Saturday, June 12, 2021

A Short Story But A Neat Story

I ran into a short story on Teslarati yesterday, my first stop for SpaceX news.  It's one that isn't important and isn't long, but I thought it was rather cool.   

Regular readers know that SpaceX has a couple of recovery drones that Falcon 9 first stages land on.  These are known as OCISLY and JRTI; more formally as Of Course I Still Love You and Just Read The Instructions. The story broke earlier in the week that after a busy week, with two launches three days apart, OCISLY returned to port first, booster B1067 was removed and work started to prepare her to traverse the Panama Canal and go to Long Beach, California in preparation for some polar orbit launches from Vandenberg Space Force Base. 

The story yesterday said OCISLY was enroute to the Bahamas where the drone barge will be loaded onto a transport ship called Mighty Servant 1 to be carried through the canal and north to Long Beach.  

Mighty Servant 1 (MS1) carrying (I believe they said) an offshore oil platform. 

Formerly stationed in California, drone ship Just Read The Instructions (JRTI) was transported from Port of Los Angeles to Port Canaveral, inspected, and substantially upgraded between August 2019 and May 2020. SpaceX relocated the vessel to give its East Coast fleet a redundant pair of drone ships and enable a launch cadence boost otherwise unachievable. That decision proved smart and SpaceX has made excellent use of both drone ships, completing an incredible 36 orbital Falcon 9 launches, 36 landing attempts, and 35 successful booster recoveries in the 12 months since JRTI entered service alongside OCISLY on the East Coast.

Now, though, SpaceX once again needs a drone ship on the West Coast to support a significant number of polar Starlink launches and missions for US government customers after completing just two launches out of Vandenberg Air/Space Force Base (VAFB) in the last 24 months. Targeting an average cadence of one VAFB launch per month, the first phase of SpaceX’s Starlink constellation – ~4400 satellites – will require approximately two dozen dedicated Falcon 9 launches to fill out three ‘shells’ of polar-orbiting spacecraft.

MS1 is a partially submersible heavy-lift ship.  It will submerge part of the deck, one or the other (or both) MS1 and OCISLY will position the drone barge and MS1 will then float to the carrying position.  

More details in this Twitter thread from Teslarati author Eric Ralph.

Why?  Final words to Eric Ralph.

Why isn’t entirely clear but using a transporter like Mighty Servant 1 – while expensive – could expedite the journey by ~30%, make squeezing a ~53-meter-wide barge through a 55-meter-wide canal less anxiety-provoking, and ultimately allow SpaceX to stick to a schedule that would see it kick off West Coast Starlink launches this July.



Friday, June 11, 2021

Set Your Alarm for July

Twenty years ago, when I paradoxically used far more of my free time for bike riding than I do now that I'm retired, I ran into a story.  We're talking late 90s and I don't remember if I read it, heard it, or witnessed it, but the story is about two couples in their mid-40s (as I was at the time) riding their bikes together.  The women tended to drift back compared to their husbands and chat, while the guys tended to look at every little hill as a challenge to beat each other to win the climb.  At one point, one of the wives said, "why don't they just whip it out and measure it once to settle things?"  

What does that have to do with anything?  It's the story of Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin in a race with Richard Branson of Virgin Galactic.  Thanks to a story at Ars Technica's weekly Rocket Report, I ran into the story that made me think of that.  

Back on May 21st, I posted the article about Blue Origin auctioning off seats on the first suborbital flight of their New Shepard manned rocket.  It wasn't until this past Monday, June 7th, that Jeff Bezos announced that he  would be riding in one of the seats and letting his brother Mark ride in another.  The flight will launch from Blue Origin's spaceport in West Texas on July 20, which is the anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing in 1969.  

With that fact widely known, we find out that Richard Branson is doing his best to fly on Virgin Galactic's suborbital VSS Unity SpaceShipTwo over the July 4th weekend.  I'm sure it's just a coincidence it will 16 days before Blue origin's flight.  To borrow a quote from Eric Berger, the Ars Technica writer who produces the Rocket Report:

Later, given a chance to do so, Virgin Galactic did not refute this report of an accelerated timeline for Sir Richard. The report said only that the company was still studying its next potential launch date.

Checking the current high bid for the New Shepard seat (or seats) being auctioned, I find it to be $4.8 Million.  Up from $2.8 million in my post (May 21) and up from $3.5 million as recently as this week (I looked within the last couple of days).  

The full story on Virgin Galactic's attempt is at the Parabolic Arc story, quoting an anonymous source and giving backup information. 

The source said Virgin Galactic formulated the plan as a response to Blue Origin’s May 5 announcement of the July 20 flight. Virgin Galactic’s planning started prior to Blue Origin announcement on Monday that Jeff and Mark Bezos would join the auction winner on the flight.

Blue Origin’s May 5 announcement kicked off a five-week auction for an open seat on the flight that is set to conclude with live bidding on Saturday, June 12. The current high bid is $2.8 $3.5 million. [EDIT To Add: $4.8 Million, as above - SiG]

Before it can fly Branson, Virgin Galactic must obtain a commercial reusable spacecraft operator’s license from the FAA. The license would allow Virgin Galactic to fly its billionaire founder as the company’s first spaceflight participant. Under its current launch license, Virgin Galactic is limited to flying employees as test subjects on a non-commercial basis.

Virgin Galactic, which bills itself as the world’s first “spaceline,” has submitted the final two verification reports required for the operator’s license. The company expects the FAA to issue the license prior to the flight in early July, the source said.

If Branson flies before Bezos there will probably be a debate about whether or not he actually made it into space.  The FAA, NASA and the Air Force consider 50 miles (80.4 km) as the boundary of space. The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale – the keeper of aviation and space records – considers the boundary of space to be located at 100 km (62.1 miles), which is known as the Kármán line.  VSS Unity has made three flights above 50 km, but it reportedly cannot reach the Karman line. New Shepard has exceeded 100 km (62.1 miles) on 12 of its 15 flights; the three other flights exceeded 50 miles (80.4 km).  

A final, interesting quote from the story, though, kind of stands out. 

Virgin Galactic has rearranged its flight test program in order to fly Branson next month. The company had planned to first fly four people to test the experience for future passengers. Branson would have taken the next flight to provide his own evaluation. The final test would include three Italian Air Force officers who would train for a future spaceflight and conduct experiments.

Sir Richard Branson in his SpaceShipTwo flight suit - Virgin Galactic photo.

To me, rearranging their schedule like that makes it appear that the story is true.  One billionaire CEO is trying to show up the other billionaire CEO.  If Blue Origin were to suddenly move their flight up ahead of the July 4th weekend to get Bezos into space before Branson, that would add to the story.  I should add that it doesn't seem to be a sure thing that Virgin Galactic could make the flight.  It would be a record fast turnaround for them to fly the mission by July 4th.  That's a 44 day turnaround from their last flight.  They've only done one turnaround for a re-test of SpaceShipTwo and that was 72 days.  Maybe that's a meaningless comparison.  I don't know. 



Thursday, June 10, 2021

There's No Inflation

We know the inflation talk is just from the anti-Biden insurgents.  This data from Heather Long on Twitter means nothing.  

On a more serious note, I have two issues with this.  First is that there's no source quoted.  No references.  Is it 100% Pulled From the Air?  On the other hand, it is Twitter.  They don't allow a lot of characters in a tweet.  Maybe there wasn't room for references.  The second thing is that by May, 2020 was pretty economically dead.  A comparison to 2019 might be more meaningful.   Or is that too nit-picky? 

Offered simply as is.  

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Relativity Space Plans to Take on SpaceX

Interesting stuff for a company that hasn't made their first launch yet, but Relativity Space announced they've raised another $650 million in capital, with the intent to begin development of their Terran R (for reusable), a rocket in the payload size class to compete with Falcon 9.  

The last post I did about Relativity was back in April, saying that their 3D Printed rockets are looking like the real deal.  At that time they had talked about the Terran R but were involved in working out the details of their Terran 1 rocket.  This is the concept rendering of the Terran R.  Seems more reminiscent of the Starship system than the Falcon 9 to my eyes.

The new funding will accelerate development of the "Terran-R" launch vehicle, Relativity Chief Executive Tim Ellis said in an interview. This large orbital rocket will be about the same size as SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket. However, Ellis said, the entire vehicle will be reusable—the first and second stages, as well as the payload fairing. And it will have the capacity to lift 20 tons to low Earth orbit in reusable mode, about 20 percent more than a Falcon 9 booster that lands on a drone ship.

With the Terran-R vehicle, therefore, Ellis said Relativity Space aspires to not just match the remarkably capable Falcon 9 rocket but to exceed its performance.

"We're trying to ice skate to where the puck is going," Ellis said, adding that Relativity wants to be similarly disruptive to SpaceX, but in its own way. "What we keep hearing from customers is that they don't want just a single launch company that is, frankly, the only quickly moving, disruptive provider."

It seems like another example of "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" when you add in that CEO Tim Ellis and his co-founder Jordan Noone are fans of SpaceX and Elon Musk.  They founded the company five years ago, around the time SpaceX started regularly landing boosters for reuse.  They were drawn to the technology and Musk's stated desire to create settlements on Mars as a step to making mankind a multiplanetary species.  

"I was inspired by SpaceX landing rockets and docking with the space station," Ellis said. "Yet despite all of that success, we realized that there were two core issues." Those issues were a lack of planning for how to live on Mars and a space industry still using labor-intensive practices.

"In every SpaceX animation, we saw a fade into black right when people walked out of the rocket on Mars," Ellis said. "So what was clear [is] that there needed to be some other company building humanity's industrial base on Mars. Replicating the infrastructure for a million people that live on Mars is a massive undertaking, and I think a lot of people need to work on it."

Ellis says it wrong to compare the Terran R to the Falcon 9; it's more like a smaller version of Starship and the Super Heavy booster.  Terran R will have nowhere near the lift capacity of Starship.

The Terran R vehicle will have a first stage that lands on a drone ship at sea, and the second stage will retain its payload fairing after satellite separation. Then, this combined stack, the second stage and payload fairing, will make a propulsive landing from orbit.

"To my knowledge, we're only the second fully reusable vehicle other than Starship that's even been planned," Ellis said.

All the aspirations aside, Relativity still hasn't made orbit.  While they report good progress on the smallsat class Terran 1, 1.25 metric tons to low Earth orbit, they haven't announced a launch date more precisely than "before the end of this year."  The company reports they have already printed 85 percent of the first Terran 1 flight rocket, including the first and second stages.  Relativity says they will ship the second stage to NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi "toward the end of summer" for hot fire tests. The company's launch site from the Kennedy Space Center is due to be activated early this fall.

I'll be watching their progress.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

SpaceX Starship Testing Ramps Up

As I sit down to type, the Super Heavy Booster 2 test tank, (BN2.1) that will get the hydraulic ram test we talked about a week ago, is being cryo tested on the test pad at Boca Chica.  It started around 3PM CDT, from what I can tell.

This was news to me this afternoon; the tank has been there for a few days, now, but there were no announced days for any sort of testing.  

Until I found that they were testing BN2.1, the big story of the day had to be that SpaceX has completed a dual-bay Starship engine test stand at their McGregor, Texas test facility, and inaugurated the new stand with a Raptor static fire by doing a 15 second Raptor static fire on June 4th.  (Note: there isn't a picture of the static fire on that Twitter link.)

That means that SpaceX’s McGregor, Texas test and development center now has more capacity to test individual Starship engines than the Merlin 1D and Merlin Vacuum engines that power the company’s workhorse Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets – and less than two and a half years after full-scale Raptor testing first began. SpaceX needs that capacity more than ever before as it shifts its focus from medium-altitude, three-engine Starship production and launches to true orbital test flights with six-engine ships and 29-engine Super Heavy boosters.

Every one of those 35 engines – all of which are expected to be expended after a single orbital test flight – will first need to be qualified for flight via static fire tests in McGregor. As of last month, SpaceX had four separate Raptor test facilities – two horizontal bays, one vertical stand, and a separate bay used for some kind of subcomponent testing. That left Starship in a similar boat as Falcon, which has relied on three vertical Merlin test bays for more than a decade.

They broke ground on the additional test stands at the end of January.  It doesn't say that they're completely done with the test stand, but the fact they tested an engine indicates that they must be close.  That means they went from dirt to a virtually complete test stand in about 18 weeks.  The new stand expanded their test capacity by 2/3.

Gary Blair's photo captures a Raptor on the new test stand at left, presumably for a test fitting.  If flight certifying 35 Raptors might have previously taken 5-8 weeks, McGregor can now feasibly complete the same work in 5 weeks - one Raptor test firing per day - and probably continue some level of experimental, product development testing at the same time.

In that article from last week, I relayed the Elon says they're producing a Raptor engine every 48 hours, and I calculated that to build a Starship and Super Heavy booster would require about two months production.  SpaceX must have a backlog of engines that need to be tested.  Has anyone produced engines of this complexity, essentially the power of the RS-25 Space Shuttle Main Engines, at this rate and tested three dozen in 5 weeks?  That's a bit rhetorical.  You don't need to bother answering. 

Monday, June 7, 2021

A Rocket Story Getting Little Coverage

Last week, during a budget conference call, the Air Force let on that they're very interested in using rockets to deliver cargo around the world.  The linked article on Ars Technica says they're looking to fund $47.9 million.  Still a tiny fraction of their $200 billion budget, but real money to anyone who doesn't come from DC.

Military officials said they were elevating the cargo initiative to become the newest "Vanguard Program," indicating a desire to move the concept from an experimental state into an operational capability.

"This idea has been around since the dawn of spaceflight," said Dr. Greg Spanjers, an Air Force scientist and the Rocket Cargo Program Manager. "It's always been an intriguing idea. We've looked at it about every 10 years, but it's never really made sense. The reason we're doing it now is because it looks like technology may have caught up with a good idea."

It's worth assessing this sort of advance in cargo shipments in an era when there are several startup companies working to provide the next generation of supersonic passenger travel.  Companies like Boom, a company that just signed a contract with United Airlines to deliver 15 supersonic passenger jets by the end of the decade, Spike Aerospace, and Exosonic.  I would assume that cargo versions of these supersonic lawn darts are likely to be developed as well.  The difference is that the Air Force isn't talking about supersonic, they're talking about hypersonic. 

How fast are we talking?  As Dr. Spanjers said, "a rocket can get around the world in 90 minutes, and an airplane cannot."  Yes, that implies a delivery halfway around the world in 45 minutes.  About 95 percent of military supplies are delivered by commercial rail, airplane, and boat services, so this would be an extension of that logistics service.  It has long been a dream for the DOD to provide very rapid, point-to-point cargo delivery.  The best supersonic proposals shave hours off a 12 hour flight, but they don't cut it to 30 to 45 minutes.

Officials took pains during the call to not single out any one company as a potential provider of services. However, the grandiose aims of the rocket cargo program, seeking to move as much as 100 tons at a time, would seem to limit the number of potential suppliers. It points most directly to SpaceX and its under-development Starship capability. SpaceX has said it is capable of launching 100 tons to orbit and then vertically landing back on Earth.

"When a rocket can only launch, you know, a few 100 kilograms or maybe even 1,000 kilograms, it's interesting but not game changing," Spanjers said. "It's the fact that we're looking at commercial rockets out there that are in the 30 to 100 ton class."

He added that the military is interested in commercial rockets—that is, those built by industry, largely through private investment—that incorporate reuse to keep costs down. This would seem to limit the vendors in the near term to SpaceX and potentially Blue Origin, with its reusable New Glenn vehicle.

I have a hard time visualizing how they'd do it because I haven't paid much attention to how cargo gets into and out of one, but if Starship can deliver 100 tons across the planet, I understand an M1 Abrams tank weighs under 70 tons.  Starship could deliver that with some spare parts.    

I get the feeling from reading the interview with Dr. Spaniers that he was equal parts doing his best to not say, "we haven't said it's going to be SpaceX" and to recognize that other defense contractors might see how to do it, too.  While neither the Starship Superheavy combination nor the New Glenn have flown, Starship is clearly farther ahead in development, and both are ahead of anything else any other contractor has announced.  The budget document (pdf warning) says the Air Force doesn't intend to invest directly into the vehicle's development.  However, it proposes to fund science and technology needed to interface with the Starship vehicle so that the Air Force might leverage its capabilities. 

As they say, it's not a really new idea.  One comment at Ars Technica linked to this '60s concept art.

Perhaps another image from our youth will getting transformed into reality.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

D-Day And the Gettysburg Address

I'm finding myself late to commemorating D-Day, seventy-seven years ago today.  Another little voice paying tribute to those boys and men who went ashore that day isn't even a whisper in the wind, but it's all I have.  I learned today from Larry over at Virtual Mirage that "Very few in those first few waves that hit Omaha Beach lived the next two weeks. Well under 10% survived the war."  

I have no family connection to D-Day and not much to WWII.  My father was disabled in a training accident, and while he was scheduled to have gone to Europe as a tank officer, was in a body cast for months before being discharged for medical reasons.  I've known people who went to Normandy for various reasons over the last 20 year, and they always tell the same story.  Despite the reputation of the French for not being very pro-American, the people who have been there have always said they were greeted with thanks by the locals of Normandy.  The American Cemetery in Normandy, France, displays 9,386 gravestones of American soldiers from the D-Day campaign; the beginning of the inch-by-inch fighting across the continent to win the war.   

How does D-Day relate to Lincoln's Gettysburg address, 80 years before Normandy?  Back in '19, on the 75th anniversary, someone invoked the closing lines of Lincoln's Gettysburg address.  Remember that Gettysburg had the largest number of casualties in the War Between the States.  It was the most horrific battle in the most horrific war.  Lincoln's message was about them, but it speaks to us - to me - through the ages.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.  [BOLD added - SiG]


Lincoln tells me not to just honor these guys' memories, but to fight to make sure the forces of evil and stupidity don't destroy everything they fought for.  I don't think there has been a time since Normandy when the "forces of evil" seemed as close to their goals in this country as they do now. 

EDIT 060721 1321 EDT:  Corrected the opening sentence to “seventy-seven years ago today” from seventy-six; thanks to comment by Dan Kurt.  (It's embarrassing to say I mentally added "2+75" and didn't get the right answer!)

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Tiananmen Square - The End of Limited Freedoms in China

Since I've read that China and Microsoft don't want to see any images from the Tiananmen Square protests on this year's anniversary, this seems like a good time to repeat last year's post on this - updated for the different year, of course.   

Thirty two years ago today, June 5th, 1989, the symbolic resistance of the so-called Tank Man took place in Tiananmen Square in the People's Republic of China.  Ironically, this event that was taken as the symbol of the protests in the West took place after the protests were largely over and the protesters largely massacred.  

The resistance of this never-identified man was celebrated widely by the west as a successful resistance to the power of the column of tanks but was preceded by the Chinese Government massacring an estimated 10,000 of their citizens for the Tiananmen Square protests on the night of June 3-4 in Beijing.  The folks at, have written a worthwhile piece on the event, the history leading up to it and since then.  It deserves reading. 

The lead tank tried to maneuver past the man, but was met with nonviolent resistance. The man repeatedly shuffled in front of the tank to obstruct the tank’s path. After a while, the lead tank stopped in its tracks and the armored tanks behind it stopped as well. From there, a short pause began with the man and tanks remaining in a standstill.

The video footage then shows the man climbing on top of the tank’s turret and chatting with a crew member and the tank’s commander. After having a conversation, the man jumps back down and gets in front of the tank again. The standoff between the man and tank continued until two figures in blue came out and pulled the man to the side. To this day, witnesses at this event are unsure about who pulled the “Tank Man” to the side. Furthermore, the identity and fate of the man is still unknown, although there has been speculation that he was either executed or fled the country shortly thereafter.

I don't think “executed or fled the country” are mutually exclusive.  If he fled the country, he could well have been tracked down and executed.  If he survived that, he's probably smart enough to never tell anyone that he was that man.  I doubt that we'll ever know the story.   

Milton Friedman once observed that economic freedom generally is a precondition for political freedom, but that's hardly a law of nature.  People who have had a taste of genuine economic freedom may develop hunger for political freedom, but the Chicom technocratic dictatorship is not likely to do anything for that hunger.  Tiananmen Square itself was the result of protests for more freedom and against the emerging class of insiders who made enormous profits through connections with the Chinese Communist Party, a problem to this day.

In the years since the Tiananmen  Square massacre, the Chinese Communists have created one of the most monitored and tracked societies on the planet.  Facial recognition systems feed into their Social Credit Score system made in the US by Google and Facebook; it is, after all, based on what those companies are doing to conservatives here in the US.  The Chicoms, of course, have gone beyond that to putting Muslim Uighurs in re-education camps, to widespread condemnation from international human rights observers.  There are reports of organs being harvested from living, healthy, people to sell on the transplant market.  "Anesthesia?  They're going to die in minutes anyway, who cares?"

The Tiananmen Square protests were disastrous for the Chinese people.  A protest for increasing liberties led to the elimination of most freedoms and the introduction of the world's worst surveillance state.  (well... maybe)   It led to the massacre of whoever was in that square the night of June 3rd and 4th.  The only argument for the protests is that the word of how they treated protesters got out.  



Friday, June 4, 2021

Things No One Else is Saying

Perhaps it makes more sense as a question.  How about phrasing it as, "why is no one else saying this openly?" 

Exhibit 1, Steve Kelley, Creators Syndicate for 5/28/21.

Item 2, with apologies to anyone who happened to read my comment on Gun Free Zone about the administration's responses to the attacks on (as Jen Psaki called it) "Private Sector entities."  Edited slightly.

The thing nobody’s talking about is that both of these cyber attacks – an oil pipeline and a meat processing plant – are the targets of the Green New Deal. That is, targets of the American Left.

Can’t get gas for your car?  Prices too high?  If you were driving an electric car you wouldn’t have that problem would you? Plus, you wouldn’t be hurting the environment by producing that CO2.

Can’t get meat?  If you were vegan, you wouldn’t have that problem would you?  Plus, you wouldn’t be hurting the environment with all those cattle putting out methane.

Coincidence? Sounds more like the Democratic Socialists of America than Russia.

Gee... this couldn't be another example of, "you never want a serious crisis go to waste," could it?  When you think about it, that's the most benign interpretation.  The more direct interpretation is that the DSA and whoever works for them in the Innermost Sanctum of Joe's "Handlers" are paying for attacks on that infrastructure so the can take over all those private sector roles. 

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Highest Resolution Photo of Individual Atoms

At Cornell University, in the Kavli Institute at Cornell for Nanoscale Science where they're still  dedicated to reality, a team led by Dr. David Muller has designed a new way of imaging individual atoms. The story comes from the Digital Photography Review newsletter.   

The team's paper, 'Electron Ptychography Achieves Atomic-Resolution Limits Set by Lattice Vibrations,' outlines a new electron microscope pixel array detector (EMPAD) that includes more sophisticated 3D reconstruction algorithms. The combination of the EMPAD and algorithms is so finely tuned that the only blurring of atoms in the image is due to the atoms' 'thermal jiggling.'  [Note: the link is to the paper on AAAS Science magazine's website.  You must have an account to read it.]

The calculated magnification is over 100 million times.  Since "a picture is worth a thousand words," let's go there first.  Each bright spot in this picture is an individual atom.  You can see bright pairs and single, dimmer individual atoms.  The material is an obscure compound, praseodymium orthoscandate (PrScO3), which I assume was chosen for some property they thought would increase the chance of success. 

So what are they doing here?  To begin with, these are not optical photos; the atoms and molecules are so much smaller than a wave of visible light that light doesn't interact with them like it does with bigger things.  These are the results of the electric fields measured by a special probe, much like the Scanning Tunneling Microscopy photographs of atoms that first made headlines in the 1980s.  (A very unexpectedly named post from 2010 that has photos of individual atoms in it.)

'Ptychography works by scanning overlapping scattering patterns from a material sample and looking for changes in the overlapping region,' said David Nutt of Cornell University. 'We're chasing speckle patterns that look a lot like those laser-pointer patterns that cats are equally fascinated by,' Muller said. 'By seeing how the pattern changes, we are able to compute the shape of the object that caused the pattern.'

Whereas traditional photographers typically aim to achieve perfect focus, when capturing images to atoms, it's better to have the EMPAD slightly defocused. This allows the team to capture a wider range of data, which can then be reconstructed via complex algorithms to create a final, precise and sharp image. The image is precise down to one-trillionth of a meter, or a picometer.

'With these new algorithms, we're now able to correct for all the blurring of our microscope to the point that the largest blurring factor we have left is the fact that the atoms themselves are wobbling, because that's what happens to atoms at finite temperature,' said Muller.

In 2018, researchers at Cornell including Dr. Muller, built a high-powered detector that, when combined with ptychography, captured an image of atoms at triple the resolution of a state-of-the-art electron microscope. Three years later, Muller is leading research with this EMPAD detector, breaking their previous record magnifications.  'This doesn't just set a new record, it's reached a regime which is effectively going to be an ultimate limit for resolution. We basically can now figure out where the atoms are in a very easy way.'  

Final words to the source article on DPR. 

The team's imaging method has possible applications outside of academia. Being able to locate individual atoms in three dimensions could prove useful when searching for impurities in semiconductors, catalysts and quantum materials, such as those used in quantum computing. The imaging method could be used on biological cells or tissues, perhaps even synapse connections inside the brain.

Muller, who co-directs the Kavli Institute at Cornell for Nanoscale Science and co-chairs the Nanoscale Science and Microsystems Engineering (NEXT Nano) Task Force, says, 'We want to apply this to everything we do. Until now, we've all been wearing really bad glasses. And now we actually have a really good pair. Why wouldn't you want to take off the old glasses, put on the new ones, and use them all the time?'



Wednesday, June 2, 2021

When You Watch Prices, Don't Forget Shrinkflation

What prompted this post is a comment that I noticed in my daily email from FEE (the Foundation for Economic Education).  Newsletter Editor Brad Polumbo starts out saying, 

I learned a new word today: “shrinkflation.”

For someone in his position, I was bit stunned by that.  I've been writing about shrinkflation, the combination of raising prices while making the packages smaller, for the life of this blog.  It tends to make the price increases look less bad.  People see they're paying more, but may not notice that the packages have gotten smaller.  

One of the tactics companies use to hide inflation in their prices is to sell smaller packages at slightly higher prices, rather than raising the price on the familiar size by a higher percentage.  Ice cream makers shrank their half gallon containers a while back, many other manufacturers, such as Doritos and other chip makers, and candy bar makers followed suit.  A so-called gallon of paint we just bought says it's 120 oz - not 128.  Even Moe's catfood can is 5.5 oz, down from 6.  

(Note: that's from a 2010 article.  I removed two dead links, but the two that are there still returned as I'm writing this.)  The UK Daily Mail did a thorough piece on this in 2015.  It's not a new trick, but it's worth watching for.   

This is an example graphic from the UK, but it's a good example of the things you'll see.  Sometimes you get something like a package sold by the numbers of things in it, like the fish sticks (fingers) at bottom left, and you can see the package says 10 instead of 12.  Paper products: paper towels, toilet paper, and such, will tell you how many sheets per roll.  Sometimes the weight is all you have.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Looks Like An Interesting Test Coming in Boca Chica

As we were talking about the other day, it looks like SpaceX Boca Chica has switched their emphasis from more test flights with Starship prototypes SN16 to SN19 over to preparing their infrastructure for the attempt at an orbital flight in the third quarter.  Today, Teslarati drops a couple of stories on what appears to be a big test coming.  

In the first story, Elon Musk has confirmed that the orbital Super Heavy boosters will carry 29 Raptor engines instead of 28, the previous latest number.  He also remarked that it's designed with the intent to go up 32 engines in the future.  BocaChicaGal posted this photograph of what appears to be the thrust puck for a Super Heavy.  To be honest, what struck me first about this is that if you look at the surface, everyone one of those flatter areas has the marks from being machined on a milling machine - probably CNC.  That piece of metal is about 9 meters in diameter, or about 29-1/2 feet.  That's one really big milling machine!  

You will note that there are nine rectangular pieces on holes through the puck, while other holes do not have a rectangular piece.  Why nine?   That answer goes over to the next article, which talks about what appears to be hydraulic ram test set which will push on a that thrust puck after it gets built into a static test rig.  The thrust of 29 Raptors is around 12.8 million pounds at full power. 

A couple of amazing factoids show up in those articles.  The first one is that Musk revealed that the Raptor assembly line is producing one new engine every 48 hours.  That's about 180 engines in a year; and in a system with a Starship carrying three engines and a Super Heavy booster carrying 29, those 32 engines would require 64 days.  A Starship/Super Heavy every two months?  

Another amazing factoid is that the current Raptor engines will deliver that 12.8 million pounds or 5800 tons of force.  Elon is planning for Super Heavy boosters to have more than 7500 tons of thrust long term, by upgrading the thrust from 200 to 234 tons each and going up to 32 engines per booster.  

All of which makes me wonder how much thrust they'll use to test the thrust puck.  

This is reported to be the test tank that will be mounted on top of the hydraulic rams shown in the previous video.

Even in its weakest configuration, Super Heavy will still produce over 60% more thrust than a Saturn V.  That unprecedented thrust demands a structure capable of surviving extreme forces while simultaneously feeding up to 32 Raptors up to ~28 metric tons (~61,000 lb) of propellant every second and withstanding several thousand tons of liquid oxygen – all without leaking, cracking, or changing shape too much. 

No prospective dates for this testing have been announced, but I'll be watching for that.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Memorial Day 2021

Let me join the chorus of folks saying that while you're enjoying your day, be it beach, barbecue, pool or whatever, take a moment to think of and thank those who have given their all in service to us.  Some don't get that chance.  

There's a handful of pictures for Memorial Day that have resonated with me over the years, and this is one of them. 

I seem to have first found this picture in 2016, and have used it a few times.  If I read that caption correctly, Ms. Sayne was visiting her husband's grave when taps sounded from another funeral in process, causing her to almost roll up into a little ball.  Her pain is palpable in the picture.  

For most of us, Memorial Day is "the unofficial start of summer", or the start of barbecue season (which never ends around here), or it's a day of picnics, family get togethers and more cheerful things.  Allow me to join the chorus of folks saying that while you're enjoying your day, take a moment to think of and thank those who have given their all in service to us.  If one was family or friend, I don't need to tell you that.  Some don't get the chance for a day like that.  

Sunday, May 30, 2021


This is the finished Version 3 of the Epiphone jack plate I talked about yesterday.  

I tried the version I mentioned at the end of last night's post and while the jacks fit better, it was still too high in the middle.  After playing with it a while, I thought that must mean the corner mounting holes were too far apart and putting the screws in place was pushing the plastic toward the center, making the plate buckle.  I made some measurements of the hole spacing but wasn't confident that measuring on the (roughly) 6" radius of curvature gave me anything I could count on.  I decided to make the screw holes into slots.  It now mounts flat onto the body.  All of the screws are closer to the ends of the slots where the original holes were than the newer end.

I'm not happy with the lettering, and that's after switching to a different font that seemed like it was bolder and wider.  I might make another one with no lettering and engrave it on the mill, but I'm not sure.  I could extend that to not being wild about the finish, either.  There are videos about acetone smoothing of PLA; I should look into that, too.


Saturday, May 29, 2021

In the Midst of Another Useful Printer Job

Much like the first time, I'm not saying you should buy a 3D printer for a task like this, it's just that if you have one, it changes the way you approach problems like this. 

You don't have to be very long term reader to know that I play guitar and work on them.  Sometimes I make things for working on them, one time I built a kit guitar, and then I had my "side project", building a side onto an absurd guitar.  As a musician, I think I make a good engineer, which is to say that real musicians will have no threat from me, but I enjoy playing.  

One of my guitars is an Epiphone Les Paul Ultra 2 guitar.  I'm hazy on when I bought it, but a couple of stock photos of the model that I have are dated in September 2011, so that's my best clue.  It has a unique feature, a magnetic pickup at the very end of the neck called a NanoMag pickup.  It was sold to provide acoustic-like guitar tones, coupled with two Les Paul-type Alnico humbucker pickups.  I've used the NanoMag a few times but stick with the two conventional pickups on the body.  Like other Les Paul (also called LP-style) guitars, it has a plastic piece on the side that the jacks to connect to your amplifier mount to, and which is mounted to the body.  That jack plate has looked like this as long as I can remember. 

I don't remember when it broke, but I can't remember that plate not being broken.  One time I called Epiphone factory service about buying a replacement and they said, "nope."  "Find a guitar tech." Several times I thought about buying some 1/16" thick brass and making a replacement on the mill, but that always led to ridiculous prices for brass and I never made myself do it.  Someone that makes engraved plastic badges like they sell at hamfests could probably copy that.

Last week, the background processor in my head came up with the relatively obvious answer, "you have a plastic printer; you can use that."  The one thing I didn't want to do was take the guitar apart to try to measure every important dimension on the body.  The hardest one to get is the radius of the part of the body the plate mounts to, which looks like this.  (this is an Epiphone stock photo, not my guitar)  The jack plate is facing you, bottom right.

The original plate didn't have a radius; it's lying flat on the wood in the first picture, so I figured I'd copy that approach and figured there might be a few prototypes of this to get one that works.  Getting dimensions with a pair of calipers without taking the plate off was relatively painless.  The first prototype is on the guitar right now and a corrected Version 2.0 is ready to mount when I'm done here.  The design: 

Not visible in this display is that I'm making the plate .050 thick, a bit thinner than the .062 thickness of the original.  If the cause of the Epiphone jack plate breaking was stress from being bent to the radius of the body, this should take care of that.  Mine is noticeably more flexible than the original. 

Making a couple of versions is pretty tolerable.  According to my Slicer program, it costs about 6 cents worth of filament and takes about 25 minutes to print.  I'll let you know what I end up with.  

Friday, May 28, 2021

NASA Asks for Biggest Budget Ever in FY'22

According to a news report at Ars Technica, in the largest Federal Budget proposal ever, NASA has requested a 7% increase over their last year's budget, which appears to be the largest NASA budget I can find.  I did no corrections for inflation.

The president's budget request seeks $24.8 billion for the coming fiscal year, a nearly 7 percent increase over the $23.3 billion in funding NASA received for the current fiscal year, which ends on September 30. Congress will ultimately decide funding levels, of course, but this budget request is indicative of White House priorities.

The White House is seeking $7.9 billion for NASA's science programs, including missions to explore the Moon and other planets. This represents a nearly 9 percent increase over last year's budget for science programs.  Earth science and planetary science receiving the most significant increases.  NASA administrator Bill Nelson said, "it’s the largest budget request for NASA science ever." 

We can be sure, considering other Biden preferences, exploration intended to provide targets for climate science will be top of the pile, but they also include lunar and other planetary explorations goals, too.  This includes a 2026 (launch date) mission to retrieve samples from Mars, part of the mission that this year's Perseverance rover was intended to perform. 

(NASA Illustration of proposed Mars sample return mission)

The White House has also requested $1.195 billion for the development of a Human Landing System as part of the Artemis Program to return astronauts to the Moon by 2024. Nelson said this level of funding would be enough to support a demonstration mission—using SpaceX's Starship vehicle—as early as 2024. The funding would also allow NASA to begin to implement a competition for future lunar landing contracts that might be won by a Blue Origin-led team or Dynetics.

There's mention in here of the way Blue Origin is lobbying congress to get a contract to back up SpaceX on the HLS.  There's resistance to this in the congress, including from the usual sources who think "every billionaire is a policy failure" (Bernie Sanders) as well as from Senator Rand Paul, who isn't of that mindset.  There are better reasons to oppose Blue Origin than simply that Jeff Bezos is a multi-billionaire.

NASA has said it supports more robust competition, but to enable this idea for the complex lunar lander program, the agency needs more funding. That battle is currently being waged in the Senate with an amendment to the Endless Frontier Act. The bill would authorize an additional $10 billion over the next four years to ensure that a second lander is developed in parallel with SpaceX's Starship vehicle. However, this amendment has been criticized by some senators, including Bernie Sanders and Ron Paul, because the likely beneficiary is Blue Origin and its owner, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

The Endless Frontier Act didn't come up in the article the other day about Blue Origin's lobbying.  

I suppose it makes sense that in Biden's $6 trillion proposed budget, the largest US federal budget in history that NASA would be getting more money, too.  It's not all social programs. 

In reality, congress hasn't passed a "real" Federal Budget since 2009 (article from 2012 talking about it), which tells me they're not likely to pass this one, either.  Instead, we'll get some number of continuing resolutions to authorize some spending or other.  While it's encouraging that NASA is working toward a moon landing in 2024, I find it more encouraging that SpaceX is planning to send several unmanned Starships to Mars in the same year.  Even more encouraging, they're not doing it on tax money; they're doing it on their dime.  More specifically they're doing it on revenue from paying customers for launch services and for Starlink.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

SpaceX Changes Their Mind - SN15 Has Been Retired

Since the start of May, after SN15's successful test flight, we've been under the impression that SpaceX was going to re-fly SN15 "soon."   All of that apparently changed in the last several days.  First we heard that one Raptor engine had been removed, then we heard that all three Raptors had been removed.  Last night, I noticed that one of the two, new, very large cranes (the yellow Liebherr crane in the center here) had hooked up to the nose cone of SN15.  Today around midday, the crane lifted her off of the test stand and onto a multi-axle transport.  That was puzzling.  Then in the evening East Coast time, SN15 was gone. 

You can read in that blue bar on the left of the image that it says "SN15 retires to the RV Park Display Stand."  I didn't even know there was an RV Park.  But that's apparently SN15's new place; as a memorial to the fact she was the first one that "sticks the landing and keeps on standing" (to channel my inner John Cameron Swayze, Timex Salesman).

So now what?  I've seen nothing in particular that's official.  As I said a few days ago, the emphasis seems to have switched to preparing support for the first orbital flight of a Starship and Super Heavy in the third quarter.  In that picture of the launch complex, you can see two large fuel/oxidizer tanks; Ground Support Equipment (GSE) for Starship and Super Heavy missions.  Near the right edge, you can see the Orbital Launch Integration Tower (OLIT), and if you look about halfway up the metal portion, you can see some rails and hardware where base section 1 joined section 2.   Sections 3 through 5 are being assembled now in the Shipyard area, near the High Bay.  The crane on the left is the most experienced crane in the launch complex, the one we've called Bluto.  The tall, yellowish one is the Liebherr crane and the one on the right, is the most recent addition, named Kong by the people who hang out on the Lab Padre camera chats (called nerdles). 

The High Bay itself currently is housing both Starship prototype SN16 and the beginnings of stacking Booster Number 3.  BN3 is expected to be the first Super Heavy to fly, although no one knows exactly what that means (officially); will they try to land it on some sort of legs or will they try to catch it by the grid fins as Musk has proposed?  The first Starship prototype to fly to orbit is expected to be SN20, which is also currently under construction. 

If I had to guess, I think they'll fly SN16 if any improvements were made after the data from SN15 was analyzed.  Based on how long prior vehicles took, SN16 could fly by the end of June.  If SN16 isn't necessary, we may not see anything flying for a while.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

On the John Williams Quote on Hyperinflation

Hat tip to Bayou Renaissance Man for a link to an article I didn't catch, an interview with John Williams of Shadowstats about what he sees coming.  I've been following Shadowstats for far longer than I can remember but never subscribed because the rates always struck me as for a business, not an individual.  While I think very highly of their work, let me jump to the point I think most of us noticed and related to:

So, is the choice inflation or implosion?  Williams says, “That’s the choice, and I think we are going to have a combination of both of them.  I think we are eventually headed into a hyperinflationary economic collapse.   It’s not that we haven’t been in an economic collapse already, we are coming back some now. . . . The Fed has been creating money at a pace that has never been seen before.  You are basically up 75% (in money creation) year over year.  This is unprecedented.  Normally, it might be up 1% or 2% year over year.  The exploding money supply will lead to inflation.  I am not saying we are going to get to 75% inflation—yet, but you are getting up to the 4% or 5% range, and you are soon going to be seeing 10% range year over year. . . . The Fed has lost control of inflation.”


When will the worst inflation be hitting America?  Williams predicts, “I am looking down the road, and in early 2022, I am looking for something close to a hyperinflationary circumstance and effectively a collapsed economy.

One of the things that I read about hyperinflation long ago, in the first year of this blog, was a quote by Gonzalo Lira, writing on his own blog which is apparently now gone. 

If we think that hyperinflation is simply inflation on steroids—inflation-plus—inflation with balls—then it would seem to be the case that, in our current deflationary economic environment, hyperinflation is not simply a long way off, but flat-out ridiculous.

But hyperinflation is not an extension or amplification of inflation. Inflation and hyperinflation are two very distinct animals. They look the same—because in both cases, the currency loses its purchasing power—but they are not the same.

Scratch everything after, "inflation with balls" in that first sentence.  This was written in the phase of the 2008 "Great Recession" that was economic contraction, and that certainly isn't the case now. 

The important part is that last couple of sentences.  Hyperinflation isn't just bad inflation.  It looks like it, but in reality, hyperinflation is economic collapse.  It's the complete loss in confidence in the ability of the currency to maintain any semblance of value.  It's when the holder of currency believes that it will be worth less at any time in the future, so anything they need will be more expensive later - whether that's minutes or days later doesn't mean much.  

Inflation factoid, totally removed from any context for 99.9% of you.  In Central Florida, under normal circumstances, most of us would be running our air conditioning full time, probably since early May.  I just received my electric bill and was stunned to find it 42% higher than the previous month's bill.  My first thought was that it must have been a minor change in the temperature I set the thermostat to overnight, but that didn't make sense and I looked closer.  We actually used less electric power than the same billing period last year.  Why was my bill up 42% month to month?  It seems to be fuel surcharges for how much higher the utility's fuel bill went up.  

I can't stand many months of up 42% month over month as the fuel prices escalate.  I don't think they will, but as I'm fond of saying, "prediction is difficult; especially about the future."  While air conditioning is pretty close to life or death around here, thankfully we're not seeing 42% month over month in our food bills and other essentials.  If that happens, it's the collapse John Williams is talking about.

Shadowstats gives us teaser headlines of what appears in the subscriber-only version of the site.  I happened to notice this one:

Pandemic-Driven U.S. Economic Collapse Continues to Harden in a Protracted “L”-Shaped Non-Recovery

It made me wonder.  When he says L-shaped Non-Recovery, exactly which shape is he thinking of?

I should note that while I think John Williams is a reasonable guy and the website he provides is quite worth bookmarking, I'm reluctant to predict an economic collapse by the start of next year.  I've just seen so many such predictions in the last decade that just about any few months you can mention have been predicted to be the collapse.  I am, however, still trying to be prepared for a collapse at any time.

Monday, May 24, 2021

The Less Men Know About How Laws and Sausages Are Made...

the better they sleep at night.  Allegedly said by Otto von Bismarck. 

A followup to the story about Blue Origin and Dynetics suing NASA over awarding the Human Landing System contract exclusively to SpaceX from Teslarati's senior spaceflight reporter, Eric Ralph. 

The real headline here is from Space Policy Online, a site that tracks the legislative and developmental sides of those policies.  Bear in mind this paragraph was posted on May 19th. 

The Senate will take up the United States Innovation and Competition Act today.  That legislation incorporates the 2021 NASA Authorization Act approved by the Senate Commerce Committee last week, but one of the most controversial provisions was modified and now provides a level of protection for the contract awarded to SpaceX for the Artemis program’s Human Landing System (HLS). It also extends the deadline for NASA to comply with a requirement that it choose a second HLS contractor.

The "controversial provision" is an amendment to USIC Act (the first one mentioned) by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA).  Senator from Washington means Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin are both in her district - not to mention Jeff's other little company Amazon - so it's hardly surprising Bezos' crew would try to lobby Sen. Cantwell (or leave a horse's head in her bed).  On May 12th, Cantwell introduced an amendment that would purportedly “maintain competitiveness” by forcing NASA to select a second HLS winner in addition to SpaceX. Without irony, the authorization bill also demanded that NASA make that decision within a mere 30 days, although that was later relaxed to 60 days.   

Since NASA was essentially forced to downselect to one contractor by their budget shortfall simply telling them to add a second contractor doesn't make much sense, but it actually gets worse.  Cantwell added to legislation that NASA was Authorized to add $10 billion for choosing the second contractor.  I rush to add that she can't do that because she can't provide money to NASA.  Authorization bills set policy, they don't provide funding.  Only appropriations bills actually provide money to agencies.  In the original story, I mentioned that NASA had requested $3.3 billion in funding for this fiscal year to meet the goal of landing humans on the Moon by 2024.  Congress provided just $850 million.  They would have rather had more than one contractor but couldn't do it on just over 25% of what they needed. 

Additionally, while still amounting to a legal gun to NASA’s head to force it to into a contract it knows it cant afford, the modification gives NASA 60 days to award a second lander contract. Based on the agency’s own selection statement, Blue Origin’s National Team would almost certainly be the recipient in the event that the bill becomes law, forcing NASA to commit more than $9 billion – instead of $2.9 billion – to the next stage of HLS development with no guarantee that its budget will be raised accordingly.

That's right - SpaceX got the $2.9 billion contract and Sen. Cantwell is apparently trying to force NASA to give about $7 billion to Blue Origin. 

(Left is SpaceX concept art, right is photo of SN15 by BocaChicaGal for

In the debates over the USIC Act, a clause was added clarifying that NASA is not allowed to “modify, terminate, or rescind” SpaceX’s HLS contract to comply with the amendment.  Meanwhile, the protest that both Blue Origin and Dynetics filed over SpaceX getting the contract is in the hands of the General Accounting Office to examine the merits of their arguments. 

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Virgin Galactic's Saturday Test Flight Successful

Virgin Galactic's Saturday test flight of their suborbital passenger ship called VSS Unity apparently fulfilled all the mission's goals, according to the company website's news page.  Here's a highlight video that is shorter than the complete flight coverage, but includes some cool photography:

This is the third flight of the vehicle and the first from Spaceport America in New Mexico.  As mentioned Friday, this was a test to verify that they had resolved a self-interference problem that kept the last mission from succeeding.  According their website, VSS Unity achieved a speed of Mach 3 after being released from the mothership, VMS Eve, and reached space, at an altitude of 55.45 miles (89.24 km) before gliding smoothly to a runway landing at Spaceport America.  

The purpose of this vehicle is space tourism, with suborbital flights that meet the definition of being in space.  It helps that different organizations have different definitions for the Kármán line, the official boundary of space.  

To borrow part of their PR Blurb from their website.

Michael Colglazier, Chief Executive Officer of Virgin Galactic, said: “Today’s flight showcased the inherent elegance and safety of our spaceflight system, while marking a major step forward for both Virgin Galactic and human spaceflight in New Mexico. Space travel is a bold and adventurous endeavor, and I am incredibly proud of our talented team for making the dream of private space travel a reality. We will immediately begin processing the data gained from this successful test flight, and we look forward to sharing news on our next planned milestone.”

Virgin Galactic fulfilled a number of test objectives during the flight, including:

  • Carried revenue-generating scientific research experiments as part of NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program.
  • Collected data to be used for the final two verification reports that are required as part of the current FAA commercial reusable spacecraft operator’s license.
  • Tested the spaceship’s upgraded horizontal stabilizers and flight controls and validated EMI reductions.

Following the flight, and in line with normal procedures, Virgin Galactic will conduct a review of all test data gathered and thoroughly inspect the spaceship and mothership.  Once the team confirms the results, the Company plans to proceed to the next flight test milestone.

 Clearly a Virgin Galactic photo, but I reduced the size slightly to meet the Blogger requirements.



Saturday, May 22, 2021

Looking at BATFE's "Ghost Guns" Rules

Back on May 8th, when I posted about a rule drop from BATFE on the proposed rule changes, it seems that was an unofficial drop from them.  80% Lowers notified everyone by email yesterday that the NPRM (Notice of Proposed Rulemaking) was just released yesterday, so I downloaded that one and compared it to what I have.  I didn't go page by page, but everything I've been looking at hasn't changed.  If you missed it, the NPRM can be found here.

I'm going to excerpt a small portion of the alleged purposes of the regulation and the section that I'm most concerned about, which is just what constitutes "readily converted," which they specifically say they want to clarify.  Excerpt from page 1 of 115.  

The Department of Justice (“Department”) proposes amending Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (“ATF”) regulations to provide new regulatory definitions of “firearm frame or receiver” and “frame or receiver” because the current regulations fail to capture the full meaning of those terms. The Department also proposes amending ATF’s definitions of “firearm” and “gunsmith” to clarify the meaning of those terms, and to provide definitions of terms such as “complete weapon,” “complete muffler or silencer device,” “privately made firearm,” and “readily” for purposes of clarity given advancements in firearms technology. Further, the Department proposes amendments to ATF’s regulations on marking and recordkeeping that are necessary to implement these new or amended definitions. [Bold added: SiG]

And here's where they clarify the meaning of “readily.”

Readily. A process that is fairly or reasonably efficient, quick, and easy, but not necessarily the most efficient, speedy, or easy process. Factors relevant in making this determination, with no single one controlling, include the following:
(a) Time, i.e., how long it takes to finish the process;
(b) Ease, i.e., how difficult it is to do so;
(c) Expertise, i.e., what knowledge and skills are required;
(d) Equipment, i.e., what tools are required;
(e) Availability, i.e., whether additional parts are required, and how easily they can be obtained;
(f) Expense, i.e., how much it costs;
(g) Scope, i.e., the extent to which the subject of the process must be changed to finish it; and
(h) Feasibility, i.e., whether the process would damage or destroy the subject of the process, or cause it to malfunction.

That isn't clarifying the definition, it's a list of factors they'll use to decide “readily” without giving any quantifiable definition of the word.  There is no guidance there whatsoever.  As always, their answer is "because we say it is."  Take listing (a) Time.  Is five minutes readily?  An hour?  A day?   There's a combination of time, ease, equipment and expertise that I can see as scales, such that the more of those the builder has the more readily the conversion can be completed.   

I suppose they don't want to give numbers for time because they're afraid if they say something specific people will simply avoid their limits.  Let's say the ATF defines that finishing a firearm in under eight hours of work is too little time, they see that as telling hobbyists to work slowly completing their firearm and if they were going to finish in six hours, people would know to slow down and take more time.    

There's a massive footnote spread between pages 36 and 37 that gives some hints at how various courts have interpreted “readily.”  These range from five minutes (pretty obvious) to “a two-hour restoration process using ordinary tools, including a stick weld, is within the ordinary meaning of 'readily restored'” (from the 9th Circus).  There's the famous ruling that a “machine gun that would take around an eight-hour working day in a properly equipped machine shop was readily restored to shoot” which sounds to me nothing like “readily restored.”  There's also the opposite “weapons could not be “readily restored to fire” when restoration required master gunsmith in a gun shop and $65,000 worth of equipment and tools.”

I think it's worth pointing out in any comments you make how insignificant this whole thing is.  They say (note that PMF means Privately Made Firearms, the proper term for what the zealot gun controllers call ghost guns):

In recent years, the number of PMFs recovered from crime scenes throughout the country has increased.17 From January 1, 2016, through December 31, 2020, there were approximately 23,906 suspected PMFs reported to ATF as having been recovered by law enforcement from potential crime scenes, including 325 homicides or attempted homicides, and that were attempted to be traced by ATF, broken down by year as follows: 

2016:  1,750
2017:  2,507
2018:  3,776
2019:  7,161
2020:  8,712

According to Gun Facts, in 2019 those 7,161 PMFs recovered turn out to be 1.3% of the guns used in crimes.  Perhaps 2% at most, if "outlier agencies" are included.  As always, those guns are most likely from gangs fighting each other. 

With a 115 page bill, it would take a team of experts to respond to every point.  Based on how popular my little series on my AR-15 from an 80% lower is, I thought some of you might find this worth reading. 



Friday, May 21, 2021

Blue Origin Auctioning First Seat on New Shepard

Recently, Blue Origin announced that they were going to auction off the first seat on their new program of rides for hire that would take passengers to 100 km, above the Kármán line and officially into space, and experience a period of weightlessness.  The current high bid in the auction for the first passenger seat on the New Shepard suborbital mission is $2.8 million.  Two days ago, it had just broke $2 million. 

That's for one seat, out of the six seats on the New Shepard.  That first launch is tentatively set for July 20.  Blue Origin has not said if any of the seats are already assigned, or if Jeff Bezos will be riding with the lucky bidders.  Ars Technica reports:

The unsealed online auction for this seat will continue until June 10. Then, on June 12, the company will hold a live online auction among verified bidders to finally sell the seat. The company said the winning bid amount will be donated to Blue Origin’s foundation, Club for the Future, to inspire future generations to pursue careers in STEM and help invent the future of life in space.

Beyond this auction, Blue Origin has not released pricing for New Shepard flights—either for individual tickets or for an entire mission. However, a well-placed source told Ars that the per-seat price would be "well north" of $500,000 and much closer to $1 million for the first several flights.

To be honest, when I saw they were going to auction seats, I assumed they didn't really know what to charge and did an auction to get an idea of what the first few were willing to pay.  To borrow a term from sales critters, so they don't "leave any money on the table."  I have no idea what those flights cost, so no idea of what the break even cost for a seat would be.   

The current bid above $2 million speaks to the demand for suborbital spaceflight — passengers on New Shepard will experience the thrill of a rocket launch and several minutes of weightlessness—as well as the cachet of flying early in the program.

With New Shepard, Blue Origin will be charging well above the original price, $250,000, that competitor Virgin Galactic charged for seats on its suborbital space plane. This may be partly because New Shepard will go above the Kármán line of 100 km, compared to about 80 km for Virgin Galactic.

It may also be partly because Virgin Galactic's Unity spacecraft isn't flying.  Another article on Ars Technica says Virgin Galactic is troubleshooting an EMI problem (Electromagnetic Interference) that caused the control computers to halt ignition of the engines on their last test flight.  A test flight is currently scheduled for tomorrow, May 22, pending weather and the usual stuff.  It's not likely Virgin Galactic will be flying paying customers until 2022. 

Meanwhile, since the flight of SN15 and talk about re-flying it "soon," operations at SpaceX Boca Chica have been focused on building infrastructure, and building the cranes that will build that infrastructure.  A structure called the Orbital Launch Integration Tower has been the emphasis.  It is currently one tower-like structure on a large concrete base.  A second section was brought to the launch pad area today to stack on top of section one, and there are at least two more sections over near the High Bay. 

The two big cranes have been built and the second (on the right - called Kong by the Lab Padre nerds) was cranked up to that position for the first time today. 



Thursday, May 20, 2021

Hawaii Decides to Cripple Its Power Grid

Just not in those exact words.  

In 2015, Hawaii made history, becoming the first US state to mandate a full transition to renewable energy. The legislation, signed into law by Gov. David Ige, mandated that state utilities generate 100 percent of electricity sales from renewable fuels by 2045.

As a wise observer said, "Promises are easy to make.  Achieving them is another story."  But that's not exactly what this story, H/T to the Foundation for Economic Education, is about.  

Earlier this month, word broke that the state’s largest supplier of electricity, Hawaiian Electric Co. (HECO) was considering backing out of an enormous part of the switch to renewables, a vast storage facility (basically a huge, 185 megawatt, battery farm) called Kapolei Energy Storage.  It's being built to ensure a stable supply of electricity to the island of Oahu, which is preparing for the retirement of the AES coal plant—Hawaii’s last coal-fired power plant—and which produces 15-20 percent of the island’s electricity. The use of coal has been banned in Hawaii. 

With the renewables part of the project turning up late (it's a government project after all), it looks like Oahu could be facing a bad energy squeeze, because there's nothing to charge the battery farm once the AES coal plant is shut down.

The reality is there’s not enough wind, solar, or battery storage to replace the AES plant. Hawaiian Electric has made this quite clear in recent documents, noting that it would not be able to meet its year-two renewable target (75 percent) for “more than a decade.”

This means that to replace its soon-to-be retired coal plant, Hawaii Electric will soon be charging its giant battery … with oil. In other words, Hawaiians will be trading one fossil fuel (coal) for another, albeit one far more expensive.

According to the Utility Dive website, the Hawaii Public Utility Commission has started trying to convince Hawaiian Electric not to tear down the AES coal plant to replace it with an oil-fired plant.  James Griffin, chair of the Hawaii PUC, told utility representatives, "Your plan to me amounts to a shift from one fossil fuel to another. We're going from cigarettes to crack."  As an aside, you know what Bidenomics has done to the price of oil here on the mainland; now imagine transporting it by tanker to Hawaii.  Griffin said, “Oil prices don’t have to be much higher for this to look like the highest increase people will have experienced, and it’s not acceptable. We have to do better.”

It's almost a cliche' that government mandates always come with unintended consequences, and generally produce outcomes opposite of what their intent was.  It's like the only people who don't know that are the legislators and regulators.  The free market is always better.  The legislation mandating the state go to 100% renewables by 2045 had very specific milestones: 30% renewable electricity by 2020, 40% by 2030, 70% by 2040 before being 100% renewable by 2045.  HECO is considering those intermediate steps in light of minimizing financial damages from the changes.  They have to take out the coal-fired power plant because coal has been banned.  Building an oil-fired plant in its place is an unintended consequence. 

FEE Author John Miltimore presented this graphic of the shares of energy production in the US since 1950.  You can see that petroleum (the top band) peaked around the early 1980s and while never a huge supplier, is now clearly negligible.  Coal's share has been in decline since about 2008, and it looks like the biggest increase in generation belongs to natural gas.