Tag Archives: policy

Two Chinese Kuaizhou-1A launches within six hours

The new colonial movement: China today successfully completed two separate Kuaizhou-1A launches, placing in orbit seven total smallsats and doing it within a space of only six hours.

China launched two orbital missions from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center within six hours of each other, orbiting a total of seven satellites. The launches, using mobile pads, saw two Kuaizhou-1A rockets heading into space on Saturday at 2:55 UTC and 8:52 UTC.

The first Kuaizhou-1A rocket, serial number Y2, orbited the Jilin-1 Gaofen-2B remote sensing satellite for the Jilin-1 constellation.

…Six hours after the first launch, and as was expected by the navigational warnings previously published, a second Kuaizhou-1A launch vehicle, serial number Y12, had already been displaced to the launch site, but from a different pad. Analysis of the images available from the second launch seems to indicate that launch took place from a location within the Launch Complex 16 usually used for the Long March-6 launches. Ignition came at 8:52UTC.

The three-stage launch vehicle orbited six satellites.

This achievement is a very big deal. China has demonstrated the ability to launch and then launch again quickly with this military-based mobile launch system. This not only enhances their commercial value, it tells us they have developed a military capability able to put payloads into orbit at almost a moment’s notice.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

29 China
19 Russia
12 SpaceX
7 Europe (Arianespace)
6 Rocket Lab

China now leads the U.S. 29 to 25 in the national rankings.

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China to launch 30 times in 2020

The new colonial movement: According to Chinese officials, China plans to launch 30 times in 2020, maintaining the same pace that they met in 2019.

Zhuang Jingguo, chief engineer of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), the country’s man space contractor, told media at the Fifth China International Commercial Aerospace Forum late last month that the state-owned enterprise will launch around 30 rockets next year.

This number is expected to include missions to Mars, the moon, test flights of new launch vehicles, and the completion of the Beidou navigation system. Commercial launch companies will further add to Chinese launch activities.

The article also provides a good overall summary of China’s present space effort, which is extensive and growing.

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Bridenstine: SLS costs less than $2 billion per launch

During an agency meeting where the new manager of NASA’s manned program officially took charge, administrator Jim Bridenstine expressed disagreement with a Trump administration estimate of $2 billion for each SLS launch.

The OMB letter used “over $2 billion” as the estimated cost of an SLS launch, arguing that is $1.5 billion more than a commercial launch. The $2 billion figure has been widely cited since then as an official cost estimate.

Bridenstine was asked about it today, and disagreed. “I do not agree with the $2 billion number. It is far less than that. I would also say the number comes way down when you buy more than one or two. I think in the end we’re going to be in the $800-900 million range.” NASA has bought only two SLS launches so far and negotiations are just starting on the third and fourth, he added. [emphasis mine]

Well that solves everything! SLS will only cost a little less than a billion per launch, not two billion. Any fool can see this is clearly competitive with the $100 million that SpaceX charges for each Falcon Heavy launch. And you’d have to do two Falcon Heavy launches to match what SLS can do in one launch. Obviously we want to buy SLS! It’s what any Washington lawmaker or bureaucrat would clearly conclude.

The article notes that NASA has only “bought two SLS launches” but fails to explain why. This is all that Congress has appropriated. NASA is negotiating with Boeing to build as many as ten more, but as far as I know, the authorization from lawmakers has not yet been given to do so.

But then, why not? We are no longer ruled by our elected officials, but by the unelected bureaucrats who live high on the hog in their plush Washington digs.

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Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2 complete 12th lunar day

Chinese engineers have put both Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2 into dormant mode after completed their twelve lunar day on the far side of the Moon.

The article from the Chinese state-run press provides very little information, other than telling us that Yutu-2 traveled 345 meters, written in a way to imply that was the distance the rover traveled in this last lunar day. I think that is wrong, however. Based on the distances traversed during previous lunar days, and that the rover had traveled a total of 290 meters at the end of its tenth lunar day, I think this new number is the total distance traveled.

The article also does not say what the consequences will be for these two spacecraft now that the priority of their communications relay has shifted from communications to being a radio telescope.

It could be that the consequences will be minor, considering that both spacecraft are in sleep mode during the lunar nights and for high noon of the lunar day. During those periods the relay satellite could be devoted full time to radio astronomy and have no impact on the lander and rover.

Unfortunately China has not said.

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Harris’s exit from presidential race highlights again the bigotry of the Democratic Party

Today Kamala Harris announced she is dropping out of the race to be the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate.

Not surprisingly, activists in the Democratic Party immediately blamed racism for her failure. From the leftist New York Times:

Still, Ms. Harris had already qualified for the next presidential debate, scheduled for Dec. 19, the only non-white candidate to do so thus far. Without her, Democrats may have an all-white debate stage after beginning the primaries with the most racially diverse field in history, though candidates like Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and businessman Andrew Yang may still qualify in the coming days.

“No matter your candidate, you have to recognize that going from the most diverse field ever in January to a potentially all-white debate stage in December is catastrophic,” wrote Leah Greenberg, a co-executive director of Indivisible, a national progressive group, on Twitter.

…“She really showed the importance of having different perspectives on the debate stage,” said Amanda Hunter, research and communications director at the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, which supports women in politics and studies double standards. “Her personal story about being bused to school was something that a historically typical older white man would not bring to the conversation.”

But “there is still a very entrenched stereotype of what a presidential candidate looks like in this country,” Ms. Hunter said. “Simply by running, Senator Harris challenged that and broke down stereotypes. But a lot of the questions around electability and the challenges she faced were probably motivated by that entrenched stereotype that so many people held.” [emphasis mine]

Note how everything to these Democrat officials is based on race. Everything. To them, Harris lost because she wasn’t white, and because Americans can only conceive a white man as president.

Of course, this thinking is quite idiotic, considering that these same Americans voted twice for a black president, in 2008 and 2012. That’s hardly ancient history.

The only diversity that should matter is diversity of thought, of ideas, of policy suggestions. Among Democrats that’s the last thing we’ve seen in the past three years. All they have shown us is hate and opposition to all things Trump, followed by a desire to destroy the free capitalist United States and replace it with their warped view of the Soviet Union.

If you are normal decent person who happens to belong to the Democratic Party and routinely vote for them, be aware that this party is not the party you think it is. These comments above illustrate again the corrupt, racist, and bigoted make-up of the party’s power structure. They hate Trump, they hate ordinary whites, they hate freedom, and they hate you, if you oppose them in any way at all, even if you have been a loyal Democrat for decades.

For my part Harris’s exit is a great relief. She has repeatedly demonstrated her fascist tendencies in recent years.

I suspect this history had a lot more to do with her failure than her skin color.

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Ukraine’s president reiterates: No quid pro quo from Trump

Democratic Party coup update: The president of the Ukraine yesterday once again stated that President Trump applied no pressure on him to begin an investigation into Joe Biden.

Once again, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has denied again that President Trump withheld military aid in order to pressure him to investigate the Bidens or Ukrainian election interference. In an interview with TIME magazine, Zelensky made this absolutely clear. “Look, I never talked to the President from the position of a quid pro quo. That’s not my thing,” he said. “I don’t want us to look like beggars. But you have to understand. We’re at war. If you’re our strategic partner, then you can’t go blocking anything for us. I think that’s just about fairness. It’s not about a quid pro quo. It just goes without saying.”

This is not the first time he has stated this publicly. Furthermore, his foreign minister has said the same thing, as has the U.S. ambassador during testimony to Congress.

On the other side, the accusations of misbehavior from Democratic Party witnesses have either been hearsay from people not even present during Trump’s phonecalls with Zelinsky, or from low-level bureaucrats who merely have a difference of opinion with Trump about U.S. foreign policy. I don’t remember however ever voting for them for President. Do you?

This ridiculous effort by the Democrats to overturn a legal election would be hilarious if it wasn’t so offensive. However, increasingly it appears it is serving a good end, as it is revealing their power-hungry, totalitarian, and anti-democratic culture to the entire country. They don’t support democracy and elections, only their guaranteed unopposed right to rule. Such people should never be given positions of power, and if they manage to do so, they should be removed by the voters as soon as possible.

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Long March-8 2nd stage engine passes engine test

The new colonial movement: The second stage engine for China’s new Long March-8 rocket has successfully passed its engine tests.

Developed by the CASC [China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, China’s equivalent to NASA], the Long March-8 rocket is a new type of rocket that uses module design and can be prepared in a short time, making it competitive for commercial launch.

The first stage of the Long March-8 rocket is similar to that of the Long March-7 rocket and the second stage rocket is similar to the third stage of the Long March-3A rocket. It has a payload capacity of 5 tonnes to sun-synchronous orbit and 2.8 tonnes to geostationary transfer orbit.

This payload capacity is about a fourth that of the Falcon 9, but because the weight and size of satellites is shrinking, that smaller capacity might actually be an advantage. There is less need for the larger rockets in the commercial unmanned satellite industry, so for China to build a new smaller rocket that can be launched for less, even though it is not reusable, gives them a route for competing with SpaceX’s reuseability.

They hope to launch 10 to 20 times per year, beginning next year.

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Big budget boost for ESA

The European Space Agency (ESA) received its largest budget increase ever, 20%, from its 22 member nations at a high level meeting yesterday.

The meeting also included commitments to remain a partner in ISS to 2030 and increase participation in Lunar Gateway. From the press release:

With worldwide partners, Europe will take its place at the heart of space exploration going farther than we have ever gone before – we continue our commitment to the International Space Station until 2030 as well as contributing vital transportation and habitation modules for the Gateway, the first space station to orbit the Moon. ESA’s astronauts recruited in 2009 will continue to receive flight assignments until all of them have been to space for a second time, and we will also begin the process of recruiting a new class to continue European exploration in low Earth orbit and beyond. European astronauts will fly to the Moon for the first time. Member States have confirmed European support for a ground-breaking Mars Sample Return mission, in cooperation with NASA.

ESA will help develop the commercial benefits of space for innovators and governments across the Member States, boosting competitiveness in the NewSpace environment. We will develop the first fully flexible satellite systems to be integrated with 5G networks, as well as next-generation optical technology for a fibre-like ‘network in the sky’, marking a transformation in the satellite communication industry. Satellite communications will join forces with navigation to begin satnav for the Moon, while closer to home commercial companies can access funding for new applications of navigation technologies through the NAVISP programme. ESA Ministers have secured a smooth transition to the next generation of launchers: Ariane 6 and Vega-C, and have given the green light to Space Rider, ESA’s new reusable spaceship.

Isn’t competition wonderful? ESA’s budget has been stagnant for years. Then SpaceX comes along and threatens its commercial market share while generating a new political will in the U.S. to renew its own space effort, and suddenly the European nations that make up ESA decide they need to do the same.

Much of the proposed program for ESA is very likely to happen, especially the commitments to a variety of astronomical and planetary missions. The agency’s commercial effort is also likely to happen, but whether it can happen fast enough to be competitive is questionable. As a government agency ESA’s track record in its effort to compete in the launch market has not been impressive. It took them far too long to accept the idea of reuseable rockets or the need to cut their costs drastically.

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China launches Earth resource satellite

Using its Long March 4C rocket China yesterday successfully launched Gaofen-12, a remote sensing satellite designd to study Earth resources.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

27 China
18 Russia
11 SpaceX
7 Europe (Arianespace)

China now leads the U.S. 27 to 23 in the national rankings.

The launch schedule remains very busy, with a Rocket Lab launch set for early tomorrow and two launches to ISS (a Dragon and Progress) scheduled next week. In fact, seventeen launches are tentatively listed for launch in December, which would be once every other day. Several are unlikely, but regardless December will be a very busy month in the launch industry.

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Climate change protesters mob local UK spaceport council

Mob rule: A local Cornwall council meeting yesterday approved a $10 million grant for a new spaceport despite protesters screaming and yelling in the gallery and outside, forcing the meeting to end early.

After deciding not to defer a decision, councillors voted to grant £10.32m of capital funding to the spaceport by 66 to 34, with one abstention.

The gallery then erupted with chants as protesters launched paper airplanes. The chamber was then cleared of councillors and the meeting adjourned as the crowds continued to chant and shouted at councillors as they left saying things like “shame on you”. [emphasis mine]

Police were required to maintain order.

I have highlighted the vote count to note that these protesters clearly did not have that much real support. Their protests however remain a good intimidation tactic, so expect more protests if this project continues, especially because it appears the climate change crowd is beginning to behave as if any new technology is a threat. From the article it appears the protests were dominated by global warming activists from the group Extinction Rebellion. Also, “the groups Red Rebels and deathly-looking Penitents were joined by locals carrying signs and flags.”

I grant that it might not make sense for this local council to spend so much money for a spaceport, especially because they are doing it mostly for Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. They are likely to find the money wasted.

The protests however are mindless and an act of bullying, and are not the way to debate this or any subject sanely.

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India successfully launches Earth observation satellite plus 12 cubesats

India today successfully used its PSLV rocket to launch its own Cartosat-3 Earth observation satellite plus 12 cubesats for the commercial company Planet.

This was India’s fifth launch in 2019.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race remain unchanged:

26 China
18 Russia
11 SpaceX
7 Europe (Arianespace)

China leads the U.S. 26 to 23 in the national rankings.

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Arianespace launches two communications satellites

Arianespace today used its Ariane 5 rocket to launch two communications satellites, one a military satellite for Egypt and another a commercial satellite for Inmarsat.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

26 China
18 Russia
11 SpaceX
7 Europe (Arianespace)

China still leads the U.S. 26 to 23 in the national rankings.

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Russians launch military satellite

Using a Soyuz-2 rocket the Russians today successfully launched a classified military satellite from its spaceport in Plesetsk.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

26 China
18 Russia
11 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)

China continues to lead the U.S. in the national rankings, 26 to 23.

These numbers will change again later today if Arianespace successfully launches two communications satellites. They have been trying to launch now for three days, but minor technical problems and weather have stymied them.

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Supreme Court allows Mann defamation case to proceed

The Supreme Court today ruled that the defamation suit of global warming activist Michael Mann against the National Review and the Competitive Enterprise Institute can go forward.

On Monday, the Supreme Court denied a petition by the Competitive Enterprise Institute and National Review magazine to rehear and dismiss the defamation lawsuit brought by well-known climate scientist Michael Mann. The Competitive Enterprise Institute and National Review have been fighting for years to dismiss the case before it goes to trial, but the Supreme Court’s denial means the case will move forward in D.C. district court.

The Supreme Court rejected the petition without comment. But Justice Samuel Alito, a conservative, dissented, arguing that the case addresses critical freedom of speech and freedom of the press issues.

The court has basically ruled that Mann should be allowed his day in court. Since the case stems from criticism of Mann’s shoddy climate science work, I suspect he will find himself having problems once that day arrives, as he did in Canada.

The bad part of this is that it allows Mann to achieve part of his strategy, which is to chill any criticisms of his shoddy work, out of fear he will sue and thus cost the critic a lot of money mounting a defense. No one should be allowed to use the law as a weapon to prevent criticism, especially if that criticism successfully proves the nature of that person’s very shoddy and incompetent climate research, including faking data and hiding pertinent real data.

UPDATE: I have crossed out the words above because they misconstrued my intended meaning. Mann’s effort to use the law to try to squelch opposing points of view is wrong, but in a free society we must allow him this bad behavior. If the law functions properly, his misbehavior (and shoddy science work) will become very evident with time.

By the way, did I mention that Mann’s scientific work is generally very shoddy, and not very trustworthy?

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A society run by mob rule

In the past week several ugly events have illustrated forcefully how mob rule now dictates who can or cannot speak freely in America. Worse, these events show that we are no longer a civilized social order run by reason. Instead, we have become a culture where whoever can throw the loudest tantrum dictates policy.

First we have the horrible events last week at the State University of New York-Binghamton.

To understand how disgusting and despicable the first story above is, it is necessary for you to watch the video below. Pay special attention to the taller girl in the fur-lined parka who at about four minutes keeps looking at the camera-person (whom I think is also a girl) and aggressively and repeatedly asking, “Why are you shaking so? Why are you shaking so?” The reason is obvious. The girl filming is one the conservative students, and she is justifiably frightened. The taller girl, hostile and irrationally angry because a conservative dared to advocate opinions she doesn’t like, is clearly being physically threatening. As are all of her leftist compatriots.

The response of the administration to this atrocious behavior was even more vile, essentially endorsing the actions of the mob:
» Read more

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Sweeping victories for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong elections

Good news: In elections yesterday in Hong Kong, pro-democracy candidates won a landslide victory, capturing control of 17 of 18 local councils.

Some 2.94 million people voted in the election, compared with 1.4 million in 2015.

Pro-democracy candidates won close to 60% of the total vote on Sunday, but achieved a landslide in terms of seats because of the first-past-the-post system, local media report. Pro-democracy contenders were victorious in 347 of the 452 district council seats up for grabs; pro-Beijing candidates won 60 seats; while independents – many of them pro-democracy – got 45, according to the South China Morning Post.

In the last election four years ago, pro-Beijing councillors won 298 seats, but the distribution of these seats meant they took control of all 18 district councils.

The official response from the China-appointed leader of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), Carrie Lam, was somewhat conciliatory:

After the social unrest in the past five months, I firmly believe that the vast majority of the public would share my wish for the peaceful, safe and orderly situation to continue.

The HKSAR Government respects the election results. There are various analyses and interpretations in the community in relation to the results, and quite a few are of the view that the results reflect people’s dissatisfaction with the current situation and the deep-seated problems in society. The HKSAR Government will listen to the opinions of members of the public humbly and seriously reflect.

Without doubt these results make it difficult for China to use military force on Hong Kong. The elected leadership throughout all but one district will oppose and stymie such actions. To make it happen the Chinese will literally have to arrest everyone.

In a sense, Hong Kong is becoming the West Berlin of China. It is now a path for ordinary Chinese citizens dissatisfied with communist rule to see another option. For totalitarian regimes, this is never a good thing, as when compared to free societies they never do better.

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“Damaged cable” causes Russians to delay Progress launch

Because of the discovery of a “damaged cable” on a Progress freighter, the Russians have delayed its launch from December 1 to December 6.

On the morning of November 25, Roskosmos announced that issues had been found during the preparations of Progress MS-13 for launch. “Problems are now resolved and the checks of onboard systems are ongoing,” the State Corporation said. “There will be a separate announcement on the launch date…” the announcement said, hinting that the planned December 1 launch window was no longer valid. Before the end of the work day in Moscow on November 25, Roskosmos posted an update announcing that the launch of Progress MS-13 had been rescheduled for December 6, 2019, at 12:34 Moscow Time, due to an issue with an onboard cable found by specialists from RKK Energia. The problem was resolved after the replacement of the cable, the company said. According to a posting on the online forum of the Novosti Kosmonavtiki magazine, specialists spent past two days trying to find a source of electric charge on the body of the spacecraft and then discovered a damaged cable in the vehicle’s instrument compartment. [emphasis mine]

Considering the drillhole found in an earlier Soyuz capsule, I cannot help wondering if this damage was intentional. The Russians never revealed if they had identified the culprit of that earlier damage, and the reports from Russia today are somewhat vague about this new damage.

This Progress launch had earlier been rescheduled from December 6 to avoid a conflict with the launch of a Dragon cargo capsule. There is no word yet on how that conflict will be mitigated now that the launch is back on that date.

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Home destroyed by Long March 3B 1st stage

It appears from a number of twitter-type sources coming from China that the spent first stage of the Long March 3B rocket that successfully launched two GPS-type satellites this weekend crashed onto a house, destroying it.

Video footage emerged on Chinese social media shortly after launch showing the apparent destruction of a rural building. Flames are seen within the building along with fumes from residual propellant rising from the booster wreckage.

…The first stage and four side boosters of the Long March 3B use a toxic hypergolic propellant combination of hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide.

There have so far been no state media reports on the incident. The footage and social media comments suggest the owners returned home following standard evacuation ahead of launch.

According to other such reports, the home-owners will be compensated, but this is not confirmed.

Regardless, because of China’s effort to increase its launch rate, launches coming from its inland spaceports are either going to develop controlled landing for the expendable stages or will cease. The damage both to their own citizens as well as the bad press these crashes garner are aspects that the Chinese government will want to avoid, with the bad press likely its greater concern.

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Air Force to still limit launch contractors to two

The bureaucracy wins again! Though Blue Origin’s protest of the Air Force’s planned launch contract rules was sustained, and the Air Force plans to revise its contracting rules accordingly, the Air Force today announced that because the ruling itself was somewhat limited, it will still be able to limit future bidding for launches to only two contractors, through 2026.

[T]he Air Force intends to award in mid-2020 five-year contracts to two providers. Four companies submitted proposals: Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman, SpaceX and United Launch Alliance.

Although Blue Origin challenged the Air Force’s decision to pick two providers as harmful to the industrial base, GAO had no objections to that approach. “On the whole, we are pleased that the GAO upheld the major components of the National Security Space Launch competition, especially award timelines, quantities, and period of performance,” said [Air Force acquisition executive Will] Roper.

If you read the article, you will discover why the Air Force still wants to limit to two the number of contractors who can bid on launches. Its rules and methods, as described, are so tortuousness and complex that I suspect even the Air Force doesn’t completely understand them. Thus, to deal with more than two bids individually for each launch is beyond the comprehension or ability of these military bureaucrats. Rather streamline their bidding rules, they have decided it is better to put limits on American private enterprise, raise costs for the taxpayer, and squelch innovation and fast development within the military space effort.

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Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2 begin 12th lunar day

Chinese engineers have reactivated both their lunar lander, Chang’e-4, and its rover, Yutu-2, for their twelve lunar day on the far side of the Moon.

The lander woke up at 5:03 p.m. Thursday (Beijing Time), and the rover, Yutu-2 (Jade Rabbit-2), awoke at 0:51 a.m. the same day. Both are in normal working order, according to the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center of the China National Space Administration.

No word on where Yutu-2 will be sent over then next two weeks.

Posting was light during the day today because Diane and I were on a hike that I needed to do for the upcoming planned second edition of my hiking guidebook, Circuit Hikes of Southern Arizona. My boss (me) allowed me to go, since this hike was not pure pleasure, but reconnaissance for one of my books.

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ULA backing off from reuseablity and Vulcan upgrades?

Capitalism in space: According to this Space News story today, it appears that ULA is shifting away from building a major upgrade to the upper stage of its Vulcan rocket, even as it also appears to be backing off from pushing plans to recover and reuse its first stage engines.

ULA spokeswoman Jessica Rye told SpaceNews by email that the company still plans to introduce an “advanced upper stage,” but only after Vulcan flies. Rye also declined to provide a specific timeline.

Similarly, ULA officials also refused to give a timeline for when they will begin recovering Vulcan’s first stage engines and reusing them.

Right now the company expects to launch the first iteration of Vulcan, using as Atlas 5 Centaur upper stage, sometime in 2021. It also appears that those first launches will not recover the first stage Blue Origin BE-4 engines.

In the long run, I do not see how ULA can compete. They certainly appear hesitant about introducing any new innovations or upgrades to Vulcan, which will result in an expendable rocket that costs far too much.

In fact, the arrival of this apparent timidity seems to have occurred almost to the day the company accepted a development contract for Vulcan from the Air Force. Thus, it increasingly appears that it is our federal government that is squelching the company’s creativity.

Why am I not surprised?

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India confirms details of Vikram’s crash on Moon

India’s government has finally officially admitted that its Vikram lunar lander crashed in September.

In a written answer to a question posed to the Department of Space in Lok Sabha, Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) Jitendra Singh said the “reduction in velocity” of the Vikram lander during the final phase of its descent on the moon’s surface “was more than the designed value”. As a result, Vikram “hard-landed” on the moon “within 500 metres of the designated landing site”, he said.

…“The first phase of descent was performed nominally from an altitude of 30 km to 7.4 km above the moon surface. The velocity was reduced from 1,683 m/s to 146 m/s. During the second phase of descent, the reduction in velocity was more than the designed value. Due to this deviation, the initial conditions at the start of the fine braking phase (final phase below 7.4 km altitude) were beyond the designed parameters. As a result, Vikram hard-landed within 500 m of the designated landing site,” the minister said in a written answer in the Lok Sabha.

Except for the detail that they think Vikram landed within 500 meters of its planned landing site, this answer really doesn’t tell us much new. It was very obvious during the landing that the spacecraft was traveling too fast as it began its final braking phase, and that it then descended much too fast thereafter.

In fact, the couched language and the unwillingness so far of ISRO, India’s space agency, to provide a detailed report on the failure does not reflect well on them. This kind of cutting edge engineering requires a hard kind of intellectual honesty. They have so far not shown that kind of honesty in their response to this failure.

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Blue Origin wins protest against Air Force

Capitalism in space: The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has sustained Blue Origin’s protest against the Air Force’s launch procurement rules that would have limited bidding on all launch contracts for the first half of the 2020s to only two companies.

In a “pre-award” protest, Blue Origin challenged the terms of a request for proposals (RFP) issued by the Air Force earlier this year for the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) Phase 2 Launch Service Procurement, which aims to award two contracts next year expected to cover 30 or more medium- and heavy-lift satellite launches the Air Force plans to conduct between 2022 and 2026.

Blue Origin, owned by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, is one of four companies that submitted bids for the contracts by the Air Force’s Aug. 1 proposal deadline. The other three companies bidding for the contracts are Northrop Grumman and incumbents United Launch Alliance and SpaceX.

After submitting its bid, Blue Origin filed a formal protest with the GAO arguing that several terms of the RFP unduly restrict competition, are ambiguous, or are inconsistent with customary commercial practice.

The GAO agreed.“GAO sustained the protest, finding that the RFP’s basis for award is inconsistent with applicable procurement law and regulation, and otherwise unreasonable,” Patton said in the statement.

The Air Force’s plan here never made any sense at all. Why put a limit now on the companies that can bid on launches as far in the future as 2026? Why not instead allow all the launch companies, already certified by the Air Force, to bid when the time comes, thus increasing competition while providing the Air Force the most options?

This is good news for the entire American launch industry. It means they will all have the Air Force as a potential customer. It is also good news for the taxpayer, as the competition for business will certainly drive innovation and the lowering of launch prices.

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NASA expands list of companies certified to bid on lunar launch/payload contracts

Capitalism in space: NASA today announced that it is expanding the list of companies eligible to bid on lunar launch/payload contracts from 9 to 14.

From the NASA press release:

NASA has added five American companies to the pool of vendors that will be eligible to bid on proposals to provide deliveries to the surface of the Moon through the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative.

The additions, which increase the list of CLPS participants on contract to 14, expand NASA’s work with U.S. industry to build a strong marketplace to deliver payloads between Earth and the Moon and broaden the network of partnerships that will enable the first woman and next man to set foot on the Moon by 2024 as part of the agency’s Artemis program.

…These five companies, together with nine companies selected in November 2018, now are eligible to bid on launch and delivery services to the lunar surface. [emphasis mine]

The added companies are SpaceX, Blue Origin, Ceres Robotics, Sierra Nevada, Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems.

I have highlighted the most important word in this press release, which is most interestingly buried to make it as little noticed as possible. The addition of SpaceX to this list and the mention that the program has now added the ability to for the companies to bid on launch contracts means that NASA’s goal here is to create a situation where it can replace SLS with a bidded contract to private industry that will costs far less and can launch frequently and on time, features that SLS is completely incapable of, and SpaceX can provide easily and reliably. This analysis by me is further reinforced in that Boeing, the builder of SLS, was not included in this list, even though only last week that company offered SLS to NASA in a wider array of launch configurations, for exactly this purpose.

If NASA had made this fact too obvious it might upset certain people in Congress (I’m talking to you Richard Shelby R-Alabama) who are wedded to SLS and its wasteful pork spending in their home states and districts.

The fact remains however that eventually SLS is going to go away. The Trump administration appears very wedded to its Artemis program to get back to the Moon by 2024, and it is apparently discovering that to make that landing happen the administration needs better alternatives.

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Indonesia to building rocket and spaceport

The new colonial movement: Officials from Indonesia’s space agency, LAPAN, today revealed that they picked a location for a new larger spaceport, and will use it to test their own home-grown rocket.

Indonesia plans to construct its first spaceport in Biak, Papua, to serve the country’s rocket test launches, the country’s National Institute of Aeronautics and Space (LAPAN) has confirmed.

LAPAN flight and aerospace study centre head Robertus Heru Trijahyanto said Indonesia will build the spaceport following LAPAN’s existing rocket launch site in South Garut on West Java. However, it will be bigger so that it can be used for larger test launches.

The article mentions that they will get help from international partners, but provides little detail.

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Second Kuaizhou-1A launch in less than a week

The new colonial movement: China today successfully completed its second Kuaizhou-1A launch in four days, placing two communications satellites into orbit.

In just a little more than a four day period, from the very same pad, with the very same launch team and launch truck, China has launched yet another Kuaizhou-1A rocket carrying satellites into orbit.

…The Kuaizhou-1A is a 4 stage, mostly solid fuel powered launch vehicle developed by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASIC) and commercialized by the China Space Sanjiang Group Corporation (also known as Expace Corporation).

Promoted by CASIC as being high reliability, high precision and low cost, the launch vehicle can send a 200 kg payload into a 700 km altitude sun-synchronous orbit. The vehicle is possibly based on the road-mobile DF-21 missile, with two additional solid fuel upper stages and a re-startable liquid fuel upper stage. It was designed with the goal to provide an easy to operate quick-reaction launch vehicle, that can remain in storage for long periods and to provide launch missions on short notice.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

25 China
17 Russia
11 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)

In the national rankings, China widened its lead over the U.S. to 25 to 23.

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Inspector general slams NASA’s management for bonus payments to Boeing

In a report [pdf] issued yesterday, NASA’s inspector general blasted the agency’s manned commercial space management for issuing a $287 million bonus payment to Boeing to help it avoid delays in developing its Starliner capsule — which would have caused gaps in future American flights to ISS — even though the cost to use Russian Soyuz capsules would have been far less.

Worse, the agency never even allowed SpaceX to make its own competitive offer.

NASA agreed to pay Boeing Co (BA.N) a $287 million premium for “additional flexibilities” to accelerate production of the company’s Starliner crew vehicle and avoid an 18-month gap in flights to the International Space Station. NASA’s inspector general called it an “unreasonable” boost to Boeing’s fixed-priced $4.2 billion dollar contract.

Instead, the inspector general said the space agency could have saved $144 million by making “simple changes” to Starliner’s planned launch schedule, including buying additional seats from Russia’s space agency, which the United States has been reliant on since the 2011 retirement of its space shuttle program.

…NASA justified the additional funds to avoid a gap in space station operations. But SpaceX, the other provider, “was not provided an opportunity to propose a solution, even though the company previously offered shorter production lead times than Boeing,” the report said. [emphasis mine]

I’ve read the report, and from it the impression is clear that when NASA management discovered that Boeing was facing delays in Starliner and needed extra cash, it decided to funnel that cash to it, irrespective of cost. While it is likely that the agency did so because it did not wish to buy more Russian Soyuz seats, it makes no sense that it didn’t ask SpaceX for its own competitive bid. By not doing so the management’s foolish bias towards Boeing is starkly illustrated

Eric Berger at Ars Technica also notes that the report makes clear how Boeing’s prices for Starliner are 60% higher than SpaceX’s Crew Dragon prices, further illustrating how the agency favors Boeing over SpaceX.

Boeing’s per-seat price already seemed like it would cost more than SpaceX. The company has received a total of $4.82 billion from NASA over the lifetime of the commercial crew program, compared to $3.14 billion for SpaceX. However, for the first time the government has published a per-seat price: $90 million for Starliner and $55 million for Dragon. Each capsule is expected to carry four astronauts to the space station during a nominal mission.

What is notable about Boeing’s price is that it is also higher than what NASA has paid the Russian space corporation, Roscosmos, for Soyuz spacecraft seats to fly US and partner-nation astronauts to the space station. Overall, NASA paid Russia an average cost per seat of $55.4 million for the 70 completed and planned missions from 2006 through 2020. Since 2017, NASA has paid an average of $79.7 million.

I don’t have a problem with NASA favoring Boeing over Russia, considering the national priorities. I can also understand the agency’s willingness to keep buying some Starliner seats in order to guarantee an American launch redundancy. However, giving Boeing even more money to keep its schedule going, when SpaceX is available to fill the gaps, demonstrates the corruption in the agency’s management. They haven’t the slightest understanding of how private enterprise and competition works.

The report is also filled with the same tiresome complaints about the on-going delays to the manned commercial program, focusing greatly on past technical issues (now mostly solved) while hiding in obscure language how it is NASA’s paperwork that is likely to cause all further delays.

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Upcoming big satellite constellations vex and worry astronomers

Astronomers are expressing increasing distress over the possible negative consequences to their Earth-based telescope observations from the several new giant satellite constellations being launched by SpaceX and others.

[M]any astronomers worry that such ‘megaconstellations’ — which are also planned by other companies that could launch tens of thousands of satellites in the coming years — might interfere with crucial observations of the Universe. They fear that megaconstellations could disrupt radio frequencies used for astronomical observation, create bright streaks in the night sky and increase congestion in orbit, raising the risk of collisions.

The Nature article then details the issues faced by some specific telescopes. Hidden within the article however was this interesting tidbit that admitted the problem for many telescopes is really not significant.

Within the next year or so, SpaceX plans to launch an initial set of 1,584 Starlink satellites into 550-kilometre-high orbits. At a site like Cerro Tololo, Chile, which hosts several major telescopes, six to nine of these satellites would be visible for about an hour before dark and after dawn each night, Seitzer has calculated.

Most telescopes can deal with that, says Olivier Hainaut, an astronomer at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Garching, Germany. Even if more companies launch megaconstellations, many astronomers might still be okay, he says. Hainaut has calculated that if 27,000 new satellites are launched, then ESO’s telescopes in Chile would lose about 0.8% of their long-exposure observing time near dusk and dawn. “Normally, we don’t do long exposures during twilight,” he says. “We are pretty sure it won’t be a problem for us.” [emphasis mine]

The article then proceeds with its Chicken-Little spin as if the astronomical world is about to end if something is not done to stop or more tightly control these new satellite constellations.

As indicated by the quote above, it appears however that the threat is overstated. The constellations might reduce observing time slightly on LSST, scheduled for completion in 2022 and designed to take full sky images once every three nights. Also, the satellite radio signals might impact some radio astronomy. In both cases, however, the fears seem exaggerated. Radio frequencies are well regulated, and LSST’s data should easily be able to separate out the satellite tracks from the real astronomical data.

Rather than demand some limits or controls on this new satellite technology, the astronomical community should rise to the occasion and find ways to overcome this new challenge. The most obvious solution is to shift the construction of new telescopes from ground-based to space-based. In fact, this same new satellite technology should make it possible for them to do so, at much less cost and relatively quickly.

But then, astronomers are part of our modern academic community, whose culture is routinely leftist and therefore fascist in philosophy (even though they usually don’t realize it). To them too often the knee-jerk response to any competition is to try to control and squelch it.

We shall see if the astronomers succeed in this case.

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China unveils Mars lander during landing simulation test

The new colonial movement: China today unveiled to the international press its first prototype Mars lander, showing it attempting a simulated controlled descent on a gigantic test stand.

The demonstration of hovering, obstacle avoidance and deceleration capabilities was conducted at a site outside Beijing simulating conditions on the Red Planet, where the pull of gravity is about one-third that of Earth.

China plans to launch a lander and rover to Mars next year to explore parts of the planet in detail.

This is the first time I have heard anything about China sending a lander/rover to Mars in 2020. Previously the reports had discussed only sending an orbiter.

I have embedded video of the test below the fold. It shows the prototype hanging by many wires from the test stand, then dropping quickly, with its engine firing, before stopping suddenly, followed by an engine burst. While impressive, it did not strike me that China is even close to sending this spacecraft to Mars. The test only proved the spacecraft’s ability to do some maneuvering during descent. It did not show that it could land.

That the project’s designer said that landing would take “about seven minutes” also suggests that they are copying the techniques used by JPL to land Curiosity. Considering that JPL’s computers have been repeatedly hacked, including some hacks identified as coming from China, it would not surprise me if China has simply stolen those techniques.

I still expect them to launch an orbiter to Mars in 2020. Whether they also send a lander and rover remains to be seen.
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