Monday, January 31, 2022

Fourth Time is the Charm

This evening at 6:11 PM, SpaceX was able to launch the Italian COSMO-SkyMed Second Generation, or CSG 2, radar surveillance satellite.  The launch was originally set for last Thursday, scrubbed due to weather and moved to Friday, scrubbed and moved briefly to Saturday, then to Sunday, and then today.  The first three scrubs were due to weather which has been a bit unusual around here.  Yesterday's fourth scrub was due to one of the cruise ships out of Port Canaveral going into the Launch Hazard Area, which has been a public Notice to Mariners since before last Thursday.  

There's no truth to the rumor that the Navy was authorized to torpedo cruise ships.  I know there's no truth because I just made that up.  By contrast, it is well known among people who worked on the Space Center that the guards in the guard houses at all of the entrances to the Kennedy Space Center would take out tires of people trying to run past them onto the base.  

Knocking off the jokes completely, we haven't heard that SpaceX has any ability in place to bill the cruise ship line for the cost of running the countdown down to T-30 seconds and recycling.  

This morning, Teslarati noted:

While just a part of rocketry, this scrub was particularly annoying because it came on a day with near-perfect weather after three consecutive weather-related scrubs. The US military’s 45th Space Wing had also explicitly warned boaters and the general public of the unusual southerly launch trajectory and encouraged them to double-check exclusion zones. Further, had Falcon 9 been able to launch, perfectly clear skies and a liftoff scheduled about 15 minutes after sunrise could have created a spectacular light show visible for one or several hundred miles in every direction as Falcon 9 rose back into direct sunlight. The weather forecast on CSG-2’s backup window (6:11 pm EST, Jan 31) still predicts excellent conditions but clear skies are never guaranteed.

Author Eric Ralph refers to liftoff "scheduled about 15 minutes after sunrise" but fumbled that.  It was after sunset, not sunrise (and about 10 minutes after sunset).  However, when he went on about how it "could have created a spectacular light show visible for one or several hundred miles in every direction" he was exactly right. It was spectacular and beautiful.  As with the Return to Launch Site landing a couple of weeks ago, we were able to see the first stage separate, turn itself around and commit its engine burn to get it started back to the landing zone on Cape Canaveral.  We were able to see the first stage firing its cold gas thrusters to help keep it optimally positioned on the way back to land; we've only been able to see that a small handful of times of all the Falcon 9 launches we've been able to watch.  A couple of minutes later, we were able to watch the booster do its landing burn that concludes just about a minute before the engine starts for the final 30 seconds to reach zero velocity at zero height and set the booster down gently.  That's below our local horizon so we watch that on the video feed. 

The speed of 40 km/hr visible in the lower left indicates it hadn't quite achieved both when I did the screen capture, but five seconds later it was zero velocity.  I didn't time it, but a minute or so later, we got house-shaking sonic booms from the booster coming back for the landing.  

Speaking of those sonic booms, the last time I wrote about that, I made a serious mistake about the booms.  I said, 

And a minute or so after that heard the sonic booms of the booster slowing down below the speed of sound.

In the comments later, TwoDogs took me to task for that, saying, 

You seem to believe that a sonic boom is caused by an object transiting between subsonic and supersonic and vice versa. This is incorrect, and I thought you would know better. An object travelling supersonic generates a sonic boom as long as it is supersonic. A subsonic object does not. Spend a few minutes in the pits at a military rifle range and you'll have all the proof you need.

As I said in response, when I read his remarks, "I thought, "I said what??" but sure enough that sentence sure implies that, if not stating it in those exact words, doesn't it?"  It's hard to justify a mistake like what I wrote, but I recognized it was wrong.  The only reason I can possibly think of for having said that is that for almost the entire Shuttle era, newscasters would say something like that during a landing on the Cape, implying that the sonic boom was from the supersonic air separating from the Shuttle's nose and tip of its tail. It doesn't work that way, and yes, I know that.  I think it's a sign of simply rushing too much to get a post done and not paying enough attention to what I was writing.  Mea culpa.

With that out of the way, and today's launch successfully in the log, SpaceX is planning two more Falcon 9 launches this week.  The next launch is being shown as a spy satellite mission, NROL-87, from Vandenberg Space Force Base at 12:18 pm PST (2018 UTC) or 3:18 PM EST on Wednesday February 2nd.  Until a few minutes ago, the mission called Starlink 4-7, another load of Starlink satellites, was being discussed as launching tomorrow from Pad 39A on the KSC, but now I'm reading, "later this week." 



Sunday, January 30, 2022

Weekly Update on the 1 by 1 - Part 22

The work on the engine this past week has all been here in the house on this computer with zero out in the shop.  I'm preparing the connecting rod for the piston.  The piston isn't worth putting into CAD because all the critical things I'll do will be by hand on my big lathe.  

Connecting rods are fiddly little pieces with lots of design features that tend to make us need to use several setups for machining.  I always look at them and wonder why there's so much complexity to them.  I think some of the small features are necessary for clearance and others are just because "that's the way they should look".  This is a lift of the pdf drawing for this engine's rod with a lot of the dimensions removed because they get in the way of seeing what the part is supposed to look like. 

I took out the various radii at the small and large ends.  The small end will hold the pin (a wrist pin) that goes in the piston and transfers the force pushing or pulling the rod onto the walls of the piston.  The big end goes on the crankshaft I made back in September/October (and that tried to to take off the end of my right index finger).   See that taper to the rod from the big end to the small end?  Why is that there?  Other than to make it look better, probably to ensure the rod clears the piston adequately.

The whole reason for importing the drawing into CAD is to make a solid model of it so that I can cut the intricate features with my CNC mill.  The solid model, without the holes seen in the bottom (big) end looks like this:

If you look in the big end you'll see a line that's some sort of line (?) artifact.  I didn't really notice that until I was getting the render ready to post.  The line shows up in this view, but none of the ways of selecting that in the CAD software shows that there's actually something there.  Experience says delete the whole thing and start over.  

There's a big complication here.  I've been using a 3D CAD program called Rhino 3D since I got started with it at home, back around 2005, and while it's full-featured, it has been expensive for a retired hobbyist.  I bought a copy of version 5 in '13 and that stayed current until a few years ago.  The new version (6) received a lot of hoopla for all the the new stuff it does, but the things they emphasized - both prettier rendered drawings and a programming language to create programmable shapes - really didn't mean anything to me.  Last year, they updated to version 7 but I essentially "slept through" the period where I could get it at a big discount.  

I've been trying to learn what the options to replace Rhino are for much of '21 and one that I had a favorable impression of, called Alibre Atom, had their lowest cost option on sale for Black Friday and I took the bait.  There's one big hitch.  Alibre's interface is completely different from Rhino's, which means I'm starting over learning CAD.  Rhino's interface is much like AutoCAD, one of the original CAD programs and probably the best known.  Alibre is said to be more like Solidworks, which I've never really seen.  Whatever the interface is like, it's nothing like Rhino.

Long story abridged, I have some lessons in a book and I'm slogging through it.  This is probably going to initially be a translation effort ("how do I say cylinder?" - or "box?" or any of the commands I use frequently).  After some period of slogging my way through it, things will suddenly become much more clear.  

A saying from school, all those decades ago, comes back to me.  Some of you will grok this in fullness.  "A good Fortran programmer can program Fortran in any language."  That's what I'm waiting for.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

NASA's (and Our) Worst Week in Spaceflight

We are two days into the annual reminder of the worst week in the history of American spaceflight.   It's a peculiar fact that every accident that took the lives of the crew and destroyed the vehicle took place in the space of one calendar week, although those accidents span 36 years.

January 27th, was the 54th anniversary of 1967's hellish demise of Apollo 1 and her crew, Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee and Ed White, during a pad test, not a flight.  In that article, Ars Technica interviews key men associated with the mission and provides, for the first time I've seen, the audio of the test.  In the early days of the space program, one of the larger than life names we all came to recognize was Chris Kraft, who had become well known as the Flight Director who had directed all of the Mercury flights and many of the Gemini missions.  He was widely recognized for this masterful control.

Half a century later, the painful memories remain. “I was on console the day it burned,” he explained, sitting in his second-floor den, just a few miles from the control center that now bears his name at Johnson Space Center.

“I heard their screaming voices in the cockpit of the spacecraft,” Kraft recounted. “I heard them scream that they were on fire. I heard them scream get me out of here. And then there was dead silence on the pad. Within minutes we knew they were dead, and we were in deep, serious trouble. Nobody really said anything for 15 minutes, until they got the hatch open. We were sitting there, waiting for them to say what we knew they were going to say.”
There was plenty of blame to go around—for North American, for flight control in Houston, for technicians at Cape Canaveral, for Washington DC and its political pressure on the schedule and its increasingly bureaucratic approach to spaceflight. The reality is that the spacecraft was not flyable. It had too many faults. Had the Apollo 1 fire not occurred, it’s likely that additional problems would have delayed the launch.

“Unless the fire had happened, I think it’s very doubtful that we would have ever landed on the Moon,” Kraft said. “And I know damned well we wouldn’t have gotten there during the 1960s. There were just too many things wrong. Too many management problems, too many people problems, and too many hardware problems across the whole program.”

The ARS article is worth your time.  

The next day, January 28, is the anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.  Shuttle Challenger was destroyed on January 28, 1986, a mere 73 seconds into mission 51-L as a flaw in the starboard solid rocket booster allowed a secondary flame to burn through supports and cause the external tank to explode.  It was the kind of cold day that we haven't had here in some years.  It has been reported that it was between 20 and 26 around the area on the morning of the launch and ice had been reported on the launch tower as well as the external tank.  O-rings that were used to seal the segments of the stackable solid rocket boosters were too cold to seal.  Launch wasn't until nearly noon and it had warmed somewhat, but the shuttle had never been launched at temperatures below 40 before that mission.  Richard Feynman famously demonstrated that cold was likely the cause during the televised Rogers Commission meetings, dropping a section of O ring compressed by a C-clamp into his iced water to demonstrate that it had lost its resilience at that temperature.  The vehicle would have been colder than that iced water.  

As important and memorable as that moment was, engineers such as Roger Boisjoly of Morton Thiokol, the makers of the boosters, fought managers for at least the full day before the launch, with managers eventually overruling the engineers.  Feynman had been told about the cold temperature issues with the O-rings by several people, and local rumors were that he would go to some of the bars just outside the gates of the Kennedy Space Center and talk with workers about what they saw.  The simple example with the O-ring and glass of iced water was vivid and brought the issue home to millions. 

There's plenty of evidence that the crew of Challenger survived the explosion.  The crew cabin was specifically designed to be used as an escape pod, but after most of the design work, NASA decided to drop the other requirements to save weight.  The recovered cabin had clear evidence of activity: oxygen bottles being turned on, switches that require a few steps to activate being flipped.  It's doubtful they survived the impact with the ocean and some believe they passed out due to hypoxia before that.  

Finally, at the end of this worst week, Shuttle Columbia, the oldest surviving shuttle flying as mission STS-107, broke up on re-entry 15 years ago tomorrow, February 1, 2003 scattering wreckage over the central southern tier of the country with most debris along the Texas/Louisiana line.  As details emerged about the flight, it turns out that Columbia and everyone on board had been sentenced to death at launch - they just didn't know it.  A chunk of foam had broken off the external tank during liftoff and hit the left wing's carbon composite leading edge, punching a hole in it.  There was no way a shuttle could reenter without exposing that wing to conditions that would destroy it.  They were either going to die on reentry or sit up there and run out of food, water and air.   During reentry, hot plasma worked its way into that hole, through the structure of the wing, burning through piece after piece, sensor after sensor, until the wing tore off the shuttle and tore the vehicle apart.  Local lore on this one is that the original foam recipe was changed due to environmental regulations, causing them to switch to a foam that didn't adhere to the tank or stand up to abuse as well. 

There's film from inside Columbia until the moment the vehicle is ripped apart by the aerodynamic forces.  I suspect the forces ripped apart their bodies just as fast.  

January 27 to February 1 is 6 days.  Not quite a full week.

On a personal note, I remember them all.  I was a kid midway through 7th grade in Miami when Apollo 1 burned.  I was living here and watched Challenger live on satellite TV at work.  Instead of going outside to watch it as I always did, I stayed in the engineering lab and watched it on a NASA feed.  Mrs. Graybeard had just begun working on the unmanned side on the Cape, next door to the facility that refurbished the SRB's between flights, and was outside watching the launch.  It took quite a while for the shock to ease up.  I saw those spreading contrails everywhere for a long time.  Columbia happened when it was feeling routine again.  Mom had fallen and was in the hospital; we were preparing to go down to South Florida to visit and I was watching the TV waiting to hear the double sonic booms shake the house as they always did.   

I found out in 2019 from Reddit (via Pinterest) that there's a memorial on the moon to the astronauts and cosmonauts who died in the line of duty trying to make it to the moon.  No person has seen it since the Apollo 15 crew left it in 1971 when this picture was taken.  Has it survived?  Most likely.  There well may be micrometeoroid impacts, but probably nothing big.  The moon gets a meteor impact big enough to be seen from Earth on occasion; I'll bet that if they knew the Apollo 15 site had been hit, we'd have been told.  Whether the list is legible or not is a different question.  Probably not.

The failure reports and investigations of all three of these disasters center on the same things: the problems with NASA's way of doing things.  They tended to rely on "well, it worked last time" when dealing with dangerous situations, or leaned too much toward, "schedule is king"; all as a way of gambling that someone else would be the one blamed for delaying a mission.  Spaceflight is inherently very risky, so some risk taking is inevitable, but NASA had taken stupid risks too often.  People playing Russian Roulette can say, "well, it worked last time", but having worked doesn't change the odds of losing.  



Friday, January 28, 2022

A Private (?) Chinese Rocket Company's Projected Product Line

The CEO of a supposedly private Space startup in China called OrienSpace granted an interview to a reporter on Twitter whom Ars Technica's Eric Berger considers a "go to source" on the Chinese Space industry.  

[R]eporter Andrew Jones shares some information from an interview conducted with OrienSpace chief executive Yao Song.  The Chinese startup launch company—seemingly one of dozens—is planning a series of rockets beginning with Gravity 1, which combines a liquid core with solid rocket boosters. Intended for a first flight in 2023, the rocket would have the capacity to lift 3 tons to low Earth orbit.

OrienSpace provided this graphic to, and the descriptions that follow are from Twitter by Andrew Jones.  

The descriptions start from the left.  

The launch firm's "Gravity-1" solid-liquid combo (1st for Chinese commercial firm) launcher is slated for 1st flight in 2023 capable of lifting 3 tonnes to LEO. 1/5

Gravity-2 will be 50m long and also be solid-liquid combo and debut in 2024. Gravity-3 will be liquid and capable of recovery at sea, planned to fly for the first time in 2025. In 2030, Yao plans to start experimenting with commercial crew vehicles & explore space tourism... 2/5

possibly including point-to-point travel... Yao sees space resources as first come, first serve, noting from history Western countries exploring the Atlantic and the globe while the Ming Dynasty turned inwards following Zheng He's voyages. 3/5

As we know, the firm raised 400 million RMB (US$62.5m) in April. It has established a Beijing HQ, engine R&D center in Xi'an & will also establish a solid rocket assembly plant in Yantai, which is an hour or so away from the new Haiyang space port for sea launches. 4/5

You'll note there are no descriptions for the two on the right, which I'm assuming are Gravity 3 and Gravity 4.   Eric Berger adds this:

Wait, that looks like a ... But what caught my eye were the renderings of Gravity 3 and Gravity 4, shown in the image at the top of this article. Gravity 3 is intended to be entirely liquid-fueled and capable of recovery at sea. The company also hopes to experiment with commercial crew transport. And call me crazy, but doesn't Gravity 3 look a lot like a Falcon 9 with a Crew Dragon? And Gravity 4 sure looks a lot like a Falcon Heavy, right down to the landing legs. The Gravity rockets are not the first time we've seen something like this.

I thought the most striking thing about the resemblance to the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy was how both have what appears to be painted areas that resemble the landing struts on those two vehicles.  For a little fun, I modified the drawing a little, adding a couple of line drawings of the F9 and FH between them.  Scaled to come close to matching the sizes fairly closely.  The resemblances between the platforms are rather close, aren't they?  To be clear for the Extremely Anal Retentive, this is neither OrienSpace's or Andrew Jones' work; it's mine.  The starting points are OrienSpace's graphic and one on the history of the Falcon that I've long since lost the attribution for.  I believe it's from SpaceX themselves.

The grid fins on both of the OrienSpace vehicles are very evident and clearly patterned after the SpaceX models.  

With SpaceX apparently looking at 50 to 60 launches this year, lifting SpaceX's ideas seems like a good way for OrienSpace to bootstrap themselves.  With China, a country that doesn't share the concept of intellectual property, we've seen ideas being purloined wholesale. 

Not Past Its Expiration Date

I regularly run a cartoon or two before the "Best Used By" date - after I've had them on my drive for a while.   

This one is much fresher.  As in yesterday's.  From Margolis&Cox.

The age of meritocracy is formally over.  Everything will now be intersectionality.  

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

SpaceX's Navy Being Deployed for the Next Few Days ... Wait ... Their Navy?

I never thought of SpaceX of having a navy, but if you count nine vessels as a navy, it's fair to say they have one.  Eric Ralph of Teslarati describes it all:

Continuing what appears to be SpaceX’s preferred pace of activity in 2022, several ships in the company’s navy have deployed to support two Falcon 9 launches scheduled later this week.

A fourth ship will likely head into the Pacific late this week or early next for a third launch, a fifth ship will depart for a different fairing recovery mission near the Bahamas, and a sixth SpaceX ship is sailing back to Florida’s East Coast after recovering a Dragon spacecraft from the Gulf of Mexico. Had all three of the Falcon 9 launches planned over the next week required a drone ship for booster recovery, almost the entirety of SpaceX’s navy – eight of nine SpaceX-leased/owned ships and up to two tugboats – might have simultaneously been at sea by this weekend.

Instead, the rare back-to-back alignment of two commercial missions that will both allow SpaceX to perform return-to-launch-site (RTLS) Falcon 9 booster landings will only require the deployment of one drone ship and up to six ships total within the next few days.

As far as I can tell, tomorrow evening's launch of the Italian COSMO-SkyMed Second Generation, or CSG 2, radar surveillance satellite is still scheduled.  The time will be 6:11:50 PM EST, or 2311:50 UTC, and the launch trajectory will mimic the January 14th mission that gave us such beautiful views. This one won't.  Our forecast is for high cloud cover and scattered rain.  A map from Twitter expert @Raul74Cz may help you visualize it. 

Starting at the top, the green tinted area is the launch hazard area that's kept clear of planes and boats.  The red line and then red-tinted, oblong, asymmetric pentagon east of the Miami-Dade County area and northwest of Grand Bahama island is the emergency dumping area where the uppers stage and payload will be crashed in case of boostback/Second Engine Start-1 failure.  Farther south and connected to the Cape by a light green line is an orange-tinted circle.  This is where the fairing halves will be recovered. There's a thin black line that is part of the light green trajectory until it takes a turn to travel down the SSW line of the coast.  That's the trajectory of the second stage and CSG-2 satellite.  

The booster, B1052, will return to the launch area landing pads on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

On January 25th, SpaceX drone ship A Shortfall of Gravitas left Port Canaveral behind tugboat Zion M Falgout and are headed about 650 kilometers (~400 mi) southeast, farther to the east (right) of the edge in this picture, to recover a Falcon 9 booster scheduled to launch Starlink 4-7 as early as 3pm EST (20:00 UTC), Saturday, January 29th. The tugboat is almost certainly the support ship for the booster recovery crew.  

As the infomercials say, "but wait!  There's more!"  Handing the mike back over to Eric Ralph:

On the West Coast, SpaceX ship NRC Quest or GO Quest will likely depart Port of Long Beach on January 30th or 31st to recover a third payload fairing after Falcon 9’s planned February 2nd launch of the National Reconnaissance Office’s NROL-87 spy satellite(s). After launching NROL-87, Falcon 9’s first stage boost back to Vandenberg Space Force Base (VSFB) and land at SpaceX’s Landing Zone 4 (LZ-4) pad.

Meanwhile, SpaceX has as many as four more Starlink missions – three out of Florida and one out of California – potentially scheduled to launch in February 2022.



Tuesday, January 25, 2022

The News is Focusing on the Wrong Biden Quote

As usual, I suppose.  

Everyone is fussing over the exchange where Biden called Fox News reporter Peter Doocy a "Stupid son of a bitch."  I wasn't aware until I read that article on a link from Divemedic's Area Ocho of what should really be the story there.   First, from that article linked first here:

After Biden complained that all the press questions were about the military buildup around Ukraine, Doocy shouted, “Will you take questions about inflation? Do you think inflation is a political liability ahead of the midterms?”

Thinking his microphone was turned off, Biden responded sarcastically, “No, that’s a great asset. More inflation.”

He added: “What a stupid son of a bitch.”

A bit later in the day, another link led me to this alleged Tweet from the White House that essentially says the same thing except with trivial word substitutions.

Considering the almost 100% agreement between the two reports, it appears that the deliberate inflation that everyone is suffering through is being maintained not just because of the Central Idiocy that is Central Banking, but because the moron in chief thinks inflation is a good thing for him and his party.  I've heard of (but not directly heard) him saying he'll make the minimum wage $15 without passing a law through congress.  

As is always the case with inflation, nobody "benefiting" from the new pay is a penny wealthier from it and very likely gets hurt by it. 

I've done this analogy many times before, but maybe let's do it again for your friends or others who really think they're doing better because their paycheck is bigger.  

Imagine for the moment that what I'm describing is legal instead of something that could get you put in jail.  Imagine you could take a really "Magic" marker and just by doubling the printed value on the bills in your wallet, you actually made them double the "value."  A $1 bill becomes a $2 bill.  If you had a $2 bill it becomes a $4 bill (I know there is no such thing, but work with me here), a $5 becomes $10 and so on.   

What I've always emphasized was the aspect that everyone else has the same marker and everyone else now has the same wallet, so relative to everyone else in the country your position hasn't changed even the littlest bit since everyone else doubled their income, too. 

The unmentioned part is that every single expense in your life gets the same treatment because everything you buy is affected by the same doubling of costs.  You make twice as much money but your food costs twice as much, your housing costs twice as much, everything has doubled.  Has doubling the dollars you make improved anything in your life?  Nope.

Those of us who were working adults during the crazy inflation of the 1970s know well that it can seem like everything just stays out of your reach as your pay goes up every time you're eligible for a raise.  The last number I saw quoted for inflation over the past year was 7%.  Shadowstats' calculation based on the same rules used in the Jimmy Carter days shows the year over year inflation to be 15% or 2.1 times the official 7%. 

The Federal Reserve has said many times that they're committed to maintaining some inflation, basically because they're terrified of deflation, which they think will severely hinder the economy.  They believe no one will buy anything other than essentials if they think it will be cheaper in the future.  The unspoken corollary to that is nobody will save anything for the future if the money they save will be worthless in the future because of inflation, but they never seem to think that.

In my little analogy, you've just done conceptually exactly the same thing the Federal Reserve Bank has done; you've doubled the number of dollars everyone has and yet no one or nothing is better than before.  In effect, you've reduced the buying power of the dollar in half.  The Fed hasn't done a simple doubling of dollars, but they've been doing it since the Fed was created in 1913, 108 years.  This chart of the buying power of the dollar is dated from 2007, but the trend downward has continued.  It just needs to either be bigger, or use a logarithmic scale on the Y (vertical axis).  

This says the buying power back in 2007 was less than a 5 cents in 1913 money.  When people talk about gold or silver going up or down, they're thinking backwards.  If gold is the "standard" the dollar is getting more or less valuable just like in that graph - although it has been a long time since the dollar went up in value, even briefly.  I think it goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway, the price of precious metals is set on an open market, which inevitably means the price is a function of how much buyers value it.  I'm not aware of a country in the world that actually uses a gold or precious metal backing for its currency.   

It's worth asking who benefits from inflation?  Let's say you have loans for a fixed amount of dollars, like a mortgage.  If you have more dollars in five years because of inflation, your mortgage takes a smaller bite out of your pay.  To the bank they're not losing money, that's budgeted income and as long as it comes in all is well.  Any effects of inflation tend to be offset by new loans and other things (they sell mortgages to other companies all the time).  The banks, and especially the bigger banks, benefit because they get those freshly created dollars before they have an inflationary effect on the market. 

Finally, the ones who get the most benefit are the Federal Government.  They sell bonds to finance all their expansionist crap and if they pay them back with inflated dollars, those are paid off.  Their tax revenues, in numbers of dollars, go up if the revenue goes up by inflation.  All of those promised payments they say they'll make (social security, medicare) that are tied to rate of inflation incentivize the cheating on the way they define inflation, which is why Shadowstats has calculations using the 1980 method and the 1990 method.  For years, people have said that the only way our national debt will be paid off would be by inflating our currency.  It seems to be a consensus that the debt is too big, and collapse is going to happen.  Is going to be by fire (hyperinflation) or ice (death spiral into depression)?  I've been writing about that since 2013 (second of two pieces by the same name).  The Great Reset seems to play into what's going on, too.

Monday, January 24, 2022

James Webb Space Telescope Has Made it to L2

A full 30 days after its Christmas launch, the James Webb Space Telescope made it to its target, today, slipping into a large orbit around the L2 Lagrange point, around 900,000 miles from Earth.  

The geometry of the orbit is hard to visualize, especially when it comes to figuring out what Webb is going to be able to observe.  With that large heat shield that has to always face the sun, as the satellite orbits the L2 point, it will essentially be able to trace out a swath of the sky perpendicular to the direction to the sun.  Over the course of six months, it will be able to view every part of the sky, it's just that the motion is peculiar.  This video helps show what the paths look like.

The progress of the ten billion dollar observatory has been nothing short of reassuring that these groups can do amazing things.  But the telescope isn't ready yet and one of the most daunting tasks lies ahead, optical alignment or collimation.  If you've looked at any pictures of the telescope, you've seen that it has a very obvious hexagonal pattern on the big, primary mirror.  

That's not quite right, though.  The hexagonal tiles are the primary mirror, or at least they combine to become the primary mirror.  Each of the 18 tiles is a separate mirror and they need to be physically aligned very precisely to create one huge primary mirror.  The design and fabrication of multiple mirror telescopes like the Webb has been studied since the 1980s (at least) and before giant hexagonal mirror tiles there was a Multiple Mirror Telescope in Arizona that used six circular mirrors.   Since the MMT, the largest telescopes in the world have used primary mirrors like the Webb's.  The first were the William Keck telescopes #1 and #2, which at 10m aperture were the largest telescopes in the world, until recently. 

Like the Keck telescopes, each mirror in the primary of the Webb will have several actuators.  One will primarily move the mirror forward and backward, while others will tilt the mirror forward and backward along different axes.  In use the surface of the mirror tiles will have to be within 1/20 wave of light of the perfect curve, at shortest wavelength the telescope will be used for.  While Webb is designed for long wave observation (infrared), longer wavelengths than the Hubble Space Telescope, I believe it will be capable of some observations of short wavelength IR, implying every tile will have to be within about 1 millionth of an inch of its ideal position.

This afternoon's teleconference about Webb making it to L2 said that this process combined with simply letting the instruments on the "cold side" of the heat shield cool to as close to absolute zero as they'll get, and then taking calibration measurements with their various instruments, will take until June or July.  At that point, the Webb should start going through its program of observations to make.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Weekly Update on the 1 by 1 - part 21... with Bonus Pointless Content!

At the conclusion of last Sunday's post, I mentioned that the major work left was to add four holes on each end of the cylinder.  The end with the square flange gets a rectangular layout of four holes; that is, not in a square pattern with each hole the same distances from the nearest corner in X and Y.  Then there are four holes drilled and tapped for #5-40 screws in the other end to mount the cylinder head.  That one is a square pattern.  Both ends depend on the center of the bore being (0,0), so that if it's slightly oversized in some aspect, it won't move screw holes referred to those edges.  

The square flange end where you can see the rectangular pattern,

and the combustion chamber end. 

I have a tendency to tell myself "so you drilled eight holes and tapped four; that took you a week?"  Naturally, I did other things.  One of the things I wanted to do was to verify the numbers for inside diameter that I talked about in that post.  It took me a long time to get numbers I was comfortable with and I wanted to cross check on the completed cylinder. 

The big advantage is I can now use the telescopic gauge exactly the same way on both ends because I don't have to work from just the one end.  I measured both ends from the end shown in the bottom picture.  Now I can just turn the cylinder around and test from the other end. 

The numbers I got testing both ends matched the previous numbers.  

I need to point out that this isn't done, it's just being put aside while I work on the piston that mates with it.  To do those tests, I'll also need to make the connecting rod.  Plus, I need to order some hardware and the piston ring this engine specifies (a Vyton polymer ring).

I've been slowed down by a home project that has expanded, fixing some rotten wood in a door frame.  Like every time I've fixed some rotten wood on a boat, it's best to tell yourself "it's worse than you think" before you start, to minimize the disappointment.  This is a picture of the bottom of the door frame at the point where I removed all the wood that felt rotten.  The red rectangle shows the wood the area I started out expecting to work on.  The light yellow stuff on the right is a spray foam insulation all the contractors use.  I expect that to have zero strength.

This has been a cycle that started with cutting back the wood that felt too soft, applying wood putty, letting it cure, sanding back the wood putty, applying more over the sanded surface, letting that new layer cure, and repeating.  

It sucks up time and attention. 

Saturday, January 22, 2022

How Strong Was That Tongan Volcano?

The world has been talking about the eruption off the island nation of Tonga early last Saturday (US mainland times) for the week now.  Every couple of days, I see a new story about how big this event was.  A friend sent me this story which seems to be well-sourced.  

Titled “A nuclear-test monitor calls Tonga volcano blast 'biggest thing that we've ever seen',” it reports that an international group that monitors for likely atomic detonations has reported that at every one of their sites around the world - 53 of them - the infrasonic wave from the Tongan volcano is the largest thing they've ever measured, even bigger than the Soviet Union's Tsar Bomba, the biggest nuclear detonation in history. 

This tweet by the World Meteorological Organization shows a graphic of the sound wave passing over to Slovenia, 15 hours after the eruption, at 10,500 miles from the volcano.  The article states it was heard by a monitoring station in Antarctica, at 10,000 miles. 

The WMO tops off their tweet with one of the most stupid things I've seen; "These facts are reminders that we all share the same atmosphere..."  A statement needed by only elementary school students and adults who forgot their elementary school science.  But let's ignore that.

The NPR article, though, includes a rather interesting fact I haven't seen anywhere else, though. 

Even now, days after the eruption, ... the network can continue to detect the faint echo of the shock wave as it circles Earth's atmosphere again and again.

The article is dated yesterday, the 21st, so let's be conservative and say the text was written the day before; that's still five days since the eruption and the echos are still circling the Earth.  

According to Ronan Le Bras, a geophysicist with the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization in Vienna, Austria, which oversees an international network of remote monitoring stations,

... atmospheric measurements in Austria, roughly 10,000 miles from the eruption site, detected a shock wave that was 2 hectopascals in strength. By comparison, the largest nuclear weapon ever tested, the Soviet Union's Tsar Bomba, generated a shock wave of just 0.5-0.7 hectopascals in New Zealand, which sits at a comparable distance from Russia's nuclear test site in Novaya Zemlya.
Le Bras declined to predict just how big the volcanic eruption in Tonga was, citing the CTBTO's rules against estimating the size of nuclear detonations. But Margaret Campbell-Brown, a physicist at the University of Western Ontario in Canada who uses infrasound to study meteors as they enter the atmosphere, says she thinks it was at least as large as the 50 megaton Soviet test in 1961.

"A very rough back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that the energy was around 50 megatons," says Campbell-Brown. "We haven't done the real analysis that it would need, but it doesn't seem like it would be smaller."

Other estimates of a how big an atomic blast would be comparable are very much smaller than the 50 megatons being talked about here; about 6-10 megatons, and the article talks about why that might not be a reasonable estimate. 

As reports begin to make their way out of Tonga, we've been reading of people rendered deaf by the sound from the explosion, which makes sense when they start talking about 50 megaton explosions.  The dry land portion of the volcano, called Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai, is gone.  Nothing remains above sea level.  There are reports of ash covering much of Tonga itself, interfering with the availability of drinkable water.  To make things worse, although relief flights have tried to get in from Australia, the Tongan government has been afraid to allow more relief over fear of Covid.  We'll let you die of dehydration from no water, but we'll keep you from getting the virus!"

In some portion of your mind you have filed away that nearly 2/3 of the Earth's surface is underwater.  The vast majority of that is in the oceans.  That means the vast majority of volcanoes that could do this are under the oceans, too.  It might be that only a tiny fraction could create this sort of blast, which raises the questions of whether or not we know where they are, and if we have some way of monitoring to know if they're going to do this.

The volcano explosion as seen from space.  Credit: EPA, H/T to the Sun (US edition).

Friday, January 21, 2022

Musk Releases Simulation of Catching the Super Heavy Boosters

On Wednesday, Elon Musk tweeted an animation of a recovery of a Super Heavy Booster using the giant robotic arms on the Orbital Launch Integration Tower.   I can't embed the animation here, so you'll have to watch the whole 24 seconds of video on Twitter.  This screen capture, 15 seconds in to that 24, shows the booster hovering between the two "Chopsticks" and during the animation, you can see the chopsticks closing.

As we've talked about several times, the way the Super Heavy is going to be recovered is very different from the highly successful Falcon 9 recoveries in the details.  The Falcon 9's Merlin engines can't throttle back far enough to allow the booster to hoover while Super Heavy will be capable of hovering.  Because of this, SpaceX does what they call a suicide burn.  That means to fire the engine at the right time so that the air speed reaches zero when the legs are just reaching the deck.  Yes, some number of Falcon 9 boosters have hit the deck hard enough to require new landing legs, or parts of legs.  At 103 successful recoveries, that appears to be remarkable engineering.  

But they don't want to hover.  They want something closer to the suicide burn.  The longer they hover, the more fuel they burn and the more fuel they burn, the more extra fuel they need to leave in the booster and that reduces payload to orbit.  The whole explanation of why they took the landing legs off the Super Heavy was to save weight in the vehicle so they can carry more payload.  If they're too gentle in the landing design they're going to throw away the weight savings.

We're coming up to some interesting points in the design over the next few months, where they're going to really discover if the rocket behaves like the simulation.  More to the point, as they do this a few times, they're going to discover if the simulations really show that they're saving enough weight in landing legs to add a few percent to the amount of payload they can carry.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

New Rocket Company Aiming for a Holy Grail of Spaceflight

A Washington State company that had been working under the radar and in relative anonymity has decided to go public and announce they're working in pursuit of one of the holy grails of spaceflight: a Single Stage To Orbit (SSTO) space plane.     

Radian Aerospace concept rendering. 

Radian Aerospace said it is deep into the design of an airplane-like vehicle that could take off from a runway, ignite its rocket engines, spend time in orbit, and then return to Earth and land on a runway.

"We all understand how difficult this is," said Livingston Holder, Radian’s co-founder, chief technology officer, and former head of the Future Space Transportation and X-33 program at Boeing.

If the X-33 program isn't familiar to you, that was a NASA program in the late 1990s that was short lived and never actually flew.  It was envisioned to take off "like a rocket" and land like an airplane, a big difference from Radian's goal.  The X-33 seemed to conceptually be a child of the McDonnell Douglass DC-X, or Delta Clipper- Experimental, a vehicle that achieved flight a few times between 1993 and 1996.  What flew was a 1/3 size scale model and didn't fly to orbit, but did launch, translate (move sideways) and land under power, said to be the first rocket ever to achieve that goal.  Today, the DC-X is referred to as The Rocket That Beat SpaceX by 20 Years - at least there at Amusing Planet. 

Radian's announcement came as the company revealed they had just secured $27.5 million in funding to help them get started, but that won't get anything flying.  Ars Technica reports the company has raised $32 million but didn't specifically say "not including this $27.5" so I'm going to assume it does include it.  The company has 18 employees is Renton, WA.  

During an interview with Ars, Holder and Radian CEO Richard Humphrey explained that they realized it would require significantly more funding to build such an ambitious orbital space plane. Funding will pace their development efforts. For that reason, Humphrey said he was not comfortable putting a date on the company's first test flights but said that Radian was aiming to have an operational capability well before the end of the 2020s.

The current design of Radian One calls for taking up to five people and 5,000 pounds of cargo into orbit. The vehicle would have a down-mass capability of about 10,000 pounds and be powered by three liquid-fueled engines. The idea would be to get as close to airline operations as possible, by flying, landing, re-fueling, and flying again.

It's almost a cliche to say "space is hard" or "orbit is hard."  Neither of those adequately addresses how much harder SSTO is.  The "three liquid-fueled engines" they mention in that second paragraph are reported to exist and I assume that's as at least one full scale prototype, which is claimed to produce 200,000 pounds of thrust.  By comparison, SpaceX's Raptor 2 engine seems to be emerging into production at closer to 500,000 lbs of thrust.  We have heard of individual engines producing 540,000 lbs of thrust during tests. 

The question has come up of whether Starship and its six Raptor engines could achieve orbit without the Super Heavy booster several times on the Lab Padre comment sections.  It has been said the answer is "just barely" but not with enough cargo capability to be worthwhile (and I read "profitable" for that word).   

The article at Ars is worth reading.  All of the principal people at Radian say they understand the difficulties of the road ahead and the backgrounds they list add some believability to the claim.  As I was saying before, the $32 million they've raised so far isn't going to fund a program this ambitious until "well before the end of the 2020s."  I doubt that's a tenth of what they'll need; multiply that $32 million by 30 or more.  Final words to Eric Berger at Ars Technica.

"A long time has passed since the last true attempt at this," Holder said. "The technology has moved forward, and people are willing to fund projects like this."

If Radian can succeed technologically, large markets would likely open. A vehicle like Radian One would be well suited to fly people to commercial space stations in low Earth orbit, which NASA seeks to foster development of by 2030. These planes could also perform Earth observation work and play a role in bringing back space-manufactured goods. There is also the potential for point-to-point travel on Earth.



Wednesday, January 19, 2022

SpaceX Launches, Astra Doesn't

Back in December,  I passed on the news that small satellite launcher Astra was going to start launching from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and then later heard the announced test date was to be yesterday: Tuesday, January 18th.  

As yesterday approached, I started to get suspicious that it wasn't going to happen.  An important sign was that Astra had never been shy about posting their test flights from Alaska, but there were no YouTube videos announced with a date to watch.  A local TV channel's newscast had two videos from last Friday and Saturday.  The older video said Tuesday was the day, the video from the next day said keep watching the station and they'll tell us when a date gets announced.  After watching the two videos, I took it to mean no launch yesterday, but I left my 2 meter HT (ham radio) tuned to the local repeater that usually streams launches without hearing anything through the three hour launch window. (1:00 to 4:00 PM EST).

The unexpected launch that I heard about over the weekend was SpaceX was going to put up another batch of Starlink Satellites Monday night, 7:26PM.  Third week, third launch, to reuse that idea.  Monday's weather was bad and SpaceX scrubbed the attempt early in the afternoon on Monday, announcing the new launch time would be 7:02PM Tuesday.  About 15 minutes before that, when their video feed typically starts up, they slipped that to 9:02PM.  

The countdown and mission went flawlessly after that and we were treated to a beautiful launch passing nearly in front of the nearly full moon, captured here by Richard Angle for Teslarati:

The feature of the launch was that this was the 10th launch for the booster, which then successfully landed in the "X ring" of drone ship A Shortfall Of Gravitas.  ASOG was off the NE of the Bahamas like the first launch of the year.  

Booster 1060 joined the 10 launch club, like B1058 last week, prompting Eric Ralph of Teslarati to find some fun numbers for us.  

For B1060, it was the booster’s tenth successful spaceflight and orbital-class launch and landing, making it the fourth Falcon 9 first stage to cross that milestone since May 2021 – and the third in the last four months. B1060 accomplished the feat faster than any of the three boosters before it, supporting ten orbital-class launches in a little over 18 months just five days after Falcon 9 B1058 crossed its own ten-flight milestone in 19 months.

More significantly, B1060’s success means that four boosters have now launched 41 times total and supported 40 of 73 Falcon launches completed by SpaceX in the last three years. While responsible for ~55% of all Falcon launches in that timeframe, those 4 boosters represent just 20% of the 20 boosters SpaceX launched at least once in the same period. That extraordinary accomplishment helps make it clearer than ever what a fleet of rockets capable of reliable recovery and reuse are truly capable of.

Four boosters launched 41 missions.  How does that play out with the rapid launch cadence of more than one launch per week that SpaceX has been keeping up in January?  The first paragraph says there's around a two month turnaround time for a booster after recovery: 1.8 months for B1060 and 1.9 months for B1058.  That says there needs to be enough "fresh" boosters for two months worth of launches.  Seems like eight to 10 boosters would cover that.  Fudge a number of spare boosters you're comfortable with and remember we have to consider boosters for Falcon Heavy flights as well; it seems to me the number of boosters has to be around 15.  Eric Ralph's second paragraph says they used 20 different boosters in the past three years.  

Sounds like they may not need to make more boosters until some of the older ones start getting too expensive to refurbish.

SpaceX has another two launches scheduled this month for a monthly total of five: Italy’s CSG-2 Earth observation satellite nine days from yesterday's launch;  no earlier than (NET) January 27th.  That will be followed by Starlink 4-7 NET January 29th.  Quite a month.



Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The $800 Billion Covid Protection Program Failed Miserably

From the "stop me if you've heard this before" file, but the Federal Government totally screwed up the Paycheck Protection Program started in response to Covid in 2020.  It was part of the CARES Act, or the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act to help some select businesses, self-employed workers, sole proprietors, select nonprofit organizations, and tribal businesses continue paying their workers.  

This week, Brad Palumbo at FEE excerpted and summarized a new study (47 page .pdf) from MIT economist David Autor and nine coauthors for the National Bureau of Economic Research.  The researchers tracked where the money went and the results weren't pretty.

The analysis shows that even though 93 percent of small businesses received loans from the program, only between 2-3 million jobs were preserved. The program spent an astounding $170,000-$257,000 for each job it helped preserve! That’s, erm, a lot more than most of those jobs even pay.

Moreover, the study finds that only 23 to 34 percent of the program’s dollars went to workers who would’ve otherwise lost their jobs—meaning the vast majority went to “business owners and shareholders.” (Oh, and a whole bunch was lost to fraud, too).

We've all seen headlines about fraud in the program over the last couple of years, and the study confirms fraud really was going on.  Another clue about fraud was spending about $215,000 to preserve a job for someone who's making $25,000/year, which raises the possibility that money didn't actually go to the person making $25k/year.  The whole thing doesn't seem like a smart use of tax money.

The study also concluded that the benefits were highly regressive; that is, they paid more benefits to higher income people.  The program was intended to provide a temporary paycheck for low income workers affected by the "14 days to flatten the curve lockdowns."  Instead, it paid

...about 75 percent of the benefits flowing to the top 20 percent of earners.

I'm not sure that's as big a problem as they imply.  Consider a mom and pop pizza shop.  The way I read that, it could mean they paid something like the server's wages to the server, but paid something like the owner's portion to them.  If all you record is the number of dollars, of course the higher paid person got more dollars.  That's kind of the definition of being higher paid. 

The plot shows what I'm talking about.  Viewed simply as the total number of dollars, the fifth quintile of incomes has the biggest chunk of PPP benefits - black is PPP compensation and the gray squiggly lined block is PPP capital income while red dots are unemployment compensation and blue Xs are Stimulus checks.  Viewed as a percentage of their annual income, it's  rather different.  The percentage of annual income from the Stimulus checks and Unemployment insurance of the lowest quintile is highest and the goes down for the higher quintiles.  The percentage contribution of the PPP checks and Capital Income is bigger than the lower quintiles but doesn't seem as outsized as the raw number of dollars. 

All of this is secondary to the real questions about whether the lockdowns, the CARES program and PPP were reasonable in any way at all. 

Monday, January 17, 2022

The Only News I'm Seeing Out of SHOT Show

The only news I'm seeing out of this year's SHOT show that means much to me, is that Defense Distributed has updated their Ghost Gunner 3 in anticipation of ATF outlawing home made guns in the coming months.   The upgrade allows the GG3 to produce full lower receivers from aluminum bar stock that can be bought from any metal dealer, which they're calling Zero Percent Receivers and highlighting with this color web site tagged, "The age of zero has arrived."

The video on the right is a commercial visible here.

The Ghost Gunner concept, and GG3 is really the third version of this machine, is a small CNC milling machine that has been specifically designed to machine bigger and bigger portions of a firearm receiver.  In making a dedicated machine, their emphasis was to make the machine require as little machining experience from the operator as possible.  The user puts the piece that's going to be cut in the machine and backs off while the machine homes itself, finds its starting points and goes through the G-code step by step until a receiver is finished.  The current website says it will produce AR-15, AR-308, AR-9 and 45, an AR00 (a new one on me), Polymer80, and 1911 receivers.  It will also do engraving and other common jobs for light milling machines.  

Let me show you a graphic from their GG3 page and point out something. 

Showing a square bar of aluminum alloy and three more steps in the machining process down in the front, you'll note that none of those have the general shape of the finished receiver shown in the machine behind them and that you're familiar with.  While I haven't seen it talked about explicitly, my conclusion is the work envelope of the machine isn't big enough to cut all of the features on a piece as big as the AR lower in the machine.  Looking around the website, I see that they sell kits of parts to complete your receiver, including one that looks like this:

There are two parts there; the big one appears to be the "lower part of a lower receiver" after it has been made into two pieces so that it fits in the machine's work envelope.  The bottom of that piece, on the table top, is the bottom of what you're familiar with as the receiver.  To produce the receivers they can produce, they could either make the machine bigger and more expensive, or they could redesign the receiver so that it can be done in two pieces and assembled with hardware.  (The other, smaller part is the buffer tube mounting ring, which apparently screws onto the other half.)

There's nothing wrong with doing this.  It might all be in the direction of a good compromise, but the elephant in the room here is that this isn't like any other AR lower on the market.  That means that you won't be able to get parts from any other source for this receiver.  Hopefully, they'll have designed it so that standard drop-in triggers, bolt carrier groups, and all those others will work with this.

Defense Distributed, the company behind the Ghost Gunner machines and all of this is the company originally founded by Cody Wilson.  Cody is still associated with the company, and while I don't know what his official title is these days, he's clearly high on the food chain based on the interactions in this 15 minute video released to be in time with SHOT.  This whole jump into producing firearms from metal bar stock is based on the belief that the rule making proposals BATFE was pushing through last summer are about to become law and the whole personally made firearms support industry is going to collapse while everything is reclassified.  At the time, many joked if they outlaw 80% arms then there will be 75% receivers, and if that doesn't work there will be 70% receivers and so on.  I can see sales being effectively outlawed until parts are reconsidered.

Somewhere in there, it assumes there's some reasonableness in the agency, which isn't a safe bet.  After all, what the whole push seemed to be about was outlawing anything that's convenient.  If buying a Polymer80 "Buy Build Shoot kit" was a problem but buying the Polymer 80 body from one place and the Glock parts from somewhere else wasn't, they just wanted to make your life difficult.  Wilson is jumping over that hurdle by assuming there will be no such thing as completing an 80% lower again.  In which case, get a small milling machine and be prepared to make everything.  I'd like GG3 to be a bit bigger and more powerful, but there's that whole "picking a price point" argument that says the more expensive they are, the fewer people will get one.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Weekly Update on the 1 by 1 - part 20

It has been virtually a month to the day since my last update.  It's not like I completely stopped working on it since then, but I had to stop working for longer than a day or two several times.  I've written several times about the biggest project so far this winter, the new antenna, but there are others.  Basically, as we come across some aspect of house maintenance that requires a lot of work outside, or with the doors open, we try to put it off for "when it cools off."  That's not always possible and the one I just started on, some rotten wood on a door frame, looks like I should have started in on that when we found it last May.  It looks like it might well go several days as well.  

The cylinder isn't done, but I've overcome the big thing that was keeping me from moving forward, which was getting more repeatable measurements.  The thing that helped me to get more repeatable (more precise) measurements is this YouTube video from a guy called who calls his channel Abom79.  He demonstrates a technique that I was able to pick up with some practice, and dropped my measured value spreads to .0002 to .0003 inch.  Machinists refer to that as "2 to 3 tenths" but that's "tenths of a thousandth."  That decimal place means that a "tenth" is one hundred millionths of an inch.

The diameter at the top of the cylinder (farthest from the lathe chuck) was 0.9962 while the diameter at the chuck end of the cylinder is larger: 0.9976 or .0014" larger - so there is a taper.  The target diameter is to be 1.000" throughout, so I could have worked to enlarge the bore closer to that, but I elected to finish turning the features on the cylinder and cut it off.  This doesn't mean I can't do anything to enlarge the cylinder, just that it will require meticulous setup.  

The most important point is that a 1.000" bore is a target.  I'm not Gigantic Motor Car Corporation running two production lines, one making cylinders and the other making pistons, so that every piston must fit every cylinder ever made.  I fit the piston to the cylinder.  

The cylinder off the lathe looks like this:

I did one operation since that picture, drilling the mounting holes in the square flange at the bottom (left).  They're not quite in a square pattern, the same distances from each corner in X and Y; they're in a rectangular pattern.  There are four more holes to drill and tap.  These are for four #5-40 screws and go on the right end in this view; those screws are how the cylinder head attaches. 

Saturday, January 15, 2022

A Ham Radio Series 30 – The Perennial Question of New Hams

You've probably been there.  I have - many times.  You're a totally new ham or you're getting your first antennas up, or you're getting on a new band or mode for the first time.  Maybe you've dropped your transmitter power down to QRP - low power - levels.  The question down through the ages is, "am I getting out?  Is anyone hearing me?" 

The way that used to be answered was that you had a friend nearby, probably the ham who helped you get your license and get started, or on the new band or mode.  You called them and they listened for your signals.  That was in the Before Internet days.  I was first licensed in 1976, and that was just how it was done.  

Today there are ways that you can find out if you're being heard on any band at any time in pretty much anyplace on Earth.  I thought I'd mention a couple of these here, but let me preface this that these systems are geared to digital signal modes (I'll get into what the means as we go along).  

The first one, and easiest to get to and use is PSKReporter.  It's easiest because it's just a website so any browser gets you there.  Today is an annual VHF contest and I've been playing in it since not long after it started at 2PM EST.  I asked the website to find any reception reports of my call in the last six hours.  It gave me this:

Each one of those red bubbles is the reported location of a station that heard me.  I was using the digital mode FT8, part of package of advanced digital modes from Princeton University physicist Joe Taylor and several co-authors.  The software package that runs the contacts, called WSJT-X, has an option that if you enable it, it will report every callsign it copies to PSKReporter.  

That means the majority (not necessarily all) of those people were running the software and it copied my call.  I can assure you that not only did I not have a contact with anywhere near that number of stations but I didn't hear that number, either.

PSKReporter got started to help people operating "the new hotness mode" from the early 2000s, PSK31; PSK for phase shift keying and 31 for the baud rate.  Over the years, PSKReporter has expanded the modes it can search for reports on, or it can search for all modes (any modes) that were being used.  More information is at a slightly different URL than the previous one

One thing I've noticed (and confirmed with others) is that PSKReporter doesn't get rid of old spots quite as aggressively as it should.  For example I looked at a plot not as dense as this one but that had plenty of spots of my call over the past two hours even though I hadn't had the radio on for a week.  In the top bar, there was a note that said the newest spots were a week old, but looking at the map, you'd swear they were valid.  Zooming out on that map from above, I see that I was spotted in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Portugal, Denmark and many other countries.  Nope.  I don't believe it.  I don't know how those reports were generated because before I put up the new antenna my old one was useless so I hadn't been on that band/mode for quite a while.  I don't buy that's real for a femtosecond.

A possible replacement for PSKReporter, is a dedicated program - still freeware, donations accepted - called GridTracker.  I asked GridTracker to plot the spots of my station for the past 24 hours and got this:

This agrees with my perception of the activity.  Over and over again, I was hearing mostly Texas, Kansas, Missouri, and the densest areas of that display in the center of the country. 

I expect people in Florida to hear my station, so that doesn't raise suspicions, and while I didn't contact anyone in the upper right of the map (Virginia, PA, NY, MA, NH, etc.) I heard a station in that area a few times, I just had the antenna pointing NW for most of the day. 

GridTracker has to be installed like any other Windows app., and will interface with WSJT-X for things to improve its usefulness.  It's a bit more complex than PSKReporter but this map is more believable.  I haven't used it with any other software besides WSJT-X.

Perhaps the most extreme point is that there's a group of hams who have set up a network of low power transmitters along with receivers to study propagation.  They use a specially designed mode called WSPR (pronounced whisper) and their project is called WSPRnet.  while it's not intended to tell you if your signal is or was audible someplace, it's good at determining if the band is open. 

The amateur community has put up a ton of resources where you can see if a given band is open.  I frequent the one I think of as the grandfather, DXSummit.  The drawback to these spots, though, is that you can't just look at a list and decide you'll be able to hear someone or some area.  I just grabbed this screen capture now, 9:45 PM EST.

Maybe I see that Thailand has been heard and I think, "oh, goody, let me tune to 21.014 MHz - notice the first column, the station reporting hearing Thailand was BG4FQD, and that prefix is on mainland China.  21 MHz is virtually always a daytime band and it's daylight on his end.  The chances I'd hear the same things are pretty much zero.  While you can filter the results DXSummit gives you by band or search for specific calls, you can't say you only want to see spots submitted from your state or call area.  You'll have to do that manually. 

Hope this useful to some who haven't kept up with these advances.