Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Small Space News Story Roundup

SpaceX scrubbed this morning's launch of the ispace Hakuto R M1 lunar mission at 11PM last night citing (as they regularly do) the reason as, “to allow for additional pre-flight checkouts.”  About an hour ago they announced they're standing down from tomorrow morning's launch for more check out.  As you can see at the top (newest) tweet, no new launch time has been announced.

While this sort of scrub twice in two days isn't common, I vaguely recall one within the year.  They are riding quite a wave of successful launches of the Falcon 9 and considering every launch generally comes at the end of years of work at the cost of millions of dollars, I have to respect their decision to be as careful as they need to be. Caution is definitely called for. 

This mission is actually carrying two payloads to the moon.  In addition to the ispace Hakuto R, NASA is sending a 6U size CubeSat to the Moon on this Falcon 9 launch as a secondary passenger.  Called the Lunar Flashlight mission, the briefcase-sized satellite is bound for a near-rectilinear halo orbit around the Moon, similar to the one the CAPSTONE mission entered earlier in November, and the one Artemis Orion is currently temporarily occupying. The purpose of this mission is to shine light into permanently dark areas near the lunar poles in search of water ice. 

Rocket Lab is on the verge of carrying out their first launch from the US, from the facilities they've built at Wallops Island, Virginia. The launch is currently set for No Earlier Than December 7th, next Wednesday, although no time has been given yet.  

The “Virginia Is For Launch Lovers” mission will deploy three satellites for radio frequency geospatial analytics provider HawkEye 360, with integration of those satellites to Electron taking place in the coming days at Rocket Lab’s ICF (Integration and Control Facility).  Meanwhile, NASA is continuing to make progress in certifying its Autonomous Flight Termination System (AFTS) software required for the launch. This will be the first time an AFTS will be flown from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, representing a valuable new capability for the nation.

While “Virginia Is For Launch Lovers” will be Electron’s first launch from the U.S., Rocket Lab has already conducted 32 Electron missions from Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand, delivering 152 satellites to orbit for customers including NASA, the National Reconnaissance Office, DARPA, the U.S. Space Force and a range of commercial constellation operators. Electron is already the most frequently launched small orbital rocket globally and now with the capacity of the pads at Launch Complex 1 and 2 combined, Rocket Lab has more than 130 Electron launch opportunities every year.

The launch window is stated to run from December 7 - 20.  Those of you in the area of Wallops Island probably have a place you know of to watch launches; if not, the Rocket Lab Website lists a couple of places.   For the rest of us, it will be streamed online starting about T-40 minutes.  I usually just search for Rocket Lab at the top level on YouTube and watch there.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

SpaceX Does Another B7 Static Fire on Fewer Engines

Apparently after a couple of false starts yesterday that ended with no static fire, SpaceX got their stuff together today and completed another relatively long duration static fire of Booster 7.  The main difference between today and the major test they did back on November 14th is that today's test involved 11 engines instead of the 14 tested two weeks ago.  

SpaceX photo from Twitter.

Today's test was longer than the previous test, but not dramatically longer; more like 13 or 14 seconds instead of 10 seconds.  So why the decrease in the number of engines tested?  With nothing official to go by, I can only speculate and relay other peoples' speculations.  The chat on the sides of both NASA Spaceflight and Lab Padre, was talking about SpaceX testing the ability for the self-warming and expansion of the cryogenic fuel and liquid oxygen to replace the helium they've been pumping into the the tanks.  This is an approach called autogenous pressurization.  There is also talk that to adequately test autogenous pressurization takes more like 20 seconds than today's shorter test.

They use helium because it remains a gas quite a bit cooler than the fuel and oxidizer and the helium pressure helps force the liquids into the pipes that deliver it to the "active bits" that need the liquids.  Here in technological civilization, helium isn't generally a supply issue, but on Mars it's another thing that Mars civilization 1.0 (or Moon 1.0) will need to produce - or bring along - if they ever plan to leave the planet. 

While I'd seen that concept talked about before today, I assumed that the way SpaceX develops and tests their hardware meant they'd go directly to a higher number of engines.  There has been talk that the next static fire test will be all 33 engines in the Superheavy booster, but there was also talk they'd do more engines firing today, whether 22, or something else short of the full 33.  It goes without saying that they'll do whatever they think is the next most important test to do.  

Meanwhile, all we can do is wait and watch.  I expect that the first launch for an orbital attempt will be in January.  The 33 engine static test and full-up Wet Dress Rehearsal could well be in December.   The more successful today's tests were, the more likely bigger tests are coming.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Good-Bye to A Most Abnormal Normal Hurricane Season

Wednesday, November 30th is the last day of the 2022 Atlantic Hurricane Center, and with no areas considered to be likely to develop, it seems safe to be saying, "it's over" and do a little post-action summary.  Good-bye and good riddance.  Prior to the start of the season, predictions called for the season to be more active than normal.  In retrospect it was about 75% of normal, based on the Accumulated Cyclone Energy or ACE, a product of strength of the storms and the amount of time they existed.  The real oddity of the season was the distribution of storms.  

After three weak, early-season storms, the Atlantic basin produced zero named storms between July 3 and August 31. This was the first time since 1941 that the Atlantic had no named storm activity during this period. Then, a light came on. Four hurricanes formed in September, along with three more in November. This brought seasonal activity to near-normal levels.  [Bold added - SiG]

2022 ACE - Colorado State University  The black curve is the climatological normal while the light blue is this year.  This year's ACE, 95, is three-quarters of the normal value of 126.

It gets odder.  This year has been a La Nina year in the El Nino/La Nina cycles (the El Nino Southern Oscillation or ENSO) and the overall picture for a La Nina year is to be more conducive to tropical system development.  El Nino years get high level winds - wind shear - that "blows the tops off" storms that go ahead and develop in La Nina  years.  In August, the wind shear was higher than normal in the parts of the Atlantic where storms develop.  The wind shear was accompanied by drier air from the mid-latitudes, from 30 to 60 degrees north, flowing into the more southerly latitudes.  

A current emphasis of the analysis of why this season was weaker than predicted is a phenomenon called "wave-breaking," which has nothing to do with ocean waves but rather low pressure waves in the air above those mid-latitudes.  Phil Klotzbach, one of the world's foremost seasonal hurricane forecasters, put it this way.

"Wave breaking is associated with upper-level low-pressure systems that have anomalous upper-level westerlies on their southern periphery. These upper-level westerlies increase vertical wind shear. Also, mid-latitude air is typically drier than tropical air, stifling thunderstorm development and effectively choking African easterly waves."

While there's evidence wave breaking was a factor in the odd season, it's apparently not the only factor.  Needless to say, the quiet August was broken soon, on September 1st by the formation of Tropical Storm Daniel.  

Five additional storms followed in the next three weeks, with Hurricane Ian being the strongest of them. With maximum sustained winds of 150 mph at landfall along the southwestern coast of Florida, Ian is tied with five other hurricanes for the fifth strongest continental US hurricane landfall on record.

Another surprise came in November when the late-season Hurricane Nicole formed. It eventually made landfall along the southeast coast of Florida as a Category 1 hurricane.

We were affected by both Ian and Nicole here on the Space Coast; both were tropical storm force while affecting us.  In my book, hurricane seasons weaker than climatological are a feature, not a bug, and I'll take all I can get that way.  It is an interesting season, though, when things like this year's La Nina, which were expected to increase activity don't do that.  

I've often said that hurricanes are good disasters for the lazy man, so I like them. There's no need to go get in line for plywood for your shutters, canned food or bottled water or any of that.  No need for the French Toast line we see in northern snowstorms (milk, eggs and bread).   All of it is stuff you can prepare for months or years in advance. Yeah, you have to go put up the shutters and do some stuff in advance of the storm, but you sure don't need to be in line at stores. Or in line at a FEMA tractor trailer for food and water handouts afterwards.


Sunday, November 27, 2022

Happy 100th, Sparky!

I only just learned that yesterday, 11/26, would have been Charles Schultz 100th birthday. Most of the comics I read online had tributes to Schultz yesterday or today.  Unfortunately, Schulz passed away in 2000 at age 77.  I saw this cartoon on - it's also on

As soon as I started looking at the cartoon, this tune started playing in my head.  While I think of it as being from the annual Halloween special, "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown," the song's name is Linus and Lucy, by the great Vince Guaraldi Trio, and it appears in other shows.  

Yeah, I grew up on the Peanuts comic strip like many of you; it was one of my favorites.  I still have a soft spot for it.  Old strips are still available.


Saturday, November 26, 2022

Mars Ingenuity Helicopter Flies Again

Back in May, as winter was closing in on the Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter, there were concerns that the components on the little helicopter wouldn't survive the cold Martian winter.   

The NASA engineers have had to take some fairly drastic steps to preserve Ingenuity's battery charge. For example, they have now commanded the helicopter's heaters to come on only when the battery's temperature falls to -40°, far colder than the previous point of 5° Fahrenheit. It is not known how many of the off-the-shelf components on the vehicle will fare without this additional heating during the cold Martian nights.

This week (November 22nd) we learned that the little helicopter survived the coldest part of winter unscathed, is flying again, and NASA had done a major software upgrade to improve its usefulness.  That upgrade was tested by taking the shortest test flight it had ever flown. 

Ingenuity's 34th flight, which took place on Tuesday (Nov. 22), lasted only 18 seconds and saw the helicopter briefly hover after takeoff above Mars' surface before landing just 16 feet (5 meters) away from its starting point. The flight, the first since Sept. 29, was the first try-out of a new software system that was beamed to Ingenuity from Earth to improve its ability to operate in the rugged terrain that its parent Perseverance rover is currently exploring.

Ingenuity has been a spectacularly successful technology demonstration but it was designed for smooth terrain and as NASA JPL has gotten more comfortable with the little flyer, they've gotten more comfortable with the idea of flying it in more complicated landscapes.  This has the effect of forcing the helicopter to find smoother landing areas.  

...The new software will use Ingenuity's downward-facing camera to detect risky objects before landing and steer Ingenuity to avoid them, allowing the chopper to use smaller airfields.

"While in flight, Ingenuity will identify the safest visible landing site," the Ingenuity team said in a statement (opens in new tab). "When preparing to land, Ingenuity will then divert over to this selected site."

It turns out the Law of Unintended Consequences works on Mars, too (as if we had any doubt).  Since the helicopter was designed to fly over flat fields, its software previously could get confused by seeing a hilly landscape underneath it. The old software would misread the elevation changes as though its own elevation was changing; assuming it was descending rather than the ground coming up at it (and vice versa).  That would lead the helicopter to "think" it was veering, which would make it actually veer while in flight in a misguided attempt to stabilize its course.  The new software will also make Ingenuity appear more confident in flight.  To whomever or whatever is watching.

Image from Ingenuity's 18 second test flight on Nov. 22.  NASA photo.

Friday, November 25, 2022

NASA's Perserverance Mars Rover Both Is and Isn't Where They Wanted

No, that's not from quantum superposition; Perseverance is where they intended it to land, Jezero crater on Mars; it's just that Jezero crater isn't turning out to be what it was expected to be.  

The Perseverance rover landed in Mars' Jezero Crater largely because of extensive evidence that the crater once hosted a lake, meaning the presence of liquid water that might once have hosted Martian life. And the landing was a success, placing the rover at the edge of a structure that appeared to be a river delta where the nearby highlands drained into the crater.

But a summary of the first year of data from the rover, published in three different papers being released today, [November 23 - SiG] suggests that Perseverance has yet to stumble across any evidence of a watery paradise. Instead, all indications are that water exposure in the areas it explored was limited, and the waters were likely to be near freezing. While this doesn't rule out that it will find lake deposits later, the environment might not have been as welcoming for life as "a lake in a crater" might have suggested.

Like all deep space probes, Perseverance can be seen as a collection of instruments that (in this case) can be driven around the Martian landscape to take samples of the environment and measure the properties of rocks and things.  The rover has "eyes", a pair of cameras on its mast, that can create stereo images with 3D information, and offer information on what wavelengths are present in the images. It also carries instruments that can be held up to rocks to determine their content and structure; even going so far as to have remote sample-handling hardware which can perform a chemical analysis of materials taken from rocks.  

Spectroscopic tools are excellent at telling us about the chemical composition of rocks, but not how the chemicals are distributed in those rocks, while there are X-ray analysis tools that offer inexact chemical information, but tell us how the chemicals it detects are located compared to the rock's visible features. Finally, the cameras on the rover's mast can help us identify how widely distributed similar-looking rocks are.

Collectively, these tools tell us that Perseverance sampled rocks from two different deposits so far. The first includes the crater floor where it landed, which is rich in iron- and magnesium-based minerals. Above that is a separate formation that appears to be volcanic rock, although we can't rule out that it was formed by rock liquified following an impact.


But the big question is whether the materials show indications that water was present. The answer there is a bit of a "yes, but..."

Perseverance on Mars, NASA/JPL photo.  I can almost hear the rover saying, "no, ossifer, I swear I didn't leave those donuts!" 

The source article dives a bit into minerals in the olivine family, making the case that olivine minerals dissolve too easily to be a good indicator to study, and that there are no strong indications that the environment there at Jezero crater is similar to what was envisioned during mission planning. 

All of this, of course, is relevant to our ability to infer things about Mars' prior habitability. But the same work also provided some more directly relevant evidence. For example, the presence of olivine also indicates that any life that was present in these deposits couldn't have been closely associated with the minerals, as the microbes would also have been unable to obtain energy from an environment that left the olivine intact.

The rover also picked up signs of organic chemicals, in the form of chemicals with one or more benzene-like rings. That description could fit some of the chemicals involved in life on Earth, but could also fit a wide variety of other materials.



Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Happy Thanksgiving 2022

It has been an uncomfortable week for a couple of reasons, but unlike our usual Thanksgiving, we'll be staying home tomorrow.  I'll probably take the day off and be generally useless, and I encourage everyone to do the same.  

Uncomfortable reason #1.  We have two "senior" cats (in human years they'd be pushing 80) and it has been a trying year with both of them.  The first was our guy cat, Mojo or just plain Moe.  He had a problem on his annual physical with blood counts being "wrong."  Nothing that blood tests for lymphoma or other cancers could reveal but it culminated a few months ago with surgery for what I think would be called periodontal disease in humans; a large lump on his lower left jaw.  Since that surgery, he has behaved more like himself than he has since the medications started last March.  

Which leads us to the acute uncomfortable reason this week with our girl cat Aurora.  She had some abnormal kidney results in her annual blood tests last March and we were told to retest her in six months.  We've been going to doctors back and forth for the two cats for weeks.  Last weekend, she started displaying labored breathing and we got her into the doctor Monday morning, spending most of the day there. They drained a lot of fluid from around her lungs.  Two weeks before, she hadn't been eating and the current guess is the steroids that were helping her appetite caused the fluid around her lungs.  Since Monday, her breathing has gotten much more normal looking.  She's being a bit more active, still eating and generally acting more normally than she has in a while.    

Uncomfortable reason #2 is me.  I wrote about the bike accident Saturday, and yesterday (day +3) it threw me a curve.  I was up at 5AM to react to Mojo yanking my chain (during some part of his long year with lots of drug experiments, he learned to get me up somewhere between 3 and 5 for breakfast).  As usual, I went back to bed and slept a few hours.  When I woke, I was so dizzy and nauseated, I could hardly get out of bed.  From normal to that dizzy in a few hours.  After sitting up for a while, no coffee, no nothing, I called my doctor's office.  The tech said, get to the ER NOW and get a CT scan.

I spent Tuesday from around noon to 4PM in the emergency room of the nearest hospital.  The good news is there is no brain bleed, no clots, no skull fractures, nothing serious.  The ER doctor said something to effect that they diagnose "concussion" once all the bad stuff has been ruled out, so I have a concussion.  They call the dizziness plain old vertigo (which I've never had in my life).  I have an epic black eye, the worst I can remember in my life, but to me that's the only thing that makes it seem like I got hit on my head hard enough to concuss. 

I'm on a common anti-dizziness pill for vertigo, meclizine, which is an old antihistamine similar to the Dramamine that's a common over-the-counter pill for sea-sickness and both are sold for travelers' motion sickness.  The meclizine reduces the dizziness but doesn't eliminate it and I'll be having a followup with my GP.  The dizziness is most noticeable with fast movements, like standing or sitting too fast, even rolling over in bed.  I have a referral to an Ear Nose and Throat guy, since vertigo typically is an inner ear problem.  I'll call my allergist and see if he thinks it's worth coming in.   

But, hey, my shiner is starting to turn green around the edges, and since I haven't been exposed to Bruce Banner or his cousin Jennifer Walters, there's pretty much a zero chance turning green means I'm turning into a Hulk and that means the shiner is healing.  Otherwise, that would be Hulk, She-Hulk and Goober-Hulk, and that's even too much for the Marvel MCU or even Disney+.

Well, enough about me and the cats.  However you spend your Thanksgiving, I wish you the best.  Take some time to be deliberately thankful - even for the troubles of life.  Yeah, being grateful for troubles sounds odd, but it sure seems in retrospect that growth occurs in response to trouble, not in response to idyllic wonderfulness.  

Thanks to the EMTs, Nurses, Doctors, LEOs, Firefighters and others who work Thanksgiving so we can have the day off.  Thanks to the military men and women who keep the barbarians from the gates and give us the chance to relax.  For now, eat, drink, and be merry. Who knows what next year brings? 

My smoked turkey from last year.  If the dizziness doesn't go away by Friday morning, it will be cooked in the oven for the first time in years. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Doing My Black Friday Post Early This Year

Part of the reason for doing it early is that I think I get around 25 emails proclaiming "Black Friday" sales prices every day, and I wouldn't be surprised if 25/day holds all the way back to November 1st.  I swear I've been seeing some kind of reference to Black Friday deals since mid-summer.  

About a week ago, I told Mrs. Graybeard that if I got one more Black Friday sales notice, I might break my computer.  

What they've done, instead of making shoppers (at least, this shopper) think that some special sales are going on, is to convince us that there's no such thing as Black Friday anymore.  As I've said before, when every day is Black Friday, no day can be Black Friday - in the usual sense of a special day that kicks off the Christmas shopping season.  It has just become another way of saying "SALE" in every retail place that pushes it. 

Black Friday was supposedly called that because it was the day where businesses turned their annual ledgers from red ink to black ink, but in the last few years it seems to have morphed into something else.  It has been reported for years that the big deals aren't necessarily really deals at all (2014 study), or that some companies raise their prices in the weeks (months?) before the day so that what would have been a normal, small discount from MSRP suddenly seems like a deal.  It's being reported (2016) that more and more people are carrying their smartphone into the stores to price check things, compare price and availability at other stores, or get coupons.  I confess: I've done it and not just this time of year. 

Once there started to be a perception that good deals came on Black Friday, it was only a matter of time until it became just another way of saying “BIG SALE!”  But shoppers like to think they're getting big deals, and there are stores that put one or two items on a massive discount to get some people to line up the night before.  Maybe they can get some buzz on the news.  Of course, now that stores are opening on Thanksgiving itself, Friday seems like it loses some drawing power.  Regardless, every year there's some incident where people get violent (2016) over something stupid.

It always pays to know what going prices are.  I've heard that generally speaking, the best time for deals is closer to Christmas, especially right before Christmas.  You'll get better prices than this week, but it's a gamble.  You're betting that the stores will be stuck with something you want and would rather discount it than not sell it.  If they sell out first you lose.  If they don't sell out but still won't or can't cut the price, again you lose.  That said, it has worked out for me in the past.  It's sort of like calling a bluff in poker. 

Retail is a rough way to make a living. I'm sure you've heard how airline reservation systems base the seat price on the apparent interest in a flight.  If you go back and check on the price of that seat every week, the system says there must be more demand for that flight and raises the price.  What if stores could measure real time demand and adjust the price.  Say you're looking for a new tool or other gadget; what if they see someone checking the web site regularly and interpret that as several people interested in that item and raised its price?  Would you be upset or offended?  What if they dropped the price to see at what level you can't resist pushing the Glistening, Candy-like, "BUY" button?  I don't have any hard evidence that anyone does that, but it seems trivial for an online store to track interest in something.  Their biggest risk is scaring away or alienating customers.

To me the Golden Rule is the willing seller/willing buyer.  If people are happy with what they paid, regardless of whether or not it really is "the best price of the year," and the seller is happy with the price they got for it, that's definition of a fair price.  I'm sure not gonna poop in someone's corn flakes by telling them they didn't get the best price ever. 


Monday, November 21, 2022

Once is Happenstance; Twice is Coincidence;

Everyone knows the quote attributed to Ian Fleming, "Once is happenstance.  Twice is coincidence.  Three times is enemy action."  In this case all three are design decisions.  

If all goes as scheduled, at 9:57 PM EST Monday night, SpaceX will launch the Eutelsat 10B geostationary communications satellite.  What's the 1-2-3?  In a rare coincidence, Eutelsat 10B will be SpaceX’s second expendable Falcon 9 launch in a row and the third Falcon launch to expend a booster this month - the first being the Falcon Heavy launch that started the month.  

The Falcon 9 user's guide has always said that there were missions from which recycling a booster wasn't possible.  Because of that, those missions are more expensive.  All of these three missions are that sort of profile.  The Falcon Heavy mission recovered the two strap-on boosters but the center core "gave its all" to achieve the desired orbit.  The other mission they refer to was the Intelsat Galaxy 31 & 32 mission last week, which said it needed to expend the booster to achieve its geostationary orbit transfer trajectory.  That appears to be the case for Eutelsat 10B as well, although Eric Ralph at Teslarati phrases it this way:

For unknown reasons, the French communications provider paid extra to get as much performance as possible out of Falcon 9, requiring SpaceX to expend the rocket’s booster instead of attempting to land and reuse it. 

Although landing the booster and reusing it is the spectacular aspect of Falcon 9 flights, gathering the most attention, there are other recoveries, too and that will be in operation for tonight's launch.  (As an aside, booster 1049 to be disposed of on this mission is the oldest block 5 booster in the system; on it's 10th flight, it's well behind the 14th flight of the current leaders.)  

We're talking, of course, about recovering the payload fairings that surround the payload satellites through the densest part of the atmosphere.  Along with the booster recoveries, SpaceX has also managed to become the first launch entity in the world to successfully recover and reuse the fairings.  

There have been 52 Falcon launches so far this year.  Of those, four were variants of the Dragon capsule that doesn't use fairings at all.  Of the 48 that flew with fairings, 40 have launched with at least one reused fairing half.  Elon Musk at one time gave a rough estimate of 10% of the cost of a new Falcon 9 being in the fairings.  Given the (approximate) cost of the Falcon 9, that means the complete fairing costs in range of 6.2 to $6.7 million.  Would you spend some money to go catch $6.2 million?  The question is how cost effectively you can do it. 

You might recall the early attempts to recover fairings were based on catching the fairings in mid-air with huge nets above boats (Ms. Tree and Ms. Chief).  Given the success to effort ratio, they eventually decided to seal everything better so the saltwater immersion isn't as threatening and fish the fairing halves out of the water.  Waterproofing instead of catching them with big nets.  

A Falcon 9 fairing half floats on the Pacific in 2018.  SpaceX Photo  

Eric Ralph's notes on distances offshore for this and other fairing recovery missions are a bit tough to understand.  One Tweet points out that Recovery ship Doug is roughly 550 nautical miles downrange, in position for tonight's launch.  A few paragraphs later he says Eutelsat is, "Aiming for a region 1015 kilometers (630 mi) downrange," says that may be a record, but in the previous paragraph about November 1st's Falcon Heavy flight says, 

Despite the booster’s disposal and record-smashing speed at main engine cut-off (MECO; 4 km/s or 8900 mph), SpaceX still managed to recover both of Falcon Heavy’s hypersonic fairing halves after they reentered Earth’s atmosphere and splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean almost 1500 kilometers (~930 mi) downrange. Eleven days later, SpaceX expended a Falcon 9 rocket to launch two Intelsat communications satellites. Once again, both fairing halves were recovered – this time around 960 kilometers (598 mi) downrange.

I guess when he says 630 miles downrange is a record, he means for something launched as a Falcon 9, while the 930 miles is for the center rocket in a Falcon Heavy.  

And with an hour to go before the launch, tonight's Eutelsat 10B launch has been scrubbed and reset for Tuesday night.  At the moment, that implies that tomorrow afternoon's 3:54 PM, CRS-26 launch to the ISS from pad 39A will be about six hours before the Eutelsat launch from SLC-40. 

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Air Force X-37B Space Plane Completes Record Mission

The US Space Force unmanned space plane known as the X-37B completed a new record mission of 908 days in orbit, landing at the Shuttle Landing Strip on Kennedy Space Center November 12 at 5:22 AM Eastern.  The previous mission duration record for an X-37B was 780 days, so this mission was a quite a bit long longer; 128 days or over four months.  908 days is almost 2-1/2 years. 

The Space Force has two X-37B orbiters and sometimes both of them are in orbit. notes about this mission:

For its sixth mission, classified as Orbital Test Vehicle-6 (OTV-6), it was launched vertically while perched atop an Atlas V rocket in May 2020. The space plane has now spent roughly 10 years in orbit across all of its missions, covering approximately 1.3 billion miles (2.1 billion km).

For their part, seems to want to know what the secret space plane is doing up there, but that's not likely.  They go down this road, saying:

The United States Space Force has revealed only a few morsels of information (opens in new tab) about the experiments conducted aboard the craft during its most recent flight. These include a test by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory that successfully harvested light from the sun before beaming it back to Earth as microwaves; and the deployment of an electromagnetically steered training satellite designed by U.S. Air Force cadets. NASA also provided an experiment, called Materials Exposure and Technology Innovation in Space (METIS-2), that researched the effects of space on different materials. 

"Successfully harvested light from the sun before beaming it back to Earth as microwaves" has been a wild dream in my line of work for at least a couple of decades.  I attended a conference where that was talked about back nearly 20 years ago, and the idea had been around at that time.  We referred to it as the "Microwave Engineers Full Employment Program" because of the massive arrays of solar cells that would be required to convert solar power to DC and massive microwave radio transmitters that would be required to turn that DC power to radio power beamed back to earth.  Huge tracts of land would be required to mount the antennas that would receive this microwave energy and huge arrays of receivers to turn it into usable electricity.  

Huge transmitter and receiver arrays are necessary both for efficiency and safety.  It's like the multi-million dollar bird incinerators made of mirrors that direct sunlight reflections to a tower that generate electricity through various thermal mechanisms.  Except if microwave power is too high, it'll be a multi-million dollar bird incinerator that cooks them in mid-air.  Same thing with people in planes.

Because it's a flexible platform on classified missions, it's an easy target for anti-US forces to verbally attack.  Both Dmitry Rogozin, the former head of Russia’s Roscosmos space agency, and Chinese military expert and commentator Song Zhongping claimed that the craft could be being used for spying or for carrying weapons of mass destruction.  They're also concerned that the craft’s ability to alter its orbit mid-flight gives it the ability to spy on other satellites or on Earth-based targets, as well as launch attacks on things in orbit. 

China also has a secret space plane, which was launched into orbit from a Long March 5B rocket on Aug. 4. 

The X-37B at Kennedy Space Center, November 12.  USSF Photo 


Saturday, November 19, 2022

No Content Night

I'm calling in sick.  Well, not calling and not sick, but that's the idea.  

For the first time in four years, I took a fall on my morning bike ride today.  My ride is on side streets and it's genuinely very light traffic on weekdays, but a bit busier on Saturdays.  A little under three miles away is an intersection that tends to be among the busier, at which I just cross straight without turning.  As usual, if there are no cars on my side of the intersection, I take the lane and stand over the bike, waiting for traffic to clear.  Two cars coming on the left, three on the right says no big deal.  I'd be crossing the street in seconds.

Being a small city, this is a polite area, and it's not uncommon to get into one of those "after you," "no, after you, I insist" exchanges like the old Goofy Gophers Looney Tunes.  So a nice woman stopped (there is no stop sign in her crossing direction, just mine) and waved me across.  Rather than waste time saying, "no, after you, I insist," and holding up the cars behind her, I gave a wave of thanks and started across.  I remember a few images out of the next couple of seconds, of something going wrong and hitting the ground.  Almost before I could mentally process what was happening, guys were getting out of their cars to check on me.  Then a city police car, then a fire truck.  The fire truck had a paramedic and someone had called an ambulance. Once they took my vitals and we had a talk the fire truck called the ambulance dispatchers to cancel that.  

It seemed like a good idea to cancel the rest of my 14 mile ride and head back home.  When I got here, I found a bunch of scrapes and small nicks.  My right eyebrow was bleeding slightly and bruising just below the eyebrow.  In the last several hours, the excess blood from my eyebrow migrated downhill on the right side of the eye, so I look like I've been punched.  It wasn't until I was home a couple of hours that I noticed I have sore ribs on the right side of my chest, too.  Those have gotten a bit more sore as the hours have gone by.  Pretty common, after all.  Second or third day tends to be the most sore.

Back tomorrow.  Most likely.  

Friday, November 18, 2022

Small Space News Roundup

As we do on other slow news days. 

It'll be hard impossible to keep track of the latest Chinese space junk to see if it's going to hit near you. The Chinese government confirmed that the upper stage of a Long March 6A rocket launched on Saturday, November 12, broke apart instead of reentering harmlessly as it was intended to.  

According to the US Space Force, the Long March 6A rocket was between 500 to 700km (310 to 435 miles) from Earth when it disintegrated into more than 50 fragments.

The 500km orbit is used by thousands of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites while the International Space Station and China’s Tiangong space station operate at slightly lower altitudes.

“As far as we know, the relevant incident will not affect the Chinese space station or the International Space Station,” Mao said, without providing any further detail.

I'm sure that it's purely coincidental that the altitude is where thousands of Starlink satellites operate.

Chinese military researchers have been urging the government to develop capabilities to destroy the Starlink satellite network, believing it could pose a threat to China’s national security, a concern that has increased significantly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

One proposed method is to generate space debris in a specific orbit, setting off a chain of collisions to bring down a large network.

Purely coincidental.  Not a test of any sort.  It's expected that the debris orbits will decay and eventually reenter the atmosphere over the next few years, but the Chinese Space Station and the ISS are both in somewhat lower orbits so the pieces descending through their altitude has to add to the risk of a space junk impact.  It's a small risk, but it seems hard to believe it's not being thought about.  

Remember the Japanese Hakuto R-M1 mission SpaceX was reported to being ready to launch this month?    In that linked article the launch date was reported as being targeted as “sometime between November 9th and 15th.”  Oops.  Fast forward two weeks.  

On the 17the, ispace, the Japanese company developing the satellite and the mission said 

TOKYO—November 17, 2022— ispace, inc., a global lunar exploration company, plans to launch its Mission 1 (M1) lunar lander, part of the HAKUTO-R lunar exploration program, on Nov. 28, 2022, at the earliest, on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Founder & CEO Takeshi Hakamada announced today at a press conference in Tokyo.

Launch time is stated as 3:26 AM EST on Monday the 28th from SLC-40.  The company has big ambitions. 

M1 is considered a technology demonstration with an overall objective to validate the lander’s design and technology, as well as ispace’s business model to provide reliable lunar transportation and data services. For M1, ispace has set 10 milestones between launch and landing, and aims to achieve the success criteria established for each of these milestones. Recognizing the possibility of an anomaly during the mission, the results will be weighed and evaluated against the criteria and incorporated into future missions, supporting the company’s evolution of sustainable technology and its business models.

The accumulated data and experience from M1 will be incorporated into future designs and operations to enhance missions, beginning immediately with Mission 2, which is already in the development stage and is scheduled for 2024. As a private corporation, ispace’s business model calls for continuous, short cycles of technology development to increase capability and reliability in order to usher in an era of full-scale commercialization of the space industry. This model will incorporate knowledge from both missions into Mission 3 (M3) planned for 2025. M3 will contribute to NASA’s Artemis Program under its Commercial Lunar Payload Services program with a mature lander design and operations based on data and experience acquired during the first two missions.

A US-based subsidiary, ispace technologies, is part of the team led by Draper, which was awarded a NASA Commercial Lunar Payload Services Program contract to land on the far side of the Moon by 2025.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

SpaceX Gets Contract For Second Lunar Landing

On Tuesday, during the final day of the Artemis countdown, NASA announced a contract had been reached with SpaceX for a second manned Starship landing on the moon, no sooner than 2027.  

Known as Option B, NASA has exercised a baked-in right to modify its Human Landing System (HLS) Option A contract with SpaceX – signed in April 2021 – to extract even more value from investments into the program. In addition to an uncrewed Starship Moon landing planned no earlier than (NET) 2024 and a crewed demonstration that could land two NASA astronauts on the Moon as early as 2025, NASA’s contract modification gives SpaceX the approval and resources it needs to prepare for a second crewed Starship Moon landing.

In addition to securing the ride to the lunar surface for a second Artemis crew, the $1.15 billion contract also allows NASA and SpaceX to do research and testing toward upgrades to Starship that will make it an even more capable and cost-effective Moon lander.

There are currently three Starship configurations documented, each for their specific purpose.  Refueling in space is essential and needs to be realized before these later missions can be completed.  It's mission critical for Artemis III, IV and many future programs, and SpaceX also has a contract from NASA to demonstrate refueling on orbit.  Refueling missions can't be ironed out until Starship is operational, of course. 

It's hard to grasp just how different Starship is in overview from the rest of the Artemis, Orion, and Lunar Gateway.  A visual from a video featuring renderings of accurate models by HazeGrayArt is eye-opening, if not outright eye-popping.  The Orion capsule is at upper right, approaching the Lunar Gateway (in essentially the same Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit that CAPSTONE is in now).  The Gateway is that small assembly sticking out to the right of Starship's nose.  The blue rectangular solar arrays are part of the Gateway.  Starship dwarfs everything else.

Eric Ralph at Teslarati drops some other interesting facts on this. 

While the Artemis III landing [first moon landing - SiG] will be about as barebones as possible, the Artemis IV Starship will be upgraded with the ability to transport more NASA astronauts (four instead of just two) and more cargo to the lunar surface. It’s not entirely clear, but NASA reportedly wants to land just ~180 kilograms (~400 lb) of cargo with the first crewed Starship, a vehicle likely capable of landing dozens of tons of cargo in addition to several astronauts. NASA hopes that future “sustainable” lander missions, a category that Starship’s Option B landing may or may not fall under, will transport up to one ton (~2200 lb) of cargo to and from the lunar surface.

Finally, the Artemis IV Starship will also be able to dock with NASA’s Lunar Gateway. Gateway is a small deep space station that will be located in a strange, high lunar orbit. It exists almost exclusively to give NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion crew capsule a destination they can both reach. The Orion capsule is almost twice as heavy as its Apollo counterpart and its European Service Module (ESM) offers less than half the performance of NASA’s retired Apollo Service Module. Combined, Orion is physically incapable of transporting itself (or astronauts) to the simpler low lunar orbits used by the Apollo Program.

Instead, NASA’s new Moon lander(s) have to pick up Orion’s slack. Starship will be responsible for picking up astronauts in a lunar near-rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO), transporting them to low lunar orbit, and returning them to NRHO in addition to landing on the Moon, spending a week on the surface, and launching back into lunar orbit.

Until it’s modestly upgraded in the late 2020s or 2030s, Gateway will be equally underwhelming. In fact, that’s part of the reason that Starship docking with the Gateway is in any way significant. SpaceX and NASA have decades of expertise docking and berthing spacecraft with space stations. But those spacecraft are typically smaller and lighter than the stations they were joining. Even after the Gateway is fully outfitted with a range of international modules, Starship will likely weigh several times more than the tiny station, making docking even more challenging than it already is.

Starship’s Moon lander variant could also have a cabin with hundreds of cubic meters of habitable space, while the Gateway is unlikely to ever have more than a few dozen. Having a Starship docked would thus immediately make the ultra-cramped station far more livable.

The Artemis planning schedule that I posted back in March shows Artemis IV taking place in 2027.  Is that realistic?  The only things listed for 2022 (the first year in the timeline) are the first, unmanned flight of Artemis and CAPSTONE; both have been achieved.  In the case of the launch, delayed a lot but still will complete its mission in '22.  There are items in that schedule I don't have information on.  For what it's worth, I've seen a prediction by a guy who has been scary accurate in his predictions that Artemis III won't land until '27 instead of '25.  I assume that means pushing IV back another two years as well.  

As a tangential footnote, tomorrow evening at 5:27 PM EST, SpaceX will launch the CRS-26 uncrewed cargo capsule to the International Space Station.  This is the sixth flight for this Cargo Dragon capsule.  The booster will be recovered offshore.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Artemis/SLS Flies!

Many of us had doubts this day would come this soon, but this morning at 1:47 AM EST Artemis lifted off from complex 39B at the Kennedy Space Center and cruised into orbit as though it was a routine mission.  As it basically should have, since the differences between this and other ABF hardware (Already Been Flown) are so small.  In fact, these four RS-25 engines on the SLS Core are all ABF hardware.  All flew on previous Space Shuttle missions.  The least-used of these four flew three prior missions; the most "experienced" flew 12 space shuttle missions.  (From a graphic here) put up a video which is a bit long at just over 11 minutes, but it's better to watch in full screen mode.  By a bit long I mean it starts about two minutes before ignition and the core stage is essentially invisible by the 5:10 mark, meaning there's about three minutes of eye candy in there.  

From the backyard here it was quite a sight.  As ignition and liftoff took place the northern horizon was so bright I had afterimages for several minutes; I even saw them when we came inside about eight minutes later.  Not as bright as sunrise, but the brightest rocket I've seen in a long time.  Correction, the brightest I've ever seen because that would have been in the Shuttle era and SLS produces more thrust than the shuttle.  We had clear views of SLS from the time it cleared the horizon until well after the solids dropped and it was starting to go behind the houses across the street to the east.  During the last Falcon 9 launch, by contrast, there were two clouds in the sky and the rocket stayed behind one after the other for all but about 10 seconds. 

I'm going to take the day to both thank and appreciate the people who actually put the ball through the hoop on this one - and those whose work just got started for the mission that's just getting started.  It was a long, difficult job for the people on the pad, the people working on the hardware, software, and everyone who touched the thing.  At the conclusion of the launch control coverage last night, Artemis Launch Director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson gave everyone thanks and encouragement for doing the long, hard jobs.  It was well-said. 

"This is your moment," she said. "We are all part of something incredibly special: The first launch of Artemis, the first step in returning our country to the moon and on to Mars. What you have done today will inspire generations to come."

I was a bit surprised to hear the commentators on saying much the same, that finally their generation has a rocket to be proud of; a way to the moon (more or less) that hasn't existed in 50 years.  

Lots of good perspective at and Ars Technica.  

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

CAPSTONE Achieves Lunar Orbit

CAPSTONE, the first cubesat launched toward the moon and on a nearly five month mission to explore the Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NRHO) has reached the intended orbit, NASA reported Monday.   

"We received confirmation that CAPSTONE arrived in near-rectilinear halo orbit, and that is a huge, huge step for the agency," said NASA's chief of exploration systems development, Jim Free, on Sunday evening. "It just completed its first insertion burn a few minutes ago. And over the next few days they'll continue to refine its orbit, and be the first cubesat to fly and operate at the Moon."

This is an important orbit for NASA, and a special one, because it is really stable, requiring just a tiny amount of propellant to hold position. At its closest point to the Moon, this roughly week-long orbit passes within 3,000 km of the lunar surface, and at other points it is 70,000 km away. NASA plans to build a small space station, called the Lunar Gateway, here later this decade.

The Lunar Gateway that they mention is an important part of the Artemis moon missions and going back to the moon "to stay," as the program says.  Lunar Gateway is essentially a miniature version of the Space Station in the NRHO lunar orbit that will host astronauts for a day or two on the way to and from the moon.  That makes CAPSTONE a part of the Artemis program and achieving orbit before tonight's launch is some sort of poetic thing.  It was essentially the first launch of the Artemis program.  

Borrowing some content from my post on the launch (middle story of three here) back on June 28th,

Rocket Lab successfully launched NASA's CAPSTONE mission (Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment) this morning (EDT) (video of the launch here).  This mission uses a low power upper stage that isn't a part of the regularly-launched Rocket Lab Electron that launched the satellite, and which will raise the orbit slowly over the next few months until it achieves the desired orbit around the start of November. This is the first attempt to fly an NRHO, which NASA intends to use for the Artemis Lunar Gateway, arguably making this mission the first of the Artemis program.

The orbit, formally known as a near rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO), is significantly elongated. Its location at a precise balance point in the gravities of Earth and the Moon, offers stability for long-term missions like Gateway and requires minimal energy to maintain. CAPSTONE’s orbit also establishes a location that is an ideal staging area for missions to the Moon and beyond. The orbit will bring CAPSTONE within 1,000 miles of one lunar pole on its near pass and 43,500 miles from the other pole at its peak every seven days, requiring less propulsion capability for spacecraft flying to and from the Moon’s surface than other circular orbits.

This graphic, from NASA's Ames Research Center, shows the CAPSTONE satellite approaching the moon (top left), the spacecraft's elongated polar orbit around the moon (top right) and the crown-shaped path that lunar polar orbit looks like as seen from the Earth (bottom). 

You might recall that CAPSTONE had some scary moments on its journey to the moon, the first a week after launch, and the second in September (second half of this post).  Thankfully, ground teams were able to save the mission both times.  CAPSTONE is small as satellites go, but large for a cubesat.  Ars Technica reports its size is referred to as a 12U cubesat, with a mass of around 50 lbs. It could fit comfortably inside a mini-refrigerator. 

The reason it took nearly five months to reach the moon is the tiny propulsion unit called Photon that lifted it to the far orbit.  

Electron is the smallest rocket to launch a payload to the Moon, and its manufacturer, Rocket Lab, stressed the capabilities of the booster and its Photon upper stage to the maximum to send CAPSTONE on its long journey to the Moon. This was Rocket Lab's first deep space mission.

To get inserted into its desired orbit required a tiny amount of thrust. 

For example, the burn executed by CAPSTONE on Sunday evening to transition into a near-rectilinear halo orbit was extremely tiny. According to Advanced Space, the vehicle burned its thruster for 16 minutes at about 0.44 Newtons, which is equivalent to the weight of about nine pieces of standard printer paper.

It might be more helpful for us Americans to say the engine had a thrust of 1.58 ounces. 



About That Red Wave or Tsunami

Two old jokes come to mind.  I think this is either Cheech and Chong or George Carlin.  Or at least most of it is.

Are you bothered by that annoying bloody, drip, drip, drip of gonorrhea? 

Some sort of disease that causes blood dripping out of a body part you never, ever want to see blood dripping from*. 

The other one was a comedy bit on bad product names.  

When you're looking for relief, look for Painful Rectal Itch. 

Again, a bloody, Painful Rectal Itch. 

And that's all I'm gonna say about that. 

Florida was the laughing stock of the country back in Bush vs Gore, with the hanging chads and overworked auditors looking at the ballot cards.  All of that hoopla was in a few solid blue counties in south Florida.  When the mandatory recount was completed and published, lots of the counties (like mine) had zero or practically zero change in vote numbers.  It got fixed.  The most solid blue county in the state, Broward County, had their supervisor of elections fired by (then Governor) Rick Scott for not complying.  Broward and a few other counties tried to keep elections corrupt and were dragged kicking and screaming into compliance with real election processes in the last few years.  This year, Florida's votes were counted and the results were certified early on election night. 

I have no doubt I could put up a couple of dozen memes about corruption on Pennsylvania, Michigan or Arizona, if not a couple of  hundred memes.  Instead, I leave you with this from Tom Stiglich.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Starship Now Could Be the Most Powerful Rocket on Earth

This afternoon at 12:51 PM CST, Super Heavy Booster 7 (B7) fired 14 of it's 33 Raptor engines in the largest static fire test the company has done on a Starship, for 10 seconds.  We don't know what level of thrust the engines peaked at but it has been reported that Raptors are at full thrust by 1.0 seconds after ignition and max thrust is 510,000 pounds.  That means it could have achieved 7.14 million pounds of thrust.  That's just slightly below the Saturn V and the most power vehicle since the moon landings.  

All those "could" statements are a bit mealy-mouthed.  It probably already is the most powerful rocket currently flying because the Falcon Heavy is limited to just over 5 million pounds thrust and that's almost 30% less than the 7.14 we're talking about. 

Throughout the history of spaceflight, only three or four other rockets have produced as much or more thrust than Super Heavy Booster 7 (B7) could have theoretically produced on November 14th. But the Soviet Energia and N1 rockets and the US Saturn V and Space Shuttle were all retired one or several decades ago. Only SpaceX’s own Falcon Heavy rocket, fifth on the bracket and capable of producing up to 2325 tons (5.13 million pounds) of thrust at sea level, is still operational and comes close.

At the risk of overstating the obvious, 14 engines is less than half of the 33 engines Starship will launch on; 42.4% to be specific. That should be around 16.8 million pounds of thrust with the previous record for thrust at around 10 million pounds.  It's going to be quite the sight to see that fly.  Video of today's test here.

The test this morning means that Starship will have the title of most powerful rocket on Earth today until early Wednesday morning; if the Artemis/SLS mission launches in the morning's two hour launch window.  If NASA's mission doesn't get off on schedule, and the record so far doesn't inspire tons of confidence that it will, Starship will hold that title until either it does fly or until Starship completes its first orbital class launch.  When Starship flies its orbital mission, it will be more than 60% more powerful than the Soviet N1, the most powerful rocket that ever flew (although it never had a fully successful test flight).  SLS will be #3.  

The Artemis launch countdown has begun, Monday morning at 1:54 AM for launch Wednesday morning at 1:04 AM EST or 0604 UTC.

Since NASA depends on SLS for the moon landing along with SLS, both programs should be getting support from the agency as much as possible. 



Sunday, November 13, 2022

About That Messed Up Antenna

For those of you not particularly interested in ham (or other) radio antenna geekery, you may as well just skip the rest. Thanks for stopping by and have a great day!

Back on the 5th, I mentioned that when I got the tower back up I looked at one of the antennas for the first time since before Ian.  Briefly, because it looked good and nothing was obviously wrong, I assumed it was good.  In reality, it had a failure of something that apparently was going bad and was going to fail.  The swept VSWR went from 1.1 or 1.2:1 up to over 5:1.  For reference, this is for the six meter ham band and is the antenna I put up last January.  

The story begins with the comment thread to that Nov. 5 post started by drjim.  I went down the road of the connector/cable interface and thought I had found the issue.  Until I touched it again and the VSWR went from that 1.1:1 back up to 5:1 again.  That was on the 6th and I wasted most of the afternoon in an endless loop of doing something, finding the VSWR was fine, doing the next step to reassemble only to find it was awful again.  Then I'd undo the change and it stayed awful.  

On the 7th, I realized that going outside, walking essentially the length of my yard between the antenna and the ham shack to sweep the antenna wasn't the way to do this.  Any technician knows that when you're trying to fix an intermittent problem, you need to come up with ways to make it fail again.  That's when I switched to the NanoVNA H4 (I think it's this model) that I bought at the Orlando Hamcation last February so that I could watch the test equipment while touching things and found the intermittent problem in far less time than one walk back to the shack.  

The problem was that Philips-head screw in the upper right corner of the picture with an orange wire going to it as well as the end of a piece of coaxial cable.  I would bump into that accidentally or touch that coaxial cable and the VSWR would jump radically, but I didn't realize what was causing that until I touched that right cable while watching the NanoVNA.

That screw doesn't tighten down normally.  Not visible in this view is that it screws into a Delrin insulating cylinder.  The screw at the top left also does that, but it tightens properly; the one on the right never stops turning.The appearance of this area and the corrosion evident after just under a year of being outside is a bit of a surprise to me.  The manual cautions about coating this area with anything other than clear Krylon spray paint.  I didn't have any last January so I omitted that.  Bad idea. 


I will coat that area once this is fixed.  

As for exactly what the fix is, I don't know at the moment.  The insulator holding that screw is black Delrin, which I assume is black because it has carbon black in the mix.  That's often done for plastics left outdoors to protect against sunlight.  I have some white Delrin that I could make a replacement insulator from.  Since it seems the #6 screw must have boogered up the Delrin it might be that simply going to a #8 screw, next bigger size, would help it grab well enough.  That's not an unusual fix in the hobby machinist world.  

A PrintScreen dump from the Windows PC app I use with my NanoVNA, called (appropriately enough) NanoVNA-App by Some Dood calling himself OneOfEleven.  This was taken the first time it looked like I was done, back on the 7th.  The VSWR plot is in the lower right hand corner, and you can see the absolute minimum value is 1.003:1 a virtually perfect match at 50.6125 MHz which is a frequency I have never operated on (and probably won't).  The top right is the same information displayed on a different scale, called Return Loss; top left is the impedance displayed on a Smith Chart while bottom left is the signal seen at port 2 from port 1 and is nothing because port 2 isn't connected to anything. When that screw connection I've been talking about opens, that lower right trace never goes below 5:1

Saturday, November 12, 2022

SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell Given Starship and Starbase

I didn't know she wasn't responsible for those two things, considering she is President and COO (Chief Operating Officer).  Perhaps it has been under Musk as CTO (Chief Technology Officer).  

Clearly I was wrong, but The Information reported on Thursday she will "assume oversight" of Starship and Starbase activities as Elon Musk is getting sucked into Twitter more and more.  I had seen what appeared to be rumors about this from feeds I don't know well enough to trust, but now seeing it from Teslarati gives it more believability.  From the reporter who broke the story at The Information:

Enter Gwynne Shotwell, a long-time executive second only to Musk that has often been viewed as “the adult in the room” – a source of stability that bridges the gaps between the CEO’s chaotic and whiplash-inducing style of management. Hired in 2002, it’s entirely possible that SpaceX wouldn’t have survived if her sales acumen hadn’t convinced NASA to take a billion-dollar bet on the company in 2008. But NASA ultimately took that bet right when SpaceX needed it most, and Shotwell went on to help secure another several billion dollars of launch contracts from all possible sectors.

She became President and COO after navigating NASA’s first major SpaceX contract in 2008 and still holds both positions 14 years later. Given that position, The Information’s report is thus somewhat surprising. As Chief Operating Officer, Shotwell was, by definition, already overseeing Starbase operations and the Starship program to some degree. It’s possible that her day-to-day work mainly focused on SpaceX’s Dragon, Falcon, and Starlink programs, but it would be almost impossible for a COO with a reputation as good as hers not to pay close attention to a program that likely represents half (or more) of SpaceX’s R&D spending.

I can't say I understand what's going on with Starship.  Development has clearly slowed down with much more emphasis being given to infrastructure in Starbase, what Musk has called Stage Zero.  Stage Zero represents all the things that must be done so Stage One can light for a mission.  Moving functions from Starship to Stage Zero was done in the name of reducing the recurring costs of Starship and makes total sense for a reusable system.  Part of the slowdown seems to be partly their tendency to test quickly, fail often, and iterate designs quickly.  

It seems, and this is my opinion, that they might have underestimated just how badly things could go wrong when 33 engines generating as much as 16.5 million pounds of thrust undergo RUD - Elon's term for Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly.  As happened when a test of booster 7 exploded in July.  Ever since then, we've seen more shielding and protective metal placed around the Orbital Launch Mount, more effort put into water deluge systems, fire suppression and other things that maybe should have been there already. 

...Starship, according to CEO Elon Musk, is the future of all SpaceX programs. If successful, the fully-reusable rocket will be able to launch at least five times the payload of SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9 rocket for even less than the smaller rocket’s already extraordinary marginal cost of ~$15 million. With ultra-low launch costs and orbital refueling, Starship could become the most high-performance rocket in history and outclass multi-billion-dollar single-use behemoths like Saturn V and SLS for a price tag less than Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy today ($70-100 million).

The Information also reported that SpaceX executive Mark Juncosa, whom they describe as “a brash, unconventional engineer that’s successfully led the Starlink program since Musk fired several over-cautious executives in 2018” has been running the Starship technical operations since last summer.  He will report directly to Gwynne Shotwell.  

I have to say I've never found studying org charts to be interesting, but I've seen Shotwell speak a few times and was impressed.  I've never seen or heard Mark Juncosa, that I know of.  Changes like these aren't surprising to me.  I think it's not at all unusual that a person who sees a business opportunity and starts a company doesn't turn out to be good at running things when the business succeeds and gets big.  An independent, risk-taking, entrepreneurial mindset doesn't necessarily go together with large companies doing everything by published procedures, specifically to keep people from taking too many risks.

Friday, November 11, 2022

Artemis & SpaceX Getting Back to Normal on the KSC

As with the rest of Brevard County, life is getting back to normal up on the Kennedy Space Center, after the nasty weather from Tropical Storm Nicole interrupted a few things. Last I heard around 40,000 people lost power and the places you'd figure would have trouble, like along the beach or the lagoon, had buildings flooded and other things.

SpaceX had a Falcon 9 mission scheduled for Monday and went into a hold before rolling the vehicle to the pad.  SpaceX requires two to three days either side of launch for the recovery drone ship and its support to reach and return from the landing zone, so seas would have been bad out there the whole time.  The mission is to deliver another two satellites to geosynchronous orbit for Intelsat, Galaxy 31 and 32.  That launch was rescheduled for tomorrow, Saturday, November 12, with the launch window 11:06 AM to 1:06 PM EST, from SLC-40 (Space Launch Complex).  You might recall that they launched Galaxy 33 and 34 a month ago.  No word on why these satellites aren't launched in numerical order.  What's with these people?

Just kidding. 

Meanwhile over at SLC-39B, the Artemis/SLS mission preparations were suspended to allow workers to evacuate while the vehicle remained on the mobile launch tower at the pad.  The "No Earlier Than" launch time has been moved from Monday November 14 to Wednesday the 16th at 1:04-3:04 AM EST.  There were no obvious issues but the vehicle might have been exposed to winds above its design criteria.  

With blastoff on a long-delayed maiden flight on tap next week, sensors at pad 39B recorded gusts as high as 100 miles per hour atop a 467-foot-tall lightning tower near the rocket. But winds at the 60-foot-level of the launch gantry, which are part of the booster’s structural certification, peaked at 82 mph, just below the 85 mph limit.

The observed winds were “within the rocket’s capability,” said Jim Free, manager of exploration systems at NASA Headquarters. “We anticipate clearing the vehicle for those conditions shortly.”

“Our team is conducting initial visual check outs of the rocket, spacecraft and ground system equipment with the cameras at the launch pad,” he said in a Twitter post. “Camera inspections show very minor damage such as loose caulk and tears in weather coverings. The team will conduct additional on-site walk down inspections of the vehicle soon.”

I'm sure the vehicle was designed for some amount of margin to crosswinds, considering that the whole stack at lift off is designed for head-on (top down) winds higher than the speed of sound.  Probably thousands of mph at booster cutoff, but most rocket stacks are sensitive to crosswinds or wind shear that are considerably lower than that. 

Backup opportunities are available on November 19, starting at 1:45 AM, and on November 25, the day after Thanksgiving, at 10:10 AM.  There are requirements for Artemis related to recycle time between launch countdowns:

- No more than 3 attempts in 7 days
- Min 48 hrs between attempts 1 and 2
- Min 72 hrs between attempts 2 and 3

Combine that with the complicated look of the dates the missions can fly (here - pdf) and that probably accounts for the spacing from the 16th to the 19th and then to the 25th. 

Artemis/SLS back in August for the first attempt to launch.  NASA photo.