Tuesday, April 20, 2021

SN15 Static Fire Wednesday Afternoon

Probably.  Road closure tomorrow from 12 to 8 PM CDT. 

As recently as this weekend, SpaceX appeared to have plans to static fire Starship SN15 on Monday and launch the rocket within 24 hours – April 20th (4/20).  For reasons never stated, although three Raptor engines were available to install by the end of last week, one, #54, was sent away for some sort of rework (commenters said to the test facility in McGregor, Texas).  Raptor #54 was then installed overnight during the weekend, but Monday's road closure was used to bring the second ground support tank to the new facility they're building. 

The three engines on the way to being installed the first time - SpacePadreIsle photo.  The engine number (54) is barely legible on the top of the engine bell of the engine on the right, but it's pointed at the other engines, not the direction we can read.  The engines reported to be on SN15 now are 54, 61, and 66.  The new version engines start at 54, so these are all the new ones.

Something changed while I was writing this. According to Michael Baylor of NASASpaceflight.com, there's a TFR for Friday
Starship SN15:
- Static fire NET Wednesday (4/21)
- Launch NET Friday (4/23)
We'll know more by the time the road is reopened tomorrow night. 

Monday, April 19, 2021

Ingenuity Helicopter Flies on Mars

This morning at 3:46AM PDT, JPL received confirmation that the Ingenuity helicopter successfully lifted off of the surface on Mars, climbed to 3 meters (~10 feet), hovered for 30 seconds and then landed.  This marks the first time any spacecraft mankind has sent to another body in the solar system has conducted a powered flight.  The solar-powered helicopter first became airborne at 3:34 a.m. EDT (12:34 a.m. PDT) – 12:33 Local Mean Solar Time (Mars time) – a time the Ingenuity team determined would have optimal energy and flight conditions. It then descended, touching back down on the surface of Mars after logging a total of 39.1 seconds of flight.

“Ingenuity is the latest in a long and storied tradition of NASA projects achieving a space exploration goal once thought impossible,” said acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk. “The X-15 was a pathfinder for the space shuttle. Mars Pathfinder and its Sojourner rover did the same for three generations of Mars rovers. We don’t know exactly where Ingenuity will lead us, but today’s results indicate the sky – at least on Mars – may not be the limit.”
The flight (and all flights of Ingenuity will share this) was autonomous.  It was piloted by onboard guidance, navigation, and control systems running algorithms developed by the team at JPL. Because of the distance from Earth to Mars, the signal takes around 16 minutes to get here and 16 minutes to get back, making any sort of control from Earth impossible.  Like the landing and its "seven minutes of terror" when the flight can't be observed in real time, Ingenuity's 39 second flight couldn't be observed either.  If the helicopter had tried to fly upside down due to a wiring error like last November's Arianespace Vega, they wouldn't know that until the video from the Perseverance rover arrived at JPL.

Now that it has flown, the Ingenuity team has its work cut out for it.  Ingenuity is currently on the 16th sol, or Martian day, of its 30-sol (31-Earth day) flight test window.  Most of the unscheduled delay is due to the software issue encountered last week.  The team will spend the next three days going over all the collected data and come up with a plan for the second flight, currently set for NET April 22nd.  

Final words to MiMi Aung, project manager of the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter at JPL, in a short talk she gave this morning while the team was seeing the results of the years of work for the first time.  
“We have been thinking for so long about having our Wright brothers moment on Mars, and here it is. We will take a moment to celebrate our success and then take a cue from Orville and Wilbur regarding what to do next. History shows they got back to work – to learn as much as they could about their new aircraft – and so will we.”

Sunday, April 18, 2021

A Little Shop Talk - 3D Printing Internal Features

Within the last couple of weeks, I decided to look into printing internal threads.  The first thing I found is that most people either use threaded inserts or they'll mold a hex-shaped pocket to hold a standard-sized nut that snaps into the pocket.  Still, there are plastics that can be tapped essentially like we'd tap metal.  If I wanted threaded plastic, I could print a cylinder with high enough fill rate that it comes out essentially solid, drill a hole in it and tap it.  Or I could print a cylinder with a hole the diameter of the drill bit that I'd use to prepare aluminum for tapping.  That would eliminate one manual step; why not go one step farther and print the internal threads?  

Right now, the defaults in my slicer software are to print layers 0.2mm thick (just under 0.008"), so think about what the thread would look like sliced like that.  The print head will be moving in or out with respect to the center with every layer, and it's possible there's a discontinuity - a little skip or jag from layer to layer.  That made me think that it would interesting to test this with a thread that's at least 5 or 6 times the layer thickness.  

I figured I'd try to print a 1/4-20 internal thread.  Each turn is .050 and .008" is a bit less than 1/6 of the pitch.  Then I said, "why not print 6-32 thread, too; it doesn't cost that much more".  The distance between thread peaks is 1/32" or .031, so .008 jumps layer to layer are relatively big - 1/4 of the pitch.  The first two threaded parts I got off the printer acted funny.  The holes looked too small and then a screw wouldn't even start.  Eventually I measured the parts and found they were about 2% too small.

These are the first two pieces before removing from the printer.  If you look into the one on the left, the 1/4-20, you can see what looks like a flat on the side of the hole closest to the camera.  Now strain a little and see the same feature on the right.  Look a little closer at the ends on the print bed and you'll see a rim that's wider than the rest of the piece.  I don't really understand that, but that's secondary to them being the wrong size. 

I've built three CNC systems, two mills and a lathe, and the first step before running a program was to calibrate the systems in the motion controller.  You tell it a calculated number of steps per inch, then test how far it goes by putting a dial indicator on the tool and telling it to go 1.000".  For example, if you use a common 200 step per revolution motor, you combine that with the number of turns of the lead screw to move 1.000"; for the .050 inch per turn lead screws on the Sherline, you multiply 200 steps per turn times 20 turns, to get 4000 steps.  When it doesn't go 1.000", you scale your numbers to make it match.  I can find no way of doing that for the printer, so I scaled up my drawings by 2% and reprinted.

That did it.  When I tap a hole in metal, the last steps I take are to get any metal chips from the threading out, and verify it by cleaning out the threads with a screw.  The two parts were tight, but both of them worked fine after I ran a screw through the length of the part, which removed some plastic slivers from the inside.

The trick to this view is the wider rim is at the top.  I started threading from the top end.  For scale, those cylinders are supposed to be exactly 3/8" OD.  Scaling got them closer. 

The word of the day is calibration.  I never really checked anything I've printed so far, but I've noticed that wider area on the bottom (printer bed) before.  The software equivalent to where I did the steps per inch calibration I was describing above is built into the printer. The wider rim doesn't show up in the Cura slicer software I'm using, so some more troubleshooting of just what's going on here is next on the agenda. 

Oh, and it's worth ending on this note. While these would work as plastic standoffs for something like a circuit board in a home project, and they cost about a penny's worth of filament each, I think it would be a better use of resources to buy a bagful of standoffs from some company.  The place for this might well be replacing a standoff in a vintage piece of gear (radio, audio, video...) that broke.  Then design one to match as best you can. 

Saturday, April 17, 2021

A Repost On Agenda 21 or Whatever They're Doing Now

Today, J.KB at Gun Free Zone posted an article on Genghis Khan talking about how Genghis Kahn is being talked about as so good for the environment.  Why?  Because he killed off 40 million people and "scrubbed 700m tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere – roughly the quantity of carbon dioxide generated in a year through global petrol consumption – by allowing previously populated and cultivated land to return to carbon-absorbing forest."  Khan killed a lot of people; 40 million was a substantial percentage of the population then, but he's still a piker compared to Chairman Mao who killed off at least twice that number.  

Then Borepatch ran a post about that with some links to older posts he did talking about the same concepts. 

Which led me back to one of my older posts that I've found myself looking up a few times a year (more, lately).  This is from June of 2011.  With 11 years of content, it's pretty amazing how often I go back to something I researched and posted years ago. This one of the posts I've looked up the most.  (The first short line with two links adds surprisingly little to the story, although the second adds more than the first.)

Let's Tie A Couple of Stories Together - part ii

Let me tie Wednesday and Saturday together.

As I said Wednesday's post, it's all about UN Agenda 21, and allowing the flooding of wide tracts of the US supports that idea.  Trevor Loudon at New Zeal has a great post to help you get up to speed on the UN's Agenda 21.   The implications of this plan make Soylent Green or any of the worst, most dystopian-future movies look like Mary Poppins (the most relentlessly optimistic, happy movie I can think of).  To begin with, let's look at a map.  Trevor has a small version, so I went and found one that's readable if you click on it:

 If this UN plan goes into effect, every area in red will be "forbidden zone" for humans. Every area in yellow will be "highly regulated".  I assume that means you will only be allowed there with permits and strict time limits - not to live there.  Humans will basically be allowed to live only in densely packed urban areas, shown as black dots.  Think all of the worst places in America: Chicago, Detroit, New York, Boston, DC... you get the idea. 

Central to the plan is the idea of being carbon neutral.  That's right, "global warming" or "climate change" or whatever they call it this week, is the basis for mass murder on a scale that Mao, Pol Pot, or Hitler could never aspire to.  You see, to quote from this piece at End of The American Dream, (source missing, 4/14/21) the population must be reduced:

  • CNN Founder Ted Turner: "A total population of 250-300 million people, a 95% decline from present levels, would be ideal."
  • Dave Foreman, Earth First Co-Founder: "My three main goals would be to reduce human population to about 100 million worldwide, destroy the industrial infrastructure and see wilderness, with it’s full complement of species, returning throughout the world."
  • Maurice Strong: "Isn’t the only hope for the planet that the industrialized civilizations collapse? Isn’t it our responsibility to bring that about?"
Gee, the moderate guy only wants to kill off more than 95% of the human race.  See the current world population is around 7 billion people.  For Dave Foreman, 100 million out of 7 billion is 100 out of 7000 or 1.4 %.  At 300 million, Ted Turner would generously let 4.3% live.

Around 20 years ago, I heard that the entire population of the world would fit in Jacksonville, Florida, without resorting to vertical high rise buildings.  It would be austere, but they would fit.  I found the area of the city (885 square miles), ran the calculation, and it worked.  Even today, you still could fit every man woman and child in the world in the area of Jacksonville, but each person would only get 3.5 square feet, so it would pretty much be shoulder to shoulder.  According to the Wiki, the area of the state of Florida is 65,755 square miles.  Given the 7 billion people in the world, if you spread them evenly across the state, every person in the world would get 261.9 square feet.  Not a big room (unless you're in NYC), and small by US standards, but generous compared to much of the world.  Of course, the infrastructure would take room, so you'd probably need to spread them out, but I suspect everyone in the world would fit comfortably in the southeastern US.  And we need to kill off 95% of them because they're taking up too many resources? 
John P. Holdren, Barack Obama's top science advisor, co-authored a textbook entitled "Ecoscience" back in 1977 in which he actually advocated mass sterilization, compulsory abortion, a one world government and a global police force to enforce population control.
source for that and this:
“Indeed, it has been concluded that compulsory population-control laws, even including laws requiring compulsory abortion, could be sustained under the existing Constitution if the population crisis became sufficiently severe to endanger the society.”

So the Fed.gov, acting under the Agenda 21 of the UN, wants to forcibly - at gunpoint, I assume - abort your babies, put sterilants in the drinking water, move you to a city center where you can be stacked up like cord wood, and "live" where every move you make, every thing you eat, every decision you make, is made for you by the state.  If you're one of the few percent who aren't killed off.  All in the name of the skankiest, most corrupt "science" humans have ever put on paper (pretty good summary).   It's pretty damned obvious why they don't want us armed, isn't it? 

Oh - if the idea of fitting the entire population of the world into Florida is shocking, you may want to look at this 2013 post.

Friday, April 16, 2021

NASA Selects SpaceX As Sole Provider for Manned Lunar Lander

Just under a year ago, last April 30th, NASA selected three contractors to begin initial development of lunar landing systems that will take astronauts back to the surface of the Moon by 2024.  The three teams and their contracts were the Blue Origin "National Team" of big names in aerospace with a $579 million dollar contract, Dynetics, a defense contractor with a $253 million contract and SpaceX with a $135 million contract.  That amount is 23% of the Blue Origin team and 53% of the Dynetics contract, so smaller by far than the competitors. 

Today NASA announced that SpaceX is the sole winner of the next phase contract to provide a lunar lander to the Artemis program.  That lander will be a variant of the Starship that we've been watching go through development for over a year.
"We looked at what’s the best value to the government," said Kathy Lueders, chief of the human exploration program for NASA, during a teleconference with reporters on Friday.

NASA said it will award SpaceX $2.89 billion for development of the Starship vehicle and two flights. One of these missions will be an uncrewed flight test of Starship down to the lunar surface and back. The second mission will be a crewed flight—the first one of the Artemis program—down to the Moon.
NASA pointed out several advantages of the Starship; a spacious cabin for astronauts, two airlocks, and ample payload capability to bring large numbers of experiments to the Moon and return samples to Earth.  They also liked innovative design and the fact that the base Starship is being designed to land on Mars, something also in NASA's long range plans.

I suspect that they also liked that SpaceX has plunged ahead on development of the Starship out of their own pockets.  Something about "putting your money where your mouth is" as a sign of commitment.

The news article on Ars Technica (second link) points out something that had gotten past me in the news.
For the current fiscal year, NASA said it needed $3.3 billion in funding to meet the goal of landing humans on the Moon by 2024. Congress provided just $850 million, and as a result, NASA acknowledged that 2024 was no longer a realistic target.

A SpaceX montage from my February post reporting that SpaceX had prototyped the elevator shown on the right. You'll note the Starship on the right isn't painted and has fins - more like SN15 than the painted ship on the left.

The big, fat elephant in the room is that current plans are for NASA to launch astronauts in an Orion capsule on the Space Launch System, but SpaceX has openly talked about launching astronauts to the moon on a Starship lifted by the Heavy booster.  The mission plan is to launch them to low Earth orbit, refuel from another Starship, then go to the moon.  Why couldn't NASA do that?  If NASA is strapped for cash, canceling the SLS seems like low hanging fruit.  It's interesting that NASA is studying the program's affordability and whether or not they should keep funding it.

Congratulations to SpaceX, who coincidentally just ended an effort to raise more funding, having raised $1.16 billion.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Thursday Miscellaneous

The news about the J&J vaccine causing blood clots in something like six women between 18 and 48 out of close to seven million people vaccinated naturally caught my ear and prompted my inner systems engineer to say something like, "WTF does that mean?" Naturally everywhere you go, you come across people essentially saying, "well, if they're telling you it's six you'd be an idiot to think the real number isn't much more."  That's the kind of thinking that there's just no way to deal with if you want to deal with numbers and risk assessment quantitatively. 

I'm big on evidence; actual data. I live by the axiom that half a measurement is better than none, and it has been in most of my home radio projects over the years. I've improved the test equipment to make the measurements better, but I'm resigned that I won't have the measurement quality I had when I was working with test equipment sent for calibration every six months and that cost well into 5 or 6 figures!

It just leads to some thoughts; thinking about the limits of the situation, better known as "bounding the problem."  Of course, six out of nearly seven million is less than a 1.0 part per million (ppm) risk.  One of those patients died or 0.15ppm.  My first thought is that I wonder how many other drugs out there have a risk of serious side effects that's greater than one part per million?  Second thought, on any given summer day in Florida, your chance of dying by lightning strike is probably greater than 1 ppm.  Maybe that's too me-centered, but I live in Florida.  Third thought: the demographic is odd.  All six were women under 50?  Is that due to something else they had in common or that women are more likely to get clots or just what?  I've known one 21 year old woman who had a nearly fatal blood clot from birth control pills (I was 18 at the time), and I understand it's not an uncommon side effect.  In other words, is this observation even relevant to a post-menopausal woman or any age man?

Back at the end of December, and then again in mid-January, I posted stories that centered on the fact that the FDA has a predictable bias in their decision making.  The stories were both that vaccines were being delayed by the FDA's decision making processes which have a bias toward avoiding what are called Type 1 errors, to approve a bad drug, at likely cost of increasing the number of Type 2 errors, which is failing to approve a good drug.  In the type 1 error, they approve a bad drug and a large number of people are harmed.  Even worse, from the FDA bureaucrat's perspective, is they're more likely to be called in front of an investigation board.  In the type 2 error, they block a good drug and there are people that are harmed as well, but those people are invisible.  "Too bad your relative died because there was no drug for their condition!" 

The question to ask is which decision is best for the largest number of people.  The FDA has shown over and over, for years, their default is to block the probably good drug in an effort to not allow a bad drug on the market. 

My attitude toward the vaccines remains that if you're not in a particular risk group, the risk of the vaccines appears to be the same order of magnitude as the virus itself.  That means your best chance at long lasting immunity to it is by getting infected and surviving.  As always, I'm just some dood on the intertubes and if you're dumb enough to take my advice, there's just no telling what will happen to you!

I have two little pieces of space news to pass on,  First Elon Musk has said their goal is to launch SN15 next week.  That's being taken to mean static firing on Monday, for what it's worth. 

The next manned mission to the ISS leaving from American soil will be the Crew-2 mission, currently planned no earlier than 6:11 am EDT (10:11 UTC) on Thursday, April 22nd.  This mission will be the first time that NASA astronauts have flown on a reused booster.  The Crew Dragon spacecraft itself is the one flown in May of '20 by Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, so it's reused as well.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Sometimes I Come Up Empty Handed

Maybe that's empty headed?

I've been trying to determine why the Mars Ingenuity Helicopter hasn't flown.  For those who haven't followed, on April 9th, Ingenuity was commanded to spin up its rotors as a test before being allowed to fly.  The test didn't pass.  To quote from the JPL Ingenuity Page:

During a high-speed spin test of the rotors on Friday, the command sequence controlling the test ended early due to a “watchdog” timer expiration. This occurred as it was trying to transition the flight computer from ‘Pre-Flight’ to ‘Flight’ mode. The helicopter is safe and healthy and communicated its full telemetry set to Earth.

The watchdog timer oversees the command sequence and alerts the system to any potential issues. It helps the system stay safe by not proceeding if an issue is observed and worked as planned.

The previously announced date it would fly was April 11th, with data from JPL available by the 12th.  I went looking for updates on the 12th and found reports the flight was put off until NET the 14th.  (As always, NET = No Earlier Than).  That's today as I write this. 

There isn't a test flight date I can find on the JPL, just this interesting statement:

The Ingenuity team has identified a software solution for the command sequence issue identified on Sol 49 (April 9) during a planned high-speed spin-up test of the helicopter’s rotors. Over the weekend, the team considered and tested multiple potential solutions to this issue, concluding that minor modification and reinstallation of Ingenuity’s flight control software is the most robust path forward. This software update will modify the process by which the two flight controllers boot up, allowing the hardware and software to safely transition to the flight state. Modifications to the flight software are being independently reviewed and validated today and tomorrow in testbeds at JPL.

They then list the steps in making sure that software is safe to upload to Mars and say:

Once we have passed these milestones, we will prepare Ingenuity for its first flight, which will take several sols, or Mars days. Our best estimate of a targeted flight date is fluid right now, but we are working toward achieving these milestones and will set a flight date next week. We are confident in the team’s ability to work through this challenge and prepare for Ingenuity’s historic first controlled powered flight on another planet.

It's safe to say there won't a flight on the 14th or 15th, and very likely not before the 21st.  

When you consider the years of development of this system, you'd think the software would have been verified to not have hangups like this.  It brings to mind a software error that didn't show up until well into the Space Shuttle program.  During the countdown, ground based computers were to hand over control to the Shuttle's internal computers at T-31 seconds.  Long after I would have expected handshaking problems between the computers to have been verified impossible, a handshaking problem aborted a countdown.  

This may be the same sort of problem.  Despite Software Quality Assurance and testing, modules were aligning in time to work properly, not by design but by pure chance.  

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

The Age of Reusability in Space is Dawning

Yesterday's post was on how SpaceX began the era of reusable boosters and completely upturned the existing paradigm of "use once and dump the rocket" that had been in place almost exclusively since the earliest days of the space program.  The obvious exception is the Space Shuttle, which recovered the orbiter and solid rocket boosters but still never achieved its goals or met the lofty promises it was sold under.  During the selling of the program, it was argued the Shuttles would bring the cost of launch to $25/pound.  They ended up missing that goal by a factor of 1000; that's right, $25,000/pound.

Last February marked the first example of extending the life of a satellite, when Northrup Grumman's Mission Extension Vehicle 1, MEV-1, successfully docked with an Intelsat satellite (IS-901) and brought back into serviceable life.  The spacecraft was launched in 2001 and was pulled from active service in December 2019 as it ran low on fuel.  Operators commanded the satellite to move into a "graveyard orbit" farther out than the unique geostationary space, as is the established way of handling satellites that have outlived their usefulness.  This wasn't refueling on orbit, IS-901 wasn't designed to allow that.  Instead, MEV-1 docked with the "disposed of" satellite and pulled it back down to the geostationary orbit, bringing it back to life.

Last week, a second Northrup Grumman satellite, (MEV-2) slowly approached and captured another Intelsat satellite, 10-02.  Unlike the first operational capture, this satellite was still in service at the time, not in a graveyard orbit, delivering broadband and other media services across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.  The satellite, though, was running out of the fuel it needs to adjust its orbit periodically.  It was nearing time to push this one into a graveyard orbit. 

This was all planned well in advance, and MEV launched last year.  Like its predecessor, MEV-2 was launched into a lower orbit and slowly moved outward by electric propulsion until reaching it's goal. 
Jean-Luc Froeliger, vice president of space, space systems engineering and operations for Intelsat, said the cost of servicing is far less than the value of five additional years of satellite service. Waiting five years will also allow Intelsat to replace the 10-02 satellite with a more modern, efficient vehicle. "For us, it's win-win," he said during a teleconference with reporters. "This extension for 10-02 is very valuable to us."
Like the mission last year, this isn't refueling the satellite.  When these satellites were launched, the concept of being serviced remotely on orbit didn't exist.  Instead, the MEV docks with the target satellite and forms a single larger satellite.  That arrangement is for the five years mentioned above.  At that time (if still working; if not, sooner), the satellite will be pushed into the higher graveyard orbit.

Northrup Grumman artwork.

The source article on Ars Technica reports that Northrup Grumman is experiencing increased interests from commercial and government satellite owners. Tom Wilson, a vice president at Northrop Grumman and president of its SpaceLogistics subsidiary says interest from various governments is increasing. "We’re on the cusp of some bigger initiatives with them."
In 2024, Northrop plans to launch a "Mission Robotic Vehicle" that can provide basic inspection and repair services and deploy mission extension pods to satellites. After this, the company plans to develop refueling capabilities and debris removal from the vicinity of high-value satellites. Finally, in the 2030s, the company intends to begin in-orbit assembly and manufacturing capabilities.

Monday, April 12, 2021

I Missed an Important Anniversary

It was on one of the news sources I read, Ars Technica, but I didn't read the Rocket Report newsletter until yesterday.  Last Thursday, April 8th, was the five year anniversary of the first time SpaceX successfully landed a booster on a drone ship.  2016.  It's hard to think of any changes that commercial space efforts of the early 21st century has brought that are more important, and as paradigm changing as recovering and reusing boosters has been.  Before that, around '14, when NASA's commercial crew contracts were being considered, NASA said not to bid using recovered boosters.  It's a "pipe dream," "it'll never happen."

Three years ago, in 2018, the leadership of the European Space Agency (ESA) was saying they had no interest in making reusable boosters.  After all, it's a jobs program and why would they cut jobs?
Truthfully, if Europe ever did develop a reusable rocket, one that could fly all the missions in a year, this would be unhelpful politically. What would the engine and booster factories sprinkled across Europe do if they built one rocket and then had 11 months off? The member states value the jobs too much. This is one difference between rocket-by-government and rocket-by-billionaire programs. [Bold added - SiG]
It took less than a year for the ESA to realize their launch business was going to go away and they announced plans to develop a reusable version of their Ariane family, largely copied from the Falcon 9.  As did Russia.  Even China is investigating reusability, copying the grid fins from the Falcon 9.  

Eric Berger, Ars Technica's space correspondent, puts a personal side to the story.  Eric says he was born four months after the final Apollo mission and for years had a profound sense of regret at having been born too late to see the peak of space exploration.  “I lived with that regret for decades—right up until April 8, 2016.”

I was not prepared for the experience of watching a skinny, black-and-white rocket fall out of the sky against the azure backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean and land on a small drone ship. As whitecaps crashed into the side of the boat, it seemed like a portal opening into the future. This breakthrough in rocket technology washed away any regrets I had about missing Apollo. In my mind, landing a Falcon 9 first stage at sea represented an essential step toward reducing the cost of getting people and payloads into space and unlocked a bright spacefaring future.

After nearly a dozen failed attempts, subsequent landings soon filled a SpaceX hangar full of used rockets. This caught some SpaceX engineers off guard. "It even surprised us that we suddenly had ten first stages or something like that," Hans Koenigsmann, one of SpaceX's earliest hires, said a few years afterward. "And we were like, well, we didn't really account for that."

tenths of a second before touchdown - April 8, 2016, SpaceX Photo

A few months before this flight in December of '15, SpaceX successfully landed on Cape Canaveral.  I remember watching that landing online.  Definitely a huge achievement but still much easier than finding a drone barge hundreds of miles out to sea, hundreds of miles from where the booster gets jettisoned, and then landing on it with the ship moving, rising up and down with the waves.  Putting a moving rocket onto the moving drone ship was an enormous accomplishment.

It was also a very necessary accomplishment.  It clearly costs money to send that drone ship out for a recovery, the ships leave a couple of days before the first "No Earlier Than" date and will stay out there for most reschedules.  The booster returns to Port Canaveral around 3 days after the recovery.  Figure you're paying a crew for the tugboats, the drone and everything else.  The trade is that it costs more to not send out the drone but bring the booster back to the Cape.  Orbital mechanics being the cast iron bitch that it is, every pound of fuel needed for the landing is an amount of payload they can't put in orbit.  Downrange landings are pretty much required.  There's more.

Over the course of it's flight the velocity of the rocket changes from pointing upward to pointing horizontally.  It takes tons of propellant to effectively cancel that horizontal motion, turn the rocket around and bring it back to land.  It takes much less fuel to essentially let it fall in a normal parabolic trajectory and land farther out at sea.  If you read the performance data for the rocket, a Falcon 9 rocket that lands on a drone ship can lift about 5.5 tons to geostationary transfer orbit, compared to 3.5 tons for a rocket that lands back at the launch site. Had SpaceX not figured out how to land the Falcon 9 first stage on a drone ship, it would have eliminated about 40 percent of the rocket's lift capability, a huge penalty.

The cost of fuel for a Falcon 9 flight is around $250,000.  At the time of this booster recovery, they were charging $61 million for an F9 launch.  They were going to offer a ride on this booster for $43 million.  Just about 30% cheaper.  It's amortizing the cost over two missions, why not 50% off?   Let's pretend $61 million is the actual cost of the Falcon 9 to be manufactured, and the company wouldn't lose money throwing the rocket away after one and only one launch.  Like every Delta, Atlas, Titan and you name it that has been launched until April of '16.  Now think if they launched that booster 10 times, their immediate goal.  Doesn't that make each launch cost $6.1 million? 

Last words to the April 8, 2016 article about the flight on Ars.
So when the moment came Friday, and the rocket stuck, Musk was ecstatic. He could hardly say what would come next. “We're a little bit like the dog who caught the bus,” Musk said, smiling. “What do we do now?”

Sunday, April 11, 2021

A Ham Radio Series 24 addendum - The Supply is Finished

The power supply I discussed yesterday is finished and working.  I've hung an oscilloscope probe on the 5V output and watched it.  There are some spikes far beyond the frequency response of the regulator, possibly being picked up from the air by the scope probe.  There are no drops of the 5V supply that I can find.    

First, an overall view as it's used.  If you look between the bottom of the aluminum channel and the benchtop, you can see some red spots.  One right below each of the corners and one below the switch in the middle.  In the old days, I would use rubber peel-and-stick feet.  This time I printed 1/2" on a side cubes and glued them to the bottom of the channel with superglue.

And a closeup of the voltage regulator.  I added a fairly big electrolytic capacitor (330uF) on the output pin after this picture just to try to ensure no drops in voltage are an issue. 

That writing near the brass nut is sideways.  The pin closest to this edge is I for the input, not H,and I'm sure you can figure out what the O is for.  There's a ground solder lug under the middle brass nut amid those parts and wires, where the two black wires and capacitors (blue) are grounded.  It was difficult to decide which way to mount the S/S module; this orientation or rotated 180 degrees because there are drawbacks to both orientations.  This one makes the LED close to the body of the S/S module rather difficult to see the way I'm using it.  On the other hand, the spark plug and ground wires are on the right, close to the end of the tray and where they're going.  Closest to the bottom side of the channel on the right is a twisted bundle of red, black and white wires.  The white wire is an input from the engine's points (or Hall Effect sensor) which comes in on the right, too.

Part of the idea of making this project is that it can be moved to another engine and I build it once.  The power switch (middle, front) is in the ON position in these pictures.  An LED to show "power on" might be a good addition. 

Saturday, April 10, 2021

A Ham Radio Series 24 - Power Supplies part 2 - Linear Regulated Supplies

The initial article in this couple of episodes on power supplies focused on low power supplies and especially the 78XX series of regulators.  There are actually many similar parts and series of parts that provide three pin regulators.  Given how versatile and useful they are, I want to explore a use I have for one.  I've based it on a part I'm familiar with and have in my junk box (ham speak for a box of parts you have from various sources for future projects), the LM323, a 5V 3A regulator. 

The electronic ignition I bought for my Webster engine required a power supply not to exceed 5V.  The company that sells the engine sells a 5V supply to run the system, but in my urge to get going as fast as possible, I put together a system of 3 AA cells in series.  When the cells are new, it puts out in the vicinity of 4.8V but it falls to 4.5V quickly.  The instructions with the ignition module says it works best at 5.0 to 5.5V, but dies quickly over that. Four AA alkalines will kill the module. Three will get it to work, but not as well as it could.  You might recall this picture of the ignition module (right) and battery pack with one battery replaced by a jumper.

After throwing out several sets of these AA batteries I decided to upgrade everything.  I could replace the AA alkaline batteries with the 18650 rechargeable lithium batteries I bought a couple of years ago.  Those are over 8V fully charged and run down to the 6.5V dropout voltage of the regulator.  The circuit is drop dead simple.

The application circuit is assuming that this is on the output of a rectifier and filter combination; I'm not using that so I didn't put that 1uF solid tantalum capacitor there.  I put a 0.1uF ceramic capacitor on the input and a 0.22 uF solid tantalum on the output side.  (Note that the LM123 pictured is their name for the same part tested to full military spec temperature ranges.  There's an LM223 that is for the extended industrial temperature range and the LM323 is for the commercial temperature ranges)

The regulator is in a large, chassis mounted case called a TO-3 (Transistor Outline), and a dimensioned drawing of the package is in the datasheet for the LM323 on that TI page linked above.  I used that to develop a routine for drilling the holes for the TO-3 that I can keep in my CNC library.  Then I set to the task of creating a model in CAD to space the parts from each other.  The LM323 is in blue, with batteries on the right and ignition module on the left.  I didn't model the other parts - and the regulator is mounted on the far side of this channel, with it's input and output pins protruding through the drilled out holes. 

The regulator circuit is built without the electronic ignition module, and checked to verify it puts out 5V properly, which it does.  Tomorrow, I'll add the ignition module and I want to try to run my Webster with it.  The engine has been sitting for a month or six weeks with no attempts to start it. 

The catch is I don't really know what the requirements are for that 5V supply.  It might not work and just need a bigger capacitor on the output to supply current surges the module may require. 

The aluminum channel you're looking down into above will have printed plastic feet on the far side to keep the regulator case off the bench. 

Friday, April 9, 2021

The 80% Gun Kits From A Different Angle

Of course the big story is the handful of executive actions that Dopey Gropey announced Wednesday.  As an aside Ammoland, the National Shooting Sports Federation newsletter pointed out that these are Executive Actions, not Executive Orders and like everywhere else lawyers run the world, words make a difference. 
In a 2018 article at ThoughtCo., writer Tom Murse noted, “(M)any critics [misunderstand] the definition of executive actions and the difference with legally binding executive orders.”

Executive orders, he explained, are “legally binding directives from the president to federal administrative agencies.”

Executive actions, ... carry none of the weight executive orders carry,” he wrote.
It should be remembered that none of the things Dopey talked about are executive orders.  They're the pResident telling the DOJ to do something.  I want to focus on the action related to "80% of a gun;"  Dopey McUnity wants the DOJ to sketch out a regulatory framework for requiring background checks on purchases of 80% frames, lowers and build kits (he wants them serialized).  Ignoring the obvious jokes and quips about just shifting to 79, 75 or 70% guns (80% is an arbitrary, made-up number) assume these actions to the DOJ become some sort of legally binding orders, in the next six months. 

As virtually everybody knows, 80% guns are a hobby of their own, a hobby that attracts people who like to play with tools, and like all sorts of other Do It Yourself (DIY) hobbies.  To me, though, it gets back to something I've been following with interest for quite some time, the right to repair your own equipment, as talked about in the iFixit manifesto. 

How does a move by a bunch of millennials to be able to fix smartphones or stick an off-the-shelf hard drive in their TiVo intersect with guns?   When you buy a gun, you have the right to repair and modify it.  There are millions of people who work on their own guns, replacing a spring, changing some piece of hardware or something.  Think your 10/22 could be a better competition rifle with a new barrel and trigger?  Go buy yourself the new parts and swap them out!  If you buy a 40 S&W pistol and decide you'd rather have 9 or 10mm, most of the time you can just buy a different barrel.  How many people have you come across who converted a rifle to a different caliber?  All of those are Right to Repair. 

My understanding of the origin of the "not quite a gun" regulations that give rise to the "Ghost Guns" is that it began with simply asking at what point does a gun become a gun.  They started from accepting that we have a right to repair our property and named just the one part that is the gun and can't be replaced without a background check.  It led to ideas like the receiver is always the gun, and you can replace the barrel or put in a new trigger, and every other part, but as long as it's the same receiver, it's the same gun.  Those of you familiar with the rulings on AR pistols know the oddity that a receiver that has never been a rifle can be used as an AR pistol, but if a rifle receiver is used, that makes the pistol a short-barreled rifle, an NFA item.  That's because the receiver is associated in some paper trail with being a rifle, and it will always be a rifle.  While you can repair things attached to that receiver, perhaps replace an 18" rifle barrel with a 20" barrel, you can't make a rifle a pistol. 

The thing the Biden rules are doing is attacking convenience.  They're concerned about it being too convenient to buy a plastic 80% pistol in one package and the parts to assemble it into a pistol at the same time.  Even worse, you can order or buy them at the same time and go home with everything you need to make that pistol.  It's like they'd prefer the 80% plastic gun and the rest of the parts be in different zip codes. 

How about if we give Dopey a kit and time how long it takes him to make a gun out of it?  How about we give everyone on his staff the same test?  If it takes them longer than it would take to buy a gun, they don't need to treat them as fully assembled guns.

In serializing the 80% plastic pistols, which are not guns, they're starting down the slippery slope to no right to repair, and every part in every gun needs to be serialized.   

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Starship SN15 on the Stand - Testing to Begin Soon

As expected, since my last update, SpaceX arranged for a road closure this afternoon, rolled SN15 to the test area about 1 mile from the High Bay, lifted her onto the test stand, and is busily completing the preparations to begin testing.  In this screen capture from Lab Padre camera 6, a worker can be seen standing between the base flaps, while others work on the test stand to the right of him. 

For those keeping track, SN15’s pad arrival comes just nine days after Starship SN11 – the last in a batch of four first-generation prototypes – exploded in midair some 30 seconds before a planned landing. 

One of the questions that pops up in the comments window on Lab Padre is about what happened to numbers 12 - 14.  Think back a whole three months to December of '20 and Starship SN8’s unexpectedly successful test flight, a flight which Elon had said he expected to have a 30% chance of being successful.  Instead, the rocket made it just a dozen or so seconds away from soft landing after more than six minutes in flight, including two minutes free-falling in a belly flop like no rocket ever.  After that milestone, SpaceX made the decision to scrap Starship SN12 and kill SN13 and SN14 before assembly could begin.  Effectively a gamble that SN8-SN11 would produce enough of a foundation for future testing to start off on, it’s hard to say if that gamble paid off.

Tomorrow, SpaceX has reserved a road closure from 7AM to 12PM and included closing the beach, unlike today's road closure to move SN15.  That probably implies they'll begin testing tomorrow, probably with ambient temperature nitrogen to check the Starship's complex plumbing. 

Wednesday, we were treated to another launch of 60 Starlink satellites onboard a Falcon 9, this time from Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral.  These launches are becoming boringly routine, just as everyone would like them to be, and I watched from launch through the first stage cutoff and jettison.  When I came in, the display was anything but its normal, boringly routine.  The view I'm accustomed to is a split screen with the views from the first stage on the left and a view of the second stage engine, glowing red, on the right.  Instead, there was one view, of mostly blue sky and a tiny fuzzy spot that was presumably the second stage still lifting toward orbit.

Suddenly, the video popped on, startling the people announcing the launch.  It was moments until the second and final burn of the first stage, and the view in front of the camera was, again, light blue.  Within seconds, though, I realized that was the ocean and caught a glimpse of the recovery drone ship coming up fast toward the camera.  Within seconds, the successful landing was captured.  There's a continuous loop of the last 20 seconds of the booster's flight on NASA Spaceflight's Twitter account.

This is the seventh flight and landing of booster B1058, arguably the most famous booster in SpaceX history, because the first flight of this one lifted Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on the Demo 2 mission last May, the first manned launch from the US since 2011.  This was the 79th successful booster recovery. 

The launch also marked the 10th SpaceX mission of the year; and being just past the end of the first quarter of '21, that puts them on a path to close to 40 launches for this year.  The calendar is clear, though, until the next launch, which will be the Crew-2 mission, taking four more Astronauts to the ISS, No Earlier Than April 22nd at 6:11 AM EDT.  Crew-2 will be the first manned spaceflight in history to fly a recovered booster.  Booster B1061 was first used for the Crew-1 launch in November of '20. 

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Something Here Is Fishy

A link in the daily newsletter I get from FEE (the Foundation for Economic Education) took me to Amazon's Twitter account and a post from Jeff Bezos saying that they want corporate taxes to go up and they support the Biden administration's efforts to raise taxes. 

No, really.

Amazon has also lobbied aggressively for other big-government policies like a $15 federal minimum wage. This should strike you as a giant warning sign; it's something we've commented on this about a godzillion times in the life of this blog.  When Big Business colludes with Big Government it’s virtually always because they know the government roadblocks instituted will reinforce their market dominance and ultimately be to that Big Business's benefit.  After all, Big Business Amazon (in this case) already employs buildings full of accountants and lawyers to navigate the new laws.  Smaller competitors don't.  The expenses are harder on smaller businesses. 

All big tech companies, Facebook, Amazon, Google, Twitter, Netflix; all of them got where they are by disrupting the existing business environment - puncturing the equilibrium.  Because of that they all live in abject fear of being knocked out of dominance by another small, disruptive company.  Cronyism with Big Government is a way they fight back.  Why innovate when you can buy a congress critter? 

It remains as valid now as it has been forever: ask someone if the people who pay the sales tax a company collects on what they sell are the same people who pay who the company's income tax.  If they don't think they're the same group of people, the company's customers, they're economically illiterate.  As this meme (also from FEE) points out, in conditions where the prices a company can charge can't go as high as the tax increase demands, studies have shown that the company's employees are subjected to conditions that get the rest of that revenue.

Let me let you in on not quite a secret:  Amazon and Jeff Bezos know this. They just hope that you don't, and that you mistake their attempts at cronyism for altruism.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Relativity Space's 3D Printed Rockets Are Starting to Look Like the Real Deal

As Relativity Space continues to work toward their first orbital launch before the end of this year, the company is looking less like an aspirational idea and more like a real space hardware manufacturer.  The company got on my radar back in '19 when they successfully got to the next level of venture capital funding to develop the 3D printing processes for building the vehicles and the engines.  

Make no mistake: there's a difference between having successfully printed part of a launch vehicle and putting that vehicle into orbit.  Orbit is hardArs Technica reports that the company's 3D printing technology seems to be working. Two recent milestones in the development of the company's Terran 1 rocket, in fact, suggest the tech is working really well.
In an interview, Relativity CEO Tim Ellis said the company recently printed the second stage that will be used on the inaugural flight of the Terran 1 rocket, which is presently scheduled to take place before the end of 2021. The stage was printed at a rate of about 1 linear foot per day, so in printer time it took about three weeks in total to produce the 20-foot tall second stage.

"We're now confident in this build process," Ellis said. "Not only is the second stage now completed, but we're 75 percent of the way through printing the rocket's first stage."
There's a 14 second time lapse record in this video.  It appears to be a laser sintering process that operates by melting powdered metals in a continuous flow while moving the laser print head.  The process is similar to one 3D printers have been using for almost a decade.

And there's a video of the engine full duty cycle test here - 3 min 25 seconds long.
Relativity has also been able to prove the merits of 3D printing by rapidly changing the metal used in the thrust chamber of its Aeon engine—nine of which will power the rocket's first stage. Engineers started out using a nickel-based alloy inside the thrust chamber because it was an easier material to work with during the manufacturing process. But a copper-based alloy has better conductivity and allows for higher combustion temperatures—and therefore a higher-efficiency engine.
Around the same time as these tests were taking place, Relativity secured a frankly incredible $500 million in funding. That funding will very likely not only get them through development of their Terran-1 rocket, a small sat class launch vehicle closer to Rocket Lab's Electron and not the heavier lift Falcon 9.  That funding might well get them through their next development.  Like Rocket Lab, Relativity Space has announced a program to develop a Terran R, in which R is for Reusable, that will be in the Falcon 9's payload class.  

It's hard to exaggerate just how extraordinarily flexible Relativity's apparent 3D-printing process seems to be.  It's turning out to be the key technology as the company works to prepare Terran 1 for an orbital launch debut as early as later this year.

With the second stage printing complete, the company has begun installing an Aeon vacuum engine, avionics, and a separation system for the first stage. The Long Beach, California-based company intends to ship the second stage to its facilities at Stennis Space Center, in Mississippi, for testing this summer. Assuming a successful test campaign, the stage will then be moved to Florida, where it will be integrated with the first stage for launch.

The first flight will not carry a payload, and the record of companies (and nations) achieving orbit on their first attempt doesn't inspire us to spend a lot of time planning a celebration.  When asked about the chances of reaching orbit with this first flight, CEO Tim Ellis said he was confident the company would gain a lot of knowledge about the launch vehicle. "The expectation is that we're going to learn a lot," he said.  The second flight of a Terran 1 will carry a payload for NASA.

Monday, April 5, 2021

SpaceX Getting Back to Normal at Boca Chica

Work pace and operations appear to be getting back to normal at Boca Chica.  At 6:45 CDT, someone tweeted to Elon Musk "How's the investigation into SN11's RUD going." Elon replied with this:

Teslarati space correspondent Eric Ralph covers the story, and while he really doesn't say much more than that, he does add some context.  It's not uncommon to see small fires around the engines during these test flights, as it doesn't seem uncommon to see small fires during the launch of many vehicles.  Eric Ralph adds 
... it’s possible that the “small [methane] leak” Musk has blamed for SN11’s failure was visible on Raptor engine SN52 less than 30 seconds after Starship lifted off, leaving plenty of time for a high-pressure fire to severely damage the faulty engine and its adjacent partners. The SpaceX CEO says that the resultant fire “fried part of [the] avionics” controlling one or all three Raptors, “causing [a] hard start” that damaged or destroyed one or all of the engines when they attempted to begin their landing burns.

This is the picture that Eric Ralph says is at 52 seconds into the flight.  It doesn't look like a methane/oxygen torch in this photo but if that fire was burning while the engines were supposed to be off, until 5:49 when telemetry cut off, that's almost five full minutes of flame impinging on something.  Is this grasping at straws for an explanation?  I don't know. 

This morning, they rolled Bluto The Crane to the test stand area giving rise to thoughts SN15 would follow this morning or tomorrow.  The surprise was that a piece of Ground Support Equipment, obviously a tank although I can't tell what kind of tank it is (other than "big"), was rolled to the test stand area and is being put in place.  The tank looks as big as a Starship prototype. 

I want to call your attention to the far left of the picture: that's Test Stand 1, and it has been modified since you last saw it.  A thrust puck tester (what the scrolling caption calls the "New puckshucker") was installed over the weekend during the night shift. 

The thrust puck is the name given to the base of the bottom tank in the Starship, the liquid methane tank.  The reaction force of the three raptor engines, potentially as much as 1.5 million pounds of thrust, pushes upward on the thrust puck and the bottom of the tank.  In the early days of the Starship prototypes, SN01 and SN02, a failure was traced back to the thrust puck.  It seems in their testing plans for SN15 they're treating it as completely new and going back to the very first tests they ever did.  This tester will press on SN15 before it has any Raptor engines installed.   

Today's fun fact is found by looking at that link on testing the first two Starship prototypes.  That was 13 months ago: March 3, 2020.  It seems like ancient history because of the pace they build and test at. 

With no road closures announced on the Lab Padre scrolls at the moment, it doesn't look like SN15, fully stacked and apparently ready to roll, will go to the test area tomorrow.  The week is young; it might well be on Test Stand #1 by Friday.  

Sunday, April 4, 2021

I'm Not Saying to Buy a 3D Printer For Things Like This

I'm saying if you happen to have a printer around, it can solve problems like this.  

A couple of years ago, my old shop vac failed.  That article describes how I found the fusible link that was protecting the motor was nothing more than a piece of solder.  It had heated enough to get soft and open the power connection, keeping the motor from running.  I was appalled.  Nevertheless, I put a piece of solder in it and the vacuum worked - for few weeks until that piece of solder softened.  I eventually tossed out the thing and bought a battery powered Ryobi for cleanups around the shop, the house and when washing the cars. 

When I tossed out the old Shop Vac brand, I kept the 2" hoses and all the accessories but the Ryobi uses a different sized hose so everything sat in a few corners.

The Ryobi actually worked OK, but about a year ago, I got tired of it not being working every time I needed it and bought a different brand, higher power shop vacuum; a Ridgid.  Now I could leave the vacuum in a corner and if I can hook up the old and new 2" hoses I can reach the entire metal shop.  Except the hoses don't mate.  Both ends of both hoses are the same smaller diameter (about 2-1/4") that plug into a bigger hose fixture in either an extension wand or the vacuum body or the fixtures designed to go on the hoses.

As an RF engineer (working at Radio Frequencies), this is second nature.  We always would need  multiple cables (colloquially called hoses) to get across a few benches and need to connect things that wouldn't connect.  There is literally an entire industry of making and selling adapters between things we might try to connect and a set of laws that reflect on what we see.  ("Given a need for N adapters, the engineer will never find more than N-1", and so on).  I knew what I needed, I needed a plastic adapter big enough to plug both ends into.  Nothing more than a plastic pipe that had to be a specific size. 

This sounds like it should be doable on my 3D printer.  It doesn't take long to design a pipe.  Make a cylinder of the right length, right inner and outer diameters and you're there.  A couple of days ago, I made a test piece just to make sure a couple of inches of what will eventually be four inches long would fit the hoses.  It fit just fine. 

I was about to print a full-sized version, when something hit me.  The Ridgid hoses have a feature I've never seen before: the mating sections to the hoses have triangular, saw tooth-like pin on a flexible lever.  It mates with a section on the fixtures or the vacuum cleaner itself and acts as mechanical insurance.  I decided to create a model of that and add it to the full sized adapter. It took a couple of hours to draw that (essentially point by point), turn it into a solid model and set it up to print.  The whole adapter took six hours to print, but here it is coming off the printer. 

And here it is doing its intended job - joining the old Shop Vac hose (right) and the Ridgid hose (left).

Here's a closer view of the Ridgid locking tab.  This doesn't look quite right, so I'll have to look at it a bit more closely.  Perhaps the mating teeth on the adapter are a bit too close to each other.  Or maybe it's just slightly out of position.

As you might expect, I didn't declare it done without vacuuming up around the shop and pulling the cleaner by the hose. No problems.

I'm not sure the adapter I needed doesn't exist anywhere, but I had looked around a bit without finding them. In terms of just the plastic for the print, this cost about 45 or 50 cents. There is no compensation for CAD time or anything else.  I'm not saying it makes sense to buy $300 or $325 worth of printer, filaments, dry boxes, and everything else to print an adapter.  I'm just saying if the printer is in your shop, the problem is solved. 

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Happy Easter!!

It's Easter, Resurrection Sunday, and as I do regularly, I look at what I've done for the major holidays in the past, and often modify them quite a bit.  Not wholesale tear it up and start over, but some extensive additions and deletions.  

Looking for the Living One in a Cemetery

24 1-3 At the crack of dawn on Sunday, the women came to the tomb carrying the burial spices they had prepared. They found the entrance stone rolled back from the tomb, so they walked in. But once inside, they couldn’t find the body of the Master Jesus.

4-8 They were puzzled, wondering what to make of this. Then, out of nowhere it seemed, two men, light cascading over them, stood there. The women were awestruck and bowed down in worship. The men said, “Why are you looking for the Living One in a cemetery? He is not here, but raised up. Remember how he told you when you were still back in Galilee that he had to be handed over to sinners, be killed on a cross, and in three days rise up?” Then they remembered Jesus’ words.
9-11 They left the tomb and broke the news of all this to the Eleven and the rest. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them kept telling these things to the apostles, but the apostles didn’t believe a word of it, thought they were making it all up.
12 But Peter jumped to his feet and ran to the tomb. He stooped to look in and saw a few grave clothes, that’s all. He walked away puzzled, shaking his head.
Luke 24:1-12  Message Translation

A couple of days ago, Larry Lambert over at Virtual Mirage left an open forum with the suggestion of posting of whether or not you're "a person of science or as a person of faith."  I don't think those are opposites, such that one can only be one or the other and I'm sure that Larry knows that many scientists are Christians so it had to be left to prompt conversation.  

Coming from my background, becoming an evangelical Christian was a large change.  I had studied biochemistry and microbiology in college through my third year before life imposed some detours, eventually getting my degree and starting my career as an engineer late in life (over 30).  I had been an amateur astronomer, so between them I was deeply marinated in the standard model of Cosmology as well as conventional biological evolutionary theory.  Frankly, I wasn't giving it much thought any longer, but my wife had re-affirmed her faith (she had first accepted Christ as child) and I was having all of my mental models disrupted.  She had started a subscription to Bibical Archaeology Review and the constant refrain from archaeologists, not religiously motivated, along the lines of "we thought this was old Jewish folklore, but here it is" got me thinking "if that's true, maybe there's more that's true."  Strobel's The Case for Christ, played a role in filling in the gaps in my historical knowledge.

Easter is the most important day in Christianity and far more important than Christmas because of the resurrection.  Everyone has a birthday, but history only records one resurrection.  The resurrection is essential to Christianity; without it there simply is no reason for Christianity to exist.  Since virtually everyone, including honest atheists, agrees Jesus was a real man in history (I've always found it amazing that Jesus' existence is better attested in ancient sources than that of Julius Caesar - but no one claims Julius Caesar was not a real person) and died on the cross, the question becomes whether or not it can be verified that Christ was seen after the resurrection by someone other than the closest circle of disciples. Strobel says:

Did anyone see Jesus alive again? I have identified at least eight ancient sources, both inside and outside the New Testament, that in my view confirm the apostles’ conviction that they encountered the resurrected Christ. Repeatedly, these sources stood strong when I tried to discredit them. 

Could these encounters have been hallucinations? No way, experts told me. Hallucinations occur in individual brains, like dreams, yet, according to the Bible, Jesus appeared to groups of people on three different occasions – including 500 at once!

In the end, after I had thoroughly investigated the matter, I reached an unexpected conclusion: it would actually take more faith to maintain my atheism than to become a follower of Jesus.

I still think a great summary is "Five Confounding Facts About Jesus' Resurrection" a 2016 post at Donald Sensing's Sense of Events (who doesn't seem to have posted since last summer but has left his archives up).  He has done several excellent posts on the subject, including Jesus and History and links to articles put together by working scientists, "On what basis would a scientist accept the Resurrection?" and "Is Belief in the Resurrection Unscientific?

Enjoy your day.  Enjoy your families. As usual there's a pork butt going in to the smoker but only after 24 hours in the ultra-controlled sous vide cooker.  Pulled pork tonight. 



Friday, April 2, 2021

Trying to Bring Modern Monetary Theory to Conservative America

To begin with, credit where credit's due - to Zendo Deb at 357 Magnum for the link that got me started, but I forgot which post the link was in.  I had to save the article to read later, so I copied the URL down and promptly lost the context.  I just know it was in one of her lists of links.  You do read her, don't you? 

The story is a link to an article on The American Conservative called "Modern Monetary Theory for Conservatives" by an author named Jonathon Culbreath.  Since his author page has three articles there in the last year, it's safe to say he doesn't provide a lot of content for TAC.  The little biography I can find for him simply says, "Jonathan Culbreath is a writer living in Southern California. He is an assistant editor at The Josias, a site dedicated to the recovery of Catholic Social Teaching."

Let me start by saying the article doesn't cover anything new about Modern Monetary Theory (MMT hereafter); he quotes liberally from Dr. Stephanie Kelton's book The Deficit Myth (subtitled Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People's Economy) about the topic.  (Is anyone besides me creeped out by the term "People's Economy?")  The only thing that seems new is the attempt to convince people who see endless deficit spending as leading to serious trouble in the long term that deficits are fine.  MMT says governments aren't like people or companies or anyone else in the real world who need to have a balance sheet that balances.  Culbreath thinks conservatives should be OK with deficit spending, but just care about what the spending pays for. 
As predicted, conservatives have responded to the latest $1.9 trillion stimulus package with outrage about our growing national debt, and the taxes that will be required from our children and grandchildren to pay for it. While there may be many things to criticize in the package, it is significant that despite the fact the defense of the family is supposed to be a hallmark of conservative politics, not even a generous family policy embodied in an expanded Child Tax Credit could assuage many conservatives of their mortal fear of government spending.

This reluctance to accept government expenditure can be explained by many factors, some of them ideological and political. But one important and somewhat understudied factor is a faulty and outdated economic theory. Without defending all the details of the latest stimulus package, conservatives should re-examine the economics that underlie the tendency on the right to condemn any instance of large-scale government spending. On the basis of such a re-examination, the policy conversation could then shift away from whether government spending is economically justifiable and towards what kinds of spending are productive and worthwhile.
The article goes on about the theory and generally talking it up.  In general, the article (like everything I've read before) says "you're wrong in the way you think about things" but doesn't offer proof.  There are no reports that some other countries have done this and the world has gotten better for them.  As one of my economic mentors, the (long-retired) Mogambo Guru put it long ago (2009),
Whether or not this theory is true, I don’t know, but I don’t think so, as I have never read anything like, “From the moment that the government started creating and spending large amounts of money, everything got better and better, and the more money that was created for the government to spend, the better things got, until they reached Utopia and everybody lived happily ever after.”
And that's the problem I have with MMT.  As I said when I first read about it, "Well, actually, it's not new.  And it kind of dignifies it to call it a "theory."  It's a particularly stupid idea, which is to say the idea is to do what they always do: just keep spending what you don't have.  They just gave it a name they can hide behind." Remember, in science, a theory is an explanation for observed facts that have been demonstrated in controlled experiments.  If the theory - explanation - is proven to successfully predict what's going to happen in the experiments, it's standing is improved.  If proven often enough and well enough, and most especially never fails to predict, it becomes considered to be a natural law.   The only idea in economics that approaches the level of natural law is the Law of Supply and Demand.

What would it take to convince you that their way of looking at money is more accurate than the view that has held for all of human history?  Would it take more than some glib pronouncements from some professors?  Perhaps watch it work in various economies around the world over some length of time?  I would like to see it tested in various economies for a few nation*centuries, which just ain't happening.  I wouldn't live long enough to see it, anyway.

Any good theory should produce predictions that can be tested.  An easy example to think of is the theories in Newtonian Physics.  The predictions of the laws of motion are easy to create and easy to test.  One of the predictions of MMT is that there's really no such thing as inflation caused by too much monetary creation.  MMT says inflation is caused by too much demand for supply. 
Inflation only occurs, at least in any damaging degree, under certain conditions. Foremost among those conditions is full employment. When the economy is at full employment, which it rarely is, then the overall purchasing power within the economy may be considered to be at full capacity. At this point, an injection of more money into the economy might result in inflation, since it would likely push demand to outstrip supply, thereby causing prices to soar higher and purchasing power to decline at a dangerous rate.
Conventional economists say inflation occurs when sellers value what they're selling more than what buyers are offering.  In the case of rampant government spending, the seller says they can't buy what they need with the dollars being offered and demand more.  Are we having inflation?  To borrow a graphic from Gun Free Zone:

I'd say that real inflation isn't coming, it's here.  Their MMT fails to predict this, because with about 60% of the work force employed we're a long way from full employment and they say full employment is a precondition for inflation.  Furthermore, consider the Jimmy Carter years in the 1970s when inflation was the highest in the century.  Employment wasn't full then either (graph of employment levels in this post).  I say MMT fails the test of being able to predict the outcome of an experiment.