Saturday, April 30, 2022

Update on the 1 by 1 - Part 25

I ended up the last update saying I had poured epoxy into the finished side of the chunk of aluminum I've been working with.  I concluded with a picture of the epoxy-filled side after it had cured a while and said it would sit overnight.  

Based on the experiences with the first side, I was going to do four passes: two rough and two fine, but very different from what I had done on the first side.  Essentially, I broke the one rough pass from the previous side into two.  There are two similar algorithms that my CAM program use to create tool paths, called waterline and contour.  The major difference is that waterline takes a series of layered cuts down the vertical extent of the part while contour makes one single path around the part.  For waterline, we (the user) defines how thick those layers are and how close they're allowed to get to exact size of the part.  For contour, we have some control over how deep that one path around the part is - and we also set how close the cutting tool gets to the exact size of the part.   

I chose to do a contour cut around the part and then do a waterline just deep enough to ensure the top of the connecting rod was the proper distance (1/16" - .062') below the raised, circular bosses. 

Cutting a single slot, the depth of the part can be a problem because it can be hard for cooling fluids to get into the slot.  In the case of aluminum (which this part is) that can cause the stock to melt onto the cutter.  In addition, on one side of the slot, the action of the cutter is to pull itself into the stock while on the other side, it can push itself out of the stock.  This can set up a vibration in the cutter and the mill, depending on how rigid the machine is.  

As usual, there's a possible trick to get around this: cut several thin layers and not one pass to full depth.  It turns out it's simple to change the single pass file using a plain old ASCII text editor.  Simply change the depth of the pass from full depth to what you want (in this case it was change a single 0.220" deep cut to seven consecutive .031" passes) using block copy and paste in the tool path file, then editing every block's line where the cutter drops vertically to the right new depth. 

It turned out even doing those thinner cuts I had a vibration and resonance issue that caused my machine to vibrate so badly that a motor fuse shook loose and shut the spindle motor off.  It didn't mess up the position badly, though, and using cutting oil instead of water mist helped.  

Both rough passes: contour on the left and the waterline for three layers on the right.  For the fine paths, I went back to one contour pass at full depth, just trimming away the margin around the part. That made the cut in the stock a little wider and had no vibration.  For the waterline file, I just trimmed the margin around the part.

This went smoothly and by Tuesday the second side was done.  Time to soak the epoxy in my shop toaster oven.  It broke apart easily.

Those yellow chunks in the front left are the epoxy, and the leftover, machined metal is in the back. The first side machined is facing you.  The dimensions I've checked are all within a reasonable tolerance of the intended size (.005" or less), and while a long way from done, if not for the machine screw-up on the first pass, it would be usable. The machine screw up is visible in this photo, at the lower right end.

Another view from the second (back) side.  It's about .075 extra cut away along that one (top) edge.

I've done only one other piston connecting rod; the one on my Webster engine.  I did that one a bit differently - more conventionally.  I held the blank rod onto a tooling plate with two #10-32 screws and ran contour cuts around the rod.  Then, to cut the equivalent to the circular bosses on the 1 by 1's conn rod, I cut circles around the ends with a few lines of G-code I wrote.  For grins, here are the two rods, side by side, Webster in white.

Looking at the whole process of cutting this practice connecting rod, I'm not sure that doing the epoxy trick really bought me anything.  I'm thinking of going back to the approach I used on the Webster's rod.  The advantage to doing it with the epoxy method is I've already debugged the tool paths.  That should speed things up considerably.   No matter what else, there are a couple of fiddly little operations that need to be done on the rod after all this so those will be done the first time on the real one.

Friday, April 29, 2022

Proof Again, SpaceX Succeeds Wildly When They're Allowed To

This afternoon's successful Starlink launch marked a successful close to a busy month, and to the start of a busy year.  This was the 6th launch in April and the 17th launch of the year in the 17th week of the year.  To make it more impressive, the booster, B1062, beat SpaceX's previous turnaround record time by over 20%.  

The existing record was also held by Falcon 9 and set in early 2021 when booster B1060 launched a Turkish communications satellite and a batch of Starlink spacecraft just 27 days and 4 hours apart. Now, just under 15 months later, a new Falcon 9 booster has decisively taken the crown.
Just 21 days and 6 hours prior, booster B1062 completed an almost identical launch with an identical payload of 53 Starlink satellites, smashing Falcon 9’s existing 27-day record by almost 25%. As is the case with SpaceX’s two 27-day turnaround records, the new 21-day record is made even more impressive by the fact that it took four and a half days just to tow B0162 almost 700 kilometers (~430 miles) back to port before it could begin preparing for Starlink 4-16. In theory, that means that SpaceX could have likely turned B1062 around in just 16.5 days if the booster had been able to land back at Cape Canaveral after Starlink 4-14.

According to my arithmetic, the difference there between 27 days 4 hours and 21 days 6 hours (carry the 24) is 5 days 22 hours.  As a fraction of the longer time, that's 21.8%.  That's total time from one mission to the next.  

Here's the real mind-blower: SpaceX says the actual time to refurbish B1062 was nine days.  

It's difficult to compare the reuse times to Space Shuttles because the vehicles are so very different.  The Shuttle was enormously more complex and while Falcon 9s beat the shuttle records long ago, I consider it to be like the cliche of comparing apples and oranges; comparing two completely different things.  Furthermore, we really have no other reusable, orbital class vehicles in the world to compare it to.  Eric Ralph at Teslarati notes, though, 

Blue Origin’s New Shepard booster may be a better comparison in some regards but it’s almost an order of magnitude lighter and smaller and is part of a strictly suborbital launch vehicle. Six and a half years after its first successful landing, New Shepard’s booster turnaround record is 59 days.

Today's launch. Photo credit: Richard Angle for Teslrati.

For the last couple of days, I had been getting the feeling that the FAA must be ready to release their Environmental Assessment (EA) for SpaceX Boca Chica.  I was thinking that because it was due today and the previous times they rescheduled it were earlier than on the last day.  So I spent some hours with one browser tab open to one of the Lab Padre cameras expecting word to break there early on.  Nothing yesterday.  Started again today before leaving for the afternoon, and still nothing.  I checked the FAA website, too, and still nothing through this morning.

Finally this evening, after that launch, when I checked in on those sites everyone was saying the release was postponed again.  Target date 5/31/22.  Considering the original schedule, they're now approaching 50% schedule slip.  They have years to go before they're as bad as all of the SLS program's schedule slips, but don't encourage them. 

Left to their own, SpaceX still probably wouldn't be flying Starships, but I'm 100% sure they'll do better without the FAA. 

Finally, my afternoon trip today was to meet fellow blogger (and one of my inspirations to start blogging) Borepatch.  Borepatch, lovely wife QoTW, and faithful hound Wolfgang all came over to the East Coast, Titusville, from their home over on the West side of the state to watch the launch.  Titusville is directly west of the Vehicle Assembly Building, and around as close as anyone without a proper pass can get to see a launch.  Mrs. Graybeard and I drove up to where they were staying to say hi in person and get to visit for a while.  It was a very enjoyable couple of hours getting to know each other in person and a break from our regular routines.  

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Crew-4: On-Time Launch, On-Time Docking, Crew's On ISS

The Crew-4 mission has gone very smoothly, from a flawless launch into orbit to docking at the ISS  ahead of schedule.  At the time of launch, docking was expected at 8:15 pm ET on Wednesday (00:15 UTC Thursday); the actual time of docking was 7:37 ET on Wednesday, 23:37 UTC.  Booster B1067 appeared to hit the middle of the X ring, landing successfully for the fourth time 9-1/2 minutes after liftoff.  We watched the docking and stayed with it until the ISS crew and the new crew greeted each other.

This is SpaceX's seventh manned mission in the last 23 months, including the independent flights of Ax-1 and Inspiration4, carrying 28 people into orbit.  Of course, with that Ax-1 mission that just concluded, it's their second manned mission this month.  With the Ax-1 mission, SpaceX exceeded the total number of people launched into space by China in the 19 years the country has been doing manned spaceflight.  Frankly, that fact blows my mind. 

Screen captures from the video stream:  the full Falcon 9 with Dragon Freedom atop early in the flight on the top and B1067 on drone ship A Shortfall Of Gravitas after its landing.

A side note that's not particularly relevant to Crew-4, just the "big picture" at NASA:  the Artemis SLS Orion rocket was rolled back to the VAB over the night of April 25th/26th arriving Tuesday morning at 6AM.  It will probably take a week to prepare the structures in the VAB to allow access to the areas that need service.  There's the faulty upper stage check valve and the leak within the tail service mast umbilical ground plate housing.  Once those things have been repaired, I'm sure there will be additional checks before returning to the launch pad for the next wet dress rehearsal attempt.  I would guess that would be well into the month of May, possibly the end of the month.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Crew-4 Still Go for Very Pre-Dawn Launch

At the time of this writing, the Crew-4 mission to the ISS is still go for an early Wednesday morning (3:52 AM local time) launch from the Kennedy Space Center's Pad 39A.  The last report was the forecast had a 90% chance of acceptable weather.  A liftoff at 3:52 AM is early enough that some of those "weird and wonderful" visuals we've seen an hour or so before sunrise aren't likely, but night launches are generally pretty to watch.  

On Saturday, with the schedule understood but before the Ax-1 mission had left the Space Station, NASA's Kathy Lueders had said that the 39 hours between the end of the Ax-1 mission and the scheduled liftoff time should be enough to review the data and determine if there's anything that needed to be addressed before Crew-4.  Apparently, she was right. 

Half a day after Axiom-1’s safe splashdown, NASA, SpaceX, and other involved parties completed the final launch readiness review (LRR) for the agency’s fourth operational Crew Dragon astronaut transport mission. Emphasizing just how well-oiled that ‘machine’ has become after less than two years of crewed launch operations, Crew-4 is scheduled to launch ... less than 40 hours after Axiom-1’s return to Earth.  

Crew-4 will carry three NASA astronauts: Commander Kjell Lindgren, Pilot Bob Hines, and Mission Specialist Jessica Watkins, and European Space Agency Mission Specialist Samantha Cristoforetti to the station.  They're riding Crew Dragon Freedom for their trip into space, and will dock with the ISS within a day.  There will be the normal change of shift (crew) briefings between Crew-3 and 4, and the Crew-3 team is expected to depart the ISS after five days.  Crew-3 has been on the ISS since early November.   

Ars Technica provided a little perspective I haven't seen anywhere else. 

SpaceX now has a fleet of four Crew Dragon vehicles: Endeavour, Resilience, Endurance, and Freedom. Company officials have said that, for now, SpaceX does not intend to build any more Crew Dragons. On Monday, the company's director of human spaceflight programs, Benji Reed, said he thinks SpaceX can presently support as many as six human spaceflights a year. This is a likely breakdown of those missions:

  • Two NASA flights to the International Space Station (until Boeing's Starliner vehicle becomes operational, and then this number would be one)
  • Two private astronaut missions to the International Space Station, backed by Axiom Space or other private companies
  • Two free-flying missions, such as the Inspiration4 and Polaris flights

[Jessica] Jensen, [vice president of customer operations and integration at SpaceX], said SpaceX is determined to continue flying humans into space safely despite the rapid turnaround. "As exciting as this is, and as busy as everyone has been talking about, I just want to reiterate that safety is still and always the top priority," she said.

Crew-4: l-r NASA's Jessica Watkins, Bob Hines and Kjell Lindgren and Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency. SpaceX image from


Monday, April 25, 2022

Axiom 1 Crew Doubled Their Time on Orbit

Lucky stiffs.  

On Friday April 8th, the Ax-1 mission lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center bound for the International Space Station on a mission expected to last 10 days.  Instead, they undocked last night, Sunday the 24th and splashed down in the Atlantic east of Jacksonville, this afternoon.  Seventeen days in orbit, with all but about 24 to 36 hours divided between the ride up and the ride down spent as the first all civilian mission on board the ISS.

Between the splashdown of the Dragon capsule Endeavour and the much slower splash of the four parachutes.  Screen capture of the SpaceX feed. 

In the process, capsule C206 (Endeavour) became the first Crew Dragon to successfully transport astronauts to the International Space Station and back to Earth three times. SpaceX and NASA have already certified each Crew Dragon capsule for five flights – a number that will likely need to expanded within just a year or two. SpaceX is currently scheduled to launch Crew-4 no earlier than (NET) April 27th, Axiom-2 NET Q3 2022, Crew-5 NET October 2022, and Polaris Dawn NET late 2022.

At liftoff, NASA had Ax-1 scheduled to depart the space station on April 19th. On April 19th, NASA, SpaceX, and Axiom decided to waive off the first departure attempt due to weather issues that were apparently impacting all seven of Crew Dragon’s nominal recovery zones – four in the Gulf of Mexico and three in the Atlantic Ocean. On April 20th, the next undocking attempt was pushed to no earlier than April 23rd.  On April 23rd, the teams again called off the departure.  From my perspective, south of the southernmost Atlantic recovery zone, today was the first day in over a week with winds less that 15 to 20, but we still had small craft warnings for well offshore this morning. 

SpaceX's video coverage emphasized that the crew's second week on the ISS wasn't wasted, and they plenty of things arranged to do for just such a contingency, but I have to think there was a certain amount of "party time" attitude in not having to leave.  After all, the people that ride a New Shepard to suborbital heights that someone considers space get mere minutes up there.  They were getting more than 15 days. 

As of the last time I checked, the Crew-4 mission is still set for Wednesday April 27th at 3:52 AM ET.  It's possible the delay of Ax-1's return could affect that, but hasn't yet.  There won't be a full 48 hours between the splashdown of Ax-1 and the launch of Crew-4. 

Kathy Lueders is NASA's Associate Administrator of the Space Operations Mission Directorate.  Before this, she was in charge of the private space initiatives that led to SpaceX doing these things.  

That aside, this could be a big few days for SpaceX.  Crew-4 is on Pad 39A and will (most likely) launch either on time or no later than Thursday, April 28th.  Three miles slightly east of south on Pad 40, SpaceX is preparing to launch another batch of Starlink satellites as early as April 29th. If both missions avoid delays, Starlink 4-16 will be the company’s sixth launch in April and 17th launch this year.



Sunday, April 24, 2022

Odds and Ends

I've basically got nothing.  So some odds and ends and mind wanderings.

Last Thanksgiving, at our annual get together at my brother's house in south Florida, conversation wandered onto artificial sweeteners and how the one that bro' had was labelled, "plant based".  From there it went on to how so many foods now make a big deal about saying they're "plant based."  After all, if you go far enough back, everything is solar energy based.  Plants are solar energy based.  The animals who eat them are plant based.  It's completely valid to call your rib-eye steak plant based because the cattle eat plants and turn it into beef.  

Reining in the story a bit, I joked, "has anyone ever seen an animal-based sweetener?"  Hah hah, right?  My sister-in-law's cousin (who must be some unnamed relative of mine) said, "beaver anal glands."  That shut me up right away.  I think I might have blinked erratically.

I did some research.  She was kind of right, close to right, but not a sweetener.  It's an FDA approved replacement for vanilla flavoring

I wonder how they would have known what vanilla beans tasted or smelled like.  I don't think vanilla beans and beavers grow in the same areas.

Speaking of plant based food, I saw this one, but I bet I didn't think what you did. 

I was surprised that not only did that almond have an udder, but that it had apparently mastered antigravity and levitation.  It's just floating there in the air.  Clearly a previously overlooked terrestrial intelligence to come up with antigravity.

That aside, this is probably the definitive almond milk video


Saturday, April 23, 2022

Update on the 1 by 1 - Part 24

I'm not going to call these "Weekly" updates until they are again.  

The best summary of things since update 23 two weeks ago is that old saying, "the best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray."  At the time, I had hoped to complete the test piece of the epoxy-embedding method I was going to try within a week.  I had decided to do two separate operations; a rough pass with 1/4" ball end cutter followed by a fine pass with a 1/4" square end cutter.  Ordinarily, the rough is done with a square end and the fine with a ball nose.  My mistake.  For the rough cut, I told the CAM program to leave .025 margin everywhere.  The tool paths look like this in the visualization program I use (GWizard Editor).

The process of cutting down the rough pass took about 90 minutes but I ran into troubles with something I've had trouble with before - the cutter getting pushed up into its holder as the cut progressed.  

Take a look at the bottom center of the picture and you can see a group of parallel lines running diagonally between the circular stack of lines on the left and the complex shape on the right; that's a perspective view of the layers.  This is where the cutter is taking off layers in 0.025"deep cuts as I told it to do. When it started clearing out the large flat areas, like from the bottom or upper left corners over to that complex shape on the right, the CAM program told the mill to plunge the cutter to full depth all at once.  Once you're used to seeing the part in this way, it's easy to see it doesn't do the large flat areas in 0.025" at a time passes; there's just one layer at full depth.  Instead of lowering the cutter 0.025", it plunges it a full 0.200".  It should have cut down to 0.220" but the program wouldn't do that because 0.220 isn't an integer multiple of 0.025" so it stopped at the closest multiple.  The problem is that during those deep plunges the cutter can get driven up into its holder which totally messes up the depth of cut.  The first pass looked like this (the picture was shot while it was still cutting). 

After a few tries at repositioning the cutter in the collet that holds it, I switched to a purpose made "end mill holder" that has a setscrew.  This meant switching to the square end cutter because the other didn't have a flat spot on its side for a setscrew.  That held the cutter in place, but then I got hit by another problem, this time one I've never seen before.  The CNC controller program, Mach3, stopped moving the mill giving me an indication that the Emergency Stop button had been hit.  I was straightening up in the shop, so maybe it's possible I brushed into the E-Stop button, but if I did, I didn't press it far enough to lock off.  I don't know if that's even possible.  My guess is it was a power glitch, which we've had issues with before.  When I resumed the program, it was cutting too deep and the computer's coordinates for where it was didn't match where it actually was.   It cut off one of the major design features of the part.  At that point, the part became scrap but I kept going because this is a learning experience and I have more material to make the real one. 

It took days to get over this hump and start cutting the fine pass.  The results of the first fine pass cut looked like this:

Those "stair step" artifacts on the edges of the tapered rod between the two round features (and everywhere you look) are apparent on the simulations of the tool path but I was rather disgusted with this result and started trying to figure out how to improve my results.  The fix was to do yet a third pass with a different method than the other two tool paths. I ended up doing a third and fourth pass.

The rough path uses what's called waterline.  It cuts layers around the design, with fixed distances between the layers and between the cutter and the part.  Both X and Y change constantly.  The fine path leaves no clearance around the part, but cuts in in X motion, back and forth, left to right then right to left.  The only time Y moves is to move the work for the next purely X-axis cut.  All that I control is how close the tool paths are to each other and how far along the path the cutter moves at a time.  That was what caused the stair steps.  The cure to this is what's called a "contour" path, which is cutting along the edge of the part at a set distance - a waterline path at full depth of cut.  I ran two different contour paths; the first getting no closer to the final shape than .004" and the second allowing it to touch the outline.  That gave me this dramatic improvement.

The sides of the shaft are much better.  A nice bonus to cleaning it up is that the first pass took 1-1/2 minutes and the second (with finer steps) took 1-3/4 minutes.  The drawback is it took me until Thursday to get this result.  Compare that to the 90 minutes on the rough pass and re-cutting parts of it several times, and about the same 90 minutes for the initial fine pass.

Since the part is scrap, I went ahead and figured out how embed it in epoxy, which is hardening now.  

The second side should take far less time.  The guy I'm copying says he let the epoxy cure "several hours" and it was fine, but it's a different epoxy than I have.  I'll let it cure overnight.  

Friday, April 22, 2022

A Few Small Space News Items - A Week of Delays

The first delay is that the Ax-1 mission crew visiting on the ISS has been unable to leave the station due to unfavorable landing zone weather across the SE.  It's crowded up there, with the docking ports taken up by the Crew Dragons for Ax-1 and Crew-3.  It turns out there's a shortage of docking ports on the ISS

In a twist of fate that can be partially blamed on SpaceX, the ISS only has two docking ports (parking spots) capable of receiving Crew Dragon. NASA technically contracted Boeing to build three such ports but the first was destroyed when Falcon 9 failed catastrophically while attempting to launch Cargo Dragon’s CRS-7 space station resupply mission in June 2015. For unknown reasons, close to seven years later, NASA still hasn’t so much as attempted to build or launch a replacement docking adapter. As a result, most NASA cargo or crew missions have become more sensitive to the delays of other spacecraft and missions as NASA and its providers attempt to juggle a packed manifest with just two parking spots.

Because the Ax-1 mission can't leave, SpaceX can't launch the Crew-4 mission and because Crew-4 isn't there, Crew-3 can't return.   Currently, SpaceX, Axiom Space, and NASA are targeting no earlier than (NET) Saturday, April 23 at 6:30 p.m. ET (22:30 UTC) for Dragon and the Ax-1 astronauts to depart from the International Space Station.  Splashdown is likely to be 1:46 p.m. ET on Sunday, April 24.  Crew-4, which had been scheduled for today, has been reassigned to NET Tuesday April 26 at 0815 GMT (4:15 a.m. EDT).  I see no preliminary date for Crew-3 to leave the station, but the ordinary way of doing these switches is that both crews overlap for "a few days or a week" to ensure all the loose ends are transferred. 

It's getting to seem pretty routine, but another Falcon 9 booster had its 12th successful flight yesterday, landing on drone ship Just Read The Instructions after the launch experienced a roughly two hour weather delay.  Booster 1060 joined fleet leader B1051 less than two years after its June 30th, 2020 launch debut.  

With its 12th mission complete, B1060 has launched an average of once every 55 days over the last 22 months. B1060 also set SpaceX’s current Falcon 9 booster turnaround record of 27 days between launches – fully halving the far more complex Space Shuttle orbiter’s 54-day record. Altogether, out of a total of 21 total flight-proven Falcon 9 Block 5 stages, SpaceX’s four most productive Block 5 boosters have completed 45 orbital-class launches in the last three and a half years – more than half of all Falcon 9 launches conducted in the same period.

Another delay has been Rocket Lab's first attempt to snatch one of their Electron boosters out of mid-air with a helicopter, as we covered back on April 7.  Their mission “There And Back Again” originally scheduled for this past Tuesday, April 19, was delayed for unknown reasons.  They currently have a launch window of 2235-0040 GMT on 27th/28th (6:35-8:40 p.m. EDT on Wednesday the 27th).  

And because I'm still at the stage where a rocket landing on its tail on a metaphorical postage stamp hundreds of miles out into the Atlantic hasn't gotten old...

B1060 just as the single landing engine shut off. 

Thursday, April 21, 2022

It's Earth Day 2022

It's time for our annual bacchanalia of the made-up holiday they call Earth Day, my very favorite holiday to make fun of.   

As befitting the environmental movement, my tribute to Earth Day is over 90% recycled.  The only way it could fit the environmental movement better would be if everything I said was factually wrong.  Sorry.  No can do.  It wouldn't be me. 

Earth Day, as most of you know, is a holiday made up in the late 1960s at the start of the national environmental movement, inspired by the almost entirely discredited book Silent Spring.  Ira Einhorn is one of the main founders of Earth Day, if not the guy who started it.  Ira practiced what he preached: he murdered his girlfriend (less stress on the planet) and composted her body in his closet.  (Reduce, re-use, recycle!)

You won't find Ira Einhorn's name listed in any of the Earth Day promotional literature, as the organizers have taken great pains to distance themselves from this man, at least since he became better known for composting his girlfriend in a trunk in his closet for a couple of years in the late 1970s.

Ira Einhorn died in prison April 3, 2020 as commemorated in the New York Times.

I was a science geek in high school in 1970, the first Earth Day, and indoctrinated into the liberal crap of the day.  Who can forget the commercial with the crying Indian ("Iron Eyes Cody", who - BTW - was Italian, not Native American) looking at the spoiled earth?  Caught up in the spirit of the day, we went looking for pollution, and tested a local canal for coliform bacteria.  

The movement led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, probably the best example of an agency that has outlived its usefulness (unlike the Federal Department of Education which was never useful).  Unlike government agencies, manufacturing companies are seriously interested in solving problems.  Quality Engineers, Manufacturing Engineers and many others have settled on the Pareto Principle.

Vilfredo Pareto was an Italian engineer who turned his mathematical skills to economic problems.  What he is best known for is the "80-20 Rule", the observation that 20% of the efforts produces 80% of the results.  Although 80% and 20% is an approximation, the rule is more or less right far more often than it is wrong.  Often called Pareto efficiency or Pareto Optimality, it has appeared in quality control, industrial engineering, and popular books.   

How does this relate to the environment?  Pareto (and most of today's Quality Engineers) would say to first measure your problems.  Find the 20% of problems that cause 80% of the trouble and work to get rid of those few problems while you let the others sit.  Then you "Lather. Rinse. Repeat."  What tends to happen is that you eliminate, or (at least) reduce the biggest problems and then have different set.  You eventually end up with much fewer problems and production running much smoother.  

If you're a government agency, the last thing you want is to solve problems, though.  Not only will you have nothing to do, you won't get offered "incentives" to rule in certain ways.  This is how you get things like the EPA ruling that Ozone concentrations found naturally in unspoiled national parks are higher than should be allowed.  Which makes it impossible to measure if emissions are below the new limits because the natural background is higher than what they're trying to measure.  Or how they regulate puddles on farms miles from a river under the Clean Water Act, meant to apply only to "navigable waters of the US."

As you know, the Green New Deal acolytes directing President Xo have a goal of cutting CO2 emissions by 50% by 2030 - a mere eight years.  Even more laughable was the talk by Climate Czar John Kerry in which he said even when we get there, "We still have to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere."  One would hope he doesn't mean suck all the carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.  Yeah, it's a trace gas but even third graders know that it feeds all the plants Earth that feed all the animals on Earth.  That's assuming they haven't been talking about made up gender nonsense instead of real science.  On top of that, sucking all the CO2 out of the atmosphere is impossible.  Every living creature on the planet will add back CO2 one breath later.  Plants inhale CO2 and exhale O2 all day.  At night they inhale O2 and exhale CO2 just like us. 

The 50% goal, though, doesn't mean compared to today, it means compared to 2005.  In my world, when a politician picks a date like that, I automatically think "they're cherry picking that date; I'll bet it's the worst possible date," and sure enough this plot from Statista shows that 2005 was about the peak year of CO2 production in the US, pretty much 6000 mmt (million metric tons) of CO2. 

The last point on the plot is 2020, and at 4,571 mmt, it was already down to 76% of the 2005 levels.  

I honestly don't think it's possible to reduce it to 50% of that peak at any reasonable cost.  The EPA says the transportation sector of the economy generates 29% of the so-called greenhouse gasses, so shutting down all transportation wouldn't be enough.  That includes not just cars and planes, the typical examples of pollution, but includes shipping goods around the country.  Replacing gasoline or diesel cars with electric just moves the CO2 production to the "electricity" sector - not counting the massive CO2 production in the "commercial" pie slice to manufacture the electric cars.  It would take reductions in all the sectors on this pie chart, and I just don't think it's there to save without invoking "and then something magical happens" - as Kerry pretty much did.


Chart from the US EPA.

In celebration of Earth Day, just remember "nature wants you dead" (a close to home reminder).  Turn on the air conditioner (if you're in my part of the world, it has been on) or the heater.  Burn some charcoal and a hunk of cow or pig.  Turn on all the lights in your house.  Start a big bonfire in your back yard.

Remember, it doesn't count unless the lights can be seen from Proxima Centauri.” 

This column was written entirely from recycled electrons.  No electrons were wasted, disposed of or inconvenienced.  

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

A Little on NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services Program

I have to say that Eric Berger at Ars Technica came up with a story headline that hooked me immediately.  I had to read it.  The attention grabber was, "NASA is supporting some seriously risky missions to the Moon—it’s about time."  

He begins by referring to the big program everyone has heard about: Artemis.  NASA supports this program to the tune of nearly $7.5 billion per year, and for that the program's whole purpose is twofold.  The first purpose is probably the one that keeps the funding coming; its identity politics-style mission to land "the first woman and the next man" on the moon.  The second, more important reason is to start to establish a sustainable presence in deep space.  

Buried relatively deep in NASA's itemized budget, though, we find that they're funding a much smaller program called the Commercial Lunar Payload Services Program or CLPS, at about 3% of the level of Artemis funding.  Practically, a rounding error in the Artemis budget.  The purpose of the CLPS program is to use private companies to send small- and medium-size landers to the Moon's surface for primarily science-based missions.  

Like the Artemis program, the origin of CLPS can be traced to the middle of the Trump administration, when White House officials sought to refocus NASA's exploration programs on the Moon in 2018 after a long period of heavy focus on Mars. This shift resonated with the associate administrator in charge of NASA's science programs, Thomas Zurbuchen, who came into office in late 2016.

Since the end of the Apollo program in the 1970s, NASA had sent a handful of orbiters to the Moon but had not made a soft landing there in more than four decades. In the meantime, the space agency had landed half a dozen times on Mars and explored the rest of the Solar System.

It was a good time.  The agency had started the commercial cargo contracts a couple of years before that, so that our burgeoning private sector space companies could carry cargo to the Space Station and those missions were starting to run smoothly.  It would still be a couple of years before SpaceX would launch American astronauts from Florida, but the commercial crew program that resulted in that capability had been running successfully for years.  Meanwhile, water had been confirmed in ices around the moon's south pole leading to the thought that it might be a good place to plant a colony.  Ice meant water and water also meant rocket fuel as well its role in life support.  The commercial space industry, spurred in part by the Google Lunar XPrize, had also started working on innovative moon landers. 

After selecting a pool of a dozen US companies eligible to bid, NASA started to competitively award contracts valued at between $80 million and $100 million in May 2019 for lunar delivery missions. These costs were far less than NASA would have paid as part of a traditional procurement process.

Associate administrator Zurbuchen, consistently told policymakers there was a 50-50 chance of success for early CLPS missions.  

“You have to buy in on the risk,” Zurbuchen said. “If the chance of success needs to be 80 percent, I need to put a safety and mission assurance program onto it. And I don’t want to do that because then I’m squeezing some of the entrepreneurial energy. I just really believe that the entrepreneurial ecosystem is one of the core strengths of the United States. We’re second to none. And if we’re not using that as part of our leadership paradigm, we’re missing out.”

And then came VIPER.  

The accepted 50/50 risk of throwing the money away, and small budget probes starts to look different if the probe is bigger budget, and more important.  Then VIPER, the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover came to the top of the list of missions NASA really wanted, and Zurbuchen oversaw rewarding a start-up company called Astrobotic a $200 million dollar contract to design, build, and launch the probe to the south pole by 2023.  In a lunar lander they still haven't flown.  

This is an important scientific mission tasked with searching for ice at the south pole and using a one-meter drill to prospect for subsurface samples. The total value of the mission is $660 million, and it matters to scientists and NASA's human exploration division, which hopes to send astronauts to the south pole in the 2020s.

You might expect that with an important mission like this that pressure would be put on Zurbuchen and his office to give the job to someone else.  Have JPL build the probe and have one of the "old space" contractors build the lander instead of a startup from Pennsylvania.  After all the meetings and other interventions, Zurbuchen realized that if he did it the old way, he'd have to kill off all the other jobs under the CLPS. 

He was not willing to accept this. And after receiving buy-in from NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy and Associate Administrator Bob Cabana, Zurbuchen made the decision to keep VIPER on Astrobotic's Griffin lander. As part of this move, Astrobotic agreed to subject Griffin's propulsion system to more rigorous testing. Additionally, NASA decided to build a second set of instruments as a backup plan.

So far, NASA has awarded seven CLPS missions and more might be announced this year.  Zurbuchen has said that he's OK with the 50-50 odds on smaller, cheaper missions, but wants better from programs like VIPER.  What happens if all the CLPS missions go a year producing nothing but some new, small craters on the moon?   I expect there would be some attempts to cut CLPS off, but like the others in favor of CLPS, I think that would be short term thinking.  That road is the way to worsening the arthritic bureaucracy that NASA has become, barely able to accomplish anything and only then with epic cost overruns. 

Among the most successful of the private space companies, both SpaceX and Rocket Lab have adopted a "Silicon Valley-style" iterative design methodology; fly sooner, fail sooner, learn from those mistakes, correct them and fly again.  Each test improves upon the earlier design and has a higher chance of success.  When you think about it, this was the way the early days of the space program worked and it's part of the reason there were so many important milestones during the '60s.  We're not talking about risking lives here.   

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

NASA Drops an Interesting RFI

NASA dropped an interesting Request For Information, a step in the bidding and contract process, back on April 1st, of all days.  What an RFI typically does is talk about some goal that the agency has and ask companies with expertise (real or imagined) in the area to comment on it.  It's almost an open conversation with the goal of defining something that a Request for Proposal can be issued on.  Teslarati did an article on the RFI yesterday, but I just skimmed it while looking for more interesting or more important topics and missed an interesting aspect or two.  

To begin with, this RFI is about a program bid that SpaceX won almost two years to the day earlier; March 27, 2020.

Known as Dragon XL, that spacecraft would weigh around 15 to 16 tons (~33,000-35,000 lb) at liftoff and likely require a fully or partially expendable Falcon Heavy launch for each mission to the Moon. At the time, it was a fairly balanced and reasonable choice on NASA’s part, leveraging existing investments and experience with SpaceX and Dragon and erecting no major technical hurdles. 

So it's a strange little fact in my mind that NASA still hasn’t started work on the contract two years later, and actually has delayed work on the contract.  I think this RFI might well contain the reason.  

That’s why the new April 1st RFI is so intriguing. NASA begins by referencing fine print in the original 2018 Gateway Logistics Services (GLS) Request For Proposals (RFP) that allows the agency to continue receiving and considering new proposals from new and existing providers throughout the program’s planned 17-year lifespan. The agency says its primary motivations are for “information and planning purposes, to request feedback, to promote competition,” and to “[determine] whether to conduct an on-ramp in 2022.” NASA doesn’t specify what exactly that means, but in the context of the rest of the text, it appears that the agency wants to use this RFI to help determine whether or not to finally “on-ramp” its existing Dragon XL contract with SpaceX.

The real meat of the RFI and what I missed is that as you read down in the document, NASA repeatedly hints at a desire to substantially expand the scope of GLS.  In the last of eight things to comment on, NASA asks if, to help “create a vibrant supply chain in deep space,” respondents would be able to deliver additional cargo to “cislunar orbits [and] the lunar surface” or offer a “dedicated delivery tug capability” or “rapid response delivery service.”

NASA also asks for information on ways prospective GLS providers could “[minimize] the cost impact of…requirement changes,” “reduce operating costs,” and “minimize upfront costs.” In questions #2 and #3, NASA requests details about “new and/or innovative capabilities” that could “significantly increase…cargo delivery capacity” within “the next five years” and states that “offerors exceeding the minimum [cargo] capabilities may be viewed more favorably.”

In what seems to be written specifically to SpaceX, question #1 says, “Is your company interested in on-ramping to the GLS contract to provide Logistics Services as described in the original solicitation?”  The reality here is that SpaceX is very likely to be the only company in the world that could begin work on the job. 

Editor's note: turning nouns like “on-ramp” into verbs like “on-ramping” is one of the seven deadly warning signs of becoming what is referred to as “overhead” which all companies strive to reduce or eliminate.  

There are several interesting little hints that author Eric Ralph leaves in the last few paragraphs, but concludes with 

Put simply, while it does open the door for just about any US company to inform NASA about new GLS options, it’s hard not to conclude that this new RFI is at least partially designed to give SpaceX an opportunity to propose Dragon XL alternatives or upgrades.

If you're like me, you probably thought about Starship around the start of the article.  Ralph points out that Starship is actually far too big for this mission.  The Lunar Gateway, another payload going into space on a Falcon Heavy, has a visiting vehicle mass limit of 14 tons.  At that point, Starship will very likely weigh over 100 tons; perhaps far over 100 tons.

The Gateway’s first two modules are tentatively working towards a launch on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket no earlier than late 2024. (NASA)

NASA is planning to hold an industry day on April 20th to better explain the RFI’s goals and wants responses to the RFI by May 31st, 2022, after which the agency will decide whether or not to follow up with a solicitation or on-ramp Dragon XL.



Monday, April 18, 2022

Artemis to Roll Back to VAB

On Friday, we covered that the Artemis Wet Dress Rehearsal never completed and the next step  was uncertain.  On Saturday, the agency held a teleconference to discuss the progress and announced they will roll the vehicle back to the VAB.  

The decision comes after three tries during the last two weeks. Each fueling attempt was scuttled by one or more technical issues with the rocket, its mobile launch tower, or ground systems that supply propellants and gases. During the most recent attempt, on Thursday April 14, NASA succeeded in loading 49 percent of the core-stage liquid oxygen fuel tank and 5 percent of the liquid hydrogen tank.

While this represents progress, it did not include the most dynamic portion of the test, during which the rocket is fully fueled and pressurized; and it, the ground systems, and computer systems are put into a terminal countdown when every variable is closely monitored. NASA had hoped to complete this wet dress rehearsal test to work out the kinks in the complicated launch system so that, when the rocket is rolled out later this year for its actual launch, the countdown will proceed fairly smoothly.

NASA said that they and their contractors will use the next several weeks to address the problems found during the test.  Something I hadn't read before was that some issues were found with nitrogen system contractor Air Liquide's hardware, which will have to upgrade its capabilities.  Technicians will replace the faulty check valve on the upper stage of the rocket, as well as fix a leak on the mobile launch tower's "tail service mast umbilical," a 10-meter-tall structure that provides propellant and electricity lines to the rocket on the pad.  

Under the "nothing happens quickly" rule of thumb, it seems like a reasonable guess to say it will take them a week to prepare and roll the mobile launch tower and Artemis back to the VAB.  Under the same assumption, I expect the work to take the month of May.  

At some point, NASA has to decide if they roll Artemis back out to the pad and complete the WDR successfully, roll it back to the VAB for some tasks typically done between WDR and then roll it to the pad for the third time to launch, or if they take a riskier approach and roll it to the pad essentially ready to fly.  If they do that, once the WDR passes, they could conceivably launch within days.  

There's a gotcha here.  The "tasks typically done" in the VAB between WDR and launch include arming the flight termination system or FTS.  All vehicles are required to carry such a system to destroy the vehicle if it threatens other people or places, and everyone who has listened to launch coverage of Falcon 9s or other launches have heard call-outs about the FTS being armed or being made safe.  

During a teleconference on Friday, Artemis Launch Director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson confirmed that there is a 20-day timeline once the flight safety system is armed. (This is a range safety mechanism used by all orbital rockets that destroys the booster in case it veers off course.) After the system is activated, it will take about a week to make final preparations in the Vehicle Assembly Building and a week to roll to the launch pad and make preparations there. That would leave just a single week for a fueling test, recycling of commodities, and perhaps one or two launch attempts before the 20-day window closes.

With a 20-day window, the system would have to be virtually flawless and it seems like a large bet they could approach flawless.  Which implies the earliest they could possibly launch the unmanned test flight would be around the start of July, but from August into the fall might be more realistic.  

Artemis SLS rollout on March 17th.  You can just mentally move the stack left (back into the VAB) or right (back out to pad 39B) and use the same image for the next few months. 

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Happy Easter!

To my reader friends and those who drop by on occasion.  I know the modern thing is to refer to this as Resurrection Sunday - it's the reason for the season after all - but the old fashioned greeting is still OK by this old guy.

Enjoy your day.  Enjoy your families. Instead of the usual pork butt (hey, it's kinda like ham) I'm in the midst of smoking a turkey.  However you celebrate, enjoy your day.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Correction to Wednesday' Post

In talking about the ability for space coverage reporters to overfly the cape, I had said, "I think it's a bit more difficult for independent journalists here than in south Texas; over there they can set up remotely controlled cameras and run them all day, as Lab Padre does.  While the KSC isn't a no-fly zone, small plane flyovers are more expensive and can't provide the continuous coverage that ground-mounted cameras can." 

I have a good friend who's a pilot and he let me in on the real situation, letting me know I was too optimistic and lenient.   While it technically isn't completely a no-fly zone, it essentially is.  There's no such thing as flying over the bulk of the Kennedy Space Center without previous approval to do so. It used to be possible, but those days are long gone.  My friend was thoughtful enough to include a clip of the Sectional chart for the area; in fact, two such clips: one showing a wider look and one showing a more zoomed in area.  Pilots will understand this better than lay people, but I wouldn't be surprised if some of it wasn't clear without good familiarity with the area.  First, the wider area, from around Daytona well north of the area, south to the city of Rockledge, just south of Cocoa. 

The wide circular sector offshore the area is the area that is most likely to get shut down both for aircraft and boats.  Rocket parts are known to fall in the area, sometimes even intentionally.  This is the keep out zone that we hear of launches being delayed because of boats or aircraft were in the area, such as this story not even three full months ago.  Every one of the cryptic alphanumeric messages (R-2932, R-2933, W-137G, etc.) is a reference to a document to read and comply with.  

Air traffic flying to and from South Florida (the big, blue cities) tend to go well off the east coast or a few miles inland in this area, depending on destination so they're unaffected by all this.  While difficult to see, the coast of mainland Florida and most of the air space over the western side of the Indian River lagoon tend to be available to small planes.  It's best not to consider flying over the eastern shore of the Indian River because there are sections of the shore in the blue keep out area over the Merritt Island portion of the KSC.  Here's where the zoomed in clip is more helpful.

Along the coast stretching from just above the bottom right (SE) of the clip toward the NE, and then to the west of north, you'll see little black squares; those mark launch pads.  Never expect to be allowed to fly over launch pads.  The inverted triangles near the black squares seem to indicate the towers used for lightning protection, or other towers on the property.  There are two elongated dark blue rectangles, much longer than wide; those mark the two principal runways on the base: lower right belongs to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station while the longer one at the middle top is the former Shuttle Landing Facility, which is now in general use by NASA. 

One of my questions concerned the Roberts Road SpaceX expansion.  Videos of that area (and Blue Origin's facility) tend to look as if they were shot from a more vertical perspective, if not nearly straight down during a fly over, while views of the pads are clearly shot from farther west at a more acute angle.  My friend says that the area west and south of of the shuttle landing strip, which we think includes the Blue Origin facility and possibly the Roberts Road facility, is more lightly controlled.  Casual pop-up requests to the air traffic controller on duty might be possible there, but you still need permission to enter.  

The farther east you venture, the more prior permission and clearances are needed.  Complicating things further is that the south end of Cape Canaveral borders the property of Port Canaveral, which hosts (among other things) a submarine basin that the Navy wants to keep you from flying over.  There are controlled, Class B air spaces around major airports in the Orlando area, Tampa/St.Petersburg, Daytona and Melbourne.  There are heights above which certain avionics boxes are required to fly legally, and the general appearance of those is that of an upside down layer cake; smaller diameters at the bottom, larger at the top.  It's a difficult place to fly for the smaller, general aviation aircraft's pilot new to the area.  The last time I heard someone talking about this they said it's not possible to fly across the state, say from Melbourne to Tampa for instance, on a straight compass heading for the whole trip without steering around "keep out areas."

Just for comparison, take a look at the sectional air chart around Starbase Boca Chica.  Practically no restrictions at all. 

Friday, April 15, 2022

Artemis Wet Dress Rehearsal Flops Again - SpaceX Booster 7 Pressure Tested

The WDR for Artemis ran into another issue yesterday and the test was halted late in the day.  

Teams concluded today’s wet dress rehearsal test at approximately 5:10 p.m. EDT after observing a liquid hydrogen (LH2) leak on the tail service mast umbilical, which is located at the base of the mobile launcher and connects to the rocket’s core stage. The leak was discovered during liquid hydrogen loading operations and prevented the team from completing the test.

There is no further update on the web site.  A roughly 50 minute long press conference was held, but I haven't listened to it yet.  It's a YouTube link that seems to be audio only.  The first nine minutes is just a blue screen with text and background music.  In the "Heavy Rockets" section of this week's Ars Technica's Rocket Report newsletter, Author Eric Berger relays reports that the Artemis team reported they weren't going to fill more than 5% of the liquid hydrogen tank.   The LOX tank was brought up to 50% full. 

The question is whether they're going to try to do more on the pad or roll back to the Vehicle Assembly Building.  Delays with new ground systems and a new rocket are probably inevitable, but NASA has to be disappointed that we are now on day 14 of a two-day test.  My opinion is that while this test accomplished things, it was a failure.  When it comes time to launch cargo or people, it's a pass/fail test without the slightest tolerance for failure.  "Mostly working" doesn't cut it.  

We're in day 14 of a two day test on a booster that was supposed to fly six years ago.  And the problem they're having is with the most basic requirement there is.  They can't even fuel the stupid thing.

Meanwhile out a Boca Chica, stress testing of Booster 7 has begun.   

Known as Super Heavy Booster 7 or B7, the prototype is the first of its kind designed to support up to 33 new Raptor V2 engines – each potentially capable of producing up to 230 tons (~510,000 lbf) of thrust at liftoff. Even with just 20 such engines installed, Super Heavy – measuring around 69 meters (~225 ft) tall and nine meters (~30 ft) wide – will be the largest and most powerful rocket stage ever tested. That potentially unprecedented power is why SpaceX has custom-built a complex structural test stand to explore Super Heavy’s true performance envelope in a slightly less risky manner.

The tests had a few impressive looking moments but viewers mostly wouldn't know what's going on without pressure gauges to watch.  This video brief starts right before some impressive venting during the test.  

Increasing the central engine count from 9 to 13 was already certain to up the amount of stress future Super Heavy thrust pucks would need to survive by almost 45%. But combined with Raptor V2’s thrust increases, Super Heavy Booster 7’s thrust puck could actually be subjected to at least 80% more thrust at liftoff. Altogether, Super Heavy B7’s 33 engines should be able to produce ~7600 tons (~16.8M lbf) of thrust compared to Super Heavy B4’s ~5400 tons (~11.9M lbf). As a result, though it’s odd that SpaceX never did significantly test Booster 4, it’s no surprise that the company chose to give Booster 7 priority as soon it was ready.
After a few false starts and at least one ‘pneumatic proof test’ that likely saw Booster 7 pressurized with benign nitrogen gas, SpaceX began stress-testing the upgraded Super Heavy in earnest on April 14th. First, the booster was filled about a third of the way with roughly 1000 tons (~2.2M lb) of liquid nitrogen (LN2) or a combination of liquid oxygen (LOx) and LN2. Once the rocket was fully chilled, there were clear signs of some kind of added stress as large sheets of ice that had formed on the side of B7’s skin broke apart and fell off.

Screen capture from the above-linked video. credit.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

My Favorite Story in the Last Month

Long time readers will know I have special contempt for junk science.  Maybe even hatred.  I've written many pieces on it (quite possibly the first).  Consider that background when I say my favorite story in the last month is about junk science. 

A quiet little story that got very little coverage broke on on March 31.  It was about just how junky the science of gun control is.  The title was, "Do Studies Show Gun Control Works? No." The subtitle is an even better gotcha: "Out of 27,900 research publications on gun laws, only 123 tested their effects rigorously."  

Only 123 out of 27,900 - 0.4% - applied proper statistical testing of their results?  Yup.  Only it's not even really that good.  

First, let me grab their quote describing the study.

There has been a massive research effort going back decades to determine whether gun control measures work. A 2020 analysis by the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization, parsed the results of 27,900 research publications on the effectiveness of gun control laws. From this vast body of work, the RAND authors found only 123 studies, or 0.4 percent, that tested the effects rigorously. Some of the other 27,777 studies may have been useful for non-empirical discussions, but many others were deeply flawed.

and then the conclusion about those 123 studies. 

We took a look at the significance of the 123 rigorous empirical studies and what they actually say about the efficacy of gun control laws. 

The answer: nothing. The 123 studies that met RAND's criteria may have been the best of the 27,900 that were analyzed, but they still had serious statistical defects, such as a lack of controls, too many parameters or hypotheses for the data, undisclosed data, erroneous data, misspecified models, and other problems. 

And these glaring methodological flaws are not specific to gun control research; they are typical of how the academic publishing industry responds to demands from political partisans for scientific evidence that does not exist.

Let me rephrase that a bit: out of 27,900 studies on gun control, not one study conclusively showed that gun control laws change anything for the better.  Oh, and by the way, the same is likely to be true for studies on climate change, dietary recommendations, Covid, or anything else with a pronounced political component. 

It's a worthwhile read, especially as the drumbeat of more gun control gets louder and louder.  Over and over, you'll hear the same arguments about how much the studies prove, when the deep and long review of their studies show none of them prove anything.  Plus, it includes a pretty good 16 minute video if you look at the Reason article and say TL:DR. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Update on Starbase on Kennedy Space Center

I've been trying to find updates on the progress of SpaceX's effort to duplicate Starbase Boca Chica on the Kennedy Space Center, but have been having trouble.  I think it's a bit more difficult for independent journalists here than in south Texas; over there they can set up remotely controlled cameras and run them all day, as Lab Padre does.  While the KSC isn't a no-fly zone, small plane flyovers are more expensive and can't provide the continuous coverage that ground-mounted cameras can. covers their work at KSC, apparently roughly monthly, and while airborne, they also cover other activities on the Cape, especially Blue Origin's build out.  This video was posted yesterday.  

Teslarati has a brief story today on the work at KSC but while they have this video embedded, the most recent photos they post and Tweets they link to are from mid-March.  

The Orbital Launch Integration Tower (OLIT) appears to be very similar to the one at Boca Chica, with more differences in its build and assembly than the design.  The OLIT has eight segments plus a concrete building those segments mount on top of; you can see in the video that three segments are complete, a fourth has been started, and the base has been started out near Pad 39A.  Twitter user @Furqan263 compiled a chart of the status of all of the major components of the OLIT back during the build in Texas.  This is his chart at the completion of the OLIT in Texas; you can ignore the bottom lines about when the various sections were started, ready to rollout to the pad and when they were stacked.  It gives a good overview of the assemblies and steps involved.

The main difference between the Texas and Florida towers is that on the first one, they would build one or two segments and transport them to the launch complex, while on the second, they're apparently building all of them and transporting to the Pad 39A complex at once, saving on road closures and probably interfering less with launch operations as well. 

This work is going to take a while.  Nobody has seriously suggested anything could launch from the new Starship pad before 2023, I just get impatient with wanting to see progress.

In this screen capture of the Pad 39A area during last Friday's Ax-1 mission, the orbital tower base can be seen left of the existing launch tower, and behind it - toward the ocean in this view.  The angle of the shot makes it impossible to see that the Orbital Launch Mount - the new pad - has begun construction as well.