Friday, September 30, 2022

SpaceX Keeps Making Headlines

I tell ya, take a couple of days away from watching SpaceX news to clean up some stupid tree branches and suddenly they break a couple of big stories.  

Bigger Cool Story  

NASA and SpaceX have signed an Agreement to study the feasibility of a SpaceX and Polaris Program idea to boost the agency’s Hubble Space Telescope into a higher orbit with the Dragon spacecraft, at no cost to the government. 

Did you catch that reference to SpaceX and the Polaris Program?  As in the Polaris Dawn mission by Jared Isaacman's company, which is preparing for the first privately conducted spacewalk mission?  Yup.  Isaacman was directly involved in the September 29th press conference.

NASA and SpaceX will spend the next six or so months discussing whether it’s possible to use Dragon to boost the telescope’s orbit back to a nominal 600 kilometers (~372 mi). Both parties say that the agreement will also investigate the possibility of Dragon servicing missions, which could be even more significant for Hubble. While a boost that large would likely keep it in orbit for decades to come, there’s no guarantee the telescope would remain functional to take full advantage of the extra time it would have.

During the fifth and final Space Shuttle servicing mission, NASA astronauts installed a docking adapter (Soft Capture Mechanism) on the Hubble Telescope. Although no concrete plans existed for any additional servicing missions, the forward-facing installation of that adapter has made this feasibility study possible.

The docking adapter on Hubble presents a natural handle for the Cargo Dragons to use to manipulate the giant satellite.  The Shuttles could grab the HST with its remote manipulator arm, but the Dragons don't have anything quite like that.  

The lurking, unnamed obvious alternative in this story is Starship.  Only Starship is big enough to potentially put the HST in a cargo hold and bring it back to Earth, or lift it to a higher orbit.  Polaris has three more SpaceX missions planned.  The first is the Polaris Dawn, EVA mission already mentioned.  The second mission hasn't been described yet. The third mission, however, aims to be the first crewed launch of Starship.  Interesting coincidence, isn't it?  

Polaris Dawn crew during an EVA training mission.  From top right, clockwise, Jared “Rook” Isaacman, Scott “Kidd” Poteet, Sarah Gillis, Anna Menon. Note that Isaccman and Poteet are both executives at Shift4 as well as extremely qualified pilots; Gillis and Menon are both engineers with SpaceX on the manned spaceflight side, so probably not cool enough to have nicknames like Rook or Kidd.  (Inside joke for other engineer geeks).

Slightly Smaller Cool Story 

SpaceX and NASA have confirmed that they are moving forward with plans to modify the company’s second Florida launch pad, SLC-40, to support Crew and Cargo Dragon missions.

This story has been in the background since June, after some concerns arose that if the (still experimental) Starship vehicle should have a serious mishap on the new launch pad being built within yards of pad 39A, it could conceivably eliminate the ability of SpaceX to launch crew rotation missions to the ISS, like Tuesday's coming Crew-5 mission.  The Starship pad is 1000 feet from pad 39A, and we all have to admit SpaceX does have a history of building prototypes that occasionally explode.  

Naturally, these are high stakes, and while nobody doubts that SpaceX could repair and rebuild pad 39A, NASA doesn't want to risk not being able to launch astronauts from the US again, potentially for months. 

Then there's Boeing's Starliner.  Starliner would launch from farther away (on an Atlas V for now), but isn't certified for service.  Their next test flight, the first crewed test flight (CTF), is currently penciled in as no sooner than February 2023. Assuming that goes perfectly, the first operational flight of a Starliner wouldn't be likely until very late '23 to early '24.  Assuming it would go perfectly seems to be a bit of reach; both of Starliner’s uncrewed test flights have uncovered significant issues that required months of additional work to rectify, although the second was clearly better than the first. 

It doesn’t matter if Starship probably won’t explode or if Starliner will probably be ready to take over. The risk is always there.  With no backup to for both Cargo and Crew Dragon, it's no wonder NASA wants an alternate launch site. 

Nothing is known about the nature of the modifications that LC-40 will require. But more likely than not, NASA will require SpaceX to develop something similar to Pad 39A’s facilities. That would involve building a new crew access tower, crew access arm, escape system (39A uses baskets and ziplines), and an on-site bunker for astronauts.

Since the DOD and the Three Letter Agencies are looking more to SpaceX these days, there might be more in the way of the ability to hide payloads.  

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Minimal Damage from Ian - Mostly PITA

Let me start out with the good stuff.  The weather predictions I talked about were very accurate.  I don't think we had even a gust to cat 1 hurricane level (75 mph) and "gusts don't count;" that definition of hurricane is one solid minute of straight line winds at that level.  We never lost power for a second.  While it was a windy, rainy 24 hours or so, there was little damage.  In fact, the only damage pretty much came from my believing the forecasts a bit too much and preparing too little, but more of that later. 

A widely known but rarely stated reality about tropical storms and hurricanes is what a pain in the ass they are.  Prep time (even if you don't have to get within a mile of store parking lot, like us), figuring out what level to prep to (cat 3 or 4 gets more attention than lower categories) and the inevitable PITA cleanup after the storm.  With losing our palm trees after our August of '19 lightning strike, and having our oak removed this June, you'd think I wouldn't have as much cleanup.  Not that I can tell.  I have half of my backyard neighbor's trees in my yard and and almost as much junk from my next door neighbor's trees.  And I only have those two neighbors, not three like many people do. 

The long story.  Since much earlier in the week, it was apparent we would not get Ian - at least, not as a hurricane.  Every prediction had it as a hurricane somewhere over on the west coast, initially (and finally!) coming ashore around Port Charlotte, then various places farther north on the west coast and at one point, coming ashore south of Tallahassee (the state capital) - followed by retracing those steps toward the south and back onshore the west coast of the state.  We were always looking at tropical storm winds.  

You might have gathered that I don't pay much attention to tropical storms.  (WARNING: Gross simplifications ahead)  Aside from a longer duration, they're really not terribly different from a thunderstorm.  A typical thunderstorm has winds from 30 to 50 mph, and a severe thunderstorm has winds over 55 mph.  A summer thunderstorm actually lasts about 20 minutes but as the thunderhead collapses, it can push air up and build another storm so that they seem longer but even then rarely last an hour.  A tropical storm has winds of 45 to 74 mph and can last hours upon hours.  

Since we have something like 80 to 100 hours of thunderstorm time every year (my guess) I have the opinion that my house and everything around here can handle tropical storm level threats.  I don't even notice when we get one.  So when the forecasts said a tropical storm was coming, I treated it like a thunderstorm.  I essentially said, "so what?" and did very little.  

Everything was going along just peachy until the NWS suddenly upped our tropical storm warning to a hurricane warning around 11 AM on Wednesday.  Even though our local forecasts were saying winds would reach 40 sustained to maybe 60 on gusts and the probability plots showed the chances of hurricane winds were about 35%, we decided to put up the shutters.  Unlike any other storm we've prepared for, we only did the north and east windows because that's the direction that other storms hit us the hardest from.  

Since much of that work was being done in the rain with more forecast, I thought the ham antennas would be fine and didn't plan to do my usual hurricane prep, which is to crank over the tower, pull the antennas and crank the tower back up.  When I walked around the house to the east side, I saw something that made my blood run cold. 

Back in the late '80s/early '90s, when I put up the tower, I did a DIY house bracket.  An electronics tech I was working with at the time did the welding for me of a couple pieces of angle iron.  In '16, when I did the replacement of the steel pole with aluminum, I drew up this view of the house bracket minus the house. 

The white parts are the angle iron, and the face on the right is up against the house.  It's bolted into the house's roof trusses with two 5/16" x 2" long lag bolts and the little red circle on the right is a rough idea of where one is.  The other is off the left end of this picture.

What terrified me was that I saw that bracket was pulled out of the roof trusses and the tower was just standing there, rocking slightly in the wind.  There were only two things I could think to do; either crank it over and leave it over through the worst of the storm (top end leaning on a ladder) or try to find bigger lag bolts to reattach it to the house.  I thought I had a couple of long - like maybe 6" - lag bolts but they've teleported themselves into another part of the multiverse. I had some slight larger lag bolts - 3/8 instead of 5/16 and much to my relief, they worked.   I thought everything was peachy.  

Today, everything got worse.  At about 8AM as I was doing a morning inspection, I found 1/2 of one element of my HF antenna, a log periodic beam, had broken off.  The break looked ragged, not clean, so it fractured.  I was alarmed but couldn't do anything other than note it.  Around lunch time, I went outside to look things over when there was a break in the rain, and everything was worse.  

The other half of that T6 element had broken off.  When I went around the side of the house I could see the house bracket had ripped out the new lag bolts and the tower was just swaying in the wind like yesterday.  Winds were in the vicinity of 40 gusting 65 at the airport, less than 3 miles from us.

So I cranked the tower over and it's now resting on the wooden ladder with the end of the T6 antenna about a foot above ground.  I didn't get a picture, but this is one originally from last winter when I replaced the top antenna - except I put red marks around the two halves of the element that broke off. The position of the tower and the ladder is almost exactly the same.  The oak tree in the background is long gone.

The antenna can probably be fixed by trimming back the very end of the broken off halves and reattaching them to the pieces of the element still in place.  That could change the element length slightly, but it shouldn't be significant.  The house bracket concerns me simply because I don't know why the lag bolts pulled out in the first place.  My gut feeling is to increase the size of the lag bolts again; either to 7/16 or 1/2" and make them longer so they go into (hopefully) virgin wood in the roof trusses.  

All that said, we're clearly in much better shape than the folks over where they got the Cat 4 Ian.  There's a world of difference between the storm they got and what hit us.  We never lost power, we didn't lose any roof shingles, and the only damage at all is this antenna and tower.  The only unknown I have is that my backyard neighbor's tree grew over the roof of the shop and I was concerned the branches rubbing on the shingles would damage the roof.  It turns out that those branches broke off and are lying between the fence and the back of that part of the house.  I can't see the shingles to make sure they're good and can't get a ladder up in that area until I cut down the branches. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Crew-5 Moved to October 4

As expected, NASA and SpaceX have decided to delay the next manned flight to the International Space Station, Crew-5, at least a day until Tuesday October 4th No Earlier Than 12:23pm EDT, with backup date of Wednesday the 5th. 

The latest forecasts are showing Ian crossing over the north end of the Cape (or around there) as a tropical storm around 3PM tomorrow, and then curving harder to the north, making a second landfall in South Carolina late in the day on Friday.  While the KSC is under Hurricane Warnings, as we are farther south, the chances of hurricane force winds appear to be in the 50/50 range, perhaps a little lower.  The usual source I check for the compass heading of the flights doesn't have an update for Crew-5 so I can't tell if the recovery barge for the booster is in the North/South Carolina waters or not.

The mission will ferry NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, Japanese (JAXA) astronaut Koichi Wakata, and Russian astronaut Anna Kikina to the International Space Station, where they will spend about five months maintaining the orbital outpost and conducting science. Upon arriving at the ISS, they will take over from astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Bob Hines, Samantha Cristoforetti, and Jessica Watkins, who will board their own Crew Dragon and depart the station five days later.

Attached to a new, expendable ‘trunk,’ the Crew Dragon spacecraft arrived at SpaceX’s Pad 39A processing hangar on September 23rd and was fully integrated with Falcon 9 (an expendable second stage and reusable booster) by September 26th. Falcon 9 booster B1077 will debut on the mission alongside Dragon capsule C210 (Endurance). Dragon C210 splashed down with four astronauts after its first mission, Crew-3, on May 6th, 2022, and will head to orbit a second time 155 days later. Dragon’s turnaround record is 137 days.

Our storm warnings here in southern Brevard county were upped from Tropical Storm warnings to Hurricane Warnings this morning at 11.  That prompted me to take it more seriously than a Tropical Storm, which I've long called a poopy day with a press agent.  We put up the shutters on the sides of the house most likely to get direct winds but didn't do the "full Monty" prep.  My antennas are still up.  Our local NWS office detailed forecast calls for winds peaking at around 40mph with gusts to around 60. 

Ian Landfall Comparison

In my previous post, I mentioned that Ian's predicted landfall from last Friday matches the current prediction better than anything since then - around an area called Port Charlotte, south of Tampa Bay.  I took this morning's plot and the one I posted then to compare the two.  Because they always center the plots differently, if you're not familiar with Florida you might have to study this.

The winds in the left panel are in the upper limits of category four, so my prediction about it not being likely able to hit 140 was clearly wrong.  I'll follow that wrong prediction with another.  The winds will come down from that peak.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Artemis Back in VAB - and Ian Messes with Everything

The Artemis/SLS stack arrived safely at the Vehicle Assembly Building this morning after starting its return trip last night around 11PM EDT.  The four mile trip began at 11:21 PM and Artemis was declared secured at 9:15 AM.  The trip was entirely due to Hurricane Ian, but it nevertheless will be used to install a fresh set of batteries for the Flight Termination System, alleviating concerns about how long they've been installed for at least a few weeks.  

NASA’s crawler transporter moves into position near pad 39B on Saturday to prepare for the rollback of the Artemis 1 moon rocket to the Vehicle Assembly Building. Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

As can be seen from the launch window calendar, the current launch window ends next Tuesday, October 4th and the next window doesn't begin until the 17th.  All things considered, I don't think they could roll back to the pad and be ready by then.  Their preference for launch dates so far has been for the "dark green" dates on that calendar and the first one of those in the next window is the 27th, which is surrounded by red "don't launch" dates on both sides and then three dark green days before another couple of weeks delay until mid-November.  There is only one "preferred" (dark green) day in November: Sunday the 27th.  

If it's not obvious, Ian is messing with everything.  There's a launch currently set for September 30th; an Atlas 5 Mission, satellites called SES 20 and SES 21 for the company SES of Luxembourg, and October 3rd is still scheduled for the Crew-5 mission to the ISS.  I have to consider those as being at risk as this storm plays out. 

Where I live, we're currently under tropical storm warnings.  The highest wind forecast I can document from the National Weather Service is for sustained winds of 31 mph and gusts to 50 as of Tuesday evening, between the 8 and 11 PM updates.  Those winds will be overnight Wednesday and into Thursday.  As has happened frequently in the years I've been watching these things, the point of landfall has moved back closer to the one predicted last Friday than any of the predicted points since then - around an area called Port Charlotte, south of Tampa Bay.  The storm hasn't hit the wind speeds that made the headlines; saying 140 mph or more.  Given it has less than 18 hours before landfall and interaction with land will cut that time down, it would take an explosive drop in central pressure to get to 140.  I don't know enough to know if the environment can support that.  With the wind speeds I can see forecasts for, I haven't done our full up hurricane preps that I would do if it was coming from the east. 

Monday, September 26, 2022

NASA's DART Mission Sticks the Impact

NASA's DART mission - the Dual Asteroid Redirection Test - successfully concluded this evening at 7:14PM (Eastern time) by crashing the vehicle into the smaller of the two dual asteroids it has been targeting since last November.  The smaller is Dimorphos, which orbits the larger asteroid,  Didymos.  Being billed as the World's First Planetary Defense Test, the purpose of hitting the smaller body is to change its orbit and measure how much velocity change there is.

A screen capture from the replay with the last full frame of the surface of Dimorphos. 

The DART mission began in the late evening California time of November 23, 2021, with its launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base's SLC-4E.  It's ride into space came atop a Falcon 9, marking the first interplanetary NASA mission launched on a flight-proven commercial rocket and the Falcon 9 family’s first interplanetary launch.  

As it's full name implies, the goal of DART (NASA's mission page) has been to practice all of the steps necessary to rendezvous with a moving body in space, impact it and then verify that its trajectory change matches theory.  Why shouldn't the change match the prediction?  The problem isn't just hitting Dimorphos, but hitting it squarely, over its center of gravity and not imparting forces in directions other than what you've assumed.  Considering that no one has ever seen the two of them, it's hard to conclusively know what Dimorphos is shaped like and therefore where that center of gravity is to hit.  By the time that information can be obtained, it's too late to do the mission.  

Basically, it's the movie Armageddon turning into reality, except for the mission being unmanned, so no Bruce Willis equivalent and no live video as it's going on.  Well, it's a test of the concept; Dimorphos and Didymos are no threat to Earth.  

It always seemed to me that if one wanted to do a test like this, they'd better be pretty sure there's no way they can make a non-threatening asteroid into one that will threaten us.  

At the time of the launch, one of my sources said, “... the mission is going to complete between September 26 and October 1, 2022; under one year from launch.”  With the impact at 7:14PM EDT, that's 2314 UTC on September 26.  Pretty good prediction. 

Yes, I watched it live.  How often do you get to watch something that has never been done in all human history? 

Sunday, September 25, 2022

ArianeGroup Announces Development of a Reusable Upper Stage

At the International Astronautical Congress in Paris this week, ArianeGroup revealed a proposal for a Smart Upper Stage for Innovative Exploration, or "Susie" vehicle. Susie is an entirely reusable rocket upper stage project that replaces the payload fairing on a launch vehicle like their Ariane 64 rocket and presumably its successors.  Susie adds additional power to the upper stage of the launch vehicle — engines and fuel — and will be capable of carrying out many different types of missions before returning to land on Earth.  Further, they specifically mention crewed and uncrewed missions.  (H/T Rocket Report)

Ariane 64 topped with a Susie upper stage.  Screen capture from the animated video at that link, above. 

Back in 2019, ArianeGroup announced a new reusable booster called Themis and largely copied from the Falcon 9 (Ariane rendered video here).  I find no record of it having been test flown, but three years isn't much in rocket development.  Nevertheless, it raises the possibility of totally reusable systems - or two out of three stages being reusable.  

Missions made possible by Susie include towing, inspecting and upgrading satellites and other payloads, and supplying fuel, food, and equipment to space stations. It will also be able to carry out crew changeovers and facilitate human in-orbit activities. There was no estimate of the costs, which likely would be in the billions of euros over many years if ArianeGroup won such a contract.

You might recall that in February of this year, a group of European Astronauts issued a manifesto calling for a manned space program from the EU.  Will that happen?  Will the European Union survive long enough to do any of these things, from Themis to Susie?  We can start a poll or gambling pool, but it's probably not worth the time. 

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Odds of Artemis Rollback Just Skyrocketed - Plus Fling-a-Ding!

If you've heard this, you probably heard it as an absolute, but it technically isn't absolutely sure.  According the Artemis I blog, they won't decide for sure until tomorrow.  

NASA is foregoing a launch opportunity Tuesday, Sept. 27, and preparing for rollback, while continuing to watch the weather forecast associated with Tropical Storm Ian. During a meeting Saturday morning, teams decided to stand down on preparing for the Tuesday launch date to allow them to configure systems for rolling back the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft to the Vehicle Assembly Building. Engineers deferred a final decision about the roll to Sunday, Sept. 25, to allow for additional data gathering and analysis. If Artemis I managers elect to roll back, it would begin late Sunday night or early Monday morning.

The current five day track from the National Hurricane Center, NHC (as of 2PM EDT or 1800 UTC), shows the landfall has moved north, past Tampa Bay and up to (what appears to be) the Crystal River or Homosassa area, - 50 to 60 miles north of the area that was forecast last night through 8AM this morning and easily over 100 miles since the forecast plot I put up yesterday. 

The thing is, the afternoon model plots still have the NHC models the farthest east of all of them, and NHC typically isn't an outlier.  I've attempted to point out some of the points on the NHC track in the red color they use, to show how over almost all of the 5-day predictions, they're well east of all but one model family. 

On to the lighter side topic; what's a Fling-a-Ding?  An attempt to make a novel concept for rocket launchers seem a little less deadly serious.  

Space News reported this week that the very novel launch company, Spin Launch, has raised another $71 million for their attempts to build a centrifuge-based launcher that will fling an orbital rocket's upper stage high enough to replace a conventional booster or an airplane-drop for the upper stage. This raises their total funds raised to $150 million.  

In case you missed it, the company has already built a suborbital-class spin launcher, AKA rocket flinger, rocket yeeter, or others and tested it successfully.  

SpinLaunch built a smaller version of its centrifuge at Spaceport America in New Mexico, 33 meters in diameter, for suborbital tests. The system launched its first vehicle in October 2021 and has conducted nine tests to date, although it has disclosed few details about the speed and peak altitude of those tests.

“SpinLaunch’s mission is to bring the world low-cost, sustainable access to space. We’ve taken a big step in that direction with the completion of our 33-meter Suborbital Mass Accelerator,” said Jonathan Yaney, chief executive of SpinLaunch, “retiring the technical risk as we prepare the way for the construction of our full-size Orbital Launch system.”

Someone's saying to themselves, "33 meters?  Like 100 feet?"  Exactly. 

The company has said that the orbital class Flinger will be 100 meters across or about 330'.  They expect to make orbital launches with the bigger accelerator as early as 2026, but have a few additional hurdles to overcome.  First off, it can't be at Spaceport America (where this one is) due to overflight issues and they don't have a location for it at this time. Second off is the whole nobody has done this yet, and I gather the requirements for mechanical design of the satellites might be bit unprecedented.  

[Vice President Randy] Villahermosa mentioned in his talk the company was planning “an intermediate service around 2024 that will use some of our satellite and launch tech.” He didn’t elaborate on the service but said that the company will release additional details in the coming months.

SpinLaunch, in addition to the launch system, is working on satellites optimized for it. They include a 12U cubesat bus and a 200-kilogram satellite, the latter equal to the payload capacity of the orbital system. A 12U cubesat prototype will launch as soon as January, he said, but disclose the launch provider.

I have lots of questions about this sort of launch mechanism.  I don't believe the concept is all new and has been talked about before, but the speeds of a booster are nothing to take lightly although as part of a launch system they don't need to achieve many times the speed of sound.  When Virgin Orbit drops a craft from their 747 Cosmic Girl, they're not even going Mach 1.  A point in their favor is that their flight path is almost entirely parallel to the ground, while a conventional rocket takes off vertically and then starts to pitch over very early in the flight, to gain that horizontal speed component.  A substantial amount of fuel is used to get moving vertically while gaining speed going horizontally.  

A very long winded way of saying that the angle of the launcher silo (right word) on that centrifuge looks too vertical to me.  Which pales in comparison to what I see as the real problem: how do they change the path of the rocket upper stage going at hypersonic speeds in the centrifuge to going straight out that launch tube?  That seems to be a really critical timing.  And what about the shock of the acceleration from changing directions.  They can accelerate in a vacuum by closing off the silo, but sooner or later they've got to open it and the pressure of that air coming in is going to hammer that upper stage like a some sort of monster.  I'll bet it's an incredible amount of G-shock. 

“We get asked a lot about the g’s,” he said. “It’s a very gentle 10,000 g’s.”  ["he" is apparently VP Villahermosa.] 

Friday, September 23, 2022

Not Looking Good for the Artemis Launch Tuesday

Yeah, I'm thinking that ain't happening.  First off is the Weather Underground 10 day forecast for Cape Canaveral:

That's Tuesday's penciled-in launch (scroll down that page) highlighted in red - chances of rain over 90% almost all afternoon.   

Around the time I made up that graphic, the National Hurricane Center posted this one.  

It just became a tropical depression, yet they have it forecast as a Category 3 or higher "Major hurricane" at landfall on the gulf coast by Wednesday morning.  In the forecast image above, you can see the winds peaking Wednesday afternoon, but well short of tropical storm, let alone hurricane strength.  Borrowing the graphic of Artemis launch windows from a month or so ago:

It seems if we assume Tuesday is out that (unless they have to roll back to the VAB) Friday through Tuesday 10/4 could be available.  (Refresher: Red = no go; dark green = longer missions; light green = shorter missions)  There were rules for the amount of delay required during the last attempts to launch, which (IIRC) were the second attempt could occur 24 hours after a scrub but the third attempt had to be 48 hours after the second scrub.  Something like that. 

For the majority of you who don't spend a few weeks every year following these forecasts, let me add that the first three days are shown in white because of the expectation that this is the limit of a forecast that can be depended on.  The stippled area is even more of a WAG (Wild-Assed Guess) - expect it to move like a flag in the wind.  Even in the white forecast cone, the exact path is expected to wander and the storm is just expected to be somewhere in the white area; there are maps on the NHC website that don't include the center of the forecast path.  The white cone here is significantly wider than the one for Fiona, even days ago, meaning there's more uncertainty in this prediction than there was for Fiona.  In general weaker storms (invest areas, depressions, tropical storms) are harder to predict than when they become stronger.  

I'd be less than surprised to see that landfall prediction move around quite a bit over the next few days.


Wednesday, September 21, 2022

SLS Artemis Passes its Fueling Tests

Today's test of the repairs to the SLS unfolded slowly - over nine hours from the start, but the conclusion was that they passed and all objectives were met.  To lift the entire announcement from the Artemis blog (at that link):

The launch director has confirmed all objectives have been met for the cryogenic demonstration test, and teams are now proceeding with critical safing activities and preparations for draining the rocket’s tanks. After encountering a hydrogen leak early in the loading process, engineers were able to troubleshoot the issue and proceed with the planned activities.  

The four main objectives for the demonstration included assessing the repair to address the hydrogen leak identified on the previous launch attempt, loading propellants into the rocket’s tanks using new procedures, conducting the kick-start bleed, and performing a pre-pressurization test. The new cryogenic loading procedures and ground automation were designed to transition temperature and pressures slowly during tanking to reduce the likelihood of leaks that could be caused by rapid changes in temperature or pressure. After encountering the leak early in the operation, teams further reduced loading pressures to troubleshoot the issue and proceed with the demonstration test. The pre-pressurization test enabled engineers to calibrate the settings used for conditioning the engines during the terminal count and validate timelines before launch day to reduce schedule risk during the countdown on launch day.  

Teams will evaluate the data from the test, along with weather and other factors, before confirming readiness to proceed into the next launch opportunity. The rocket remains in a safe configuration as teams assess next steps.

When I first started paying attention this morning, they had encountered the leak mentioned in the first paragraph above.  The NASA team halted filling and said they would let the pipes warm up, then reseat the Quick Disconnect connectors in hopes they'd seal better.  That worked because the leak was small enough to live with as they slowly filled the hydrogen tank.  Much later in the day, an engineering report said that the leak resolved itself and became negligible as the tank was being filled - exactly as designed and expected.  

This is the first time since the green run test up at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi back in March of '21 that the SLS has gotten fully fueled and to this point.  It certainly raises my optimism about this hardware's chances of flying.  They officially haven't declared victory and said they intend to launch on the 27th, next Tuesday, but at this point it seems to depend on the test range extending the rated life on the Flight Termination System batteries. 

RS-25 Engine Fun Facts - NASA graphic

As always, credit where credit is due - to the engineers and techs that got it to work.  Best of luck for the real test. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

This Will Be Brief

This will be shorter than usual for a Doofus of the Day reason.  I slammed my car door on my left index finger this afternoon and it hurts like a bitch, even though I'm not typing on it and just stretching my other fingers.  

Instead, a tiny bit of space news from Boca Chica.  Last night's post had a quote from Elon Musk saying booster 8 would move to the pad for testing.  Booster 8 was at the pad by daybreak this morning.  The farthest back I can look on this camera is 6:46 this morning, and B8 was already there. 

Local sunrise photo of  (L to R) B7, B8 and ship 24.  You can see the golden light of sunrise on the left sides of B7 and B8.  Screen capture from Lab Padre. More details on what's going on at Teslarati.

Hopefully, this finger won't interfere with typing as much tomorrow. The weird coincidence is that I took off the end of my right index finger almost exactly one year ago: "Monday the 13th," September '21.  This one isn't "partially amputated," though, just "squashed finger blue."

Monday, September 19, 2022

SpaceX Aces Seven Engine Static Fire on Starship Booster 7

Today, at 12:46:56 Central, SpaceX tested the largest number of Raptor 2 engines it has ever static fired at once.  It was seven engines on booster seven firing for seven seconds.   

Screen capture from - as you can see. 

Earlier in the day, they had performed another spin prime test that appeared to be on the center engines.  There are 13 engines in the innermost ring that can gimbal to steer the rocket, and 20 fixed engines around the perimeter of the booster that aren't steerable.  The seven tested today appeared to be in the steerable center.  Shortly after the test, Elon Musk Tweeted "Chamber pressure looked good on all 7 engines." 

While seven is a record for SpaceX - the most they've fired at once on a Super Heavy booster has been 3 out of the potential 33 engines the booster can use, and you'll find that immediately all the watchers switched to thinking "how soon do we get all 33 engines?"  It would seem to be something off in the distance, but everyone is thinking "if seven engines look like that, what will almost five times that number of engines look like?"  Everyday Astronaut Tim Dodd, who has interviewed Elon enough times that his Tweets probably get recognized by Elon, chimed in and Elon's reply followed quickly. 

That mention of a "full stack wet dress rehearsal" should capture your attention.  The "full stack" consists of Starship atop a Super Heavy booster rocket, which has been done before for fit checks and photo opportunities, but never for a test like a WDR - which does everything up to igniting the engines.  The full stack is the world's tallest rocket at 395 feet tall (120 m) as well as the most powerful.  While up to date numbers are hard to get, Raptor 2 engines have been mentioned as exceeding 500,000 pounds of thrust - half a million pounds - so let's use that and know they might do more or be throttled back to less.  With 33 engines, that puts it well over 16 million pounds of thrust, more than twice that of the Saturn V. 

You may wonder about why they use 33 smaller engines while the Saturn V and other rockets of its day used fewer, more powerful engines.  I've read that the main argument against lots of smaller engines was difficulty in controlling them, a concern which has been obsoleted by today's better electronics and control systems.   

On Blogs Downloading Files to Your Computer - Administrivia

This has become a bigger pain in the ass as the days have gone by.  

Let me back up for a minute in case some of you haven't seen it yet.  About 10 days ago, I noticed a problem with Irish's blog - The Feral Irishman.  It would download a file to my computer instead of opening the blog to read.  The only way I could get the blog to load was to copy the blog name from a file on my computer ( ) and manually enter it into the URL bar.  Within about a day, Irish himself posted about hearing it from other people and doing some research into getting it fixed.  

The important part about this is that both of us use what Google (as Blogger) calls a gadget.  It's a little software plugin that we "drag and drop" into the place we want it to be on the page as you see it.  Irish shows in that link how he started by putting just his blog name (as I show it above) into the gadget and the gadget software wouldn't accept it.  By accepting an offer from the gadget, it changed to this:

Which is how his blog showed up in my Blogger gadget.  I thought that was a problem at first, but soon noticed that out of all the blogs I have in the list, most ended in the same string:  .../feeds/posts/default.  Only Irish's blog would try to load a file.  That didn't make much sense to me, so looking a little farther, Irish suggested we add ?alt=rss to the end of "default" - no space between them.  That fixed his blog. 

In the 10 days since, a few blogs have started doing exactly what his did to start this all - loading a file onto my machine.  I didn't keep track, but I think I've changed a bunch of the blogs in my two lists (the "Reading and Reciprocal" blog list and the "Florida bloggers" list.  The most recent were Virtual Mirage, Adaptive Curmudgeon, Stilton's Place, 357 Magnum, The Abode of McThag, Area Ocho, along with Wilder Wealthy & Wise yesterday and this morning, Bayou Renaissance Man.  I looked at BRM's blog this morning with a URL ending in /posts/default, and within a half hour, it stopped working with that when Mrs. Graybeard went to look at it.  I added the "?alt=rss" and got it right back.  

Unfortunately, whatever Google/Blogger is doing in the background only shows up when the list misbehaves.  Even more bizarre, the same fix doesn't always work, and I've had to fumble around a few times to get a URL that works.  

Suffice it to say this is weird, doesn't make much sense, and is a PITA.  I'll try to keep the blog lists working, but might not be here all day every day and I've seen things like the way BRM blog stopped working properly minutes after I used it.  The people with their own domain name, or on Wordpress seem to be less affected by this, although Area Ocho and Liberty's Torch both required that I poke around to get them working.  Of course, you might well be seeing this happening around the whole blogosphere and not just here. 

If you're wondering what's happening, so am I. 

A random selection of blogs from the "Blog List gadget" on my side.  Note how there's no fixed rule on what they look like. 

Sunday, September 18, 2022

James Webb's First Exoplanet Photo Release

A bit over two weeks ago, the James Webb Space Telescope team released their first image of an exoplanet; a planet orbiting another star other than our sun. published an update on things today.  The star is known by catalog number HIP 65426, and the planet's designation adds a (lowercase) b: HIP 65426b, resulting in a rather inglorious name.  If you grew up with Star Trek, Star Wars and the many space operas of the last hundred years, you might be disappointed when you find that instead of glorious panoramas of clouds, oceans or vast deserts, what we get is a point source.  Practically one pixel.  Much like the way our eyes see stars, the planet is too small to see but too bright to ignore.  

JWST’s first images of an alien world, HIP 65426b, are shown at the bottom of a wider image showing the planet’s host star. The images were taken at different wavelengths of infrared light. (Image credit: NASA/ESA/CSA, A Carter (UCSC), the ERS 1386 team, and A. Pagan (STScI). [NIRCam = Near InfraRed Camera, MIRI = Mid InfraRed Instrument; the numbers presumably are the wavelengths in Angstroms - SiG]

If you're under about 40 years old, you may not have noticed it, but during your lifetime we've entered a new age in astronomy.  As puts it:

Over the past three decades, we have lived through a great revolution — the dawn of the Exoplanet Era. Where we once knew of no planets orbiting distant stars, and wondered whether the Solar System was unique, we now know planets are everywhere.

The official count of planets outside our solar system stands at 5,090 (as of Sept. 15) and the count grows larger every week.  While other extrasolar planets have been photographed, the vast majority have been detected by observing the light from other stars and plotting their brightness versus time; planets are detected by slightly dimming the star when they pass between us and the star, or other perturbations of the star's light, like causing the star's position to wobble.

HIP 65426b is remarkable because the planet is a monster. 

To gather JWST's first direct images of an exoplanet, astronomers turned the telescope towards the star HIP 65426, whose massive planetary companion HIP 65426b was discovered using direct imaging back in 2017.

HIP 65426b is unusual in several ways — all of which act to make it a particularly "easy" target for direct imaging. First, it is a long way from its host star, orbiting roughly 92 times farther from HIP 65426 than the distance between Earth and the Sun. That puts it around 14 billion kilometres from its star. From our point of view, this makes for a “reasonable” distance from the star in the sky, making it easier to observe.

Next, HIP 65426b is a behemoth of a world — thought to be several times the mass of the solar system's biggest planet, Jupiter. On top of that, it was also previously found to be remarkably hot, with temperature at its cloud tops measuring at least 1,200 degrees Celsius.

Now when I see two paragraphs like that, comparing the new planet to two different planets we're familiar with, I see that as a mixed metaphor.  Since I like my mixed metaphors shaken and not stirred, let me point out that since we're comparing the mass of HIP 65426b to that of Jupiter, let's compare distances, too. Instead of saying the planet is 92 times farther away from its star than Earth is from our sun, let's say HIP 65426b is 18 times farther away from its star than Jupiter is from the sun.

While the distance is far in terms of absolute numbers, it's still a tiny separation in angular terms as seen from the Earth/Moon system.  To photograph a much dimmer planet so close to its star, JWST's instruments are equipped with devices like coronagraphs used here on Earth to photograph the Sun's corona by blocking the sun's light and allowing the dimmer light from the corona to build up on the sensor, much as you might put your hand over your eyes to block the sun while looking at something close to it.

The planet surprised the teams analyzing the data.  They determined the mass of HIP 65426b to be roughly seven times that of Jupiter and that the planet is hotter than previously thought, with cloud tops close to 1,400 degrees C.  They also determined that the planet is somewhat smaller than expected with a diameter about 92% that of Jupiter.

To me, one of the highlights of the piece was this little sentence. 

The researchers who led the observations (detailed on the preprint server arXiv - massive pdf warning) found that JWST is performing around ten times better than expected – a result that has astronomers around the globe excited to see what comes next.

This points to the conclusion that the lower limit of what Webb can see and image is very likely smaller than previously expected.  It doesn't have to look for "Super Jupiters" that are larger than our solar system's largest planet.  After all, this photo proves that Webb has already imaged a planet smaller than Jupiter.  Could it image planets the size of Saturn?  The size of the other gas giants in our solar system?  Could it "see" a rocky world the size of Earth?  

My stock answer to the line, "you learn something new every day" was always, "if you're lucky."  I hope we're lucky with Webb.



Saturday, September 17, 2022

A Repost on Being Worn Out by the Situation We're in

A re-post from July of 2017.  I could rewrite it because a few references to things going on in '17 might be lost, but then I'd lose the snapshot aspect of it.   

I Have a Case of That Going, Too

Western Rifle Shooters Association links to the Burning Platform, talking about being a bit worn out by the situation we're in and burned out about writing and thinking about it.  I could have written some of it myself - like this paragraph:

My frustration and disillusionment with a world gone mad has begun to affect my mental state. I’m losing my sense of outrage which has driven me to write for the last nine years. It isn’t worth the expended energy when it will change nothing. I’m resigned to the inevitability of economic collapse. It’s just a matter of when. Bloggers and writers who make a living at it, must write daily articles of doom to generate page views. Since no one can reliably predict the timing of the collapse, I’ve grown tired of reading and writing the same old shit.
He's an advocate of the concept of Fourth Turnings,  and argues that we're in one.  It will take however long it takes.  I've written about it several times, too, although tending to use the terms from Kondratiev Waves rather than Strauss and Howe's "Fourth Turning".  Another column by either one of us isn't going to affect that. 

I think we all agree that an economic collapse just seems unavoidable, but none of us know when and exactly what it will look like.  I think today's failure by the Stupid Party to get rid of the nightmare of Obamacare makes it more likely.  Things that can't go on won't go on.  I'm frankly tired of beating on the Federal Reserve, their servants in the Federal government, and the phony money they've imposed on us.  I'm especially sick to death of seeing virtually no one in power, very few in the media and no one with political influence harping on it.  

Likewise, Adaptive Curmudgeon put up a piece 10 days ago talking about making the transition from a serious blog and to using much more humor. 
Some time year ago (with many fits and starts and personal failures en route) I began to steer away from “serious” commentary. The world had enough overwrought hand-wringing. I thought it was good for the soul (in particular my soul) to let most of it go.

Longtime readers, I mean really long term, will probably have noticed that over the years I've tended to writing more about the shop, technical subjects and other lighter fare that I find more fun and interesting.  More and more, I find myself getting to the time of day when I sit down to write and can't think of anything to talk about.

I think the first time I used this illustration of an innocent cargo ship going over the edge of the world was in 2011, in A Short Course on Why the Economy Was  Going to Crap Anyway, Part 2

Maybe it's time to write a story about ducks or lesbian squirrels or something.  Nah... I was never any good at fiction writing.  

That "frustration and disillusionment with a world gone mad" is why I shifted my emphasis from writing about the problems with too big a government, central banks and the kinds of things I wrote about most in the first several years of the blog to the technical stuff like the shop things, radio articles, and space stories I've been highlighting lately.  They're the things I'm most interested in.  

I'm sick of disaster porn; both reading it and writing it.  I've been predicting an economic collapse since I started here in 2010, almost 100% based on reading predictions like that from perhaps a dozen different sources that said it was coming.  While I think we're closer to a worldwide economic collapse than ever, I won't put a date on it because that's all but guaranteed to be wrong.  To quote the Burning Platform up above, it's just a matter of when.  

In fact, when I first heard of the Great Reset, I thought it was a plan to deal with the fact that all the largest economies in the world were flooded with Keynesian spending-created debt and it was a way to address what happens when all of those big economies collapse.  It wasn't until I read more and found some of the true evil in the writings that I dropped my Pollyanna-ish optimism about these monsters. 

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. ”  Matthew 24:36, New International Version.  

Friday, September 16, 2022

Next Big Artemis Test Wednesday Sept. 21

It has been an agonizingly slow week for space news.  We had three consecutive scrubs of a SpaceX Starlink launch due to weather.  Starbase Boca Chica has done some more in their test campaign for the booster 7 static fire that we've been anticipating for months, but nothing as dramatic as the static fire/brush fire last week.  

There are two noteworthy items care of NASA's Artemis blog: first that the Artemis team has replaced seals on the vehicle associated with the hydrogen leak that scrubbed the mission attempts; and second, that the CAPSTONE vehicle, on its long, circuitous voyage to the moon put itself in "safe mode" after a recent midcourse maneuver and is currently still being recovered. 

Starting with the first, work began immediately after the final scrub on September 3rd. By Thursday the 8th, the blog posted:

Technicians constructed a tent-like enclosure around the work area to protect the hardware and teams from weather and other environmental conditions at Launch Pad 39B. They have disconnected the ground- and rocket-side plates on the interface, called a quick disconnect, for the liquid hydrogen fuel feed line, performed initial inspections, and began replacing two seals – one surrounding the 8-inch line used to fill and drain liquid hydrogen from the core stage, and another surrounding the 4-inch bleed line used to redirect some of the propellant during tanking operations.

The repairs were made and the next step - to test this repair - was originally set for Saturday the 17th (when most of you will be reading this).  Since then, the test has been rescheduled for No Earlier Than Wednesday the 21st.  NASA has requested a launch opportunity Sept. 27, with a potential backup opportunity of Oct. 2 under review.  Just how busy the Space Center is affects this.  NASA is planning the launch of Crew-5 to the space station NET October 3rd at 12:45 p.m. EDT; this will be from Pad 39A, now SpaceX's property under a long term agreement.  The pads are a little over 1-1/2 miles from each other.  They won't interfere with each other as long as everything goes normally.  

Artemis is requesting:

  • Sept 27: 70-minute launch window opens at 11:37 a.m. EDT; landing on Nov. 5
  • Under review – Oct. 2: 109-minute launch window opens at 2:52 p.m.; landing on Nov. 11

Don't forget that under the Space Force requirements for the Flight Termination System and the battery issue we've discussed, Artemis is supposed to be rolled back to the VAB and that would absolutely scuttle those two dates.  Artemis program has requested an extension on those batteries from the range and is working with them, providing additional information and data as required by Space Force.  Considering the batteries were supposed to be replaced originally before the September 3rd window and were given an extension, adding about a month to that original extension seems iffy - if the original date meant anything.  

Artemis core stage with the "service tent" in front of it.  NASA photo.

On September 10th, the following was reported:

The CAPSTONE spacecraft executed a planned trajectory correction maneuver on Thursday evening, Sept. 8, and CAPSTONE mission controllers have since obtained telemetry confirming that an issue put the spacecraft in safe mode near the end of the maneuver.

Following that update, the mission operator Advanced Space provided an update that was more complete.   Either during or shortly after the midcourse maneuver, the spacecraft started tumbling, and tumbling faster than its reaction control wheels could counteract. 

CAPSTONE was attempting to communicate with the ground for approximately 24 hours before any telemetry was recovered. After data was received, mission controllers found that the spacecraft was tumbling, the onboard computer systems were periodically resetting, and the spacecraft was using more power than it was generating from its solar panels.

Using the Deep Space Network, the mission team was able to contact the spacecraft and reconfigured the spacecraft’s systems to stabilize the situation while recovery plans are evaluated.  While still tumbling, the spacecraft was able to recover some position stability, and gets enough power from its solar panels to keep itself running properly.  The current update from Advanced Space, dated September 15th, says the emphasis is on heating the engine system on the spacecraft to above its minimum operational temperature (+5C or 41F) for at least 12 hours.  They believe they're getting enough power from the solar panels to do that.  

When the spacecraft propulsion system temps are at +5C for 12+ hours the system will be further evaluated for use in the recovery operation. Information on the cause of the anomaly has been obtained and is being evaluated, and recovery plans that mitigate risk of further anomalous behavior are being developed. We do not have a timeline for a recovery attempt, but the team is working hard to make progress guided by what we are learning from the data with an explicit goal to minimize further risk to the mission.

If this sounds scary to you - welcome to the club.  Advanced Space was honest enough to say they almost lost the spacecraft and they're still not completely out of the woods.  

We are effusively grateful to the teams at the Deep Space Network, NASA, Terran Orbital, and Advanced Space who have supported this ongoing effort continuously over the past 5 days. Without the quick action and dedicated attention of all of these exceptional individuals, the CAPSTONE mission would likely have been lost due to this anomaly. As it stands today, the vehicle is stable, and the combined mission operations team is working towards attempting a recovery operation.

This remains a dynamic and changing situation. We are focused on working the technical situation with an emphasis on disciplined analysis supporting a well thought out recovery attempt. The success of the CAPSTONE mission remains our primary focus. As we are able to, we will continue to share information on progress.



Wednesday, September 14, 2022

What Was That About Not Stopping the Signal?

The quote from the movie Serenity in 2005 has become better known than the movie itself - although the exact quote varies depending on who wants to use it.  Quotes showing it vary from "You can't stop the signal, Mal" to "They can't..." and sometimes just "can't stop..." which happens to be the way the quote is reproduced at IMDB, as close to official as it gets.

We have a good example of this emerging related to the ATF's recent frame/receiver ruling, with story linked by Tom Knighton at Bearing Arms.  Tom links to a story on Vice which seems frustrated with the fact the laws didn't instantly shut down the ability of hobbyists to make their own guns. 

But barely a few weeks into the new regulatory regime, the firearms industry has already adapted and scored an early legal victory. And gun enthusiasts have created and released open-source blueprints for a simple plastic tool that offers a relatively quick, easy—and apparently legal—workaround for anyone who still wants to build an untraceable weapon.

Hmm.  A simple plastic tool that can serve as the drilling jig for an unfinished pistol.  Distributed open source, maybe for the 3D Printer fans.  Made to finish the "Mock Glocks" from Polymer 80.  Like this one at DefCad?   

A prototype two-sided jig.  As with everything you run into in the open source printer file market, there's always a chance it's not going to fit with the one you want to make, so look into it more. 

Almost from the start of reviewing the rules my gripe as been the law says "readily converted" but the way the ATF goes after companies, what they really mean is "convenient."  They went after Polymer 80 for selling a “Buy Build Shoot Kit” kit that could be assembled into a firearm with work and skill on the builder's part, declaring it to already be a gun.  Then they went further into the land of insanity saying Polymer 80 couldn't sell just the plastic frame and then sell you the other half of the kit later; you have to work harder than ordering two items from the same seller. 

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? 

Predictably, the suits against the ATF started immediately and some of them have had rulings already. 

The ATF’s new rule has also faced legal challenges. On Sept. 2, a federal judge gave an early victory to a company called Tactical Machining, which manufactures frames for AR-style rifles and says they could be forced out of business because of the changes. The lawsuit, VanDerStok v. Garland, claims the ATF did not follow the proper rulemaking process. While implementation has been allowed to proceed nationally, Tactical Machining won a ruling that says they are likely to eventually prevail and that a “weapon parts kit is not a firearm.”

Tactical Machining has been impacted by the new ruling, but is working as best they can.  They have a letter from the ATF that says as long as they don't sell the jig to complete the receiver alongside the uncompleted receiver, they can continue to sell them.  

A gun of any kind is not a concept, it's a solid, very palpable thing.  Saying the same collection of components purchases together is a gun but bought spread out in time or from different vendors flies in the face of that.  It's illogical and stinks of them saying, "this is the definition because we say so."  Thankfully at least some federal judges seem to have a bit more sense about this.  Maybe these laws are going to be trashed.  It will be a long process, but this is encouraging so far.

A completed P80 pistol with the 3D printed jig.  Photo by the creator of the jig, Mr. Snow. Makes.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

It's Almost Fall - Did Blue Origin Ship BE-4s "this summer?"

Yeah, that's a rhetorical question; no they haven't.  The last promised delivery I have records for was "this summer," implying they have about a week to do it.  They might deliver one, they certainly won't deliver two. 

ULA's Tory Bruno has said that the two flight certified engines will be delivered this summer and the first Vulcan launch will be before the end of the year...

According to Eric Berger at Ars Technica and his Blue Origin sources, Blue sent the first of two engines to their Texas testing facility to undergo acceptance testing six weeks ago.  The second engine was shipped in mid-August.  The tests were expected to take about four weeks each to complete.  The first engine was rejected as testing began and sent back to the factory.  The second is still undergoing testing.  

Sources told Ars that the first engine was put onto the test stand in Texas early in August, but almost as soon as work began to hot-fire the powerful engine, an issue was discovered with the engine build. This necessitated a shipment back to Blue Origin's factory in mid-August, as the company's test stands in Texas do not allow for more than minor work.

ULA's director of external communications, Jessica Rye, said the flight engine presently in Washington is expected to leave for Texas "shortly." She confirmed that the other flight engine is undergoing "final acceptance testing" in Texas before shipment to Alabama.

"We are very pleased with where we are from a technical standpoint with the new BE-4 engines, and its great performance," Rye said.

That's Voice of Perpetual Optimism that anyone with the title, "Director of External Communications" is required to project.  The situation doesn't sound that great to me.  If I were Tory Bruno, I'd be sweating that the first engine - the Incredibly, Vitally Important First Engine - failed acceptance test as soon as it was put on the test stand. 

Look, ULA said it was going to press to fly the Vulcan before the end of this year.  I'm not 100% sure, but I think Christmas decorations are up in some stores now, and I'm starting to get "holiday gift" emails already.  The end of the year is rapidly approaching and Vulcan doesn't even have one engine.  It seems that they'll probably get one fully tested flight engine this month, but they probably won't receive the other one before mid-October, assuming they can get it to pass a clean set of tests in Texas.   

I don't see how they could get the vehicle finished, everything tested, moved to Cape Canaveral SFS from its current factory in Alabama, retested and verified after that, and then launched before the end of the year; 2-1/2 months away.  Then there's the payload itself.

The engines are not the only factor behind a potential delay for Vulcan. The customer for the rocket, Astrobotic, has not completed final assembly of its Peregrine spacecraft that is intended to land scientific and commercial payloads on the Moon.

"Peregrine is currently undergoing final integration at Astrobotic’s headquarters in Pittsburgh and will be ready for launch aboard ULA’s Vulcan Centaur," said John Thornton, Astrobotic’s CEO, in a statement to Ars. "Our nimble team has already integrated all 24 payloads to Peregrine’s decks and successfully tested communications in July with NASA’s Deep Space Network."

For a variety of reasons, this is a big deal for United Launch Alliance.  First and foremost, they don't have a launch vehicle in the payload class as this.  Their Atlas V and Delta IV platforms are at end of life.  Plus their most important customer is leaning on them because of all this. 

In August 2020, as part of its National Security Space Launch Phase 2 contract, the US Air Force selected ULA to provide 60 percent of its national security launch needs during the five-year period from 2023 through 2027. SpaceX was the other provider chosen, receiving the other 40 percent of the launches. At the time of the contract award, Vulcan was projected to start flying in 2021. However, because of Vulcan delays, ULA has already had to move one military mission, USSF-51, to an Atlas V rocket. As ULA has sold all of its remaining Atlas V rockets, it urgently needs to deliver Vulcan for its most important customer, the US military, to conduct dozens of launches during the next five years.

ULA is in dire straits and Blue Origin just had its income shut off by the abort of its space tourist vehicle's test flight while the post-incident investigation completes.  That might change the willingness of some participants to take that ride, although that's harder to predict.   

Photograph of BE-4 "flight engine no. 2" on Blue Origin's test stand in Texas, as shared on Twitter by ULA chief executive Tory Bruno on August 26, 2022.

I think Eric Berger had a clever way to end his article, so I'll give him the last words. 

If these launch targets appear challenging for ULA, perhaps the company can take heart from an exchange between Spock and Captain Kirk during a 1967 episode of Star Trek.

"Captain, you almost make me believe in luck," the Vulcan said.

To which Captain Kirk replied, "Why, Mr. Spock, you almost make me believe in miracles."