Monday, October 31, 2022

Happy Halloween 2022

I'm not big on Halloween and never really have been.  Yeah, I went trick or treating as kid, maybe up to age 12, when Mom used to say, "have fun and be back by 9" instead of coming with us.  It's gotten even less involved since the kids are long out of the house and PGD (Precious Grand Daughter) is over a thousand miles away.  We don't even buy candy for the neighborhood munchkins because there's always leftovers that neither one of us would eat and I don't have the convenient "I'll leave the rest near the coffee pots at work" backup I used when I was working. 

That said, there are some aspects of the holiday that I like. 

When I think Halloween, I think Jon Neill, the professional artist who has become famous for carving pumpkins.  This guy has "mad skilz" as they say.

Meet Slushy the Cyclops.  Like most of Jon's work, Slushy is apparently done with your average, grocery store pumpkin, but another pic from his website appears to show a carving made from an entry in one of those biggest pumpkin contests we hear about this time of year; in this case something called the Fair Oaks Farms Cowtoberfest.  This particular pumpkin was in Cowtoberfest '19.  No mention of how big it was.

While these are impressive, I think it's more impressive to carve recognizable faces out of a pumpkin.  I looked at a couple from his website, two musicians: Guns 'n Roses guitarist Slash and Alice Cooper.  Of the two, I think Alice Cooper is a more impressive carving.  His carving of Slash has less details because of large sunglasses Slash wears.

Go look around on his website.  The guy has some serious talent.

And Happy Halloween!  I know most people will see this on November 1st: All Saints Day or All Hallows' Day.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

One of Those Days

I got nothing.  So a little distraction with a couple of things I've come across online.

Has the look of the Babylon Bee but I'm not sure.

The first time I saw the basic meme, it was Trump and Tucker Carlson.  Then Ron DeSantis got added.  Now Catturd has joined the scene. 

Starship landing on Mars.  Found this on Twitter. Don't know who created it. Pretty cool conceptual rendering, though.

Finally, one of my favorites:

Because it's a clever pun.  They always say if you have to explain the jokes, they're not good enough.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

NASA's Mars InSight Lander Detects Large Meteorite Impact

Remember the InSight lander on Mars since November of 2018?  It isn't in the news much, but an item came out in the last several days telling the story of the probe detecting a quake which was traced to a meteorite impact.  That was followed by determining its exact location on Mars.  Actual detection of the impact site was by another satellite, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter - the MRO.  

NASA’s InSight lander recorded a magnitude 4 marsquake last Dec. 24, but scientists learned only later the cause of that quake: a meteoroid strike estimated to be one of the biggest seen on Mars since NASA began exploring the cosmos. What’s more, the meteoroid excavated boulder-size chunks of ice buried closer to the Martian equator than ever found before – a discovery with implications for NASA’s future plans to send astronauts to the Red Planet.

Scientists determined the quake resulted from a meteoroid impact when they looked at before-and-after images from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and spotted a new, yawning crater. Offering a rare opportunity to see how a large impact shook the ground on Mars, the event and its effects are detailed in two papers published Thursday, Oct. 27, in the journal Science.

Those two paragraphs are from the NASA/JPL website for the program linked in the first paragraph.  What the JPL site doesn't discuss is how they knew approximately where to look on MRO's photos to see if there was evidence of impacts.  For that, the coverage is on Ars Technica.  

Here on earth, we have seismographs all around the globe.  It's fair to say we have them everywhere.  This allows the users to triangulate the location of a quake by the time differences of arrival at various locations.  On, Mars, though there's only the InSight lander, so how can they figure out how far away the quake was?  Seismologists have named different types of seismic waves and determined different speeds for them, giving them different times of arrival.  That gives an expected distance from the lander to search for new impact craters.

The cameras on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) have been observing Mars for 16 years. Before 2021, they had not observed any impacts that formed a crater over 130 meters across. In 2021, it spotted two. One of them was not especially useful. MRO imaging didn't capture exactly when the impact occurred, and it was far enough from the site of the InSight lander that direct seismic waves ran into the planet's core, which meant that only indirect seismic energy reached the instruments on InSight.

Knowing that these two impacts generated events allowed for a direct comparison between the estimates and the impact location. And it turns out the estimates are quite good. One event was estimated at 3,530 ± 360 km away, and it turned out to be 3,460 km from the lander, a difference of just 70 km. The second was at 7,591 ± 1,240 km away, and that estimate was off by only 130 km. In both cases, the actual error was far smaller than the estimated error.

The MRO before (left panel) and after photos that isolated the bigger impact.  Not much doubt about the change there: 

NASA, Mars MRO photo.  NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS all get credit.

Color photos of the fresh crater taken later show white specs that are described as water ice boulders - and the closest to the equator water ice has ever been found. 

All in all, an excellent geek story.  To be extremely geeky, NASA released a 57 second video of the sounds that InSight recorded.  That's posted on CNN, of all places.  You can actually hear the sounds of a meteorite impact on another planet.  Considering I've never heard a meteorite impact here on Earth, that's saying something.  Lots more geeky details at Ars Technica, NASA's mission website, and CNN.

Unfortunately, InSight's solar panels have been covered in dust by Martian storms according to Bruce Banerdt, the InSight principal investigator.  The probe isn't expected to survive much longer. Still, the mission has survived twice as long as its intended mission. 

“For the last four years we’ve gone well beyond the intended lifetime of the mission, which was two years,” Banerdt said. ” And even now as we’re winding down, we’re still getting these amazing new results.”

Friday, October 28, 2022

Maybe It's Just Me

Now that Elon Musk has finalized his takeover of Twitter, maybe it's time to open an account.  I've quoted from Twitter or posted screen captures of tweets innumerable times, but I've never felt the need to open an account.  How they treat us visitors is only moderately annoying.  Depending on things I don't know about, sometimes I can read screen after screen of tweets and sometimes the screen freezes and I get a "sign up to see more" message.  I've avoided social media for a few years since I shut down my Facebook account, and, yeah, I know blogging is considered social media by some, but when things like this happen, story on Twitchy, it's tempting. 

The mere fact that a random person who calls himself ‘Catturd’ can talk to the richest person on the planet is mind-boggling. It’s also possibly the biggest reason the Twitter platform has become the force it has.

One side effect of that openness is that self-important media elitists appear to be just a bit jealous when people who are actually doing important things pass them over.

We’re looking at you, Keith Olbermann. Seriously, if you had the choice between reading something Catturd said or something Keith Olbermann said, who wouldn’t choose Catturd?

Look at this masterpiece by Olbermann. If we’re parsing his tweet correctly, Keith is willingly tweeting from the ashes of urine-soaked dumpster fire. You could just leave, Olby?

Catturd had this to say in reply.

I have URLs bookmarked for a few Twitter accounts; Elon Musk, SpaceX, and a couple of others.  About all I can see is the most recent couple of posts.  I've got to assume that having an account would allow more.  Plus, I've got to like someone who uses this as their title to the world. 

EDIT TO ADD at 10:45AM on 10/29:  Judging by the first bunch of comments, I didn't emphasize my reasoning well enough.  The point of starting a Twitter account isn't to follow Olbermann (not in a billion years), or even Catturd (who I usually find funny).  The point is to get more access to twitter feeds that I'd find useful, like SpaceX, Musk himself, NASA Spaceflight and lots more without giving credit to the previous stack of morons and liars who were in charge.  It's also to reinforce that selling to Musk was a good move to get more people involved with Twitter.  If a bunch of people who have stayed on the sidelines out of a desire to not support Twitter now sign up, financial analysts will say it was a good move.  

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Small Space Story Roundup

There's actually a Canadian space race going on.  Who knew?  From this week's Rocket Report at Ars Technica (as usual, sent as an email before it hits the website here)  

Tracking the Canadian rocket race. Much, and more, has been written in this newsletter about commercial launch development in the United States, China, Europe, and India. But what about Canada? It turns out there are at least five Canada-based companies working to develop a native commercial launch capability. These companies are summarized in a new article in spaceQ which is (unfortunately) behind a paywall. Most of the companies are working toward the goal of launching from Spaceport Nova Scotia, which remains under development.

Big ideas, small payloads ... The five companies are based in Calgary (AVRO Aerospace), Toronto (C6 Launch Systems, Nordspace, and SpaceRyde), and Montreal (Reaction Dynamics). All are planning some variation on a small-satellite launch vehicle, with some ideas more radical than others—SpaceRyde's balloon-based launch concept, for example. I'm not well enough informed to comment on the viability of any of these companies, but small launch is a difficult business. However if the Canadian Space Agency were to start offering and awarding contracts, that would help us discern who is legitimate, and who is not.

Yeah, I tried their link and it says for subscribers only.  Any of you Canadian readers have any input here?  Anybody know anything about the companies? 

SpaceX static fired the Falcon Heavy for next week's USSF-44 mission tonight at 8PM EDT.  It was livestreamed by  The video should start at about T-20 seconds.  Like most static fire tests, it was a WDR (Wet Dress Rehearsal) followed by about seven seconds of firing. 

Screen capture at around the peak brightness.  The US Space Force payload is not yet stacked, so the vehicle will be rolled back to the hanger, the payload and fairing stacked, and then rolled back to the pad.  

The two websites I linked to for launch times on Monday have diverged with one saying the launch will be Monday and the other saying Tuesday.  The commentators on the video talk about Tuesday as well.

In keeping with yesterday's post about SpaceX becoming NASA's largest contractor, they're also becoming more important to the European agencies.  On October 20th, European Space Agency (ESA) director Josef Aschbacher announced that the ESA will contract with SpaceX to launch two important science probes, the Euclid telescope and Hera, a multi-spacecraft mission to a near-Earth asteroid, after all domestic alternatives fell through. The move was due to delays in qualifying the Ariane 6 booster.  

Euclid is a small near-infrared space telescope that has been in development since the early 20-teens.  It is to be launched to the same Earth-Sun Lagrange point as the James Webb Space Telescope, L2.  The Webb is a much broader spectrum instrument from near infrared out to far infrared wavelengths, so they're not competitors; more like extra capability out at L2 for the near-infrared spectrum.  

The other mission, Hera, is considerably more ambitious.  Hera’s mission is to orbit around the near-Earth asteroid Didymos and study the impact crater on its smaller partner, Dimorphos, created last month by the DART mission. Hera has a short, 17-day launch window in October of 2024.  It had been intended to fly on Ariane and was scheduled to be one of the first payloads launched by an Ariane 64 rocket with a new Astris kick stage under development at Arianespace.  Missing that October window could stretch out its mission from two years to more than five years.  Where do you go to find a booster capable of lifting that on short notice?  Exactly.  The same rocket that launched the DART mission.

Hera, left and Euclid renderings.  ESA image

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Too Hard to Categorize

Interesting - but more of a business story than a space exploration story.  Perhaps even a story that shows even the sometimes does something right.  A Tweet by Aviation Week reporter Irene Klotz shows that SpaceX has moved ahead of every other major aerospace company in the US to become NASA’s largest for-profit vendor.  In particular, between FY '21 and '22, SpaceX leapfrogged past Boeing.  While business with Boeing grew from 1.681 to $1.718 billion, 2.2% growth, SpaceX's business grew from 1.629 to $2.044 billion, 25.5%.  Over 11 times more growth.

As you can see from her data, only the California Institute of Technology and its Jet Propulsion Laboratory gathered more funding.  Their increase was around midway between Boeing's and SpaceX's at 12.3%.  The JPL runs the majority of NASA's deep space missions, like the Mars rovers, satellites around Jupiter, Saturn, and many of those other famous probes you know of.  

The main reason for SpaceX's growth, of course, has been their success with Crew Dragon bringing manned spaceflight back to the US, Cargo Dragon for carrying supplies the Space Station, and the failure of Boeing's Starliner to achieve operational status.  When NASA awarded the contracts to both SpaceX and Boeing back in 2014 - with Boeing getting around 60% more money - to develop manned flight to the ISS, the conventional beltway wisdom was that Boeing would be the provider and the brash startup that talked about reusing boosters would fail.  You know the rest of that story. 

Eric Berger at Ars Technica points out:

Much of the funding increase for SpaceX in 2022, an increase of about $400 million over the previous year, appears to be driven by contracts for the Human Landing System as part of the Artemis Moon Program and the purchase of additional Crew Dragon missions to the space station.

That last part about purchasing additional Crew Dragon missions, which means more Crew Dragon and less Starliner, is a direct transfer of NASA money to SpaceX that would have gone to Boeing if Starliner delivered more bang for the buck.   


Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Relativity Space is Aiming to Join SpaceX

I think it's pretty clear that no company has disrupted the launch business like SpaceX.  They're running a launch cadence unmatched by any other company in the world; their work to achieve booster recovery and reuse was done without risk to customers by doing experiments with boosters after they were thrown away (after staging), not to mention moving modern, hi-tech industry development methods into what had been a separate and distinct industry that supposedly made the most reliable, best products in the world. 

Most likely before the end year, we'll see an attempt to disrupt the launch industry yet again; this time by a company founded by people that admire SpaceX and Elon Musk.  People that want to further disrupt things and speed up the goal of putting people on Mars ASAP.  A company that wants to join SpaceX as an industry disruptor. 

Just three months ago, I ran a column on that company, Relativity Space and their plans.  To briefly recap, Relativity Space might best be considered an additive manufacturing company.  Their rocket bodies, engine parts and much of the vehicles parts are 3D printed (14 second time lapse record in this video).  Their first launch vehicle, the Terran 1, is proceeding to its first launch, but while making orbit is important, it isn't really what the launch is about.  The launch is about verifying that the 3D printed components of Terran 1 survive the worst of the launch profile, the maximum dynamic pressures the vehicle will feel and called max q, an important demonstration of the technology.  

Like most engineering, they say they've tested the system to levels worse than max q but there's no test quite as convincing as doing it In Real Life - and in front of customers.

Terran 1 is complex for a rocket in its size class - one ton to low Earth orbit - because while this is a test vehicle, their real goal is something more like a Falcon 9 and called Terran R - "R" for reusable.  To simulate the needed parts better, for example, the smaller rocket will have nine engines including all the hardware required to manage those.  Those are methane/oxygen engines, more like Starship than Falcon 9, with new technology igniters.  The mission could probably be more likely to succeed with fewer, simpler engines.  By mass, 85% of the Terran 1 is 3D printed.  

CEO Tim Ellis is very aware that no privately funded company has achieved orbit on their first attempt but thinks the mission might be "graded on a curve."  That is, if they don't make orbit, customers might decide if it was "close enough."

"While the rocket-loving engineer in me wants to say it's really orbit or nothing for the first flight, I think the business leader part of me knows that customers are going to tell us what enough looks like for the first flight."

Stage one of the Terran 1 rocket undergoing testing at Launch Complex-16 on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.  Relativity Space photo by Trevor Mahlmann.  While the photo is undated, the background reminds me of this test on August 22nd.  (Link to a self-starting video on Twitter)

Not long after this test, stage one was rolled back to their hanger where the second stage is currently being added.  It's expected that in a few weeks (mid-November) the completed vehicle will be rolled out to LC16 again, for more testing, Wet Dress Rehearsals and eventually static firing.

"We’ve bitten off a lot more upfront on the Terran 1 learning so that we can roll it into the Terran R, and get there faster," Ellis said. "That’s some insight into why customers are so excited about Terran R, because when they visit the launch site and look at Terran 1, a lot of their reaction is, 'Wow, this looks more like a miniature Falcon 9 than it does a cubesat launch vehicle.'"

In a few months, probably after the Terran 1 launch, Ellis plans to provide a "comprehensive" update on Terran R to talk about plans for reusability. However, initially, the vehicle will fly in an expendable mode to meet the demands of customers who want a medium-lift rocket, sooner. Much as SpaceX experimented with reusing the first stage, Relativity will practice water landings as well. Second stage reuse will also be folded in over time.

But rest assured, Ellis said that full reuse is coming. It's the future of Relativity Space and, he believes, the industry, as SpaceX develops Starship and other companies have revealed plans for such vehicles.

“They can’t be the only one disruptive medium- to heavy-lift launch company," he said. "Relativity is certainly playing to win."

Sometime recently, I read someone quip that Relativity Space has more money than God.  Maybe not, but funding doesn't appear to be an issue.  In their last fundraising round in 2021, Relativity raised $1.3 billion.  The company currently has nearly 1,000 employees, and a majority of them are working on Terran R, with the goal of completing the full-scale Aeon R engine test about 12 months from now and launching in two years. Likewise, they have a lot of obligations.  Relativity has sold $1.2 billion worth of launches on Terran R and has a "few hundred" million more dollars' worth of contracts under negotiation with customers.

"New Space" is being pretty darned interesting! 



Monday, October 24, 2022

Falcon Heavy Preparing for Next Monday

Sunday evening, SpaceX Tweeted the following picture with a minimal explanation (much larger version of this picture can be downloaded from that link). 

That, of course, is the "business end" of a Falcon Heavy, in the integration facility connected to pad 39A.  Essentially three Falcon 9s - 27 Merlin 1D engines - running at the same time.  Teslarati goes into some details on what has to happen next, updated through this morning when they published.

Thanks to the nature of Falcon Heavy and Pad 39A’s infrastructure, what happens next is more or less guaranteed. During normal Falcon 9 operations, 39A’s integration hangar is large enough for two or three unrelated Falcon boosters to remain while the (Transporter / Erector) T/E rolls inside to pick up a full Falcon 9. More importantly, Falcon 9’s booster and upper stage can technically be integrated off to the side and craned onto the T/E when ready. But with Falcon Heavy, which has a first stage akin to three Falcon 9 boosters sitting side by side, there isn’t enough room inside the hangar to integrate the rocket with the T/E inside.

For Falcon Heavy, the T/E can thus only roll back into the hangar once the rocket’s three boosters and upper stage have been fully assembled and are suspended in mid-air. SpaceX’s October 23rd photo shows that three of the four cranes required for that lift appear to already be in position, further confirming that T/E rollback is imminent. Once the T/E rolls back to the hangar and Falcon Heavy is attached, the rocket will eventually be transported to the pad and brought vertical for wet dress rehearsal (WDR) and static fire testing.

Update: SpaceX began rolling the T/E to Pad 39A’s integration hangar around 1 am EDT, October 24th.

At this point, launch sites (such as this and this) are reporting the launch to be No Earlier Than 9:44 AM on Monday, October 31.  Teslarati's Eric Ralph sounds like he's reluctant to believe that's really going to happen, and adds this:

The US Space Force’s USSF-44 payload – a mysterious pair of satellites that are more than two years behind schedule – will almost certainly not be installed on Falcon Heavy during prelaunch testing, so the rocket will need to roll back to the hangar at least one more time after testing to have its payload fairing attached.

I can only add that "No Earlier Than" means just that.  The soonest someone thought they could be ready to launch was that 9:44 AM on Monday launch.  Launching by next Friday, November 4th, or Thanksgiving (to be absurd) are both NET next Monday. 

This is the vehicle from the last Falcon Heavy mission in June of 2019 being transferred from the horizontal hanger where it's assembled up the ramps to the launch pad.  SpaceX photo.

There's another thing noteworthy about this picture.  This was posted right here on September 10, 2021.  Thirteen months ago.  The story at that time concerned preparations for the USSF-44 mission, NET October 9th.  Today, that mission that looks to be NET October 31, 2022.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Tower Damage Repair Update

Strictly my repair to one of the tower legs, since my last update, last Saturday.  As I said at the end of that post:

To the previous posts, several people suggested tapering a steel bar and driving that up that leg to both open it back up and straighten it.  I intend to try that with a back up of cutting off that bottom ~ 2" and putting a smaller, heavier wall tube into it's place. 

Later that evening I decided on the second option and ordered a 12" long piece of 1.375 Outside and 1.125" Inside diameter aluminum tube along with a piece of 2" on a side, 1/4" thick angle aluminum from one of the online sellers I use regularly.  I have one drawing from the tower company that gives dimensions for the upright tubes; it says the OD is 1.50", the wall thickness is 0.065" and those say the ID of the tower leg will 1.370."  With an ID that's .005 smaller than the tube that's supposed to go into it, that told me I pretty much needed to prepare a way to reduce the diameter of the tube I bought down to about 6 to 8 thousandths less than the tube ID.  That looks like this on my smaller lathe, the Sherline, where every tool is about at its limit for the largest things they can handle. 

That thing just right of the lathe's chuck is called a steady rest, and they're pretty commonly available for all lathes.  It's awkwardly positioned in this view, barely doing anything, but while most people think of a steady rest as more appropriate to skinny stock, like 1/4" diameter rods 6" long, they're really appropriate any time the stock's length is several times its diameter.  What they do is reduce the amount the work flexes away from the cutting tool when it applies force to the metal.  That reduces the chances you'll cut a taper onto whatever you're turning.

It may not be obvious, but no cuts reducing that tube's diameter have been made.  I started asking myself if the wall thickness on those tubes was actually .065" and decided that before I reduce the diameter of that tube, I should know what it needs to be.  I took out my jigsaw and cut about the last two inches off that bent tube to better inspect the area I need to work on.

If you look at the top of this cutoff piece, the most important thing about it is that the profile isn't circular.  The side closest the camera was still badly bent.  Most importantly, it allowed me to measure the wall thickness and see that it was very different than that one drawing.  Instead of .065" the readings were around .058 - making the ID of that leg tubing more like 1.384 (1.500 - (2*.058)). That should mean my 1.375 pipe (which I measured at closer to 1.373) would be a comfortable sliding fit. 

Except it wouldn't slide into the tower leg.  I went to measure it with my telescoping inside diameter gauges (like these but not these) on two diameters at 90 degrees to each other (top/bottom and left/right).  I could see the tube was still flattened out top to bottom. 

After taking off another half inch or so from that leg, it measured closer to the same diameter in both directions, but the test piece of tube still didn't go into the leg.  It seemed like it could be a burr, so I used a brake hone, which I first bought to hone the cylinder on my first internal combustion engine, along with files to reduce any burrs along the cut edges, inside and outside curves.  That did it.

That's the way it sits right now, but I'm not sure if it's ready to proceed.  There's more work to be done before the tower is ready to go back up.  That tube will be secured in the leg with two 1/4-20 stainless bolts and then a replacement for the square bracket that secures the tower to the slab will be made and  put in place. 

Again, this is not being looked at as a permanent fix, just a way to get through the next few months. 

Saturday, October 22, 2022

OneWeb Resumes Its Network Buildout

Space-based internet provider OneWeb took a big step to continuing the build-out of its fleet of satellites with a launch at 1837 UTC from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, India.  Local time in India was 12:07 AM, India Standard Time on Oct. 23.  Here on the east coast of the US that was 2:37 PM on October 22. 

The launch vehicle was a GSLV Mark III, the most powerful rocket in use by the Indian Space Research Organisation.  It lifted 36 of OneWeb's broadband spacecraft into orbit. Less than two hours after launch, all 36 satellites had been successfully deployed in their intended orbits.  

"Happy Diwali to all of you, so we've started the celebration already," ISRO Chairman S. Somanath said after the successful launch, which coincided the Festival of Lights celebrations in India this weekend. "We have accomplished the orbit very accurately."

You might recall that last March when the world cut ties with Russia after the start of the war on Ukraine,  Russia responded by cancelling Roscosmos launches that had already been scheduled and, in some cases, paid for.  OneWeb was one of those customers.  It put them into quite a tight spot. 

Europe has no spare launch capacity, with all of its remaining Ariane 5 launches spoken for, and the Ariane 6 rocket is probably at least two years away from having operational capacity. Last October OneWeb and India's space program, ISRO, reached an agreement to use Indian rockets for future satellite launches. But these rockets have not demonstrated a high launch cadence since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is not clear whether India's PSLV or GSLV Mk. III vehicles will have the capacity to launch several batches of OneWeb satellites in the next 12 to 24 months.

Note that the reference to India's PSLV or GSLV Mk. III perhaps not having the capacity to launch several batches of satellites was on March 4th of this year, and this launch is close to eight months after that. OneWeb later announced a contract with SpaceX to provide more launches.  

The Indian Space Research Organisation Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) for OneWeb satellite internet launches from India on Oct. 22, 2022.  ISRO Photograph

Friday, October 21, 2022

15 Hours of Movement

In fifteen hours, from around sunset at Boca Chica on October 19th, until 10:50AM EDT at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, SpaceX rolled a new Starship, ship or S 25 from the ship yard to the test area on Boca Chica, replaced (re-stacked) S24 onto booster B7, cycled booster B1069-3 from recovery ship onto the deck at Port Canaveral as they prepare to refurbish it, and launched another load of Starlink Satellites on mission 4-36 atop B1062-10 - indicating its 10th flight.  

B1062 launches with Starlink 4-36 while B1069-3 sits at Port Canaveral.  Jenny Hautmann photo

As Chris Bergin at NASA Spaceflight (.com) put it:

I watch the Lab Padre and NASA Spaceflight feeds pretty much everyday, if not for long periods then just checking in.  It was a bit of concern when S24 was unstacked from B7 earlier in the week, but I never saw an official reason of any kind; rumors run from forecasts of high winds to the tiles on Starship moving its center of gravity and making the whole stack crooked.  My only conclusion was that there probably wouldn't be anything dramatic going on this week.  Wednesday evening when I looked at Lab Padre and found S25 moving to the test area, with a road closure that just sprung into being, all I could tell was that something was up. 

I keep saying that it looks like something interesting may be happening in the test campaign at Starbase Boca Chica and keep getting it wrong.  Teslarati reports that ship 25 was lifted onto a test stand with the rams that test the ship's ability to withstand the thrust from the engines, and there are probable road closures next Monday through Friday along with a Marine Safety Information Bulletin warning from the 21st to the 28th, 6AM to 8PM for the first few hundred yards offshore the test area, all of which could imply some sort of static firing.

Or not.

The optimistic view is that we expect to see B7 and S24 go through testing to a Wet Dress Rehearsal, and then a static firing that lights all 33 engines.  If the pair survive the WDR and static fire testing, SpaceX could begin preparing the same pair for Starship’s orbital launch debut.  It's not known what would cause SpaceX to stop on this pair and move onto a different booster/ship combination, but B8 has been at the test area for weeks and not been touched with any testing.  B9, on the other hand, is said to feature significant improvements that will make it more resilient to mid-flight Raptor engine failures. It could also be the first Super Heavy booster with no hydraulic system, thanks to a new version of Raptor that replaces hydraulic thrust vectoring with a battery-powered alternative.  B9 is said to be nearly complete.  

Meanwhile, back at the range, the next Starlink mission (4-37) doesn't have a fixed date that I can find but since it's from SLC 40 like yesterday's flight, it seems like it would have to be at least a week later, maybe more.  There are rumors that the Falcon Heavy mission, from SLC 39A, has been moved from Friday, 10-28, to Monday - Halloween.  That mission is for the Space Force and carries two payloads to geosynchronous orbit.  The payloads have delayed this mission for years, so I'm looking forward to it, but not losing sleep.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

It Appears CAPSTONE Is Healthy Again

A couple of days ago, after mentioning that the Japanese HAKUTO-R M1 satellite that SpaceX is launching in early November will have a longer trip to the moon than the mid-60s era, three-day direct flights, but not as long as CAPSTONE is having, it got me thinking of that program.  While there have been a handful of problems since launch, the loss of control and communication CAPSTONE went through back in mid-September (second part of that post) were what came to mind.  That naturally led me to wonder "what's up with that, now?"  Did they get the spacecraft back under control?

It turns out they did, back on Friday, October 7th.  

Following a planned trajectory correction maneuver on Sept. 8, CAPSTONE suffered an issue that caused the spacecraft to spin beyond the capacity of the onboard reaction wheels to control and counter. Data from the spacecraft suggests the most likely cause was a valve-related issue in one of the spacecraft’s eight thrusters. The partially open valve meant the thruster produced thrust whenever the propulsion system was pressurized. The mission team extensively reviewed telemetry and simulation data and conducted multiple tests on the spacecraft in order to formulate a plan to stop the spacecraft’s spin despite this issue.

The recovery commands were uploaded to the spacecraft on Thursday and executed Friday.  Both the initial telemetry and all observation data indicates it was a successful maneuver.  The spacecraft has stopped its spin and regained full 3-axis attitude control, meaning CAPSTONE’s position is controlled without unplanned rotation. Following that, CAPSTONE oriented its solar arrays to the Sun and adjusted the pointing of its antennas to provide a better data connection to Earth.   

The problem valve is apparently still partially open, or considered to be, which implies that there's a risk of the same uncontrollable rotation issue the next time they need to pressurize the propulsion system.  The mission leader, Advanced Space, posts 

... the spacecraft status will be monitored while the team works to evaluate subsequent changes to the spacecraft operating procedures so that upcoming critical events can be conducted in the possible presence of a valve that remains partially open. In parallel, the mission team will work to design possible fixes for this valve related issue to further reduce the risk of future propulsive operations.

Considering how deep in space it is, it feels silly to say it's not out of the woods yet, but it's looking much better.  The vehicle is on path to insert into it's Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit at the Moon on November 13th. 

CAPSTONE revealed in lunar Sunrise: CAPSTONE will fly in cislunar space – the orbital space near and around the Moon. The mission will demonstrate an innovative spacecraft-to-spacecraft navigation solution at the Moon from a Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit slated for Artemis’ Gateway. Credits: Illustration by NASA/Daniel Rutter.  

As I mentioned back in June, this is the first mission to try to achieve the NRHO, which has been purely theoretical to this point.  As that picture caption points out, the orbit is intended for Artemis' Gateway - essentially a miniature space station that will host crews and vehicles headed for the moon.  Testing out that the orbit behaves as theory says it should makes CAPSTONE essentially the first launch in the Artemis program. 

The NRHO follows an interesting concept and there are some videos worth watching about them. The topic could be a long post by itself.  The video shows how the NRHO can be derived from a Lagrange point L2 orbit, and becomes essentially stable in a lunar polar orbit.  "Essentially stable" means the orbit requires periodic corrections but those aren't as hard to implement as other orbits.  


Wednesday, October 19, 2022

In the Free and Well-Run State of Florida

I heard a news story this afternoon that really impressed me.  The causeway and bridges linking Sanibel Island and the mainland of SW Florida, damaged by Hurricane Ian, were reopened for traffic today.  Ian was coming ashore over there three weeks ago to the day, Wednesday, September 28th.  A good summary and some videos worth watching are over at The Last Refuge (AKA Conservative Treehouse); not one of the places I read daily, but go to occasionally. The first video is 22 minutes while the second is 4:14 and seems to be all drone photographs.

Today Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was in the Punta Rassa area of South Fort Myers to celebrate a remarkable accomplishment.  The Sanibel bridges and causeway are open to civilian traffic. {Direct Rumble Link}

The massive, albeit temporary, repairs to the three spans and spoil islands have been completed three weeks after Hurricane Ian wiped them out.  A genuinely remarkable feat of engineering and git’ r done roughneck effort.  Truly an incredible accomplishment.  To check out the scale of it see PICTURES HERE. [pdf]

Obviously this is fast compared to any other public works repair project most of us have heard of.  Governor DeSantis got the state Department of Transportation (FDOT) authorizations and set everything in motion to repair this on October 4th, with an expected date to complete by the end of the month.  Given 27 days to complete the task, they did it 15 days.  

One week later, October 11, the Governor announced that due to steady progress on repairs to the causeway, a one-time convoy of more than 350 vehicles for utility restoration would be able to safely cross the bridge onto Sanibel Island.  You may have seen reports of all sorts of rescue operations to evacuate people with problems from Sanibel and the entire affected area.  Those got to the island by helicopter or boat. 

Between the article at the Last Refuge and the pdf file from the state, there's a bunch of impressive photos, but I'll be including one before and after set here.  This is called Island 1, of the roughly three mile long causeway, but I don't know if the numbers start from the mainland or the island.  Before:

The angle and view are different in the after photo, but that before view shows the breach of the island pretty clearly while the after view shows the repair well.  Here's the after view:

If you look in the upper right corner of both pictures you can see they're pointing at the same group of buildings.  It has been long enough since I've been to Sanibel that I don't know for sure, but I expect that the mainland is more built up so that's the direction we're looking.

Back during the aftermath of Katrina in New Orleans, an epic disaster mostly caused by NOLA government incompetence, the differences between how our state government and Louisiana's handled storms really struck me.  I don't even remember which storm after Katrina it was, I just remember watching governor Jeb Bush doing some talks on TV and remembering similar talks from Louisiana and New Orleans.  Comparing Jeb's preparation and Louisiana was like watching a SEAL team operation vs. the Keystone Kops.  I'm not going to say DeSantis is making Bush look that bad, but I find this especially impressive.  

To be honest, I have to admit I'm a little bummed that in three weeks, they've built a freaking temporary causeway and I haven't repaired 4" of aluminum tower leg.  I balance that with the fact that I don't have the state's wallet to hire experts to just "make it so." 

To borrow a quote from The Last Refuge:

Governor Ron DeSantis has done a great job, and those who wash with Lava soap and degreaser are inspiringly awesome.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

SpaceX's Polaris Dawn Mission Slipping to NET March '23

Since it was first announced last February, I've been keeping an eye out on the "dribs and drabs" of information coming out about the Polaris Dawn mission and the first private or commercial space walk.  SpaceX is again launching a Jared Isaacman-led crew for a mission, this time with two goals; in addition to the space walk, they intend for Polaris Dawn to be the highest Earth orbit humans have traveled to since the 1960s and the furthest humans have been from the planet since the last Apollo mission in 1972.  In Earth orbit, the record – 1368 kilometers (850 mi) – was set by Gemini XI in September 1966. 

We learned today that the mission, which had been set for "before the end of '22" has slipped out three months to No Earlier Than March of '23. 

Polaris Dawn "will take advantage of Falcon 9 and Dragon's maximum performance, flying higher than any Dragon mission to date and endeavoring to reach the highest Earth orbit ever flown," Polaris Program representatives wrote in a mission description (opens in new tab). "Orbiting through portions of the Van Allen radiation belt, Polaris Dawn will conduct research with the aim of better understanding the effects of spaceflight and space radiation on human health."

The mission will also feature the first commercial spacewalk, which will be performed at an altitude of about 435 miles (700 kilometers), if all goes according to plan. For perspective: The International Space Station orbits an average of about 250 miles (400 km) above Earth.

Isaacman and his three crewmates also aim to raise money for St. Jude Children's Hospital in Memphis, a key goal of Inspiration4 as well.

As of now, this is expected to be launched from pad 39A, as it's the only one that can support crew access to the Dragon Capsule, at least until they update pad 40 as we talked about back in June.  

Polaris Dawn crew, (L-R) Anna Menon, Mission Specialist & Medical Officer; Scott “Kidd” Poteet, Pilot;  Jared “Rook” Isaacman, Mission Commander; Sarah Gillis, Mission Specialist.  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.  More detailed biographies of the four at the bottom of the mission page.  More extensive background story and interviews with each of the four at

Monday, October 17, 2022

SpaceX Now Booking Second Lunar Flyby Tourist Trip

Relatively unnoticed in the news last week was that SpaceX has begun accepting bids for a second tourist flight around the moon in their Starship.  The company has long had a well-publicized plan to send a space tourist on a lunar orbital mission by 2023.  The tourist is Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa who is planning to take a small crew of artists with him. That "by 2023" estimate is from 2018, so it seems a bit more iffy now as Starship still hasn't achieved orbit and I'd expect them to do a lot of testing before taking people on Starship at all, not to mention taking them on a never-before flown mission, but it still looks like it could happen long before Artemis/SLS will go to the moon. 

There are several interesting aspects of this flight, though.  First off, it's the third completely private space mission of Starship.  The first will be Jared Isaacman's Polaris III mission, the first manned flight of Starship; the second will be Maezawa's flight.  Second off, the first seats were bought by none other than Dennis Tito, the first space tourist who bought a ride to the International Space Station in 2001.  Tito bought tickets for himself and his wife, Akiko Tito. 

Dennis Tito said that after his Soyuz ride to space, he always wanted to go back, but there just wasn't a vehicle he trusted.  I guess that means Soyuz didn't leave a really positive impression. 

That changed about a year and a half ago when he and his wife, Akiko Tito, visited SpaceX's headquarters in Hawthorne, California. After a tour, they discussed possible space tourism trips, and it did not take long for the lunar idea to come up. Would Tito be interested in riding aboard SpaceX's Starship vehicle for a flight around the Moon?

"We looked at each other, and we knew right away," Dennis Tito said this week, during an interview with Ars alongside his wife.

"I said yes, I want to go," Akiko Tito added. "We both wanted to go."

Dennis and Akiko Tito, SpaceX photo.

This flight will be a circumlunar flyby that won't land on the moon, but an experience that only a few people in history have had.  Dennis Tito said he wasn't at liberty to say what this flight will cost them.  There's a report that the Starship to be used will have a dozen seats and they appear to be open to bids.  Naturally, the idea of a married couple flying in space together is novel and is getting some attention, but with a dozen seats, you can be pretty sure it won't just be the two of them.  

The timing of this trip depends on how quickly Starship can get into service.  Musk has made it clear that they're being very cautious in development lately, simply because they've learned that a big RUD (Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly) could set them back a lot of months.  Today, for example, they destacked ship 24 from booster 7 and I can find no published reason for it.

The timeline for all of these missions hinges on the development of the Starship vehicle, which may make a debut orbital test flight in the coming months from South Texas. After that, the large, fully reusable launch system will fly dozens of uncrewed missions, mostly carrying Starlink payloads, before humans climb on board. This is because Starship will make a propulsive landing back on Earth—something no crew vehicle has ever done—and has no backup should there be some sort of landing failure. 

Dennis Tito realizes he's going to have to wait, and that's complicated by the fact that he just turned 82.  He and Akiko have both been given flight-level physicals and passed with no issues, but the longer Starship takes to get to this point, the riskier it gets.  I'm guessing most of us have some experiences with age not being kind to us.  The oldest (former) astronaut to spend time on orbit was John Glenn, who took a nine day flight on a Space Shuttle in 1998 at age 77.  If you include suborbital flights, then William Shatner's ride on Blue Origin's New Shepard at age 90 last October is the high bar.


Sunday, October 16, 2022

The New Dark Ages

There has been wider conversation than usual on blogs I read about something I’ve mentioned several times over the years; that we’re not just headed for a global collapse involving much of (all of) the West, we seem to be headed to a second Dark Ages.  The talk has been centered on whether or not we’re already in the New Dark Ages (which I’m going to shorten to NDA because I expect to use that a lot).  The talk seems to have started with a post from Borepatch in turn referencing a post about results from the James Webb Space Telescope contradicting the “standard model” of cosmology, the Big Bang Theory (TBBT).  Aesop at Raconteur Report replies that he thinks we’re in the slide into the Dark Ages and that slide started in the mid-1800s.

Let me begin by saying that the dates of something like the (original) Dark Ages, or any period in history are arrived at by committee.  They’re no more absolute or valid by decree than something like the Big Bang Theory; they’re a consensus.  We will never know when the NDA starts (or started) but years from now, historians will assign a date.  

Both Borepatch and Aesop are right about the decline in science in the world and that it has been going on for along time, and I've written about it many times (for example).  Does that itself indicate the NDA has begun?   I don’t think so, in itself.  Yes, there has been a steady decline in new, important science compared to the early 20th century, but there are other explanations involved.  

A good starting point is to ask what science is.  I’m an extremely hard-core advocate of the idea that if an experiment can’t be done to test predictions, it’s simply not science.  By itself, that says extremely well-regarded things can’t be considered science; things like TBBT, the modern Theory of Evolution, the modern “Climate Change” hustle and many, many more.  These are supported by observations and computer models, but anyone who hasn’t realized those models can be made to say anything the author wants hasn’t worked around computer models for any length of time.  

Here, I fall back on a quote from a guy whom I’ve considered a role model since I first came across him around 40 years ago, Richard Feynman: “It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it disagrees with experiment, it's wrong.”  Like Feynman, I'm almost a militant experimentalist.  If it can't be demonstrated in a controlled experiment, it's not science, it's faith.  

As an example of the difference, as a design engineer in microwave communications, I spent literally days at a time simulating how a circuit, antenna or other thing would work before we built the first one.  These models are based on Maxwell’s equations, science that has been experimentally verified for over a hundred years.  The software was from independent, competing, software companies that would spend hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars a year improving their algorithms to accurately predict what these circuits and things would do.  They did this by designing experiments and testing how accurate the predictions were.  Remember, these are competing companies, and they used their accuracy as a selling point.  How much is spent on the climate change models and verifying how accurate they are by experiment?  Does anyone ever talk about verifying the models?  I’ve read they don’t spend anything on that, but don’t know for sure.  Their Global Climate Models are parameterized and the parameters are tweaked to agree with some measured data, which isn’t necessarily accurate.  They change the model to give them the answer they want but don’t necessarily know that the changes improved the model for all situations or just the ones they checked.  They’re not founded on established science.

That doesn’t mean that only physics is real science.  The vast majority of biology, chemistry, geology and the subjects taught in (what used to be called) “Colleges of Arts and Sciences” are science, but there as aspects that aren’t really science.  Math is real science because mathematical proof establishes that everything about it can be checked and is consistent.  Every kid knows (or should know) that any subtraction problem can be checked by addition, division by multiplication, and the ability to prove correctness carries as far as you care to go.  

Virtually all of modern medicine is improved by constant experimentation, although corruption has institutionalized things that haven’t been proven by experiment.  If an engineer did what some of these epidemiologists did with their correlational “he-who” studies we’d be doing hard time in Federal prison.  It can be hard to recognize when something sneaks into those academic programs that can’t be verified by experiment.  

Until some organization can replicate the conditions of a developing/evolving world, including tracking results for billions of years, I can’t consider it anything other than an observation.  Start with the best models of the just formed world and watch one for a billion years or two.  See if anything spontaneously generates.  Without experimental backup, I see no semantic difference between saying evolution selected for some characteristic and saying there was intelligent design.  Either way, you haven’t experimentally verified anything.  Except the first one allows people to feel better about themselves. 

The things that rely on real world science and application - engineering - are relatively healthy, still doing great and remarkable things, but a side effect of that is as the specialization of the knowledge required goes up, the number of people who can do it goes down.  Take microprocessors - a tremendous invention that has improved the world in uncountable ways.  Last data I have says there are only four companies on Earth that can work at the smallest current geometries.  Is another, smaller-transistor sized generation in the future?  Quantum processors?  Processor speed hasn't really improved in a decade or more.  CPUs were running at 3 GHz 10 years ago.  If Moore's Law was still running, they'd be running at 12 or 15 GHz by now.  The fact that they aren’t implies operating at that speed is fundamentally too hard.  What if to get transistors to 15 GHz requires massively expensive new semiconductor plants?  Further, what if the science that says that isn’t widely accepted as good science, and to do the experiment would cost far more than any company would be willing to gamble?  

Think of analog signal processing.  Yes, it still goes on and it's the same way.  There's a small handful of places that can do it.

While the semiconductor foundries are still big and still have many engineers working there, the number of designers that can design the entire chip is shockingly small.  The number in the world would fit comfortably in conference center.  

Can it keep going?  

The age of big construction projects and civil engineering projects is apparently over, mostly because of NIMBY reactions blocking it, and those are unfortunately too often linked to “junk science.”  Could a modern Golden Gate bridge be built?  A modern Hoover dam?  

The slow down in big new physics discoveries is tied to the expense and difficulty of getting to the energy levels they need.  The JWST discoveries depend on things that have never been done before - the size of the telescope, not just being in space but at the L2 point so that it can get down to the temperatures required to see those wavelengths.  I've read of creating particle accelerators so big they need to be put in space.  Will any country or society do that?  The increase in costs that hinder the advance of physics limit the giant construction projects.  

The other problem areas that come to mind seem to be education-related and I think with the news showing what a hot mess education is, I don’t need to say much.  I think of the bridge that collapsed at FIU a few years ago, apparently because of incompetent hires at some point in the process.  Add in the Boeing 737 issues and you wonder if everything gets higher risk and more likely to kill you.

The reason I’m reluctant to say the NDA has begun is because my threshold isn’t just that we’re not advancing properly or fast enough, it’s that the new people take the old inventions so much for granted that it’s not just that they don’t understand how to replicate them, they lose the idea that such things ever existed.  I think there’s a real possibility that relied-upon integrated circuits that are old can fall into that trap.

Years ago, someone had the story about a Roman villa that was unearthed somewhere in central Europe.  (Yeah, I'm fuzzy on the details).  Like the modern discovery of Roman mosaics, it was gorgeous, and one of the discoveries was the villa had a form of central heating.  The people who discovered it were puzzled to find burned marks on the floors in some rooms.  They came to the conclusion they were from fires set to warm the place.

The people who lived there a few hundred years after it was built not only couldn't run the central heat, they had no concept of what central heat was or what it could do, so they lit fires on the floor.  They knew nothing from their past.

We're not at that point exactly, yet, but I think you can see it in the future.   

Image from the movie "I Am Legend."  Not at all about New Dark Ages, but I think a Zombie Apocalypse would bring one.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Running Late, So Tower Repair Update

I had started working on an idea that's turning into a Smallest Minority-style "uberpost" and it's looking like there's no way I can finish that in time, so a couple of quick updates on the tower work, simply because I can write this off the top of my head.  The task is turning into a bigger, more involved fix than I really wanted to work on.  Thankfully, it turned into fall back in September - kind of unusual for us - and it's not that bad working outside.  

The majority of the work this past week has been completing the tool that I intended to use to clamp around the tower legs and try to make the one leg round again.  Or, at least, rounder.  

The finished tool.  That's a little over 2" long, 1-7/8" square block of gray cast iron that was machined there on the mill.  It was painfully slow to do, for two reasons.  First off, I find cast iron to be a bitch to machine.  It goes beyond dirty to filthy in the chips it throws.  Second, the sheer size of it made getting tools onto the milling machine far more tedious than usual.  When I used my boring head, I could cut about a .050 radius to full depth either by CNC at 1 inch/minute or cut by hand, as long as vacuumed out the cast iron chips often. 

Why the mill and not my big lathe?  I still have the piston from my 1 by 1 engine on it that I haven't finished (and haven't worked on for a host of other times sinks) that's a position sensitive setup.  I really need to finish that.  "All I gotta do" is finish the two channels for the piston rings - so that I can get it off the big lathe and get access to it.  

The tool clamped onto a round section of the tower leg.

My approach was to slide that tool closer to the obvious kink in the tube and clamp down on it, reshaping the tower leg a few thousandths at a time.  It worked to some degree, but when I went to get a bigger, apparently stronger C-clamp, I did something I've never done; something I didn't even know was possible to do.  The clamp you see there opens to 3" and I replaced it with a 4" clamp.  

I bent it.  By hand.  Just by tightening the clamping action bare handed - not with a "half inch breaker bar."  

Then I went got the even bigger 5" C-clamp.  For that one, I got a short length of pipe to help me tighten the clamping screw.  That bent the handle on the clamping screw.  I took my jigsaw to the that clamp and cut it apart because with the screw bent to 90 degrees, it was impossible to loosen.  I might have found a way around cutting the clamp screw in half, but I had pretty much burned up every nanogram of patience I have by then.

The smaller clamp on the right is bent down close to the handle.  The top of the clamp, lower right, is no longer aligned with the other screw; it's about 1/4" off the table and it closes with the two clamping surfaces out of alignment.  You can see the damage on the one on the left. 

As I've mentioned before somewhere, the tower leg is bent over it's bottom two inches.  

In the second picture you can see a slot in the tube below that bend. I'm sorta following a procedure here that's like an anonymous comment to my last post.  To the previous posts, several people suggested tapering a steel bar and driving that up that leg to both open it back up and straighten it.  I intend to try that with a back up of cutting off that bottom ~ 2" and putting a smaller, heavier wall tube into it's place.  

If end up cutting off the bottom two inches and attaching a smaller tube inside this one, I can use the existing fastener in the concrete slab with some luck.  If I'm using this leg, I'll avoid that slot and drill a new bolt hole perpendicular to the axis of that one; across the tube from this viewing angle.  Either way, I'm replacing the small piece of angle aluminum (2"x2"x1/4" thick).  If I drill perpendicular to that slot, I might put identical pieces of angle aluminum on both sides of the leg and two new fasteners in the concrete slab it's sitting on.