Monday, July 31, 2023

The Strange Story of the Greatest Guitarist of All Time and Asteroid Bennu

In what may be the most unexpected story I've ever written, start with Brian May, guitarist most famous for his years with the world-famous group Queen and voted the greatest guitarist of all time by the readers of Total Guitar magazine earlier this year.  Then add NASA's asteroid-sampling OSIRIS-REx mission and their chief scientist Dante Lauretta.  Mix well, and the two have collaborated on a book about the target of the mission, collecting rock samples from asteroid Bennu, in October 2020.

If I mix in a fact that I'm sure some of you know: Brian May is Dr. Brian May, Ph. D. in astronomy, it's quite a bit less shocking but it's still the Story of the Day/Week/Month.  

May, who holds a PhD in astronomy, had previously collaborated with the science teams behind Europe's comet-chasing Rosetta probe and NASA's Pluto explorer New Horizons. He joined the OSIRIS-REx team in January 2019, a few months after the probe reached its destination, after striking up a friendship with Lauretta over shared interests. But Lauretta, although a lifelong Queen fan, said he wasn't interested in having a free-loading celebrity on board just for publicity and expected the rock star to earn his keep.

It turns out May was perfect choice for the mission because of his interest is stereoscopic imaging of things like asteroid Bennu.  Ordinarily, stereoscopic imaging is done with stereoscopic cameras; two cameras spaced apart so that their output could be combined into a single 3D image - when viewed with 3D glasses.  The problem was that OSIRIS-REx wasn't equipped with a stereoscopic camera.  This is where May comes in.  

May, however, knew a way around this limitation, as he had previously produced 3D images of Comet 67P, the target of the Rosetta mission, and of Pluto as seen by New Horizons, by carefully selecting and aligning images taken by a single camera from different angles. 

OSIRIS-REx, was the first probe designed to take samples of an asteroid and the predominant model for smallish asteroids like Bennu was that they were chunks of some bigger body broken apart by collisions over the vastness of time.  It didn't take long after the first images started coming back to realize this was very, very wrong, and not what the mission was designed for.  Instead of mostly smooth, beach-like plains of sand occasionally strewn with smatterings of bigger rocks, they found a body covered in boulders that sometimes rose against the asteroid's barely existent gravity in formations tens of feet tall.   

The van-sized spacecraft had been designed to land in a smooth area at least 25 m wide, but the images quickly revealed that there was no such open space on the spinning-top-shaped Bennu, and the team faced the very real possibility that the mission might not accomplish its main goal. May and his collaborator Claudia Manzoni sat down and went through photos of tens of shallow craters that pockmark the face of Bennu in an effort to find one large enough and boulder-free enough to allow the sampling.  

But the effort paid off. Two craters were eventually deemed good enough to host a landing attempt. The first of the two, called Osprey, was the site of choice of the spacecraft engineers, as there were fewer potentially dangerous rocks scattered around its rim, Lauretta said at Thursday's event. The other, Nightingale Crater, was the scientists' favorite, as its color indicated an abundance of ancient regolith, which, the researchers hoped, held a record of the space rock's past — and that of the entire solar system.

The immediate problem was that neither of the two sites was the 25m width the probe was designed for.  Osprey is 6 m wide, and Nightingale is 8 m.

Eventually, science won, and Nightingale was selected despite a massive boulder nicknamed Mount Doom looming at its edge. After careful preparations, in October 2020, engineers were finally confident enough to command OSIRIS-REx to perform the landing maneuver. And then Bennu delivered yet another surprise. 

"We expected the surface to be pretty rigid, kind of like if you touch down on a gravel pile: a little bit of dust flying away and a few particles jumping up," Lauretta told last year.

"But as we were bringing back the images after the event, we were stunned. We saw a giant wall of debris flying away from the sample site. For spacecraft operators, it was really frightening."

In the wake of other missions to small asteroids like Bennu by Japan's Hayabusa missions to the asteroids Itokawa and Ryugu, along with last year's DART mission to asteroid Didymos and its "moon" Dimorphos, the view of these asteroids has shifted to being that they're piles of rubble; conglomerates of fragments from past collisions held together by the very weak gravity of all of the fragments for each other.  How weak?  In the images taken after OSIRIS-REx collected its sample, Brian May said, "You could see boulders rolling uphill on Bennu."

A stereoscopic image of asteroid Bennu that allows viewers to see the surface in three vivid dimensions when viewed through  3D glasses. Without 3D glasses, I can see this in 3D by crossing my eyes until the images fuse into one.  I concentrate on that big rock in the middle.  If you remember the brief fad for random dot stereograms in the late 1980s, I picked up that trick back then.


Sunday, July 30, 2023

It's That Time of Year Again

It's the peak of summer, and for us the week that typically has the warmest day of the year.

This is a "statistical" map, which means it has been massaged in various ways and maybe multiple times.  Is it showing averages, median day or just what?  I don't know.  What it says is that here on the east coast of Florida, just south of the little bump about 2/3 of the way up the state (Cape Canaveral) our hottest week is July 26 to 31. Thousands of square miles along the northwestern states share the same days with us; the others tend to be in a few days, August 1-5.

I find it interesting that west Texas, southern New Mexico and Arizona are all warmest in June with the majority being June 16-30.  Northern Arizona and New Mexico push that out to July 20, and have seen their hottest week.  The parts of the country that are warmest in September or late August are all along the Pacific coast.  By far, the largest part of the country will have hit their highest temperatures by August 5th - next Saturday.  As some sort of average or other statistical massaging. 

While it isn't August by the calendar, it's August by the feel of the day.  

The first indicator it's peak summer is when the UV Index says 11 on a scale of 10 and uses the description, "Potentially Fatal."  We know that's aimed at visitors to the area who aren't used to it and don't pay much attention.  

There are many places where folks look forward to summer; it's time to go outside - maybe for the first time in months, enjoy warm, glorious days; garden, bike, picnic; maybe enjoy a book while lounging on the beach.  Songs like Nat King Cole's classic "Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer" come to mind.

That's not here.  Here, summer is something to be a bit more reserved about.  Maybe when you're a teen or in your 20s, you can get away with it.  If you live here, you can keep up with your regular life.  If you were from a moderate place, not used to our heat and humidity, running or other outdoors activity could conceivably kill you.  August marks the Dog Days of Summer, named for when Sirius, the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major (Big Dog) and called The Dog Star starts rising before sunrise.  Everything outdoors slows.  Fishing slows - sure the fish have to eat, but they become more active after dark.  Outdoor range trips are best over before noon.  Animals are more sluggish.  Ordinarily, it can be nasty here from about mid-July to almost the middle of September.  The worst of it is August.  



Saturday, July 29, 2023

Is It a Hot Summer? Somewhat, In Places. Is it Climate Change? Doubtful

I've mentioned meteorologist Ryan Maue on these pages several times (earliest post? I think) starting when he was a graduate student at Florida State University, one of the major meteorology departments that study hurricanes.  Simply, in an era of insanity and blaming everything that happens on CO2 concentrations - followed by perennially making up new things to blame on CO2 - he has remained data-driven and therefore a voice of sanity.  

Last Sunday, a piece on "Watts Up With That" referenced him extensively. "Ryan Maue on Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai Submarine Volcano."  Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai erupted on January 13 of '22 and within a week was being noted as one of the most violent eruptions ever seen, with this startling statement from a group that monitors nuclear explosions. 

Titled “A nuclear-test monitor calls Tonga volcano blast 'biggest thing that we've ever seen',” it reports that an international group that monitors for likely atomic detonations has reported that at every one of their sites around the world - 53 of them - the infrasonic wave from the Tongan volcano is the largest thing they've ever measured, even bigger than the Soviet Union's Tsar Bomba, the biggest nuclear detonation in history. 

Dr. Maue opens the referred WUWT article saying that the initial data was analyzed and showed that 50 million metric tons of water were injected into the upper atmosphere by the eruption.  Further analysis points to that figure being low by a factor of three. 

New research suggests 150-million metric tons or almost 40 Trillion gallons of water vapor was injected into the upper-atmosphere. A lot of it is still up there floating around.

That much water injected into the stratosphere has never been observed. We're in unknown territory.

So what?  Water vapor is a potent "greenhouse gas," far more than that eebil debil CO2.  Volcanoes are more widely known as a source of sulfur dioxide, SO2 which has the opposite effect of water vapor, cooling rather than warming. Hunga Tonga had about 2% of the amount of SO2 as Mt. Pinatubo.

Volcanic eruptions like Pinatubo blast SO2 into the stratosphere creating a cooling climate shroud for 1-2 years.

Mt. Pinatubo erupted in 1991.  Hunga Tonga had about 2% of the amount of SO2 as Mt. Pinatubo but an unprecedented amount of water vapor. 

EOS, the online publication of the American Geophysical Union, says: 

The eruption of Hunga-Tonga increased the water vapor mass in the stratosphere by 13%, and it will remain there for many years to come.

“The unique nature and magnitude of the global stratospheric perturbation by the Hunga eruption ranks it among the most remarkable climatic events in the modern observation era.”

Because of this, they say Hunga-Tonga may push the global temperature up by the dreaded 1.5 C (the AGU is fully onboard with the climate change hype) although still leaving us cooler than the Roman warming period and cooler still than other earlier warm periods.  The water it injected into the stratosphere could affect weather for 5 to 7 years.

It's pretty obvious from this plot, but I'll say it anyway.  The panic over warming is with respect to the coolest global temperatures in the last 10,000 years.  It had better be warming, we're comparing temperatures to the Little Ice Age. 

I've heard a lot about warm sea surface temperatures this hurricane season and it's possible this is an effect of the Hunga-Tonga eruption a year and a half ago.

Friday, July 28, 2023

NASA Has Lost Contact With Voyager 2

Nobody's panicking, yet, but NASA has lost contact with Voyager 2.  They expect it to be temporary. 

About a week ago, operators of the Voyager 2 spacecraft sent a series of commands that inadvertently caused the distant probe to point its antenna slightly away from Earth. As a result, NASA has lost contact with the spacecraft, which is nearly half a century old and presently 19.9 billion km away from the planet.

For the time being, NASA and the mission's scientists aren't panicking. In an update posted Friday, the space agency said Voyager 2 is programmed to reset its orientation several times a year to keep its antenna pointing at Earth. It is scheduled to do so again on October 15, which should allow communication to resume. In the meantime, NASA said it does not anticipate the spacecraft veering off course.

The definition of "slightly away" is 2 degrees off Earth.  That 19.9 billion kilometers (12.4 billion miles) from Earth works out to 18.49 light-hours, the time it takes a radio transmission to go each way between us and Voyager. I could tell you how many miles off the antenna is pointed but two degrees means as much.  It tells you how precarious the link is if being two degrees off drops the communications link.  The sizes of the deep space network's dishes tell us those are very, very narrow beamwidth.  Back in '17, I did an article on Voyager looked at from radio frequency signal link perspective.  I pointed out the antennas on Voyager had 57 dB of gain.  Those antennas are tiny compared to the deep space network.  The DSN has much more gain, and gain is inversely proportional to beamwidth; the higher the gain, the smaller the beamwidth.

One of the NASA Deep Space Network Dishes.  The wide angle lens ruins the perspective on this, making it look small.  All of the DSN dishes I know of are 70 meter (240 feet) diameter. 

I liked that line about NASA not expecting Voyager to veer off course.  That doesn't happen without a source of thrust to change its course.  Newton's first law is still a law.

Thursday, July 27, 2023

NASA, DARPA Award Contract for Nuclear Powered Rocket

NASA and DARPA announced Wednesday that they had awarded a contract to Lockheed Martin and BWX Technologies to build and develop a nuclear thermal rocket (NTR) engine.

Lockheed Martin and BWX technologies under DARPA’s DRACO (the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations) program and in partnership with NASA will build the nuclear thermal rocket. NASA and DARPA are committing up to $499 million towards this program.

Lockheed Martin (locally known as Lock-Mart) will serve as the primary contractor to assemble the eXperimental Nuclear Thermal Reactor vehicle (X-NTRV) and its engine. BWX Technologies will develop the nuclear reactor and fabricate the High-Assay Low-Enriched Uranium (HALEU) fuel to power the reactor.  The targeted date for the launch is four years from now, so NET 2027.  

While the overall size of this test bed was not revealed, during a press conference today, Dr. Tabitha Dodson of DARPA said it would not require a heavy lift vehicle and be able to fit in the fairing of a SpaceX Falcon 9 or United Launch Alliance Vulcan Centaur.

The need for faster transport around the solar system has come up before.  Currently, everything we launch gets there on chemical propulsion.  They're great for getting payloads into space, but they gulp large amounts of fuel and then they're done.  Everything that has visited or orbited around the planets now and the few that have left the solar system got their start that way, but for Mars, for example, the world waits for a short period every two years when our orbit is going to overtake Mars in its orbit.  We fling a payload in that direction and wait six months for it to get there.  Worse, if travelers to Mars need to evacuate it could take them over a year to get back to Earth depending on when they leave.  It has been concluded nuclear power is the only realistic way to do such missions.  It gets more convincing for the outer planets.

The promise of nuclear power is twofold.  First and foremost, the potential for cutting travel time by slow but steady acceleration from running the engine continually is there.  Second, the inertia from the acceleration of an engine could give some semblance of artificial gravity reducing the crew's physical deterioration from Zero-G.  Or, at least making it more manageable. 

Conceptual rendering of DARPA’s DRACO - Image credit to DARPA  With no sense of scale, it helps to know that they say the system you see there would fit in the payload fairing of a Falcon 9 or Vulcan Centaur. 

The concept behind a Nuclear Thermal Rocket (NTR) is simple.  The nuclear fuel is simply a heater that heats a propellant.  There is a propellant, liquid hydrogen, but no oxidizer and no combustion.  The hydrogen is flashed into the hot area and a nozzle, where it's then heated from 20 Kelvin, 20° above absolute zero, to 2,700 Kelvin in less than a second.  The hydrogen expands dramatically from the heating.  No combustion means the thrust is from the momentum transfer of the hydrogen atoms being blown out the nozzle.  Dr. Dodson of DARPA points out that the NTR achieves a high thrust similar to chemical propulsion but is two to three times more efficient.

These engines have been theoretically understood and modeled since the 1960s NERVA programs (Nuclear Engines for Rocket Vehicle Application).  They have never been tested in space, though, which means there are plenty of other concerns, including regulatory.  The reactor has to be capable of being completely off from launch until it has achieved a designated safe orbit.  

This final orbit has yet to be determined, but it is likely to be 700 to 2,000 km above the surface of the Earth, such that the vehicle's reentry into the planet's atmosphere will take place hundreds of years after any nuclear reactions occur.

To be complete, this is a test program there are things about reactors in space (and microgravity) that have never been tested in space.  This is very experimental.

"It's important to keep in mind that this is a demonstration engine," Dodson said. "And just like any other test of a rocket engine, NASA may need to do a series of follow-on engine development work in order to get closer to their perfect operational engine."

A big unknown is the ability to keep liquid hydrogen cold for long periods.  20K is extremely cold and it has never been successfully stored in space for more than "days" at a time. 

Until now, liquid hydrogen has only been successfully stored in space for days since it boils above the extremely cold temperature of 20 Kelvin. Dodson said this mission would attempt to store liquid hydrogen in its ultra-cold state for a couple of months, allowing enough time for multiple tests of the nuclear thermal engine.

After the propellant runs out, the engine will no longer be able to operate, even though mission controllers on the ground will still retain communication with the spacecraft. The mission could be extended if it could be robotically refueled, and Dodson said the spacecraft designers are attempting to allow for this possibility.

I'd really like to see this thing work.  Decades ago, I read of using engines like this to allow constant acceleration to keep the explorers at 1g gravity while traveling.  That would eliminate the concerns with zero-G affects on bones and muscles as well as drastically decrease the time traveling. There are a lot of hurdles to be overcome before we could be a space-faring civilization; storage of the hydrogen (or another propellant), storage of food, and more, but this is an essential technology. 



Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Boeing Has Lost $1.1 B on Starliner

We've known for some time that Starliner is in trouble especially after the planned July 21 crewed test flight was cancelled back at the start of June.  Today, due to a Boeing quarterly earnings update call reported on by Ars Technica, we learned a bit more about just how bad things are.

On Wednesday, as a part of its quarterly earnings update, Boeing announced that the Starliner program had taken a loss of $257 million "primarily due to the impacts of the previously announced launch delay." This brings the company's total write-down of losses on the Starliner program to more than $1.1 billion. Partly because of this, Boeing's Defense, Space, & Security division reported a loss of $527 million during the second quarter of this year.

Starliner was funded by the same fixed-price contract approach as SpaceX's Crew Dragon.  As a result, the cost overruns are Boeing's responsibility and not NASA's. 

As a reminder/for new readers, after preparing for the crewed test flight since the start of the year, the flight was called off for the foreseeable future due to a couple of serious problems that were discovered before Memorial Day weekend and investigated over it.  First, Boeing discovered that so called "soft links" in the lines that run from the ship to its parachutes were not as strong as they previously believed.  Second, hundreds of feet of P-213 glass cloth tape that wrap wire bundles inside the spacecraft were found to be flammable.  

NASA's program manager for Commercial Crew, Steve Stich, said the agency has been working on the issues but more remains to be done.  In particular, it sounds like someone in NASA thought with two issues like these discovered in the final weeks of preparation for the mission, it was prudent to double or triple check the rest of the spacecraft.

The identification of two serious problems so close to the spaceflight prompted NASA to take a broader look at Starliner and determine whether there might be other problems lurking in the spacecraft. "On the NASA side, we really stepped back and looked at all aspects of flight preparation," Stich said.
Stich made his comments Tuesday during a media teleconference to discuss the forthcoming Crew-7 mission on SpaceX's Crew Dragon vehicle. Nine years ago, when NASA down-selected to Boeing and SpaceX to provide crew transportation services to the space station, Boeing was considered the prohibitive favorite to deliver first for NASA. However, SpaceX will launch its seventh operational mission and eighth overall crew mission for NASA next month.

NASA has already announced that SpaceX will fly its Crew-8 mission for NASA in February or March of next year. Given the ongoing delays, it is now possible that Crew-9 flies next fall, before Boeing's first operational mission, Starliner-1. NASA has not named a full four-person crew for Starliner-1 but has said that astronauts Scott Tingle and Mike Fincke will serve as commander and pilot.

Back on June 1st when I relayed the news that the crewed flight test was scrubbed for July 21, it seemed prudent to suggest it might be off the books in '23 and end up in '24.  NASA's Launch Manifest was last updated in April, so it's outdated already, but the mention of an operational Starliner flight is that Starliner-1 mission a year from now. 

NASA’s Boeing Crew Flight Test: NET July 21, 2023
NASA’s SpaceX Crew-7: NET mid-August 2023
NASA’s SpaceX Crew-8: NET February 2024
NASA’s Boeing Starliner-1: NET Summer 2024

It seems to me that if the first line, the Boeing Crew Flight Test, gets delayed six months to January 2024, that Starliner-1 crew rotation flight will get delayed until December of '24 at the soonest. 

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



Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Small Space News Story Roundup 14

Starbase Boca Chica Tested Boosters 9 and 10 

Last Friday, 7/21, I covered that Booster 9 had been rolled back to the launch facility and then lifted onto the Orbital Launch Mount. Since Cameron County was listing a road closure for Sunday July 23 from 8AM to 8PM along with backup dates, it seemed like we might see testing resume at Starbase aiming for the next Starship flight test.  Perhaps even as soon as Sunday.

Indeed we did.  On Sunday, we saw the first fueling tests on Booster 9 atop the OLM.  Everything appeared to go nominally.  Both the LOX (bottom) and methane tanks (top) were filled.  It appeared that no other tests were attempted.

Booster 9 on Sunday, seeming to be fully fueled. In the background, Ship 25 awaits its turn for more tests.

Of course, this is the first time the OLM has been used as intended since the flight test on April 20 and the massive rebuilding that has been going on since the dust settled on that flight.  There were many questions about how soon they'd reach this level.  At 13 weeks and three days since April 20, they certainly accomplished a great deal; it's just not the two months Elon was expecting.  

Also within the last week, SpaceX moved Booster 10 to Massey’s Test Facility for its own cryogenic proof test, partially filling the tanks. Once the test was completed the booster was moved back to the shipyard.  At the shipyard, Ship 28 was attached to a thrust simulator and then moved to Massey’s.  This pairing seems to imply that once Flight Test 2 with B7 and S25 is completed, Flight Test 3 could be B10 with S28.  

Space Coast prepares for Falcon Heavy launch

The next Falcon Heavy mission is scheduled for Wednesday night, July 26, at 11:04 PM EDT.  This will be the launch of the Jupiter 3/Echostar XXIV communications satellite and will be from the historic pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center (as all Falcon Heavy launches have been). 

This satellite will be the heaviest payload ever launched to geostationary transfer orbit. The satellite, built by Maxar, weighs in at 9,200 kg (20,282 lbs) and features 14 solar arrays that, once deployed, will span 127 feet. The satellite will be able to handle 500+ gigabytes of capacity and provide speeds up to 100 megabytes per second. The satellite’s final orbit will be at 95 degrees west latitude and 22,300 miles above the equator over the Americas.  [The source really said "west latitude", but that's longitude.  The latitude is 0 degrees, the equator.  - SiG]

For the heaviest payload ever to be launched to the geosynchronous orbit, it seems to call for the heaviest lift rocket in the world.  While SLS may have a greater payload capacity, it's not exactly in production with one flight to its name and with the entire production capability of SLS rockets allocated until about 2030, that seals the requirement to use the Falcon Heavy.  

Monday, July 24, 2023

The Not-Space Story of the Day. Maybe of the Year

It's good news, for once, coming out of the colleges.   A team of researchers from Oregon State University sent surveys meant to assess the representation of "transgender and gender nonconforming" of undergraduate STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) majors.  The proportion of sarcastic answers they received (which frankly wasn't terribly high) was high enough to trigger some of the researchers and cause them to whine about the rise of fascism in STEM programs; proving once again they don't understand what the word fascism actually means.  Of 723 responses, only 299 were considered valid, and 50 of the 299, 15%, were classified as "malicious."  It even led to one of their data analysts being so triggered they (it? I don't know their pronouns) had to be given weeks off from looking at the responses.

This story has hit the headlines over the weekend, but the best and deepest coverage I've found is on ZeroHedge, so I'll be quoting from there the most. 

The 28-page paper is titled "Attack Helicopters and White Supremacy: Interpreting Malicious Responses to an Online Questionnaire about Transgender Undergraduate Engineering and Computer Science Student Experiences." It was rejected by multiple engineering-education journals before finding a home at "Bulletin of Applied Transgender Studies,"  which Northwestern University alumni can proudly claim as their alma mater's contribution to society.  

“Online memes associated with white nationalist and fascist movements were present throughout the data, alongside memes and content referencing gaming and ‘nerd’ culture,” wrote the authors, who call for academia to face STEM's surging fascist menace head-on, as the survey results demonstrate "social justice STEM education must include perspectives on online hate radicalization and center anti-colonial, intersectional solidarity organizing as its opposition."

What sort of dressing would you like on that word salad?  

The questionnaire first asked students the gender they identify as:

  • I identify as a gift card
  • Apache Attack Helicopter
  • F-16 Fighter Jet
  • Pansexual attack helicopter
  • Cis gender lizard king
  • A human being
  • F**king white male
  • V22 Osprey
  • Non-cookie-cutter cis-furry dragonkin. Don't judge. 
  • Quasi-Demi-poney; bankai-released state queercopter with a hint of faggotdrag lesbian and homosexual upside-down Frappuccino cake
  • I'm just here for the gift card

A total of 24% of respondents used the second through fourth answers: an "Apache Attack Helicopter," a "pansexual attack helicopter," and an "F-16 Fighter Jet."  So many chose the Apache that the paper's authors singled it out for criticism. 

"It is notable that the specific descriptor of an Apache Attack Helicopter is referenced by several different participants—itself a synthesis and reflection of U.S. military force and the appropriation of Indigenous language by colonizers." 

They asked about Race/Ethnic Identity:

  • I'm an ethnic gift card.
  • My skin color is not important 
  • Afro/Klingon-Asicatic Galapogayation
  • AH-64 Apache
  • Republican
  • Come on man, these questions are stupid. Everyone is a grab bag of genetics from all over the world
  • I'm a Swedish Muslim
  • Native American (Elizabeth Warren)
  • Pansexual attack helicopter
  • Cracker
  • Colored Native Mix w/oppressed ancestors
  • Born white but I spend a lot of time in the sun so I identify as a light skin black male
  • My skin is blue, I think I might be a smurf

If they had a Disability: 

  • I don't have enough gift cards
  • My country is run by communists
  • Being 2.86% white
  • Pedophilia
  • Gender dysphoria
  • Thinking I'm not a man
  • Being trans
  • That I'm a tranny
  • I'm mentally retarded
  • I have hands where my feet are and feet where my hands are 
  • Like all transgenders, my disability is the inability to come to terms with biological reality. Madness, essentially.  

The many references to gift cards are because the group conducting the study used $5 Amazon gift cards to entice students to participate.

There were other great responses.  I've probably copied too much of this already, so let me just refer you again to ZeroHedge.  Another good source I found was a Fox News piece.  That piece included this nugget that's worth quoting:

The research team declared that the mockery they received "had a profound impact on morale and mental health," particularly for one transgender researcher who was "already in therapy for anxiety and depression regarding online anti-trans rhetoric." The paper claimed that "managing the study’s data collection caused significant personal distress, and time had to be taken off the project to heal from traumatic harm" of having to read students' responses in the survey.

This quote is the very embodiment of where the idea comes from that you just shouldn't use resumes from people who list their pronouns.  Slip them under the papers on your desk, or somewhere even less accessible. "Are you sure you sent that to me?  I can't seem to find it."

I find this story the most encouraging news I've seen in quite a while.  Engineering undergrads are still being wise asses.  Instead of reflexively parroting the indoctrination they've been fighting for years, they're making fun of the indoctrinators to their faces.  It gives me hope for driving across bridges or flying in airplanes over the next 20 to 30 years.  Maybe everything isn't going to fail.  Those of us who have been talking about how new dark ages are being forced on the world by people who think math is racist have some inspiration.  The answer to "what's your race/ethnic identity?" that one person gave, "Come on man, these questions are stupid.  Everyone is a grab bag of genetics from all over the world" displays common sense in quantities rarely seen anymore.   

Sunday, July 23, 2023

India's Moon Probe Raising Its Orbit

The Chandrayaan-3 lunar lander that India launched July 13th (local time) has been smoothly conducting its mission, raising the farthest point (apogee) of its orbit in discrete engine burns since then.  We learned today via that with July 20th as International Moon Day, the occasion was used to net a little publicity and attention for the mission by doing the next engine burn. The spacecraft moved into a 51,400 km x 228 km orbit, as planned.

That 2-3 PM IST window for the next firing is 0830-0930 GMT; 4:30-5:30 AM EDT.  A translunar injection (TLI) burn will take place on July 31. 

The Tweet also provided a graphic of the approach being used.  By now, this general approach will be familiar.

I should point out that the highest orbit around Earth connects to the highest orbit around the moon and the next several engine burns will be to lower and circularize the lunar orbit.

As posted in the July 14 article here, it's expected to reach lunar orbit on August 5, then lower its apolune (highest point above the moon) in several engine burns.  This could enable a landing attempt by the Vikram lander on August 23 or 24. 

If touchdown is successful, the mission lander and rover will collect science data on the surface for up to 14 Earth days (a single day on the moon). The spacecraft are not expected to survive the deep cold of the lunar night.



Saturday, July 22, 2023

Weekend Update

There has been a background story of Technical Difficulties running in life since the start of the month, or slightly before, that has turned into a major situation.  

Let me start at the setup.  For the last 11 years, I've been driving a 2009 Ford Explorer, bought in January of '12.  It was a high mileage car; it was bought by the original owner in November of 2009, so really just over two years old when we bought it; 26 months if you prefer, and 45.6 thousand miles - that comes out to over 1700 miles per month.  It's a high MSRP version of the Explorer, the Eddie Bauer model with leather seats, and all sorts of comfort options added.

When I was working, I never put that kind of mileage on it; more like 75 miles/week, and it was becoming a low mileage car.  Now, at 13 years old, it has just gone over 90,000 and I've not quite doubled the mileage it had in the first 26 months.  These days, it's unusual if I put more than 30 miles on it in a week.

In September of '21, one of the important modules failed, the Anti-lock Brake System module, which is considered important because it can affect the car's safety.  Because of being safety-related, it sets off an alarm that sounds for 30 seconds, when I turn the car on, and then sounds for another 30 seconds every five minutes while driving.  After taking it to the garage I tend to use and then the dealer, I found that nobody can get the modules because of the legendary "supply chain issues," and I've been driving it with that alarm screaming at me every five minutes for 3 months shy of two years. 

Now that we're setup, it's time for the story.  

Back around the end of June, the car's computer threw a new warning at me: "Check LR Light" (Left Rear).  Sure enough the bulb was out and I bought a replacement.  It didn't work either.  Looking closer, it looked to me like the socket was corroded.  I sprayed it with DeOxIT, then plugged and unplugged the bulb a few times.  Presto, it worked.  For about five minutes.  To my way of thinking that means it's valid to ask if it's that top part of the socket, or the bottom side; the connection of the car's wiring to the socket.  I decided to bring it back to the small garage I mentioned above.  I brought it in on July 5th.  Since it was approaching three years (and under 3000 miles) since my last oil change, I had them do that and a tire rotation. 

To my surprise, later that day they called and said they could get the ABS module I've been living without for nearly two years.  It had gone up 20% from the price I thought I remembered from two years ago, from $1500 to $1800, but with two years of bidenflation, it makes sense.

I picked it up on Friday the 7th, and it was a different car.  We drove up to our local grocery store and both of us kind of reflexively cringed a little as we were getting to the light close to the store because that's where the ABS alarm always screamed.  

On Sunday the 9th on the way to church, the Check Engine Light came on.  Back to the shop on 7/10.  There was something I wanted adjusted at the shop and I pointed out the CEL being on.  They dismissed as being from the new module, and read the codes back with their computer.  It said the fuel system wasn't sealed properly, another of those EPA-related faults.  They said to "keep an eye on it" without saying just how I could know if it got worse.  Since the ABS module failure kept the CEL always on, those few days were the only times in two years it wasn't on. 

We only drove two places in the week, to the grocery store and to a pet supply store in the opposite direction.  The car acted completely normal with that CEL being the only oddity.  This was on Friday, 7/14.

Last Sunday, 7/16, we got into the car to go to church and it wouldn't start.  Sounded completely dead, too.  No clicking, no solenoid sounds, nothing.  I tried my jump starter and it wouldn't do anything, either.

Now it's Monday, 7/17.  I tried a charger designed for starting batteries; and then my jump starter again.  Still no joy.  I finally called a tow truck to bring it back up to the shop.  It took until 2:30 PM; I had called for the truck at about 9:30. 

I expected a call by the end of the day Monday, and called to ask about it Tuesday around 1PM.  The shop supervisor said they had reached the limits of what their test equipment could tell them, and tow it to the dealer.  He said he thought it was the PCM or Powertrain Control Module, which they can't supply or program.  The towing delay wasn't as bad as Monday, but they didn't pick up the car until about 3:45 and it was at the dealership a little after 4.

It's being worked on by a technician the service manager says is among their most senior and best.  They haven't determined what's wrong, after working on it since Wednesday. 

In my spare time, I've been contemplating if I really want to sink a lot of money into a 13 year old car, but it might not be my call.  If it's unfixable, that forces the decision.  If it's many thousands to fix it, it's worth having considered options. The most reliable cars I've ever owned were my 1990 Jeep Cherokee, which had over 150,000 miles when I switched to a Toyota Matrix, the other most reliable car.  A Matrix was a Corolla with a different body on it, and you know how they are.

From the Podcast Macabre.  

Friday, July 21, 2023

SpaceX Boca Chica - Testing To Resume Soon?

Thursday morning, SpaceX rolled Booster 9 back to the launch pad area and as the day was turning to evening, lifted it into place on the Orbital Launch Mount.  

Since Cameron County is listing a road closure for Sunday July 23 from 8AM to 8PM, with alternate days Monday and Tuesday the 24th and 25th, it seems like we could be seeing the beginning of the test campaign that will ultimately qualify B9 for flight.  

This is the first time a booster has been joined together with the launch pad since the April 20th Integrated Flight Test of Starship. It’s unknown how long the booster will remain atop the launch mount for its test campaign. Both Ship 25 and Booster 9 are now together at the launch site for the first time to undergo testing since being picked for the next test in May.

As has been talked about everywhere, SpaceX has been working around the clock to modify and rebuild all of the infrastructure damaged by the flight test (IFT) back on April 20th.  There have been many very deep holes bored into the ground, filled with rebar and tons (and tons) of concrete poured.  There have been repairs and upgrades to the launch mount, orbital tank farm and the addition of the water deluge system. 

The most noticeable difference to the launch pad has been the installation of the water deluge system, which features a steel plate with holes cut at different angles to cover a wider area with water. The system is similar to a shower head, albeit with much more power behind it. It was first tested on July 17th and is thought to only be a partial test.

They've done some interesting tests with firing a Raptor engine at a mock-up of one small part of the system, video here.  I don't know if this is planned, but the test in that video is one Raptor firing horizontally at one portion of the plate; that leads to the thought of whether they'll do a static fire with a full booster blasting the full deluge system vertically, so they can inspect it for damage. 

Also in the last few days, SpaceX moved booster 10 and Starship 28 to their new test facility at what used to be Massey's gun range (now just Masseys Test Facility).  Booster 10 has already had a cryogenic proof test and Ship 28 will have its first cryogenic tests soon.  

Thursday, July 20, 2023

A Feature Article About Buzz Aldrin

July 20, 2023 is the 54th anniversary of the landing of Apollo 11 on the Sea of Tranquility; history's first people to visit the moon.  The three astronauts were command module pilot Michael Collins who never went down to the lunar surface, mission commander Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon, and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon.  Buzz Aldrin is the only surviving member of the three today, at 93.  

In the lead-in to a biography of Buzz, notes, “He may have been second on the moon, but when it comes to historic impact and cultural significance, Buzz Aldrin is second to none.”  

It's an interesting read.  

Most people are aware that after the mission, without that incredible goal to be focused on, Buzz went through some tough times in life.  

In his memoir, titled "Magnificent Desolation: The Long Journey Home from the Moon" (Bloomsbury, 2009), Aldrin compares his state of mind after returning to Earth to his response to viewing the moon's landscape for the first time. He was unable to describe the magnitude of the experience, leading to depression and alcohol dependence.

"I wanted to resume my duties, but there were no duties to resume," Aldrin said in the book. "There was no goal, no sense of calling, no project worth pouring myself into."

Encouraged by then-girlfriend Beverly Van Zile, Aldrin checked into an alcohol rehabilitation center in August 1975. The 28-day stint was enough to make Aldrin realize the depth of his issues but did not prevent further relapses, according to Aldrin would give up alcohol for good in October 1978.

In 1998, Aldrin founded the ShareSpace Foundation, now called the Aldrin Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the expansion of crewed space exploration.

Buzz Aldrin salutes as he stands next to a picture of himself on the moon during a tour of the Apollo 11 exhibit at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, CA, on Tuesday, July 23, 2019. (Image credit: Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG via Getty Images)

Eric Berger starts the weekly Ars Technica Rocket Report with an acknowledgement of his own:

Today marks the 54th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon. For decades this has meant a time to reflect on the glories of the past. But finally, with the Artemis Program, we can also look forward with hope about what is coming. That is something I am thankful for.

Eric has said before that he remembered seeing the Apollo missions as a child and was always hoping to see us return to moon.  I was 15 during Apollo 11 and likewise have long been waiting for some of those things to happen again.  I'm not as confident as he appears to be that Artemis is the way back to the moon, and that it will happen.  Why?  As of now, the date of the first landing, Artemis III, is set to be in 2026.  Start with the program's extremely low launch cadence: two years from Artemis I to Artemis II (2024) and very likely another two years to Artemis III, couple that with talk that NASA's budget is being cut and it just seems it will take longer than they predict.  Have any Artemis milestones ever been completed on time and under budget? 



Wednesday, July 19, 2023

The Closest Thing I've Got to Newsworthy

... is that on Thursday, July 20 at 0409 UTC, SpaceX is scheduled to launch a load of the V2 Mini Starlink satellites from SLC-4E (Space Launch Complex 4 East) at Vandenberg Space Force Base.  That's 9:09 PM on Wednesday, July 19th local time, and one hour later in every time zone going east in the CONUS.  It's 12:09AM and on the 20th only here in the Eastern Time Zone. 

Originally meant to launch yesterday evening, the countdown was aborted 5 seconds before lift-off. SpaceX did not specify a reason for the abort, however, during the first attempt of the night, the launch director paused the countdown due to a “perceived leak in the second stage,” which was heard in the company’s Mission Control Audio stream on YouTube.

I was a bit surprised to read that they've never launched the V2 Mini satellites from the west coast, only V1 and V1.5.  While V2 Mini launches from Cape Canaveral have been 21 or 22 at a time, they're saying this one will carry 15.  It will be launched toward the south out of Vandy, and go toward a 43 degree inclination angle orbit. 

The SpaceX launches site adds:

This is the 10th flight for the first stage booster supporting this mission, which previously launched NROL-87, NROL-85, SARah-1, SWOT, Transporter-8, and four Starlink missions. Following stage separation, the first stage will land on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship, which will be stationed in the Pacific Ocean.

Wednesday May 10th launch from SLC-4E, which was the 200th consecutive successful Falcon 9 launch.  As I said back then, Vandenberg is actually a pretty place when it's not covered in the usual pea soup fog and you can actually see the place. 


Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Rocket Lab Gets A Little Closer...

... to booster reuse for their light duty, orbital class booster, Electron.  Last night's launch from New Zealand of their 39th mission (7th of this year) was completely successful, including recovery of the booster, as seen in this tweet from last night.

Rocket Lab has implemented an entirely different approach to booster recovery than SpaceX; it relies on neither using residual fuel for engine burns or soft landing on a barge at sea.  Instead, after stage separation, the booster continues to coast upward in altitude to a maximum (same as the Falcon 9 first stage).  The booster uses its reaction control thrusters to orient itself to survive the intense heating that occurs from atmospheric drag during reentry; the booster eventually reaches speeds up to Mach 8, eight times the speed of sound, during descent.  Once the booster starts to enter the denser parts of the atmosphere, it deploys a drogue parachute to start dropping the speed.  Once the speed has been reduced enough, it deploys the main parachute and splashes down in the ocean.  

Main chute deployed, seconds before splashdown last night (US Eastern time).

Rocket Lab has been working on this approach for a few years and was the subject of a write-up here at the end of March.  In the lead-up to attempting a recovery that didn't involve catching the booster with a helicopter, they were clearly moving in this direction.

Murielle Baker, a Rocket Lab spokesperson, said “It turns out Electron survives a swim in the ocean well enough that many of its components actually pass re-qualification for flight, so for this mission we are putting the theory to the test of whether we need a helicopter at all.”  Part of the experiment will have the recovery ship flush critical parts of the booster, such as its Rutherford engines, with fresh water to get the salt out of areas most susceptible to the damage.  

Once the booster is back at Rocket Lab’s Auckland factory, the company will disassemble and inspect the nine main engines and remove avionics for examination and re-testing. Rocket Lab has already hot-fired a Rutherford engine recovered from an Electron flight and found it passed all tests to fly again.

I've read elsewhere that Rocket Lab's engineers did most of their changes to the booster for reuse by sealing critical areas in it, to make rinsing the saltwater out of it easier and more productive.  The trade there is that every pound of RTV silicone sealant or conformal coating added is one less pound to orbit. 

The rocket will now be brought back to New Zealand for their teams to look over the data and make adjustments for future launches. It is unlikely this rocket will fly again, but there is a high chance 1 or more of the engines could make another flight as the company marches forward to reusability of the entire first stage.


Monday, July 17, 2023

Another "Cannibal CME" to Hit Us Tuesday, July 18

In November of 2021, I was introduced to a term I'd never heard before, a "Cannibal CME" (where CME is short for a solar Coronal Mass Ejection).  Naturally, I passed that on to anyone interested.  I attribute the name to that ubiquitous phenomenon of every news story trying to be more terrifying and fear-inducing than the others to get those clicks.  A Cannibal CME is actually two CMEs spaced in time and in speed so that the second one is faster than the first, and overtakes it, "eating" it.  The result is a bigger cloud of plasma moving in (more or less) the same direction. 

With that background out of the way, is reporting today that we appear to be in the path of a cannibal that will hit us early on the 18th.

On July 14, the sun launched a CME alongside a dark eruption — a solar flare containing unusually cool plasma that makes it look like a dark wave compared to the rest of the sun's fiery surface — from sunspot AR3370, a small dark patch that until then had gone largely unnoticed, according to On July 15, a second, faster CME was launched from the much larger sunspot AR3363.

A simulation from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center showed that the second storm will catch up with the first CME and form a cannibalistic cloud, with a strong likelihood of it hitting Earth on July 18.

That NOAA simulation in the previous paragraph shows the large CME hitting Earth at around 0600 UTC, which is 2AM ET.  The prediction calls for a minor storm (G1).  (Just a note that the simulation has changed while I'm watching it).  Both CMEs came from C-class solar flares, the middle band of solar eruption strength (in order: A, B, C, M, X).  I think I've said before that most of us can do as much damage to the grid and infrastructure as those lower rank flares do by farting on the powerlines.  In a measured test, I did more damage than a B class flare by farting on a powerline transformer.  No, that was a joke.

The article on also includes this interesting animated .gif graphic, showing the first CME followed by the second and finally the impact of the second CME on the first. 

I don't know why they animated the sun rotating in a wrong direction (as if looking down the axis the sun rotates around) and don't show realistic depictions of the sunspots moving across the sun's disk.  But maybe I'm just being too critical.  

We are, of course, moving toward the peak of cycle 25 so the chance of flares and CMEs will be higher for the next four years than the last four years.  Get used to the hype. 

Sunday, July 16, 2023

SpaceX Goes 2 for 2 on 16th Flights

According to , last night's launch of 54 Starlink Satellites in Group 5-15 was the second attempt at the 16th mission of a Falcon 9 booster, and successful just like the previous attempt. While neither the news site nor the SpaceX launches website tells us the booster number, SpaceX's website adds the following information:

On Saturday, July 15 at 11:50 p.m. ET, Falcon 9 launched 54 Starlink satellites to low-Earth orbit from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Base in Florida.

This was the 16th flight for the first stage booster supporting this mission, which previously launched GPS III-3, Turksat 5A, Transporter-2, Intelsat G-33/G-34, Transporter-6, and now 11 Starlink missions.

Checking the first two satellite names here on the blog, this appears to be B1060.  The mission video is at the SpaceX website linked above or on YouTube.  

While there was a delay of the launch from late Thursday evening/early Friday morning to late Saturday evening, the mission appeared to unfold with no issues whatsoever.  The abort was called by the vehicle with about 40 seconds left in the count, due to high liquid oxygen levels on one of the rocket's nine first-stage engines, SpaceX components engineer Zachary Luppen said during live commentary.  It has probably been said so often that everyone has memorized it but there's a practically infinite number of ways to do a launch incorrectly but only one way to do it right.  The whole purpose of a countdown is to do a very large number of tests to assure that every system will work properly. 

Of course, the record for 16 successful flights isn't an old record; it was set by B1058 less than a week ago.  The mission was SpaceX's 247th mission overall and their 207th orbital rocket landing.  Every one of those numbers is a new record.  

[This] batch of Starlink satellites stands out from the thousands SpaceX has launched to date as it is the final set of Starlink Version 1.5 satellites the company will launch, Luppen said. The company is shifting to a new Version 2 of the Starlink internet satellites, and has already launched mini-V2 versions into orbit.



Saturday, July 15, 2023

A Little Cycle 25 Update

Back on my Wandering Around Monday, I noted that solar cycle 25 had just posted the highest sunspot number since cycle 23 back in 2002; the highest sunspot number in 21 years. I noted that Dr. Scott McIntosh, of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) was set to do a presentation for an online group I follow and that I'd post an update as soon as it was available.  

I don't have a prepared presentation to lift graphics out of as of today, but I thought that I'd offer a little update based on watching the video of his presentation.  Since the one measure of solar activity that seems to be the most widely known is the 10.7cm solar flux (approx 2.80 GHz) I thought I'd present a screen capture of where we are in the cycle vs. his predictions. 

The dark green, not very smooth line is the predicted flux.  The wider, light green area is the included uncertainty bounds and the jagged red lines are short term measurements through the end of June '23.  To my eyes, the measured data is running a little below predicted but there's no attempt to plot some sort of average or get something closer to the dark green curve in appearance. 

Dr. McIntosh speculates that the peak of this cycle is going to be earlier than previously predicted, possibly before the end of '23 - and both his prediction and the consensus prediction for this peak have been pulled forward already (he comments that he's busy with predicting cycle 26).  Note that his dark curve shows a dual peak solar cycle with the two separated by about a year.  Most of the previous cycles show dual peaks, and the common explanation is that the behavior of the northern vs. the southern hemispheres of the sun aren't as symmetrical as cycles that have a single peak.

Interestingly, he presents another plot earlier in the video showing the two hemispheres are much more similar to each other than the previous two cycles.  

More information as it becomes available. 

Friday, July 14, 2023

Small Space News Story Roundup 13

As usual - stories that caught my interest that are on the small side.  

India launches a lunar lander mission

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) successfully launched their Chandrayaan-3 lunar landing mission from Satish Dhawan Space Centre, on July 13 at 14:30 local time (09:00GMT) aboard a Launch Vehicle Mark-III or LVM3, India's heaviest lift vehicle.  This can be viewed as the first step of their second attempt to do a soft landing on the moon.  What?  

Liftoff came nearly three years to the date of the launch of the Chandrayaan-2 mission to the Moon. That launch successfully placed a spacecraft into lunar orbit, but a landing attempt was unsuccessful. The Indian space agency, ISRO, lost communication with its Vikram lander at about 2 kilometers above the lunar surface due to a software problem. It subsequently crashed into the Moon.

So the Indian space agency decided to learn from its mistakes and try again. The Chandrayaan-3 mission has eschewed the lunar orbiter, as the Indian spacecraft remains operational after three years. So this launch consisted of a propulsion module, a new Vikram lander, and a small rover named Pragyan. 

This is clearly a second attempt at the ambitious mission, but why "the first step of their second attempt?"  Simply because this isn't like a 1960s US lunar mission that launched directly for the lunar surface and it's going to take a more circuitous but fuel-efficient route to the moon, as other satellites are doing these days.  See, for example, Japan's Hakuto-R M1 or the Peregrine lander (scheduled for the first Vulcan Centaur Cert-1 flight).

It's scheduled to reach lunar orbit on August 5, setting the stage for a landing attempt as early as August 23. The Vikram lander will attempt to make a soft touchdown in the southern hemisphere at a latitude of about 69 degrees south.

India developed this mission on a budget of $90 million, a rounding error in something like an Artemis launch, so here's hoping they got everything right. 

A larger version is available here

To date, only three nations on Earth have successfully landed on the moon, the US, the Soviet Union and the PRC (China).  India is attempting to become the fourth country to do so and is the first of as many as half a dozen missions that will attempt to land on the Moon during the next six months.

Astra is in financial trouble

This week's Rocket Report says the aspiring small launch company is in financial trouble and trying to raise enough capital to continue development of their Rocket 4.0. 

Astra is pursuing a capital-intensive development of its new Rocket 4 launch vehicle at a time when its stock price has been on a precipitous decline. Now Astra is planning a "reverse stock split" and is attempting to raise up to $65 million through an offering of common stock, CNBC reports. A reverse split can be seen as a sign a company is in distress and is trying to “artificially” boost its stock price, or it can be viewed as a way for a viable company with a beaten-up stock to continue operations on a public stock exchange.

Astra is short on cash ... In its most recent quarterly financial report released in May, Astra said there was "substantial doubt" about the company's ability to continue. At the time, Astra said its production and operation plans will be scaled back or curtailed if it is unable to raise "substantial additional capital." Astra shelved its Rocket 3 small satellite launch vehicle last year after five failures in seven orbital launch attempts. It's now focusing on development of a larger vehicle called Rocket 4 and spacecraft propulsion systems.

I'll forever think of Astra as the company with the "World's Most Interesting Rocket Flight Abort" in August of '21, with the Rocket going sideways several seconds.  After only making orbit twice out of seven attempts they decided in August of  '22 to abandon the Rocket 3.3 platform and focus on the Rocket 4.0. 

Date set for next Japanese launch

Japan's space agency has set August 26 for the launch of the next H-2A rocket. The H-2A rocket will deploy an astronomy satellite called the X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM), along with the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) mission in a bid to become the first Japanese spacecraft to achieve a soft landing on the lunar surface.

You will probably remember the failure of the Japanese H3 launch in early March of this year.  The H3's upper stage failed to ignite and the H-2A uses a similar engine, so the failure grounded the fleet until it was understood.  

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Vulcan Centaur Upper Stage Update

In Tuesday's post about the BE-4 engine explosion during Acceptance Testing, there was an item that ULA's Tory Bruno was going to do an update press conference today with more details on Vulcan Centaur.  That conference was held today and reported by Eric Berger of Ars Technica. Bruno began by saying that the tank failed due to "higher-than-anticipated stress near the top of the liquid hydrogen propellant tank and slightly weaker welding."  

The Centaur V upper stage was destroyed during pressure testing at Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama on March 29. Bruno said this was the 15th test in a series of 45 tests to qualify the Centaur stage for all potential mission profiles. However, about halfway through the test the hydrogen tank started leaking, and over the course of four and a half minutes the leak expanded.

During this time hydrogen leaked into a confined area of the test stand, a relatively enclosed space. After it reached a flammable concentration and found an ignition source, the hydrogen caught fire. This seriously damaged the test stand as well as the hydrogen tank and liquid oxygen tank—loaded with liquid nitrogen for this test.

It was observed from the start of the failure analysis that the dome had failed, and by matching pieces of the shattered metal, they were able to deduce exactly where the failure started.  Given that, by doing high-fidelity modeling of the stresses, the team found there were unexpectedly higher loads there. Next, the team analyzed the strength of the welds nearby and found they were not as high as previously stated.  Bruno went on to say:

"The two things together, higher loads and somewhat lower strength in the weld, are what caused the crack to begin," he said. "The other thing I would ask you to appreciate, since we're being completely transparent here, is how we were already 15 tests in, which is considerably more testing and exposure to many more pressure cycles and lots and lots of more time with the structure sitting under pressure than would ever happen in any single flight."

Bruno then described the relatively straightforward fix.  The area near the failure will be strengthened with an additional ring of stainless steel and strips of metal. These corrective actions will add about 140 kg to the mass of the upper stage, which seems to be a negligible 0.5% loss of payload capacity.  The payload capacity is rated at 27 metric tons to low-Earth orbit; this change drops it to 26.86 metric tons.

Given how far along the test and qualification process this tank was before failure (15th of 45 tests), the new tank that's being built will be subjected to a handful of additional pressure tests to verify its predicted behavior.  As has been reported, the upper stage for the first flight test, Cert-1, has been de-stacked and returned to the company's factory in Decatur, Alabama for similar modifications.

Bruno said performing the final qualification tests for the Centaur V anomaly and modifying the flight version of the tank are the final two steps needed before Vulcan can launch. He said he was pleased with the performance of the rocket's first stage during a recent "flight readiness firing" test, when the rocket's BE-4 engines ignited for a few seconds.

ULA is focused on getting the two certification flights completed so that they can start working through their enormous list of sold missions.  Bruno said he anticipates a period of four to six weeks between the completion of the qualification tests and the launch of Vulcan's Cert-1 mission.  The BE-4 that self destructed during its ATP on June 30 was scheduled to be built into the Cert-2 booster.  Blue Origin's production line has other engines in process, partly for just such a problem, and it looks feasible that both certification missions could be concluded fairly early in '24, perhaps the end of March.  Given that, it seems that DOD launches could begin by the summer.  

We can't call it Elon Standard Time but considering any predicted launch time as being a bit on the optimistic side, especially the launch of a vehicle that has never flown, is prudent.

The orange cloud on the left is the anomaly that started this whole series of events, resulting in the modifications talked about here.  Most of us would call that anomaly an explosion.