Tag Archives: regulation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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NOAA revises upward its ordinary average 2019 hurricane season prediction

NOAA last week announced that it is revising upward its hurricane prediction for the 2019, changing it from average and ordinary to slightly higher than average and ordinary.

Seasonal forecasters with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center have increased the likelihood of an above-normal Atlantic hurricane season to 45% (up from 30% from the outlook issued in May). The likelihood of near-normal activity is now at 35%, and the chance of below-normal activity has dropped to 20%.

The number of predicted storms is also greater with NOAA now expecting 10-17 named storms (winds of 39 mph or greater), of which 5-9 will become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or greater), including 2-4 major hurricanes (winds of 111 mph or greater). This updated outlook is for the entire six-month hurricane season, which ends Nov. 30.

The problem with NOAA’s desire to imply that we are all going to die from massive hurricanes is twofold. First, take a look at the most recent hurricane graphs at Weatherstreet.com. NOAA’s unrevised prediction for Atlantic hurricanes was totally in the center of the average for the years from 1966 to 2009. It also was significantly below 2005, the worst hurricane year on record that was used by global warming activists to claim global warming was causing more storms that were more extreme.

The problem is that 2005 was an outlier. For almost a dozen years afterward no category 3 or more hurricanes made landfall in the U.S. and only a very few have followed since.

The newly revised prediction still predicts an average and ordinary number of hurricanes in 2019, just very slightly above the average for the past half century.

But no matter. The number will be higher! We are all going to die! We must silence anyone who disagrees because their denialism will cause more deaths!

Welcome to the coming dark age.

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FCC streamlines and cuts fees for smallsat licensing

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

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

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

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

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TMT consortium applies for Canary Islands building permit

The coming dark age: The consortium that wants to build the Thirty Meter Telescope has applied for a building permit to build the telescope in the Canary Islands, Spain, thus preparing to abandon their years-long effort to put the telescope in Hawaii.

Thirty Meter Telescope Executive Director Ed Stone said in a statement Monday that the group still wants to break ground on Mauna Kea, but they need to have a backup plan. “We continue to follow the process to allow for TMT to be constructed at the ‘plan B’ site in (Spain) should it not be possible to build in Hawaii,” Stone said. “Mauna Kea remains the preferred site.”

But Native Hawaiian activists say they will not budge until the project moves elsewhere. Protest leaders, who say they are not against science or astronomy, told The Associated Press that the Spain permit is a positive development, but it’s not enough for them to end their blockade of Mauna Kea’s access road, where more than 2,000 people have gathered at times. “There’s lots of good science to be done from the Canary Islands,” said Kealoha Pisciotta, who has helped organize the protest on Mauna Kea. It would “be a win for everyone.” [emphasis mine]

Do not expect the protests to end when TMT officially abandons Mauna Kea. I fully expect the protesters to increase their demands, calling for the closing of more telescopes on the mountain.

It appears that the United States is no longer ruled by law. The TMT consortium spent years following the law, negotiating deals with everyone, including local native Hawaiian religious groups, and finally obtained their permits, twice. This wasn’t good enough for the protesters and their leaders, who wish to rule by fiat and mob power. Those protesters have likely won, mostly because the Democratic Party that runs Hawaii is on their side.

It also appears that the United States is becoming a nation that no longer gives priority to obtaining new knowledge about the universe. If TMT moves to Spain, its loss will be somewhat equivalent to the Catholic Church’s attack on Galileo in Italy. That action in the 1600s essentially killed the Italian Renaissance, with the growth of the scientific method and new knowledge shifting to Great Britain and France, the wealth and prosperity that new knowledge brought going with that shift.

Posted from the airport on the way to Denver.

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It no longer makes sense to recycle

Link here.

For one, China’s decision in 2017 to no longer accept imported recycled materials is still in place, and is likely not to change in the near future..

For decades, the country was content to accept, process, and transform recycled materials from across the globe, but no longer. In July 2017, the government announced new policies that would effectively ban imports of most recyclables, particularly plastics. They went into effect last March. Considering that China has imported a cumulative 45% of plastic waste since 1992, this is a huge deal.

Where once China offered a market for the world’s plastic bottles, tubs, and other packaging to be turned into – for example – polyester clothing, now, that market is gone. This means that recycling costs have skyrocketed. A few years ago, Franklin, New Hampsire could sell recyclables for $6 per ton. Now, it costs the town $125 per ton to recycle that same stuff!

Municipalities across the country are facing this startling arithmetic, so hundreds are choosing the drastically cheaper option: throw most traditionally recycled materials in the trash, instead.

For another, it has become even more obvious that the cost of recycling is more damaging to the environment.

As Kinnaman discovered in a 2014 study – a complete life cycle analysis of the recycling process – it currently doesn’t make much economic or environmental sense to recycle plastic and glass in much of the developed world. Both of these materials are fairly easy on the environment to produce, but oftentimes very tricky and intense to recycle. When you factor in all of the water used to decontaminate plastic and glass, the immense distances traversed transporting them (usually by truck, train or ship), and the mechanical and chemical processes utilized to transform them into new goods, it becomes clear that they are better off in a landfill.

Will these facts cause local governments to change their laws and end recycling? Don’t bet on it. Recycling has never had anything to do with actually saving the environment. Its purpose has always been to make people feel good about themselves. Those emotions make it impossible for most people to consider these facts.

Try it. Tell you friends and family about these facts. You will find yourself faced with an unalterable skepticism that no fact can change.

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Two new science papers strongly question theory of man-made global warming

The uncertainty of science: Two new science papers, from researchers in Finland and Japan respectively, both strongly question the theory that human activity and the increase of carbon dioxide are causing global warming.

From the Finnish paper’s [pdf] conclusion:

We have proven that the [climate]-models used in IPCC report AR5 cannot compute correctly the natural component included in the observed global temperature. The reason is that the models fail to derive the influences of low cloud cover fraction on the global temperature. A too small natural component results in a too large portion for the contribution of the greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. That is why 6 J. KAUPPINEN AND P. MALMI IPCC represents the climate sensitivity more than one order of magnitude larger than our sensitivity 0.24°C. Because the anthropogenic portion in the increased CO2 is less than 10 %, we have practically no anthropogenic climate change. The low clouds control mainly the global temperature. [emphasis mine]

From the Japanese paper:

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has discussed the impact of cloud cover on climate in their evaluations, but this phenomenon has never been considered in climate predictions due to the insufficient physical understanding of it,” comments Professor Hyodo. “This study provides an opportunity to rethink the impact of clouds on climate. When galactic cosmic rays increase, so do low clouds, and when cosmic rays decrease clouds do as well, so climate warming may be caused by an opposite-umbrella effect. The umbrella effect caused by galactic cosmic rays is important when thinking about current global warming as well as the warm period of the medieval era.”

Essentially, both criticize the climate models for not considering changes in cloud cover and how those effect the global climate. The first paper looks back at the known climate data and compares it with known changes in cloud cover, and finds that cloud cover is a major factor in temperature changes.

The second paper looks at the causes for some of the changes in cloud cover, noting how the increase in galactic cosmic rays during the solar minimum can be tied to an increase in cloud cover, and thus colder temperatures.

Do these papers disprove man-made global warming caused by the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? Of course not. They just demonstrate again that the science here is very unsettled, that there are many large gaps in our knowledge, and that it would be foolish now to abandon western civilization and replace it with socialist totalitarian rule in order to prevent a disaster that either might not be happening, or if it is we may have no power to control.

I want to also point out that this post talks about scientists challenging the theory of man-made global warming. Attention must be paid to their conclusions. As for the ignorant opinions of politicians on this subject, who cares?

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Amazon releases more details about proposed Kuiper satellite constellation

Capitalism in space: Amazon on July 4 submitted to federal regulators a more detailed description of its proposed 3,000+ Kuiper satellite constellation.

Amazon’s Kuiper System satellites will have a design life seven years — less than half that of a traditional geostationary communications satellite — and will be launched in five waves, according to a July 4 filing with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

The first wave consists of 578 satellites that would provide internet service in two horizontal coverage bands, one between 39 degrees north and 56 degrees north (roughly from Philadelphia north to Moscow) and another from 39 degrees south down to 56 degrees south (roughly from Hastings, New Zealand, to the top of Great Britain’s South Sandwich Islands in the Atlantic Ocean). The subsequent four waves would fill in coverage to the equator.

Amazon didn’t say when those satellites would launch or what launch vehicle they would use to reach orbit. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, also owns launch company Blue Origin, whose New Glenn orbital rocket is slated for a first launch in 2021.

If Amazon intends to use Bezos’ New Glenn rocket, this system cannot launch prior to 2021, at the earliest, and that means it will likely enter the internet competition with SpaceX and OneWeb late. This is not fatal for Amazon, but it will require them to offer something to their customers that will draw them away from the earlier constellations.

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Glaciers growing on Greenland

Greenland's growing Jakobshavn Glacier
Click for full image.

Despite what the fake mainstream media and leftist Democratic Party politicians insist on telling us daily, the Greenland icecap remains largely stable, and shows no sign of disappearing anytime in the near future.

The image on the right, reduced to post here, is a series of images produced by radar instruments flown by a NASA airplane over Jakobshavn Glacier during the past three years and released this week by its project scientists. As noted in the release,

These images show the mass Greenland’s Jakobshavn Glacier has gained from 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19. Areas with the most growth are shown in dark blue. Red areas represent thinning. The images were produced using GLISTIN-A radar data as part of NASA’s Ocean’s Melting Greenland (OMG) mission.

While this research is absolutely worthwhile, the mission has clearly been shaped by the global warming activism in NASA and the climate science community. Thus, the scientists for this mission are forced to say this on their website:

Humans are changing the climate by burning fossil fuels for energy. These add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, which trap extra heat from the sun and warm the air and oceans.

I would bet however that the scientists for this project remain very skeptical about this NASA political statement. That they highlighted here a glacier that is growing, in contradiction to the routine media and activist claims that Greenland’s ice sheet is disappearing, indicates this.

Tony Heller at his climate blog today posted a very good summary of the very stable state of Greenland’s icecap, while also pointing out the dishonest and incompetent reporting about it from mainstream media sources like the Washington Post and Fox News. Check it out. As he concludes:

There has been no trend Arctic sea ice since the start of MASIE records thirteen years ago.

Greenland glaciers are growing. The last two years had near record surface mass gain. The current journalistic standard of cherry picking a day here and there, and then misrepresenting the meaning of it, is journalism at its worst.

The data shows a decline in that icecap in the early part of this century, followed by a significant recovery in the past three years. As he says, there has been no trend.

Be aware of this when ignorant politicians like Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) try to tell you we are all going to die of global warming in mere years. These fear-mongers know nothing, and should be laughed from the stage.

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NASA releases draft commercial Gateway resupply plan

Capitalism in space? NASA today released a draft document outlining its plan for having commercial companies provide cargo to its Lunar Gateway station.

NASA is creating the Gateway Logistics Services (GLS) arena that will oversee supply delivery efforts to the lunar outpost. The draft Request For Proposals document, released by NASA last Friday, will form the basis for the formal Request For Proposals that companies will use later this summer to submit their bids for selection as part of the GLS program.

The draft document will be reviewed by commercial industry providers who will then submit feedback for NASA to consider as the agency formalizes the document.

While not official in its entirety, large portions of the document will remain unchanged or only undergo minor tweaks/clarifications at this point. Thus, the draft provides excellent insight into services, pricing, and timelines that commercial companies will have to meet if selected to participate in the GLS offerings. Of note, any company selected to fly GLS missions would receive a guarantee of two missions, minimum, and each awarded contract would not exceed $7 billion (USD). The total number of contracts NASA can award is not constrained via the language in the draft GLS solicitation document.

The reason I question above whether this will be capitalism in space is because of one new rule NASA wants to impose on its commercial vendors:

Unlike the [ISS cargo] contracts which did not carry a “one successful flight” requirement if changes to the launch vehicle were made after initial certification (both the Falcon 9 and the Antares underwent significant design changes after their [cargo] flights began – with some of those changes debuting on [later cargo] flights), the draft GLS language seems to indicate that NASA would seek to prohibit launch vehicle design changes debuting on GLS contract flights.

If the draft language becomes formal, the GLS contracts would require a launch vehicle that undergoes a design change to complete one successful flight of those changes before its next GLS mission is allowed to proceed.

I can see no reason for this rule other than to prevent private companies from making NASA’s own slow development process look bad. Or to put it another way, NASA wants to prevent the U.S. from getting things done fast in space, because that will prevent the agency from stretching out development endlessly, as it routinely does.

The GLS plan does propose one very good change in NASA policy. It proposes to break the SLS monopoly on launching Gateway components. For years NASA has said that only SLS could launch Gateway components, something that is patently absurd. The Trump administration has been pushing against that shortsighted position, and this plan accelerates that push. It will instead allow commercial companies to compete for those launches, which puts more pressure on SLS to deliver or die.

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Commercial space unhappy with proposed regulations

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

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

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

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Astronomers call for regulations to stop commercial satellite constellations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Will India’s private space industry take off?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cruz’s Space Frontier Act reintroduced; extends ISS to 2030

This week a bi-partisan group of senators reintroduced Senator Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) Space Frontier Act.

The bill closely follows last year’s version of the Space Frontier Act, which Cruz and then-Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) shepherded through the Senate. Most of the bill covers efforts to reform commercial launch and remote sensing regulations in parallel with rulemaking activities currently underway by the Commerce and Transportation Departments. The bill also authorizes an extension of the International Space Station from 2024 to 2030 and elevates the Office of Space Commerce within the Commerce Department to the Bureau of Space Commerce.

They have changed one item that caused the House to reject the bill last year, one that exempted space-related bureaucracies from “the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which sets requirements for public meetings by such committees.” I suspect the exemption was an attempt to keep the job simple for these bureaucracies. At the same time, allowing them to function in the dark as they make regulations is not good either.

I have read through the bill [pdf], and my impression is that it really won’t change much. That it mandates the extension of ISS to 2030 however is important, as this means this big government project will continue to be funded, whether or not it makes sense to do so. Many in the space station private sector have said that it would be better that ISS was gone so that their efforts would not have to compete with it. I’m not sure this is true, however. All NASA really has to do to make ISS more commercially viable is to allow more commercial activities on it, including allowing private companies to attach their own modules that they own and control. Should NASA do this, the objections of the private space station community would become moot.

On a positive note, forcing NASA to continue to support ISS — which does have great value — will make it harder for NASA to find money for its Lunar Gateway boondoggle, a project that to my mind has far less obvious value, especially because it will cost far more than ISS to build and operate.

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Canada commits to NASA’s Lunar Gateway boondoggle

Canada’s leftwing government has agreed to be NASA’s first official international partner in the agency’s Lunar Gateway project, designed to go nowhere and cost billions.

Canada has become the first nation to formally commit to NASA’s lunar Gateway project with a financial contribution to cover a 24-year period and the development of a new generation robotic Canadarm.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the announcement Wednesday that Canada would be partnering with NASA and spending 2 billion Canadian dollars ($1.4 billion) over 24 years on the Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway program, a human-tended facility in orbit around the moon, as well as other space programs. The announcement included funding of 150 million Canadian dollars over five years for a new Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program to help small and medium-sized businesses develop new technologies to be used and tested in lunar orbit and on the moon’s surface in fields that include artificial intelligence, robotics and health.

Canada will develop and contribute a smart robotic system – Canadarm3 – that will repair and maintain the Gateway, Trudeau announced.

I wonder if this Canadian program will survive a new rightwing administration. Such boondoggles often don’t, or get reshaped into something completely different.

Of course, this question assumes a truly rightwing government might someday retake power in Canada.

We are now entering a new cold war. This time the battle lines are not between the capitalist west and a communist Soviet bloc, but between the socialist big governments across the globe and the capitalist free citizenry struggling to survive independently under the thumb of those increasingly oppressive governments.

We can see this clearly in space. While big government space agencies in the U.S., Europe, Russia, and Canada are teaming up to get coerced government funding for Gateway (even as they work to simultaneously squelch any competing space exploration visions), private companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, and the new smallsat companies strive to launch their own private endeavors, using profits and any available investment capital they can convince others to freely provide them.

The big government space programs will spend a lot of money taken involuntarily, wield power to maintain their dominance, and likely accomplish relatively little for all that power and money. The small private efforts, if allowed to do what they want to do, will spend comparatively little capital (voluntarily committed to them), work very efficiently, and likely get a lot more done. The key is whether the former will allow the latter the freedom to operate.

Sadly, the track records of powerful government throughout the history of the world leaves me very pessimistic about this coming cold war. Those governments will quite likely use its growing unchecked power to squelch any competition, especially competition that makes them look foolish.

We have already seen this happen somewhat at NASA with its commercial crew program. Unless the public starts voting for politicians that favor them over the government — something that public simply hasn’t done for more than a century — I can only see this government dominance grow and worsen.

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NASA’s political and corrupt safety panel

After spending the last few years complaining about certain specific issues with the manned capsule efforts of SpaceX and Boeing, NASA’s safety panel this past weekend released its annual 2018 report. (You can download the report here [pdf].) Its position now on those certain specific issues can now be summarized as follows:

They make no mention of the parachute issues that forced Boeing to do numerous extra tests, causing probably a year delay in the program, though Boeing has had decades of experience with capsule parachutes and the entire American aerospace industry has never had a parachute failure.

The panel also admits that their concerns about SpaceX’s rocket fueling procedures is really not an issue.

The NESC [NASA Engineering and Safety Center] has independently studied the load and go procedure and provided a thorough report that identifies the hazards and available controls. Based on the NESC report, the CCP [Commercial Crew Program] has decided that the load and go concept is viable if subsequent analysis is adequate and if verifiable controls are identified and implemented for all the credible hazard causes that could potentially result in an emergency situation or worse.

As Emily Litela said, “Never mind!” Their concerns were never credible, as it really doesn’t matter if you fuel the rocket before or after the astronauts board, because in either case they are there when a lot of fuel is present. All the panel did was delay the first Dragon launch by at least a year by pushing this issue.

The panel is still holding onto its concerns about the installation blankets (COPV) used in SpaceX’s internal helium tanks, the location of the problem that caused the September 2016 launchpad explosion. Despite SpaceX’s apparent fixing of this problem, with 40 successful launches since that failure, they are listing further vague requirements:
» Read more

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China fails to reduce its methane coal mine emissions

Surprise, surprise! Using satellite data, a new study has now shown that China has not only failed to reduce its methane coal mine emissions, it has allowed those emissions to increase.

China, already the world’s leading emitter of human-caused greenhouse gases, continues to pump increasing amounts of climate-changing methane into the atmosphere despite tough new regulations on gas releases from its coal mines, a study shows.

China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of coal, which accounts for approximately 72 percent of the country’s electricity generation. While data show that coal production has increased in China, it has been unclear until now much methane gas, or CH4, has increased. Methane that is released during coal mining is responsible for the majority of coal-related CH4 emissions and is likely the largest human-caused CH4 source in China.

“Our study indicates that, at least in terms of methane emissions, China’s government is talking the talk, but has not been able to walk the walk,” says Scot Miller, an assistant professor of environmental health and engineering and of earth and planetary sciences at Johns Hopkins University.

The truth is that while China might say it has imposed “tough new regulations,” its commitment under the Paris climate accords actually allowed it to increase its emissions significantly for years to come, even as those same accords required the U.S. to decrease its emissions. This unfair situation, which China has apparently taking full advantage of, is one of the major reasons Trump dumped the accords. It also illustrates how little the Paris Accords had to do with climate change. Its real goal was to shift the balance of power and wealth from the U.S. to other countries.

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Camden submits spaceport application to FAA

Capitalism in space: Camden County in Georgia has submitted its application to the FAA to create a spaceport in that county.

It took them three years “to comply with the detailed regulatory requirements necessary.” Whether they get approval or attract customers remains to be seen. We do know that at least one smallsat rocket company, Vector, has shown a willingness to launch from their site.

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High Russian officials lambast Roscosmos and its head

At a meeting earlier this week several high Russian officials sharply criticized both Roscosmos and its head, Dmitry Rogozin, for repeatedly predicting grand future successes even as the state of the Russian space program worsens.

On Wednesday, the prime minister of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, expressed his displeasure with the situation. During a meeting in Moscow with senior Roscosmos officials, Medvedev made sharply critical remarks that were reported by several Russian news organizations, including Gazeta.RU and RIA Novosti. (Translations were provided to Ars by Robinson Mitchell).

“This is a blunt and direct assertion: We need to quit projecting future plans, stop talking about where our missions will land in 2030, get to work, talk less, and do more,” Medvedev said. “We need to be more active in commercializing our space industry and increase Russia’s international market share of commercial launches.” [emphasis mine]

Medvedev as well as Russia’s deputy prime minister Yuri Borisov were blunt in noting that Roscosmos has done a bad job of competing in the commercial launch market, even as it made empty “grandiose projections” of its future deep space exploration plans.

Whether these criticisms will have any significant effect remains to be seen. Russia has structured its entire space industry into a single government-run corporation. Within Russia there is no competition, and everything is run from the top down. Such a set-up discourages innovation and risk-taking, the very things Russia needs for it to successfully compete on the world stage.

Imagine you are a young Russian guy with a clever idea for building smallsats in your basement. Or you are a young rocket engineer who has an idea about building rockets better. In Russian neither of these guys would be free to do anything, as all space projects must be supervised by Roscosmos. Roscosmos however is a government bureaucracy, and such bureaucracies are routinely loath to take risks and give power and opportunity to new people outside its power structure. Your project would either be squashed, or co-oped by the powers-in-charge so that it would not fly, as intended.

We see this in NASA today, with its decades-long resistance to new space companies like SpaceX. Fortunately, the U.S. aerospace industry has not been consolidated into a single government entity, run by NASA. Nor can it be, at least for now. The Constitution prevents government from doing this, while the political system allows for competition, even among politicians. The result has been that political appointees in both the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations have over the past dozen years pushed the idea of reducing NASA’s control over space, and have thus made possible the arrival of a viable commercial and very competitive space industry.

In Russia, under Putin, they did exactly the opposite in 2015, ending competition and consolidating their industry under full government control. The results since have not been pretty. In 2015 Russia led the world in launches with 34. In 2018 they only launched fifteen times, the lowest total for that country since the 1960s.

Nor do I expect this trend to change in the near future, notwithstanding the blunt talk above by Russia’s leaders. At least for the next decade, I expect Russia to be a very minor player in space.

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Kickstarter campaign starts to finance launch of garage-built cubesat

Capitalism in space: PocketQube has initiated a 30-day Kickstarter campaign to fund the launch of its first home-made plastic cubesat.

I have written about this project previously, because it epitomizes the old-fashioned vision of a single guy or gal working in his or her basement or garage to build a new invention. It now appears they are getting close to being ready to launch.

Make sure you watch their video at the first link above. It not only explains what they’ve accomplished so far as well as what they hope to do, it is quite amusing at how it pokes fun at the kind of fake-epic videos we see from NASA, promising big but delivering little. In the case of this project, they are instead promising little, but if they succeed they should deliver big.

This quote from the Kickstarter page though I think reveals once again where the real barriers to commercial space lie:

The biggest risk to the project is licensing. The FCC has placed additional burdens on small satellite operators after an incident earlier this year that resulted in four unlicensed satellites being placed into orbit. Possible delays in our applications could result in Mini-Cubes missing the flight. We do have a backup flight should that happen but it will not launch until 2020 at the earliest.

The quote refers to Swarm’s unlicensed launch of four cubesats in March 2018, and the FCC’s subsequent response, imposing fines and strict reporting requirements on Swarm. It now appears some of those strict reporting requirements have been applied across the board to all cubesat companies, increasing costs and paperwork, and even threatening their viability.

No matter the justification, it is once again the government that stands in the way of the ability of free humans to follow their dreams. I have seen this pattern repeat itself for the last half century, resulting in little space exploration since the Apollo landings. It now stands in the way of a new revolution in commercial space.

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Oregon & Washington politicians considering supervision of parents of all newborn babies

They’re coming for you next: The Democratic politicians in both Oregon and Washington are pushing new legislation that would mandate supervision by government health care workers of the parents of all newborn babies.

According to the Beaver Valley Times, “When the program is complete, every new parent — this includes adoptions — would receive a series of two or three visits by someone like a nurse or other health care practitioner. The visits could include basic health screenings for babies; hooking parents up with primary care physicians; linking them to other services; and coordinating the myriad childhood immunizations that babies need.”

The program has been piloted in Lincoln County but has not been tried statewide.

Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward (D-Beaverton), who sits on the powerful Ways and Means Committee that will hammer out the language of the legislation, has said that universal home visits are a priority for her.

And Oregon is not alone in the push for “universal” home visits. Washington Governor Jay Inslee tweeted earlier this month, “My budget would also offer universal home visits. This gives every new parent the opportunity to get a visit from a nurse during the first few weeks back home with their newborn to share important information and build confidence.”

While it’s not clear whether either of these programs would be mandatory, the use of the term “universal” suggests that they would. It’s frightening to think about what would happen to parents who refuse such visits.

Read it all. It is obvious to both the author and I that while the present programs are vague about their mandatory nature, the goal is that they will soon become so.

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A visit to the Mexican border

Last night President Trump gave his first prime-time speech to the nation, focused specifically on the hot-button issue of illegal immigration. You can read the full text, with the Democratic response, here. A fair analysis can be read here, which also includes a thorough critique of the press’s mindless partisan reaction.

I usually don’t watch such speeches. I read the transcript afterward, to see if there is any substance there (usually not). It saves time.

What I did do yesterday however was visit the very location that is the subject and focus of these speeches, the border between the United States and Mexico. Diane and I and Earl, a visiting friend from back east, decided to give Earl a taste of international travel by driving down to Nogales to cross the border for lunch.

We do this periodically, not to go sightseeing but buy many of our prescription drugs, which tend to be about 75% cheaper in Mexico and do not require that prescription for purchase. For example, one of our cats has a fungal disease called valley fever which requires giving her a pill twice a day. In the states that drug costs more than $200 for a ninety day supply. In Mexico I can get that same amount for less than $50. (The cost difference illustrates well the mess our Congress has created of our drug industry, since the high cost is directly related to government regulations imposed in the last two decades and topped off by the passage of Obamacare in 2010.)

Anyway, below are some photos from this trip. They give you a sense of what it is like at one of the major populated border crossing points, which by the way and not surprisingly does not much resemble the impression given by our modern mainstream press.
» Read more

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FCC fines company $900K for unapproved satellite launch

The FCC has issued a $900K fine against the smallsat company Swarm for its unlicensed launch in January on an Indian rocket of four smallsats.

Along with paying a massive fine, Swarm has agreed to submit reports to the FCC before every satellite launch it wants to make for the next three years. These reports must include all of the details about the launch vehicle that will carry the satellites, the time and location of the launch, and contact information for who is coordinating the launch. And Swarm has to do this a lot, too. Reports need to be submitted within five days of Swarm purchasing a ride on a rocket, or within 45 days of the flight. Additional reports must be submitted when the satellites are shipped to be integrated on the rocket, whenever the satellites are actually integrated, and around the time the launch is supposed to take place.

Within the next two months, Swarm must also establish its own “compliance plan” and appoint a compliance officer to make sure the company adheres to all of the regulations surrounding a satellite launch. This entails crafting clearly defined procedures and checklists that every employee must follow to confirm that the FCC’s licensing requirements are being met.

I have very mixed feelings about this. While it is important that the FCC make sure U.S. satellites are compliant with the Outer Space Treaty and that satellite makers and launch companies do not do things willy-nilly without some common sense coordination, this settlement, with its complex bureaucratic paperwork requirements, strikes me more as a power play by the agency to tell everyone that the government will rule here.

At the same time, I can understand the FCC’s concern. We are about to see a smallsat revolution, with tens of thousands of these satellites being built and launched by numerous big and small companies. The FCC wanted it very clear to everyone the need to get that licensing done properly. This settlement makes that clear.

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NASA’s warped measure of safety

In posting an invitation to social media users to attend the launch of the first unmanned test flight of SpaceX’s man-rated Dragon capsule on January 17, 2019, NASA’s public relations department added the following warning:

NASA has a series of reviews before the uncrewed test flight, and the outcome of these reviews, including the Flight Readiness Review, will ultimately determine the Demo-1 launch date.

For months I have reported numerous examples of NASA’s safety panel acting to create fake problems that will force a delay in this launch. First it was the fueling method. Then it was the insulation on the helium tanks. Then there was the need for SpaceX to fill out all the paperwork. Now it is the parachute system and worries about the safety culture at SpaceX.

I might take these concerns seriously, except that NASA’s safety panel seems to be so sanguine about far more serious safety issues with NASA’s SLS rocket and Orion capsule. This double standard is starkly illustrated once again in this NASASpaceflight.com article about NASA’s plans for the very first manned Orion/SLS mission.

On that manned mission, NASA will fly a host of new equipment for the first time. For example, the capsule’s “Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS), crew displays, and other crew systems will be making their debut in Orion.” Anything else that has flown previously will essentially have done so only once, during the first unmanned test flight of SLS/Orion.

It gets worse. While NASA has demanded SpaceX fly the final manned version of its Falcon 9 rocket seven times before it will allow its astronauts on board, the agency plans to launch humans on SLS on only its second launch. More astonishing, that second launch will include a mission taking those astronauts on a loop around the Moon.

During the Apollo missions in the 1960s, NASA had a policy that no mission would head to the Moon without carrying a lunar module (LM). The logic was that the LM would act as a lifeboat should something go wrong with the Apollo capsule, a logic that was actually proven during Apollo 13.

NASA did send Apollo 8 to the Moon without the LM, but it did so in the context of a Cold War space race and an end-of-the-decade commitment by an assassinated president. The agency then knew the risks were high, but it decided the situation justified those risks.

NASA is not faced with a Cold War space race today. Instead, it has a grossly over-budget and long delayed boondoggle called SLS/Orion, increasingly embarrassed by the quick and efficient achievements of private space companies. In a desperate effort to keep that boondoggle alive, the agency is apparently pushing it to fly it too soon and with inadequate development. In fact, it appears to me that the safety culture at NASA that caused both shuttle accidents (a desire to favor frequent launches while ignoring safety analysis) has returned at NASA, and it has done so with a vengeance.

Meanwhile, the contrast with how the agency’s safety panel treats SpaceX versus SLS/Orion demonstrates how corrupt and unreliable that safety panel has become. They no longer really work to reduce risk. Their goal appears to promote government-built rocket systems over those manufactured by the private sector.

Hat tip to Kirk Hilliard for pointing out the language in the NASA pr invite to the SpaceX launch.

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Supreme Court limits government’s attempt steal land for endangered species

The Supreme Court today ruled against the federal government’s attempt to designate private land as a habitat for an endangered species, even though that endangered species doesn’t even inhabit that land.

In a unanimous ruling the justices rejected the federal government’s attempt to designate roughly 1,500 acres in Louisiana as critical space for the dusky gopher frog. “Only the ‘habitat’ of the endangered species is eligible for designation as critical habitat,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in the opinion.

The frog hasn’t lived on the land in five decades, having shifted to neighboring counties. But the government, fearing future events might push the frog back, sought to designate the land, which would have imposed severe restrictions on what the owners could do with it.

Consider the chutzpah of the federal government in attempting to do this. If the court had ruled in their favor, it would have allowed them to designate any piece of property anywhere in the country as a habitat for any species, and thus negate all property rights, forever.

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Leftist San Fran shuts down Airbnb business

They’re coming for you next: The leftist government of San Francisco has forced the shut down of a chain of Airbnb rentals owned by a couple for violating the city’s many laws.

A San Francisco couple has been fined $2.25 million and ordered to not engage in listing their real estate properties on sites like Airbnb until 2025 for repeated violations of the city’s short term rental laws, the city attorney announced Monday.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera said landlords Darren and Valerie Lee have been running “an illicit hotel chain” during San Francisco’s housing crisis rather than lawfully renting the units to residential tenants.

Though it clearly appears the couple had violated San Francisco laws, the real question is the immoral nature of the laws.

[W]hat should really be on trial here are not the Herreras but the laws that San Francisco has put in place to stifle the gig economy. The Herrera family owns those apartment buildings and they pay the taxes, are responsible for all the maintenance and took the risk of investing in the properties. Clearly, there is a market for short-term rentals because if there weren’t they wouldn’t be able to remain profitable. Why is the city telling them how they must rent out their property?

The public doesn’t benefit from these laws, providing the owners keep the properties up to code and safe to inhabit. The only beneficiaries are the major hotel chains who charge outrageous prices for rooms and lobby politicians heavily (as well as donating generously to their campaigns) to try to squeeze out the gig economy. If the Herrera family has any hope of prevailing here it should come by way of a challenge to these short-term rental laws and the chance to expose the influence of the hotel lobby that drives them.

This is what you get when you allow government too much power: Corruption, favoritism, and oppression. I have in recent years made it my business to avoid California at all costs. This story reinforces that position.

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Hawaii Supreme Court rules in favor of TMT

Hawaii’s Supreme Court today upheld by a 4-1 vote the construction permits of the consortium building the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on Mauna Kea.

In its own press release, the TMT consortium said that it “will move forward with fulfilling the numerous conditions and requirements of [the state’s permit] prior to the start of any construction.”

The comments by one of the the telescope’s opponents at the first link are revealing.

Kealoha Pisciotta, one of the main leaders against the telescope, said she’s doesn’t know what their next steps will be, but she’s not hopeful that more legal wrangling will help. “The court is the last bastion in democracy,” she said. “The only other option is to take to the streets. If we lose the integrity of the court, then you’re losing normal law and order, and the only other option is people have to rise up.” [emphasis mine]

Let me translate: We didn’t get our way, so we’re now going to throw another tantrum! Expect more protests and attempts to block construction. Expect the Hawaiian government, dominated almost entirely by Democrats, to fold to those protests. Expect more delays. For example, do you really think the permit process was really done?

State Department of Land and Natural Resources Chairwoman Suzanne Case said the next steps involve telescope builders submitting construction plans. The department will review the plans before issuing permission to proceed.

This was all done almost a decade earlier, and was exactly what the Supreme Court ruled on. To bring it up now suggests the state government is still quietly looking for loopholes to stop the construction, even though the public supports construction and the protesters are a decided minority.

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Trump moves forward on Space Force; commercial space reorganization

In a speech by Mike Pence yesterday the Trump administration outlined its continuing plans to moves forward with a new military branch focused on space as well as a reorganization of the bureaucracies that regulate commercial space into a single Commerce Department agency.

Pence said the National Space Council and National Security Council will review space operational authorities “to ensure that our warfighters have the freedom and flexibility they need to deter and defeat any threat to our security in the rapidly evolving battlefield of space.” A lack of centralized leadership and accountability threatened U.S. ability to “advance our national security in space,” Pence said. “The time has come to stop studying the problem and start fixing it.”

The Trump administration in August announced an ambitious plan to usher in a new “Space Force” as the sixth branch of the military by 2020. Such a change, which the Defense Department has estimated would cost $13 billion in the first five years, must first be approved by Congress. Pence said at an earlier Washington Post forum that China and Russia have established similar space forces. “This is what our competitors are already doing. And the president is determined to make sure that America leads in space, as well, from a military standpoint,” he said.

…The proposed bill would also create the Bureau of Space Commerce under the U.S. Department of Commerce to liaise with industry representatives and organizations, according to a copy provided to Reuters. It also calls for $10 million per year for five years starting in 2020 to fund the commerce arm.

I am traveling up to Phoenix as I write this to be a talking head on a Science channel television show, so I haven’t yet reviewed carefully this proposal. Based on the quote above, the cost for the Space Force is absurd. This is an office, not a military force. At $13 billion it looks more like gold-plated pork.

Meanwhile, the proposed Commerce agency makes sense only if it truly replaces other bureaucracies. I am not yet sure that will happen.

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Trump scraps academic EPA air pollution panel

The head of EPA in the Trump administration has scrapped the academic EPA air pollution panel that has dominated the agency’s air quality control standards for decades.

Andrew Wheeler, the acting chief of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), yesterday fired a panel of scientific experts charged with assisting the agency’s latest review of air quality standards for particulate matter. He also scrapped plans to form a similar advisory panel to aid in a recently launched assessment of the ground-level ozone limits.

Those steps, coupled with Wheeler’s previously announced decision to concentrate authority in a seven-member committee made up mostly of his appointees, quickly sparked objections that the agency is intent on skewing the outcome of those reviews in favor of industry.

…Under the Clean Air Act, EPA is supposed to review the adequacy of the standards for particulate matter, ozone and four other common pollutants every 5 years with help from outside experts. While the seven-member committee, officially known as the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC), has the lead in the process, the [scrapped] review panels are supposed to provide additional know-how in assessing the relevant scientific literature, which can span a variety of academic disciplines.

Essentially the acting administrator is continuing the effort of the former EPA head, Scott Pruitt, to de-emphasize the domination of the leftist academic community in these matters. Naturally, the academics are screaming, but then, screaming has recently become the left’s only debating point in all matters of national discussion.

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UAE passes a space law

The new colonial movement: The United Arab Emuirates Cabinet has passed a space law, supposedly designed to encourage the development of their space sector.

I say “supposedly” because of this:

“Although the details of the new law are not yet publicly available, I believe it has tremendous potential and am excited by the UAE’s incorporation of educational guidelines into the legal framework,” said Sunil Thacker, senior partner at the STA law firm.

It is even unclear whether this lawyer has seen the language. He is quoted extensively, raving about the wonders this new law will bring, but states no specifics. In the top-down sheik-run UAE, he has no other choice.

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Bill increases funding to FAA space office, adds other provisions

A bill about to be approved by Congress increases funding to the FAA Office of Commercial Transportation while also requiring that office to create several new regulatory positions.

The bill authorizes a significant increase in spending for the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, or AST, from the $22.6 million it received in fiscal year 2018 to a little more than $33 million in 2019, growing to nearly $76 million in 2023. Appropriators, though, have not matched that authorized increase for 2019, with House and Senate versions of spending bills funding the FAA offering just under $25 million for AST.

The reauthorization bill includes several policy provisions associated with commercial spaceflight as well. One would require the FAA to designate an official within its air traffic organization to serve as the single point of contact for working with the head of AST on airspace issues associated with commercial launch activity.

Another provision establishes an “Office of Spaceports” within AST intended to support commercial licensing of launch sites and develop policies to promote infrastructure improvements at such facilities. It also requires AST to develop a report within one year of the bill’s enactment on spaceport policies, including recommendations on government actions to “support, encourage, promote, and facilitate greater investments in infrastructure at spaceports.” It directs the Government Accountability Office to prepare a separate report on ways to provide federal support for spaceports.

The bill creates a category of commercial spaceflight vehicles known as “space support vehicles” that cover parts of launch vehicles systems flying for other purposes, such as training or testing. Such vehicles would include the aircraft used by air-launch systems. The bill allows commercial flights of space support vehicles without the need for a full-fledged airworthiness certificate from the FAA.

It is hard to say if these provisions will help or hurt the growth of commercial space. It does appear that Congress’s goal was to help, but their methods always include more spending and greater bureaucracy.

The article also reviews a number of bills not yet agreed to by Congress that would address the regulation of Earth observation satellites as well as satellite servicing. It quotes a number of industry experts supporting the laws being proposed, but once again, it is unclear if those laws would help or hurt. My previous review of one of these laws presently working its way through the House was decidedly mixed. It will clarify and simplify many of the regulatory problems that presently exist, while creating more bureaucracy.

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