved by a majority of ARC members, and as a result, the proposed rule fails to implement a streamlined and performance based approach to regulating an industry whose continued growth and innovation is critical to national security and civilian space exploration. The draft rule creates unnecessary barriers to entry for new companies, may prevent many operators from achieving or maintaining flight rates and cost efficiencies to support new space applications and markets, and fails to address the application of the regulations to future space port locations. The Committee encourages the FAA to reconvene the Streamlined Launch and Reentry Licensing Requirements ARC and consider a supplemental NPRM prior to issuing a final rule in order to meet an artificial deadline. [emphasis mine]

It appears the FAA has agreed to review the regulations, as demanded.

I found it amusing that the entire appropriations bill is dubbed THUD, for “Transportation/Housing and Urban Development”. Though this acronym choice had nothing to do with the FAA’s space regulation debacle, it certainly seems most appropriate.

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Progress on Dragon parachute tests

It appears that SpaceX’s parachute testing for its Dragon manned capsule is finally satisfying the concerns of NASA and its safety panel, based on a Sept 17 NASA blog post.

In fact, SpaceX’s success has even forced NASA “to reevaluate its own [parachute] standards and certification processes.”

The article at the link also notes quite correctly NASA’s tendency to miss the forest for the trees, which is why it has forced SpaceX to do so much additional parachute testing, even though the company apparently had a solid understanding of its parachutes a long time ago.

[T]he space agency has been focused on parachutes and COPVs [the tank issues that caused the 2016 launchpad explosion] for years. This is primarily a result of NASA’s notoriously reactive approach to safety: SpaceX suffered two COPV-related Falcon 9 failures in 2015 and 2016 and has experienced an unknown number (likely 1-3) of anomalies during Crew Dragon parachute testing.

As a result, NASA has focused extensively on these two stand-out concerns. To an extent, this is reasonable – if you know things have a tendency to fail, you’re going to want to make sure that they don’t. However, prioritizing reactive safety measures at the cost of proactive safety would be a major risk, akin to getting in a car crash because you didn’t use a turn signal and then prioritizing turn signal use so much that you forget to look both ways before making turns. Sure, you will probably never get in the same crash, but you are raising the risk of new kinds of accidents if you overcorrect your attention distribution.

Either way, it increasingly appears that a manned Dragon mission might finally be getting close to launch.

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Yang: Private car ownership must end

They’re coming for you next: In a climate forum at Georgetown University today, Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang proposed the government eliminate the private ownership of cars, and replace it with a “constant roving fleet of electric cars that you would just order up.”

Of course, this fascist Democrat doesn’t mention that, according to his own climate plan it would be the government creating and operating that fleet of cars.

Just imagine having to depend on the DMV for your actual transportation. Right now it is generally bad enough, especially in the Democratic-controlled big urban cities, to just get your driver’s license renewed. Won’t it be just wonderful when you have to call them to provide you your car?

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House hearing, and budget, raises doubts about 2024 Moon landing

Two events yesterday increased the likelihood that the Trump administration’s effort to complete a manned Moon landing by 2024 will not happen.

First, at hearings yesterday before the House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee, not only did a top NASA official express skepticism about the 2024 date, several key Democratic lawmakers added their own skepticism about the entire project.

Then, the Democratically-controlled House released a draft continuing resolution which included none of the extra $1.6 billion requested by the Trump administration for the 2024 Moon mission.

At the first link there is much discussion about the issues of Gateway, of using commercial launchers instead of SLS, of funding, and of the endless delays for SLS, of the management problems at SLS/Orion/Gateway. All these issues illustrate the hodgepodge and very disorganized project design that has represented SLS/Orion/Gateway from the beginning. SLS/Orion was mandated by Congress, with no clear mission. Gateway was tacked on later by NASA and the big space contractors building SLS (Boeing) and Orion (Lockheed Martin), with lobbying help from other international space agencies who want a piece of the Gateway action. None of it ever had a clear over-arching goal or concept related to the actual exploration of space. All of it was really only designed to justify pork spending in congressional districts.

As much as the Trump administration wants it, I do not see a path for its 2024 Moon landing. Congress, as presently structured, will not fund it, and SLS and Gateway are simply not the projects designed to make it happen.

The confusion at the hearings over Gateway also suggests that if this project gets going, it will only serve to drive a nail into the coffin of all American manned exploration, as run by our federal government. Too many vested interests are fighting over this boondoggle. In the end I think they will rip it apart and then reshape it into a Frankenstein monster.

The only hope for a real American vibrant manned space effort in the near future still appears to me to reside in the private sector’s own manned projects, which right now means SpaceX and its Starship.

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Israel election produces uncertainty again

Yesterday’s election in Israel, called because the leading block led by Benjamin Natanyahu could not form a majority coalition after the last election in May, has apparently resulted in a similar result.

I am still researching what I think might be the causes behind this on-going situation in Israeli politics. The article at the link describes some of the negotiations between the various factions that might produce a new Natanyahu government, or not.

My sense is that this situation all begins with the special exemptions to military service that still remain for the orthodox, or haredi community. The reason Natanyahu could not form a coalition in May was that one of his expected partners, a generally conservative but secular party dubbed Yisrael Beytenu, wanted a commitment to remove those remaining exemptions, and Natanyahu couldn’t get the various religious parties to go along.

As result, it appears that the religious parties lost some support in yesterday’s election, making it even harder for Natanyahu to make a deal.

I have asked some of my relatives in Israel if my analysis here makes sense, and am waiting a response.

Either way, it appears that no one is going to have an easy time putting together a government in Israel.

Update: This story from Israel tonight provides some clarity about the position of Yisrael Beytenu, stated by its chairman, Avigdor Liberman. In it he outlines his party’s demands, which do not just involve the special military exemptions for the haredi but also the power the orthodox have held in Israel over other issues.

“We will not concede on the passing of the Draft Law, as it was originally written, we will not concede on repealing the Supermarket Law, we will not concede on public transportation on Shabbat, we will not concede on civil marriages, and the introduction of core studies into haredi education. These are the conditions, and until we hear things in that spirit – there’s nothing to talk about.”

All of these cited issues involve the effort by the religious parties to exert more control. For example, the Supermarket Law, passed in 2018, gave the national government power to determine whether local businesses could be open on Shabbat (Saturday, the day of rest), instead of local bylaws. Similarly, issues of marriage and education all involved a conflict between the secular and orthodox communities.

Either way, Liberman will only join a coalition of all the secular parties, excluding both the Jewish religious parties and the Arab parties (dubbed the Joint List). To do this would require the two largest parties, the conservative Likud, led by Natanyahu, and the more liberal Blue and White, led by Benny Gantz to partner. Everything I have read suggests this will not be possible, as long as Natanyahu leads Likud.

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IG had recommended criminal prosecution of Comey

The law is only for little people: In testimony today before Congress, Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz revealed that he had recommended criminal prosecution earlier this year against former FBI director James Comey.

The Justice Department however declined to follow through, essentially letting Comey off the hook.

In the past few weeks there have been many rumors about more criminal referrals by Horowitz in connection with his investigation into the illegal use of the FISA court by the FBI and Obama Justice Department to initiate spying operations on Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign. The conservative press has made much of those rumors.

To my mind, the rumors mean squat, just as Horowitz’s recommendation here against Comey. Until these corrupt officials are actually indicted, the IG can say whatever he wants, but nothing has been accomplished, and future federal employees will know that they can attempt a coup against legally elected lawmakers and face no consequences.

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Roscosmos knows but will not disclose cause of Soyuz drilled hole

According to a statement by Dmitri Rogozin, the head of Roscosmos, the Russians now know what or who caused the drillhole in a Soyuz capsule, found when air began to leak from ISS in August 2018, but they will not reveal that information.

What happened is clear to us, but we won’t tell you anything”, Rogozin said at a meeting with the participants of a scientific youth conference. … We may have some secrets”, he said.

I wonder if NASA will accept this decision. I also wonder why this doesn’t raise the hackles of NASA’s safety panel, which seems so willing to stall the launch of American manned capsules for far less worrisome safety reasons, thus forcing us to use Russia’s Soyuz capsule instead.

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Hayabusa-2 dropping orbiting target marker

In preparation for the release and landing of Hayabusa-2’s second MINERVA-II2 tiny rover/bouncer, the spacecraft today began a close-approach to the asteroid Ryugu, where it will release two target markers.

Once released, Hayabusa-2 will back off to observe these markers as they spiral down into Ryugu, landing sometime around September 23.

This operation is a rehearsal for the release and landing of MINERVA-II2, which like the first two bouncers back in September 2018 will bounce along the asteroid’s surface, taking pictures and gathering data.

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Buy dumb!

The dumb washing machine we hunted for and got
The used “dumb” machine we
paid $285 for that actually
cleans our clothes.

The smart washing machine we threw out
The “smart” machine that we
paid $923 for and sold for $40.

Two years ago our old Kenmore Series 80 washing machine broke down. The repair guy said it would be so expensive to fix that he recommended it was time to buy something new.

So off we went to Sears, where we ended up buying one of today’s modern “smart” machines for a mere $923. As the LG website proudly exclaims,

A Smarter Way to Wash: 6Motion™ Technology uses up to 6 different wash motions to provide a smart cleaning experience that is gentle on clothes and maximizes washing performance.

The problem was the machine never got any of our clothes clean. It also refused to provide enough water. The way it worked was to sense the weight of the clothes you put inside, and determine the needed amount based on this. Routinely, it wasn’t enough, so Diane did web searches to discover numerous owners faking out the machine’s brains by pouring several buckets of water on top of the clothes before turning on the machine, making them weigh more.

The machine also did not have an agitator, the new in-thing among washing machine manufacturers two years ago, probably forced on them by new federal regulations. And though the tub itself did shake, it did it so gently that the clothes hardly moved.

There were also other issues with the machine’s smart technology that frustrated Diane. The machine was boss, and would not allow for any flexibility to its predetermined wash and rinse cycles, even when they made no sense.

Last week Diane had had enough. She did some research, found a local used appliance store in Tucson, Rosano’s & Sons Appliances. Not only did they have a comparable washing machine to our old Kenmore, they gave their workmanship a six month warranty, and would buy our “smart” machine for $40. They wouldn’t pay more, because they explained that no one really wanted these new “smart” machines. The demand was for the older ones, the ones that while “dumb” worked.

And yes, they were right. Since getting the “new” used machine installed it’s like the good ol’ days, when washing machines were washing machines, and the dirty clothes you put in came out clean. Wonder of wonders!

The moral to this story is this: Buy dumb! The modern obsession with adding computer technology to what should be a very simple machine is not necessarily a good thing. Moreover, the regulations imposed by the federal government in the past decade to make many of our appliances “more efficient” and “environmentally friendly” has only served to make them useless.

So, if any of your old appliances break, and there is any possibility of fixing them, do it. It is worth the cost. The used Kenmore Series 70 we just bought cost less than a third of the LG “smart” machine, and does a better job. We would have saved money and had clean clothes for the past two years had we simply fixed the old machine. And if you can’t get the old machine fixed, find a used appliance place and buy used. It will also save you money, and you will also get an appliance that will do the job.

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UAE’s first manned flight launches this week on Soyuz

This article provides a nice detailed Arab perspective on the upcoming September 25 launch of the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) first manned mission, sending one of their jet fighter pilots on a Soyuz to ISS for about a week.

The article not only also reviews the entire history of past Arab astronaut missions in space, the first on an American shuttle in 1985 and the second on a Soyuz in 1987, it summarizes the present-day space-related efforts throughout the Arab world, not just in the UAE. Good information in advance of this week’s upcoming launch.

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Test cubesat to launch to Gateway lunar orbit

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

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

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

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

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

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LRO to image Vikram landing site next week

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) science team plans to take high resolution images of the Vikram landing site when the orbiter flies over that site on September 17, thus allowing them to release before and after images.

Noah Petro, LRO’s project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said that the orbiter is due to fly over the Vikram landing site Tuesday, Sept. 17. “Per NASA policy, all LRO data are publicly available,” Petro wrote in an email. “NASA will share any before and after flyover imagery of the area around the targeted Chandrayaan 2 Vikram lander landing site to support analysis by the Indian Space Research Organization.”

Officials with India’s space agency ISRO have said they have photographed Vikram with their orbiter, Chandrayaan-2, but they have not released these images as yet. Their have also been reports from India stating that their images suggest the lander is still in one piece, but these reports are not confirmed.

LRO’s images should clarify the situation. The images should also help tell us what exactly happened after Indian engineers lost contact with Vikram shortly before landing.

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More delays for China’s Long March 5

Chinese officials have now admitted that the next launch of China’s biggest but troubled rocket, the Long March 5, will not occur until December 2019 at the earliest.

Moreover, the first launch of Long March 5B, the new version of the rocket developed following the Long March 5 failure on its second launch in 2017, won’t happen until 2020. This is the version they plan to use to launch their space station modules, and these delays probably thus delay start of the in-orbit assembly of their space station by two years, to 2022.

These rocket delays also threaten the launch of China’s Chang’e-5 lunar sample return mission and their first Mars orbiting mission, which has a firm summer 2020 launch window which if missed will delay the mission’s launch for two years.

These reports also for the first time officially explain the engine trouble that caused the Long March failure on its second launch in July 2017.

Addressing the causes of the failure has required a lengthy process of redesign and testing of the YF-77 liquid hydrogen-liquid oxygen propellant engines. Two YF-77 engines power the rocket’s first stage, with an oxidizer turbopump isolated as the fault behind the 2017 launch failure.

The Space News article very strangely headlines the completion of the core module for China’s space station, when the real story here is the continuing delays in getting Long March 5 off the ground. Without that rocket none of China’s big space plans can proceed. Yet the article buries this scoop many paragraphs down. I wonder why.

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China’s Long March 4B launches three satellites

China yesterday used its Long March 4B rocket to launch three satellites into orbit.

This was the first Long March 4 launch since May, when the third stage of a Long March 4C rocket failed. The main payload was a remote sensing satellite with both civilian and military applications. The second satellite was to provide ocean data and weather, with the third a cubesat testing new space communications and the use of a drag sail for de-orbiting.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

15 China
14 Russia
10 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)

The U.S. continues to lead China 19 to 15 in the national rankings.

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Swamp attacks Trump over hurricane forecasts

Last week, as Hurricane Dorian approached the Florida coast, President Trump held a press briefing where he showed a graph with extra markings that suggested that Alabama might be impacted by the hurricane.

Unfortunately for Trump, this path for Dorian — though initially considered a possibility in the National Weather Service models — was also considered very unlikely, and had been quickly dismissed from those models, making Trump’s graph out-of-date when he showed it.

Since then the Democratic mainstream media has put out hundreds of stories claiming some sort of corruption on Trump’s part for adding those extra markings. Trump has himself responded aggressively, defending his action and saying it was justified. The New York Times even reported — based on anonymous sources — that Commerce secretary Wilbur Ross had threatened to fire three people at the National Weather Service if they didn’t issue a statement defending Trump.

Now, three former Democratic NOAA heads, D. James Baker (appointed by Bill Clinton), Jane Lubchenco (appointed by Barack Obama), and Kathryn D. Sullivan (appointed by Barack Obama), have issued a statement condemning Trump, claiming his actions are threatening the scientific integrity of these agencies.

The National Weather Service (NWS) has always been a model of scientific integrity, ensuring that weather science is not politically driven, regardless of the administration. But the recent misleading statements by President Donald Trump about a NWS hurricane forecast and cover-up actions by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), its parent agency, have violated those norms.

Forgive me if I don’t take very seriously this smug, self-righteous posturing by these former NOAA officials, all partisan Democratic Party political appointees. Scientific integrity suddenly means a lot to them when they can use it to attack Trump. However, when NOAA repeatedly tampered with its climate data for the past dozen years, and has provided no good explanation for that tampering, I don’t remember these high and mighty officials, all in charge of NOAA at the time, commenting then about the importance of scientific integrity.

Trump is no saint here. He as a politician wanted to cover all bets, so he added Alabama in discussing Dorian’s threat, even though his weather scientists considered that threat slim if nonexistent. He should have relied more on those scientists and not improvised.

For him however to be attacked relentless for this minor addition is absurd, since it is perfectly reasonable for weather scientists to get their predictions wrong, and as president Trump has a responsibility to try to prepare for all eventualities.

These NOAA critics are far less credible however. There are questionable things going on at NOAA in connection with its global climate dataset that requires either an explanation or a correction. This is a far more serious issue than whether a politician expanded the threat of a hurricane in one press briefing in order to cover his ass. The tampering threatens to discredit the entire NOAA climate dataset, making all research based on it untrustworthy. If these former NOAA officials really cared about scientific integrity, they would have taken action at NOAA to deal with this tampering, when they ran those agencies. They would have either gotten it stopped, or provided the public and the rest of the scientific community a reasonable explanation for it.

They did neither, proving that their sanctimonious statement today is nothing more than partisan politics. They don’t care about scientific integrity. What they care about is defeating Trump, helping the Democratic Party, and enhancing the power of the Washington swamp.

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