Sunday, February 28, 2021

The Changing of the Projects - Part 2 - Comments to the Comments

There were a bunch of really great comments to my post last night about the next engine and the other project I'm working on and the general topic.  Many of them resonated with things I've been thinking of, so much that I thought it would tough to get to them all but there are similarities.  Hope this isn't too "me, me, me, me" for everyone else. 

There were several comments along the line of building a small but useful engine, and several people referred to a Stirling engine.  A useful engine is something I've given a lot of thought to and is part of the reason I'm interested in building that hit and miss engine; it's 2-1/2 cubic inches.  I don't know how much power it's capable of, but as a guideline I think a good engine can get 1 HP per cubic inch.  I seriously doubt that I could get 2-1/2 HP out of it, but maybe it could be 1-1/2 or 1 HP.  Here's what I consider a really important number for you.  It's slightly off the exact value but easier to remember. 

One horsepower = 750 watts.

I can think of that engine as 750Watt to a 1,125Watt battery charger/power supply.  I could wrap a belt around the big flywheel hub visible in that picture and use the engine to drive a generator.  (It's more prudent to go with 80% of those numbers because you'll have inefficiencies in your charging system.) 

I know that Stirling engines can do useful work, but I don't know how big a Stirling engine to think about to get 750 watts.  They definitely have their place, I just don't know what it is.  I've seen guys use one to charge a cellphone which to me is touching the bottom end of the useful scale. 

WCR, if you have 3HP (2,250 watts) worth of steam, why not use a steam engine instead of a Stirling?  There are tons of very capable steam engine designs and every engine builder seems to build at least a couple.  Are you thinking of a Stirling engine because of some advantage they have?  (that I don't know about...)

Stefan, I think your approach is a cool idea.  500W out of a steam engine to run a generator and charge batteries, is a good, useful size; to a 12V storage battery, half a kW is over 36 amps.  

An idea I keep thinking about, but have no idea how to really get there, is the widely available 49cc engines like they use on motorbikes.  These "49ers" are almost exactly 3 cubic inches, and the parts are available everywhere.  You can buy an entire, ready to mount and run engine for well under $100.  If you go to eBay, you'll find all the parts you can imagine.  How about a carburetor for $11?  The RC model carb on my Webster cost over $30. I see pistons for 7 to $10, too.  I just don't know that those parts fit in "any" 49er engine and I can see buying a bunch of parts only to not have them fit together.

I don't know how much the piston in my Webster cost, but among the critical parts in an internal combustion engine is how well the piston fits.  The real cost of the piston is the hours of measuring, remeasuring, and generally agonizing over the fit.  A ready made cylinder and piston that fits it is really tempting.

And Titaniumboy - I'd never heard of the BAXEDM project. I know of the existence of EDM but not much about what it really can do and do for me. I'll be looking into that.

A PM Research #3 steam engine.  Fairly small, at 0.15 cubic inch displacement, but available as fully machined parts so all that's left is to assemble it.  Their #6 engine is 4.4 cubic inches, but is castings to machine and assemble yourself. 

Saturday, February 27, 2021

The Changing of the Projects

While I haven't decided that my Webster engine is just not going to get any more effort devoted to it, I haven't touched it in a week.  I just have had no luck in getting it to run better.  If anything it has gotten worse.  Maybe it's time to put it on a plaque and stick that on the shelf, but I keep hoping for ideas.  

I don't really have anything picked out to build for the next project.  I have several sets of prints I've downloaded over the years for potential next projects, but nothing has given me that "I have got to do this" feeling.  Naturally, I'd like something that runs better than this engine, and overcomes it's weak spots - I thought relying on the piston creating vacuum to open the intake valve wasn't as reliable as using a push rod to open a valve. 

There's a popular model that I've seen at all both of the shows we've been to that I'm considering.  PM Research sells a kit of castings for a 1/4 scale model of a Hit and Miss engine from the early 20th century that kind of appeals to me.  It had the advantage of being bigger than the Webster; it's just about 2-1/2 cubic inches vs. 3/4 cubic inch.  The flywheel seems just about the limit of what I can turn on my lathe at 8-1/4 diameter (I have an "8-1/2 by" lathe).  This is the water cooled version and they make one that doesn't have that big tank on the right.  The water cooled version was the first model I ever saw, so I think of water cooled as the way to make this engine.

The main drawback is that kit is $500 and I'm sure there will more expenses along the way.  I've never machined something from castings, so there would be lots of learning, that's for sure.

Other thoughts include a Stirling Engine of some sort, or perhaps not an engine at all.  Maybe an orrery

My main project lately has been resurrection of an old project, but on the electronics/ham radio end of the house.  Long time readers might remember me talking of trying to get my ham radio linear amplifier running after the lightning strike we had back in August of '19; summary here.  After I got the insurance reimbursement for the amplifier, I couldn't bring myself to throw it out.  Why?  For all the world, it seemed like the only thing wrong with it was the high voltage/high current power supply.  Unfortunately, the only way I could know that would be to replace the power supply. 

Somewhere along the line, I got the idea that I could buy a cheap, lower current power supply and test the radio frequency (RF) deck one subcircuit at a time.  I found one on eBay for $72.  If it ends up being a waste and I don't fix the amplifier, then I'll put it back on eBay myself.

The amplifier is roughly 1/3 power supply and 2/3 RF deck.  The RF deck is my home turf and I feel confident I could fix anything broken in it.  The amplifier has four identical amplifier modules based on a transistor I actually worked with about 20 years ago.  I did primarily receiver design for a living but would help optimize or solve problems with RF power amplifiers that someone else designed. 

The power supply is more a question of determining how much I need to keep and how much I can get rid of and to make that call I pretty much need to understand their schematics and other documentation.  Sparse, but far, far better than what I had in the fall of '19. 

Friday, February 26, 2021

SpaceX Swaps “Suspect” Raptor, Retests in Under 48 Hrs

At the end of Wednesday's column on the SpaceX prototype elevator, I mentioned that on Tuesday they had static fired SN10 but that it apparently did something wrong because one of the three Raptor engines was swapped out Wednesday.  In a tweet, Elon Musk had said one was “suspect” and needed to be swapped out.  

Bearing in mind that SpaceX is intending these engines to be manufactured and used in numbers unprecedented for any rocket engine and you can understand how they might have a ready inventory and then test all three again.  The engines that were fired yesterday should have zero degradation from running for a couple of seconds, so put in the new one and test all three. 

That's what they did yesterday.  The test subjectively looked and sounded better to me, just based on seeing bunches of these static firings

For some reason, I couldn't get this to start at other than time = 0.  If you set the bar to 2:10 you should be less than 10 seconds before ignition. 

If you've seen any of the chatter about Elon Musk and the crypto currency called Dogecoin, you might appreciate the joke on the new Raptor waiting to be installed.

"A Raptor Engine labeled “Under Doge” (serial number unknown) was delivered to the Starship build site in Boca Chica just now, and Raptor SN56 (green nozzle) took its place on the Raptor van, presumably headed back to Hawthorne or Mcgregor.
@NASASpaceflight"  from Twitter user Jack Beyer.

Given how SpaceX turned around SN10 from a questionable static firing to an apparently successful firing within 48 hours, it might catch your attention that the SLS second static firing test (Green Run Test 2) has slipped out to NET Mar 16. (NET = No Earlier Than)  The SLS was test fired in January and aborted at 67 seconds over a "finicky" valve.  The valve was repaired and during further testing, another valve in the same section failed.  Replacing an engine on Starship took less than a day.  Replacing a valve on SLS will take three weeks. 

In any comparison like that, Starship is going to look better than SLS.  Starship has been designed to be worked on easily at this phase in its development when SpaceX uses the "test to failure, fix, repeat" mantra.  SLS has not been designed for any of the rapid turnaround features that Starship has.  Even SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets, the world-standard for reusable orbital-class boosters, would have a hard time challenging that engine swap turnaround.  My guess is that it would take less than a week to swap engines in the Falcon 9, too.   I think we've seen it before. 

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Do You Like Bridges That Don't Fall Down? Cars That Don't Explode?

If you like all those aspects of modern life we've become used to; bridges that don't fall down, cars that just run, aircraft that don't fall out of the sky, things like that, you might want to get involved with your local school board.  The "math is racist" nonsense is really getting out of hand.  

Stephen Green at PJ Media has gotten a little deeper into the subject in his regular "Insanity Wrap" column on PJ Media web site.  It has gotten worse since I last looked at what the advocates were saying back early in the Obama years, about 2011.  I downloaded a file from Radical Math and their emphasis was that thinking about math was too foreign to some people and the teachers needed to make it relevant to their lives.  Now it's gone hard left and the arguments are that math is part of systemic racism and white supremacy.  

The 82 page pdf document contains month-by-month programs for the math teachers, September to June.  This is the summary of the teaching goals for April.  I want  you to really look at the bottom paragraph on the left and this sentence in particular:  “Schooling as we know it began during the industrial revolution, when precision and accuracy were highly valued.”  There's no need for precision and accuracy today?  To hand the floor to Green.
Today we build little four-banger car engines that produce more than 300 horsepower, reusable rockets, entire constellations of communications satellites operating in every imaginable orbit, and stealth jet fighters that lose their near-invisibility if a single element is slightly out of whack.

But no, this modern age of ours no longer values precision or accuracy.

Well, we’d better, if we want to prevent the whole damn system from falling down around us.
We could do days on the need for precision and accuracy.  How about landing Perseverance on Mars after seven months and hundreds of millions of miles of travel?  How about creating rocket engines and getting the analyzed performance out of them?  Digging underground tunnels and having them meet up properly?  The world offers tons of examples.  Do these "teachers" think that precision and accuracy only come from the computers? 

This "2 + 2 = 4 is racist" nonsense is a dire threat to the kids in school and to everyone in society by the time they're working for a living.  In particular, as Green put it:
Real racism is telling black and brown kids that wrong answers are OK, and thus condemning them to second-rate educations — if that.
They would do much better for their students if instead of that, they told them that "I'm bad at math" is just a myth

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

SpaceX Prototypes An Elevator... Whut?

You may recall that back in May of '20, NASA downselected to three companies to take us from the Lunar Gateway down to the lunar surface by creating the Human Landing System (HLS).  The biggest contract, $579 million went to the “National Team” led by Blue Origin; the next biggest at $253 million went to a team led by Dynetics, while the smallest contract, $135 million, went to SpaceX for a lunar landing version of the Starships we watch daily over in Boca Chica, Texas. 

Today, as an almost "oh, by the way", we learned that SpaceX has prototyped and tested a vital piece of the hardware that hasn't existed until the last week or so. They prototyped the elevator that will take the astronauts from the 60 meter tall Starship down to the lunar surface.  The elevator looks like this.

The story was tweeted by Eric Ralph, the SpaceX correspondent for Teslarati, and published details there as well.  He adds an interesting point from the standpoint of watching them much of the day.
On a separate note, it’s unclear when or where SpaceX built and tested the first Starship elevator. The photo NASA’s Mark Kirasich provider appears to show an elevator prototype situated inside a steel Starship ring with the sky visible, but nothing like that setup has been spotted at SpaceX’s Boca Chica Starship factory or former Cocoa Beach production facilities. That leaves its Hawthorne, California factory or, perhaps, a mysterious “Roberts Road” facility on Kennedy Space Center (KSC) land. Either way, it certainly appears that SpaceX has yet to show all its cards and is doing everything it can to convince NASA that Starship is worth additional HLS contracts.
The May '20 post I linked to at the start of this article says that this Human Landing System contract was for a short period, ten months, which means it ends in March.  March is next Monday.  NASA says they hope to further select, probably two of the three, in the next few weeks but maybe as far out as April.  But saying "next few weeks" includes the start of April.

While Blue Origin and Dynetics have delivered some neat mockups of their landing approach, SpaceX has more flying hardware than anyone.  In the ten months since their contract award, SpaceX has built no less than eight full-scale Starship prototypes, performed about two dozen wet dress rehearsals and static fires with those prototypes, and performed two powered, 150m hops and two high-altitude test flights.  Add this elevator prototype and it sure seems like the most hardware by far. 

While on the topic of SpaceX Starships, SN10 had a static firing yesterday but it apparently wasn't in full compliance with the goals as at least one of the three Raptor engines was installed today. They're approved for a road closure tomorrow, and flight TFRs cover the 25th to the 27th.  I expect they'll try to static fire again tomorrow to test the replacement engine, and it remains possible they could repeat the SN8 and 9 test flight before Monday.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Democrats Fight to Bring $15 Min Wage Back From the Dead

Earlier in the month, as talk about a $15/hr federal min wage was circulating, Biden surprised lots of us by signaling to governors that the wage hike likely isn’t happening.  Since that time, the die hard $15/hr advocates have been scheming ways of getting it passed even if Biden doesn't want it (or doesn't admit he wants it).  The latest gambit appears to be playing games with parliamentary rules in the Senate, as explored by Politico.
The budget tool that Democrats are using to steer Biden’s plan through Congress without GOP support, known as reconciliation, is laden with thorny restrictions waiting to ensnare the $15 minimum wage boost they've added to the next tranche of coronavirus relief. The wage increase is also running into strong headwinds from two influential Senate Democratic centrists, Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who are both resistant to enacting the sweeping policy change through the powerful budget process.
Did you get that?  The way they're going to try to push the min wage through is by sticking it in the $1.9 Trillion Covid relief bill, still languishing in the Senate.  Min wage clearly has nothing to do with Covid relief, but that's how they roll up there.  Anything to "never let a crisis go to waste," as Rahm Emmanuel famously opined.  The White House and the Evil Party senate leaders have been waiting to see how the Senate's parliamentarian opines on the wage increase and both Evil and Stupid party leaders are expected to meet with the parliamentarian tomorrow. 

A separate, popular story going around this week has been the waste and political kickbacks already in the $1.9 Trillion Covid relief bill.  “The Wall Street Journal editorial board estimated that only $825 billion was directly related to COVID-relief and $1 trillion was “expansions of progressive programs, pork, and unrelated policy changes.” (ZeroHedge)

The Evil Party's problems are first and foremost with their own members who are not lockstep with the extreme left side of the party.  As that quote from Politico mentions, Joe Manchin (D-WV) says he won't go to $15 but might sign on to $11/hr.  Manchin has previously said that an $11 minimum wage hike, adjusted for inflation, would make more sense for his home state of West Virginia. The other problem is Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) who has said she's opposed to putting anything into the Covid relief bill that isn't Covid relief.
“What’s important is whether or not it’s directly related to short-term Covid relief. And if it’s not, then I am not going to support it in this legislation,” Sinema said in a telephone interview this week. “The minimum wage provision is not appropriate for the reconciliation process. It is not a budget item. And it shouldn’t be in there.”
I find it shocking that there's someone in the Senate who thinks the rules matter and aren't just obstacles to maneuver around like Non Player Characters (NPC) and other obstacles in a video game. 

That's probably as meaningful a summary as I can provide.  Close to anything is possible in what they'll negotiate to increase the min wage; the Politico article includes perhaps a dozen possible things we'll see that various senators think could get by the parliamentarian.  Reliably RINO Senator Mitt Romney  and Tom Cotton of Arkansas talk about offering a higher min wage “while ensuring businesses cannot hire illegal immigrants.” (I thought this was already illegal).  Naturally Senator and Budget Chair Bernie Sanders thinks he's put a case together for the parliamentarian that will sail through and $15 minimum wage will be included in the Covid relief bill.  We'll have to wait to see how bad the results are.

Graeme Jennings/Pool via AP

Monday, February 22, 2021

Thursday's Mars Landing Video

Today, NASA/JPL-Caltech released a short video of the last few minutes of the flight of Perseverance to Mars, culminating in the landing.  If you haven't seen it, you should.

The world’s most intimate view of a Mars landing begins about 230 seconds after the spacecraft entered the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere at 12,500 mph (20,100 kph). The video opens in black, with the camera lens still covered within the parachute compartment. Within less than a second, the spacecraft’s parachute deploys and transforms from a compressed 18-by-26 inch (46-by-66 centimeter) cylinder of nylon, Technora, and Kevlar into a fully inflated 70.5-foot-wide (21.5-meter-wide) canopy – the largest ever sent to Mars. The tens of thousands of pounds of force that the parachute generates in such a short period stresses both the parachute and the vehicle.

“Now we finally have a front-row view to what we call ‘the seven minutes of terror’ while landing on Mars,” said Michael Watkins, director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which manages the mission for the agency. “From the explosive opening of the parachute to the landing rockets’ plume sending dust and debris flying at touchdown, it’s absolutely awe-inspiring.”
I have a tremendous amount of respect for the people involved in designing and pulling off this mission so far; not just the JPL but I'm approaching "five nines" (99.999%) sure that established defense and space contractors who are experienced with designing for space did much of the heavy lifting.  The levels of endurance, resilience, and reliability required in the electronics at every level is almost comical. This hardness is demanded from the components themselves, to the subsystems created, to the entire spacecraft and its auxiliary elements.  The running joke is that all the components used in space, "Class S" components, aren't considered acceptable until the test documents weigh more than the launch vehicle.  The testing should exhaust about half the components expected life (and they routinely work far longer than expected).   

I worked on one of those contracts for the JPL in the early '90s, and the JPL people exude an air of competence.  JPL has a desire to plan for every eventuality and asked rather amazing and dumbfounding questions.  Things like how a system might react when it was turned off if the systems it was connected with did something unexpected.  Most of us think our circuits won't do anything when they're turned off, but it's a worth looking at if the tests can be done.

If you're keeping an eye on SpaceX Boca Chica, you'll know that the expected static firing of SN10 (Sten?  Ted?) didn't happen today.  They have road closures tomorrow and Wednesday and FAA clearances to go for repeat of SN8 and 9's flight potentially as early as this week, although I kind of doubt it.  I don't know what went wrong today, but they didn't get as far as the cryo proof testing done in the last round of tests, judging by looking at the videos from late in the test.  There are never signs of the vehicle venting or getting icy, so it never got fueled. 

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Today, This Blog is 11 Years Old

That's right, it's my 11th blogiversary, and the rarest kind of anniversary: the day of the week and calendar date are the same.  My first post was Sunday, February 21, 2010.   Looking at that post, I'd have to say the more things change the more things stay insane. 

Stock photo from Depositphotos.

As always, I thank you for stopping by.  According to the stats engine on Blogger, my numbers have picked up in the last couple of months.  For years I'd get 1500 to 1600 views per day.  For the last month the eyeball average has been around 2500 to 3000 views/day; the lowest number of views in a day was 1947 and the highest was 4651.  Several times during the last month more than 3000 views registered.  I'm humbled and honored. 

The way those stats are provided makes it pretty much impossible to tell what people come here looking for.  

But that's old news.  What's going on now?  It appears that the power troubles are over at SpaceX in Texas, and the testing is going to pick up on SN10 this week.  Road closures are set for Monday through Wednesday and the fact that there are no flight restrictions (TFRs) implies that they'll try to achieve a static firing.  They need to do that before they can fly anyway, so I expect them to try in these next three days. 

Aside from that, Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance both showed some progress in the last week.  Blue Origin opened the hanger doors at their facility on the cape, showing a New Glenn apparently ready for some testing to start.  This is the first time a potentially real New Glenn has been seen by the public.  At the same time, ULA rolled their first prototype of their Vulcan rocket, the Vulcan Pathfinder, to launch complex 41 (SLC-41) on Cape Canaveral. 

Image by Twitter user Stephen C. Smith, photo editing by yours truly to remove some tilt and improve saturation.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

A Little Shop Update

In looking back over my previous posts, I notice I never updated the stories about my little Webster Internal Combustion Engine after showing the modification I made to reduce the amount the cylinder was moving.  I concluded that story saying, "Does it work?  I don't know.  I haven't had the time to test it, yet."  In fact, it does work, as this video dated February 3rd shows.  

If you compare this to the video posted on January 19th showing the engine running for the first time, the cylinder does lots of rocking back and forth in the first video.  In this video the rocking isn't perceptible. 

Since then, I've done little with the engine and had zero success getting it to start easier and run more reliably.  The only thing I've done that had any degree of success is putting together a new way of starting the engine.  What I had been using was a compromise to get me going quickly.  One of the guys told me about his method, which involved using a body shop tool called a pin stripe eraser. These things are large rubber wheels that are literally erasers.  It works but it's very messy.  Look below the flywheel's right edge in this video, between the two clamps, and you can see a mess of yellowish powder.  That's the eraser dust. 

The way most engine builders start an engine like this is with a pair of metal parts they make.  One is made for every engine and it's left on it.   It would help me explain to put the image here first.

There are two parts.  The one on the left slides over the crankshaft and is held by a setscrew visible near the left side rim.  I've seen these called a starter spud.  It's essentially a cup; a piece of 3/4 steel bored out to 1/2" inside diameter and about 0.150" thick on the bottom.  The bottom is reamed to match the crankshaft and installed so that the crankshaft fills the reamed hole.  The piece on the right is a piece of bronze rod I bought for the engine turned down to just under 3/8" diameter on the right end.  The piece is cross drilled and reamed to a 0.125" hole for a piece of 0.125 steel rod pressed in place.  It's a tight press fit; I had to use my mill's vise to push the pin into place.

To use these, the right side (I call it the Tee) is chucked in a drill, (my line powered drills are faster than my battery powered drill) the pin fitted into the slot and the drill is run to crank the engine.  In my case, it's done from the side you're looking at, and cranked counterclockwise. 

The good news is no eraser dust messing up everything.  The bad news is I still can't get the engine to start reliably and run better. 

Friday, February 19, 2021

Best By Date Rapidly Approaching

Light content tonight due to some family priorities.  The best by date may be here for this one.  

Another view of the Perseverance landing on Mars yesterday.

This is looking down onto the rover from Space Crane lowering Percy to the surface. 

An agate pulled from a river and cut open with a rock saw to see what's inside.  I believe from somewhere in Oregon but the link is long lost. 

From earlier this month right after the Game Stop/Hedge Fund fiasco blew up. 

As always, I save stuff that appeals to me while wandering the net. If it's yours and you don't want it used here or want a credit, just leave a comment or send an email; address in the "Contact Me" block in the right sidebar.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

NASA's Perseverance Rover Lands on Mars

The NASA/JPL team extended their record of successful landings on Mars this afternoon as the Perseverance rover landed at 3:55 PM Eastern.  All Mars landings are done autonomously because Mars is around 11 light minutes away from the Earth, making radio responses to command some maneuver arrive at least 22 minutes after they saw something they needed to do. The entire landing from the time they enter the atmosphere to touchdown is around seven minutes, making it impossible to pilot the spacecraft from Earth.   NASA famously refers to this as the "seven minutes of terror" because ground controllers can do nothing more than watch the telemetry coming back while hoping for the best.

In those seven minutes, simulated and subject to every Software Assurance test imaginable, they either successfully begin the mission, or spread a $2.5 billion work of art, engineering, and science across the surface of a distant and forbidding planet.

I found the summary that writer Eric Ralph at Teslarati pulled together to be a great perspective on those seven minutes.
The sheer insanity of injecting a car-sized rover into another planet’s atmosphere – with no prior braking of any kind – at around 10 times the speed of a bullet, deploying a house-sized parachute at supersonic velocities, and ultimately dropping that rover to the surface of Mars with a literal rocket-powered ‘sky crane’ is hard to exaggerate. The fact that that was what hundreds of the world’s smartest people concluded was the safest and most optimal architecture exemplifies just how extraordinarily difficult large-scale Mars landings really are.
This image captures the major milestones of the landing approach:

NASA/JPL-Caltech diagram of the landing sequence.

Note that at the end of the sequence, NASA uses the SkyCrane, in which part of the spacecraft separates and then lowers the rover onto the surface.  Once the landing is completed, the SkyCrane then flies away to dispose of itself.  This is only the second use of the SkyCrane method; the first was a sister Mars rover, Curiosity, still in operation on Mars.  

Perseverance is an innovative and ambitious mission.  It's the largest rover ever landed on another planet at 1025kg or 2255lb.s and among the ambitious parts of its mission is that it is carrying a helicopter drone to experiment with being able to fly the first vehicle on another planet.  There will be a chemistry experiment to determine if it's possible to extract oxygen from the Martian atmosphere's CO2, and perhaps most ambitious of all is a plan to collect interesting looking samples and store them for a follow up mission in perhaps 2028 to 2032 to retrieve and return to Earth. 

Within minutes of landing successfully, Perseverance took this image and sent it back to Earth.  We were warned it wasn't the resolution the rover will do, because the camera has a lens protector over it to protect it from dust and bigger pebbles scattered into the thin atmosphere, but here's our first look at Jezero Crater, where Perseverance will work. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Bill Gates' Self-Serving Absurd Statement on Synthetic Meat

Everybody has been making fun of Bill Gates' almost comically wrong statement about eating synthetic meat.   Everybody talks about the easy quote, that the bottom 80% of income countries won't be eating synthetic meat, so rich countries should eat nothing but synthetic stuff.  You'll get used to the taste!  Honest!  But nobody has talked about the rest of the quote:
“Eventually, that green premium is modest enough that you can sort of change the [behavior of] people or use regulation to totally shift the demand.”
My turn to make fun of it. 

First off, how is this different from the Massachusetts environmental officer talking about breaking your will to keep you house warm in winter, or driving a car somewhere?  Gates is saying they're going to use regulation to break your will to eat meat.  The Masshole guy was forced out of office.  The only difference is that Gates isn't a public official who can be forced out of office. 

Gates' reason for breaking your will is that tired, old claim that cattle release too much methane, which everyone refers to as cattle farts when they're really burps, but the claim is disputed by actual agricultural scientists who have investigated it and is widely considered nonsense. 

One of the memes going around is that people say it's remarkable these companies take all sorts of plants and stuff and make it taste like beef, but cows must be smarter because they've been doing that forever.  When I say "all sorts of plants and stuff" I mean it: 

There's at least six ingredients in that list that I wouldn't put in my body, but the issue is deeper than that.  I actually did a blog post on this topic back in 2019 (two years and five days ago), which I'm going reproduce here. 

The Bullshit About Cattle Farts

If you pay attention to the Green New Deal and the incessant screaming from the vegan community, you'll think that cattle farts containing methane are the worst threat to the climate.  The UN has backed this lame idea before but their claims have some serious mistakes in them.  Mistakes or lies.  I have several good sources on that, but The BlazeTV released a short video of an interview with Dr. Sara Place, an academic researcher in animal science and sustainability.  This is only five minutes long and gives a good start.

First off, the methane from cows is 1.8% of the greenhouse gas emissions in the US.  Second off, methane doesn't come from cattle farts, it comes from cattle burps.  I realize that might be a minor distinction, but the EPA, those high priests of junk science, jumped on the "regulate cattle farts" bandwagon under Obama.  The UN claims cattle create 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions - more than comes from transportation - but they're lumping in all livestock, not just cattle, to include poultry, lamb and all sources of meat.  They're also including the effects of animal feed production, feed harvesting, feeding the animals, the farm vehicles that tend to these animals and everything up to the emissions from the slaughterhouse.  A third of that 18% is blamed on deforestation specifically in Brazil.

Both of those summaries are dishonest.  First, it's not fair to blame methane production in chicken farming on cattle farming, and it's unfair to include everything that the goes into food production to just the tailpipe emissions of vehicles rather than the equivalent entire life cycle associated with transportation.  Second, the part about deforestation is dishonest for two reasons; the easiest being that there's no equivalent deforestation in the US, or in other parts of the world.  In the US the story is reforestation.  We have more trees today than a hundred years ago.  The other reason is that not all grassland could be forest and not all forest can convert to grasslands.  There is some relation between the two, but it's not simple subtraction.  Simply, much of the planet can't be dense forest and can only be grassland. 

One of the most interesting videos from Ted talks about science is a 2013 talk about desertification by Allan Savory.  Dr. Savory talks about discovering that large herds of grass eating animals restore grasslands and reverse the damages to the environment.  Yes, herds of life stock "save the Earth".  It's a story of how a hundred years of following the agricultural scientists' best recommendations and removing livestock converted lush grassland to wastelands, and how reintroducing livestock has restored millions of hectares of that wasteland to productive grassland.  The before and after pictures toward the last few minutes of the video are jaw-dropping. 

Dr. Savory recommends eating the livestock, which naturally makes the the vegans haaaate him with a white hot, burning hate.

An interesting guy I've heard talk on this subject several times is Dr. Peter Ballerstedt, who calls himself a leader of the Ruminati.  He's an infrequent blogger, and regular speaker at various conferences.  Here's a quick summary of the basis for a new video, We Need A Ruminant Revolution.
Human beings exist because of ruminants. Today’s societies rely upon them. Humanity’s future depends upon improvements in the productivity and efficiency of worldwide ruminant animal agriculture. Like the general public’s confusion of what constitutes a “healthy diet,” tremendous misunderstanding exists regarding the environmental role of ruminant animals. Human beings didn’t evolve to eat meat, they evolved because they ate meat - and because they learned to cook and process meat and other foodstuffs. Unsurprisingly then, diets rich in butter, meat and cheese have been shown to promote human health and development. Of significant worldwide impact, such diets can correct the symptoms of metabolic syndrome, offering hope in arresting the current worldwide epidemic of chronic diseases.
The dire predictions from Anorexia Pistachio Kotex and her Democratic Socialists of America comrades that say we need to end cattle farts would be laughable without the need for a single fart joke.  Except it's not funny, it would kill many people and make the planet worse off because the planet needs livestock.  The planet needs ruminants.  You can say they were designed for each other or you can say they co-evolved this way, but the result is the same.  Like everything the socialists say, this argument is demonstrably wrong.

I think I'll leave the last words to an MD who advocates for high quality meats and minimally processed foods (which that synthetic meat is most certainly not).

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

When What Was Once Impossible Becomes Routine

It's a very, very common thing in the world.  Some high tech pioneer takes on something that was impossible forever, and then it wasn't anymore.  Then it becomes commonplace until nobody notices it anymore.  This connection you're reading over is an easy example.  So is radio.  Airline travel is another.  You can get on a jet, fly across the country staring out the window and everything below you is socked in clouds.  You spend five hours in the air and not see a thing until you make out the runway through clouds or fog and the airplane settling onto it.  No one thinks for a minute how that was done decades before GPS in our phones.

We had another example late last night Eastern time. SpaceX launched a much delayed Starlink mission to put another 60 satellites in orbit.  For the first time in 24 missions, they failed to recover the booster.  Booster B1059 was on its sixth flight, and the important part of its mission, getting the satellites to the right place for the second stage to do its job, was completely nominal.  The satellites were successfully delivered to the proper orbit. 

As a long time observer of these missions, there was a moment that just didn't look right.  There are two engine burns during the landing maneuvers of the Falcon 9.  The first is fairly high up and around 90 seconds before the landing, called the Entry Burn.  Three engines are lit and burn for 20 to 30 seconds.  After the engines shut down there was extra light, looking like either the shutdown didn't work as planned or something worse was going on.  This screen capture is from the mission video, within a few seconds after the shutdown and the booster view is on the left.  There's light shining toward the right, behind the grid fin, that shouldn't be there.  This long after the engines are supposed to be off, that left half of the video should have gone completely dark.  The right side is the second stage engine glowing reddish white hot, as they always do.  

About a minute later, when the landing burn and touchdown on recovery drone Of Course I Still Love You were supposed to be happening, the only thing that could be seen was an orange glow off in the distance.

Those white things on deck in the left side image are seagulls that can be watched moving around as the booster was supposed to be approaching.  I recall thinking those were going to be toasted pretty soon and wondered if they could react fast enough to get out of the way but they were spared. 

As of this evening, this is still the most recent news I can find.  There was to be a launch of another load of 60 Starlink satellites tonight, just under 26 hours after last night's launch, but that has been delayed until NET than Thursday night (Friday the 19th, @ 0512 in the morning UTC or 12:12 AM EST).  One would assume the delay would be to go over all the telemetry to see if that booster should be checked for some problem. 

SpaceX has always stressed on its video coverage that recovering the booster is not the important part of the mission, delivering the payload is.  They've said they expect to lose a small percentage of boosters for drone ship landings.  We've just all gotten so used to watching the booster land in the center of the drone ships' decks that it's a surprise when it turns out this rocket science stuff is actually hard after all.

Monday, February 15, 2021

The Long March to Peak Stupidity

The first month of the Biden (Jo/Ho) administration has seen proposals, executive orders, and proposed legislation that's staggeringly out of touch with reality.  From the absurd ideas of making middle and lower class taxpayers pay for the college of the doctors and lawyers (let's be real, the highest amounts of college debt aren't from Starbucks Baristas with a degree in aggrieved minority studies, they're from professional schools) to killing off America's energy independence and lots of good paying jobs, to today's gun control nonsense, they just keep going farther and farther down the road to unreality.   

I tell myself that they can't possibly be at peak stupidity yet because they've hardly started. Today, I see the latest bright idea is give a refundable tax credit of up to $1,500 on the purchase of a new bicycle.  Not just any bike, this is for an electric-motor driven bike, also known as an e-bike. 

If you're a long term reader, you probably know I'm a cyclist; I don't talk about it much, but have posted on occasion.  While I've looked at e-bikes now and then and know a guy who rides one all the time, my bike is low tech: if I don't push the pedals it doesn't go anywhere.  My friend's bike is the kind that is electric assist.  If he doesn't pedal, it doesn't assist, and he used it to much benefit preparing for hip replacement.  Even coming from the bike world, this is a stunningly stupid policy proposal. 
Authored by Congressmen Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), the Electric Bicycle Incentive Kickstart for the Environment (E-BIKE) Act supports the use of e-bikes as a zero-carbon transportation mode. Compared to other transportation modes, the bill recommends e-bikes because they are more affordable and accessible.

“E-bikes are not just a fad for a select few; they are a legitimate and practical form of transportation that can help reduce our carbon emissions,” Panetta said. “My legislation will make it easier for more people from all socio-economic levels to own e-bikes and contribute to cutting our carbon output. By incentivizing the use of electric bicycles to replace car trips through a consumer tax credit, we cannot only encourage more Americans to transition to greener modes of transportation, but also help fight the climate crisis.”
Where to start?  How much do you want to bet that Congressmen Panetta and Blumenauer come from districts that have e-bike manufacturers, or have other incentives?  Second, e-bikes are not "zero-carbon" transportation.  The energy that charges the batteries is coming from the power company.  Is it natural gas?  Is it coal?  Owners have no control over that.  But look a little deeper.  Even my bike, powered by me, isn't zero-carbon.  I give off carbon dioxide all the time, and more when working harder riding the bike.  An e-bike would be lower in carbon emissions than a car, but it's not zero. 

Although I've seen many tables of calories per hour a cyclist burns, depending on speed (and a host of assumptions), I've never seen numbers for the energy supplied by the rider and the e-bike to compare to the car.  When I first returned to riding as an adult in the early '90s, there was factoid spread around that the average bike rider riding 15 miles would burn around 600 calories, while a car would burn about 15,000.  That implied the car would burn about 1/2 gallon of gas to go 15 miles - 30 MPG around town - a pretty efficient car.  My 11 year old Explorer doesn't get 15mpg around town, more like 14.  It would use over 30,000 calories to go 15 miles. I'd use more like 690 on my bike.  

The bill would create a refundable tax credit up to $1500 for 30% of the purchase price of a new e-bike (that maximum credit is on a $5000 bike).  Note that says e-bike and specifically does not include tax credits for a human powered bike.  An e-bike isn't carbon-free, it's just lower carbon.  The energy to get someplace comes from somewhere.  It either comes from petroleum products, those same petroleum products converted to electricity, or it comes from the rider's body, converted from food.  They're trying to bribe people to give up using their cars by giving them some cash.  For a more modest bike, like this one, a quick check tells me the credit would be $780.  That check starts looking less good when it has rained, or snowed or any other sort of inclement weather.

A Townie Go! now from Trek Bikes, one of the most popular brands and models of e-bikes (although I gather this picture is an older model.  Just grabbed a stock photo.)  The battery pack (where it says "townie") is less obvious than the models that have a large, black plastic battery pack there.

It's a dumb idea based on the concept of a Weather Tax that I've dismissed years ago.  The only thing the idea has going for it is that the real cost will probably be low.  There will be a few people who take advantage of it but I can't imagine it will be many.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

A Ham Radio Series 21 - A Little Getting Started on HF Information

Most of the getting started information that I see is based on VHF radios, like the ubiquitous Baofeng VHF HTs (Handie Talkies).  There's nothing wrong with that, but since I've been more interested in High Frequency bands (HF - also known as shortwave), I see a few things that should get some mention. 

There are currently nine bands in the HF spectrum from 3 to 30 MHz.  These are referred to by wavelength, a tradition that's a bit odd when you realize the wavelength the bands are named for appears in exactly one of the bands. 
  • 80 m: 3.50 to 4.00  MHz (80m itself is 3.75 MHz)
  • 60 m: five assigned channels at 5.332 to 5.405 MHz (60 m is 5.00 MHz)
  • 40 m: 7.00 to 7.30  MHz (40m is 7.50 MHz)
  • 30 m: 10.10 to 10.15 MHz (CW & data only) (30m is 10.00 MHz)
  • 20 m: 14.00  14.35 MHz (20m is 15.00MHz
  • 17 m: 18.068 to 18.168 MHz (17m is 17.647 MHz)
  • 15 m: 21.00 to 21.45 MHz (15m is 20 MHz)
  • 12 m: 24.89 to 24.99 MHz (12m is 25 MHz)
  • 10 m: 28.00 to 29.70 MHz (10m is 30 MHz)
As we've pointed out in some of the various antenna posts over the years, antennas work best when they're cut to a specific length for the desired frequency, called being resonant.  The only useful thing about referring to the bands by wavelength is it gives you some feel for how big those antennas should be.  (A half wave antenna for 40 meters is 20 meters long).  For statesiders, you only need to remember one of the following two equations.  A quarter wave wire, in feet is given by L = 234/freq (where frequency is in MHz) while a half wave is twice that or L = 468/freq.  That number is already compensated for the "end effect" of cutting off the wire and wrapping a little into a loop to mount the antenna.  It's about 5% shorter than the wavelength in free space.

You can get one of these charts in many places.  Keep one near your radio.  I do. 

I can tell you based on years of operating all those bands that they all have distinctive behaviors and distinctive groups that hang out on them all the time.  How do you choose which one you might want to start operating on?  There are websites (like this one) that give you an overview of what to expect on each band, and you can listen around  Do you need a separate antenna for each band?  Do you need to run separate cables from each antenna into your station? 

You don't have to have a separate antenna for every band, but it's not that hard to get an acceptable signal on all of those bands with one antenna, like a multiband vertical.  Perhaps you might put up a wire for one or all of the lower bands (80, 40 or 30m) and a triband antenna for 20,15 and 10m - most of the spectrum on just two antennas.

For many years in this house, my low band antenna was an Off Center Fed Dipole, OCFD, cut for 40m.  OCFD means the dipole was a normal half wave long (468/7.1 or 65.9 feet total length), but instead of the coax being attached at the middle, about 33 feet from each end, I attached the coax at about half of that from one end or 16.5' from one and left the other end 49.4' long.  That changed the antenna so that one side was 1/8 wave long and the other 3/8 wave long.  Because of that asymmetry, a balun (balanced to unbalanced transformer) isn't needed, however something I read convinced me to use a transformer to 450 ohms at the feedpoint (that's 9:1 impedance or 3:1 turns ratios).  A 3:1 restricted range antenna tuner, like the big radio companies tend to put in their radios, tuned it on every band from 40 to 6m. 

There's almost an unlimited number of ways to solve the antenna problem.  A fan array is an easy antenna to make: it's a group of dipoles cut to frequency and tied together at one feed point.  The wires are kept spaced apart with plastic insulators, and since the impedances of the off band antennas are so wrong for the transmit signal, they don't interact.  For example, if you're on 20m the 80, 40 and 10m dipoles don't absorb much power because they're very wrong impedances.  

The hidden bonus here is that half wave antennas resonate on odd harmonics.  That adds coverage on 15m as the third harmonic of 40m, (that is, frequencies in the 40 band multiplied by 3 are in the 15 meter band) so although you see four wires, it's a five band antenna.  Yes, I've used one of these, a bit over 35 years ago.  It worked fine. 

Another standard antenna is an end-fed wire.  These are called Zepp antennas because it was the type used when Zeppelins were the aircraft of the day.  End fed half waves are high impedance, but friends tell me their end-fed wires work fine with an antenna tuner.  Antenna tuners were covered early in this series, more of a "how they work" than things to care about or watch out for. 

The major thing to watch out for when using an antenna tuner anywhere in your system is that the best place for the tuner is at the antenna feed point.  That tends to be really inconvenient, and the most convenient place is in the shack.  The price you pay for that convenience is more loss in the transmission lines as the signal bounces back and forth due to the mismatch.  Which says if you're going to scrimp anywhere, the coax might not be the place.  The loss in a piece of coax is a stronger function of diameter than the dielectric (insulators) used, so RG-8 or RG-213 is better than the smaller RG-58.  Which matters more for long cable runs than short pieces of cable.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

The Nuclear Option - to Power Spacecraft

Eric Berger, the space correspondent at Ars Technica takes a dive into the complexities of interplanetary missions, and especially powering the missions to Mars, or the outer planets.  The overriding problem in such missions is that the mission must carry everything they can anticipate needing.  The biggest problem is the fuel they need to get there.

His conclusion is that nuclear engines are the only realistic way to do the mission.  Even when Mars is at its closest, and the missions launch at the optimum time to get there in the shortest travel times, the fuel requirements are astounding.  Think 1,000 to 4,000 metric tons of propellant (include the oxidizer) if they use chemical-burning engines.
If that’s difficult to visualize, consider this. When upgraded to its Block 1B configuration, NASA’s Space Launch System rocket will have a carrying capacity of 105 tons to low-Earth orbit. NASA expects to launch this rocket once a year, and its cost will likely be around $2 billion for flight. So to get enough fuel into orbit for a Mars mission would require at least 10 launches of the SLS rocket, or about a decade and $20 billion. Just for the fuel.
The 105 tons to orbit is less than 1/10 of the lowest estimate for fuel required.  Bear in mind this is the biggest rocket NASA has come up with.  You might recall that there's currently a program in which NASA contracted with SpaceX to work on refueling in space.  It's not something that can currently be done and nothing has been tested. 

When faced with a decade of getting fuel into low earth orbit and $20 billion in costs, it's time to re-think how you're planning your missions.  NASA requested that the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine study the various options for mission to Mars in 2039.  They've issued a report that looks at the options for nuclear power and considers them the optimum solution.
The committee was not asked to recommend a particular technology, each of which rely on nuclear reactions but work differently. Nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) involves a rocket engine in which a nuclear reactor replaces the combustion chamber and burns liquid hydrogen as a fuel. Nuclear electric propulsion (NEP) converts heat from a fission reactor to electrical power, like a power plant on Earth, and then uses this energy to produce thrust by accelerating an ionized propellant, such as xenon.

"If you look at the committee's recommendations for NTP, we felt that an aggressive program, built on the foundational work that's been accomplished recently, could get us there," Braun said of the Mars 2039 goal. "For NEP, we felt that it was unclear if such a program could get us there, but we did not conclude that it could not get us there."
Nuclear propulsion requires much less propellant, although for any mission far enough/long enough propellant is one of the major concerns.  Eric Berger uses a "planning number" of 500 metric tons, less than the lowest estimate for chemical propellants.  

This, of course, is not a new discovery of a surprise problem.  It has been known by anyone who has "done the math" to look at how to design rockets for deep space missions.  In the early days of the space program, the 1950s and '60s, there was a lot of work in this area, and programs like NERVA (Nuclear Engines for Rocket Vehicular Applications) were extensively explored. 

This is an artist's conception of an NTP mission to Mars from NERVA in the '60s. NASA image.

I think everyone concedes it can be done, it's more a question of political will and other priorities competing for the same funding.  Bobby Braun, mentioned earlier is the director for planetary science at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and co-chair of the committee that wrote the nuclear report.  Braun thinks this is the kind of thing NASA was created for, and a billion or so a year would get the results needed to realize nuclear propulsion.

An interesting question, then, is what about SpaceX and Starship? 
The project seeks to address the problem of needing a lot of chemical propellant by developing a low-cost, reusable launch system. SpaceX engineers know it will take a lot of fuel to reach Mars, but they believe the problem is solvable if Starship can be built to fly often and for relatively little money. The basic concept is to launch a Starship to orbit with empty tanks and transfer fuel launched by other Starships in low-Earth orbit before a single vehicle flies to Mars.
That's not to say Starship cannot work. However, it does illustrate the challenge of mounting a mission to Mars with chemical-only propulsion. To use traditional propulsion, one needs to push the boundaries of reuse and heavy lift rockets to extreme limits—which is precisely what SpaceX is trying to do with its fully reusable launch system.
OK, so they can get to Mars; now how do they get back, or is it a one-way mission?  The answer is to make their own methane and oxygen on Mars, and they're studying that, too.  This is a place where the lower gravity and thinner atmosphere of Mars help the mission.  

Friday, February 12, 2021

Is The Space Launch System Program Dying?

That's a possible interpretation by Robert Zimmerman of Tuesday's news that NASA awarded a contract to SpaceX for a job that SLS was at least partially designed for. 

In a piece called "The coming death of NASA's Space Launch System," Zimmerman starts with some of the things we know and adds some detail.  It's worth your time to RTWT.  He starts out with the story I reported Monday the 8th about the Biden administration saying that they will support the Artemis program.  On Wednesday the 3rd, a group of eleven Democratic Party senators wrote a letter to the Biden administration, urging support for the Human Landing System program, which is the critical hardware needed to enable a human return to the Moon.
What made that letter remarkable was that it made no mention of SLS at all. Instead, its focus was to encourage Biden to not abandon construction of the Artemis manned lunar lander, what NASA dubs the Human Landing System (HLS).

Until that moment it had always been assumed in political circles that if you continue Artemis it means you continue SLS. Artemis itself was conceived as a program to give that heavy-lift rocket a purpose. SLS had been mandated by Congress a decade ago when Obama cancelled Bush’s Ares heavy-lift rocket. The problem was that Congress had not proposed any mission for SLS, and thus Artemis was born to give it that mission.
He points out a contract that seemed so minor I didn't mention it.  NASA awarded a contract to startup Firefly to build an unmanned lunar lander.  While the lander has nothing to do with SLS and doesn't seem to be relevant, Zimmerman points out that it strongly implies NASA is going to continue with the Trump-era policy of letting more private companies do previously core NASA tasks.  That was on Friday, February 5th.  The following Tuesday, the 9th, NASA awarded the contract to SpaceX to launch the Lunar Gateway. 
Third, this switch from SLS was underlined when the very next day NASA announced that its Jupiter unmanned probe Europa Clipper was definitely going to fly on a commercial rocket, not SLS. For years Congress had mandated by law that SLS be Clipper’s rocket. In January however the new NASA budget had finally released NASA of that mandate, and the agency wasted no time in exercising its option to dump SLS. The likely replacement will once again be SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, but NASA is reserving that decision for a year.
In our December 4, 2020 piece on the Europa Clipper, we had noted that the currently planned launch date for the mission is in 2024.  If 2024 is firm, the chances are low that it could be anything other than Falcon Heavy.  There is, however, a real wild card in the deck.  It's possible that within two years Starship may have achieved lunar missions and be a more viable platform to carry Europa Clipper.  SpaceX may have even launched unmanned missions to Mars

At this point in Starship development, it seems unrealistic to think the Clipper program could count on the Starship being ready, but betting against SpaceX seems to be risky these days.  From a system design standpoint, the less change there has to be to configure a payload for Starship as opposed to Falcon Heavy, the easier it is to say you're going Falcon Heavy and switch to Starship if it becomes available.

Leaving that aside, a totally different card was dealt this week.  Alabama Senator Richard Shelby (R) has announced he won't be running for reelection after his current term is up.  I've picked on Senator Shelby many times for being the main reason the overpriced ($146 million for each of the four main engines) and underperforming SLS is still alive. 
Shelby, head of the Senate appropriations committee under Republican rule and now the ranking member under Democratic rule, had been for years SLS’s most important supporter, since much of it was being built in his state. No NASA decision on SLS could happen without his okay, and no negative decision on SLS was possible with him in power.
I should be the first to point out that Shelby hasn't kept the SLS alive by himself but he has been a stalwart supporter.  The big picture is that the congressional pork machine kept it alive.  You know the pattern; they distribute contracts in districts around the country to keep programs alive no matter who gets elected. 

Given these things, it certainly looks like the SLS is facing headwinds that it has never faced.  As reported the other day, NASA is currently targeting the week of Feb. 21 for the next attempt at the static fire test.  If this test aborts, they'll almost certainly need to do a third.  This core stage is scheduled to take the first unmanned test flight of an SLS by the end of this year.  A second test abort forcing the static fire test to be run three times would probably push the SLS first flight off into '22.  That launch will then be about four years behind schedule, and would have cost the taxpayers about $28 billion.

SLS Core stage being loaded onto the test stand at Stennis Spaceflight Center.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Sorry "Reality Czar" - Trans Women Should Not Compete Against Born Women

When Press Secretary Psaki yesterday echoed the literal party line that "trans rights are human rights" I wouldn't argue a bit.  I would argue however that it's fundamentally unfair to biological women to have them compete against biological men, regardless of whatever medical treatments they've had done.  Men who are undergoing treatment, or have undergone it, certainly have a right to compete in athletics, but they need to compete against other men transitioning to being women and not biological women.

Look, this shouldn't be controversial.  People have been studying this forever and Atlantic magazine (of all places) did a summary of results in 2012.  There's a slight complication that both men and women are getting better and faster, but the fact remains that there is a performance difference in athletics between men and women that remains almost unchanged.  In comparisons since around 1950, the records for women are close to 90% of the men's records. 

The ratio of women's to men's records in this event, a 200 m sprint (foot race), has stayed at 0.90 + 0.2 almost continuously since 1955.  The same results hold for swimming events. 

The big name behind several of these studies is Israeli physicist Ira Hammerman. 
Hammerman spoke at the 2010 Wingate Congress of Exercise & Sports Sciences, and he found that this little-known ratio held across all sports.

Running. Swimming. Rowing. Kayaking. Short distance, long distance. Accomplished in teams or attempted alone.These are such diverse events, requiring different parts of the body and diverse types of talent. And yet they all share something: Their women's speed world records are all about 90 percent of their men's speed world records, in both short, middle and long distances.
Hammerman points out that as both men and women have gotten better and faster, women match the records men set decades earlier. The women's world record for racing the butterfly (swimming) in 2012 equaled Mark Spitz's 1967 record for men.

I've blogged many times about watching the Tour de France on TV every July, and still watch a few days out of the month (although since all of my favorite riders aged out of the Tour, I watch less).  The Tour has been running for over a hundred years and tons of records are available.   There has never been a woman competitive in the Tour.  There has been a women's Tour in some form or other since the early 1980s.  First called Le Tour de France Women; then Grande Boucle FĂ©minine Internationale (Grande Boucle translates as Big Loop, a name the Tour has used), and other names.  Suffice it to say no woman has ever outperformed the men.  If women were capable of being competitive against the men, you can bet they'd be in big races. 

Don't expect to see this data anywhere.  All the "Reality Czar" will tell you is that you're being bigoted by thinking what this data says.  They'll declare that there's no difference between trans women and biological women, without giving you actual studies to review.  But why listen to me?  Why not listen to a young woman who's being hammered by these rules?  Or you could read an old post around here on the same topic with some differences in emphasis.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

NASA Awards Contract to SpaceX to Launch Artemis Lunar Gateway

Central to the Artemis mission plans is something called the Gateway.  Missions to the moon won't go directly to the moon; they'll dock at the Gateway and then take a lander to the lunar surface.  Today, NASA awarded a contract to SpaceX to lift the heart of the Gateway to lunar orbit on their Falcon Heavy booster.  
NASA has selected Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, California, to provide launch services for the agency’s Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) and Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO), the foundational elements of the Gateway. As the first long-term orbiting outpost around the Moon, the Gateway is critical to supporting sustainable astronauts missions under the agency’s Artemis program.

After integration on Earth, the PPE and HALO are targeted to launch together no earlier than May 2024 on a Falcon Heavy rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The total cost to NASA is approximately $331.8 million, including the launch service and other mission-related costs.
The announcement then goes on to provide some background information on the mission.  The PPE is the power plant of the Gateway.  A 60-kilowatt class solar powered module which, "will provide power, high-speed communications, attitude control, and the capability to move the Gateway to different lunar orbits, providing more access to the Moon’s surface than ever before." 

The HALO is the manned portion where the conditions for astronauts to live and work for short periods, typically on the way to the moon, will be provided.  "It will provide command and control and serve as the docking hub for the outpost. HALO will support science investigations, distribute power, provide communications for visiting vehicles and lunar surface expeditions..."

Think of the Gateway as a miniature version of the International Space Station; it's about 1/6 the size and won't be permanently manned, but the concept is an orbital base station around the moon.

The Gateway has always been part of the justification for the SLS (Space Launch System) booster.  The plans have always called for "co-manifesting" the Orion spacecraft alongside modules of the Gateway onto a single SLS rocket, with its Exploration Upper Stage (EUS).  Without the enhanced upper stage, the Block 1 version of the SLS isn't powerful enough for such co-manifested missions, and the EUS development is behind the rest of the SLS - which isn't where it should be, either. 

Today's announcement is the embodiment of principles in the 2020 NASA budget we covered here back in 2019, when the proposed budget recommended NASA consider alternatives like Falcon Heavy.   

While close to the topic of the SLS, readers will recall the first attempt to static fire the core stage last month aborted at 67 seconds into a planned eight minute burn.  NASA is currently targeting the week of Feb. 21 for the next attempt at the test.  The test flight of the Boeing Starfire capsule, intended to carry astronauts to the ISS, is tentatively set for No Earlier Than (NET) March 25th. 

Monday, February 8, 2021

Biden Admin Announces Support for Artemis Moon Program

I have to admit to missing this story when the news came out last Thursday, but the Biden administration has said it supports continuation of the Artemis program.   It's a topic many of us have speculated about in the comments.  At 12:30 PM on Thursday the 4th, press secretary Jen Psaki said,
"Through the Artemis Program, the United States will work with industry and international partners to send astronauts to the surface of the Moon—another man and a woman to the Moon, which is very exciting—conduct new and exciting science, prepare for future missions to Mars, and demonstrate America's values. To date, only 12 humans have walked on the Moon— that was half a century ago. The Artemis Program, a waypoint to Mars, provides the opportunity to add numbers to that. Lunar exploration has broad and bicameral support in Congress, most recently detailed in the FY2021 omnibus spending bill, and certainly we support this effort and endeavor."
That said, as of that Thursday update, there are no real details.  It seems that's to be expected with a new administration as a general rule; Artemis wasn't started until 2017, Trump's second year.  Plus this group is busy tearing down everything else done in the last four years and instituting their new policies everywhere.  It might take a while for the new administration to get down the agenda to something like space.  Ars Technica space reporter Eric Berger reports that current budgets simply preclude the 2024 landing date being pushed by Trump, VP Pence and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine - all three of whom are out of government now. 
It has been clear for many months that this timeline was unattainable, and the final nail in the coffin came in December, when Congress provided just $850 million for a Human Landing System in the fiscal year 2021 budget. This is only one-quarter of what NASA said it needed to have any hope of making the 2024 landing date.
[O]n Wednesday, 11 Democratic senators sent a letter to the Biden administration urging support for the Human Landing System program, which is the critical hardware needed to enable a human return to the Moon.
The senators emphasized the program should stick to the original dates.  "We urge you to proceed with the planned selection and to include all necessary funding for (the Human Landing System) in your FY 2022 budget request," the letter said.

NASA's first named group of Artemis astronauts.

Ars goes on to suggest that it might be appropriate for the Artemis program to slip their moon landing from 2024 until '26 or '28.  He argues that funding requirements and deadlines are probably too aggressive at this point and slipping two or more years is probably going to happen anyway.  He argues to be realistic and set the later date.