Tuesday, May 31, 2022

And... FAA Approval for SpaceX Slips Another Two Weeks

The FAA  was scheduled to complete the Environmental Assessment for SpaceX today, 5/31, but like all of the other deadlines missed so far, was unable to do their job by the date that they said they'd have it done.  I don't about you but the date itself doesn't bother me half as much as the fact that they can't estimate how long the task will take, create a schedule, and stick to it. 

Unlike all the other deadlines so far, this one wasn't put off by a whole number of months; not two or even one month.  The deadline has been moved out only two weeks.  Maybe they're making progress?

June 13 is two weeks from yesterday, when the FAA was almost certainly closed for the holiday.  Teslarati's Eric Ralph is taking the view that this might be a positive sign.  

Even though there were attempts to spin the new information into something negative, a document acquired through the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) by Bloomberg revealed that the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) had decided to approve its portion of the Starbase environmental review. Their only condition: that SpaceX implement a few small mitigation measures, “including contracting with a qualified biologist to conduct monitoring of vegetation and birds, operating an employee shuttle between the launch facility site and nearby town of Brownsville, reducing vehicle traffic, and adjusting lights to minimize the impact on sea turtles.” Bloomberg chose not to publish the documents it received through the FOIA process.

Any Floridian who lives near a beach knows the sea turtles dominate life during the nesting and especially hatching season.  Lights must be turned off to keep from distracting the hatchlings.  Hatching apparently happens when the full moon (or nearly full) is rising over the ocean and turtles are born programmed to move toward that light.  I've seen dead sea turtles across the street from the beach, apparently somehow catching some light from somewhere and going west instead of east toward the moon and into the ocean.  Luckily, Texas doesn't seem to have a resident manatee population; they're the other native animal that dominates every activity in Florida's brackish water.  Texas has a summer manatee population that migrates from Florida and the east (not counting "governor" Stacy Abrams from Georgia) but they aren't documented as far south as the Boca Chica area.

There are some other interesting sides in the Teslarati story.  Did you know that SpaceX had included plans for a natural gas production and liquefaction plant, along with a natural gas power plant at or near Starbase Boca Chica?  Those were removed from the data package for the PEA, which seems likely to have helped speed the process.  Still the bottom line is this excerpt from the FAA statement.

“The FAA now plans to release the Final PEA on June 13, 2022 to account for ongoing interagency consultations concerning Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act. All other consultations and analysis have been completed at this time.” 

It's actually sounding like they might get approval to do "a few" launches from Boca Chica.  In the long term, it looks like the anti-launch forces will probably force the bulk of Starship activity to launches from offshore platforms, as has been talked about, or from the Kennedy Space Center, where progress is grinding along. 

Starship 24 isn't going anywhere for a while, since the first cryo testing apparently broke something and she lost some tiles, but an approval in two weeks could open the door to some impressive testing through the rest of June and well into July.  Something will try for orbit and Musk proved back in the Starship test days that he'll do a test launch if it gets to about a 50/50 chance it'll work.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Memorial Day 2022

There are times I wonder how many more of any holiday our republic will survive to see, but this one is the hardest to come to grips with.  Memorial Day is the day to honor those who fell fighting to preserve the republic and if it falls, that's dishonoring every one of them.  Every one of them gave themselves, their lives, their futures, for something bigger than themselves.  

It's not just the generation that saved the west in the all out war of WWII; it's all of them, from those we know of fighting in the first battles of the Revolution on April 19, 1775, (commemorated as Patriots' Day but some states shift the date to get a Monday Holiday) to those who were lost in Bumbling Biden's disastrous abandonment of Afghanistan, including those lost since then.  We include losses from training accidents as well as actual enemy action. 

For most people, Memorial Day is the semi-official Start of Summer.  It's marked by barbecues, trips out on the boat, or other outdoors activities.  Let me join the chorus of folks saying that while you're enjoying your day, take a moment to remember or think of and thank those who gave their all in service to us. The ones who don't get to mark the holiday with us.

I say that in the belief that those who made that sacrifice wouldn't hold it against us to have a little fun on their day.

Credit to Al Goodwyn at Creators Syndicate


Saturday, May 28, 2022

Absurd Headline of the Week

From Accuweather:

Asteroid the size of 350 giraffes to fly past Earth this week

I'm so out of touch that I've never even seen anything measured in numbers of giraffes.  What does "the size of 350 giraffes" size mean?  If you had 350 giraffes milling around in a field, feeding, fighting, fleeing and doing whatever else giraffes do, 350 would only be the height of the tallest one and the width or length of 250 giraffes would depend on how close to each other they stand.  Unless you had them stand on each other's backs, which would work until the ones on the bottoms started collapsing from broken limbs. It would work better if you had them stand shoulder to shoulder, then the width of 350 giraffes would depend on how wide they are.  To use the term from electronics, is that 350 giraffes in series our parallel?

In the actual text of the article, they use a more familiar unit, saying the asteroid is "1.1 miles across."  I'm going to assume that's the long dimension and that it's probably an irregular shape.  Probably not 1.1 by 1.0 mile but 1.1 by 1.0 is still probably more likely than being 1.1 miles long and 100 feet wide.  

Asteroids fly past the Earth on a regular basis, but Asteroid 7335 (1989 JA) is bigger than many of them, measuring 1.1 miles (5,900 feet) across. For comparison, it is four times larger than the Empire State Building and more than twice as large as the Burj Khalifa, located in Dubai, UAE, and the tallest building on the planet. It is also about as tall as 350 giraffes.

I hate it when magazines and other places try to be cute by using absurd units like that.  "As tall as 350 giraffes" is completely meaningless to anyone other than the person that came up with it.

The close approach of Asteroid 1989 JA was yesterday, and at its closest, it was 2-1/2 million miles from Earth, or around 10 times the distance of the moon from us.  While tracked as a "potentially hazardous" asteroid, this is the closest approach to earth calculated so far.  The calculations are through 2187, and the next closest approach to us is about 4 times the distance from Earth in May of 2114.  The "potentially hazardous" identifier is to keep an eye on it and make sure its orbit doesn't get bumped by another planet or something. 

There.  Now you know a bit more about the size of a giraffe.  Not enough, but 350 giraffes makes more sense.  Image search says this was from a blog that now returns a "blog not found" message.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Something's Up With Voyager 1

Voyager 1 remains (and will remain for the foreseeable future) the single man-made object that is farthest from Earth at nearly 14-1/2 billion miles away.  To put a little perspective on that, the nearest stars are 4.2 to 4.3 light years away - it takes radio signals that long to go one way.  Voyager 1 is 20.5 light hours away a tiny fraction of one light year; .00239 light year to be precise.  Assuming it's even going in the right direction, it'll take Voyager 1 almost 77,000 years to get to the Alpha/Proxima star system.  The probes are expected to last another three years until 2025, but there's hope they'll make it to the Golden (50th) Anniversary of their launch in 2027. 

A couple of weeks ago, I started noticing videos in my YouTube feed that mentioned something wrong with Voyager 1.  I didn't pay much attention because there are so many deceptively labeled videos that are just screaming to get clicks that I was reluctant to believe anything was really going on.  For example, at least once a week I get videos claiming that the James Webb Space Telescope has discovered some incredible new thing, even months ago when the telescope wasn't even remotely close to being operational.  Plus, let's be honest: Voyager 1 is just about at its 45th year of a four year mission, so something like parts dying due their old age is almost overdue.  It's old hardware that has been exposed to all kinds of radiation from deep space (not to mention from Jupiter, Saturn and the sun) and the power supply is slowly running out.  

Back around the middle of the month, I went to the JPL Voyager page and didn't see anything that suggested anything was terribly wrong, but eventually my curiosity got the better of me and I watched this video.  

The video talks about strange errors in the probe’s attitude articulation and control system (AACS) and say they don’t reflect what’s actually happening. They base that on the probe being properly pointed at Earth and maintaining radio contact, which is a reasonable conclusion.  The AACS maintains the probe's position and it if it were out of position the radio link wouldn't be received on Earth.  Voyager wouldn't be heard sending funny data, it wouldn't be heard at all.

Today I went back to the JPL Voyager site and found they put up a post about this nine days ago.  As the article puts is:

“A mystery like this is sort of par for the course at this stage of the Voyager mission,” said Suzanne Dodd, project manager for Voyager 1 and 2 at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “The spacecraft are both almost 45 years old, which is far beyond what the mission planners anticipated. We’re also in interstellar space – a high-radiation environment that no spacecraft have flown in before. So there are some big challenges for the engineering team. But I think if there’s a way to solve this issue with the AACS, our team will find it.”

It’s possible the team may not find the source of the anomaly and will instead adapt to it, Dodd said. If they do find the source, they may be able to solve the issue through software changes or potentially by using one of the spacecraft’s redundant hardware systems.

The post includes a fact that I've never seen before.  Every year, the Radioisotope Thermal Generators that power the Voyagers produce 4 Watts less power.  To enlarge on what I mentioned above, planning numbers are that the pair should last until at least 2025, and possibly until the 50th anniversary of their launches, in August and September of 2027.  The engineering team has shut down some subsystems to save power for others.  No science instruments have been turned off, yet.  

As I said a decade ago, if we're lucky, some day, perhaps hundreds of years from now a ship from Earth may find Voyager 1 and bring her back to whatever serves as the equivalent of the Smithsonian in those days. 

In all probability, she will simply follow the Newtonian laws of motion, cool to a couple of degrees Kelvin and glide away forever, all alone in the night.  


Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Starliner Down, Transporter 5 Up

Boeing's Starliner Orbital Flight Test (OFT-2) completed successfully this afternoon touching down at White Sands Missile Range on schedule of 4:49 PM Mountain Time, 6:49 PM Eastern. 

The day seemed to go smoothly; I was able to watch some of the video of the capsule leaving the ISS, and much of the recovery video.  I didn't see anything that seemed wrong, but that doesn't mean much.

Hopefully, we'll get a thorough summary within the next few weeks.  

Over here at "America's Gateway to Space," it wasn't quite a routine SpaceX launch, but only because the mission wasn't a typical Starlink mission.  It was the fifth rideshare mission into Sun Synchronous orbit, Transporter 5.  The launches into that orbit tend to be ideal to watch from my location as they launch south, almost directly overhead.  Plus, the booster on these missions tends to return to the launch site and land on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.  We've been able to see the booster's first burn, but are too far from the landing site to see the landing burn or landing.  On the other hand, we get an awesome sonic boom that shakes the entire house. 

The Fun Facts are this was launch number 22 in '22, but in the 21st week of the year, not the 22nd.  It was booster B1061's eighth launch and landing (Twitter video of the landing here), the 115th recovery of a Falcon 9 booster, and the 100th flight of a Block 5 Falcon 9.  The mission carried 59 satellites into orbit, and some of them are pretty interesting.  

Spaceflight’s ‘Sherpa-AC1’ won’t have significant propulsion but it will carry several hosted payloads (‘hosted’ in the sense that the payload is not a free-flying satellite of its own) after deploying from Falcon 9.

The other two or three are true orbital transfer vehicles (OTVs), meaning that they have some kind of propulsion and are designed to deploy smaller satellites in customized orbits. The ultimate goal of the many startups trying to develop high-performance OTVs is to extract the best of both worlds from large rideshare missions and small rockets, combining ultra-cheap prices and orbits that are heavily optimized for each payload. Transporter-5 may carry Exolaunch’s “Reliant” OTV (unconfirmed) but is definitively scheduled to launch with D-Orbit’s “ION SCV-006” OTV and startup Momentus Space’s first ‘Vigoride’ OTV. Vigoride carries the unique distinction of being propelled by a first-of-its-kind “microwave electrothermal thruster” that turns water into a superheated plasma propellant.

NASA has also manifested its small Terabyte InfraRed Delivery (TBIRD) technology demonstrater satellite on Transporter-5 and will attempt to prove that it’s possible to use small, high-power lasers as extremely high-bandwidth downlinks. NASA hopes the tiny satellite will be able to transmit at up to 200 gigabits per second (Gbps), allowing it to downlink terabytes of data during a single pass over an Earth-based ground station.

An experiment that caught my eye is doing something that has never been done in space before.  The satellite will only operate for one hour but companies Nanoracks and Maxar are scheduled to launch the first of multiple planned demonstrations and technology maturation missions for in-space manufacturing and construction technologies. The experiment aims to demonstrate the first structural metal cutting in space, with a technique that doesn't produce debris - what machinists often call swarf or chips.  Nobody wants to hit metal chips while going thousands of miles per hour.

Nanoracks designed a self-contained hosted payload platform to demonstrate on-orbit, debris-free, robotic metal cutting. Our partner in this demonstration, Maxar Technologies, developed a new robotic arm with a friction milling end-effector. Friction milling uses a cutting tool operating at high rotations per minute to melt the metal in such a way that a cut is made, and no debris is generated.



Tuesday, May 24, 2022

A Couple of Small Space News Stories

Boeing's Starliner Orbital Test Flight (OFT-2) continues to proceed in a relatively acceptable manner.  That is, it's far from 100% flawless, but it's clear they've come a long way.  I watched some of the video coverage today surrounding the closing of the intravehicular activity (IVA) hatch on the capsule in preparation for undocking from the ISS tomorrow and there seemed to be unexpected issues that had to be worked through.  The schedule calls for the reentry to occur fairly quickly after leaving the ISS, with touchdown at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico at 6:49 p.m. ET.  Coverage of undocking and landing will start at 2:00 p.m. ET on NASA TV and at NASA.gov/live.  

There have been reports of problems throughout the mission but apparently with enough margin in some cases (thruster issues early in the mission) or that could be overcome with enough persistence and (probably) expert assistance.  Nothing that's a showstopper.  I don't know enough to give them a letter grade, but I suspect they will pass.  They may have a list of things that need to be addressed before NASA will grant them approval to do a crewed flight, but the mission has been far better than the 2019 fustercluck.  I'm just guessing but I bet they get a grade that's not failing but not ready to join the real work quite yet. 

Today, Teslarati reports that on May 23, a website named Space Explored published a report citing sources at both SpaceX and NASA alleging that the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft experienced major issues during Axiom-1, the company’s first all-private astronaut launch to the International Space Station (ISS).  The report alleged that the Crew Dragon leaked hypergolic propellants during its 17 day flight which caused excessive wear (damage) to the heat shield which caused “dangerously excessive wear upon reentry.”  The website says they reached out to both NASA and SpaceX for answers but didn't receive a reply in a time they thought reasonable, so they published.  The space agency then did answer, which Space Explored had the honesty to print.  

The data associated with Dragon’s recent crew reentries was normal – the system performed as designed without dispute. There has not been a hypergol leak during the return of a crewed Dragon mission nor any contamination with the heat shield causing excessive wear. SpaceX and NASA perform a full engineering review of the heat shield’s thermal protection system following each return, including prior to the launch of the Crew-4 mission currently at the International Space Station. The heat shield composite structure (structure below the tile) was re-flown per normal planning and refurbishment processes. The thermal protection system on the primary heat shield for Crew-4 was new, as it has been for all human spaceflight missions. SpaceX has only demonstrated reuse of selected PICA (Phenolic-Impregnated Carbon Ablator) tiles, which is a lightweight material designed to withstand high temperatures, as part of the heat shield on cargo flights.

NASA and SpaceX are currently in the process of determining hardware allocation for the agency’s upcoming SpaceX Crew-5 mission, including the Dragon heat shield. SpaceX has a rigorous testing process to put every component and system through its paces to ensure safety and reliability. In early May, a new heat shield composite structure intended for flight on Crew-5 did not pass an acceptance test. The test did its job and found a manufacturing defect. NASA and SpaceX will use another heat shield for the flight that will undergo the same rigorous testing prior to flight.

Crew safety remains the top priority for both NASA and SpaceX and we continue to target September 2022 for launch of Crew-5.

I suppose the puzzle here is why NASA and/or SpaceX took a while to respond but there could be any number of innocent reasons here: perhaps the person who could answer it most directly wasn't in the office, or the people at the two organizations who speak to each other regularly were out, or even something as simple as they played phone tag and never talked with each other.  

On the other hand, and I didn't recall hearing this, Eric Ralph at Teslarati points out that there was a Crew Dragon mission that really had excessive heat shield wear, the Demo-2 mission back in 2020.  Given that, 

"... it’s almost impossible to imagine that NASA and SpaceX would have proceeded with Crew-4’s launch two days after Axiom-1’s recovery without confidently verifying that heat shield erosion was within normal bounds. SpaceX’s upgraded Phenolic-Impregnated Carbon Ablator (PICA-X) Dragon heat shield tiles are reportedly designed to erode [PDF] less than a centimeter of their circa-2017 ~7.5 cm (3 in) thickness after each reentry. Musk has gone even further, stating in 2012 that “[PICA-X] can potentially be used hundreds of times for Earth orbit re-entry with only minor degradation each time.” If true, it would be extremely difficult for even a brisk post-flight inspection of Axiom-1’s Dragon capsule to miss what Space Explored described as “dangerously excessive wear.”

All told, it's tough to reconcile the initial reports that Space Explored went with, supposedly coming from "sources at NASA and SpaceX."  Are these sources who aren't really involved in the program and they reported on some rumor they heard and misunderstood?  Or is that whole line about inside sources a lie and it was a rumor that Space Explored got from somewhere else?   

The Axiom-1 mission capsule moments before splashdown on April 25th.  Axiom Space photo credit.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Something A Bit Different

Something different from the normal run of typical space-related stories.  

Next Monday, Memorial Day night through Tuesday morning, May 31, there's speculation starting among astronomers that we could be treated to a very intense meteor shower.  If you've ever stayed up late or gotten up early to watch a meteor shower, and I'm being brutally honest here, it can be a bit disappointing.  The biggest showers of the year might produce a meteor every few minutes, but that number is tremendously variable, as is the brightness of the meteors and speed at which they cross the sky.  Some of those big showers produce a few meteors in an hour, others can get up over one a minute.  The more active showers are called meteor storms and those happen rarely (although they can sometimes be predicted).  If you live in or near a city with a lot of lights on all night, you won't see them as well as you could farther away from the city in darker skies.  There are stories from before the age of streetlights where farmers thought nearby fields were on fire when it was frequent, bright, meteors.  

While we can't talk about how bright they can be, some astronomers are predicting "several" meteors per second at the peak Monday night/Tuesday morning.  One source has said as many as 40 per second, which calculates out to a staggering 144,000 per hour, if (BIG IF) the rate were to hold steady. 

What's going on? 

One of the lesser known meteor showers (lesser known because it's not typically impressive) is called the Tau Herculids.  All meteor showers are named after the area of the sky they seem to be radiating from, but those tend to be constellations.  For example, the Geminids from the constellation Gemini, or the Leonids from Leo.  The Tau Herculids appear to radiate from near a specific star in the constellation Hercules, designated by the Greek letter Tau.  Except that they don't.  That radiant was calculated when the comet was first discovered 90 years ago, and the comet has had its orbit changed by interaction with Jupiter over the years.  It actually radiates from near the star Arcturus, which is convenient because it's one of the brightest summer stars that's easiest to find and identify. 

Meteor showers occur when the Earth goes through the path of a comet and the meteors we see are dust and debris that the comet sheds.  (There are also showers that have been tracked to an asteroid crossing our path.)  Going over to the EarthSky article (link in the previous paragraph):

Its parent comet is 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3, aka SW3. Astronomers found this comet in 1930. It orbits the sun every 5.4 years. And the comet will be in our evening sky again, in July and August 2022. It’s not an intrinsically bright comet. But it’s an exceptionally interesting comet. In 1995, astronomers watched as this comet began to fracture and litter its orbit with an increasing amount of debris.

That’s why, by some recent calculations, the May 2022 Tau Herculid meteor shower – spawned by SW3 – might be an intense display. Bill Cooke, who leads NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, said:

This is going to be an all or nothing event. If the debris from SW3 was traveling more than 220 miles per hour (354 kph) when it separated from the comet, we might see a nice meteor shower. If the debris had slower ejection speeds, then nothing will make it to Earth and there will be no meteors from this comet.

And that last paragraph is the "gotcha."  We might get a wonderful, truly once in several lifetimes show and we might get nothing.  Or anywhere in between.  

Because the orbit of the comet is precisely known, the timing of when Earth's orbit crosses the comet's dusty trail can be calculated.  Three teams have all calculated times for this event and they're all within a 22 minute window.  They're almost ideal for the continental US.  

Calculations by different teams have provided three different peaks, all within a 22-minute time span. The most recent one places the peak at 05:04 UTC on May 31, 2022. For much of the Western Hemisphere, this translates to Monday night, May 30-31. It would be 10:04 p.m. PDT (North American west coast), 11:04 p.m. MDT, 12:04 a.m. CDT early on the morning of May 31 (central North America), and 1:04 a.m. EDT on May 31 (eastern North America). Translate 5:04 UTC on May 31 to your time zone.

The other times are 0455 UTC and 0517 UTC; nine minutes earlier than 0504 UTC to 13 minutes later.

An infrared image of the comet 73P/SW3 in 2006, skimming along a trail of debris left during its multiple trips around the sun. The flame-like objects are the icy comet fragments and their tails. The dusty comet trail is the line bridging the fragments.

I think even if I was still working, I'd sit in the backyard from about 12:45 to 1:30 AM next Tuesday morning.  It would be better to get away from city lights.  Arcturus will be very high in the sky (here), almost overhead, but a rough estimate says to look about 45 degrees away from the star, toward the west.  I'm going to assume that if you've read this far, you can probably find Arcturus (find the big dipper and follow the arc of the handle until the first bright star you find - that's it).  This link may be helpful, or this one.  Another summary of this story is in this video, set to start just before he gets onto this subject.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Update on the 1 by 1 - Part 27

There's honestly not much to update here, my time has been split between a big project that I have to wait on someone else to do their part before I can work on it, and the engine.  The time I've spent on that big project has been learning some new skills in the radio technician arena, and that has taken most of my weekly spare time.  I've only spent a little time on the engine, starting work on the next part which is the piston that goes on the end of the connecting rod I just finished.  The piston is a fairly simple shape - flat-topped rather than a some sort of complex curve like real, high-performance engines have.  Like the rest of the drawings I've excerpted, I've left out certain dimensions but not all.

It's essentially 1.000" diameter now but needs to be sized for a sliding fit in the cylinder, which is close to .003 under (or 0.997").  I would have preferred to have started with a just slightly oversized bar, but I had some scraps of 1-1/2" bar in my stock buckets, and all I've really done is cut this down to 1.000 diameter.  No features have been machined into the 1" diameter end and the next step is to finish the piston to that "sliding fit" the print calls out.

I have to say that one of the things I find hard to deal with is terms like "sliding fit."  What exactly does that mean?  I mean, a one inch diameter piston would slide in a cylinder a few thousandths of an inch bigger, but it could also "slide" in a two inch diameter cylinder - along with rattling a lot.  It would just be really tough to get any compression out of that.  I'm more comfortable with numbers and a little investigation showed that numbers have been assigned to this over the years.  There are categories of fit and online calculators that will tell you the limits given a specified size and a class of fit.  Given the descriptions of running fits for an engine, I thought the most reasonable choice was one in the middle, what's called ANSI B4.1 RC4 or RC5.  RC4 says my piston can be between 0.0008 and 0.0016 smaller than the cylinder. RC5 is looser; from 0.0016 to 0.0024 smaller.  Since the prints don't distinguish those, I'll shoot for the smaller number and if I overshoot RC4 and hit RC5, that's probably OK to live with.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Another Steaming Pile of Junk Science

In my personal "war on junk science" I can't really influence anyone who's doing the science, I can only hope to point the junk being passed on out there.  Maybe if enough of us hassle the agencies paying for this crap, things might get better.  Hah!  I make myself laugh sometimes.  We won't affect those agencies. 

In essence, this is a followup to a post from just over one year ago, The War on Meat and is based on a long post called "Why are We Basing Food Policy on Black Box Data?" from Nina Teicholz at her substack, the Unsettled Science newsletter.  Going from memory here, Nina was newspaper journalist in her early career.  At some point, her newspaper assigned her to be the food correspondent, sort of a "secret restaurant critic".  At some point, she couldn't help but notice how much better food prepared at some restaurants was and somehow learned it was because of the natural, real butter and cream they used in sauces.  Like most people, she grew up fat phobic and was afraid of it.  This led to her researching and writing a book called The Big Fat Surprise which is just full of stories of the kind of crap that goes on in food science (I've often thought if I treated test data on how some electronic system performed like Ancel Keyes treated the cholesterol vs. heart disease risk data in his famous "Seven Countries Study," I'd be in jail.)  That led her to become one of the founders and first president of The Nutrition Coalition, a grass-roots organization of people trying to clean up the US Dietary Guidelines.  

It shouldn't be a surprise, just as everywhere else and every little thing the Fed.Gov touches, industries and lobbying organizations pushing their particular agendas, spreading money around directly or indirectly.  

It's a bit on the long side, but definitely worth a read.  As I usually do, I'll post some highlights here to tease going there to read the whole thing.  The main topic is in serious errors in a study called the Global Burden of Disease study, which like so much other junk science, tries to link the harm done to people by their diets.  A note from epidemiologist John P.A. Ioannidis goes particularly well here; so well it could have been written about this study, but wasn't. 

In recent updated meta-analyses of prospective cohort studies, almost all foods revealed statistically significant associations with mortality risk.  Substantial deficiencies of key nutrients (e.g., vitamins), extreme over consumption of food, and obesity from excessive calories may indeed increase mortality risk.  However, can small intake differences of specific nutrients, foods, or diet patterns with similar calories causally, markedly, and almost ubiquitously affect survival?

As we said then, how could everything have “statistically significant associations with mortality risk”?  How could everything either lengthen or shorten our lives and nothing be benign?  That's what the GBD study is looking like.  Back to Nina Teicholz:

It turns out that a highly influential 2019 claim—that no amount of unprocessed red meat is safe for health—was completely inaccurate, according to a statement in March by the authors of the Global Burdens of Disease study (GBD), an on-going project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Two years earlier, in 2017, these same authors had judged red meat to be the least likely cause of death among 15 risk factors analyzed. Then, in 2019, red-meat’s risk jumped 36-fold. A forthcoming publication will correct these errors, and the risk will drop significantly, said the lead author Christopher Murray, in an interview. Despite the inaccuracies, however, he says he does not intend to correct or retract the paper.
GBD has also been a collaborator with the World Health Organization since 2018, and its numbers are increasingly being used by the United Nations, including work to reduce meat consumption as part of the UN’s “Sustainable Development Goals.” The most prominent of these groups, EAT-Lancet, for which Murray was a “Commissioner,” aims for everyone on the planet to eat zero to 2.4% of calories as red meat.

Altering the world’s diet along these lines is intended to stop global warming, yet anyone can agree that global policy affecting human health ought to have a foundation in reliable data. With the still-rising epidemics of obesity and diabetes, we can’t afford false steps. In this light, GBD’s wildly fluctuating food-risk estimates look perilous.

It's not just their estimates on red meat that are problematic. 

In fact, other food risks calculated by GBD also changed dramatically from 2017 to 2019. The risk of salt dropped by 40%, while risks attributed to diets low in fruit, nuts and seeds, vegetables, seafood omega-3 fatty acids, and polyunsaturated fatty acids declined by more than 50%.

One of the sources Teicholz links to is an article from the Journal of the American Medical Association, known widely as JAMA telling the story of the attacks on a different medical journal's editor by a group calling itself the True Health Initiative (THI).  This other journal, Annals of Internal Medicine was only tangentially involved, getting some letters critical of the GBD studies.  The editor noted the hostility and tone of the THI emails (apparently she got 2000 copies of the same email) was the worst she's ever gotten.  

This gets into the way the anti-meat sources resemble all the leftist/cancel culture stories we hear.  There have been doctors who have had their lives ruined for not following the accepted stories.  When the stories are wrong and need to be corrected, groups like THI fight like mad.  Everyone knows the line that goes: "if a conservative doesn't want to eat meat, they don't eat it; if a liberal doesn't want to eat meat meat, they demand that nobody eat it and the world stop producing it."

Go read. 

Friday, May 20, 2022

Will SpaceX and Blue Origin Be Beaten to Orbit By a Startup?

As I'm sitting waiting for word that Starliner successfully docked with the ISS...

We've talked about a small startup called Relativity Space before, perhaps first back in 2019 when they secured a good chunk of funds for their development.  Relativity is dedicated to 3D printing their rocket and its engines.

Relativity may have leapfrogged past Starship and the New Glenn to become the first methane/liquid oxygen fueled rocket to get to orbit.  I stress the word may

From this week's Rocket Report:

The California-based launch company announced this week that it has successfully completed a mission duty cycle test for its Terran 1 rocket's second stage, running the full test duration (see video from the company's test stage in Mississippi). Finishing this test means that the company believes that the upper stage, and all of its subsystems, are ready for flight. Relativity Chief Executive Tim Ellis has previously said he is highly confident that the Terran 1 rocket will make its debut launch from Florida this year.

First stage shipping soon? ... The company also announced completion of "acceptance testing" for all nine of the Aeon 1 engines that will power the first stage of the Terran 1 rocket. Then, on Thursday, Ellis subsequently shared a photo showing the first stage undergoing a test firing in Mississippi. "Data review ongoing—all clean and this baby will be shipping to our launch site at Cape Canaveral," Ellis wrote. It now seems possible that the Terran 1 will become the first rocket fueled by liquid oxygen and methane to reach orbit.

My guess is that Starship will be first; unless something goes seriously wrong, Starship seems like it could launch by the end of June or early July.  Terran 1 looks to be later in the year, although it could slip into '23.  New Glenn is officially said to launch by the end of this year.  Nobody believes that, and guesses for the first flight run from mid '23 until Q3 of  '24.  

As I write, Starliner just successfully docked with the ISS.  Originally set for 7:10 ET, it was delayed until 8:28 ET, which seemed to be an ISS issue and not Starliner's. 

The test of the Terran-1's first stage engine, photo by Relativity Space CEO Tim Ellis.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Two Good Launches

Just sitting down and settling in after the Starliner Orbital Flight Test 2 (OFT-2) launch, the second of this week's two, which went without a hitch on the scheduled time.  A combination of clouds with the launch trajectory heading northeast behind those clouds kept it from being visible here south of the launch site.    

About a half hour after launch, the Starliner's own thrusters fired for 40 seconds to circularize its orbit, getting the perigee up to the required levels.  There are many tests going on, but the first major goal is autonomous docking with the International Space Station at 7:10 PM tomorrow evening, Eastern Time.  Starliner is scheduled to fly back to Earth next week.  

As many of us have said, this seems to be to be kind of "do or die" moment for Boeing.  There's widespread chatter that if this mission doesn't go much better than December of  2019's OFT-1, they might be out of the program.  I doubt anyone thinks that every single step of every procedure needs to be 100%, but OFT-1 was so embarrassingly bad they can't get within a mile of that level of bad.  Boeing got involved in the Commercial Crew program as a $5.1 billion fixed price contract, and it has been reported that since the disastrous first test, the company has lost a half billion dollars on Starliner.  In April of '20 Boeing said it would pay to rerun OFT-1, ultimately today's OFT-2, for which it set aside $410 million.  

Everyone who has cheered on the return of manned spaceflight to the USA on the SpaceX Crew Dragon might be surprised to know that some former NASA bigwigs are saying Boeing is the savior of the Commercial Crew program, and that without Boeing there would be no Crew Dragon. 

"I don't think that we would be anywhere with commercial crew had it not been for Boeing coming into the fray," said Charlie Bolden, who served as NASA administrator from 2009 to 2017, during an Aviation Week webinar.  [in 2020 - SiG]  "Nobody likes SpaceX, to be quite honest, on the Hill. They were an unknown quantity. I think if Boeing had chosen to stay out of commercial crew, we probably would have never gotten funding for it."

However, Bolden said, as soon as Boeing entered the competition, congressional attitudes started to change. And he credits Boeing for taking a chance on a fixed-price contract, which was relatively new for NASA at the time. The contracting method meant that, instead of getting reimbursed for all of its expenses plus a fee, Boeing could lose money if there were technical delays or setbacks.

"Boeing was a dream," Bolden said. "I call them a champion in being willing to accept the risk for a program whose business case didn't close back then. And I'll be blunt. I don't know whether the business case closes today."

Bolden's Deputy Administrator, Lori Garver, put it this way:

"Boeing entering the commercial crew program meant that you got a lot more support from Congress because they tend to have a very robust lobbying program," Garver said. "I was very happy when the traditional, big aerospace company Boeing bid. Because I think that was a tough call. And I think if they look back on it, they wouldn't do it again."

As for "whether the business case closes," I'd say it closes if the team doing it isn't steeped in the "old space" mindset.  The guys from the Right Stuff era weren't - there was no old space - and they changed the world.  If anyone is changing the world today, it looks far more like Starship and Super Heavy than Artemis, SLS, and, yes, Starliner.  

The OFT-2 Starliner after arrival at the launch complex yesterday, May 18, 2022.  Trevor Mahlmann photo.


Wednesday, May 18, 2022

One Down, One to Go

Got up early for this morning's Starlink mission and found that the launch time had been changed, from 6:20 to 6:59.   That's about a half hour after sunrise.  I didn't learn until later in the day that the change was about two hours before the launch time.  Photographer Trevor Mahlmann Tweeted "With just two hours notice of a new launch T-0, captured @SpaceX’s Falcon 9 transiting the Sun this morning in Florida."  Mahlmann's work appears regularly on Ars Technica. 

I had to share this picture.

Notice the sunspot groups on either side of the rocket?  Look around, there's a sunspot group near the right limb and the larger couple of groups left of the booster.  Those are moving left to right so the group on the left will be facing Earth in a couple of days, centered on the disk. 

Booster B1052 successfully landed on A Shortfall Of Gravitas offshore of the South Carolina/North Carolina state line

Eric Ralph at Teslarati points out that this the 28th launch since November 11, 2021, which is 27 weeks - one week over halfway to the goal of one launch/week for 52 weeks.  The company certainly seems to be able to support the operational goal of 52 launches in calendar year 2022.  

Later in the morning, Starliner successfully rolled out to the launch pad atop its Atlas V booster, for tomorrow evening's test flight to the Space Station.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Yeah. Right.

That's addressed to the story that NASA released a schedule of Artemis launches through the first half of 2023.  In reality, though, it's a schedule showing potential launch windows.  The first, unmanned Artemis mission that we've blogged about so many times could possibly launch NET (No Earlier Than) July 26, on this complicated, multicolored schedule pdf.  

What's that old saying?  Don't count your chickens until they've completed their Wet Dress Rehearsal?  Not even two weeks ago, we posted that Artemis/SLS was to roll back to the pad for its WDR in late May.  That's not what you'd call a safe bet at this point.  They might, but ...

This week, NASASpaceflight.com reported that the space agency and its contractors continue to work on a number of issues encountered during the three previous attempts—particularly a leak in the purge line leading to the rocket's upper stage, known as the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage. A NASA official said design modifications were likely to be needed.

Due to the ongoing nature of this work, it no longer seems likely that the large rocket will roll out of the Vehicle Assembly Building this month, which probably would push the start of the next wet dress attempt into late June at the earliest. Following a successful conclusion of this test, the rocket will still need to be rolled back to the assembly building to arm the flight termination system before it is finally wheeled back out to the launch site for a liftoff attempt.

The schedule is interesting from a different standpoint than just being a schedule.  Even the program says what I just said.  Kathryn Hambleton, a NASA spokeswoman, put it this way:

"The range of dates is not meant to convey anything about the probability of launching in 2022 or 2023.  All launch dates more than about two months out are preliminary. It is standard for the team to have a preliminary outlook several months ahead. We’ll set a more specific target after we complete wet dress rehearsal testing."

One of the interesting things about the schedule is that the mission duration isn't fixed and will vary with Earth/Moon geometry.   Depending on when the mission launches, it could last from 26 to 42 days as Orion flies into a distant retrograde orbit around the Moon.  NASA did a news release that explains these constraints in detail and said, "The resulting trajectory for a given day must ensure Orion is not in darkness for more than 90 minutes at a time so that the solar array wings can receive and convert sunlight to electricity and the spacecraft can maintain an optimal temperature range. Mission planners eliminate potential launch dates that would send Orion into extended eclipses during the flight."  

A sample from the calendar looks like this:

You can see that most days in July and August (combined) are gray - no mission the vehicle can complete is available on 37 days.  By contrast, the dates in red are those when the SLS could make the destinations but the Orion payload vehicle's design constraints are violated.   

I'd dearly love to have some models of the trajectories and conditions I could share, but don't.

On the other hand, having the first 25 days of June not available could help soften the blow of things like the delays of rolling Artemis back out of the VAB for its WDR. 

As a side note to all of this, and almost completely unrelated to it, if all goes as expected we get back to back launches Wednesday and Thursday.  Here's the surprising part: they're not both SpaceX.  Wednesday morning at 6:20AM ET, 1020 UTC, the first launch is a SpaceX Starlink mission, called 4-18.  This launch will be the fifth flight of this booster, B1052, which had its first flight as a side booster on a Falcon Heavy.   There's a report this booster will be converted back into a side booster for another FH launch potentially later in this year.  Flexibility is a good thing. 

Thursday's launch is the surprise.  This will be the next attempt to launch Boeing's Starliner Orbital Test Flight 2.  More details in this piece from the start of the month.  Liftoff is scheduled for 6:54 PM, 2254 UTC.  The Atlas V with the CST-100 capsule will roll out to the pad tomorrow at 10AM, safely after the SpaceX launch.  


EDIT 5/22/22 1010 AM EDT: to correct the last paragraph where I had absentmindedly referred to "Boeing's Starfire," fixed thanks to commenter Sparkee.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Everyday Astronaut Gets Another Tour With Elon Musk

Last August, Tim Dodd, the Everyday Astronaut, got to take a long walk around SpaceX Boca Chica, given a tour by Elon Musk himself.   This time, Tim took a walk around Starbase with Elon Musk to talk about all the changes that have come about since last summer.  As I did last August, rather than embed it, I'm going to leave a link to it here. 

Elon Musk Explains Updates To Starship And Starbase 

While this video is nowhere near as long as the two hours and 21 minutes from last summer at just under 45 minutes, it's really rather interesting.  Tim mentions what seems to be more videos coming and I don't see any.  On the other hand, this one is two days old, so it's possible there are other videos that are in the process of being edited. 

Starship is changing lots and the facilities on Starbase are changing as well.  This is pretty clear if you follow the activities there but there were many new things in the tour.  

Much ground is covered.  Do they replace the grid fins with something more like aircraft control surfaces?  It's under discussion.  The boosters now have something like the chines on a boat, one on either side of the centerline, to help the control of the booster during recovery of the booster.  Do they change the original grid fin design on the Superheavy booster from four fins arranged close to a line through the booster with two on each of the opposite sides?  From two at (roughly) plus and minus 20 degrees to the mid-line of the cylinder to one on each side that's on the mid-line?  What about three grid fins on 120 degree spacing around the booster?  

Current grid fin arrangement - two on each side equidistant from a line through the middle of the booster at about 20 degrees above and below that line.  Photo cropped from original by RGV Aerial Photography and then drawn on.  

There are lots of interesting technical conversations about things on Starship, the Super Heavy booster, and "Stage Zero" - the ground-based launch infrastructure.   

I'll leave you with one jaw-dropping thing Musk talked about.  Right now, the cost to deliver a useful payload to Mars is the vicinity of $1 billion per ton.  That's based on the latest rover missions, and when he says "useful payload" to Mars, he specifically excludes things like parachutes, landing stages and rockets to slow the rover down.  Musk says they are targeting dropping that cost by a factor of 10,000.  Instead of a billion dollars/ton, they're working toward $100,000/ton.  And he thinks they can make it.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

About That New "Black Hole Picture"

Maybe you've heard the buzz last week about the wonderful new picture of the black hole at the center of our galaxy.  Maybe you're one of those who thinks there's no experimental confirmation of black holes or don't see how pictures could be taken of something, "so massive, not even light can escape." Or some such.  I suppose if I took the picture - no one person did - I'd be proud of it, too.  I don't see it as amazing, incredible or any of those adjectives you'll see.  But it's moderately cool.  Cool enough for a low-news-Sunday night.  

First the picture.  Explanations later.

Black holes are collapsed stars which form when a star bigger than a certain size limit runs out of fuel to burn and can't generate pressure to counteract the gravitational attraction of all the matter in the star's core.  During the active phase of a stars life, the pressure of the thermonuclear explosions from Hydrogen fusing to Helium (and then heavier reactions) counteracts the force of gravity and keeps the star from collapsing into progressively higher density.  Eventually, stars run out of fuel to fuse into heavier elements and the gravity takes over, compressing the star into denser and denser versions.  Smaller stars will become a white dwarf, and if bigger, protons and electrons combine making it a neutron star (if one could get a teaspoon of neutron star material to Earth without it expanding, it would weigh about what Mt. Everest weighs).  Some large stars explode in a Supernova and some will eventually form a black hole.  Stars can collide or a more massive star can pull a less-massive star into orbit around it, and sometimes crash the smaller star into the bigger.

All of that is background, not really part of the story.  Suffice it to say that once considered a theoretical construct that had little chance of ever forming or being found, massive black holes are now thought to be present in the center of most spiral galaxies, like ours, as well as other galaxies.  

So let's get back to the question, how can something that doesn't give off light be photographed?  How was that image taken?  The black hole doesn't give off light, but any material being swept up from the surrounding space and being "sucked into" the black hole can give off light - where "light" is used in the general sense of electromagnetic radiation to include infrared, far infrared and down into the radio spectrum.  The photograph is the product of what's called the Event Horizon Telescope or EHT - a worldwide network of radio telescopes that point their receiving antenna at the same object and can combine the signals from all of them precisely in phase to produce an image with the resolution of a radio telescope bigger than any of the individual antennas being used.  (The event horizon is the shape in space that's the closest to the black hole that can be observed - beyond that is where "light can't escape from.")

The first image ever obtained of a black hole was announced in 2019 by the EHT.  That one was of the much more massive black hole in the center of a galaxy called Messier 87 (or just M87), 55 million light years away in the direction of the constellation we call Virgo.  It turns out that although the center of our Milky Way is much closer, the black hole is rather smaller and some of the "iron laws of photographic exposures" came into play.  As as theoretical physicist Matt Strassler explained:

[T]he measurements of the Milky Way’s black hole proved somewhat more challenging, precisely because it is smaller. EHT takes about a day to gather the information needed for an image. M87’s black hole is so large that it takes days and weeks for it to change substantially—even light takes many days to cross from one side of the accretion disk to the other—so EHT’s image is like a short-exposure photo, and the image of M87 is relatively clear. But the Milky Way’s galaxy’s black hole can change on the time scale of minutes and hours, so EHT is making a long-exposure image, somewhat like taking a 1-second exposure of a tree on a windy day. Things get blurred out, and it can be difficult to determine the true shape of what was captured in the image.

To the physicists who study black holes, the picture of the glowing, lumpy-looking gas around the black hole tells stories of their formation and behavior.  The similarity to the images of M87 and the closer Centaurus A black holes shows that General Relativity provides a good explanation of the behaviors around these objects.  

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
Psalm 19: 1-2, NIV



Saturday, May 14, 2022

I Underestimated Just How Stupid the BATF Can Be

Last August, when I wrote my comments to the BATF NPRM 2021-R05 on frames and receivers, I emphasized that they said they were going to clear up the definition of "readily converted" but did nothing remotely of the sort. In every single place where they could have clarified it, they refused to do so.  I told them they could substitute the word convenient and it would seem to cover what they were trying to do.  Of course, they didn't define convenient, either.  

The whole NPRM, at least as related to Privately Made Firearms, could be summed up in a cliche'.  I concluded my comment to the rule with:

In a now famous 1964 Supreme court ruling, Justice Potter Stewart declared, “I can’t define pornography, but I know it when I see it” (Jacobellis v. Ohio 378 US 184).  The Bureau has moved the definition of pornography into Privately Made Firearms.

You have to do better.

In my comments here on the blog, I was a little more prosaic, spending more time on the ruling being aimed at making the whole process less convenient.  I said.

This turns the question into how inconvenient does ATF want the process to be?  Is it acceptable to order the frame from Polymer80 and the parts to complete it from Midway USA?  Do we need to order the internal parts as one part per vendor; buying from 10 or 20 vendors instead of just one?  How about if between every step we have to go run around the block?  What's that, ATF?  Between every step we need to crawl across Death Valley on our hands and knees? 

Conveniently packaged is just as nebulous a concept as readily converted.  We should get precise, repeatable definitions.  Instead, for everything we get the crutch of tyrants everywhere: we'll know it when we see it, because we're the experts. 

Like the headline says, I underestimated just how stupid they could or would be.  In a story that didn't get much coverage, the BATF this week served a Cease and Desist order on a supplier of uncompleted frames called JSD Supply in the Philadelphia area.  Reality came up between my hypothetical examples of ordering the frame from Polymer80 and the parts to complete from Midway USA or requiring us to buy parts from 10 or 20 different suppliers.  

The order originated from the ATF’s Philadelphia field office. It stated that JSD Supply could not sell both unfinished frames and firearms parts to the same person no matter if they were purchased at different times. If JSD Supply sold a frame to someone, then the customer comes back to the site and buys a gun part; then, according to the ATF, the company sold the customer a complete firearm without a federal firearms license (FFL) in violation of the Gun Control Act (GCA).  [Bold Added:  SiG]

They're saying we can buy all of the parts to complete a frame from one supplier as long as we didn't buy the frame from the same company, but in no case can a company that sells a frame EVER, AT ANY TIME sell that person the rest of the parts.  While the article doesn't use those words, the ATF doesn't say in anything they've said about this case that there's a waiting period after which the company can sell both the frame and the parts.

Furthermore, the ATF maintains this has nothing to do with NPRM 2021-R05.  

The ATF claims this action is independent of the new rule change that was unveiled last month during a White House Rose Garden ceremony and is due to go into effect this August. The order claimed it has always been Illegal under the GCA to sell parts and frames to the same person even if the transactions were separate. 

It has always been illegal, but just now, in May of '22 have we decided to enforce this law?  Yeah, right.  Made up, pulled out of the depths of their asses.  They have the Fed.gov's infinite checkbook.  A small business like JSD Supply has a budget they need to stay within.  They have the entire Fed.gov military to call for backup.  JSD has exactly none.      

Like me, you might have heard of JSD Supply as the target of an NBC TV attack. A New York-based reporter named Vaughn Hillyard went to a gun show outside of Philadelphia and purchased two unfinished kits.  After he bought the two kits from the JSD Supply booth, he ambushed JSD Supply owner Jordan Vinroe in the parking lot for an interview. As is virtually always the case, the interview was selectively edited to smear Vinroe.

This is where the story turns to whether NBC News committed felonies.  After the interview, Hillyard took the two kits to the PA AG’s Office, where employees finished the kits for him.  If a frame and parts kit isn't a firearm, but a buyer has someone else complete it (turn it into a firearm) for them, that's illegal.  If the frame and parts kits are firearms, then Hillyard transferred a gun to the Attorney General to complete it for him.  Plus, it appears Hillyard broke the law as a New York State resident buying a firearm in Pennsylvania without transferring it back to New York through an FFL on both ends.   

Of course, you know the chances of a mainstream media agency or their reporter being charged with a crime they committed are pretty much "zero point zero" - to quote Dean Vernon Wormer.  

One of the arguments over whether they were going to clarify their positions on what constitutes being readily converted was that they can't tell us where the line is because in replacement for today's 80% frames would instantly be "79% frames" - or 70, 60 or whatever.  They don't want people to know what's illegal because they want to redefine "illegal" to fit the whims of whomever is in charge.  Which is what's happening now. 

It looks to me like the Defense Distributed idea of a way to make functional receivers out of square aluminum bars - "Zero Percent Lowers" - won't be affected.  They aren't selling frames, they're selling CNC milling machines which you can use to make lowers or anything else in its work envelope.  Put in a square bar of aluminum and make a frame.  If they sell you a parts kit (I haven't even looked to see if they do that), they're like a business that just sells parts kits.  The impact will be bigger on the companies that sell both frames and parts.  Those places will need to track who bought what, and when they bought it.

Yeah, it's Homer with a drill!  OK, he's working on a camera and not an AR Lower, but last August I referred to the difference between a skilled machinist and Homer with a cordless drill, and found this picture. Even though the drill has a cord.



Friday, May 13, 2022

Now For A Break From Seriousness

Long time readers know I'm a sucker for the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies - at least since 2008 and the first Iron Man movie with Robert Downey Jr. that resulted in his owning the character.  I'm pretty sure we saw every one of those Phase 1 through Phase 3 movies.  

After Avengers Endgame in 2019, I believe they started working their way into Phase 4, but I'm not at the fanboy level where I keep track of exactly what movies make up Phase 4.  Of course, the Covidiocracy hit in 2020 and impacted movies as much as anything.  The only movie they've released that I'm pretty sure marks Phase 4 is Eternals, which we saw back in October of '21.  I thought it was messy in having far too much detail in it, so much that I kept thinking "what was that all about?" or "why are they telling me this?" You got the feeling they were setting up some epic story line but it was distracting.  Plus, they worked some obvious attempts at being "edgy" into it.  For no apparent reason, one of the Eternals ends up being a gay man, and there's a fairly well-handled scene in which two of the Eternals make love.  That Just Doesn't Happen in comic book movies.  

Today we went to the current big blockbuster that has been out a week, now: Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.  There might well be spoilers here, so be forewarned and see you tomorrow if you want to avoid spoilers.  

To begin with, in the lead-up to this movie, there were implications that Dr. Strange's antics in last winter's Spider-Man: No Way Home, caused some sort of rip in the multiverse that led to this movie.  There was no reference to those things that I caught.  The single Marvel "event" that's closest to causing the events of this story, instead, is the world that Wanda Maximoff created in the Disney Plus TV series WandaVision.  This might be a good time to add that several months ago, our streaming service "Hulu + Live TV" added Disney + as part of the package, so we watched WandaVision among the first things we ever watched on D+.  (For the entire time we've subscribed to Hulu, they offered that price as a deal on Disney + but we never signed up.) 

The idea of a Multiverse permeates two of the Marvel TV series: WandaVision and Loki.  I recall a rumor that Loki would be in this movie, but if he was, it was in some very minor, non-speaking role and I didn't notice. 

The Multiverse of Madness story itself, though, is largely centered on a girl that looks to be high school age - played by a kid named Xochitl Gomez whom IMDB points out just turned 16.  Her character has the ability to somehow jump between parallel universes in the multiverse.  She doesn't know how she got the ability and doesn't really know how she does it, but Wanda Maximoff wants that power and in her alter ego of The Scarlet Witch sets out to capture that girl and take her ability.

The movie wasn't even remotely what I expected in the overview/big picture sense.  Some of what I was expecting was there, but in the fine details, not major plot elements.  It was a visual feast, as most of these movies are, with some effects that we've seen in the original Dr. Strange movie (and since then).  I was expecting a much more convoluted plot and went in thinking "prepare to be overloaded and confused" maybe to the point of needing to see it more than once.  The plot was pretty much Dr. Strange vs. The Scarlet Witch.  Rather straightforward.  We'll undoubtedly watch it again - it's worth it - but chances are high we'll wait till it's not a premium charge to watch on Disney+. 

On five letter grade scale, it's a solid B.  I recommend it if you like the characters and concepts, but if that's the case you're probably going anyway.  As usual, we went to a matinee, 1PM this time, and there were on the order of 20 people in a theater that can seat 300.  

Marvel Studios artwork.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Another Testing Day

For Booster 7 at SpaceX Boca Chica. 

After Monday's apparently successful Cryogenic testing, another round of the cold testing was carried out today.  The emphasis of the test, though didn't appear to be B7 so much as what Musk calls "Stage Zero" - launch pad infrastructure; in particular, a test of the recently modified Quick Disconnect.  I happened to open Lab Padre's Rover 2 camera without knowing any test was coming and got good views of the day.  

In the left picture, the QD isn't attached to the vehicle - you can see daylight between the large box deep in shadows and the mating panel on the booster.  The right pic has an obvious assembly lifted up above the big box and that could be watched moving over perhaps a minute as the gap between the QD and booster was closed and the cryogenic fluid lines connected.  

Once the liquid nitrogen had flowed to both tanks on B7 and virtually the entire booster was covered in a layer of ice (frozen Texas humidity) we could see the same area including the metal-covered fuel lines covered in ice as well.  

It all appeared to be a successful test, but I was somewhat surprised they didn't do a test of quickly disconnecting the Quick Disconnect, as would be required during a launch.  

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said on May 5th that the company is targeting “as early as June or July” for the first Starship launch from Boca Chica.  With the dependence on the FAA approval being released, and that date still being listed as the last of May, she might just as well have said, “as soon as possible.” 

The FAA has made progress, with their website showing a step completed last week, the Section 106 consultation.  Eric Ralph of Teslarati, who is also following this process, thinks this month is looking better for the approval than any so far. 

Only one more cooperative process – ensuring “Section 4(f)” compliance – still needs to be completed. Without delving into the details, there is no convincing evidence to suggest that that particular step will be a showstopper, though SpaceX might have to compromise on certain aspects of Starbase operations to complete it. Once Section 4(f) is behind them, the only thing standing between the FAA and SpaceX and a Final PEA is the completion and approval of all relevant paperwork. In other words, for the first time ever, the FAA’s targeted completion date – currently May 31st, 2022 – may actually be achievable.

There's just a very daunting list of things they need to do before a booster and Starship are ready for a launch and given the ups and downs of the process since dropping the first generation Raptor engines in favor of the Raptor 2, they still have a lot of risks to get past.