Sunday, July 31, 2022

NRC Announces It Will Certify The First SMR

Whut?  The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced Friday (.pdf warning) that they will certify the Small Modular Reactor design from a company called NuScale.  The reactor is a first in an important class of designs; the SMR isn't built on the site of a power plant like the big reactors most of us have read about.  The small reactor is built on a production line that one would hope could allow some of the continuous improvements in quality and safety - not to mention the cost reductions - that we see in virtually every mass-produced item.  After manufacturing, it is shipped (presumably by truck) to the site where it will be installed.

The reactor design approval process began in 2016 (which is a different problem) and approval has reportedly been expected since 2020, when the SMR received its safety approval from the NRC.  

The NuScale SMR is a 76-foot-tall, 15-foot-diameter steel cylinder capable of producing 50 megawatts of electricity.  The reactor is not one of the newer designs we keep reading about, like molten salts, thorium or something based on another radioactive isotope; rather, it's a pretty conventional steam generating design based on heat from uranium with control rods to absorb neutrons and reduce the heat.  The steam produced is maintained internal to the reactor, and their design features passive safety and fault tolerant design elements.  

The design features a passive cooling system, which means no pumps or moving parts are required to keep the reactor operating safely.  The pressurized internal hot loop is arranged so that it allows hot water to rise through the heat exchanger coils and sink back down toward the fuel rods after it cools.  

In the case of a problem, the reactor is similarly designed to manage its heat automatically. The control rods—which can encase the fuel rods, blocking neutrons and halting the fission chain reaction—are actively held in place above the fuel rods by a motor. In the event of a power outage or kill switch, it will drop down on the fuel rods due to gravity. Valves inside also allow the pressurized water loop to vent into the vacuum within the reactor's thermos-like double-wall design, dumping heat through the steel exterior, which is submerged in the cooling pool. One advantage of the small modular design is that each unit holds a smaller amount of radioactive fuel, and so it has a smaller amount of heat to get rid of in a situation like this.


NuScale image of their SMR.

While it's a 50 megawatt reactor, they envision a plant employing up to 12 of these reactors in a large pool like those used in current nuclear plants, to generate 600 megawatts.  

It's important to note that they're not done with the hurdles before these can be installed around the country.  The NRC has to approve the specific sites where any of these reactors are deployed.  Currently, one such site is in the works: a project called the Carbon Free Power Project, which will be situated at Idaho National Lab.  That has been scheduled to be operational in 2030 but has been facing some financial uncertainty.  As I'm sure you're noticed, the people who claim to be in favor of minimizing CO2 emissions are largely devoutly opposed to nuclear power.  

Saturday, July 30, 2022

So... Maybe Russia Isn't Really Gonna Leave the Space Station

Earlier this week, the story broke that the Yuri Borisov, the new head of Russia's space agency Roscosmos, said they would be abandoning the International Space Station when their current contract expires in 2024.  

That story was on Tuesday, July 26.  The next day, the story started to break that the situation wasn't that straightforward.  The bigger picture is they're saying they're not leaving the ISS until their replacement space station is operational.  I stumbled across this while trying to track down why my weekly Rocket Report from Eric Berger at Ars Technica hadn't arrived.  I went looking for his Twitter account and found this:

The Tweet he references is from Katya Pavlushchenko, whom it turns out I've quoted before on a similar subject (the original "Russia is abandoning the ISS" stories last March).  I understand she can read the original sources in Russian and references them in posts.  Her Twitter account includes much more discussion about this and the format being spread over several screens a few lines at a time makes it hard to summarize.  

The shortened version seems to be that Russia is aware that without continued work in their module on the ISS they're going to lose the valuable experience of having crews get time on orbit.  The first module of what's called #ROSS on Twitter is talked about as launching in 2028.  

At the first phase, #ROSS will be placed on a solar-synchronous orbit with an altitude of 334 km and inclination of 96.8°. Later it will be changed to 372 km and 96.9°. This will allow to observe most of the territory of Russia (and not only Russia, as Soloviev noticed).

This orbit will also allow to conduct the study of both Earth poles with optical, infrared, ultraviolet, radio and other detectors, and will allow to track the movement of various objects in the areas of the poles, which is an important scientific experiment.
#ROSS will work mostly in automatic mode, without human presence on board, but may be visited if needed. As a result, the station will be used more efficiently not only from scientific, but also from the economic point of view.

There's much more to wade through but among the key points is that it hasn't actually been designed.  Everything spoken about is more design goals than known characteristics.  On May 27, Roscosmos and the Council on Space of the Russian Academy of Sciences produced this concept of the station. It appears smaller than the ISS, and if it's not going to be continuously manned, that's probably something that can be put up with.  I don't recall where I heard this, but the saying was that, "the only people comfortable with the ISS are submariners."

I'm inclined to agree with Eric Berger.  If Russia is really saying they're not leaving the ISS until their own station is completed, 2030 or later is likely, especially with their first launch being talked about for 2028.  Recall that the ISS is expected to either be retired or require more regular maintenance by 2025. 

Friday, July 29, 2022

Mars Ingenuity Is Changing Future Missions

I mentioned in passing yesterday that the success of the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars is impacting future missions.  One of those in particular is a mission related to the Ingenuity mission, and the main emphasis of that mission, the Perseverance rover.  Since the earliest days of the Perseverance/Ingenuity mission, the plan has been for the rover collecting interesting rock samples from Jezero Crater (where it's currently exploring) so that a later mission, called the Mars Sample Return Program, could find Perseverance, retrieve the samples and return them to Earth.  

The coverage for details, this time goes to Ars Technica, where the explanations and descriptions are better than at Machine Design. 

At one time, the plans included a second rover from the European Space Agency.  It seems to be getting simplified. 

The Mars sample return plan involves a large collection of challenges, but a central one is that the samples are currently in Perseverance but eventually have to end up in a rocket that takes off from the surface of Mars. That means that Perseverance will have to get close enough to the rocket's landing site—which we can't choose precisely—to exchange the samples, possibly diverting it from scientific objectives. It also can't be too close when the rocket lands since the rocket's landing and its associated hardware could pose a risk to the rover and its samples.

The original plan included a contingency. Perseverance would approach after the rocket had landed, and the samples would be transferred directly. If that didn't work out for whatever reason, a second rover sent to Mars by the ESA would act as an intermediary, visiting a site where the samples had been cached, retrieving them, and then delivering them to the rocket.

In the current plan, the second rover has been eliminated and replaced by two helicopters.  The two will be delivered as part of the same payload as the rocket carrying the samples back up to Mars orbit.  As a result, there's only a single lander that will carry both the return rocket and the helicopters, significantly lowering the risk of the overall plan.  The helicopters have the additional advantage that samples could be cached away in a "safe place" away from Perseverance, then carried back to the lander where the Mars Ascent Vehicle will be loaded.  There's no mention of the detail of how many grams of rocks can be moved by the helicopters and how many grams or ounces the system can return to Earth.

A conceptual sketch from NASA/JPL-CalTech, showing a helicopter, Perseverance, and the ESA Mars lander on the bottom row, and the ESA's Earth Return orbiter, left, and NASA's Mars Ascent Vehicle top right.  The upper left corner picture appears to be a gibbous Earth, but Earth couldn't possibly appear that big from Mars.  I'll write that off to someone at JPL-CalTech being overly artistic.

The current plan is for the two space agencies to get together for a design review meeting and decide on the final details.  Launch looks to be in the 2028/2029 Mars launch window, leading to the ESA Mars lander arriving six to eight months later, and the rocks to arrive back on Earth by 2033. 

EDIT 1101AM 7/29/22:  Corrected the link to Ars Technica.  Thanks to commenter Sam for pointing it out.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Wins Aviation Collier Trophy

The story got past me when it was first announced because it was in Machine Design and not one of the space news sites I regularly cruise, but in mid June, the team that developed the Ingenuity helicopter that flew to Mars with the Perseverance rover was awarded the prestigious Collier Trophy from the National Aeronautic Association.  The award, of course, is for being the first vehicle to fly on another planet.  For more than a century, the Collier Trophy has been awarded annually to mark the major achievements in aviation. 

The helicopter was developed by a team of engineers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), AeroVironment, and maxon.

The helicopter was built by AeroVironment, a company that specializes in unmanned air vehicles, under contract from JPL. Maxon provided six precision DC motors, each with a diameter of only 10 mm; they move the swashplates on the rotors. Swashplates, which are found on all helicopters, adjust the angle of the rotor blades and control the helicopter’s flightpath. The Perseverance rover, the spacecraft that carried the helicopter to the surface of Mars, also relies on maxon motors to collect and store soil samples that will be retrieved from Mars on a future NASA mission.

As we've been talking about since the first mention of the helicopter, flying on Mars isn't like flying on Earth. While Ingenuity never flew more than 40 feet above the surface, that's equivalent to nearly 100,000 feet altitude on Earth and one doesn't see helicopters up there.  This means the helicopter had to be extremely light, and it weighs in at just under 4 lb.  The weight limitations meant the solar-charged batteries and maxon DC motors also had to be light and highly energy efficient.   A measure of the success of the mission is that it started out as an experiment to answer if can we make something that can fly on Mars and do something useful.  The initial goal was five test flights.  They've flown 27.  It has been so successful, the idea of using a helicopter is moving into problem solving on other missions.  

The motors strike me as the "stars of the show" since they're driving the propellers, and a more recent article says those motors are 10mm in diameter and 20mm long.  That's a bit bigger than 3/8" diameter by 3/4" long - bigger in both directions.  Machine Design has a separate article on the motor development, in an interview between one of their editors, Rehana Begg, and Florbela Costa, the project manager for the development of the motors.   The video interview is 16 minutes long, and the discussion is worth listening to, although not very detailed about the engineering.  I'm pretty sure maxon would consider much of that proprietary.  It drifts into more of an interview with Ms. Costa about her background and the job position after the 10 minute mark.

Florbela Costa holding up an equivalent motor to the ones powering Ingenuity.  Screen capture from the video on Machine Design that I can't embed here.  Ms. Costa has a bit of a Portuguese accent, but I had no trouble understanding her. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

About That Kamala Harris Quote

Every news site has posted about that quote from Kamala Harris yesterday.   You know, 

'My Pronouns Are She And Her, And I Am A Woman Sitting At The Table Wearing A Blue Suit.'

When I saw it, my first reaction was, "the table's wearing a blue suit??"  

As a sort-of writer-dude, that's what we call a dangling modifier.  The modifier after the word table is more associated with the closest noun, table, not woman.  Sitting is OK where it is, it could be before or after Woman, although saying 'A Sitting Woman At The Table Wearing A Blue Suit' is arguably worse.  

That's all.  Just wanted to spread this idea virus.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Dmitry? Is That You?

It seems like just a few weeks ago that the former head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin suggested that Russia was going to no longer support the International Space Station.  To be fair, it was last April.   So pardon me if it seemed like same old, same old when I read on Ars Technica today that Russia says it's abandoning its ISS partnership when the current contract expires in 2024.  Except it's not Rogozin who said this, it's his new replacement Yuri Borisov.  

Russia has supplied a number of modules to the ISS, and its segments host solar panels that contribute to the station's power budget. More critically, it has provided the thrust that allows the ISS to maintain its orbit, which would otherwise gradually decay. At present, it's unclear what will happen to Russia's hardware when the country exits the partnership.

Still, the availability of Dragon crewed vehicles has made Russia's participation less essential than it was just a few years ago. And by fulfilling its commitments to the end of 2024, Russia will provide NASA with a significant amount of time to develop alternate plans that could allow the ISS to remain occupied through 2030.

As we've covered here, even before the April discussion, the US doesn't need Russia to raise the station's orbit as it decays over time.  We have three options that are capable of maintaining the ISS in its desired orbit: Northrup-Grumman's Cygnus cargo drone as well as SpaceX's, Cargo and Crew Dragons.  If I understand correctly, we can add in Boeing's Starliner as well.  In March, when Rogozin first Tweeted the threat "... who will save the ISS from an unguided de-orbit...?" we saw this exchange. 

This led to Rogozin deriding the Falcon 9 as a flying broomstick, which lives on as a perpetual joke as comments to F 9 launches and Tweets about them. 

According to The New York Times, Borisov told Russian President Vladimir Putin that the 2024 date gives his country time as well. “I think that by this time, we will begin to form the Russian orbital station,” he said.

I don't think so.  Roscosmos is currently shutdown with no income and some workers sent home/laid off.  All launches from the western countries have been held, with some companies going to the European Space Agency and at least OneWeb going to SpaceX.  Amazon announced a contract for their Kuiper internet service that's basically, "we'll buy a ride from anyone except SpaceX:" 38 Vulcans, 18 Arianespace 64s and 12 Blue Origin New Glenns.  It's an interesting side note that not one of those three listed boosters actually exists yet.  To be fair, they also have nine ULA Atlas V and two RS1 launches from startup ABL booked as well.  At least the Atlas V exists, although they are at end of life and when ULA's supply of the engines on hand for the remaining Atlas V missions are used up, that's the end of the line for the Atlas, in service in one form or other since 1957.  

I suppose I should emphasize that this doesn't take effect until some date in 2024, and in the intervening years, the astronaut swaps we talked about recently are still going forward as outlined.  Expect NASA astronaut, Frank Rubio, to fly the Soyuz MS-22 mission and cosmonaut Anna Kikina to fly on the SpaceX Crew-5 mission. 

Monday, July 25, 2022

Solar Cycle Progression Update

It has been since February that I've posted plots like these, an update to solar cycle 25.  For those of us watching solar activity and experimenting (that is, playing) with it regularly, it has been rather interesting.  

Both plots are pretty similar, but emphasize different aspects.  First off is the Cycle 24/25 plot from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, and their Space Weather Prediction Center.  This plot shows the sunspot numbers and you can read numbers directly by hovering your mouse over one of the points on the chart - on the website linked there, not this graphic.

There is a very obvious separation between the actual values (smoothed values as the purple line and monthly values as the black dots on that line.  Note this is sunspot number and not the 10.7 cm solar flux.  For the second to last dot, this past May, the predicted value was 39.7 while the observed sunspot number was 96.5; almost 2-1/2 times the predicted value.  The last dot, June's, was substantially lower in measured at 70.5 while the predicted number was a bit larger than May's at 42.8.  There's always up and down variation in these plots, but the trend has been above the predicted values since cycle 25 started. 

The next plot is an update to the second plot in the February post, the one I jokingly refer to as my "ham radio autobiography" because these are smoothed sunspot plots of every solar cycle since 1976, the year I got my first ham license. 

You'll note that almost without exception every data point of every cycle is lower than its predecessor since 1976, the top curve (blue).  Except that short gray trace that shows cycle 25 advancing in from the bottom left corner.  Every single point in cycle 25 is greater than or equal to the previous cycle, shown here in pink.  This plot is from Space Weather News, which says it's from a site called, but I don't see it at that link.

Looking at the bottom left corner where Cycle 25 is coming in shows the bigger picture that 25 is doing better than cycle 24, and the previous plot showed it's doing well above predictions.  The thing to bear in mind is that Cycle 24 was the weakest in a hundred years, so doing better than that isn't necessarily saying it's going like gangbusters.  While I think the big picture is a bit more optimistic than it was almost six months ago, that discussion concluded with a plot from Dr. Ron Turner of ANSER Research Institute in Virginia, via, showing how the beginnings of 24 and 25 overlap well.  Dr. Turner's conclusion wasn't that 25 was going to match 24, just that it's too early to predict something much better based on the early numbers. 

I think we're in a better place now, but not at a point where we can confidently say 25 will be much stronger or not.  In another year?  Probably.  That plot shows us being at month 24 and by month 36, cycle 24 was close to its peak. 

I've noted that there have been higher solar flux numbers in the last month or so than I've seen in quite a while.  At some point late last week I saw a solar flux over 170, and the solar flux data archived at shows it has happened a few times on a cyclic basis.  The VHF band I hang out on the most, 6m, has had its moments of really great propagation, but I haven't really heard any of those since June.  

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Picture of the Weekend

Hat tip to Teslarati with an author I haven't seen before for a link to a SpaceX Tweet that featured a fortuitous alignment of Friday's Starlink launch from Vandenberg.  You can go to that Tweet link and watch loops of six seconds of video with this part near the middle as many times as you'd like.  Yeah, it's just a coincidence of the line of sight, but I've got to tell you lots of photographers strive for alignments like this.

This morning's launch from the KSC didn't offer such views and especially not from here.  I was able to glimpse the F9 within the first minute after launch, through the branches of my neighbor's tree, but except for one bright spot climbing into the bright morning sky, which would have been easy to miss,  you wouldn't have guessed a launch had taken place.  

Friday's and this morning's launches from opposite coasts marked SpaceX’s fifth and sixth Starlink missions for July, which were their 32nd and 33rd launches for 2022.  Those two wrap up July, with the next launch set for nine days from today, August 2nd, from launch complex 40 (SLC-40) on Cape Canaveral.  

Saturday, July 23, 2022

James Webb Telescope Uses a Comically Small Solid State Drive

Do you have a 64 gig USB storage device hanging around; that is, a 64 GB thumbdrive?  You have just a little bit smaller solid state drive than the $10 Billion James Webb Space Telescope, which uses a 68 GB SSD.  That drive holds roughly one day's worth of images and is cycled through daily.

IEEE Spectrum reports Webb generates about 57GB of data each day. In comparison, Hubble generates about 1 to 2GB of daily data. Webb reserves 3 percent of its 68GB SSD for engineering and telemetry data. Scientific data that Webb collects during its mission will also need to be stored on board, as the telescope doesn't maintain constant communication with Earth. However, before the drive fills, which takes about 24 hours, Webb will beam data back to Earth during a pair of four-hour contact windows each day.

Data transmission is a critical component of the Webb mission and has been carefully studied and planned for decades. The telescope is about 1.5 million km (932,000 mi) from Earth at Lagrange point L2. That's a long way to send data. Webb is the first mission to use Ka-band frequencies to send its relatively high amount of data. Specifically, IEEE Spectrum notes that the JWST is transmitting data on a 25.9GHz channel at up to 28Mb/second (0.0035GB/sec). That works out to about 12.6GB per hour.

I've got to say that I was annoyed initially by the statement that the downlink issues had been studied and planned "for decades" but then realized it was correct.  The program planning began in 1997, more than two decades ago, so it's correct.  The originally planned launch date was 2007.  More details on how the schedule slipped over the years is here

My home turf is radio design, so moving over to that I read that the images are sent over a 25.9 GHz Ka-band channel, (pronounced as the letters K and A separately not as "Kah" or "Kay") chosen for its higher available data rates, which translates to higher bandwidths.  There was a design trade of using a more established band, like X-band (7-11.2 GHz) instead of Ka.  For the required antenna gain to get the needed transmitter data rates (bandwidths) required an antenna that was physically larger, and they concluded it was too big for the optical designers to be comfortable around it.  That 12.6 GB/hour rate that IEEE spectrum reports means that the day's 57 GB of image data takes around 4-1/2 hours to transmit.

There are other channels used for technical data exchanges.  Those are in S-band, where many spacecraft operate.  An uplink (ground to Webb) at 2.09GHz transmits observation schedules at about 16Kb/s.  Webb "talks back" (downlinks) at 2.27GHz at 40kb/s.  This is where Webb transmits engineering data, including operational status and system health.

The JWST image released on the 12th of Stephan's Quintet, a famous grouping of five galaxies about 290 million light-years away in the Pegasus constellation. The compact galaxy group was discovered way back in 1787.   Yes, it's five not four - the one in middle, slightly lower right element of an obvious trio, is really two galaxies, NGC7318 A and B.  If you think you've seen it before (and you're not an amateur astronomer) you might remember it from the Christmas classic movie, It's A Wonderful Life.

You might be asking why 68 GB?  That would require access to program records to answer, but my guess is it's really something like a 128 GB drive or bigger that's radiation-hardened and not the consumer-level drives we're used to.  They're expecting Webb to last for 20 years instead of the originally-intended 10, so that drive needs to be more robust and withstand cycling better than the typical ones.  The "brute strength and awkwardness" approach to withstanding cycling better is simply to have tons more memory locations than its rating. 

Friday, July 22, 2022

Small Space News Story Roundup

As we do from time to time.  

Firefly is preparing for the second launch of its Alpha rocket from Vandenberg SFS, California, in late August to early September.  Peter Schumacher, interim chief executive of Firefly, said recently that the rocket is ready, and “it’s really pending, at this point, range availability.”  

Firefly's last attempt was almost a year ago in September of '21, but failed to reach orbit when one of its first first-stage engines shut down shortly after liftoff.  The company is waiting on a launch license from the Federal Aviation Administration, which in turn depends on approval of a new debris model for the rocket. The revised debris model came after the first Alpha rocket exploded in flight when the range activated its flight termination system. Debris from the rocket, made primarily of carbon composite materials, fell outside of the range, including in nearby communities, although no damage was reported.  

It's not surprising; the debris models available were based on all-metal rockets and, as they put it, “We have the unfortunate precedent of being the first large composite rocket ever to be terminated,” he said.  “So when we did terminate, some of the pieces fell outside where this model predicted.”  Oops. 

Speaking of oopsies... SpaceX and NASA released that Crew-5, the next crew rotation flight to the Space Station is scheduled for No Earlier Than September 29.  But that's not the oopsie.

This mission will fly on a new Falcon 9 first stage. Intriguingly, as part of its explanation for the date, NASA said, "SpaceX is removing and replacing the rocket’s interstage and some onboard instrumentation after the hardware was damaged during transport from SpaceX’s production factory in Hawthorne, California, to the company’s McGregor test facility in Texas for stage testing." 

According to one Twitter post, the "damage during transport" occurred when the rocket struck a bridge near Van Horn, Texas.  

Tapping or otherwise touching a multi-million dollar rocket into a bridge while strapped on a truck?  Oops. At least NASA and SpaceX seem to agree that replacing the interstage will fix it, so it sounds like minor damage. 

Remember reading here about the Roman Space Telescope?  Named for Nancy Grace Roman as a tribute to the late NASA executive and first Chief Astronomer who was one of the drivers behind the Hubble Space Telescope program.  Although the actual launch is still far out (apparently NET 2026), NASA announced they've chosen the Falcon Heavy to carry the telescope to its orbitEric Ralph at Teslarati points out an interesting side note.

Fittingly, the Roman Space Telescope’s basic design is reminiscent of Hubble in many ways, owing to the fact that the mission exists solely because the US National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) chose to donate an unused multi-billion-dollar spy satellite – a satellite that was effectively a secret Earth-facing version of Hubble.

Falcon Heavy is in a unique place in the American space fleet.  It's the heaviest lift vehicle in the fleet at the moment and so it has attracted some big missions, like the Europa Clipper.  Unfortunately, that comes at a price.  As Ralph points out:

... the major missions that are increasingly being entrusted to Falcon Heavy are far more likely to run into significant spacecraft-side delays. At one point in late 2021, for example, SpaceX had five Falcon Heavy launches tentatively planned in 2022 – all but one of which had already been delayed several months to a year or more. Seven months into 2022, not one of those missions has launched and it’s looking increasingly likely that Falcon Heavy will be lucky to fly at all this year.

SpaceX photo, from their announcement of the contract, not dated or linked to a mission.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

It's a Topsy Turvy World - But This Time In a Good Way

Let me lead with the story itself.  Today's planned Starlink 3-2 launch from Vandenberg Space Force Station was aborted 46 seconds before liftoff and has been rescheduled for tomorrow.  It was the first time that SpaceX has aborted a terminal countdown for something other than a range violation that I could recall.  It turns out I couldn't recall it for a good reason: it has been a long time and a lot of launches.  Stephen Clark, editor of Spaceflight Now, Tweeted this summary.

That's 19 months practically to the day; the NROL-108 launch that Clark mentions was on December 19th.  Considering that they've been launching at an average of once every 6.4 days so far this year, that's a remarkable record.

Yes, the launch business has changed to the point where an issue during countdowns causing a delay is considered very strange.  As Ars Technica reports, 

This year the Falcon 9 rocket has launched every 6.4 days and lofted more than 300,000 kg into low Earth orbit. This is considerably more than every other country and company in the world combined.

As reported already, they have conducted 31 successful launches so far in '22.  For a comparison of launch rates, Ars traced back the launches by SpaceX's largest US competitor, United Launch Alliance. 

To put this cadence into perspective, consider the flight rate of SpaceX's main US-based competitor, United Launch Alliance. Counting both its Delta and Atlas fleets, ULA launched its last 31 rockets from March 19, 2017, to the present day. That's a cadence of one launch every 64 days.

Put another way, SpaceX is now launching at a rate of 10 rockets to every one of its main American competitor. Both companies have 100 percent success rates during this time period.

A minor feature of this launch is that it's the fastest launch pad turnaround ever at Vandenberg SFS.  Assuming that the launch is tomorrow or even the next day, they'll still set that record.  The existing record is 22 days, 11 hours.  Today's launch would have been 10 days, 14 hours.  Tomorrow still puts the turnaround at half the existing record.  Which is also SpaceX's record. 

Just as we hardly note when commercial airliners take off and land on time, the day is coming - if it's not here already - when it will be considered just as unnoticeable when rocket launches go off on time.  Maybe this column itself is evidence that day is already here. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

On Broken Toothbrushes and The Great Reset

Just some ramblings on some minor events in life that all seem to converge going in one direction.  

First thing.  I have joked on occasion that I have a tendency to need to get dental calculus (literally, "tooth math") on my teeth so I need to have then cleaned more often than normal people do.  Decades ago, my dentist told me it wasn't my hygiene but a genetic thing, probably made worse by having allergies that force me to be a mouth breather more than most people.  Because of that, I got my first high-end electric toothbrush around that time; a Philips Sonicare, because my dentist had told me that these were particularly effective.  Call it 1997.  

That toothbrush was simple, but rugged and reliable.  That brush lasted a long time with twice daily use, traveled around the country with me, until the battery would no longer hold a charge.  I think it was 15 years.  I replaced it with another.  The replacement added some little feature and lasted nowhere near as long.  I've had three Sonicare brushes and the latest one I bought on January 3, 2021.  This one had more features added.  It failed Sunday night.  When I turned it on, it made an oddly louder noise and didn't feel right.  In three generations the toothbrushes went from a lifetime of 14 or 15 years down to not even lasting two.  It's actually still under warranty but (1) I'm not sure I'd want another - this one is actually a replacement for the first one I got in early '21 which suddenly wouldn't turn on.  Not exactly an impressive product.  And (2) while looking for a replacement online Sunday the website actively discouraged my business. 

The one that just broke. 

If you're keeping track, the easy explanation is that every time they add features to the product they shorten its life.  I get it.  I'm an engineer.  I understand that all design decisions are a compromise and TANSTAAFL There ain't exactly a lot of room in one of those things and if they add anything that takes up room, it's a tough trade.

The next morning, Mrs. Graybeard was using our immersion blender to make home made mayonnaise, as an ingredient in Caesar dressing.   The blender suddenly broke.  This is the second of this model blender we've had.  We bought the first one on April 1st.  At the end of June, it broke.  The company customer service was nice enough and once we sent them a phone video of how it failed they sent us a replacement.  This one hasn't been here longer than 3 weeks and has barely had a workout.  Before the first one hard failed, it ruined things she was blending by getting too hot to touch, thereby overheating and "breaking" the mayonnaise.

There's a point to this rambling.  If you're used to living in a world where things last more like that first Sonicare, but when something breaks you can fix it - or even just get it fixed - that world seems to be coming to an end.  Unlike big things like my vacuum cleaner adventures, neither of these small appliances could be fixed.  If we have to get used to the idea of buying a new electric appliance, toothbrush or blender, every few months or every year, how different is that from paying rent every month to always have one that works?  (Except for not always having one that works!)  Remember "you will own nothing and you'll be happy" from the World Economic Forum?  Doesn't that refer to no one being able to own homes, cars or other major purchases and being forced to rent? 

I see the whole world pushing in that direction.  In my other big hobby, my metal shop, it has become common for CAD programs to be sold on the yearly maintenance fee model.  I know for sure that some of the big photo editing programs work on a rental model.  If you buy an electronic doorbell with a camera like so many people have, it virtually always works under the monthly fee model.  The same for some medical devices.  It's arguable that Microsoft is pushing in this direction for Windows 11.  This guy, a PC repair shop owner, points out how the things Microsoft has done to improve security also have the effect of making you unable to control what you can install and run on YOUR computer

I had been looking at this change to everything going to a monthly subscription model as independent of and different from what the Great Reset people are talking about.  My toothbrush made me start thinking maybe not.  Then it made me start thinking, "what's the difference?" 

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Two Companies Join SpaceX in the "Race" to Mars

We've talked about a 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. They still haven't launched the first flight of their planned Terran-1 rocket, but have leased launch complex 16 on Cape Canaveral and are working toward a first launch before the end of this year.  Their long range goal is a bigger rocket called Terran-R, with a larger payload capacity to orbit than a Falcon 9 but short of what a Starship can do.

Relativity announced they've partnered with another small startup company called Impulse Space, which emphasizes optimizing the small thrusters that seem to be needed pretty much everywhere in space operations.  Just as Relativity hasn't launched a Terran-1, Impulse hasn't put one of their thrusters into space.  

The two of them have teamed up to launch a satellite to land on Mars in the late 2024 launch window - from November of 2024 through April or May of 2025.  The planned launch to Mars will be the most ambitious first-flight of a rocket I can recall, but the intent is this will be the first launch of the Terran-R.

Founded in 2015, Relativity has raised more than $1 billion.  Impulse Space is rather different story.  The company is newer, at less than a year old, but not without experienced engineers.  The company was founded by Tom Mueller, the first employee hired at SpaceX and leader of its propulsion department for more than a decade.  The father of the Merlin engines, his Merlin engines power the Falcon 9, and Falcon Heavy.  Another of his engines powers the Dragon vehicles.  Mueller considers launch a "solved problem" and is developing a line of non-toxic, low-cost thrusters to serve the in-space propulsion market.

The two companies are connected in other ways.  Relativity's vice president of engineering and manufacturing, Zach Dunn and Mueller worked together at SpaceX.  Mueller had hired Dunn at SpaceX back in 2006, where the intern was soon put in charge of engine testing and then the overall propulsion system for the company's early Falcon rockets.  The Mars mission was born when Dunn reached out to Mueller.  

...Relativity wanted to make a splash with its first Terran R mission, and Mueller embraced the challenge.

The companies devised a mission in which the Terran-R vehicle would boost a Mars Cruise Vehicle developed by Impulse Space into a trajectory toward Mars. Upon reaching the red planet, the lander would separate from the cruise stage. This lander would leverage aeroshell technology developed by NASA for its Mars Phoenix lander and other vehicles and use the same entry velocity and angle as the NASA missions. The Impulse Space lander would then land propulsively under the power of four thrusters, similar in action to a quadcopter. With this mission design, Impulse plans to deliver tens of kilograms of scientific payload to the Martian surface.

Did I say this was an ambitious first flight for a new rocket?  How about if I add that only NASA, China and Russia have landed probes on Mars - and Russia's 1971 Mars 3 probe stopped transmitting 14.5 seconds after its soft landing and was never heard from again (NASA speculated that they found it in 2013).  

"If it wasn't challenging, I wouldn't be doing it," Mueller said. "I always feel like if people aren't a little bit skeptical about what we're doing, we're not doing it right."

Relativity's chief executive and co-founder, Tim Ellis, echoed those words. He said he wanted to make a statement by putting a Mars-bound payload on the first launch of the Terran-R rocket. Ellis founded Relativity Space partly because he was inspired by what SpaceX and Elon Musk were trying to do to make humanity a multiplanetary species. This commercial mission, he said, would move the needle forward.

"We're big fans of SpaceX and Starship," Ellis said. "But there's got to be more than one company working at this. I want to be the second company that steps forward and says this is important. Hopefully there are many more."

Relativity Space's Terran-R preliminary design, from the company website.  

Relativity reports that development is going well and while it's aggressive to go to Mars in around 2-1/2 years, it's doable.  I wish them well but I'll feel more optimistic about the outlook when Terran-1 flies - and the sooner the better.  If space is hard and orbit is harder, interplanetary travel is step beyond that.



Monday, July 18, 2022


During the live coverage for last Thursday's CRS-25 mission, I was listening to the conversations more or less with one ear before the countdown got close to launch time.  Along the way, I heard some talk about a satellite called EMIT - not exactly an acronym, but a mission dedicated to observing airborne mineral dust from Earth's major desert areas.  That NASA/JPL webpage refers to the name as Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation.  

Most of us know that dust from the Sahara desert can become airborne and make it all the way across the Atlantic into the Caribbean basin and the US itself.  All of the deserts of the world also put dust into the atmosphere and spread it around.  The dust doesn't just give pretty red sunrises and sunsets, it can affect weather including tropical storms and hurricanes transiting the Atlantic and even health in some people.  Just looking for a satellite picture for background, I found this one from June of 2020.  The Sahara dust is conspicuous because it's the same color as the land it just came from.

One of the issues with climate alarmism that I hope everyone is aware of is that the models are crappy approximations of reality.  They're especially bad at modeling the effects of clouds, which sometimes cool an area and sometimes heat it.  They include nothing about these dust clouds at all beyond the simplest model; assigning all the dust in every cloud to be one mineral with one color - yellow. 

The EMIT satellite gets mounted to the exterior of the ISS where it can characterize the dust using a remarkable spectroscope developed for this mission.

Mineral dust has many other effects on our planet. It can help form clouds or change atmospheric chemistry. When the dust settles in water or on land it can provide nutrients for ecosystem growth. If it falls on snow or ice, mineral dust can increase sunlight absorption and accelerate melting. Mineral dust in the air can reduce visibility or harm human health.

Scientists know that most of the mineral dust transported in Earth’s atmosphere comes from arid, or dry, regions around the globe. But they aren’t certain what types of minerals the wind carries from those regions. Different minerals affect the environment in different ways. So scientists need to know what minerals are in dust source regions if they’re going to better understand how the dust is affecting the Earth. EMIT will provide this missing dust source information.

The data will allow scientists to create a new mineral map of Earth’s dust-producing regions. The map will improve computer models that scientists will use to assess the regional and global heating and cooling effects of mineral dust today and in the future.

The quote that got my attention was, “Right now, our knowledge is traced to about 5,000 mineral analyses where minerals have been collected and analyzed. When EMIT completes its mission, we will have a billion direct observations of the mineral composition of the Earth’s arid land.”

Sunday, July 17, 2022

6-1/2 Months into 2022...

Just past the midpoint of the year and with this morning's launch of Starlink 4-22, SpaceX has tied last year's record for their number of launches in a calendar year.  Last year, they had 31 launches, and began this year by saying 52 - one per week - was the goal.  At week 29 of this year, they're well on the way.  The morning was too cloudy here to see anything outdoors, so we made do with watching the video coverage on their YouTube channel.  It should be watchable at this link for some time to come.

Screen capture from the video.  This is Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station; pad 39A launched the CRS-25 mission this past Thursday and the pad wasn't turned around in time for the preparations for this one.

The booster here is 1051 on its 13th flight, denoted by referring to it as 51.13, joining the most experienced handful of boosters in their fleet and performing the 124th landing of a Falcon 9 booster.  

Beyond the now-routine growth of the largest satellite constellation in history, Starlink 4-22 also tied a number of records related to Falcon 9’s extraordinary launch cadence.

First, the mission was SpaceX’s 31st successful launch of 2022, tying the company’s annual cadence record – 31 launches spread over all of 2021 – in just over half (54%) of the time. If SpaceX is able to sustain the same pace for another five months, it could end 2022 having completed around 57 launches in one year – a new record for a single rocket.

Note that last line that referring to a single rocket, means a single rocket variant.  There's more.  This was the eighth launch in 30 days.  That narrowly misses the record of eight in under 28 full days set by the Soyuz-U in 1980.  While simply maintaining the record setting launch cadence they're currently enjoying won't get them to 57 launches in the remaining 23 weeks of the year, 57 does seem within reach.

The next announced launch is Thursday, July 21, from Vandenberg SFS, at 10:13AM PDT (1:13 EDT).

Saturday, July 16, 2022

A Large Upset in the World's Space Programs

Dmitry Rogozin is out as director general of Russia's state-owned space corporation, Roscosmos, in a move over the Thursday/Friday time frame in Eastern Russia, inescapably earlier by US time.  Former Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov will replace Rogozin.  While Rogozin has been combative and tended toward extreme rhetoric since the Ukraine war started, he was a well-known figure.  Yuri Borisov is a rather complete unknown at this point. 

This brings an end to Rogozin's tumultuous career at Roscosmos, where he directly worked with the leaders of other international space agencies, including NASA and other International Space Station partners such as Europe, Canada, and Japan. Since the invasion of Ukraine, Rogozin has been increasingly bellicose and made numerous threats about Russian participation in the station. While most of those threats have ended up being hollow, they have damaged working relations with the West.

Dmitry Rogozin - AP file photo by Pavel Golovkin  

Eric Berger from Ars Technica compiled a list of controversies that Rogozin has been involved in over just the last week, with just the Western space industry .

  • July 7: NASA took the extremely rare step of publicly criticizing Roscosmos after it used the International Space Station for propaganda purposes, supporting breakaway regions of Ukraine. "NASA strongly rebukes Russia using the International Space Station for political purposes to support its war against Ukraine," the space agency said. The European and Canadian space agencies also joined the criticism.
  • July 11: The Russian publication Aviation Explorer reported that Rogozin refused to take a call from NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in the wake of the ISS propaganda incident. "There is nothing to talk about. Let the sanctions be lifted first,” Rogozin reportedly said.
  • July 12: Rogozin mocked US President Joe Biden on his Telegram channel after NASA revealed the first photograph from the James Webb Space Telescope in a ceremony at the White House. Rogozin said Biden needed a big magnifying glass and went to the bathroom for a long time.
  • July 12: The European Space Agency said it is "officially" terminating work with Russia on the ExoMars probe to land on Mars. Rogozin responded with an angry message on this Telegram account, calling ESA chief Josef Aschbacher an "irresponsible bureaucrat."
  • July 12: In a tit-for-tat move, Rogozin threatened to halt Russian cooperation on the use of a new European robotic arm on the space station. This arm was developed for ESA by a number of European countries and launched to the Russian segment of the space station in July 2021. Rogozin's comment raised questions about whether a spacewalk scheduled for next week to work on the robotic arm, by Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev and ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, would proceed.

In a separate,"we swear this isn't related," announcement,  NASA and Rozcosmos agreed to what's called "the Trampoline swap" that has been discussed for some time.  The two agencies will swap one seat on Soyuz for one seat on Crew Dragon.  NASA astronaut, Frank Rubio, will fly with cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin on the Soyuz MS-22 mission and Russian cosmonaut, Anna Kikina, will fly with NASA astronauts Nicole Mann, Josh Cassada and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata on the SpaceX Crew-5 mission.  Both the Soyuz MS-22 and Crew-5 missions are currently scheduled for September.    

While every American astronaut who flew to the Space Station between the end of the Shuttle program and the advent of the Crew Dragon has ridden a Soyuz capsule, cosmonaut Anna Kikina will be the first Russian to ride the Crew Dragon and the first Russian to ride any American space vehicle besides the Shuttle.

In addition to those named crews, NASA's Loral O’Hara will fly along with cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub on the Soyuz MS-23 mission next spring.  Cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev will join NASA astronauts Steve Bowen and Woody Hoburg as part of the Crew-6 mission next spring.

This is being featured as (sold as) a no exchange of funds, or straight swap.   

"The no-exchange-of-funds arrangement includes transportation to and from the International Space Station and comprehensive mission support, including all necessary training and preparation for launch, flight operations, landing, and crew rescue services," [NASA spokesman Josh] Finch said.

Friday, July 15, 2022

CRS-25 Launch Was a Treat

Last night's SpaceX launch of the CRS-25 mission was a visual treat here.  Lifting off at 8:44 EDT, that was pretty much 20 minutes after sunset here, which means it's both relatively dark at ground level while bright and sunny up around 40 to 50 miles where the Falcon 9 drops its booster.  Because of that, we got to see another example of the phenomenon called a Space Jellyfish, which happens when the exhaust plume of the second stage is illuminated by the sun, staying bright against the dark sky.  The plume spreads as the second stage continues to speed up and separate from the booster, while the booster maneuvers to land on the waiting drone ship.  The booster continues to climb on its previous trajectory while it maneuvers as shown here.

It's a fun fact to me that the Cargo Dragon was carrying nearly 5,900 pounds of supplies to the ISS, but that's a light enough load to a Falcon 9 that they didn't need to deploy drone ship ASOG (A Shortfall Of Gravitas) as far downrange as it needs to go for heavier payloads.  As result, the booster could have enough fuel after separation to do some maneuvering.  

The best image I've seen of this is from Richard Angle for Teslarati, except the orientation is wrong.  From my view point, this is sideways.  The brightest dot, which is the accelerating second stage, was at the bottom instead of the far right. 

The other bright dot, about 1/8 of the way behind the second stage, is the first stage.  

We were able to watch the booster until the start of its entry burn, a 20 or 30 second burn perhaps a minute before the final landing burn.  It was a dark enough sky for the entry burn to be easily seen - until it went behind some distant trees.  

Despite the excellent picture above, the best coverage of this mission that I've seen hasn't been the Teslarati coverage, but rather Spaceflight Now's.  What sets their coverage apart is that they embed their own videos, posted separately on Twitter, of key parts of the mission including showing this contrail developing and the booster landing on ASOG. 

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Followup to the Booster 7 Explosion

Over at Starbase Boca Chica, the crew is in the midst of preparing Booster 7 for transport back to the high bay to more thoroughly inspect and repair B7 as needed.  Ars Technica reports:

Musk flew into Brownsville on Monday evening after the anomaly to assess the damage firsthand and determine a plan to move forward. Tweeting shortly after midnight, he said, "Base of the vehicle seems ok by flashlight. I was just out there about an hour ago. We shut down the pad for the night for safety. Will know more in the morning." 

Yesterday morning, he added that to get the room and visibility they need they'll go back to high bay.  This is a job for the chopsticks on the Orbital Launch Integration Tower, and it lifted B7 onto one of the self-propelled transporters - multi-axled, high weight capacity vehicles - around 4:30 PM.  I grabbed a screen capture of the booster as it got high enough to be visible.  In the Lab Padre chat area this morning, someone said that one Raptor had been replaced out at the pad either earlier in the morning or last night.

Clearly some of metal is missing at the top of those four engines in the red box, and during the rest of the booster's movement it looked like other engines had the same sort of damage.  Whether or not that's important damage or minor things to be expected, I have no clue.  At 7:11 PM, with three hours to go  in the today's road closure, the booster hasn't moved in a couple of hours and movement doesn't seem imminent.  Chances are we won't get more information until tomorrow, if then. 

Meanwhile, we get an evening launch, the delayed CRS25 Cargo Dragon mission to the Space Station is set to launch 8:44 local time, so minutes from now.  

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

And Now for Something Relatively Different

Not completely different, but pretty different from what we've been doing. 

On Monday, Mrs. Graybeard and I went to see the latest Marvel movie, Thor: Love and Thunder on a Monday midday matinee.  As usual here in the Silicon Swamp, the movie house, while a 10-plex with shows in several theaters staggered throughout the day, wasn't in the least bit crowded.  

I've said many times that Thor: Ragnarok has been my favorite of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies and just tons of lighthearted fun - for a topic as serious as the end of the world for Thor's planet, Asgard.  Love and Thunder challenges it on many levels and is the most fun of what the MCU folks call phase 4 movies.  There's a tough reality of rating movies if you try to be consistent; I've seen Love and Thunder exactly once while I've seen Ragnarok on TV often enough that I practically know much of the dialog.  Given the novelty of the experience with Love and Thunder compared to Ragnarok, I'll say Love and Thunder is every bit as good as Ragnarok.  

The reason is pretty simple.  The same three people who had the biggest impact on Ragnarok are the major contributors in this movie: Director/Writer/Actor Taika Waititi, along with stars Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson.  

L-R, Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Taika Waititi and Natalie Portman.  In the movie, Thor Odinson, King Valkyrie of New Asgard, Korg (the sentient pile of rocks) and Jane Foster.

Natalie Portman was in the first couple of Thor movies and is a well-known, A-list actress, but was missing from Ragnarok and the movies in Avengers story arcs.  As part of developing the backstory for the movie and character development, they explain how Thor and Jane "grew apart and broke up."

I honestly think that for those of you likely to see this movie what I have to say won't mean much, and if you wouldn't see it at any price because of contributing a penny to the companies involved, what I have to say will mean even less than that.  Like absolutely nothing.  I had heard some rumors of wokeness and other silliness but I honestly didn't see anything.  No in-your-face, obligatory, LGBQWERTY characters.  Just a lot of fun.  Taika introduces visual elements that are apparently intended just to be silly.  There's lots of that.  The MCU is so big that big name actors, like Russell Crowe, play bit parts or even play bit parts but keep their name out of the credits, like Matt Damon.  

It's two hours of pure entertainment and good story-telling.  Despite the arguably dark story it's telling.  As others have said, - if you have superheroes you need to have bad guys with superpowers to challenge them.  In this one, it's actor Christian Bale as Gorr the God Killer, set out to kill all the ancient gods; not just Thor and the Asgard gods but Zeus and all the rest.  Along the way, there's lots of superhero and good vs. evil stuff with flashy CGI.  There's a very dark story line buried not far below the surface that I won't touch.  

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

SpaceX's Booster 7 Explodes

Yesterday afternoon, around several hours into a road closure and testing regime on Booster 7, something went clearly wrong. 

Watch your sound; it's pretty loud.  I recommend watching it full screen at least once.  The explosion was followed by some sort of fires afterwards, putting up dark black smoke which implies something rich in carbon.  Spilled liquid methane?  I don't know but let's assume it wasn't a used tire dump, like in Springfield, near the orbital launch mount. 

The fire burned itself out but another started about an hour later.  Booster 7 apparently dumped a large amount of cryogenic liquid, producing a flood that spread around the adjacent pad.  We don't know exactly what it was - just oxygen, methane, or both - but the cryogenic dump appeared to cause a fire to start about 100 feet (~30m) from the booster and orbital launch mount.  The fire burned for about two hours, and while no one was at the pad, if the fire had gotten blown in the wrong direction, it could have made things worse.  I was watching it yesterday by rewinding the Lab Padre camera, but didn't think to write times down.  

Within a few hours, Elon Musk tweeted out a cause they had diagnosed, an issue with the way the Raptor 2 engines are started.  

There hasn't been much information released yet on critical things like how much damage the booster or the orbital launch mount sustained, but I'd be surprised if there was none.  SpaceX operates with the philosophy that if you're not failing at all you're not innovating enough.  With that mindset, they have a better chance than other companies to figure out what went wrong and how to get back on track. 


Monday, July 11, 2022

A Year Ago, Virgin Galactic Won the Battle

A year ago today, July 11, word was breaking that Sir Richard Branson had "won the battle;" the race to become the first private company to launch civilians on suborbital space flights, carrying Branson himself. The New York Post opened with the Headline, “Richard Branson, on his Virgin Galactic rocket plane, becomes first billionaire to get to space.”  As if that was the important part of the story.

As it happens often enough to be a cliche',  Branson seems to have won the battle and lost the war against business rival Blue Origin.  Jeff Bezos took his first ride nine days later on July 20.  

As Richard Branson went to space, he and his company seemed to be on top of the world.

But it has been a rough ride in the year since. Most crucially, Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity spaceship has yet to fly a single time again, and it may not do so until this winter. In the meantime, Bezos' space tourism company, Blue Origin, has started to regularly fly paying customers into space, higher than Virgin Galactic, on a fully reusable spacecraft. Partly as a result, Virgin Galactic's stock price has crashed, now trading at about $7 a share.

It's not fair to blame the entire drop in Virgin Galactic's stock price from a peak above $50 to that $7 figure on the company's performance in the last year.  Some of that drop is undoubtedly the overall decline in stock prices from the budding recession we're in.  Still, it's worthwhile asking if Virgin Galactic is still a player in the space tourism market and if they can survive.  As it's worthwhile to ask if there's really a market for these space tourism suborbital hops just high enough to be considered being technically in space.  

On the much happier July 11th, Sir Richard is seen floating aboard VSS Unity during the minutes of weightlessness.  Virgin Galactic photo. 

In the days after the flight, the Federal Aviation Administration revealed that Unity  flew outside its designated airspace for 1 minute and 41 seconds after being released by its carrier aircraft.  The FAA grounded the spacecraft until concluding at the end of September that the company needed better procedures and needed to communicate more closely with the FAA during flight operations.  

Ironically, being grounded didn't matter; the ship was simply unable to fly.  At the time of Sir Richard's ride, the company had planned a follow up flight for later in the summer.  It still hasn't flown.  That flight is now scheduled for no earlier than the fourth quarter of 2022.  The company is also claiming that commercial service, flying the hundreds of people who have purchased tickets, will start in the first quarter of 2023.

"They've always over-promised and under-delivered on their flight schedule, so I never expected their promised flight cadence," said Laura Forczyk, a space industry analyst. But the long delay between Branson's flight and a successor mission raises red flags, she said.

"Going a full year without even setting a date for their next flight is not a good sign," she said. "It leads me to conclude there really were serious structural or operational issues with Virgin Galactic's recent flights, despite their denial."

Comparatively, Blue Origin has done much better with several sub-orbital tourist flights since last July - although I don't think I've written about any since William Shatner's flight last October.  Blue has maintained approximately a two month cadence (a launch every other month).  

Eric Berger at Ars Technica has more information on the outlook for Virgin Galactics business than I feel comfortable dedicating page space, too, but it looks grim.  While they have plenty of cash (and equivalents) on hand, over $1 billion, they have a very steep hill to climb.  A company that has managed one launch in a year is looking at a minimum of 150 to 200 launches per year to turn a profit.  At minimum.  Maybe on the order of 400 launches per year.  

The outlook for this sort of space tourism doesn't look materially different.  Nobody knows what a seat really costs for these "Karman Line Hops" but Virgin Galactic sells tickets for $450,000 and Blue Origin, while less open about costs, appears to charge around $1 million.  The era when even upper middle class people can take a joy ride to space doesn't seem to be near.  The one hope at this time is Starship.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

I'll Just Leave This Here

Much like Friday's post about the junk science, this is something inspired by something I saw at Western Rifle Shooters'.  To be exact, this:

Personally, while I always saw the resemblance between Beetlejuice and Lori Lightfoot, I thought she looked more like this guy:

So I just had to find a picture of Groot angry and yelling, then do a little clip here, brightness there.  That sort of thing.