Sunday, September 19, 2021

About that Justice for J6 Thing

You know, that super scary “Justice for J6” rally in DC that was supposed to be Insurrection 2.0, possibly even worse than January 6th itself?  That's the rally that pretty much everyone with any sense looked at and said, "it's a trap!" like Admiral Ackbar himself? 

It was pretty much two or three uniformed and undercover cops per protestor and turned into a fest for the meme writers.  A good start is on Townhall.com, in a piece by Matt Vespa.   There's a photo of a bunch of guys who have almost identical outfits on that is the subject of most of them and I'll reproduce just one here because I laughed most at this one:

From Twitter account The Right to Bear Memes

Go check 'em out. 

 


Saturday, September 18, 2021

FAA Releases First Report on SpaceX Boca Chica

Yesterday, the Federal Aviation Administration released a draft environmental review of SpaceX's plans for orbital launches from South Texas on Friday, kicking off a 30-day public comment period, Ars Technica's Eric Berger reports.  

The document, formally called a Draft Programmatic Environmental Assessment, evaluates the potential environmental impacts of SpaceX’s Starship program, including launch and reentry. It also reviews debris recovery, the integration tower and other launch-related construction, and local road closures between Brownsville and Boca Chica beach.

For the large majority of these analyses, the FAA document finds "no significant impacts." The impact of noise to surrounding communities, including South Padre Island located several miles away, was believed to be one of the biggest concerns. But an independent assessment found noise levels to be manageable.

There's an almost obligatory reference to possible impact to "species listed under and critical habitat designated under the federal Endangered Species Act," but there may be ways to mitigate the risk.  The FAA also mentioned excessive road closures of Highway 4, which is something SpaceX has tried to involve the state or local governments handling by either building tunnels or roads.  

Berger seemed a little surprised at the report, headlining the story by saying, "... it's not terrible" and it does come across well.  A point worth noting is that the comment period is 30 days.  Those of you who followed the BATF's comment period on the definitions of a receiver or AR pistols will recall those had 90 day comment periods.  I'm not sure if that was because of a distinction between those being Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) reports vs. this being an environmental review.   The process isn't over at 30 days, but waiting 30 is better than waiting 90.

Following the release of this draft assessment, the FAA will hold virtual public hearings on October 6 and 7 before the public comment period ends on October 18, 2021. SpaceX founder Elon Musk asked for support on Twitter shortly after the FAA released the draft document. "Please add your voice to the public comments," Musk said. "Support is greatly appreciated! Humanity’s future on the moon, Mars & beyond depends upon it."

After the public comment period closes, the FAA will finalize its environmental assessment. Following this, the FAA will issue one of three rulings: a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), a Mitigated FONSI, or a Notice of Intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement. A "FONSI" would allow the formal launch licensing process to proceed. If a full Environmental Impact Statement is needed, launches from South Texas would likely be delayed by months, if not years, as more paperwork is completed.

Berger thinks this is a pretty decent sign for SpaceX, implying they'll be able to do some number of launches from Boca Chica.  Launching from a facility that's a couple of klicks (km) from the factory that built the vehicle is probably better for them than building vehicles and shipping them to the Kennedy Space Center by something like the giant barges other rockets have used (pictured here).  

A possibility that has been talked about but that seems iffy is launching and recovering from drone ships in international waters.  SpaceX has bought some offshore oil rigs that were said to be for this purpose. 

Booster 4 being put on the Orbital Launch Pad in August.  SpaceX photo.  



Friday, September 17, 2021

Some Relief for the Automotive Chip Shortage?

Yes, help is coming, but don't hold your breath.

By now, most people have heard of the chip shortages affecting US car and truck production, as well as everything else.  There are reports that some models of cars and pickups are completely out of production while others are in limited production.  This week brings some good news from Electronic Design.  US microprocessor giant Intel has said it's going to allocate some production capability at various facilities to the automotive sectors. 

Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger said he plans to commit some production at one of its largest non-US fabs for the automotive sector as it moves into a growing market that the global chip shortage has ravaged for months.

The Santa Clara, California-based company is reserving an unspecified amount of output at its Ireland fab to roll out chips for auto makers that urgently need them, the CEO said on Monday at the IAA auto conference. Intel would not say when it plans to start churning out automotive-grade chips from the plant–its largest 300-mm fab outside the US. The factory specializes in chips based on its previous generation 14-nm process.

Those two numbers mean very different things: 300 mm is the diameter of the silicon crystal that is sliced into wafers for chip production while 14 nm is the size of the smallest features on the chips.  That's a small geometry size and very advanced process.  The problem is that most of the automotive chips are using relatively much older processes and larger sized processes than 14 nm.  (a 300 mm wafer is 11.8 inches in diameter; 14 nm is 14 billionths of a meter or 551 billionths of an inch).  We've gone into a lot of this before, most recently about a month ago.  While processes like the Intel 14 nm fab are the glamor side of the industry, the vast majority of parts fabricated use larger geometries.  14nm and smaller geometries produce less than 15% of world semiconductor output.

IEEE Spectrum, the closest thing to a general readership publication the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers puts out, runs an article on the chip shortage saying the auto industry is primarily using much larger geometries, like 40nm and larger. 

Chips for the automotive sector are made using processes intended to meet safety criteria that are different from those meant for other industries. But they are still fabricated on the same production lines as the analog ICs, power management chips, display drivers, microcontrollers, and sensors that go in everything else. “The common denominator is the process technology is 40 nanometers and older," says Mario Morales, vice president, enabling technologies and semiconductors at IDC.

40 nm geometries are mature, 15 year old technologies, and larger geometries even older.  The bind here is that when the fabrication facilities for the bigger geometries were being built, they were designed around 200 mm wafers.  Those fabs produce smaller numbers of parts on a wafer and those wafers, like the larger geometry parts are still available, but in smaller quantities.  

Cars rely on chips made using mature—40-nanometer and older—manufacturing processes. Those processes make up most of the existing manufacturing capacity.  From IEEE (IDC was the creator)

It sounds like the industry needs more investment in the older technology fabs, because those 40 nm fabs still produce useful parts and the market for them is expanding.  IEEE reports that by 2022, 10 new fabs for larger geometry parts will be online, and the industry is dumping money into the problem.  

More than 40 companies will increase capacity by more than 750,000 wafers-per-month from the beginning of 2020 to the end of 2022. The long-term trend to the end of 2024 is for a 17 percent increase in capacity for 200-mm facilities. Spending on equipment for these fabs is set to rise to $4.6 billion in 2021 after crossing the $3-billion mark in 2020 for the first time in years, SEMI says. But then spending will drop back to $4 billion in 2022. In comparison, spending to equip 300-mm fabs is expected to hit $78-billion in 2021. 

Bear in mind that these are large, specialized, factories and once the factory is built, the parts don't just start being available immediately.   The time for a wafer to be made into parts ready to ship varies but can go from a couple to several months.  (BTW, John Wilder at Wilder Wealthy and Wise has done a couple of interesting posts on the drawbacks to the wonderful benefits that such specialization brings us.  Worth your time to read.  Part 1 and Part 2.) 

While Intel's commitment to producing automotive-market chips on its Irish 40 nm fab is good and will more easily address processor shortages for cars than the bigger analog parts, the answer is to not forget that those larger geometry parts still have very large demands and some investment in augmenting those plants or keeping them going is worthwhile.  Intel has predicted chips will account for 20% of the bill of materials (BOM) cost of a premium vehicle by 2030, up from 4% in 2019.  That phenomenal growth is expected to continue.  While the industry watchers predict the worst of the shortage situations will begin to be resolved in the third or fourth quarter of 2021, it could take much of 2022 for the resulting chips to work their way through the supply chain to products. 



Thursday, September 16, 2021

Another Night Off

I'm going to have to take another night off.  I had the surgery on my injured finger today and I'm supposed to keep that hand up above heart level, which doesn't go well with sitting here typing.  The doctor seemed proud of her work and showed me a picture of it.  She told me she thought there was a good chance that I'll end up with both a full length finger and full nail. 

Meanwhile, I'll leave you with a favorite quote from one of my favorite role models, physicist Richard P. Feynman.  It goes well today with the "follow the science" crowd arguing for the removal of human rights.

A followup idea to this is another quote of his: "Since then I never pay attention to anything by "experts."  I calculate everything myself."  The idea of ruthlessly questioning everything you think you know is missing today.  We need to get back to that.  If experts weren't questioned and challenged, there would be no progress of human knowledge.  

Question everything.  And calculate it yourself.



Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Inspiration4 is On Orbit

Just got in from watching the launch of SpaceX's Inspiration4 mission.  It was one of those launches where it's well past sunset here, but the sun was still up by the time they got up 50 or 60 miles.  Those conditions give us a wonderful light show here on the ground.  The cone of well-lit exhaust plume extended perhaps 45 degrees behind the second stage and we could see the cold gas thrusters keeping the first stage oriented as it approached its return landing on recovery drone Just Read The Instructions.  

This mission has been referred to as an all-civilian mission but that's not terribly unique; many civilians (that is, not military members) have been to space.  According to Harvard University's Jonathan McDowell, there have previously been 15 all-civilian orbital flights, beginning with the Soyuz TMA-3 mission in 2003. The most recent civilian flight was SpaceX's Crew-2 mission.  (H/T to Ars Technica)

What makes Inspiration4 truly unique is being the first completely private sector mission.  The four crew members are all private sector-people, and the company launching the mission is pure private sector.   Every other orbital human spaceflight before has been flown for or by a government agency.  If there had been one or two private citizens on board, they were strictly passengers along for the ride.  

Oh, by the way, Inspiration4 is headed for the highest orbit of any manned vehicle from America since the Shuttle missions to repair the Hubble Space Telescope.  Inspiration4 is set to orbit at 575km altitude.  The HST is at 540 km or just about 22 miles lower.  It's the highest orbit a Crew Dragon capsule has ever been to; they ordinarily go to the International Space Station at 420 km.  

They will orbit at 575 km or 357 miles for 72 hours.  The purposes are described as to raise $200 million for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital for pediatric cancers and to conduct various other scientific experiments on orbit.  

From SpaceX's current missions page, Inspiration4 is commanded by Jared Isaacman, founder and CEO of Shift4 Payments and an accomplished pilot and adventurer. Joining him are Medical Officer Hayley Arceneaux, a physician assistant at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital® and pediatric cancer survivor; Mission Specialist Chris Sembroski, an Air Force veteran and aerospace data engineer; and Mission Pilot Dr. Sian Proctor, a geoscientist, entrepreneur, and trained pilot.  Jared Isaacman paid for all of crew.

I haven't read exactly what Isaacman paid for this privilege, but estimates for unmanned Falcon 9 flights with reused boosters run in $20 million range and up.  I'm guessing anything "man rated" is significantly more. 

"We know that the four of us are about to have an experience that only about 600 or so have had before us," Isaacman said during a news conference on Tuesday. "We're very focused on making sure that we give back every bit of that time that we get on orbit for the people and the causes that matter most to us."

At a ballpark price of $50 million, this isn't the beginning of orbital tourism for the masses, but it's still an historic launch. 

Inspiration4's Crew Dragon on Pad 39A.  SpaceX photo. 

EDIT: 9/15/21 10:09PM  The typo monster crept in and misspelled a word after it was posted.

 

 

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

About Yesterday

I mentioned on Sunday's post that I had received the tooling to machine the crankshaft.  After I finished putting up that post it seemed like as good a time as any to put the faceplate on the lathe and set up to work again.  

Let me note first that the people who make these accessories never include instruction sheets.  I think their view is that if you're using a lathe you should be professionally trained and you should know how to maintain or upgrade it.  I also wouldn't be surprised if not including instructions might have some aspect of trying to protect themselves from spurious lawsuits.  

Now, I'm fully self-trained and take responsibility for myself, and there really didn't seem like many ways to put it on incorrectly.  It has three bolt holes on the back which match with three through holes on the mounting plate that's standard on the lathe.  I put the first bolt in, went to rotate the two plates to put in the next bolt and quickly found it wouldn't turn.  There was interference between a different bolt on the lathe and the faceplate. 

That bolt (a metric M8?) has two nuts on it, putting that spring under tension.  It sticks maybe 1/8" inch into that cavity in the casting.  The bent, black sheet metal you see on the left and top edges is holding a clear plastic "lathe chuck guard" that is supposed to keep your fingers away from the chuck but really only seems to catch oil the chuck may sling.  A closer look showed that when the guard is down, the faceplate will rub on the plastic and I'm sure eventually (a few minutes) will wear through it.  A note on the faceplate's product page says, “This faceplate will not fit with the plastic chuck guard in place.” 

I'm going to gloss over me looking at the lathe and trying to figure out how to remove that for several hours when the answer is visible right there in that picture. 

All I had to do was unscrew the two nuts on the right end of the interfering bolt and then the cover just slides off the bolt, followed by unscrewing that bolt into the left side of the lathe.  That's when I set things up to hurt myself.  

This is the faceplate, lathe dog, crankcase blank and all.

Overall view.  Look closely on the left slide of the cut away area midway down the bar.  You can see I used a parting (cutoff) tool.  It's a 1/16" (.062) thick blade and because I know that's going to bend sideways under slight side forces, I minimized the amount that tool sticks out of its holder.  Trying to stiffen it. 

I'm not completely sure how it happened, but I think I put my right hand on top of the tool holder (that large hex nut along the bottom of the picture) and let my finger stick out forward a little too far.  The bar was spinning and it whacked my finger.  It took out almost all of the fingernail and nail bed, and we figured it was time to go to an urgent care place.  The doctor there said the end segment of bone in that finger was broken and they don't treat "open fractures."  They told me to go to an ER.  Where I sat for 3-1/2 hours, never talked to or saw a doctor, never really had anyone look at it closely, then had a nurse leave a blood soaked and hardened gauze pad on it, wrap some self-adhesive gauze around the finger, and refer me to a hand surgeon.  We got home around 10PM last night.   

I'll see the hand surgeon in the morning. 



Sunday, September 12, 2021

This Week's Update on the 1 by 1 - part 8

My progress on cutting the crankshaft I talked about last week can best be summed up like this:

 

 

 

 

That's right; nothing.  I didn't go backwards, so there's that to be thankful for, but my shop-made lathe dog wasn't up to the job.  It bent too easily, which was obvious from the start, and when the lathe pushes on the dog, it just folds up and collapses.  I tried reinforcing it with a little printed piece of plastic that would hold the bar and fit snugly in the dog, like this:

That just tore apart when the metal pressed on it. 

I ended last week by saying, "Within a few days, I'll know if it held up to the stresses of making this crankshaft."  Within a few days I knew it wouldn't hold up.

As some cartoon character used to say, "back to the old drawing board."  In this case, ordering something  made by someone who knows what they're doing.  My main reason for going down the road of the shop-made tool was that it was a long weekend and I assumed I'd be unable to get any work done for a week.   

So off to Little Machine Shop (no connection; they're just the place I bought the lathe from, and lots of other stuff) to get a faceplate and a couple of their lathe dogs, just not the complete set.  I ordered them on Thursday; they were promised Monday (tomorrow) and arrived early Saturday.  



Saturday, September 11, 2021

9-11 - the Taliban's National Holiday

For me, 9-11 always rolls in like a fog of memory.  Like the tragedies of  JFK's assassination or space shuttle Challenger exploding on ascent, or the triumph of Apollo 11's landing, I'll always remember where I was and details of the day it happened.  As I've said before

On that bright Tuesday morning, I was out of the office at a small company that we contracted to do some testing on our radios.  As the technician and I were setting up the test, the company's secretary/receptionist came in and said the local radio station had a bulletin that an airplane had hit the World Trade Center.  My first reaction, perhaps strangely, was that radio navigation systems can't be that wrong, it must have been a terrible accident.  Act of war did not enter my mind.  As the morning went on, a TV set was put in place and large antenna hooked up outside (there are no local over the air TV channels).  We watched the second plane hit and quickly realized this was no accident.  That's when the thoughts of Pearl Harbor and other acts of war started.  I've heard it credited to Ian Fleming as his character Auric Goldfinger, but the saying goes, "Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action."  And so it appeared that day. 

In the days that followed, I learned that friends were affected by the events of 9-11, but weren't directly involved.  A co-worker was on business at Boeing, and had to rent a car to drive home.  A very close friend was waiting at JFK airport to fly home, and saw the attacks in real time.  He also had to rent a car and drive home.  A cousin lives within viewing distance of the Twin Towers and watched it. And now I have friends who have sons in the armed forces in Afghanistan, and others who have been in Iraq.  We need to remember we are at war, even if our enemy isn't a convenient nation-state.  You can pretend we're not at war if you'd like, but if someone swears to destroy you, it's prudent to believe them.

I'm a mix of groups of responses.  The first group of feelz is "remember the fallen", "remember the first responders who ran into the buildings", "remember the dead and wounded servicemen, the ones who came back with missing limbs, or injuries that can't be seen" and "remember their families."  The second group of feelz is along the lines expressed best by Aesop at Raconteur Report in his excellent post in 2018: "Every Day is 9/11. That's Exactly the Problem".  While I'm not sure, that may be the column that made me a regular reader over at his place. 

This year is different.  This is the year that we lost.  We weren't defeated, we formally demonstrated defeating ourselves to the whole world.  We lost in what might have been the most incompetent cluster fuck in the history of man.  A team of Brownie Girl Scouts could have planned and executed that withdrawal abandonment of Afghanistan better than the Bidenites did.  As Keith Finch, a former Marine writing for GAT Daily, says:

That’s the strangest thing about this longest war. We weren’t defeated. We won the fights. We’re damn good at fighting. We lost because ‘winning’ never had a defined end state. It wasn’t ‘When we get Bin Laden’ or ‘The Total Annihilation of the current Al-Qaeda structure no matter where they hide.’

This would have been a very different war if we had told certain states to shove it, we are going hunting anyway. It wouldn’t have been diplomatic, but with the righteous rage of the United States at that moment who could have lodged more than token protests?

We lost because we just said, okay we’re done and went home in a way that looked shaky weak and deceptive… we didn’t even have the fortitude to stand up and declare, Afghanistan you are on your own guys because we’re out. Biden boldly promised that he didn’t believe and we had no indication that the Taliban would roll up the country… which was utter bullshit of course. They were our escort out. An ass-backwards neobarbarian culture that we kicked out was back in the seat of power.

It makes it feel like we were never there to many.

While that's a good summary it ignores the aspect of the war that may be the most telling.  The incredible transfer of wealth to the so-called beltway bandits - the contractors that profit off war.  Everyone focuses on the businesses, especially the defense contractors, but it's just as big a crime for the congress critters and the Fed.gov employees who participate with the dirty money, too.  Early on, we could have easily turned Afghanistan and more of the Mideast into plains of Trinitite, but we didn't do that "for the chidrin."  We didn't do it because our civilization respects not punishing innocents for things they didn't do.  That's hard to believe when you look at things from abandoning people like Biden's translator in Afghanistan to the Covid response.  The problem is that nation building doesn't really work.  Does it ever?  I don't really know. 

Just to be clear, it's not that I think we should still be in Afghanistan, I'm closer to those who have said we should have gotten out long ago, only we should have done it competently.  We didn't leave from any position of strength, we left with our tails between our legs looking so weak as to be pitiful to the charitable observers and pathetic to the rest of the world.  I'm sure we're especially pathetic to the heirs of Bin Laden who declared us "a weak horse" easy to roll over.  I expect lots more actual attempts to emulate 9/11 while we're showing weakness.  Less like shirtless guy with buffalo horns and more like, you know, actual acts of terrorism. 



Friday, September 10, 2021

A Little Space News Roundup

As usual, a few things that caught my eye but aren't big enough for a full post.  All SpaceX this time.

Those of you watching SpaceX Boca Chica operations noticed that Booster 4 was indeed put onto the Orbital Launch Pad on Wednesday, after being transported to the launch complex on Tuesday and as I speculated in that post.  I don't see any obvious signs they're getting ready to test B4, but Teslarati puts up a tweet from Elon Musk saying, "Booster static fire on orbital launch mount hopefully next week."  I would guess late in the week.

Imagine these Raptors lighting up:

(Super Heavy B4. The orbital launch mount. Round 2. (@SPadre)) 


Their next launch from the Kennedy Space Center is the first fully all civilian, all commercially-conducted manned orbital mission, from Pad 39A, No Earlier Than (NET) 8PM EDT on September 14.  The mission, called Inspiration4, will launch a crew of four to orbit in a once-flown Crew Dragon capsule atop a twice-flown Falcon 9.

...Inspiration4 will be the first mission in history to send a crew of solely private astronauts into orbit. While only possible thanks to the patronage and resources of billionaire and mission commander Jared Isaacman, the hope is that Inspiration4 will mark the start of a new age of spaceflight – one where virtually anyone can feasibly dream of reaching orbit and experiencing Earth from hundreds of miles above.

Along for the ride with Isaacman will be Ph.D. geologist and science communicator Sian Proctor, engineer Christopher Sembroski (standing in for a friend), and physician’s assistant and childhood cancer survivor Hayley Arceneaux. Isaacman is a long-time private pilot with substantial flight experience but none of the four have any prior experience with spaceflight and will have a few months of training at most when they lift off together later this month. While Isaacman’s success as a businessman and founder is the sole enabler behind Inspiration4, it’s likely that none of the three passengers he chose would have ever had the resources or wherewithal to reach orbit (or even a minute or two of “space” with Virgin Galactic or Blue Origin) on their own.

Netflix announced a mini-series on the mission months ago, and apparently started airing it on the 6th.  I don't have Netflix, but even I've heard about that series. 


After the Inspiration4 mission, SpaceX needs to reconfigure the pad for a the first Falcon Heavy launch since 2019, carrying the classified USSF-44 mission NET October 9th.  The liftoff time is apparently not publicly available yet.  This mission was initially scheduled for a late-2020 target, gradually slipping to Q1, Q2, Q3, and finally Q4 (October) of 2021.  These were all due to delays from the payload, not the rocket.  


This is the vehicle from the last Falcon Heavy mission in June of 2019 being transferred from the horizontal hanger where it's assembled up the ramps to the launch pad.  SpaceX photo.  It's a view few people get to see in real life, looking up along the three Falcon Heavy boosters toward the large payload fairing.  This scene is going to be repeated within another few weeks, depending on the launch of Inspiration4.

Assuming the mission goes off on October 9, or within a few days of that, they'll have to do another turnaround to Pad 39A, for the next mission to the ISS for NASA, called Crew 3.  



Wednesday, September 8, 2021

The James Webb Space Telescope Has Its Launch Date Set

In the world of delayed big NASA projects, it's somewhat of a competition to decide which is the worst.  However you choose, the James Web Space Telescope has to be up for consideration.  Originally conceived of as an improved upgrade for the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), development began in 1996, 25 years ago.  The planned launch date was 2007, 14 year ago.  Since then, its record has looked like this:

In an at least partial defense of the contractors and centers causing those delays, this is a complex project and the program has changed over the years.  If there's any justification for what I call the "old space" practice of cost-plus development, a program like this is it.  Cost-plus is a guaranteed profit paid over the costs of the programs for when they contract to develop something that no one has ever done before.  Since no one has ever designed and built a multiple mirror telescope to be deployed in orbit and sent to a place where no one can get to it to service it, there figure to be things that get discovered along the way and increase the cost to the builders.

The JWST or just Webb is designed to be an infrared observatory, observing in wavelength bands that don't penetrate Earth's atmosphere.  The HST was designed to be a monolithic mirror, and since it had to fit in the Space Shuttle's cargo bay, it's not a particularly large instrument.  The primary mirror aperture is about 94 inches which isn't big for world class observatory - Earthbound observatories have had bigger primaries than that for over a hundred years.  The Webb's primary is a multiple piece mirror that totals 256 inches aperture. 

When comparing two telescopes on Earth, aperture (mirror size in this case) is certainly the first figure of merit to look at and the bigger the better.  The advantage of space telescopes is the ability to see in parts of the spectrum that don't get through the atmosphere, and see it without atmospheric turbulence.  The HST was built able to see part of the infrared and into the visible light spectrum.  Webb is built for infrared only.

The orbit for the Webb is also unusual.  Hubble is in Earth orbit.  Webb will actually be in solar orbit at the L2 LaGrange Point (graphic of the LaGrange points) over 932,000 miles from Earth, almost four times the Earth-Moon distance.  The L2 point is along a radius from the sun, through the Earth and out the other side, making the JWST 932,000 miles farther from the sun than the Earth in solar orbit.

NASA announced in August that the James Webb Space Telescope had passed its final ground-based tests and was being prepared for shipment to its launch site in Kourou, French Guiana. Now, the oft-delayed $10 billion telescope has an official launch date: December 18, 2021.

To get there, the Webb will launch on an Ariane 5 rocket from the European Space Agency.  

Why is NASA's most expensive scientific instrument ever launching on a European rocket? Because the European Space Agency is conducting the launch for NASA in return for a share of observation time using the infrared telescope. Webb will observe wavelengths of light longer than those of the Hubble Space telescope, and this should allow the new instrument to see the earliest galaxies of the Universe.

The Ariane 5 is among the last delays to the JWST launch.  

This summer, as NASA has worked to address the final issues with Webb, the European Space Agency and Arianespace have had problems of their own with the Ariane 5 rocket. A venerable rocket in service for more than 25 years, the Ariane 5 was grounded from August 2020 to July 2021 due to a payload fairing issue. However, officials with Arianespace say the fairing issue has been diagnosed and addressed with a redesign, and the rocket launched successfully on July 30, 2021.

There is one other launch of an Ariane 5 scheduled before December's JWST launch.  If the modified payload fairing works out properly, that could be the final hurdle in the way.  

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope was placed in Johnson Space Center’s historic Chamber A for vacuum testing on June 20, 2017.  NASA Photo.  

The folded telescope is on a sun shield base roughly the length and width of a tennis court - 69.5ft long by 46.5 feet long.  That will need to unfold for the telescope to be shielded from the sun.

Unfurling the 21-meter-long telescope in deep space requires 50 major deployments and 178 major release mechanisms. All of these systems must work or the instrument will fail. There is no easy means of servicing the telescope at its location near a Sun-Earth LaGrange point 1.5 million km from Earth, or four times the distance to the Moon. 

This is a high stakes gamble - of your money, if you're an American taxpayer.  Most of you will remember that the Hubble Telescope had a poorly made primary mirror that had to be fixed with corrective optics before it could focus properly.  That kind of error would end this mission.  That quoted paragraph lists another 228 things that could end the mission.

 

 

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Super Heavy Booster 4 Back to Launch Area at Boca Chica

Over the weekend, the Lab Padre feeds noted that intermittent road closures had been set for today but that the beach would remain open.  Your Secret Decoder Ring will translate that to mean they're likely to be moving something big on the road between the launch complex and the shipyard.  I checked in on them around 10AM their time and found Booster 4 completing its journey from the high bay to the launch area.  Photo by Starship Gazer on Twitter with H/T to Teslarati.

The Tweet was time tagged 9:33 AM, so 10:33 my time.  

Deemed Super Heavy Booster 4 or B4, the 69m (~225 ft) tall rocket first rolled to the launch pad around August 3rd after SpaceX technicians fitted it with 29 Raptor engines in a single night. Followed by orbital-class Starship prototype S20 a few days later, the two stages of a Starship were stacked to their full height on August 6th, briefly creating the largest rocket ever assembled. Ship 20 was then quickly returned to the build site, where SpaceX workers completed an additional ~10 days of finishing touches – mainly focused on avionics wiring and secondary plumbing.

A week later, Booster 4 followed Ship 20 back to Starbase’s ‘high bay,’ where teams ultimately removed all 29 of its Raptor engines and spent the next four or so weeks performing similar final integration work. Now, after installing what looks like hundreds of feet of wiring, dozens of additional gas and fluid lines, compressed gas tanks, hydraulic ‘sleds’ SpaceX’s first flightworthy Super Heavy has once again returned to the launch site

It's pointless to predict when they'll do things, but I strongly suspect that we're going to see some of the tests they need to do before trying to orbit this beast rather than a repeat of last month's ballet of sending both to the test area, photo op stacking, then sending both back to the shipyard.  They'll pressurize it, ensure it works well with cryogenic fluids, and do static fires.  They'll test not just B4, but also Starship S20 which is currently on a test stand not too far away. 

At the moment, B4 is still not on the Orbital Launch Pad but the big crane, Kong, is connected to a harness at the top of B4 and could hoist it any moment.  I think that the first time, August 4th, it was placed on the OLP the next day. 

RGV Aerial Photography, who does regular flyovers of the SpaceX facilities for their YouTube Channel Tweeted this photo of the OLP back on August 20th.  They point out structures they think are part of the water deluge system for the OLP but which Teslarati suggests are actually umbilical connectors for the Raptor Boost engines.  Regardless, they're going to need a water deluge system when they light 29 Raptors on the bottom of B4.  That system will need to be tested as well. 

Final words to Eric Ralph of Teslarati:

That testing will be part of a much more involved test campaign. Namely, if SpaceX intends to test Super Heavy Booster 4 at the orbital launch site, any booster testing will simultaneously require the shakedown of the orbital pad’s extensive, custom-built tank farm and a wide range of other ground infrastructure that simply didn’t exist at the start of 2021. Booster 4 qualification is no less daunting, as no Super Heavy has ever been fully tested. Now in the midst of being scrapped in place at SpaceX’s suborbital test facilities, Super Heavy Booster 3 did complete a partial cryogenic proof test and a static fire with three Raptor engines, but SpaceX has never fully filled a Super Heavy with >3000 tons (~6.6M lb) of propellant and never static fired more than three Raptor engines simultaneously.

Interesting times.



Monday, September 6, 2021

Shop Update on the 1 by 1 - Part 7

It's hard to believe I spent the last 10 days since my update working on a part that looks much simpler than the side plates I just finished.  I've been working on the engine's crankshaft.  The crankshaft is the part of the engine that drives the piston up and down in the combustion chamber usually done by offset sections from the shaft.  This can get really complex in a multi-piston engine, but in a single cylinder engine like this one, they have a long shaft, with one smaller section offset from that which becomes the portion the piston rides on. 

This is the one I'm building.  The big trick is that these are made from a rectangular bar of metal, (1144 alloy stressproof steel in this case) that has to be turned on two different axes, the long section and the short section.  The two long shafts at the top and the small one at the bottom are all 0.375" diameter; the two rectangles joining them will remain rectangles.  The top half of the rectangular bar has a gap in it that's 7/16" across; the bottom half is nothing but gap - it's all cut away except for that inch (1.064") with a round bar in it.  Once that section is turned, the rest is cut off.

The first trick, though, is that 1144 steel is hard to find in rectangular bars and is more often sold as round (cylindrical) bars.  That bar has to be made into a smaller rectangle.  That task took up several hours last week.  The original plans suggested making the bar 1/32 (.0313) oversized on all four sides, but I opted for .025" The final rectangular bar has to be 1.000 by 0.500"; so mine needed to be cut to 1.050 by 0.550 and some experimenting in CAD told me that a 1-1/4" diameter bar would be fine. 

This is the bar after being cut to size.  By the way, I actually threw away more steel in those chips you see everywhere, 7.77 cubic inches, than I ended up with.  The volume of the 1.25" diameter, foot long bar to start with was 14.73 cubic inches.  The volume of the what's left was 6.96 cu. in. 

Once the bar is cut to size, I did the usual trim and de-burr of all the edges, and then put the two center spots in both ends that will hold the piece so it gets turned to the proper sizes and shapes.  This is how that was done - verifying zero on the left and after the work on the right.  It was just about all I could do with my mill to put the center marks on the ends of an 8" long bar. The head was just about at the top of its column.

My first step is going to be turning the offset little 3/8 diameter, 7/16 wide small section of the crankshaft.  How is that done?

The technique is called turning between centers.  Those marks I cut into the ends of the bar are exactly 0.500" inch apart and both of those are the centers the two sections of the crankshaft are turned around.  The lathe has tools called a live or dead center, each one of which will go into one of those cone-shaped holes. I wasted several hours to see if I could get by without a tool I don't have and found I really needed that, too. 

Faced with that, I decided to make my own version.  The tool is called a lathe dog, and it acts to transfer the power from the lathe motor driving the chuck by clamping the work and either having a pin or shaft that is straight and gets pushed on by bolt on the lathe, or it has a bent shaft that the lathe chuck presses on.  If you have no idea what I'm describing, here's a set you can look at.  Or you can see both kinds at tool seller MSC Direct.  I almost ordered that set from Amazon but (1) don't need a whole set, and (2) wasn't sure they'd fit on my lathe.  Besides, it would be next week before I could get them.

I had the idea I could make a decent lathe dog out of a 2" diameter piece of steel or aluminum, about an inch long.  Make a 1.5" diameter hole in the middle.  Cut away everything that doesn't look like a lathe dog.  My immediate problem was that while I had a cutoff piece of 2" aluminum, it wasn't long enough. I eventually found a piece of pipe in my junk stock that was smaller than 2" diameter but big enough to work, so today I made it into the lathe dog.  It's some sort of soft, gummy aluminum alloy, maybe the stuff they make shower curtains out of.   

I've done a little test cut with it and it worked fine.  It changed position a little, and if I had some steel or something that would resist stresses more than this one, I'd make a replacement.  Within a few days, I'll know if it held up to the stresses of making this crankshaft.



Sunday, September 5, 2021

Labor Day 2021

Welcome to Labor day, or as we refer to it this year: August 37th.  While being retired means it's not even a long weekend, we'll be doing something unusual - rather than smoking something, Mrs. Graybeard said she'd prefer some turkey chili, which she makes from turkey thighs. 

Since we're celebrating Labor Day in a time when the Teacher's Unions are coming to the forefront of union abuses of power, I thought it would worthwhile to use a "blast from the past" repost of something I originally posted in 2013.   

The Bloody History of Organized Labor 

I enjoy my extra day off this week as much as anyone, but the history of the American labor movement that led to this day off is a pretty bloody history. Most of us are probably aware of the recent incitements to violence and riot, such as the problems in Wisconsin in 2011, when legislation to attempt to get control of the state budget led to confrontation in the state offices.  Remember this email, sent to several State Senators by a union supporter because lawmakers were going to ask union members to simply contribute to their benefits plan, instead of it being 100% paid for by taxpayers?

Please put your things in order because you will be killed and your families will also be killed due to your actions in the last 8 weeks.

Please explain to them that this is because if we get rid of you and your families, then it will save the rights of 300,000 people, and also be able to close the deficit that you have created. I hope you have a good time in hell. ...

We have also built several bombs that we have placed in various locations around the areas in which we know that you frequent. This includes: your house, your car, the state capitol, and well, I won’t tell you all of them because that’s just no fun…

Please make your peace with God as soon as possible and say goodbye to your loved ones. [W]e will not wait any longer. YOU WILL DIE!!!!
In what world is it acceptable to threaten killing someone and their family, and not expect any negative consequences for it?  Only in the upside down world of labor unions.  Daniel Sayani at the New American puts together a short history of union violence in this country.  The first blood spilled by union activists apparently goes back to the Haymarket Square massacre in 1886, in which:
... striking union workers threw a bomb at Chicago police, killing eight police officers and countless civilians, after being incited to their lethal rampage by socialist Samuel Fielden (not unlike how Marty Lamb was beaten after the crowd of unionists was inflamed to violence by “progressive” Rep. Capuano) [Note: explanation of Rep. Capuano reference in that article on the New American - SiG]

Because of their enormous influence in the Democratic Party, unions have specifically gotten themselves exempted from laws the rest of society must follow.  You probably know about the exemptions from the anti-trust laws, and extortion laws, and that they're trying to exempt themselves from Obamacare.  (just one example for each of those).  And, of course, you know when unions physically assault conservatives like Kenneth Gladney there never seems to be any consequences for the union thugs.

Unions are progressively more desperate because membership in non-government employee unions is down.  Only government workers' unions are growing, where no true negotiation takes place because there are no parties at the table risking anything.  Unions like the SEIU and the AFSCME are the beneficiaries of fat government contracts.  They get more union dues which they siphon off to contribute to getting Evil Party politicians elected who will negotiate new, fat contracts with them.

 
(source)

I didn't mention in last night's post [about the $15 minimum wage ] that the SEIU and other unions are the ones behind the minimum wage protests.  Despite the rhetoric, they're not trying to make anyone's lives better except for their own.  If members get some crumbs that make their life better, that's nice.  For the non-unionized workers, who have to pay them their higher wages, too bad.  As the saying goes, FUJIGM.



Saturday, September 4, 2021

ULA Stops Selling Atlas Launches

A bit low on the story priority list since it's not exactly unexpected, but The Verge reports ULA has stopped selling Atlas V launches.  

The Atlas is a storied launch vehicle with a history that goes back to the dawn of rockets in national defense.  The Atlas SM65 was an early Intercontinental Ballistic Missile; the first launch was on December 17, 1957.  The first American to reach orbit, John Glenn, rode a Mercury Atlas; an Atlas LV-3B topped by his Mercury capsule, Friendship 7 on February 20, 1962.  The first prototype communications satellite, called SCORE - for Signal Communication by Orbiting Relay Equipment - was launched well before Glenn, December 18, 1958.  With 64 years of history, this is barely scratching the surface. 

The emphasis of the Verge article is the current iteration of the vehicle, the Atlas V, first launched in 2002.  Powered by two Russian RD-180 engines as the main booster engines, and sometimes carrying strap-on solid rocket boosters, enough flights are booked to carry the vehicle into the "mid-'20s" although ULA says every RD-180 they'll ever need has been delivered.  Which they'd better have considering there's no other option for that engine.

“We’re done. They’re all sold,” CEO Tory Bruno said of ULA’s Atlas V rockets in an interview. ULA, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, has 29 Atlas V missions left before it retires sometime in the mid-2020s and transitions to its upcoming Vulcan rocket, Bruno said. The remaining Atlas V missions include a mix of undisclosed commercial customers and some for the Space Force, NASA, and Amazon’s budding broadband satellite constellation, Project Kuiper.

The planned replacement for the Atlas V is the Vulcan Centaur, which is dependent on BE-4 engines from Blue Origin.  Those have been a stumbling block.  Blue Origin's last update was that they expect to deliver flight ready engines for Vulcan by the end of the year;  I've also read Tory Bruno has considered legal action against Blue because of the last few years.  

First launched in 2002, the expendable Atlas V launcher was the centerpiece vehicle that helped cement ULA’s near-monopoly on national security satellite missions and some of NASA’s biggest space exploration initiatives, including all of the agency’s robotic missions to Mars. But when the US sanctioned Russia over its annexation of Crimea in 2014, Congress directed the Air Force to end its reliance on Atlas V because of its Russian-made RD-180 engines. Current law requires the Space Force (which manages much of the launch-related duties that used to be under the Air Force) to stop using Atlas V for Pentagon launches by 2022.  [BOLD added: SiG] 

Atlas V has another problem, which I'm sure many of you have thought about: competition from SpaceX's Falcon 9.   

ULA has slashed the price for Atlas V missions from roughly $187 million to around $100 million as competition from SpaceX mounted, but it never closed in on Falcon 9’s launch price of roughly $62 million. Once a dominant force for national security launches, ULA now competes head to head with SpaceX for lucrative Pentagon launch contracts. Last year, Space Force awarded billions to ULA and SpaceX to launch 30 to 35 missions for the Pentagon between 2022 and 2027, with ULA getting 60 percent of the workload and SpaceX getting the rest.

With SpaceX charging 62% of ULA's cost, you might expect that ULA wouldn't win anything, but the Atlas V is more configurable for heavy payloads, while SpaceX has the Falcon Heavy upgrade path.  I find no information on those costs, but I wouldn't dimiss the possibility that Atlas V is a better choice for some payloads and/or mission profiles. 


From the launch of the Perseverance Mars Rover July 30, 2020, on an Atlas V in the 541 configuration (5 meter payload fairing, 4 solid rocket boosters, 1 RL-10 engine on the Centaur upper stage).  The first stage's two RD-180 engines are visible in the middle between the four solid rocket motors as the rocket propels NASA’s Perseverance Mars mission into space from SLC-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.  Richard Angle photo. 

 

 

Friday, September 3, 2021

Firefly's First Launch Gets "Flight Terminated"

As covered on Monday, Firefly had Everyday Astronaut handling the live stream of the first launch of their Alpha rocket at 6:00 PM CDT last night, 9:00 PM here.  I opened his channel right around then, expecting they'd be delayed and came upon them aborting the countdown with around 20 seconds in the count.  Within about 15 minutes, they announced they'd try again close to 7:00 PM PDT, so I came back about 5 minutes before that.    

Briefly, the count and launch proceeded nominally, but the vehicle seemed to be behind on milestones on an animated time bar along the bottom of the screen.  Max Q was late, going supersonic was late, and both of those said the rocket wasn't performing properly.  It wasn't visible on Everyday Astronaut's stream, but in a video released by NASASpaceflight.com early this morning, it was visually obvious that something went very wrong and then the vehicle is destroyed by command from Space Force.  

This video should start right around 2min 24seconds.  A long telephoto lens is tracking the vehicle nicely and the vehicle seems to start losing control, moving other than in a well-controlled, straight trajectory.  At 2:29 the vehicle veers toward the right and something explodes in the engine compartment; you can see debris falling away.  Not 10 seconds later the vehicle explodes.  In a video from another observer on site watching the launch, before the Flight Termination, you can see the payload fairing come apart and start dropping things, too.

Make no mistake about it; the first flight of a new rocket is a risky proposition and losing it like they did isn't surprising at all.  In the rapid development world that the New Space companies are emulating, it's easy to say that Firefly got nearly three minutes of flight data to analyze in order to try to understand how to make their system better.  As Eric Berger, the space correspondent for Ars Technica, put it on Twitter

Scott Manley has a good analysis.  He thinks it lost one of its four engines about 15 seconds after liftoff.  If so, they'll have telemetry on that.  

Space is hard.  Orbit is harder still.  



Thursday, September 2, 2021

Headline of the Day

World’s Largest Aircraft Mocked for Looking Like Giant Butt”  From a site called Futurism, and strictly because the headline caught my eye on Rantingly.  

Behold, the world’s largest aircraft: a gigantic airship called the Airlander 10 that, when viewed from a certain angle, looks a whole lot like a ginormous — and possibly, uh, plugged — butt.

The Airlander 10, for all of its glory, has a bit of a troubled past. It was originally designed in 2010 by the US military as a way to provide surveillance in Afghanistan for up to two weeks at a time, but the project was scrapped just two years later.

The story picks up from there, but I know you're waiting to see the picture, so here's the photo they link to on Instagram. 


Tough act to follow, but I'll note it only really looks like a butt from that angle. 

Although the original US DOD contract was cancelled, British developer Hybrid Air Vehicles kept the designs in case the desire for such an airship came back.  Lighter than air vehicles, airships, get talked about fairly frequently as some sort of wonderful green alternative to conventional aviation: remember this 2019 story about using gigantic airships in place of cargo container ships?  It seems they were smart to keep it as an option as a customer wants at least one.

A company called OceanSky Cruises is launching a new luxury air cruise to and from the North Pole in order to recreate a historic expedition Norwegian explorers undertook in 1926, CNN reported earlier this month. At the time, CNN noted that a newer, commercial version of the Airlander 10 was a top candidate for OceanSky’s vehicle of choice — and OceanSky has since confirmed that it will in fact be using the gigantic floating butt.

The combination of characteristics airships fly with; compared to a conventional aircraft they go slowly and they can go quite low, actually does seem like a smart fit for the kind of cruises that OceanSky wants to do.  I have no idea how many people are likely to sign up for such a trip, but that's their business - literally.  They're betting the money to develop the trips and buy the airship isn't wasted. 

The journey will make use of the Airlander 10’s ability to fly extremely slowly and close to the ground in order to give tourists amazing views of local wildlife and scenery — illustrating the tradeoff of low speed but high versatility that comes from flying in an airship rather than a plane.

“We can go down to 300 feet, even 100 feet if needed, as slow as a bike,” pilot Carl-Oscar Lawaczeck told CNN, “in order to offer our passengers a glimpse of those polar habitats to our passengers,”

It's not the most flattering image out there, but if you want to know what Airlander 10 looks like other than from the butt angle, this is an image of it after an early test flight that concluded less than optimally.


Photo credit on the top right of the frame, South Beds News Agency.  From the Futurism website.



Wednesday, September 1, 2021

This Fear of Carbon Stuff is Getting Insane

The effort of scientists nowadays seems to be to tie everything to climate change.  After all, it's the surest way to get funded and get your paper published.  At least it seems that way.  Consequently, we get a constant flow of stories about Things To Be Afraid Of or Worried About.  I think they just hit the absurdity limit; the most absurd stuff ever to be talked about, although I'm aware that "most absurd" is a pretty high bar to get over.  

The CBC, yes the Canadian Broadcasting Company, published an article that earthworms in the Canadian boreal forest are releasing too much carbon and they blame that on the fact that the worms are invasive species.   

Here's the gotcha.  They're invasive in the sense that the species they replaced went extinct in the last ice age, when the Canadian boreal forest was under a thousand feet of ice.  Take that metaphorically - I really don't know how deep the ice was.  Somehow, Canada survived with earthworms until the Europeans arrived around 300 years ago (or much longer, depending on whom you talk to).  When those Evil Europeans arrived, they carried eggs of the common earthworm, Lumbricus terrestris.  The worms quickly took advantage of an ecological niche with no competition and became (I almost hate to say it) the common earthworm. 


The common earthworm, photo credit Cristina Sevilleja Gonzalez on CBC.

Today there are more than 30 species of non-native earthworms in Canada, according to Michael McTavish, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Toronto specializing in the ecology of non-native earthworms. 

If you're familiar with earthworms, I'm no earthworm specialist but I'm sort of familiar, you'll know that they burrow into fallen leaves and other organic matter on the forest floor (or in your yard).  In doing that, they feed on the leaves or whatever, digesting it as it passes through them, and poop fertilizer behind them.  They aerate the soil, change the chemistry of the soil, adding organic matter that other plants can better use for growth.  They just kind of affect everything. 

So what's the problem? 

They don't like letting nature take its course.  

"When earthworms move in, you have a fundamentally different soil environment," said McTavish. 

"So you can get changes in pH, in the texture and density, and nutrient enrichment.  The problem is that the species that we have present in our forests are not used to those kinds of conditions."

According to McTavish, the soil environment becomes inhospitable to native plants, allowing non-native plants to thrive.

...

Now, to the great concern of climate scientists, invasive earthworms are expanding their range northwards, in boreal forests that have lacked native earthworms since the last ice age.


The extent of the Canadian Boreal Forest they're talking about.  Coast to coast, from the Atlantic to the Arctic ocean and the Pacific.  It's not just a small patch.  Credit Natural Resources Defense Council.

The dead and decaying stuff on the forest floor contains a vast amount of carbon.  What they're afraid of is that carbon might not stay on the forest floor.  It might get turned into (gasp!) carbon dioxide and end up in the atmosphere.  They don't mention how that might happen whether by digestion in other organisms, if they expect it to burn, or just how.  Carbon doesn't just transmogrify into CO2 on its own.

I've got to say, I've never seen earthworms mentioned as being bad in any context so this was a new one on me.  I find it hard to imagine a campaign to kill all the earthworms, but if the worms are truly a problem, isn't that an obvious solution?  Since the last native earthworm species went extinct 10,000 years ago and the "invasive" earthworms came over 300 years ago, it's hard to argue the forest falls apart and dies without any worms.  

Frankly, it comes across as almost a desperate cry by the researchers of, "pay attention to us, too!  We're important!"  Then they go on to pretty much say the forest isn't the way that they think it ought to be so we're all gonna die!  I find it hard to take. 
 

 

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

NASA's Space Launch System Slipping Into '22

While not something tied to an explicit announcement, Ars Technica's Eric Berger reports that the first SLS mission has slipped into 2022.  A source told Ars the best-case scenario for launching the Artemis 1 mission is spring of '22, with summer being the more realistic target for a test flight of the heavy lift rocket and Orion spacecraft.  If I may quote myself, “If NASA and Boeing are lucky and there are no more failures that eat months at a time, Artemis-1 might fly by the fall of 2022.”  My reasoning was simple.  The schedule to launch before the end of this year was never changed after their time at Stennis delayed completion of their Green Run test by nine months.  I just added nine months to the announced "before the end of '21" date. 

Publicly, NASA is still saying before the end of '21.  They're also acknowledging the schedule is slipping and the Covid problems are a factor. 

NASA's Kathryn Hambleton acknowledged that the space agency has seen schedule slips. "The agency continues to monitor the rise of COVID cases in the Kennedy area, which, combined with other factors such as weather and first time operations, is impacting our schedule of operations," she said. "Moving step by step, we are progressing toward launch while keeping our team as safe as possible."

There are still many hoops to jump through between where they are now and being able to launch.  For example, earlier this summer, when the vehicle was stacked on the cape, instead of adding the Orion spacecraft, a mass simulator was added.  The mass simulator is for vibration testing of the assembled rocket to ensure they understand the difference between the natural vibrations of the full stack versus those caused by external forces.  Berger adds:

NASA originally hoped to complete this work in July, but Hambleton confirmed to Ars that this vibration, or "modal" testing, is ongoing in the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center.

"Complete in July" has turned into September - if they can even meet that.  Eric Berger goes into details on several of the tests that need to be completed before launch, so by all means read over there if you're interested.  He also goes into a refresher on the history of the program.

My view is that the program was created as a giveaway to companies that lost their income streams when the Shuttle program was canceled, and since its start I'm not aware of a single milestone they've met and a single budget they haven't overspent.   What NASA needs to get SLS launched before next September is for schedule items to be moving left on the schedules - earlier in time.  Not only have things like this vibration testing slipped right, I don't think in the entire history of the SLS program that anything has moved left on the schedules. 

The launch vehicle stage adapter for NASA’s Space Launch System rocket is integrated with the core stage in June.  NASA Photo from Ars Technica

One of the early proponents of SLS was (of course) Florida Senator Bill Nelson - who is now NASA administrator.  The legislation starting the program was passed in 2010 and SLS was supposed to have flown by 2016.  Nelson said, 

"This rocket is coming in at the cost of what not only what we estimated in the NASA Authorization act, but less,” Nelson said at the time. “The cost of the rocket over a five- to six-year period in the NASA authorization bill was to be no more than $11.5 billion.” Later, he went further, saying, "If we can't do a rocket for $11.5 billion, we ought to close up shop."

Over a decade later, that $11.5 billion has ballooned to over $20 billion and 2016 has transformed to very likely '22.  They can't do a rocket for $11.5 billion and the shop is still open.



Monday, August 30, 2021

Monday Space News Roundup

Firefly Aerospace is another one of the private companies trying to get into the launch services market like Astra we talked about yesterday.  They've showed up in the blog a few times before.  In January, there was news they were planning to launch their Alpha rocket “this summer.”  Summer is waning, but it looks like they're going to make that date.  They're planning to launch on Thursday, September 2nd.  The rocket has been at Vandenberg Air Force Base for a while, and was static fired earlier in August (video of the 15 second static firing).  

Firefly Alpha, first stage, prior to shipment to Vandenberg.  Firefly Aerospace photo

The launch is scheduled for 6:00 PM, Pacific Daylight Time, with the launch window extending to 10:00PM.  It will be streamed by Everyday Astronaut; expect the stream to start at 5PM PDT but it sounds like loose scheduling. 


Over at Starbase, SpaceX's operation at Boca Chica, the first of the three arms that the Orbital Launch Integration Tower (OLIT) will get was added Saturday. This is called the quick disconnect or QD arm and its purpose is to provide connections to ground support equipment (GSE) including electrical monitoring signals back to launch control as well as to supply propellants to the Super Heavy booster on the pad.  

Screen capture of the QD arm on the right side of the OLIT.  This is not one of the arms that will capture the Super Heavy when it returns to the pad.  Those will be higher up the OLIT.  Those two arms, which have been in construction for weeks, will transform the OLIT into Mechazilla, (Elon's term).  They are to grab a hovering Super Heavy booster well enough to hold it, but gently enough not to crush it.  

During the two hour and 20 minute walk around of Starbase with Elon Musk that Everyday Astronaut conducted, Elon said something that stuck in my mind like a sand spur in a wool sock.  He said when the Super Heavy returns to the launch tower to be caught in the air, its density (pounds per cubic inch) is close to that of an empty beer can.  A very, very tall beer can. 


Elsewhere at Boca Chica, they began the work of putting all 29 Raptor engines onto booster 4 while it's in the high bay.  For the second time.  

Back on August 1st, SpaceX mounted all 29 Raptors in the course of a day, less than an hour per engine.  This was part of the move to stack the booster and Starship for the first time ever a few days later.  

Since Booster 4’s later August 11th build site return, SpaceX teams have been hard at work fitting the massive 69m (225 ft) tall rocket booster with thousands of feet (if not miles) of secondary plumbing and power and avionics cables. That process effectively began with removing the Super Heavy’s 29 Raptor engines, which finished just a few days after its return to the high bay.

Now, just 12 days after Super Heavy Booster 4 arrived back at the high bay and 11 days after workers briskly removed its Raptors, SpaceX has begun the process of reinstalling those engines – albeit with several new entrants this time around. When SpaceX first fitted B4 with Raptors, it became clear that five or more of had never been tested, making the removal of some of the Super Heavy’s 29 engines more or less inevitable. Indeed, as expected, several new Raptors (engines that weren’t clearly installed the first time around) have joined around two dozen engines that were installed earlier this month.

It can be hard to keep up with the pace of work at Starbase.  From what we know now, B4 was nowhere near ready for static testing and certainly not launch, nor was any of the infrastructure ready.  They're still completing assembly of B4.

Except for four pairs of black composite overwrapped pressure vessels (COPVs), virtually none of the complex plumbing or wiring visible here was present when B4 was in the launch complex.  (NASASpaceflight – bocachicagal)

Currently, Cameron County's road closure web site is saying "intermittent closures" between 8AM and noon CDT, tomorrow and Wednesday.  Seems like something or some things might be going between the shipyard and the launch complex.