Thursday, May 19, 2022

Two Good Launches

Just sitting down and settling in after the Starliner Orbital Flight Test 2 (OFT-2) launch, the second of this week's two, which went without a hitch on the scheduled time.  A combination of clouds with the launch trajectory heading northeast behind those clouds kept it from being visible here south of the launch site.    

About a half hour after launch, the Starliner's own thrusters fired for 40 seconds to circularize its orbit, getting the perigee up to the required levels.  There are many tests going on, but the first major goal is autonomous docking with the International Space Station at 7:10 PM tomorrow evening, Eastern Time.  Starliner is scheduled to fly back to Earth next week.  

As many of us have said, this seems to be to be kind of "do or die" moment for Boeing.  There's widespread chatter that if this mission doesn't go much better than December of  2019's OFT-1, they might be out of the program.  I doubt anyone thinks that every single step of every procedure needs to be 100%, but OFT-1 was so embarrassingly bad they can't get within a mile of that level of bad.  Boeing got involved in the Commercial Crew program as a $5.1 billion fixed price contract, and it has been reported that since the disastrous first test, the company has lost a half billion dollars on Starliner.  In April of '20 Boeing said it would pay to rerun OFT-1, ultimately today's OFT-2, for which it set aside $410 million.  

Everyone who has cheered on the return of manned spaceflight to the USA on the SpaceX Crew Dragon might be surprised to know that some former NASA bigwigs are saying Boeing is the savior of the Commercial Crew program, and that without Boeing there would be no Crew Dragon. 

"I don't think that we would be anywhere with commercial crew had it not been for Boeing coming into the fray," said Charlie Bolden, who served as NASA administrator from 2009 to 2017, during an Aviation Week webinar.  [in 2020 - SiG]  "Nobody likes SpaceX, to be quite honest, on the Hill. They were an unknown quantity. I think if Boeing had chosen to stay out of commercial crew, we probably would have never gotten funding for it."

However, Bolden said, as soon as Boeing entered the competition, congressional attitudes started to change. And he credits Boeing for taking a chance on a fixed-price contract, which was relatively new for NASA at the time. The contracting method meant that, instead of getting reimbursed for all of its expenses plus a fee, Boeing could lose money if there were technical delays or setbacks.

"Boeing was a dream," Bolden said. "I call them a champion in being willing to accept the risk for a program whose business case didn't close back then. And I'll be blunt. I don't know whether the business case closes today."

Bolden's Deputy Administrator, Lori Garver, put it this way:

"Boeing entering the commercial crew program meant that you got a lot more support from Congress because they tend to have a very robust lobbying program," Garver said. "I was very happy when the traditional, big aerospace company Boeing bid. Because I think that was a tough call. And I think if they look back on it, they wouldn't do it again."

As for "whether the business case closes," I'd say it closes if the team doing it isn't steeped in the "old space" mindset.  The guys from the Right Stuff era weren't - there was no old space - and they changed the world.  If anyone is changing the world today, it looks far more like Starship and Super Heavy than Artemis, SLS, and, yes, Starliner.  

The OFT-2 Starliner after arrival at the launch complex yesterday, May 18, 2022.  Trevor Mahlmann photo.


Wednesday, May 18, 2022

One Down, One to Go

Got up early for this morning's Starlink mission and found that the launch time had been changed, from 6:20 to 6:59.   That's about a half hour after sunrise.  I didn't learn until later in the day that the change was about two hours before the launch time.  Photographer Trevor Mahlmann Tweeted "With just two hours notice of a new launch T-0, captured @SpaceX’s Falcon 9 transiting the Sun this morning in Florida."  Mahlmann's work appears regularly on Ars Technica. 

I had to share this picture.

Notice the sunspot groups on either side of the rocket?  Look around, there's a sunspot group near the right limb and the larger couple of groups left of the booster.  Those are moving left to right so the group on the left will be facing Earth in a couple of days, centered on the disk. 

Booster B1052 successfully landed on A Shortfall Of Gravitas offshore of the South Carolina/North Carolina state line

Eric Ralph at Teslarati points out that this the 28th launch since November 11, 2021, which is 27 weeks - one week over halfway to the goal of one launch/week for 52 weeks.  The company certainly seems to be able to support the operational goal of 52 launches in calendar year 2022.  

Later in the morning, Starliner successfully rolled out to the launch pad atop its Atlas V booster, for tomorrow evening's test flight to the Space Station.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Yeah. Right.

That's addressed to the story that NASA released a schedule of Artemis launches through the first half of 2023.  In reality, though, it's a schedule showing potential launch windows.  The first, unmanned Artemis mission that we've blogged about so many times could possibly launch NET (No Earlier Than) July 26, on this complicated, multicolored schedule pdf.  

What's that old saying?  Don't count your chickens until they've completed their Wet Dress Rehearsal?  Not even two weeks ago, we posted that Artemis/SLS was to roll back to the pad for its WDR in late May.  That's not what you'd call a safe bet at this point.  They might, but ...

This week, reported that the space agency and its contractors continue to work on a number of issues encountered during the three previous attempts—particularly a leak in the purge line leading to the rocket's upper stage, known as the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage. A NASA official said design modifications were likely to be needed.

Due to the ongoing nature of this work, it no longer seems likely that the large rocket will roll out of the Vehicle Assembly Building this month, which probably would push the start of the next wet dress attempt into late June at the earliest. Following a successful conclusion of this test, the rocket will still need to be rolled back to the assembly building to arm the flight termination system before it is finally wheeled back out to the launch site for a liftoff attempt.

The schedule is interesting from a different standpoint than just being a schedule.  Even the program says what I just said.  Kathryn Hambleton, a NASA spokeswoman, put it this way:

"The range of dates is not meant to convey anything about the probability of launching in 2022 or 2023.  All launch dates more than about two months out are preliminary. It is standard for the team to have a preliminary outlook several months ahead. We’ll set a more specific target after we complete wet dress rehearsal testing."

One of the interesting things about the schedule is that the mission duration isn't fixed and will vary with Earth/Moon geometry.   Depending on when the mission launches, it could last from 26 to 42 days as Orion flies into a distant retrograde orbit around the Moon.  NASA did a news release that explains these constraints in detail and said, "The resulting trajectory for a given day must ensure Orion is not in darkness for more than 90 minutes at a time so that the solar array wings can receive and convert sunlight to electricity and the spacecraft can maintain an optimal temperature range. Mission planners eliminate potential launch dates that would send Orion into extended eclipses during the flight."  

A sample from the calendar looks like this:

You can see that most days in July and August (combined) are gray - no mission the vehicle can complete is available on 37 days.  By contrast, the dates in red are those when the SLS could make the destinations but the Orion payload vehicle's design constraints are violated.   

I'd dearly love to have some models of the trajectories and conditions I could share, but don't.

On the other hand, having the first 25 days of June not available could help soften the blow of things like the delays of rolling Artemis back out of the VAB for its WDR. 

As a side note to all of this, and almost completely unrelated to it, if all goes as expected we get back to back launches Wednesday and Thursday.  Here's the surprising part: they're not both SpaceX.  Wednesday morning at 6:20AM ET, 1020 UTC, the first launch is a SpaceX Starlink mission, called 4-18.  This launch will be the fifth flight of this booster, B1052, which had its first flight as a side booster on a Falcon Heavy.   There's a report this booster will be converted back into a side booster for another FH launch potentially later in this year.  Flexibility is a good thing. 

Thursday's launch is the surprise.  This will be the next attempt to launch Boeing's Starfire Orbital Test Flight 2.  More details in this piece from the start of the month.  Liftoff is scheduled for 6:54 PM, 2254 UTC.  The Atlas V with the CST-100 capsule will roll out to the pad tomorrow at 10AM, safely after the SpaceX launch.  

Monday, May 16, 2022

Everyday Astronaut Gets Another Tour With Elon Musk

Last August, Tim Dodd, the Everyday Astronaut, got to take a long walk around SpaceX Boca Chica, given a tour by Elon Musk himself.   This time, Tim took a walk around Starbase with Elon Musk to talk about all the changes that have come about since last summer.  As I did last August, rather than embed it, I'm going to leave a link to it here. 

Elon Musk Explains Updates To Starship And Starbase 

While this video is nowhere near as long as the two hours and 21 minutes from last summer at just under 45 minutes, it's really rather interesting.  Tim mentions what seems to be more videos coming and I don't see any.  On the other hand, this one is two days old, so it's possible there are other videos that are in the process of being edited. 

Starship is changing lots and the facilities on Starbase are changing as well.  This is pretty clear if you follow the activities there but there were many new things in the tour.  

Much ground is covered.  Do they replace the grid fins with something more like aircraft control surfaces?  It's under discussion.  The boosters now have something like the chines on a boat, one on either side of the centerline, to help the control of the booster during recovery of the booster.  Do they change the original grid fin design on the Superheavy booster from four fins arranged close to a line through the booster with two on each of the opposite sides?  From two at (roughly) plus and minus 20 degrees to the mid-line of the cylinder to one on each side that's on the mid-line?  What about three grid fins on 120 degree spacing around the booster?  

Current grid fin arrangement - two on each side equidistant from a line through the middle of the booster at about 20 degrees above and below that line.  Photo cropped from original by RGV Aerial Photography and then drawn on.  

There are lots of interesting technical conversations about things on Starship, the Super Heavy booster, and "Stage Zero" - the ground-based launch infrastructure.   

I'll leave you with one jaw-dropping thing Musk talked about.  Right now, the cost to deliver a useful payload to Mars is the vicinity of $1 billion per ton.  That's based on the latest rover missions, and when he says "useful payload" to Mars, he specifically excludes things like parachutes, landing stages and rockets to slow the rover down.  Musk says they are targeting dropping that cost by a factor of 10,000.  Instead of a billion dollars/ton, they're working toward $100,000/ton.  And he thinks they can make it.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

About That New "Black Hole Picture"

Maybe you've heard the buzz last week about the wonderful new picture of the black hole at the center of our galaxy.  Maybe you're one of those who thinks there's no experimental confirmation of black holes or don't see how pictures could be taken of something, "so massive, not even light can escape." Or some such.  I suppose if I took the picture - no one person did - I'd be proud of it, too.  I don't see it as amazing, incredible or any of those adjectives you'll see.  But it's moderately cool.  Cool enough for a low-news-Sunday night.  

First the picture.  Explanations later.

Black holes are collapsed stars which form when a star bigger than a certain size limit runs out of fuel to burn and can't generate pressure to counteract the gravitational attraction of all the matter in the star's core.  During the active phase of a stars life, the pressure of the thermonuclear explosions from Hydrogen fusing to Helium (and then heavier reactions) counteracts the force of gravity and keeps the star from collapsing into progressively higher density.  Eventually, stars run out of fuel to fuse into heavier elements and the gravity takes over, compressing the star into denser and denser versions.  Smaller stars will become a white dwarf, and if bigger, protons and electrons combine making it a neutron star (if one could get a teaspoon of neutron star material to Earth without it expanding, it would weigh about what Mt. Everest weighs).  Some large stars explode in a Supernova and some will eventually form a black hole.  Stars can collide or a more massive star can pull a less-massive star into orbit around it, and sometimes crash the smaller star into the bigger.

All of that is background, not really part of the story.  Suffice it to say that once considered a theoretical construct that had little chance of ever forming or being found, massive black holes are now thought to be present in the center of most spiral galaxies, like ours, as well as other galaxies.  

So let's get back to the question, how can something that doesn't give off light be photographed?  How was that image taken?  The black hole doesn't give off light, but any material being swept up from the surrounding space and being "sucked into" the black hole can give off light - where "light" is used in the general sense of electromagnetic radiation to include infrared, far infrared and down into the radio spectrum.  The photograph is the product of what's called the Event Horizon Telescope or EHT - a worldwide network of radio telescopes that point their receiving antenna at the same object and can combine the signals from all of them precisely in phase to produce an image with the resolution of a radio telescope bigger than any of the individual antennas being used.  (The event horizon is the shape in space that's the closest to the black hole that can be observed - beyond that is where "light can't escape from.")

The first image ever obtained of a black hole was announced in 2019 by the EHT.  That one was of the much more massive black hole in the center of a galaxy called Messier 87 (or just M87), 55 million light years away in the direction of the constellation we call Virgo.  It turns out that although the center of our Milky Way is much closer, the black hole is rather smaller and some of the "iron laws of photographic exposures" came into play.  As as theoretical physicist Matt Strassler explained:

[T]he measurements of the Milky Way’s black hole proved somewhat more challenging, precisely because it is smaller. EHT takes about a day to gather the information needed for an image. M87’s black hole is so large that it takes days and weeks for it to change substantially—even light takes many days to cross from one side of the accretion disk to the other—so EHT’s image is like a short-exposure photo, and the image of M87 is relatively clear. But the Milky Way’s galaxy’s black hole can change on the time scale of minutes and hours, so EHT is making a long-exposure image, somewhat like taking a 1-second exposure of a tree on a windy day. Things get blurred out, and it can be difficult to determine the true shape of what was captured in the image.

To the physicists who study black holes, the picture of the glowing, lumpy-looking gas around the black hole tells stories of their formation and behavior.  The similarity to the images of M87 and the closer Centaurus A black holes shows that General Relativity provides a good explanation of the behaviors around these objects.  

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
Psalm 19: 1-2, NIV



Saturday, May 14, 2022

I Underestimated Just How Stupid the BATF Can Be

Last August, when I wrote my comments to the BATF NPRM 2021-R05 on frames and receivers, I emphasized that they said they were going to clear up the definition of "readily converted" but did nothing remotely of the sort. In every single place where they could have clarified it, they refused to do so.  I told them they could substitute the word convenient and it would seem to cover what they were trying to do.  Of course, they didn't define convenient, either.  

The whole NPRM, at least as related to Privately Made Firearms, could be summed up in a cliche'.  I concluded my comment to the rule with:

In a now famous 1964 Supreme court ruling, Justice Potter Stewart declared, “I can’t define pornography, but I know it when I see it” (Jacobellis v. Ohio 378 US 184).  The Bureau has moved the definition of pornography into Privately Made Firearms.

You have to do better.

In my comments here on the blog, I was a little more prosaic, spending more time on the ruling being aimed at making the whole process less convenient.  I said.

This turns the question into how inconvenient does ATF want the process to be?  Is it acceptable to order the frame from Polymer80 and the parts to complete it from Midway USA?  Do we need to order the internal parts as one part per vendor; buying from 10 or 20 vendors instead of just one?  How about if between every step we have to go run around the block?  What's that, ATF?  Between every step we need to crawl across Death Valley on our hands and knees? 

Conveniently packaged is just as nebulous a concept as readily converted.  We should get precise, repeatable definitions.  Instead, for everything we get the crutch of tyrants everywhere: we'll know it when we see it, because we're the experts. 

Like the headline says, I underestimated just how stupid they could or would be.  In a story that didn't get much coverage, the BATF this week served a Cease and Desist order on a supplier of uncompleted frames called JSD Supply in the Philadelphia area.  Reality came up between my hypothetical examples of ordering the frame from Polymer80 and the parts to complete from Midway USA or requiring us to buy parts from 10 or 20 different suppliers.  

The order originated from the ATF’s Philadelphia field office. It stated that JSD Supply could not sell both unfinished frames and firearms parts to the same person no matter if they were purchased at different times. If JSD Supply sold a frame to someone, then the customer comes back to the site and buys a gun part; then, according to the ATF, the company sold the customer a complete firearm without a federal firearms license (FFL) in violation of the Gun Control Act (GCA).  [Bold Added:  SiG]

They're saying we can buy all of the parts to complete a frame from one supplier as long as we didn't buy the frame from the same company, but in no case can a company that sells a frame EVER, AT ANY TIME sell that person the rest of the parts.  While the article doesn't use those words, the ATF doesn't say in anything they've said about this case that there's a waiting period after which the company can sell both the frame and the parts.

Furthermore, the ATF maintains this has nothing to do with NPRM 2021-R05.  

The ATF claims this action is independent of the new rule change that was unveiled last month during a White House Rose Garden ceremony and is due to go into effect this August. The order claimed it has always been Illegal under the GCA to sell parts and frames to the same person even if the transactions were separate. 

It has always been illegal, but just now, in May of '22 have we decided to enforce this law?  Yeah, right.  Made up, pulled out of the depths of their asses.  They have the's infinite checkbook.  A small business like JSD Supply has a budget they need to stay within.  They have the entire military to call for backup.  JSD has exactly none.      

Like me, you might have heard of JSD Supply as the target of an NBC TV attack. A New York-based reporter named Vaughn Hillyard went to a gun show outside of Philadelphia and purchased two unfinished kits.  After he bought the two kits from the JSD Supply booth, he ambushed JSD Supply owner Jordan Vinroe in the parking lot for an interview. As is virtually always the case, the interview was selectively edited to smear Vinroe.

This is where the story turns to whether NBC News committed felonies.  After the interview, Hillyard took the two kits to the PA AG’s Office, where employees finished the kits for him.  If a frame and parts kit isn't a firearm, but a buyer has someone else complete it (turn it into a firearm) for them, that's illegal.  If the frame and parts kits are firearms, then Hillyard transferred a gun to the Attorney General to complete it for him.  Plus, it appears Hillyard broke the law as a New York State resident buying a firearm in Pennsylvania without transferring it back to New York through an FFL on both ends.   

Of course, you know the chances of a mainstream media agency or their reporter being charged with a crime they committed are pretty much "zero point zero" - to quote Dean Vernon Wormer.  

One of the arguments over whether they were going to clarify their positions on what constitutes being readily converted was that they can't tell us where the line is because in replacement for today's 80% frames would instantly be "79% frames" - or 70, 60 or whatever.  They don't want people to know what's illegal because they want to redefine "illegal" to fit the whims of whomever is in charge.  Which is what's happening now. 

It looks to me like the Defense Distributed idea of a way to make functional receivers out of square aluminum bars - "Zero Percent Lowers" - won't be affected.  They aren't selling frames, they're selling CNC milling machines which you can use to make lowers or anything else in its work envelope.  Put in a square bar of aluminum and make a frame.  If they sell you a parts kit (I haven't even looked to see if they do that), they're like a business that just sells parts kits.  The impact will be bigger on the companies that sell both frames and parts.  Those places will need to track who bought what, and when they bought it.

Yeah, it's Homer with a drill!  OK, he's working on a camera and not an AR Lower, but last August I referred to the difference between a skilled machinist and Homer with a cordless drill, and found this picture. Even though the drill has a cord.



Friday, May 13, 2022

Now For A Break From Seriousness

Long time readers know I'm a sucker for the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies - at least since 2008 and the first Iron Man movie with Robert Downey Jr. that resulted in his owning the character.  I'm pretty sure we saw every one of those Phase 1 through Phase 3 movies.  

After Avengers Endgame in 2019, I believe they started working their way into Phase 4, but I'm not at the fanboy level where I keep track of exactly what movies make up Phase 4.  Of course, the Covidiocracy hit in 2020 and impacted movies as much as anything.  The only movie they've released that I'm pretty sure marks Phase 4 is Eternals, which we saw back in October of '21.  I thought it was messy in having far too much detail in it, so much that I kept thinking "what was that all about?" or "why are they telling me this?" You got the feeling they were setting up some epic story line but it was distracting.  Plus, they worked some obvious attempts at being "edgy" into it.  For no apparent reason, one of the Eternals ends up being a gay man, and there's a fairly well-handled scene in which two of the Eternals make love.  That Just Doesn't Happen in comic book movies.  

Today we went to the current big blockbuster that has been out a week, now: Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.  There might well be spoilers here, so be forewarned and see you tomorrow if you want to avoid spoilers.  

To begin with, in the lead-up to this movie, there were implications that Dr. Strange's antics in last winter's Spider-Man: No Way Home, caused some sort of rip in the multiverse that led to this movie.  There was no reference to those things that I caught.  The single Marvel "event" that's closest to causing the events of this story, instead, is the world that Wanda Maximoff created in the Disney Plus TV series WandaVision.  This might be a good time to add that several months ago, our streaming service "Hulu + Live TV" added Disney + as part of the package, so we watched WandaVision among the first things we ever watched on D+.  (For the entire time we've subscribed to Hulu, they offered that price as a deal on Disney + but we never signed up.) 

The idea of a Multiverse permeates two of the Marvel TV series: WandaVision and Loki.  I recall a rumor that Loki would be in this movie, but if he was, it was in some very minor, non-speaking role and I didn't notice. 

The Multiverse of Madness story itself, though, is largely centered on a girl that looks to be high school age - played by a kid named Xochitl Gomez whom IMDB points out just turned 16.  Her character has the ability to somehow jump between parallel universes in the multiverse.  She doesn't know how she got the ability and doesn't really know how she does it, but Wanda Maximoff wants that power and in her alter ego of The Scarlet Witch sets out to capture that girl and take her ability.

The movie wasn't even remotely what I expected in the overview/big picture sense.  Some of what I was expecting was there, but in the fine details, not major plot elements.  It was a visual feast, as most of these movies are, with some effects that we've seen in the original Dr. Strange movie (and since then).  I was expecting a much more convoluted plot and went in thinking "prepare to be overloaded and confused" maybe to the point of needing to see it more than once.  The plot was pretty much Dr. Strange vs. The Scarlet Witch.  Rather straightforward.  We'll undoubtedly watch it again - it's worth it - but chances are high we'll wait till it's not a premium charge to watch on Disney+. 

On five letter grade scale, it's a solid B.  I recommend it if you like the characters and concepts, but if that's the case you're probably going anyway.  As usual, we went to a matinee, 1PM this time, and there were on the order of 20 people in a theater that can seat 300.  

Marvel Studios artwork.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Another Testing Day

For Booster 7 at SpaceX Boca Chica. 

After Monday's apparently successful Cryogenic testing, another round of the cold testing was carried out today.  The emphasis of the test, though didn't appear to be B7 so much as what Musk calls "Stage Zero" - launch pad infrastructure; in particular, a test of the recently modified Quick Disconnect.  I happened to open Lab Padre's Rover 2 camera without knowing any test was coming and got good views of the day.  

In the left picture, the QD isn't attached to the vehicle - you can see daylight between the large box deep in shadows and the mating panel on the booster.  The right pic has an obvious assembly lifted up above the big box and that could be watched moving over perhaps a minute as the gap between the QD and booster was closed and the cryogenic fluid lines connected.  

Once the liquid nitrogen had flowed to both tanks on B7 and virtually the entire booster was covered in a layer of ice (frozen Texas humidity) we could see the same area including the metal-covered fuel lines covered in ice as well.  

It all appeared to be a successful test, but I was somewhat surprised they didn't do a test of quickly disconnecting the Quick Disconnect, as would be required during a launch.  

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said on May 5th that the company is targeting “as early as June or July” for the first Starship launch from Boca Chica.  With the dependence on the FAA approval being released, and that date still being listed as the last of May, she might just as well have said, “as soon as possible.” 

The FAA has made progress, with their website showing a step completed last week, the Section 106 consultation.  Eric Ralph of Teslarati, who is also following this process, thinks this month is looking better for the approval than any so far. 

Only one more cooperative process – ensuring “Section 4(f)” compliance – still needs to be completed. Without delving into the details, there is no convincing evidence to suggest that that particular step will be a showstopper, though SpaceX might have to compromise on certain aspects of Starbase operations to complete it. Once Section 4(f) is behind them, the only thing standing between the FAA and SpaceX and a Final PEA is the completion and approval of all relevant paperwork. In other words, for the first time ever, the FAA’s targeted completion date – currently May 31st, 2022 – may actually be achievable.

There's just a very daunting list of things they need to do before a booster and Starship are ready for a launch and given the ups and downs of the process since dropping the first generation Raptor engines in favor of the Raptor 2, they still have a lot of risks to get past.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Goodnight Ingenuity?

Back in March of '21, when the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars started getting talked about, it was as a minor side mission to the Perseverance rover.  I even did a piece on Ingenuity in May of 2018.  “All told, five flights are planned, with a maximum altitude in the area of five meters.  A month has been set aside for the flights, with extensive checkouts of the system between each.”  

Fast forward a year and Ingenuity has blown all expectations out of the water

The achievement of powered flight on another world is one of the great spaceflight feats of the last decade. Since its first brief hop on April 19, 2021, the Mars Ingenuity helicopter has subsequently made an additional 27 flights, traveling nearly 7 km across the surface of the red planet and scouting ahead of NASA's Perseverance rover. It has wildly exceeded the expectations and hopes of its scientists and engineers.

The little drone, designed for use on a planet with a tiny fraction of the atmospheric density Earth has,  the surface atmospheric density on Mars is like being at 100,000 feet here, has been nothing but a record breaker.  

We might be, however, looking at sunset for the experimental helicopter.  Winter is approaching on the Red Planet, and like all vehicles reliant on solar panels, Ingenuity has had difficulty getting an adequate charge on its batteries.   A week ago, May 3rd, controllers at the JPL lost contact with the probe.  This is something mission planners consider and plan for.  

They had been closely monitoring the health of their tiny spacecraft, particularly the charge state of its batteries. After losing contact, the engineers figured that the Ingenuity's field-programmable gate array—essentially, its flight computer—entered into shutdown mode due to a lack of power. In such a situation, virtually all of the helicopter's on-board electronics turned off to protect them from the cold nighttime temperatures, more than 100° Fahrenheit below freezing. This included the internal clock.

For all its flying around on Mars, Ingenuity has stayed in contact with its Perseverance mother ship, over a low power radio link.  Engineers expected that when the Sun rose and Ingenuity's batteries started to charge, it would try to communicate with the nearby rover.  The problem was that because its internal clock had reset, when Ingenuity tried to call Perseverance, the rover wouldn't be listening.  The immediate, easy answer, was to tell the rover to do nothing but sit there all day and listen for that call.  

The significance of this decision is that the helicopter was initially viewed as an add-on technology demonstration. Some of the rover's leadership team did not even want the added risk of bringing Ingenuity along. The helicopter was supposed to make five experimental flights in 30 days and then be set aside. Now, the entire Mars mission was being put on hold, nearly 13 months after Ingenuity's first flight, in the hopes of saving the small vehicle.

There's a happy ending to this story:  Ingenuity did phone home the next day. The link was stable, and they were able to determine that the solar array managed to charge the little drone's batteries to 41 percent. The engineers say they hope to resume Ingenuity's flight campaign within the next several days if they can bring the helicopter's batteries to a full charge.

Still, it's still a couple of months from the deepest, darkest part of the Martian winter.  Some scary choices are being made and the little helicopter may not make it.

The NASA engineers have had to take some fairly drastic steps to preserve Ingenuity's battery charge. For example, they have now commanded the helicopter's heaters to come on only when the battery's temperature falls to -40°, far colder than the previous point of 5° Fahrenheit. It is not known how many of the off-the-shelf components on the vehicle will fare without this additional heating during the cold Martian nights.

Ingenuity before its first flight, 2021.  NASA photo.

Here's where I wish I was a meme wizard and could whip out a "Brace Yourselves.  Winter Is Coming" from Game of Thrones but featuring Ingenuity.  



Monday, May 9, 2022

Starbase Texas Resumes Testing Booster 7

As I write, starting around 7:30 PM ET, cryogenic testing is completing on Booster 7 at Starbase Boca Chica, Texas, after repair and return to the test area last week.  

Naturally, we don't get updates on how the tests went unless either SpaceX's corporate account announces it (very rare) or Elon Musk does (much more common).  Just as before, when the first issues showed up with Booster 7 (B7), we were scraping for information on what happened to the booster.  Eric Ralph at Teslarati has compiled what he was able to find out in a post today.  

The stand SpaceX modified specifically for Super Heavy B7 was outfitted with 13 hydraulic rams to simulate the full thrust of the booster’s central Raptor V2 engines – up to almost 3000 tons (~6.6M lbf) compared to Booster 4’s ~1700 tons (~3.7M lbf) with a smaller cluster of nine engines.

After a few false starts and minor tests on the stand, Booster 7 finally managed some significant testing on April 14th. Judging by the rhythmic shattering of ice that built up on Super Heavy’s tanks, the test stand was able to simulate the thrust of Raptors to some degree and subject the booster to major mechanical stress that was felt from tip to tail. Within a few days, Booster 7 was removed from the test stand and returned to the high bay on April 18th. Around April 21st or 22nd, an image was leaked showing extensive damage inside Booster 7, confirming that the Super Heavy’s test campaign had been forced to end prematurely.

My problem with this image of the extensive damage is that I don't have an equivalent "before" picture to compare it to.  All I know is that other tubes called "downcomers" are cylindrical with flat reinforcing (?) rings on then.  This one could have been different but probably wasn't.  Looking at the top of the picture where the deformed tube with strange shapes welded to it reaches a flange, it looks like the tube was originally round and collapsed into this shape ripping out of that flange at about 10 to 12 o'clock on the flange (a gaping, black opening).

Right away, the damage shown in the photo hinted at an operational failure, meaning that mistakes made by the rocket’s operators may have been more to blame than a possible design flaw. The photo shows a short portion of B7’s liquid methane (LCH4) transfer tube that runs through the booster’s new liquid oxygen (LOx) header tank, which itself sits inside Super Heavy’s main LOx tank at the aft end of the rocket – a tube inside a small tank inside a large tank, in other words. Super Heavy’s LCH4 transfer tube generally does what it says, allowing methane to safely fly down through the main LOx tank and fuel up to 33 Raptor engines. At full thrust, that tube would need to supply around 20 tons (~45,000 lb) of methane per second.

However, on top of merely transferring methane through the oxygen tank, Booster 7 introduced a design change that allows some or all of that tube to change functions and become a header tank mid-flight. That would require a system of valves that could seal off the main LCH4 tank once it was emptied, turning the transfer tube into a sort of giant steel straw filled with enough LCH4 to fuel Super Heavy’s boost-back and landing burns.

Amateur analysts naturally combed over the image and whatever they could find, including one guy who posted an impressive 18 minute video which convincingly pinpointed the moment Booster 7’s transfer tube collapsed. (He goes over other topics, too, but the failure analysis is roughly between the six and 14 minute marks.)  Simultaneously, because it showed that the transfer tube likely imploded during detanking, the analysis more or less confirmed the view that the failure had been caused by either an operator error or poor test design - or both.

Shades of Starship prototype SN3 in April of '20.  

Could have been hardware, software, or operator error, but the important part is that when B7 reached the high bay and this photo was leaked, SpaceX decided it was reasonable to fix the damage.  After having been in repair since April 18th, B7 rolled back out to the test area on Friday, May 6th.  Today's cryogenic testing is completed, and the backup day for a road closure tomorrow has been cancelled.  More often than the other way, "alternate" road closures cancelled after the first day of a test has been because the test passed, not that it failed.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

About Those Two First Prototype BE-4 Engines at ULA

Word has been going around that ULA has taken delivery of the first two BE-4 engines from Blue Origin.  You might have seen a picture that looked like this (maybe from a different angle).  The first time I saw something on the subject was weeks ago, around the end of March/early April; after this story.  ULA's Tory Bruno was said to be the source, but I never saw the original source so I didn't go with it.

There's an obvious problem with those two engines: they're not engines.  They're the engine bell nozzles, far short of anything flyable, shipped for measurement and fit checks.  A flight ready BE-4 looks more like this.  The right half of this picture is missing in the above picture. 

Blue Origin photo.  The first of a series of May 2nd tweets about progress with the BE-4 testing.  It's as if suddenly, out of nowhere, Blue Origin has decided to put their name out as making progress. 

Teslarati SpaceX correspondent Eric Ralph points out the rather large differences between the BE-4 development and Raptor 2 development.  What they have in common is that both engines are methane/oxygen (also called methalox), are similar in size, and have similar sea level thrust numbers with BE-4 a few percent more powerful (BE-4: ~550,000 lbf, while Raptor: ~510,000 lbf).  Where they get very different is how the companies treat them.  

Earlier this year, Blue Origin itself revealed that it was testing BE-4 engines "about three times a week" at its Texas facilities...Aside from being far more compact, SpaceX has also built and tested magnitude more Raptor prototypes despite starting full-scale testing a year and a half after BE-4. Compared to Blue's "three a week," SpaceX completed eight Raptor static fires in one day on May 3rd [last week], racking up almost eight minutes of burn time during the site's 14-hour test window. According to one SpaceX employee, the company delivered 24 Raptor V2 engines in a single month earlier this year. In April, CEO Elon Musk shared an image of around 18 qualified Raptor V2 engines that had already arrived at SpaceX's Starbase facilities and were waiting for a rocket to be tested on.

The phrase that comes to mind when I look at comparisons between the way SpaceX is approaching development vs. the way Blue does is the concept of being hardware rich vs. hardware poor - a concept I got from an article about Blue Origin. Hiring in John Vilja as Senior Vice President of Engines did have the effect of making them more hardware rich, but they're still light years behind SpaceX.  Development of both engines appears to have started around the same time frame, 2009-2010.  In 2014, ULA contracted with Blue to deliver the BE-4s by 2017.  While not a single BE-4 has flown, SpaceX has already flown 19 Raptors in various Starship prototype flights.  

Six of those engines were recovered intact, giving SpaceX actual flight-proven engines to examine well before Raptor could be considered fully operational. SpaceX also appears to have built and tested more than 150 different Raptors since February 2019. SpaceX has also explicitly tempered design targets and maturity with near-term goals. For example, it's unlikely that current engines are easily or rapidly reusable - pursuing the optimizations needed for rapid/cheap reuse simply wouldn't make sense when Starship itself could be years from needing that capability. Blue Origin, on the other hand, says that individual BE-4 engines have completed 5000+ seconds of testing, an extremely impressive achievement but one that demonstrates a polar-opposite approach to development. Vulcan needs to work almost perfectly on its first launch. Starship does not.

This is an actual Tweet from Blue Origin, dated 5th of June, 2015, although this copy isn't from them but from a Twitter user who saved it.  It hasn't aged well. 

As I sit here trying to draw a conclusion from the roads I went down while piecing this together, I come to conclusion that it seems Blue might be on the verge of shipping the first two real, operating BE-4 engines to ULA.  Perhaps before July. 


Saturday, May 7, 2022

Weekly Update on the 1 by 1 - Part 26

And... it's done.  By the time I was done with last week's post on the version 1 connecting rod, I had decided to do a second one, using the technique I had used on the Webster's rod.  By Monday, I had found a sacrificial piece to screw the second blank to, made the initial screw holes in that blank (to hold it down to the "fixture" and got it zeroed in the Mill's coordinate system.  That looked like this:

My plan was to cut a wider rough contour cut - that's the kind that just cuts the outline of the part - leaving 1/8" more metal at every point around the part instead of .025" like I did on the first version.  Then I'd cut the circular bosses and finally cut the finish contour taking away the extra 1/8" of aluminum.  

The rough cut went perfectly, but when I went to cut the circular features, Mach3 wouldn't run the G-code, so I called it a day and thought I'd double check code later.  This is code I wrote (manually) so some sort of dumb mistake is almost guaranteed.  Sure enough, it turned out that I had left off a minus sign on one semicircle I was cutting.  With that fixed and running, I cut to depth around the circular features, taking away the 1/16" of depth on the rod between the circles. By Thursday, that side was done. 

The second side took more time to fixture than to cut and was done Friday. Since it looked almost exactly like that previous picture when finished, I'll leave that picture out.  

The next steps were done today.  I took the rod off that little piece of scrap, stood it on the small end, making sure the extended sides were vertical with a machinist's square.  That took several operations: I had to re-zero the part's coordinates to use the mill as a precise drill press.  For two holes, each of which gets five operations.  First, they get spotted with a center drill, then drilled through, tapped for screws, drilled halfway vertically with a bigger bit to clear that screw's threads, and finally, touched with a 1/4" end mill to make sure there's a flat spot where the screw cap sits.  After all that, it looks like this:

You might notice a couple of horizontal grooves on either side of the circular boss; I had the idea that I'd make scratches to lower the slitting saw blade down to and align it visually.  After I cut those grooves I decided that wasn't a good way to do it - parallax and other visual errors because the saw blade can't be right next to the engraved scratch, and set the depth of the cut by making the top of the part Z=0 and lowering the bottom of the blade to a depth I could get from the drawing.

All this to prepare for cutting the cap off.  Which has to be done before that small hole you see can be replaced with a drilled and reamed 3/8" hole for the crankshaft.  Which required yet another setup and another set of coordinates.  Now it looks like this:

So there it is, another part to go in the "Done" box.  I see it's almost a month to the day ago that I posted about getting ready to start and how I wanted to do it.  I don't know how many parts are left to do, and I don't really want to know.  If I make one part per month I'll be working on this engine for years.  When I started the cylinder (in December!) I figured the next parts would be the matching piston because it gets sized to the cylinder, which means I need this connecting rod and the pin that holds it in the piston (called a wrist pin).  Those are lathe parts so the adventures in CNC milling are over for the moment. 

Friday, May 6, 2022

Woke Up Early to a Visual Treat

This morning was an early morning for us; up about 5:20 for a 5:42 launch of this week's Falcon 9 Starlink launch, Starlink 5-14 from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center.   Without a doubt, if you're going to come to this area - or go to Vandenberg Space Force Base, or any of the other handful of places on Earth where launches can be seen, you want to go for a launch that's about an hour before sunrise or an hour after sunset.  There's a window in those pre-sunrise or post-sunset launches where you get to see a phenomenon often called a Space Jellyfish.  We got a good one this morning.  

This morning's Jellyfish - although from a different perspective than we had because it was taken from far away from here.   As you can see by the lower right corner, photo by Fox channel 13, taken by Ryan French.  This Fox affiliate is in the Tampa area, and they include pictures people sent in from the area. 

What's happening here is that for the beginning of the flight, the rocket is in the night sky but it's also heading more easterly as it's heading upward, and the farther east it gets, the closer it gets to where the sun is above the horizon.  Sunrise here in the Silicon Swamp (most importantly, on the ground) was 6:38, four minutes short of an hour after the launch.  When the first stage was dropped, it still wasn't high enough or far enough east for the sun to be up, but within seconds, it popped into daylight.  

Most of what you're seeing in that picture is the rocket contrail from the second stage.  The brightest point in the cloud, on the left about a third of the way up, is the second stage engine.  We're looking up its exhaust plume.  At the lowest point in the cloud, there's a bright spot with what looks like a comet's tail: that's the first stage.  We could see the cold nitrogen thrusters in the first stage firing, letting out expanding circular clouds (probably spherical but we just see the outline).  I'm not sure what that object above and to the left of the booster is; it's possible it's a star or planet that was just in the line of sight.  It's possible it could have been one of the payload fairings.  From our yard, we saw the initial entry burn of about 20-30 seconds, but by that time, it was too low in the sky to keep seeing. 

I think the first time we saw one of these was just short of two years ago to the day, June 13, 2020, and I wrote about it.  That launch was 5:21 EDT and sunrise was 6:26, so the similarity of the geometry is remarkable.  

If you look around, you'll see photos of Space Jellyfish from hundreds of miles away from the launch site.  At the TV station's site, there are pictures taken from Tampa.  I saw one from Savannah, Georgia.  Which might have been closer to it than I was.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

A Couple of Space News Clips

Virgin Galactic has announced a delay to the start of their commercial flight business from the fourth quarter of this year until the first of '23.  The problem?  The supply chain.  

“We are executing on our plans to scale the business by developing our future fleet, investing in digital manufacturing technologies, and building out our commercial strategy to deliver a consumer experience like no other,” said Michael Colglazier, Chief Executive Officer of Virgin Galactic. “Against a backdrop of escalating supply chain and labor constraints, our teams are containing the majority of these issues to minimize impact on schedules. We look forward to returning to space in the fourth quarter and launching commercial service in the first quarter of next year.”

Virgin Galactic says their financial picture is secure, going into lots of details.  What jumps out to me is their saying they have “Approximately 800 Future Astronaut Reservations” and that demand for tickets remains strong.   I think their Unity spacecraft carries four, so that's 200 flights.  Sounds like they need more spacecraft and more reusability. 

The current target for Artemis/SLS to be rolled back out to pad 39B for the next attempt at a Wet Dress Rehearsal (WDR) is "before the end of May," and the next attempt at the WDR will be in "early or mid-June."

The last time they rolled the SLS stack out to the pad it was two weeks before the WDR started; the rollout started on March 17th and the test started April 1st.  The test took far longer than the estimated 2-3 days, before being cancelled on the 16th and rolled back to the VAB on the night of the 25/26th. 

Remember the stuck check valve?  One thing in the description of results to date caught my eye (emphasis added):

Among the fixes made in recent weeks has been the replacement of a "check valve" in the rocket's upper stage, which had been forced open by a small piece of rubber. How that piece of debris got into the valve remains under investigation.

That doesn't fill me with optimism.  

As before, after a successful test NASA will still need to roll the rocket back to the Vehicle Assembly Building to arm the flight termination system, and then roll it back to the pad again before the rocket can be launched. NASA is currently looking at launching no earlier than August, but it must work around the planned liftoff of its Psyche asteroid mission on a Falcon Heavy. The Psyche spacecraft arrived at the KSC for testing and integration this week

SLS on Pad 39B at the start of preparations for the Wet Dress Rehearsal tests.  NASA photo. 


Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Boeing Getting Set to Try Starliner Again

It's probably too optimistic to mark your calendars yet, but Boeing is in the final stages of preparation to try their Starliner capsule's uncrewed flight test on May 19th - no time has been given.  

It has been nine months since the end of last July when a routine test of the capsule in preparation for launch found troubles with valves on board.  Eventually, investigators determined that 13 of 24 oxidizer valves within Starliner's propulsion system were stuck.  It took months with the capsule atop its Atlas V launcher at the pad, then back in a hanger for Starliner, then with even more capability needed, to determine the root cause of the valve failures.  The cause was diagnosed as being that dinitrogen tetroxide oxidizer that had been loaded onto the spacecraft 46 days prior to launch had combined with ambient humidity to create nitric acid, which had started the process of corrosion inside the valve's aluminum housing. Who would have expected humidity on an Atlantic beach in July - in Florida, where humidity remains one of our biggest exports? 

It's worth mentioning without dwelling on the story that this was, again, July of 2021, a year and seven months of troubleshooting systems on spacecraft after their nearly disastrous first attempt at an orbital test in December of 2019.  The bigger picture is that they've really been working on Starliner much longer than that

The company has been working on the vehicle since at least 2010, when it was called Crew Space Transportation-100, or CST-100. Starliner made its debut flight in December 2019, but problems cropped up just minutes after liftoff, when the spacecraft captured the wrong "mission elapsed time" from its Atlas V launch vehicle. It also had difficulty communicating with ground stations. Flight controllers at NASA and Boeing were able to restore communications with Starliner and help it reach orbit. However, because of the propellant spent during these activities, Starliner was unable to complete its primary objective, demonstrating a safe docking with the International Space Station.

The whole flight was a disaster in slow motion, with the vehicle almost being lost more than once.  It was practically a miracle they got the capsule safely down.  In particular, there was a catastrophic software bug that would have fired the capsule's thrusters to fire incorrectly.  Luckily, it was found in time to fix the bug before the craft was lost.  

These problems led NASA to declare the first Starliner test flight a "high visibility close call" and set off a years-long investigation and deep dive into Starliner's software problems. Boeing agreed to pay for a second test flight at a cost of $410 million and eventually readied the Orbital Flight Test-2 mission that reached the pad in the summer of 2021. Then, the vehicle had its sticky valve issue. Finally, after all of that, the company has Starliner back on the pad, ready for a do-over of the do-over launch.

NASA, of course, has SpaceX and Crew Dragon to ferry crews to and from the Space Station.  It's prudent, however, to have a backup system should some disaster happen and the fleet need to be grounded.  The intent of the commercial crew program itself was always to have two vehicles.  That desire for a backup is only given more urgency with the Russian threats of abandoning the ISS.   

The flight Starliner capsule being prepared for rollout to the launch pad.  Boeing photo. 

That underlines that there's intense interest in this mission throughout the manned spaceflight offices.  In April of '20, four months after the disastrous Starliner flight, Boeing was removed from further contract award consideration by NASA's acting chief of human spaceflight, Ken Bowersox.  I don't know how long such policies last or if it's in effect now, but I can imagine it being re-instituted or made permanent if they fail at this mission, too. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

NASA Still Doesn't Get How Big A Deal Starship Is

That's an exaggeration.  I'm sure - I know that parts of NASA are seriously looking into Starship - the groups that want to do exploration of the outer planets for one. It's just that this story revolves about a conversation between an engineer from Johnson Spaceflight Center in Texas, the home base of the astronaut corps, and a SpaceX program manager.  The conversation took place last week at the ASCENDxTexas space conference in Houston and is reported by Eric Berger of Ars Technica.  The conversation was between Jeff Michel, an engineer at Johnson Space Center, and Aarti Matthews, Starship Human Landing System program manager for SpaceX.

The story starts simply enough, to quote from the article:

He (Michel) works in the area of in-situ resource utilization, the processing and use of local materials known more colloquially as "living off the land." What role, he asked, should NASA’s technical workforce play in developing these technologies?

In answering the question, Matthews urged Michel and his colleagues and NASA to think bigger about what they could do on the surface of the Moon with a vehicle as capable as Starship. This would be wholly different from any capability NASA has ever had before.

A little over a year ago, NASA announced they had selected SpaceX Starship for the Human Landing System.  I've been reporting on this since before the contract award, and somehow these little mind-blowing facts hadn't imprinted on my memory.  

  1.  NASA's contract was to deliver 865 kg to the moon's surface. 
  2.  Starship can deliver 100 metric tons.  Since 865 kg isn't even 1.0 metric ton, Starship can deliver over 100 times what NASA asked for.  More precisely, 116 times what NASA asked for.   

It's hard to put that concept into easily envisioned things.  As Aarti Matthews said, “And it’s really hard to think about what that means in a tangible way. One hundred tons is four fire trucks. It’s 100 Moon rovers. My favorite way to explain this to my kids is that it's the weight of more than 11 elephants.”  Clearly, nobody wants to put 11 elephants on the moon, nor does anybody think sticking fire trucks or more than a couple of rovers on the moon are a good idea but the number is completely out of proportion to everything NASA has struggled with since the early days.  Back in the Apollo days, there was talk about a cargo-only version of the Lunar Excursion Module.  With the Saturn V lifting it, the most powerful rocket on Earth, that LEM would put about five tons on the moon.  Less than one twentieth of Starship.

Matthews again:

"NASA specified a high-level need, but we, industry, are taking away one of your biggest constraints that you have in designing your payloads and your systems," she said. "It’s significantly higher mass. It’s essentially infinite volume for the purposes of this conversation. And the cost is an order of magnitude lower. I think that our NASA community, our payload community, should really think about this new capability that’s coming online."
"We all need to be thinking bigger and better and really inspirationally about what we can do," Matthews said. "Anyone who has worked on hardware design for space application knows you’re fighting for kilograms, and sometimes you’re fighting for grams, and that takes up so much time and energy. It really limits ultimately what your system can do. That’s gone away entirely."

And it gets even more mind-blowing.  According to estimates on Casey Handmer's blog, an expendable Starship, which lands on the Moon and stays, could bring more than 200 tons to the Moon. Twice as much as the option Ms. Matthews was referring to.  

For some reason, this world-changing aspect to Starship and Super Heavy hasn't really sunk in to lots of minds.  Nobody has seen a spacecraft like this.  It's bigger and more powerful than the Saturn V, yet is not just completely reusable but intended for rapid turnaround re-use, even point to point passenger service on Earth.  Yeah, there's that unfortunate fact that it still hasn't flown and isn't fully developed yet.  The problems continue to be worked on as they show up.  Starship/Super Heavy appears closer to flying successfully than being a dead end that'll never fly.

It's more like the beginning of a new age than business-as-usual, just-another-rocket.

A SpaceX montage from my February '21 post reporting that SpaceX had prototyped the elevator shown on the right. You'll note the Starship on the right isn't painted and has fins - more like the prototypes we were seeing back around then than the painted ship on the left. 


Monday, May 2, 2022

Rocket Lab Succeeds With Helicopter Recovery of Booster

The Rocket Lab guys carried out their mission "There And Back Again" with an abundance of caution, waiting for weather to get as good as it was going to get for their first attempt to recover a booster from an orbital launch.  That caution led to it being delayed from last Wednesday evening (US Eastern Time) until today, May 2nd at 2249 UTC (6:49 ET).  During the launch coverage, the Electron booster was snagged by their Sikorsky S-92 recovery helicopter as captured by a camera on the helicopter.  

This image is a few seconds before the cable (yellow, hanging down from top left) grabbed the parachute, which managed to be out of the frame at the big moment.  As it says in the upper left, this is a replay from earlier in the video stream.  The narrator reported that they successfully caught the booster, but the helicopter's pilot said this didn't feel like any of the practice missions, so the booster was dropped next to a recovery ship to ferry the booster back to land instead of flying it there.   Again, out of an abundance of caution.

As SpaceX has always done, Rocket Lab's streaming host emphasized the real purpose for the mission is delivering customers' satellites to the desired orbits.  Recovering the booster for reuse is secondary to that mission and doesn't mean anything if they don't deliver those satellites.  The argument for recovering boosters is that if they simply use every booster twice, they've doubled the amount of launches they can do with their current factory production levels.  I suspect they'll lower their price, too.  

I think this is a big step for Rocket Lab, so congratulations to everyone involved in making it happen.  Unless I'm having a memory issue, this makes them the only other company launching orbital class rockets that's recovering their boosters.  The Electron is a much smaller launch vehicle than a Falcon 9, at 59 feet tall vs. 230 feet for the F9.  It doesn't have the margin in propellants to use some for landing, with 660 lb to LEO vs. over 50,000 lbs.  To use helicopter recovery vs. slowing with engines and landing on a drone ship is a good solution.  Better than dumping boosters at sea by far.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

It's May Day - Also Called Victims of Communism Day

A quick check of the history of the blog shows that I've really devoted very little space to covering May 1st and the last one I can find is actually from the "Occupy Whatever" protests in 2012.  Things are different this year, since we seem to be well into an attempt at communist takeover of the country.  

For all of my adult life, whenever people feel comfortable talking about such things, there's an alarming tendency for people who have grown up in the freedom and plenty of the 20th century United States to advocate communism.  If any of us would say something like, "but that never works; it has been tried over and over and it has never worked even once," that's when they give the most sorry cliche' answer in all of history and say whatever country we bring up, "just never did it right," "that's not real communism," or something just as lame.  These days, if the question comes up I say, "so what makes you think these people are the smartest and best in all of human history that can make something work that nobody else ever could?"  I've yet to get an answer to that.  They just leave. 

It's hard for me to understand that argument because I grew up Miami in the '60s.  My brother (older than me) had a close friend whose family escaped Cuba just before the communists came to power and began their genocide of the Cuban people.  Since we were all within a few years of each other, I knew this friend as well.  His friend's father was an architect, so while he had to start over in Miami, he didn't have to bring lots of things with him.  As the years went by, I had several friends who were Cuban refugees and had lots of exposures to the stories of how bad it was there. Of course, the news regularly carried stories of refugees putting together anything that might float long enough to make it to the US to escape the tyranny. 

For the life of me, I can't understand why the idea is attractive to anyone but psychopaths and the deliberately blind today.  In a way, it's easier to forgive the first ones, the 1917 Russians and maybe the National Socialists (Nazis); after all, they had no history to look at.  The people who let it happen didn't know that there would be nearly 50 million of their neighbors killed by the government.  But even by the '60s, when Bill Ayers, Bernadine Dorn, and the Weather Underground wanted to force communism in place here, they not only knew it would lead to millions killed, they apparently wanted to do the killing.   An FBI informant told of them openly talking about "eliminating" 25 million hard core Americans who wouldn't go along with their little utopia.  I guess the gulag's not such a bad place as long as you're the one doing the killing.  

Today, with communism blamed for the death of over 100 million people, it's harder to understand how it could be so attractive.  In contrast to the guys who want to start the killings, today's useful idiots seem unaware of any history or the reality of communism - it's all magic unicorn farts and rainbows.  Famines and death camps?  Not so much.  It's as if they don't know the first things about Venezuela, Cuba, or China, and their horrific treatment of people. 

Originally lifted from The Smallest Minority, a decade ago.

There are none so blind as those who will not see.