Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Day Interrupted

We lost our internet connection about 3:45 this afternoon.  It was out about four hours.  I had gone outside to watch the SpaceX Transporter 2 launch at 3:30, which had been delayed a half hour due to some showers moving through.  We didn't see a thing but the sonic booms from the booster slowing down to land up at the Cape were awesome!  Watch the video at least the part around the booster landing (between 22:30 and 23:50).  There's some outstanding photography in there - views I've never seen. 

When we came back in the house the internet connection was down.  We called our ISP to report an outage closer to 4:00 PM and they said there was an extensive outage in the area.  They predicted it would be back by 6:30, but that was optimistic by a full hour.  

It thoroughly messed up my train of thought and where I thought I was going.  As usual for when something like this happens, here's something light - a gun meme from the NSSF.  

 Maybe I'm old, but I've read a couple of reviews that this reminded me of.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

An Old Graybeard Story

When I'm not blogging, machining, 3D printing, playing in the ham shack or doing things related to those hobbies, I've been reviewing the ATF's Notice of Proposed Rule Making 2021R-05.  That's the one changing definitions of frames and receivers along with trying to greatly curtail the ability to make "Privately Made Firearms" or PMFs.  My intent is to put together as coherent an argument as I can, so I tend to have the NPRM open and a document in Libre Office in which I'm collecting thoughts.  

This leads to an Old Graybeard story.

The whole thing is reminiscent of the effort to stop the FCC from permitting the use of a bad technology back in the early part of the '00s.  The technology was called Broadband over Power Lines, or BPL, and it was a boneheaded idea if ever there was one.  The concept was to take broadband Internet to the homes and instead of putting it over cable TV coaxial cable or Fiber Optics, they were going to use the power grid.  The amount of bandwidth a signal takes is related to the data rate; it's not 1:1 like a 10 Megabit per second line doesn't necessarily take 10 MHz, but in the "you don't get something for nothing" world of engineering, the 10 to 20 Mega Bits per Second signals they were talking about delivering, would take up essentially the entire HF spectrum.  

This was being sold to solve some imaginary problem of lack of broadband into rural areas.  Except the powerline technology isn't compatible with HF signals. Transformers are integral to the AC power grid, stepping voltages up and down over and over again.  These things work at 60 Hz; they won't pass the HF signals.  Every. Single. Transformer would need to have data jumpers around it, the system would need signal processing like amplifiers and filters all over. 

There are many things wrong with the concept besides the hardware problems.  The HF spectrum is allocated internationally and there are many services in there.  Marine radio, commercial aviation, military services, industrial uses, international broadcast and ham radio are just some of the things you hear in HF.  This threatened to wipe those services out near powerlines, which is virtually everywhere in the country.  As a country, we're signatories to several treaties that would obligate us not to interfere with anyone else in the world.

I spent a long time responding to the NPRM from the FCC as just myself; so did the company I retired from.  Since HF receiver design was one of my specialties, I was much more familiar with the reality of those signal levels in that chunk of spectrum, and it was instantly apparent they were going to seriously interfere with every single occupant of the shortwave spectrum.  Not just hams but aviation, broadcasters, military, everyone. Conversely, ham transmitters could render the BPL system useless, too.

"Word on the street" was that the head of the FCC (Colin Powell's son Michael) was in the pocket of industry so it wasn't surprising the FCC made it legal.  They exempted certain frequency bands, notably where their own monitoring stations were located, and a few other government frequency bands.  They allowed other users to sue to shut down the BPL providers and the providers decided fairly early on they'd be facing bankruptcy from lawsuits and quietly went elsewhere in the spectrum. (My interpretation).  Today, long distance/wide area BPL is gone and all that remains are some things that work over the powerlines in your house. 

So what does that have to do with the ATF NPRM?

The lesson that I got out of that experience was the FCC was going to do it regardless of what anybody else said.  The NPRM step was something they had to do because the Administrative Procedure Act of 1946 says so.  They collected the thousands of comments against the idea and threw them out. 

To be fair, I've seen honest NPRMs from the FCC in the years since.  The FCC has accepted expert testimony from the ARRL or from groups of amateurs and modified proposed rules.

In the case of the ATF, it's hard to believe they'll respond to comments and improve the rules.  I've never seen them be even as "sorta sometimes reasonable" as the FCC.  I don't see why I'm bothering to work at it, but I just can't not do it.  We can't just say, "whatever you say, Master" to them.  Maybe a massive ground swell of opposition might have an effect. 



Monday, June 28, 2021

Russia Preparing Their Largest Module Ever for ISS ... But, Why?

According to Ars Technica today, the Russian space corporation Roscosmos released photos on earlier today showing the much-anticipated Nauka space station module being assembled at their facility in the Baikonur Cosmodrone in Kazakhstan.  

This will be Russia's first significant addition to the International Space Station in more than a decade, and it will provide the Russians with their first module dedicated primarily to research. "Nauka" means science in Russian.

This is a sizable module, including crew quarters, an airlock for scientific experiments, and much more. With a mass of about 24 metric tons, it is about 20 percent larger than the biggest Russian segment of the station, the Zvezda service module.

The module is tentatively scheduled to be launched on Russia's Proton rocket No Earlier Than July 15th, which deserves a little elaboration.  First, the Nauka module is more than a dozen years late due to a lack of budget for the project on top of technical issues.  The fact they pressed on to complete the program and get Nauka ready to launch can be interpreted as they saw the need for it and they intend to keep it crewed.  The second point is, the Russians have said they may pull out of the program in 2025 and build a brand-new station. The third point is, well, over to Ars:

So why launch a new module just a few years before exiting the station? One possibility is that the Russians are simply posturing. Some NASA officials have speculated privately that this may be an angle to obtain new funds from the United States. With the success of SpaceX's Crew Dragon vehicle and nearing availability of Boeing's Starliner, NASA is no longer annually sending hundreds of millions of dollars to Roscosmos to purchase Soyuz seats for access to the station. This was an important source of funding for Russia's space program.

However, NASA would like to keep the station flying for another decade, and for this it needs the Russians. The first elements of the International Space Station were launched in 1998, and it was designed such that the US and Russian segments were dependent upon one another for attitude control, power, and other critical resources. The NASA officials suspect Russia may seek "maintenance" funding from the United States in return for keeping its part of the space station going.

Up close, it looks like an oversized Soyuz capsule.  Both photos from Roscomos, via Ars Technica. 

Ars Technica's space correspondent, Eric Berger, points out that Nauka's launch is an important symbolic win for Russia's space program, in that it is increasingly rare for Roscosmos to develop and fly new hardware. Mostly, the program maintains and launches decades-old spacecraft such as the Soyuz vehicle and the Proton rocket.



Sunday, June 27, 2021

OCISLY Is Through the Panama Canal

SpaceX recovery drone ship Of Course I Still Love You transited the Panama Canal on Friday the 25th and as of today was traveling northwest to Long Beach.   

As of Friday, Mighty Servant 1 self-reported an ETA of July 6th.  

Photo from on Twitter

The stated reason for deploying OCISLY to California is to cover more polar orbit launches from Vandenberg SFB, and that's an important step to improve the availability of their Starlink service.  That's all understandable, but it leaves Florida with only one recovery drone, Just Read the Instructions (JRTI), and a busier launch cadence.  There is another drone ship being built which could be used in the Atlantic along with JRTI named A Shortfall of Gravitas (ASOG).  It appears that ASOG is being built in Port Fourchon, Louisiana, but isn't remotely close to being ready to travel to Florida.  Gavin Cornwell of SpaceXFleet Tweets that we're nearing three years since the work on ASG was announced.

Teslarati reports that SpaceX has filed papers with the FCC which indicate that SpaceX intends to perform dedicated polar Starlink launches from California and Florida – though the latter missions will take a significant performance hit to make that happen.  It was just last August that they launched the first payload into a polar orbit from the Cape in 60 years.  That launch did a Return To Launch Site profile for the Falcon 9 booster, so we were able to watch it going out and coming back.

Friday's planned launch of the Transporter 2 rideshare mission from the Cape was delayed until this Tuesday at 2:56 PM EDT or 1856 UTC; it's scheduled for a RTLS booster recovery, too.  The stated reason for the delay was additional time for pre-launch check outs.  Launching a large number of satellites made by different manufacturers means getting everything to communicate over some sort of digital bus on the launcher.  That can always be challenging

Saturday, June 26, 2021

It's Field Day Weekend

As I write, it's Saturday evening the 26th, just turned the 27th in UTC.  It's the last weekend in June and that marks the weekend of the year when American ham radio operators conduct the biggest operating event of the year that isn't a contest: Field Day.  Strictly speaking, Field Day (or FD) is an event organized by the American Radio Relay League, or ARRL, so people who are opposed to the ARRL for whatever reason look down on the event.  Saying it's not a contest is one of those things that's technically true, by definition, but people submit scores and their logs for bragging rights.  FD runs from 1800 hours UTC on Saturday (2PM EDT) to 2059 ( 4:59:59 PM EDT).  Most of the big contests run from 0000 Saturday to 2359 Sunday.

The purpose of Field Day is to get hams comfortable operating in different and austere conditions, as we often do while doing emergency communications.  The ARRL describes it like this:

Field Day is ham radio's open house. Every June, more than 40,000 hams throughout North America set up temporary transmitting stations in public places to demonstrate ham radio's science, skill and service to our communities and our nation. It combines public service, emergency preparedness, community outreach, and technical skills all in a single event. Field Day has been an annual event since 1933, and remains the most popular event in ham radio.

I've operated many FD events in my 45 years as a ham.  The first time was with a couple of the friends who helped me get my license.  We got permission to park a van in an unused field at the junior college, one guy borrowed a generator from his company, and we ran random length wires into nearby trees.  It was the first time I encountered the law of Field Days in Florida: it's gonna rain on Saturday.  The rain will be a thunderstorm. Over the years, I've repeated that in small groups and large club stations running several stations along with temporary antenna towers and multiple AC generators.  I've also operated FD with a fixed, permanently installed station, just to hand out points to the guys in the tents outside (in Field Day lingo, that's a class 1D station; one transmitter running on permanent line power.)   Because air conditioning.

An ARRL picture from FD 2019.  It looks like (probably) three stations are visible

If you're expecting to put up stations if/when the SHTF, there are good lessons to teach yourself in putting up a FD station.  I should have mentioned FD earlier, but any day can be field day if you just want to learn how to put up a station, or operate portable.  The terms to look up are POTA - Parks on the Air - and SOTA - Summits on the Air.  These are popular operating events in which people take a station to a park or mountain summit, generally with battery power and Field Day-type antennas.  They are generally, but not always, low power (QRP).  You just don't get the advantage of having experienced guys to show you how it's done. 



Friday, June 25, 2021

A Couple of ULA Atlas-Related Stories

Last April, after Boeing's disastrous attempt in December of '19 to qualify their Starliner capsule to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station, the company announced they would do the entire mission over again and pay for it themselves.  In the intervening year, they've put in a lot of effort to correct things that, quite frankly, never should have happened.  Boeing badly botched that mission to the point they were damned lucky not to lose the Starliner vehicle.  

Reality, though, is that there's only so much capacity in the system, and since Boeing's retest isn't bringing tons of supplies to the ISS or a replacement crew, they're low priority in the ISS system.  The retest is currently tentatively scheduled for July 30th.  Like the first mission, OFT-1, this critical mission will be unmanned, and the booster for that mission has been at the Cape since late '19.  If the second mission, OFT-2, meets all objectives, Boeing will fly a crew of three to the ISS, in a mission much like the SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo-1 mission in May of '20.

This past week, the Atlas V that's going to boost the capsule for the manned flight into orbit arrived at Port Canaveral and the vehicle is being prepared for launch.  It was shipped aboard a barge from the Gulf Coast, aboard a vessel appropriately enough called R/S RocketShip.

The rocket-delivery vessel transported the Atlas V first stage and the Dual Engine Centaur upper stage from ULA's sprawling 1.6-million-square-foot manufacturing facility in Decatur, Ala. to Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Fla. RocketShip set sail on June 14, arrived June 20 and was unloaded this morning. [June 21 - SiG]

The 312-foot-long ship is purpose-built to navigate both shallow waters of rivers and open ocean travel to reach ULA's launch sites. It has been making the trek from Decatur to Cape Canaveral since 2001.

When will it fly?  Assuming next month's test flight meets all objectives, “NASA and Boeing will look for opportunities toward the end of this year to fly Starliner's first crewed mission.”  The wording of that makes me assume it will be in early '22.

It might be worth reminding younger readers that the Atlas V is the direct descendant of the Atlas boosters used in the Mercury program, from John Glenn's first orbital flight through the rest of the Mercury missions. 

The Atlas V, though, is a platform that's aging out and ULA intends to replace it with the Vulcan booster.  In a podcast interview with Aviation Week, ULA acknowledged that the first launch of the Vulcan has been pushed off into 2022.  This time, though, it's not due to the BE-4 engines from Blue Origin; it's the payload.  The first launch will carry the Peregrine lunar lander for Astrobotic, and ULA reported the spacecraft will not be ready for this year. 

To borrow a line from Eric Berger at Ars Technica BE-4 you can launch, you need the engines ... The pacing item for Vulcan's launch is the BE-4 rocket engine, being manufactured by Blue Origin. ULA CEO Tory Bruno said the engine is making progress but remains on the test stand: "We've narrowed down to what we think is the final configuration. It's in its prequalification test series right now." Previously, Bruno had said he expected to take delivery of the BE-4 engines sometime this summer. Without knowing infinitely more than I do, "sometime this summer" seems possible since summer just started.

The Vulcan Centaur configuration, rendering from the ULA Vulcan Page

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

A Couple of SpaceX Stories - One Routine, One Not

The routine story is that we have another Falcon 9 launch Friday afternoon.  That's June 25th at 2:56 pm EDT or 18:56 UTC, if you prefer.  The mission itself isn't very routine: it's called Transporter 2 and will be a rideshare flight to a sun-synchronous orbit with numerous small microsatellites and nanosatellites for commercial and government customers.  We don't know quite how big the payload will be.  Transporter 1, launched in January of this year, carried 143 small satellites, setting a record for the number of spacecraft flown on a single rocket.  

A Sun-synchronous (heliosynchronous)  orbit is a polar orbit (or near polar) in which the satellite passes over any given point of the planet's surface at the same local mean solar time.  That means the lighting angle is the same every day, and the orbit precesses through the year so that the lighting angle remains the same.  This greatly simplifies monitoring places on the globe remotely because across long parts of the year, or multiple years, photos can just be put beside each other.  Because these payloads are going into Sun-synchronous orbits, it's safe to assume they're imaging or reconnaissance satellites, whether commercial or government.  

Artist's concept of the satellites being deployed, but it's probably not exactly what the payloads look like. 

The booster is B1060 and this will be the eighth flight for that booster.  There are reports B1060 will fly a rare return-to-launch-site (RTLS) landing on the cape, implying that its payloads may be substantially lighter than Transporter 1. 

The "not so routine" story is about Elon Musk himself.  As CEO of both Tesla and SpaceX, Musk puts on a lot of miles in a year.  Musk has mentioned that he now lives in a ~$50K house at Starbase, Texas when he needs to stay in Boca Chica for a while.  RGV Aerial Photography (who does weekly or more frequent flyovers of the facility and posts them to YouTube) provides this portion of one of their photos.  The red arrow marks his little (400 sq. ft.), prefab house.

Teslarati recently received a tip noting that Elon Musk’s housing unit in Starbase, Texas is a Boxabl Casita, a foldable, prefabricated home designed for quick installations and maximum affordability. A 20×20 unit such as the one that Elon Musk reportedly owns is priced at only $50,000, less than the cost of a Model Y Long Range Dual Motor AWD. The Boxabl Casita is durable, too, being made of concrete panels and steel. It could be installed very quickly and transported easily, as well, with the home being light enough to be pulled by a vehicle like a Model X. 
The Boxabl Casita is designed to be customizable with different finishes and configurations. Yet a look at Elon Musk’s apparent housing unit in Starbase shows that the CEO only opted for a base unit. Musk did mention that he has installed improvements to the home that would probably make it worth about $69,000 today, but even such an amount is less than the cost of a base Tesla Model S. The Casita is classic Elon Musk in the way that it’s different and practical, though the idea that the 20×20 unit may be home to the world’s third-richest person is very compelling. People with a net worth of $172 billion, after all, typically live in lavish properties.

I thought this was a neat story and rather unexpected.  The area to the right in the RGV photo is called the RV Park (as it shows), where a group of Airstream mobile homes are stationed.  From what I've read, those Airstreams are there for the exactly the same reason as Elon's Boxabl Casita: they're for workers who have to spend some time there at Boca Chica in a temporary assignment.  I suspect those Airstreams, even though smaller, are more expensive than the Casita.  

Increasingly, I think the major difference between Musk and many engineers I've met and worked with is that he can buy that $50,000 Boxabl Casita out of pocket, while the rest of us would have to finance it.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

And the Answer is... None of the Above

Given that the answer is "none of the above," what's the question?  I've done a few posts about what engine I'm going to build next, (last post with links to the others).  That link shows five examples of Hit and Miss engines of varying sizes and features.  As I dug deeper, I found something about Hit and Miss engines that I wanted to avoid; the intake valve.  Short version: they all use the same approach as the Webster engine I just built, using cylinder vacuum to pull the intake valve open, and I thought that was a weak spot in the design.  I wanted something with a positive action for both intake and exhaust.  Push rods.  Metal (cam) pushing metal (rod) pushing metal (valve lever) pushing metal (valve) is more certain. 

So after some talks about this on the forums I hang out with, I decided to build an engine by a modern engine designer, Brian Rupnow of Barrie, Ontario, Canada.  Brian just designed and built this engine over the period of mid-January to late April of this year, and posted his development as almost a work in progress blog on the Home Model Engine Machinists' forum. Brian sells complete plans of many engines, has had engines in Home Shop Machinist magazine, and offers tons of advise on various forums.  Brian just calls this his 1" bore by 1" stroke vertical IC engine.  It's going to look something like this, or at least it should:

The nice thing about being a 1" bore and stroke is that you can figure the displacement in your head.  It's the volume of a cylinder: pi/4 times bore squared times stroke or pi/4 *1*1.  That's 0.785 cubic inches.  

From the other side of the engine, you see the flywheel.  I don't think I'm going to copy his flywheel, which is multiple parts made of aluminum with a steel rim, held in place with brass pins.  I can get a cast iron or steel flywheel from several outfits or make one from a disk of 1018 steel as I did on the Webster.  Brian also made a fan from sheet aluminum to blow on the cylinder; I think mine is going to be printed plastic.

Brian finished in a few months.  That's highly unlikely to be my time.  First off he's a much more experienced machinist, and second off, I'm working from 2D prints in pdf files.  For parts that I want to CNC that will mean turning the 2D drawings into 3D models in CAD, and then using CAM or writing manual files to get the tool paths.  There are other things the prints call for that I should do; heat treating O1 (oil-cooled) steel; silver soldering some steel parts together, and so on.  These are things I think I know how to do in concept, but I'll need to test the details.

Those lessons are way in the future.  My first step was to go through the files (did I mention there are 47 single-page drawings?) and see what sort of stock I need to order.  I had plenty of some things but there's still plenty I need to order.  My CAD program (Rhino 3D, but an old version) is supposed to import .pdf files, and it does.  Unfortunately, it doesn't import the dimensions.  There are just lines on the screen, and the commands to create dimensions don't work for many things, so it's going to be a completely manual process.

Brian's video of his engine one of the first times he got it to run.  Mine might well be the only other one of these engines to be built.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Monday Space News Roundup

Sounds better than Space Ketchup that I've used a few many times before.  What do you think?  As with those posts, it's a round up of small stories that caught my eye but don't have much to be said about each. 

NASA's SLS Stacking Continues on the Kennedy Space Center

The core stage of NASA's SLS was mated with (bolted to) its two solid rocket boosters earlier this week, and continues to prepare for its initial Artemis flight in November.  This fast motion video was shot in the Vehicle Assembly Building.  

Regular readers know I'm skeptical of that conceptual date.  To borrow a few lines from an early March article on SLS before the successful Green Run test:

Here's the big issue.  This SLS core is intended to fly the first, unmanned, orbital Artemis mission.  Hilariously, NASA and Boeing are still sticking to their schedule fantasy and continue to parrot the party-line that SLS's Artemis-1 launch debut with this prototype is still on track to launch in "November 2021."  That date was set almost a year before the SLS Green Run schedule delays ballooned by at least nine months.  If NASA and Boeing are lucky and there are no more failures that eat months at a time, Artemis-1 might fly by the fall of 2022.

Maybe I'm pessimistic.  I don't think SLS has made one date commitment in the program's history.  The vehicle was supposed to have flown years ago.  If it were to launch in winter of '22, I'd think that was an incredible victory for SLS. 

Of Course I Still Love You at the Panama Canal 

The "ship shipping ship" Mighty Servant 1 carrying the SpaceX recovery drone OCISLY pinged on a position sensor outside the Gulf of Mexico side of the Panama Canal today, at 3:53 PM EDT.  

There's ordinarily a wait to get into the canal and go through, but nobody knows how long they'll wait.  It's likely the ship will have to wait a couple of days to go through the canal with a backlog of 70 ships waiting to go through.  I really don't know the protocols, if companies can pay more to get expedited or what, but those are the reports I'm seeing.  Eric Ralph at Teslarati says not later than Friday, maybe sooner, and then 10 days to Long Beach.  

At SpaceX Boca Chica, Work on the Launch Tower Proceeds

Since the last update a week ago, the next section of the Orbital Launch Integration Tower was stacked on the tower, the second to last section was transported to the launch complex and the last section is reaching completion at the Shipyard.  This photo is from the 13th, and shows what's referred to as the fourth section being added. 

It's looking more and more like the OLIT is being prepared to try to catch the Super Heavy boosters.  The running joke is that Elon was getting bored with landing rockets on their legs on a postage stamp 500 miles offshore, so he thought they'd make the rocket land under power between two arms on a tower and let the tower catch it.  Never mind that nobody else in the world has caught up to getting rockets to land standing up after a mission, on their tails, like every science fiction story we ever read.  

Sunday, June 20, 2021

A Ham Radio Series 27 – The World Runs on Quartz

In today’s world of computers everywhere, and trillion-transistor processors, it’s easy to think that the modern world is running on silicon.  It’s true, but there’s an aspect of running on silicon that escapes most people.  Virtually all of those computers, smartphones, and every other gadget we think of runs on silicon dioxide: quartz.  All of those things, and far more than I can summarize, have a clock circuit (so-called because the clock’s timing pulses run everything) with their timing set by a slice of a quartz crystal.  

In 1880, two brothers working at the Laboratory of Mineralogy at the Sorbonne, Pierre and Paul-Jacques Curie, discovered that a crystal would generate a small voltage if it was pressed.  They called this the piezoelectric effect, piezo- derived from the Greek piezen, “to press”.  A year later, they showed that if voltage was applied to the crystal, it would change its shape in response.  Through 1915, the piezoelectric effect was a laboratory curiosity studied largely in France and Germany.  Other types of crystals were studied and the effect found in some other materials. 

The first use of a crystal for setting the frequency of an oscillator circuit is credited to Dr. A.M. Nicolson working at the Bell Telephone Laboratories in 1918.  Nicolson was using a crystal called Rochelle Salt, because it had a stronger piezoelectric effect than quartz.  W.G. Cady switched to a quartz crystal slice by the following year, and was the first to use quartz.  In 1920, Cady submitted a patent application for a piezoelectric resonator describing possible uses as not just a resonator but also as a filter and a coupler.  

With the start of amateur radio in the US, quartz crystal oscillators became a subject of wide experimentation.  The first commercial market for quartz crystals was selling shaped slices of the best mined quartz to hams, who then did the “finish work;” lapping the quartz on grinding plates to set their frequencies, most often in an oscillator in their transmitters.  

The history of quartz production and the industry is fascinating.   An area of concentration was central Pennsylvania, near the city of Carlisle (pdf warning), which happens to be the location of the first crystal vendor I was ever sent to investigate and interview.  While the history of the industry and oscillators is interesting, I don’t want to dwell on histories; I prefer to talk about the technical side. A good summary of the history is by Virgil Bottom, here.  Other papers I have on my computer are behind IEEE paywalls and I can't link to them.

Today, natural, mined quartz crystals aren’t used out of the ground.  The crystals are refined and regrown in a hydrothermal process (yes, “hot water;” very hot water).  Quartz crystals have complex geometries, and the ways to cut a crystal to get better properties out of the resulting crystal have been refined over the years.  This figure shows just some of the crystal cuts that are commonly used.  

Now compare that short, kinda squat crystal to a lab-grown quartz crystal.  The world market for these is in the billions.

Synthetic quartz crystals are grown in bar form; the position of the crystal before cutting is determined by x-ray diffraction and the crystal is then bonded to a substrate to be cut on.  The cutting is done with a grinding process: parallel bands of steel like a bread slicer that carry abrasives along their edges and the quartz is ground through, resulting in many slices.  The slices are ground into the desired shape (usually round) and then lapped on a plate to frequency.  In the place where I saw this being done, the frequency of the batch of blanks was monitored on a shortwave radio.  As the blanks get thinner, the frequency they’re heard on goes up.  As the final frequency is approached, the abrasives get switched to finer and finer grit sizes.  The sound turns from a growl in the speaker to finer note until it’s becomes like one audio tone.  If the blanks are inadvertently made too thin and too high in frequency, it’s possible to sputter some metal onto the crystal slice, lowering the frequency.  In the 1920s and 30s, hams lapping a crystal on a glass plate with very fine abrasives would rub some graphite from a pencil lead on the crystal to lower its frequency (and they still do it today).

Much as Cady predicted in 1920, quartz slices can be used in oscillators and in filters, and the vast majority of ham rigs out in the world have some quartz in them.  Further, the older and “lower tech” ham stations are, the more quartz they’ll have.  There are literally millions of low power (QRP) ham transmitters that are made from a quartz crystal oscillator and a single transistor amplifier.  Until just before I got my first ham license in 1976, Novice class licensees were required to use quartz crystal frequency control.  The majority of VHF/UHF “handie-talkies” used a pair of crystals for every channel the user wanted.  Quartz crystal filters for adjacent channel suppression are still used in many receivers.  Only the most advanced of modern receivers can substitute software defined filters that exceed the performance of good crystal filters.

Crystal oscillator design is a wide and deep topic.  Any topology of oscillator can be built with a crystal resonator in it.  This chart (from a presentation by John Vig that runs over 300 pages), shows where a crystal (in blue) would be in the various circuit types. The red triangle is active device, with the B and C pins corresponding to a bipolar transistor's base and collector.

EDIT 12/4/21 1500 EST:  Corrected the series number.  I had two posts named 26

Saturday, June 19, 2021

An Enticing SpaceX Rumor from the Best-Placed Source

Ordinarily, we refer to rumors from "a well-placed source" or anonymous sources.  This is a rumor about SpaceX from the best-placed source there can possibly be: Elon Musk.  

A couple of days ago, Starship prototype SN16 was removed from the launch pad area and moved out front where SN15 is sitting, prompting reports that it was going to be retired because it's stated purpose in life is no longer needed (to do the tests SN15 was supposed to do if SN15 failed). 

SN15 (left) and 16 being transported over to join 15.  Photo credit Jack Beyer for  

In a reply to a Tweet by Teslarati news, Elon said, "We might use SN16 on a hypersonic flight test"  

Now this is interesting.  No Starship prototype has even gone supersonic (it has been carefully planned that way), and all Starship flights have been repeats to the same modest altitude.  A little more pointedly, the prototypes have apparently all achieved their maximum velocity during their free fall, not while under rocket power.  

Musk’s use of “hypersonic” implies that Starship SN16’s hypothetical flight test would reach a velocity at least five times the speed of sound (~1700 m/s or ~3800 mph) – at least a full magnitude faster than the next fastest Starship prototype. Based on the SpaceX CEO’s comment, it’s also safe to assume that Starship can reach hypersonic velocities under its own power – and likely only with three Raptor engines installed.

This sounds like it would be a good test to make.  The first orbital Starship launch could come by the end of July, and no part of the stack has done what the real vehicle will need to do.  Tests are always a good thing but, at some point, adding more tests just slows them down.  It would probably take a minimum of a couple of weeks to get SN16 into the pad area and run all the tests required before it could take a hypersonic flight and that could push the orbital launch out.   

Here's the deal: no matter how they envision it, the first vehicle to go hypersonic is their hypersonic test.  It could be SN16 by itself or it could be SN20 riding the Super Heavy booster, as part of its orbital test. The first one is always a prototype - no matter what you call it.

Friday, June 18, 2021

The Professor Writes a Good Piece

Bouncing around the web today, I ran across a good article on Intellectual Takeout by Robert Weissberg, professor emeritus (retired) of political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  His topic is the Bogeyman of Structural Racism and how it's absolutely non-scientific, and not subject to anything that anyone can do. 

Given that structural racism is allegedly hard-wired into American society and responsible for a multitude of what were once believed to be self-inflicted pathologies among blacks, i.e., crime, illegitimacy, and academic failure, reversing it is to be a top-to-bottom enterprise. Critically, whites, not blacks, are responsible for such pathologies and thus must bear the brunt of social engineering.

What might explain this sudden alleged breakthrough in the way we approach structural racism? Surely it has not been developed by real scientists as they have been busy engineering a COVID-19 vaccine. Instead, the appeal of this theory rests on its nonscientific character, specifically, that it cannot be falsified and as such is beyond scientific scrutiny. It may or may not be a true account of America’s racial conflicts, but we will never know for certain, and absent this confirmation, it can be promoted endlessly and lucratively, or at least until the political forces advancing it dissipate.

I'll cut him some slack on his implication that the only real scientists were working on the Covid-19 jab, but he's right that there is no way to test the existence of Structural Systemic Racism and he's right that the inability to test the theory is a feature they want, not a bug.  In the past, when congress would pass an anti-discrimination law, analysts would later measure to determine if racial discrimination had declined in the aftermath of the law’s passage. Scientifically verified conclusions would eventually emerge. 

Since, almost by definition, it exists everywhere in perpetuity, the gold standard before/after format of research cannot be applied. You cannot have a school where systemic racism is somehow removed and then compare test scores to one still infected by racism. Yes, everything in the “infected” school even hinting of structural racism might be removed, but still, as its proponents insist, racism, like gravity, will persist. There can never be a headline, “Brookings Study Shows Little Impact of Structural Racism.” It may in fact thrive in schools without white teachers, white administrators, white-authored textbooks, or comparable white causal agents.

As he says, why impose expensive programs like affirmative action if inescapable structural racism is the root cause of all evil?  If you can't determine that you've done anything to affect it, why do anything?  What could possibly be done?  Sure, some of them say it can be made better by killing all the white people but toxic structural racism might still survive. 

Such antiscience thinking has deep roots in human existence and so its current reemergence hardly surprises. This mentality is everywhere. For example, observers describe “juju” in parts of West Africa where a priestly class cures ills and protects towns from catastrophes through spells and magic charms. For a fee of course. Juju can also enforce contracts or punish others. In the West there’s magical thinking where a person believes that his or her thoughts, in and of themselves, can influence another person, including harming them. So, since whites are supposedly hardwired to think badly of blacks, blacks suffer, and this suffering cannot be reduced via the usual ameliorative measures such as increased funding for education.

Western psychologists and psychiatrists treat magical thinking as a mental illness and one might thus aver that our current obsession with this unscientific systemic racism, toxic whiteness, and the like shows that American society is indeed going crazy.

This is where the talk about math being racist, white people talking about cause and effect and all that science shit ends up.  Science, as an organized, empirical approach to learning becomes useless. The damages from that are incalculable.  

I rarely say something like this but you should look at the two links in the second paragraph (the first indented quoted paragraph) The first is a link to Nature magazine, while the second is a link to the Journal of the American Psychoanalytical Association.  Both of those, especially the Psychoanalytical Association paper, read like parodies of real papers to me.  There are no numbers; no measured data.  Only diatribe.  The Nature paper reads like companies bowing to the Woke mobs.  

Image Credit: New York Post's Twitter account.  The woman pictured in the upper right inset is Dr. Aruna Khilanani, a psychiatrist, who said in front of a conference of other psychiatrists (all of whom are M.D. medical doctors), that she dreamed of "unloading a revolver into the head of any white person that got in my way." She then said she’d walk away from the shooting "with a bounce in my step," that white people "make my blood boil" and "are out of their minds and have been for a long time" — at the Ivy League institution’s Child Study Center.  And yet in a room full of medical doctors who treat mentally ill patients all the time not one doctor did anything to address her psychotic behavior.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Today's Falcon 9 Mission Was a Milestone

Today's Falcon 9 mission to launch the fifth GPS III satellite (GPS III SV05 - SV for Space Vehicle) broke the last major symbolic barrier in reuse of previously flown rockets.  It's the first time a US military national security mission has flown on a previously flown booster.  

Just to point out how careful they are about such missions, let me remind you that NASA has already flown astronauts on one; the Crew-2 mission back in April launched both a previously used booster and Crew Dragon capsule.   I've always thought human spaceflight was the most cautious group.  As we might have expected, the first customers to allow already flown boosters were satellite operators.  NASA manned spaceflight was second.  The acceptance by the military means that SpaceX’s reusability has been officially validated by every major American customer and institution.

The booster, B1062, took its first flight in November of 2020 and its payload was the predecessor of this satellite, SV04.  The satellite is safely in orbit, B1062 stuck the landing, and was prepared for its next mission.  Today its second flight launched SV05; again, the satellite is safely in orbit and B1062 stuck the landing (although the Bulgarian judge only awarded a 9 instead of the full 10).

The Bulgarian judge said something about engine not being over the middle of the X in the 10 ring. 

I should add the context that the agreement to allow previously flown boosters was signed before last November's GPS III SV04 mission, an agreement affecting this flight and SV06.  Space Force agreed to allow the GPS III satellites to be launched into a different orbital perigee, enabling a drone ship recovery attempt.  In return for this accommodation, SpaceX agreed to some additional spacecraft requirements for future missions and saved the US government $52 million.

Over at Ars Technica, Eric Berger tells this story:

A few years ago, one of SpaceX's earliest employees, Hans Koenigsmann, told me that one of the company's goals was to take the "magic" out of rocket launches. It's just physics, he explained.

As its Falcon 9 rocket has become more reliable and flown more frequently—18 launches so far this year and counting—it seems that SpaceX has succeeded in taking the magic out of launches. And while reliability should definitely be the goal, such regularity does distract from the spectacle of watching a rocket launch.

As he points out, this was the 19th launch of the year, but didn't mention it was the 88th successful Falcon booster recovery.  While it is getting fairly routine to watch the launches of Falcon 9s, it's like watching a jumbo jet take off.  It's pretty and worth watching in its own right.  At the other extreme, watching rockets land on a pillar of flame hasn't gotten boring.  At least to me. 

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

As Expected, The Covid Emergency Spending Was Full of Fraud

Fraud and outright theft.  But we've known that.  Today, I ran into a story by libertarian economist Dan Mitchell detailing how bad it was, by pulling together a few stories. 

Dan begins by talking about another thing we all know about: people in general, and politicians in particular don't spend money the same way when they're spending their own money versus Other People's Money (OPM - the world's most addictive drug).  Someone on Reddit's Libertarian page came up with this memorable way of describing the situation.

Individuals buying for themselves and governments spending on various giveaways spend in opposite corners of this graphic.  Politicians trying to "do something" simply don't care about making sure the money is spent wisely.  That's charitable; they may be deliberately spending stupidly so friends, family, and others can get some of that filthy lucre, too. 

Axios has a depressing report on how the turbo-charged benefits that were part of the coronavirus legislation triggered staggering levels of fraud. 

Criminals may have stolen as much as half of the unemployment benefits the U.S. has been pumping out over the past year, some experts say. …fraud during the pandemic could easily reach $400 billion, according to some estimates, and the bulk of the money likely ended in the hands of foreign crime syndicates… Blake Hall, CEO of, a service that tries to prevent this kind of fraud, tells Axios that…50% of all unemployment monies might have been stolen… Haywood Talcove, the CEO of LexisNexis Risk Solutions, estimates that at least 70% of the money stolen by impostors ultimately left the country, much of it ending up in the hands of criminal syndicates in China, Nigeria, Russia and elsewhere.

Wait.  The money went to Nigeria?  And no one got an email that they replied to stupidly? 

Mayowa is an engineering student in Nigeria who estimates he’s made about $50,000 since the pandemic began. After compiling a list of real people, he turns to databases of hacked information that charge $2 in cryptocurrency to link that name to a date of birth and Social Security number. In most states that information is all it takes to file for unemployment. …“Once we have that information, it’s over,” Mayowa said. “It’s easy money.” …prepaid debit cards issued by some state unemployment offices paved the way for fraud this year, security experts said. …Asked whether he feels bad about stealing from unemployed Americans, Mayowa pointed out that 70% of his peers in school are working the scams as side hustles, too.

But it wasn't just unemployment money; there were those stimmy checks, too.  

The federal government sent nearly 1.2 million “economic impact payments” authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to people who were dead and, therefore, not qualified to receive them, according to a report published today by the Government Accountability Office. …On its website, the IRS describes individuals who are not eligible for an “Economic Impact Payment”… “Taxpayers likely won’t qualify for an Economic Impact Payment if any of the following apply: … You can be claimed a dependent on someone else’s return. … You are a nonresident alien. … An incarcerated individual. A deceased individual.”

The stimulus checks were sent around the world.  A few weeks ago, I read a story about some people in Japan who had worked in the US before 2005 and got checks.  NPR has a story featuring people all over the world who got $1200 checks from Uncle Sam.  

Who would have guessed one of the big beneficiaries of the US handouts would be Italian luxury carmaker Lamborghini?  From a story at Reason magazine:

...carmaker Lamborghini has benefited from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)… Within days of receiving $1.6 million in PPP loans for his construction and logistics businesses, Lee Price III of Houston bought himself a 2019 Lamborghini Urus for $233,337, plus a $14,000 Rolex watch and close to $5,000 worth of entertainment at a strip club and various bars around town. …His scheme was audacious but hardly original. The DOJ had already brought similar fraud charges against Miami man David T. Hines, who had allegedly spent his ill-gotten PPP loans on a new $318,000 Lamborghini Huracán EVO. …Loan recipients include companies founded by members of Congress and prominent D.C. lobbying firms. Presidential adviser Jared Kushner’s family businesses, including their media and real estate concerns, received PPP loans, as did the clothing brand of rapper and aspiring president Kanye West.

All of these are yet more examples of a fundamental truth; in the best of times, Government is the worst of ways to get things done.  In bad times it's even more worser.  “More government” is never the answer to any reasonable question. 


Tuesday, June 15, 2021

A 3D Printer Update - A Creality Ender 3 V2 Review

Back in January, I posted my first article on the 3D Printer I had bought and had just assembled.  A few days ago, I received a comment and question about the post that I thought was worth writing a longer, more complete answer to than a comment on a five month old post warranted.  

Its been about six months since you have purchased a 3D printer and I’m wondering if your experience with this Creality model has been up to expectations and if not perhaps you can elaborate on its shortcomings. I am considering adding a 3D printer to the shop, and have just begun evaluating machines in the $200-$500 range. 

In Internet time, posts that are more than a few weeks old are ancient history.  They can be found with the right search terms, but most readers don't do that.  I'm positive that a new post will be found by more readers than a comment to the five month old post.  

The Creality Ender 3 V2.  Photo from their product page with my markups.

To begin with, the overall answer is that I think the Creality Ender 3V2 is a good entry level 3D printer.  I'm relatively certain that there are better entry level printers, but those are at higher entry price levels than this one.  

I don't have a matrix of characteristics of a printer and how I'd rate this.  Overall, I don't consider it a perfect 10, but it's definitely in the upper quartile.  

What do I like about it?

It was easy to assemble and get going.  I only made one mistake assembling it, allowing one of the toothed drive belts that drive the axes to wrap into a wrong position and seem mysteriously too short.  The instructions that come with the printer are adequate, but one of the advantages of a popular line like the Ender printers is that there are frequently videos that cover assembly and add some tips to watch out for.  I watched this one from CHEP a couple of times, including having it on my iPad while assembling it as well as at least one more I can't think of.  Since I've built three different CNC systems, this might be "home field" for me.  Others might puzzle over it more. 

Another positive aspect is that it includes everything you need to print your first few things.  It came with 500 grams of PVA filament and I still have plenty left.  I ordered some PLA+ just based on hearing it's “better,” but I really can't tell a difference.  With three spools of that, I'll be printing in PLA+ for a while.  

Leveling the bed was relatively easy to do and (again) there are lots of videos to help you out.  (I talked a little about getting it running HERE.)  Likewise, setting the printer nozzle to bed gap wasn't difficult.

Creality has good online support and does issue software updates.  I've never contacted them for any real support.  Another good thing is that the printer is so popular, there are many options for the Slicer software, not just the software that comes with it.  I'm currently preferring the Prusa slicer, from the printer manufacturer by that name.  Josef Prusa is one of the big guys in the open source printer movement and his company's printers are very well regarded, but rather higher priced.  One reason is that the Ender only speaks metric.  The Prusa software will take a mechanical .STL file in English units and convert dimensions to metric for me.  It's not hard to take existing inch-unit files and convert them to mm, it just takes time and adds files to my system.  Which is what the other slicer I was using (Cura) made me do.

What do I wish was different or better? 

There is one supplied interface to the printer, a controller on the right side and that controller has one input, a rotary step switch, which I just gotta know is a limited life item.  Try spinning it on temperature, or telling it to move one of the axes with each knob click moving it 0.1 mm, and you know it's limited life.  With my CNC machines, I can go to the computer and tell the CNC mill to go to a specific set of coordinates for each axis, or all four simultaneously, and it will do so.  I can't do that with this printer.  The CNC controllers store a number of steps per inch which can be verified using a dial indicator.  I can check those numbers and change them if need be.  There's no equivalent way to walk up to the printer and control it that way.   

As a general rule, the Slicer software does that, but the complication is that each brand, and even each color of each brand filament can require different calibrations in the Slicer software, or different numbers of steps per mm in the equivalent of the CNC controller.  That's the nature of what you're working with and the process itself.

The printer has a USB port on it, and it's possible to interface to the Ender through that.  Controlling the printer through that port apparently gives you more power over the machine; the software that's most popular is called Pronterface and runs on a Raspberry Pi.  I originally dismissed this because of lack of space near the printer for a keyboard and monitor, but I rearranged the shop a few weeks ago and may be able to put something together that works.  

While I've never printed anything that challenges the print envelope (about 8-1/2" square by 9-3/4" tall), I'd like to be able to print bigger things.  Printer price scales with change in print size; bigger costs more. 

I've shied away from updating the software because there's no way of knowing which boards I have (and which version of the update to download) without opening the printer, which isn't very easy.  The controller software should tell you that information.  I'll open it, take some pictures and write a tag to put on the bottom. 

Other thoughts.

The usual question is "would you buy it again?" and yes, I would.  I've read or heard a bit about newer printers and there are printers that they say are just as good and cheaper.  CHEP has a video about the Elegoo Neptune 2 printer which he says is $169 and just about as good.  That's about $100 less than I paid for my  Ender 3 V2.  Another good video source, Thomas Sanladerer, says they're good printers but nobody has any.  I've never looked. 

Like my milling machines, I expect that I'll keep upgrading this one and may end up with one that has a bigger print envelope sometime in the future. 

Monday, June 14, 2021

A Few Space Ketchup Stories

Item 1:  the plan to transport drone ship OCSILY to California on the Mighty Servant is moving ahead.  Photos were taken of the barge loaded on the giant transport ship (the ship shipping ship) on Saturday morning

You may have gathered I think this is pretty cool technology, although I know it's not new technology.  The ship builder, Royal Boskalis in  the Netherlands has a technical brochure you can download on the ship (bottom of this page: it's a .pdf).  An interesting fact is that Mighty Servant 1 was built in 1983; so she's 38 years old this year.  

You probably remember the bombing of the USS Cole in October 2000.  The Cole was brought back to the US from the attack in Yemen onboard a similar ship called the MV Blue Marlin; the Mighty Servant (MS1) made me think of this and look up the details.  Blue Marlin was built in 1999, so MS1 was 16 years old when Blue Marlin went into service.

You can probably predict the path it will follow yourself, but SpaceXFleet presents this map. It appears that using the MS1 can drop the transit time approximately in half.

Item 2: The final bid for the seat with Jeff Bezos and his brother Mark was $28 million.  The last minute bidding frenzies that you've seen and experienced on eBay took place at Blue Origin. 

The identity of the winning bidder has not yet been made public but will be revealed in the coming weeks, Blue Origin said.

Whoever it is will be traveling with three other passengers, including Bezos and his younger brother, Mark. The “fourth and final” passenger will be announced soon, the company said.

At approximately 10 minutes from launch to landing, around three of which will be spent in zero gravity, the trip will cost the winning bidder more than $9 million per minute spent in space.

As has been announced before, the winning bid will be donated to Club for the Future, Blue Origin’s foundation focused on STEM education programs.  Bezos is scheduled to step aside from his spot as CEO of Amazon on July 5th; as of the moment, the flight is set for July 20th.   

Item 3:  The third section of the Orbital Launch Integration Tower (OLIT) has been stacked at SpaceX Boca Chica.  That means it's about halfway built.  The fourth section to stack is waiting alongside the test stand now and will probably be put in place tomorrow or the next day, while a fifth section is being built at the shipyard.    

It's currently 86 meters tall, about 280 feet tall, but that's not all from the stacked sections of tower.  The building at the base with some structure built in appears to be approximately ~100 ft tall, while each prefabricated segment has – so far – been ~60 ft tall.  (100 + 3x 60 = 280)  Adding two more sections, #4 and #5, adds 120 feet to the current 280 feet tall structure and gets it to 400 feet.  Teslarati tells us:

SpaceX currently has permission from the FAA to build a tower 143m (469 ft) tall – technically 146m (479 ft) after the installation of a small lightning rod. 

To get from 400 feet to that ~470 ft tall permit, implies a seventh section will be starting its assembly any minute now (status board).  There's a rush to get this system built because of Elon's promise to launch an orbital Starship in the "third quarter."  That third quarter clock starts ticking on July 1st.  

The current OLIT is on the right in this screen capture.  You can see the taller base section and the three identical structures on top of that base.  The next tower section doesn't jump out in the picture, but it's in front of the large towers close to the center. 

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Let's Breed Some Chickens

Back when I was still working, Mrs. Graybeard and I would have lunch together on Fridays.  There were always places to get chicken wings for lunch near where I worked, and having wings once a week became something we just did.  After I retired, it transformed into watching a TV show or two we'd record during the week over wings on Friday nights.  Ordinarily, we'd get over a dozen whole wings to cook for dinner and whatever we didn't have for dinner became my lunch on Saturday.  

Around the time that COVID shutdowns started happening, wings started becoming scarce and hard to find at times and we had to do without.  When they started being available again, I jokingly referred to having a "strategic reserve" of wings in our big freezer, but I don't think we ever had any more than two packages in the freezer.  

If you'll recall, last year the problem was attributed to there being a large institutional demand for wings as opposed to the cuts that most people would buy for home use.  The price of wings collapsed and many were thrown away when the college bassetball tournament they call "March Madness" didn't get held.

This year, the supply started out good but then tightened up quite a bit.  The reasoning looked like it should be the same because there was no shortage of any other chicken parts.  I could walk into the meat section of the local grocery store and find dozens of packages of drum sticks, thighs, and chicken breasts, either boneless/skinless or still on the ribs.  Last week was the first week in a month when there was one small package of wings (about half of what we'd normally buy) and here's the strange part: a package of drumettes, the uppermost portion of a chicken wing.

This started to get on my nerves.  After all, chickens have exactly the same number of drumsticks, thighs and breasts as they do wings; why should those be so commonly available that the store regularly does a BOGO (buy one, get one free) on those parts, but have no wings?  Some research said that the wing restaurants were having problems getting their wings, too, and that wholesale prices for them have doubled.  Small sports bars and other restaurants that sell wings are being pinched by the prices for wings and labor going through the roof - although I bet you only heard about the labor costs.

This led to some web wandering to find out why are wings so scarce. I was surprised that Tyson, the chicken processing giant, was saying it was that their roosters weren't living up to their "job responsibilities."

Could it be the 21st century soy boy problem has moved to the chickens?  Are they feeding the roosters too much soy?  Tyson says no; they simply bought a new breed of Rooster that's supposed to produce meatier offspring, but apparently bought a sales story instead.  They promise things will be better Real Soon, Now.

While doing my research, I stumbled across a story that might solve the situation, if we can just make something happen.  Some people in various places (cough - China) started rumors that KFC had bred chickens with spiders to produce chickens with eight legs and six wings.  Since drumsticks aren't in short supply, could it be possible to breed a chicken with more wings?  Not necessarily six wings, although I don't see a problem with that.  Clearly just doubling the number of wings to four would double the production of wings in the country while not oversupplying the parts there are already plenty of.

(Somebody's wonderful conceptual art of spider-chicken, from the previous link)  ("Spider chicken, spider chicken.  Does whatever a spider chicken does." (Source))

Now you and I know that you can't crossbreed spiders and chickens.  First off, there's the enormous genetic differences, and then there's the practical issue that they're too different in size to mate.  With the exception of some of our Florida spiders who could probably do it while standing flat-footed on the ground.  Why were there never any murder hornets in Florida?  The mosquitoes raped them and left them for dead. 

But what if you could isolate genes that determine the number of limbs, and somehow get a healthy chicken with more wings?  Like I said before, they don't need to have six wings because four would double the national supply of wings.

Now I know what you're thinking.  Everything you buy in the store advertises it's not genetically modified and here I am proposing that we extract genes from a spider to modify the chicken genome and get more wing production.  I have a theory for that, too.  I think that GMO is a "Karen" word (sorry, Karen, I know you don't like being associated with that) and that the people who go to a sports bar to watch a game, drink a few beers and have a few wings are a completely different group from the people that live in fear of GMOs.  I think that the two groups have virtually nothing in common.  Like this is the Venn diagram of the intersection between the two:

Darn it!  Now I want some wings.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

A Short Story But A Neat Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why?  Final words to Eric Ralph.

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



Friday, June 11, 2021

Set Your Alarm for July

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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