Saturday, September 30, 2023

30 Days Has September

I guess everybody knows that childhood rhyme, but my point is simply that it's the end of September and while it's not fall, it's not August either.  Ann Barnhardt posted this:

My reaction was "same thing in Florida."  It's not 90 at the moment because it's about 20 minutes after sunset and it has been raining since around 2 PM.  On September 20th.  To be completely honest, the days' highs for the last week have only maxed out at about 87.  The "feels like" (heat index) temperature is more like 97, while a month ago, the highs would be in the low 90s with the heat index around 10 to 15 degrees higher.  For what it's worth, my reaction to the heat index is usually that when they tell me it's 87 with a feels like temperature of 97, I say it "feels like" 87 here.

Saying it has been raining since 2 PM on the 20th is a PFA number, but it has been raining daily for a couple of weeks.  Launches from Cape Canaveral have been delayed hours or overnight.  Last night's Falcon 9 launch was delayed from around 6:49 PM until 10 PM (video from NASA here at T-30 seconds) and previous launches have also been delayed.  

The Falcon Heavy launch of the mission to asteroid 16 Psyche has been slipped one week until Thursday, October 12 at 10:16 AM EDT.  The delay "...allows the NASA team to complete verification of the parameters used to control the Psyche spacecraft's nitrogen cold gas thrusters," they said in a posting.  The Atlas V launch of the first two Amazon Kuiper satellites has been set to Friday, October 6 at 2:00 PM EDT.  There are a few Falcon 9 missions scattered in the next two weeks as well.

The Psyche spacecraft issue is uncomfortable, considering the year long mission delay was specifically because of software issues like this. This launch window for the Psyche mission closes on October 25.  Slipping seven days out of a 20 day window seems like a lot. 

By the way; does anyone know what font that is in the graphic?  I opened the jpeg in MS Paint and went through lots of fonts without finding anything that matched it. 

Friday, September 29, 2023

3D Printed Solid Rocket Motors?

A startup named X-Bow Systems has received a $17.8 million contract from the US Air Force Research Laboratory to demonstrate additive manufacturing technologies for solid rocket propulsion. 

The three-year contract, announced Sept. 26, is part of a $60 million agreement announced in April known as a strategic funding increase, or STRATFI. X-Bow’s contract includes $30 million in U.S. Air Force funding and $30 million in matching funds from private investors. AFRL’s $17.8 million contract covers a portion of the government’s share of the agreement.  [$17.8 million out of $30 million is around 59% of it - SiG]

The AFRL has a program going called Rapid Energetics & Advanced Rocket Manufacturing (RE-ARM), intended to help reduce the cost and schedule to produce propellants for tactical rocket motors.

X-Bow CEO and founder Jason Hundley said the AFRL contract will help mature the company’s manufacturing technology and processes. The company has been working on solid rocket technology projects with AFRL at Edwards Air Force Base, California. 
A solid propellant production line that traditionally would take anywhere from three to six years to stand up, “we’re looking to do that within 12 months” and at much lower cost, Hundley said.

Hundley went on to say that they've designed their process to work with any size Solid Rocket Motor from “... from the 2-inch diameter level into the 60-inch plus diameter level.”  The company hopes to eventually compete for contracts against established solid rocket manufacturers like Northrop Grumman and Aerojet Rocketdyne, which was recently acquired by L3Harris

April 2023 test of an X-Bow Systems additively manufactured solid propellant.  The source article doesn't say how big that SRM is, but judging by the screws and other hardware visible on the test mount, it looks closer to 2" than 60".  Image credit: X-Bow Systems

This looks like a fun project for the home experimenter.  Print solid rocket motors out of some sort of liquid that hardens into the proper size and shape as it cures; perhaps print a ceramic nozzle on it.  I'm pretty sure I can't be the only one around here who played with model rockets, over 50 years ago in my case.  I'm thinking of the little solid-fuel rocket engines we used back then.  I'm sure these need to be higher performance, which means they need to be in metal tubes rather than cardboard. 

Thursday, September 28, 2023

NASA Opens the OSIRIS-REx Sample Container

While not releasing much information, NASA Johnson Spaceflight Center in Texas said that on Tuesday, Sept. 26, they opened OSIRIS-REx's asteroid-sample canister for the first time in seven years, two days after the capsule containing it landed in the Utah desert.  

The NASA Astromaterials account on X tweeted:

“A scientific treasure box.”

Scientists gasped as the lid was lifted from the #OSIRISREx asteroid sample return canister, showing dark powder and sand-sized particles on the inside of the lid and base. 

Photo of the capsule inside the glove box/sterile container where it's currently contained.  The "dark powder" is visible facing the camera on the base in front of and all along the right side of the container where the cover closes.  Image credit: NASA, from the JSC's new facility for this mission.

NASA blogs

Johnson houses the world’s largest collection of astromaterials, and curation experts there will perform the intricate disassembly of the Touch and Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) to get down to the bulk sample within. These operations are happening in a new laboratory designed specifically for the OSIRIS-REx mission. The aluminum lid was removed inside a glovebox designed to enable working with the large piece of hardware.

When the TAGSAM is separated from the canister, it will be inserted in a sealed transfer container to preserve a nitrogen environment for up to about two hours. This container allows enough time for the team to insert the TAGSAM into another unique glovebox. Ultimately, this speeds up the disassembly process. There is a very high level of focus from the team — the sample will be revealed with an amazing amount of precision to accommodate delicate hardware removal so as not to come into contact with the sample inside.

Ultimately, researchers will be studying this sample for years, if not decades, and the portions not being analyzed will be kept in the dry nitrogen atmosphere.  NASA will unveil the Bennu sample to the public on Oct. 11 at 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT), 17 days after the capsule returned, during a webcast event at

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Jeff Bezos Replaces Blue Origin CEO

Two years and two months ago (July of '21) my daily piece was to relay a story from Ars Technica's Eric Berger that I called "Is It Too Late for Jeff Bezos to Save Blue Origin?"  That piece was written the day after what was the company's peak moment; their first manned launch with Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark, octogenarian astronaut Wally Funk, and 18 year old Oliver Daemen. 

On Monday, the story broke that Bezos had fired the chief executive of Blue, Bob Smith and replaced him with a former vice president from Amazon, Dave Limp, who stepped down as Amazon's vice president of devices and services last month.  Writing for Ars Technica is Eric Berger who summed it up this way:

To put things politely, Smith has had a rocky tenure as Blue Origin's chief executive. After being personally vetted and hired by Bezos, Smith took over from Rob Meyerson in 2017. The Honeywell engineer was given a mandate to transform Blue Origin into a large and profitable space business.
As a space reporter, I have spoken with dozens of current and former Blue Origin employees, and virtually none of them have had anything positive to say about Smith's tenure as chief executive. I asked one current employee about the hiring of Limp on Monday afternoon, and their response was, "Anything is better than Bob."

The company has grown enormously, from 1500 people to nearly 11,000.  On the other hand, growing a company isn't terribly difficult, in the sense of adding warm bodies who may or may not know what they're doing.  The problem is that Smith has been significantly late on a number of key programs, including delivering the BE-4 rocket engines to United Launch Alliance.  Delivering them relies on making them manufacturable which Blue needs as well, for getting the New Glenn to fly routinely.  Adding people without adding income and building your product line just doesn't mean much.   

Smith received consistently low marks for his performance as chief executive of Blue Origin on Glassdoor.  I didn't remember until looking up that July '21 story as a starting point that just over two months after that first flight, a group of current and former Blue Origin employees wrote a blistering letter about the company under Smith.  The reason behind both of those may well be that Smith came from an old line engineering company, Honeywell, while Blue was selling itself as New Space.  It's true that they beat SpaceX to reflying rockets, but they haven't extended that past their "New Shepard" suborbital tourist flights.  As always, in any company that lives on innovation, the question is, "so what have you done for me lately?" 

As for the new Blue Origin CEO, Dave Limp, pardon me if I don't really see anything that indicates he'll be super.  Originally a computer scientist, he began his career at Apple in the mid-1980s directing the North and South American PowerBook division.  He worked in venture capital and was chief strategy officer of Palm before joining Amazon in 2010.  

At Amazon, Limp had a high-profile job overseeing the development of the company’s consumer electronic devices, including the Kindle, Fire TV, and Echo, as well as the Alexa voice assistant. Some of the shine on Limp's star seemingly wore off in recent years, as Alexa has been perceived to be a "colossal failure" by some accounts and, partly at least, led to Amazon shedding 10,000 jobs

The only thing approximating space experience that gets mentioned is that his consumer electronics division also oversaw the development of the Project Kuiper satellite constellation, designed to compete with Starlink.  ULA is about to launch the first two experimental Kuiper satellites next month on an Atlas V.  

He arrives at Blue Origin with a lot of work to do. The company has major programs, including the heavy-lift New Glenn rocket, the Blue Moon lunar lander, and the Orbital Reef space station in the development phase. He must balance these initiatives with the company's ongoing work to scale production of the BE-4 rocket engine as well as the New Shepard suborbital spacecraft.

After the first New Shepard tourist flight, Bob Smith (black ball cap and sweatshirt) walks alongside Jeff Bezos (blue flight suit and floppy white hat) near their flight range in Texas.  Joe Raedle/Getty Images 

Let's wish Blue Origin luck.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

A Couple of Small Space Station Stories

Short (and short term) story first:

Wednesday morning at 3:54 AM ET, 0754 UTC, the crew that has been on the ISS for just over a year will leave the ISS in their Soyuz spacecraft bound for the steppes of Kazakhstan.  If all goes according to plan they'll land at 7:17 AM ET, 1117 UTC, roughly 3-1/2 hours later.

Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos along with NASA Astronaut Frank Rubio flew up to the ISS on September 21, 2022 for the typical six month crew rotation on the station.  Three months into their six month stay, on December 15th, their Soyuz spacecraft was found to be leaking and lost all of its coolant to space.  The capsule was deemed unsafe to fly and the three had to wait for a replacement Soyuz capsule that was prepared, launched, and arrived at the ISS on February 25, 2023.  Seven months ago.

So why are they leaving now?  The replacement crew also needed a Soyuz capsule and this one needed more more work before it would be available, earlier this month.  The replacement astronauts — NASA's Loral O'Hara and cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub — launched on Sept. 15 and arrived at the ISS that same day.

As of now, it appears that Frank Rubio will become the American astronaut with the longest mission in space. 

If they land on time on Wednesday, their mission will have lasted 371 days. Rubio, a spaceflight rookie, now holds the American record for the longest continuous spaceflight, besting the 355-day mark set by NASA's Mark Vande Hei. 

While the mission for the new crew is a bit complicated (details at the source article) Loral O'Hara expects to return to the ground in much less than a year.  Frank Rubio went up expecting he'd be done in six months. 

NASA Requests Proposals to Deorbit the ISS 

Originally referred to as a Space Tug, NASA has upped the name to the more elegant sounding U.S. Deorbit Vehicle (USDV) and has issued a "Contract Availability" request for industry input on vehicles to ensure a safe reentry and (presumably) splashdown of parts of the ISS into a remote area in an ocean when the ISS is decommissioned in 2030.   

USDV proposals are due on Nov. 17, and more details about the requirements are available on this U.S. government website. NASA is allowing vendors to suggest much of the design of the vehicle as well as the best payment type: firm fixed price, or cost plus incentive fee for each of the initial phases (design, development, test and evaluation) to be followed by firm fixed price.

"At the conclusion of the International Space Station program, the station will be deorbited in a controlled manner to avoid populated areas," NASA officials wrote in a blog post Sept. 20 announcing the request for proposals. A Russian Progress cargo vehicle, which is usually used to boost the ISS' orbit periodically, they added, would not be sufficient for the job. As such, "a new spacecraft solution would provide more robust capabilities for responsible deorbit."

NASA emphasized that the USDV would be responsible for deorbiting the U.S. segment, but did not provide details on how the other main international partners would remove their sections from orbit. "Partner contributions (are) based on mass percent ownership by agency," NASA officials said, framing the ISS deorbit as "a shared responsibility" among the partnership.

The ISS partners that will need to deorbit modules, in order from largest to smallest portions, are the Russian Roscosmos agency, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).  The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is a partner but doesn't have a full module on the ISS - it has the robotic Canadarm2.  Roscosmos has recently changed their agreement to stay on the ISS until 2028; the others are committed to staying on until decommissioning in 2030.

NASA expects that the USDV will either be a completely new vehicle or a modification to an existing one.  They point out that this is going to be a single mission vehicle that must function on its first flight, with sufficient redundancy and ability to recover from problems to continue the critical deorbit burn.  They go on to add:

"As with any development effort of this size, the USDV will take years to develop, test and certify."

The thing that strikes me about this is that it seems the work would have to be starting in 2024 at best - the fiscal award couldn't be sooner than the 1st quarter of NASA's '24 fiscal year because that starts  Sunday and the proposal responses are due in November.  They want full development of a critical spacecraft in six years.  For comparison, the contract to start SLS was awarded in 2011, with its first flight taking 11 years, November of '22.  Almost twice the time available to get USDV qualified.  This should be a simpler problem, so am I comparing apples and oranges? 

ISS viewed from an approaching vehicle.  Image credit: NASA

Edited at 0900 ET on 9/27/23 to add:  Forgot to link to the source article on for the second story.  Link is now in the first sentence.  There are also some rare, good comments at the source on the question of why don't they preserve it by putting it in a higher orbit or on the moon or "someplace else" at the bottom of the article. 

Monday, September 25, 2023

That Other Sample Return Mission Isn't Looking that Good

On the heels of the samples successfully returned from Asteroid Bennu yesterday, it brought to mind a story that appeared earlier in the week about the plans to bring samples from Mars to Earth in a future mission called the Mars Sample Return mission.  The samples are being collected now and stored in titanium tubes ("the size of a large hot dog") onboard the Perseverance rover currently exploring in the Jezero crater alongside the Ingenuity helicopter.  The future mission would find Perseverance, retrieve the samples and return them to Earth.  It has been in the planning stages for at least a couple of years.

The story, from Thursday, Sept. 21, is that an independent review of the program was called by NASA and the reviewers concluded that the program is unworkable in its current form.  

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

NASA had been planning to launch the critical elements of its Mars Sample Return mission, or MSR, as soon as 2028, with a total budget for the program of $4.4 billion. The independent review board's report, which was released publicly on Thursday, concludes that both this timeline and budget are wildly unrealistic.

The review went on to say that the very earliest the mission could launch from Earth is 2030, and this opportunity would only be possible with a total budget of $8 billion to $11 billion. 


The MSR mission is a "deep-space exploration priority for NASA," it said, but then went on to say it has had unrealistic budget and schedule expectations since it started, as well as an "unwieldy" program organization and would end up hurting or ruining other deep-space missions.  Further, this isn't the first time this sort of summary has been talked about.  A report published by Ars Technica about three months ago also raised serious questions about costs and schedule.

In addition to being a priority for NASA, it's a priority for the entire planetary science community as well as being a joint US/European Space Agency mission.  

"MSR represents the critical next step in a strategic program of Mars Exploration spanning the past four decades," the report states. "US and European orbiters and US rovers have found promising sites where life might once have existed."

A sample return mission has been a high priority of the scientific community for decades, including being the most highly requested mission in the last two surveys of the National Academies Decadal Survey of Planetary Science report that informs space policy decisions made by Congress and the president.

The reviewers also noted the importance of NASA and the European Space Agency leading the world in space exploration as a hallmark of soft power. China has previously announced plans to launch its "Tianwen-3" sample return mission to Mars as early as 2028 or 2030, which represents a clear challenge to US scientific leadership in Mars exploration.

All in all the report makes more than 20 findings and recommendations to NASA and JPL that its current plans for the Mars Sample Return mission are broken.  

NASA has responded to the report's release by announcing its own review of the review, saying that this team will make a recommendation by March 2024 regarding a path forward for Mars Sample Return within a balanced overall science program.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Samples from Asteroid Bennu Brought to Earth Today

NASA's OSIRIS-REx probe's samples taken from the asteroid Bennu arrived in Utah today and are in the process of being transported to a lab in Texas for the detailed analysis the sample is intended to get. 

NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission brought back the largest unspoiled sample of material ever returned to Earth from beyond the Moon, probably on the order of about 250 grams, or roughly 8 ounces, according to estimates. The spacecraft collected the samples from asteroid Bennu, a loosely-bound rocky world about the size of a small mountain, during a touch-and-go landing in October 2020.

This is the first asteroid return mission for the US and the third in world history after two missions carried out by Japan, returning in 2010 and 2020.  

I've done a few blog posts on this mission as the last couple of months have passed by, the first post on the last of July, talking about the involvement of astrophysicist Brian May, better known as the virtuoso guitarist for the British rock group Queen and the next article posted on the fifth of September talking about preparations for today's recovery.  While it's tempting to consider this the height of the mission, it's more like the midway point. 

At the end of its 4-billion-mile celestial journey, the OSIRIS-REx mothership spacecraft released a 32-inch-wide (81-centimeter) sample return capsule early Sunday as it darted toward Earth. More than four hours later, the capsule landed at the US Air Force's Utah Test and Training Range southwest of Salt Lake City at 8:52 am local time (10:52 am EDT or 14:52 UTC).

Scientists working on NASA's $1 billion OSIRIS-REx mission watched anxiously as the capsule came back to Earth, braving temperatures of more than 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit after slamming into the atmosphere at 27,650 mph (12.3 kilometers per second). 

The recovered capsule on the ground in Utah this morning - Utah time.  Photo credit: NASA/Keegan Barber

You see, the spacecraft was passing Earth on its way to the asteroid Apophis.  After releasing the landing capsule, the OSIRIS-REx mothership fired thrusters to steer away from its collision course with Earth. The spacecraft then soared a few hundred miles above the planet, as it flew by.  

This next target, named Apophis, is an elongated asteroid with an average diameter of about 1,100 feet (340 meters). It became one of the Solar System's most famous—infamous?—asteroids soon after its discovery in 2004. At that time, preliminary tracking of the asteroid indicated there was a small chance it could impact Earth on April 13, 2029. Since then, more refined data on the orbit of Apophis have eliminated any chance it will strike Earth for at least the next 100 years.

The next phase of the mission, called OSIRIS-Apophis Explorer (OSIRIS-APEX), will take the spacecraft on several more loops around the Sun. Soon after Apophis passes less than 20,000 miles (32,000 kilometers) from Earth in 2029, the OSIRIS-APEX spacecraft will enter orbit around the asteroid for more than a year of close-up observations. 

In the immediate future, though, we have this:

The recovery team delivered the sample return capsule to a temporary clean room at the US Army's Dugway Proving Ground, where scientists will prepare it for shipment to a permanent curation facility in Houston. Image Credit: NASA TV

The clean room facility is vital for handling the samples and preventing contamination of the samples by Earth life forms. 

“We’ve been studying meteorites that we think look like Bennu, so I fully expect to find amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, sugars, an energy source for life, nucleobases, parts of the genetic code," said Danny Glavin, a senior scientist for sample return at NASA. "So we’ll see what Bennu tells us. One thing I’ve learned from this mission is (there have been) so many surprises. Sample analysis, probably, won’t be an exception. We're going to be surprised.

“One of the challenges with all meteorites is they get contaminated," Glavin said. "You’re looking for the building blocks of life, and the contamination really makes it hard to tease out what formed in space. That’s why this is so special, these Bennu samples (with) pristine materials. We’re going to be able to trust the organic results from these samples.”

If you grew up watching sci-fi movies where some thing collected in space starts killing everybody and everything around it, you may be thinking of contamination from the other direction - outward from the capsule not contaminating what's in the capsule.  Elsewhere in the article, one of the mission scientists states that Bennu has been in its current state longer than Earth has been here.  In the hostile environment of space, it seems unlikely a dangerous organism could survive that long.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

It's Almost Fall

I know that technically fall started early this morning East Coast time, and while it isn't really fall-like weather here, it's not August 54th, either.  It hit 67 this morning for the official low temperature at the airport, and the daily climate report says the normal value for this date is 73.  

                VALUE   VALUE  
TEMPERATURE (F)             
  MAXIMUM         85     87     
  MINIMUM         67     73     
  AVERAGE         76     80 

As you can see, the overall picture is that it was a cooler than average for the 23rd, but not a particularly strong cold front.  Not particularly strong winds, just the overall picture of being south of tropical storm Ophelia and getting some of the large-scale effects of that low pressure system.  

It's not unusual.  Actually, if we had gotten a cold front on the first day of fall, that would have been more unusual.

On top of that, I don't want to jinx myself, but nothing around the house is broken at the moment.  I talked about some of it in early August.  The plumbing issues are long resolved, it led to some issues in our refrigerator when some water dumped into the freezer and formed large amounts of ice that had to be broken off and gotten rid of.  The water was apparently from the feed line to the ice maker although exactly how and when isn't certain.  

The big thing mentioned in that August post, that the air conditioner in the shop addition had died, turned into it having to be replaced and that was a big chunk of change.  It got put in a week ago Wednesday and while it has taken some getting used to, it seems to be working properly.  Part of the delay in getting going on replacing it was my slow decision process, looking into alternatives like window units instead of a replacement mini-split. 

The main issue is that I still haven't gotten around to the job I talked about last Sunday - weeding.  Mrs. Graybeard tried Round Up and while it probably was a bit better than if instead of Round Up we had used fertilizer, it certainly didn't act like a "weed killer."  It didn't even seem to be a weed annoyer, just not a weed enhancer.  The adjustments I made to my bike's brakes have held up to a few rides and the fix looks promising at the moment. 

Friday, September 22, 2023

Small Space News Story Roundup 20

A couple of stories that are small but notable - from this week's Rocket Report from Ars Technica.

About that FAA Proposal To Reduce Space Debris

There are two common states to agencies like the FAA "solving" these problems: insane overregulation versus either too little, too late, or both.  Of the two, the first one is most likely to kill real progress, while the second says that the proposal is pretty much meaningless.  Thankfully, this appears to be the case with the FAA proposal.  

The new rule requires US commercial launch operators to dispose of the upper stages of their launch vehicles to reduce the amount of big debris up there.  

The rule, which is now in a 90-day public comment period, would allow companies to meet the requirement through a controlled reentry of the upper stage, maneuvering the spent rocket toward a less congested, or graveyard, orbit, sending the rocket to an Earth-escape trajectory, retrieving the upper stage within five years, or allowing the rocket body to come back to Earth with an uncontrolled reentry within 25 years.

Too little, too late or both? 

The upper stages of nearly all US commercial launches in the last few years would already meet the proposed FAA standards. SpaceX and United Launch Alliance regularly de-orbit their upper stages once they deploy their payloads. On launches carrying satellites to higher orbits, SpaceX and ULA rockets are typically left in transfer or graveyard orbits, where there's a lower risk of a collision with another piece of space junk. It is already US government policy to require similar upper-stage disposal standards on all launches with NASA or military satellites. It's likely these new standards will be felt most by small satellite launch providers, which have tighter mass margins and less leftover fuel on the upper stage for a disposal maneuver.  

Since SpaceX is in the range of 90% of US launch vehicles, and ULA is most of the rest, I'll go with too late and pretty much meaningless.

The next test for the ESA's Ariane 6 vehicle is delayed again.

The Ariane 6 development has been lagging and the European Space Agency is without the replacement for their Ariane 5. A full duration static firing of the Ariane 6 first stage was scheduled for October 3rd, but is now on hold pending resolution of a problem discovered during preparations for the test.

The European Space Agency announced this week that the next major ground test for the continent's long-delayed Ariane 6 rocket won't happen in early October. Ground teams were preparing to load a test version of the Ariane 6 rocket with propellant and fire its main engine for nearly eight minutes on a launch pad in Kourou, French Guiana. This was supposed to be a final exam, of sorts, for the Ariane 6 ahead of its first flight next year. ESA said teams discovered a problem affecting the hydraulic thrust vector control system on the Ariane 6 test rocket. This system will be used to gimbal, or pivot, the rocket's main engine. "Further investigations are necessary before running this long-duration hot firing test," ESA said.

An updated schedule hasn't been released yet, but it would be beyond surprising if they could launch in '23.  The lack of a capable booster is what moved the Euclid space telescope to SpaceX along with a mission called Hera (last story in that roundup) a multi-spacecraft mission to a near-Earth asteroid Didymos to study the impact crater on its smaller partner, Dimorphos, from NASA's DART mission last year.  Euclid is in place (at Lagrange point L2) on orbit and Hera is currently waiting for a favorable launch window about 13 months from now.  

As I noted back before Euclid's launch, the ESA is, at best only temporarily, unable to launch anything.  

Atlas V for First Kuiper Test Mission Being Stacked and Readied 

Now that the SILENTBARKER / NROL-107 Atlas V mission has launched, thus clearing the ULA launch facilities, preparations have begun for the Amazon/Kuiper Internet satellite test mission.  This is the mission that was supposed to fly on the first flight of Vulcan Centaur until both parties agreed to swap the mission onto another Atlas V

Less than a week after launching its previous Atlas V mission, United Launch Alliance started stacking its next Atlas V rocket on its mobile launch platform at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. This began with the raising of the first stage with its Russian-made RD-180 engine on September 16. Later in the week, ULA ground crews installed the Centaur upper stage. This is one of 18 Atlas V rockets remaining on ULA's launch manifest before retiring the workhorse rocket in favor of the next-generation Vulcan rocket.

A tentative launch date hasn't been released, just No Earlier Than (NET) October.  

The Centaur upper stage rolls toward the Vertical Integration Facility on Cape Canaveral SFS.  The Atlas V body is visible in the open doors of the VIF as a brownish cylinder just left of the large vertical member marked "ULA".  ULA photo.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Mars Helicopter Sets Another Record

The Mars Ingenuity helicopter is in the rare state that virtually everything it does, and every flight it takes sets a new record of some kind - even if it's simply the flight number.  The helicopter's latest flight, on September 16th, set a new altitude record as well as the flight number at 59.  

Screen capture from NASA JPL's X account

Flight 59 was entirely hovering, with no distance traveled other than that roughly 66 feet vertical travel.  Since its first flight in '21 and the five flight program that was instituted for the little, four-pound helicopter, its mission has primarily turned into a scouting and reconnaissance tool for the Perseverance rover it flew to Mars attached to.

Over the course of its 59 flights, Ingenuity has traveled a total of 43,652 feet (13,304 m) and stayed aloft for 106.5 minutes, according to the flight log.

Before Flight 59, the helicopter's altitude mark stood at 59 feet (18 m). Its single-flight distance and duration records are 2,310 feet (704 m) and 169.5 seconds, set in April 2022 and August 2021, respectively.

Photo reconnaissance for the rover is a good mission for the helicopter. 

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

SpaceX Advances the Booster Flight Count Record

On last night's Starlink Group 6-17 mission from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, SpaceX boosted the record flight count again.  Booster B1058 flew for its 17th mission, taking the status as Fleet Leader.  B1058 flew its 16th mission just over two months ago

SpaceX launched its 67th rocket of the year on Tuesday night, a staggering total for the company and its workhorse booster, the Falcon 9. At this pace, a clip of one launch every four days, the company is likely to launch 90 or more rockets during this calendar year.

The liftoff was Tuesday night at 11:38 PM EDT and looked like their wonderfully routine, nearly boring missions.  Booster B1058 had previously flown 11 previous Starlink missions along with GPS III-3, Turksat 5A, Transporter-2, Intelsat G-33/G-34, and Transporter-6.   

In the early days of the Falcon 9, it seemed to be thought that they could fly 10 times without "major refurbishment" - whatever that means.  Now that the 10 flight barrier has been broken many times, that's open for reconsideration.

SpaceX performed a fairly significant assessment of booster wear and tear after its first Falcon 9 stages reached 15 flights, and the company's engineers now believe the rockets can achieve at least 20 flights. Remarkably, SpaceX has been able to push the limits of booster reuse while maintaining a 100 percent record of success across the Falcon 9 rocket's last 228 launches, dating to a pad explosion in September 2016.

As part of its maintenance process, SpaceX still does some basic inspections and replaces engines and other critical components from time to time. Additionally, the company only risks its own internally built Starlink satellites on the most experienced boosters, reserving rockets with less mileage for its customers.

My own take on it (FWIW) is that there probably isn't one convenient number like 10, 20 or any other number.  Parts do fail, but space-rated hardware is supposed to be the best and most reliable parts money can buy.  Perhaps they should institute some sort of cost-tracking that says when the parts that have been replaced in a booster reach some percentage of the cost of making a new one, they should replace it.  I just have no idea what that point should be.  I have to believe that they already do something similar and if every booster needs a certain part replaced by the tenth flight, they'll redesign the part or re-specify it so that it lasts longer.

Moving the launch webcasts from the SpaceX website and YouTube to being on X probably reflects Elon Musk's tendency to think launch webcasts are not worth wasting time or effort on.  His attitude is largely that no one hosts a webcast when an airplane takes off from an airport. So, if SpaceX strives for airline-type operations, why should it broadcast every launch?  

Liftoff of the Starlink 6-17 mission. Image credit: SpaceX

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Rocket Lab Loses One

Rocket Lab's string of 20 consecutive successful launches ended Tuesday when the company's Electron rocket suffered "an anomaly" after first stage separation and failed to deliver a small commercial synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite for customer Capella Space into orbit.  

It leaves Rocket Lab with a 90% success rate. 

The mission began with liftoff at 2:55 AM EDT from their Mahia Peninsula launch facility in New Zealand.  The launch was delayed nearly a half hour due to weather; not rain, but solar weather.  Everything appeared to go well through the first stage's BECO (booster engine cut off) and stage separation.

An onboard camera showed sparks around the upper stage engine as it was supposed to ignite. A display on Rocket Lab's live launch webcast showed the rocket's velocity decreasing, which suggested the vehicle's upper stage was not generating any significant thrust.

Video screen capture of Rocket Lab's coverage showing streaks from the apparent sparks.  

“Tough day. My deepest apologies to our mission partners Capella Space,” Peter Beck, chief executive of Rocket Lab, posted on social media. “Team is already working on root cause. We’ll find it, fix it and be back on the pad quickly.”

The new author at Ars Technica, Stephen Clark says Rocket Lab's 90% success rate is in the range of "not great; not terrible."  In the small sat launch business, their main competitors are Astra and Firefly but not only is Astra not launching, they're in financial trouble.  Virgin orbit was a competitor, but they declared bankruptcy and shut down.  Firefly doesn't have a large log of successes to compare to.  Rocket Lab's 90% success rate comes across pretty favorably in that market segment. 

The selling point of Rocket Lab and their Electron booster is that they're the sole (or main) payload and so get delivered to their desired orbit.  The 90% success rate, though, pales pretty badly compared to SpaceX's Falcon 9, which has gone over 230 consecutive successful launches.   Yes, customers on a SpaceX rideshare mission would have to go to an orbit that's not what they desire and either use their onboard maneuvering fuel to achieve the desired orbit or use one of the available intermediate stages to get there.  It just so happens that Rocket Lab makes one of these themselves, called the Photon.  It's how Rocket Lab got NASA's CAPSTONE satellite to the moon on one of their boosters.  

Here's the gotcha.  I have no idea how much Photon costs, but Clark reports:

A dedicated commercial launch on Rocket Lab's Electron runs about $7.5 million. According to SpaceX's website, it would charge less than $1 million to launch a 363-pound (165-kilogram) satellite comparable in mass to one of Capella's radar spacecraft.

My guess is that buying a Photon (or someone else's version) wouldn't use all of the $6.5 million difference between SpaceX rideshare and using the Electron.  

Which is not to distract from the fact that Rocket Lab seems to be a well-managed, solid company and is already pressing any agencies that can help to join in their attempt to understand this failure.  I view this as a temporary setback.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Stoke Space Has Their Hoppy Moment

Stoke Space is a well-funded startup space company from Kent, Washington working on the design of a fully reusable orbital rocket.  Their proposed design is two stages to orbit with both stages fully reusable.  More on that in a moment, but the purpose of this post is to link to their test flight yesterday, Sept. 14 on X.  Just like when SpaceX launched Starhopper (video) - now more widely known as Hoppy - it was a test of several key concepts and a lot of design work.  

Stoke Space announced they completed a short hop at their test facility in Moses Lake, Washington and said all goals were achieved.  Like Starhopper was a concept test platform for Starship, the upper stage of the Starship/Super Heavy system, this test was the upper stage of their planned rocket. 

During this test, known as Hopper2, we were able to successfully launch the Hopper test vehicle to an altitude of 30 feet and land at its planned landing zone following 15 seconds of flight. The test successfully demonstrated our novel hydrogen/oxygen engine, regeneratively cooled heat shield, and differential throttle thrust vector control system, as well as our avionics, software, and ground systems.

This test was the last test in our Hopper technology demonstration program. We successfully completed all of the planned objectives. We’ve also proven that our novel approach to robust and rapidly reusable space vehicles is technically sound, and we’ve obtained an incredible amount of data that will enable us to confidently evolve the vehicle design from a technology demonstrator to a reliable reusable space vehicle.

The first paragraph of that quote references the fundamental difference between their upper stage and everything else that's flying.  This is a photo of the second stage from a different test, that you may have seen before. 

The difference jumps out at you.  Every other vehicle out there has engines that are gimballed to steer the vehicle - thrust vector control is achieved by changing the direction the engines are pointed.  The engines are bigger and their large engine bells cover the entire area of the base, or close to it.  Stoke, on the other hand changes the thrust of the engines to change the direction of the thrust vector.  With the engines being farther from the center of the stage, the engines have more leverage and it makes room for their regeneratively cooled heat shield.  The engines themselves are said to be conventional liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen engines with their nozzles implemented in that one large circular structure.  The control must be in feeding the fuel and oxidizer to the engines

Andy Lapsa, chief executive of Stoke Space, said in an interview that the hop did allow for some additional testing, such as for position sensors. “It was the first opportunity to put every single component every single piece all together in the fully autonomous closed loop control system.” The flight was also a chance to look for “unknown unknowns,” or unforeseen issues that could be found only by flying the vehicle.

There were non-technical benefits to the hop as well, he added. “There is a very real emotional crescendo to a program like this to actually go and fly.”

Now that they feel the engineering choices made in the design of the second stage are correct and the second stage design work is complete, they've said it's time to move on to designing the first stage.  The first stage will use methane/oxygen, like Starship, New Glenn and other newer vehicles.  It will have seven engines.  The whole rocket (which I can't find a name for) is relatively small lift vehicle; seven metric tons to low-Earth orbit.  

Assuming SpaceX can get Starship operational, Stoke Space has an opportunity to become the second company to build a fully reusable rocket. No company has started with that singular goal for its first rocket.

Stoke Space's second stage, which they call Hopper, during Sunday's Hopper2 test.  Photo credit: Stoke Space.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

The #1 Myth About Retirement

I thought I wasn't supposed to run out of time for projects?  The day got away from me again.  I started in the direction of going to pull some weeds around my vertical antenna, but I also wanted to get a look at something on my everyday ride bike.  I've been having intermittent troubles with the rear brake and given that it's the original equipment on a 2005 bike, I thought I should also look at the brake pads.  Which means taking the back wheel off. 

In the process of taking the wheel off, I had to take the chain off.  Well, it devolved into a partial tear down, clean, de-grease, re-grease and maintenance of the whole drive train.  OK, most of the drive train.   Would you believe some of the drive train?  By the time I could get out to pull weeds, the thunderstorms were rolling in.  The weeds will have to wait - and grow a little more after the watering.

While having dinner, I decided to give a try to a movie on Amazon Prime video that I'd seen the trailer for, called A Million Miles Away.  It's a biopic about an immigrant engineer named José Hernandez who devoted his adult life to becoming an astronaut.  When I test a movie like that, I'll start watching with the idea that if there isn't something that catches me, or there is something that absolutely "turns me off",  I'll shut it off and "fuggedaboutit" - while if it's OK but barely catches my attention, it goes in the "maybe come back later" limbo.  

Here's the trailer:

The star of the movie is one of my favorite guys from the Marvel Universe, Michael Peña, who plays a minor character named Luis in the first two Ant Man movies but takes absolute command of the set when he's onscreen.  This role is completely unlike the Ant Man movies and I think he shows respectable acting.  

There are one or two hints about this in the trailer but while there's a little of "I started out as a poor child" / "oh, poor, pitiful me" narrative, by and large the message is if you want something, figure out what you need to do and work toward the goal.  There's no "I'm better than you just because" to it at all.  If you're behind, work harder.  If others get picked ahead of you, figure out what they have that you don't or what they did that you didn't and work on that.  José Hernandez' father gives a five step method when José is elementary school age, and the movie follows it faithfully. 

Overall, worth the two hours watching it.  

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Starship Raptor Engine Passes Critical Test for Artemis and HLS

SpaceX has passed a test of starting a Raptor engine after cold soaking at temperatures meant to simulate coasting unpowered for days traveling to the moon.  This is considered a critical test to clear Raptors in the Human Landing System (HLS) to bring astronauts from the Artemis III mission down to the lunar surface in 2025 or '26.  The test only ran the engine for three seconds, since the object of the test was to verify starting at cryogenic temperatures and those temperatures go away pretty quickly.  The test was conducted in August but NASA's Artemis blog only posted about it Thursday (Sept. 14).  SpaceX tweeted a short, 18 second, video on X the same day, showing the test ignition and burn.  

Screen capture from the SpaceX video on X.

As for the Raptor engine test, NASA officials said its success gives the agency more confidence that SpaceX is progressing toward its Artemis 3 obligations. "These tests provide early and mission-like validation of the systems necessary for carrying astronauts to and from the lunar surface," agency officials wrote in the blog post. "Data reviews following these tests provide NASA with continually increasing confidence in U.S. industry's readiness for the mission."

This is the second major test of Raptor engine capabilities for NASA and Artemis.  In November '21, SpaceX ran the engine for the duration needed for the long descent to the moon, 281 seconds (4.5 minutes).  The Raptor also had its power level changed during the test to verify those mission requirements.  

You might recall that this June, NASA Associate Administrator Jim Free blasted Starship along with Boeing's Starliner as being fixed price contracts that haven't lived up to his expectations.  He doubted that SpaceX could meet a 2025 launch date and might force the mission out to '26. 

In the Aug. 8 press conference at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida attended by, Free suggested the agency could leave off the moon landing for Artemis 3,if necessary, and fly an alternate mission with a crew. In that scenario, Starship would be used on a future mission (such as Artemis 4) for the first human lunar landing since Apollo 17 in 1972.

The agency is looking for multiple successful launches by Starship ahead of authorizing the landing with astronauts, among other milestones, Free said. (Indeed, NASA wrote in its blog post on Thursday that the agency will be watching the performance of Raptor engines during the second launch attempt by Starship.)

There are a few things SpaceX must demonstrate before a lunar landing in addition to getting Starship into orbit successfully.  Of these, the biggest hurdle seems to be successful orbital refueling.  If every Starbase launch is delayed by some agency, the next moon landing is also delayed.  Perhaps NASA might lean on the FAA, FWS, DOJ and any other government bureau trying to impede SpaceX's progress. 


Friday, September 15, 2023

Firefly Aerospace Launches Victus Nox Mission

Victus Nox (Latin for "conquer the night") is a US Space Force initiative to have a short response time between notification of a need and the rocket blasting off.  Space Force announced today that the first Victus Nox mission was launched successfully September 14th at 7:28 PM local time from Vandenberg SFB, Complex 2 West.  The companies that achieved the record were Firefly Aerospace for the launch vehicle partnered with Millennium Space Systems which built the payload. 

The rules of the game are that the team is put on a “hot standby,” awaiting an alert notification from the Space Force.  Hot standby can last for up to six months; they were put on standby much more recently than that; August 30th.  At a time the USSF chooses, the launch team will be given a notice that a mission is required and once they get the notice, they have a 60-hour window to transport the payload to Firefly’s launch site at Vandenberg, conduct fueling operations, and integrate it with the Alpha rocket’s payload adapter.  Clearly, the satellite and Alpha rocket have to be built and available.  

“In a major advancement of Tactically Responsive Space capabilities, Space Systems Command and Firefly Aerospace successfully encapsulated a Millennium Space Systems-built space vehicle, mated it to Firefly’s Alpha launch vehicle, and completed all final launch preparations in 24 hours,” the command said.

“Upon activation, the space vehicle was transported 165 miles from Millennium’s El Segundo facility to Vandenberg Space Force Base where it was tested, fueled, and mated to the launch adapter in just under 58 hours, significantly faster than the typical timeline of weeks or months,” said Space Systems Command.

At this point, Space Force gave Firefly the final call to launch and the required orbital parameters. The company then had 24 hours to update the trajectory, encapsulate the payload, transport it to the pad and stand ready to launch at the first available window. 

“Liftoff took place at the first available launch window, 27 hours after receipt of launch orders, setting a new record for responsive space launch,” said Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein, commander of Space Systems Command.

"The success of Victus Nox marks a culture shift in our nation's ability to deter adversary aggression and, when required, respond with the operational speed necessary to deliver decisive capabilities to our warfighters,"

"This exercise is part of an end-to-end Tactically Responsive Space demonstration which proves the United States Space Force can rapidly integrate capabilities and will respond to aggression when called to do so on tactically relevant timelines," Guetlein added.

I should point out that the mission isn't done at this time, and it's a bit more than 10 hours since the launch as I write.  Their next objective is to initialize the satellite and begin operations in under 48 hours.

Let's see... they had  60 hours in the first step and completed it in "just under 58;" then they had to be ready to launch in 24 hours and all we really know is the desired orbit didn't have a launch window for 27 hours.  I'll call it 58+24 or 82 hours.  At this point, Space Force reminds us the previous responsive-launch record was 21 days, set in June 2021 on the Tactically Responsive Launch-2 (TacRL-2) mission, which was carried out by a Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL air-launched rocket.  Going from around 500 hours down to 82 doesn't make that 3 hours (from 27 to 24) I rounded off up above seem that important.

A Firefly Alpha rocket launched the Victus Nox mission for the U.S. Space Force last night, Sept. 14, 2023, 7:28 PM PDT from Space Launch Complex 2 West at Vandenberg Space Force Base, California. Credit: Firefly Aerospace.


Thursday, September 14, 2023

Three Weeks to Psyche Mission

Actually, three weeks to launch of the "next big mission" was today, Thursday September 14, at 10:38AM, with the launch now scheduled for Thursday October 5th.  It's big in the sense of being a first ever mission to "... a world  made not of rock or ice, but of metal" as the project's web page at Arizona State University says.  And it's big in the literal, descriptive sense; the spacecraft is so big it requires a Falcon Heavy to lift it.  

Psyche is the mission that was cancelled in '22, and the cancellation had a big impact on how long it will take the satellite to reach it's target; the asteroid 16 Psyche.  That one year delay moves the arrival date out three years - from 2026 to "before the end of the decade."  Then there's the cost.  In 2022, the Psyche mission was estimated to cost $985 million. That's now gone up to $1.23 billion. 

One of my favorite things that I've read about really any satellite mission is in this statement from Lindy Elkins-Tanton, Psyche's principal investigator at Arizona State University.  It's the second small paragraph. 

Scientists aren't sure what awaits the Psyche spacecraft when it reaches its destination. Elkins-Tanton said modeling of the asteroid's appearance based on telescopic observations suggests it has an irregular potato-like shape.

"It's not spherical," she said. "I always say potato-shaped because potatoes come in many shapes, so I'm not wrong."
"We’re never going to get to our metal core (inside Earth)," Elkins-Tanton said. "The pressures are too high. The temperatures are too hot. The technology is impossible. ... But there's one way in our Solar System that we can look at a metal core, and that is by going to this asteroid.

“We’ve visited bodies that are made of rock," Elkins-Tanton said. "We've visited icy asteroids. We've looked at comets and the last ... category of objects that we've never visited as a species in our Solar System is bodies made of metal. So this is primary exploration, a new kind of object that humans have never seen before."

The mission web page at ASU has an image that they use of the asteroid.  I think that based on Elkins-Tanton's statement that the image is largely imaginative and not based on careful measurement of some sort of imaging or radar. 

Artist's illustration of NASA's Psyche spacecraft, as it approaches the asteroid, showing (most of) one its solar arrays.  NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU 

From time to time, you'll run across a story of someone finding an asteroid made of gold or platinum and how rich they could get.  It just kind of underlines that the author doesn't really understand supply and demand as well as the average prospector.  Go to anywhere in the world where there's a good deposit of some gemstone and you'll find the people in charge won't put it all on the market at once so they don't collapse the price.  Psyche is thought to more likely be the heavier metals found in planetary cores like iron, and nickel.  The reasons for the mission have much more to do with understanding how rocky planets with predominantly metallic cores form than finding the value of the metals in it.     

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Another Team Joins the Effort to do On-Orbit Refueling

Back in 2019, as part of an announcement of 19 different public/private sector partnerships with 10 different companies, NASA announced that SpaceX and two NASA centers, the Glenn Research Center in Ohio and the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, would work together on space-borne refueling systems.  On September 7th, Ship 26 which has long been speculated to be the first Starship that would become an on-orbit fuel depot, rolled to the test area in Boca Chica for testing (video).  The rumor is that Ship 26 will be the third orbital Starship test.  Given we're about to enter the 3rd quarter of this year, I have to conclude that the third orbital mission would most likely be No Earlier Than the second half of '24.    

Title screen from the video on NASASpaceflight - not the video itself.  That's ship 26 on the test pad, being readied for a set of tests that may end up including static firing.  No thermal tiles, no fins or aero surfaces?  It's never going to be reused, so why lift weight you don't need?

All of this to set up the story that two small companies are teaming up with the goal of demonstrating on-orbit refueling. 

Spaceium, a startup building in-orbit pit stops for interplanetary missions, is teaming up with The Exploration Company on a demo mission to refuel a spacecraft in orbit.

The two companies are betting on a future in-space servicing economy, and their missions and timelines mesh well.

Spaceium is working on the problems of refueling, charging, and debris storage, and designing a prototype with a modular architecture to launch next year.  The Exploration Company, often just called TEC, has designed a vehicle called Nyx, targeting a demo flight in 2024, designed to gas up between months-long trips around Earth or the Moon. 

The partnership: Spaceium and The Exploration Company announced this morning that they have signed a bilateral letter of intent to demonstrate cryogenic refueling using Nyx and the planned orbiting service station.

  • The station would be stocked with cryogenic bio-methane and oxygen.
  • The two companies have also agreed to use Nyx as a host for a servicing module in 2026.

TEC also announced Tuesday that it signed an agreement with Axiom Space to use Nyx to supply a cargo mission to Axiom's planned space station.  

No date is announced in the source article on Payload, but I think it would be optimistic to think this could be operating by 2025 and '26 may be more realistic.  Looking at a website, it can be hard to figure out what's real and what's a rendering or "artist's conception."  I'm not convinced there's actual hardware anywhere.


Tuesday, September 12, 2023

It's a Shockingly Slow Space News Day

It's strange to the point of scary how little is going on.  Going to all my usual hangouts to see what's interesting turned up nothing except things that are months or years out, or things that aren't really noteworthy.  Stories like the three companies under contract to launch Kuiper satellites for Amazon pinky-swear they'll do it.  "Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye."  Not one of the three launch vehicles has flown yet: Ariane 6, New Glenn or Vulcan Centaur.  Does anyone seriously think those launch providers would say anything except that they're preparing to meet their contracts?

Amazon’s 83-launch deal includes 18 Ariane 6 launches, 12 to 27 New Glenn launches and 38 United Launch Alliance Vulcan Centaur. Credit: Arianespace/Blue Origin/ULA

So what's a space blogger to do?  Well, there's a story that isn't very interesting but it isn't as far out in the future as launching the Kuiper constellation.  More than a year after an engine failure on a flight of their New Shepard suborbital rocket, Blue Origin has announced plans to resume their tourist flights of the little vehicle.

According to two sources familiar with the company's manifest, however, it appears that Blue Origin is finally getting ready to fly the New Shepard launch system again. The company's tentative plans call for an uncrewed test flight in early October. If all goes well, Blue Origin is planning its first crewed mission since August 4, 2022, to take place in mid-February next year.

The flight that was aborted was one year ago today (probably why there's a followup article) and while Blue didn't impress me as being very public with their failure analysis and corrective actions, I've learned that six months after the incident, the mishap team reported having found "hot streaks" on the rocket engine's nozzle and determined that it was operating at higher temperatures than it was designed for.  The company said, "Blue Origin is implementing corrective actions, including design changes to the combustion chamber and operating parameters, which have reduced engine nozzle bulk and hot-streak temperatures."

There's some concern about whether they have hardware to fly for the test early next month - or which vehicle they'll launch.  They appear to have only one available which seems to answer which one they're going to fly.  The rocket is called Booster 4, although there are some reports that they're working on a new one, presumably incorporating any changes the investigation has prompted.

Monday, September 11, 2023

On 9-11

For me, 9-11 always arrives in a fog of memories.  Like the tragedies of JFK's assassination, space shuttle Challenger exploding on ascent, or the triumph of Apollo 11's landing, I'll always remember where I was and details of the day it happened.  

I've long harbored a mixed bag of responses.  The first group of feels is "remember the fallen", "remember the first responders who ran into the buildings", "remember the dead and wounded servicemen, the ones who came back with missing limbs, or injuries that can't be seen" and "remember their families."  All of those feels are still there.  Next, though, came contempt for the politicians and beltway bandits that made money off those fallen servicemen.  The age-old bad guys that Eisenhower coined the term "Military Industrial Complex" for. Those feels are now joined by contempt for and disgust with the current military leadership. 

Everyone says 9-11 changed the world forever.  America of 2023 is so different from the America that I grew up in that it's barely recognizable.  Part of it was the PATRIOT act, which led to that NSA Data storage facility in Colorado (I ran some numbers on it in 2013, but that's pretty outdated) and so very much more.  Peter Grant, Bayou Renaissance Man, ran a piece today linking to a piece on the Last Refuge that presents the case that 9/11 led to the current mess our country is in.  

The problems we face now as a country are directly an outcome of two very distinct points that were merged by Barack Obama. (1) The post 9/11 monitoring of electronic communication of American citizens; and (2) Obama’s team creating a fine-tuning knob that it focused on the politics of the targets.  This is very important to understand as you dig deeper into this research outline.

The late 1990s and into 2001 was a seminal moment in technology; the population of people online and communicating electronically skyrocketed, the data began pouring in and was ripe for the picking.  It gave rise to what Sundance at the Last Refuge calls the Fourth Branch of Government or the Intelligence Branch.  The article on Last Refuge is long and detailed but worth going back to. 

While 9-11 led to Afghanistan and Iraq, Iraq was pretty much over with years ago, Afghanistan lingered on.  We're now two years since the disastrous ending in '21.  That was the year that we lost.  We weren't defeated, we formally demonstrated defeating ourselves to the whole world.  We lost in what might have been the most incompetent fustercluck in world history.  A team of Brownie Girl Scouts could have planned and executed that abandonment of Afghanistan better than the Bidenistas did.  For cryin' out loud, they abandoned hundreds of Americans and Afghans that worked for us behind Taliban lines.  Many of those left behind have been assassinated.  They even abandoned Biden's translator in Afghanistan.  By now, the stories have been talked about until everyone has heard them. 

Just to be clear, it's not that I think we should still be in Afghanistan, I'm closer to those who have said we should have gotten out long ago, only we should have done it competently.  We didn't leave from any position of strength, we left with our tails between our legs looking so weak as to be pitiful to the charitable observers and pathetic to the rest of the world.  I'm sure we're especially pathetic to the heirs of Bin Laden who declared us "a weak horse" easy to roll over.  I expect lots more actual attempts to emulate 9/11 while we're showing weakness. There have been reports that many people on the "terror watch list" came across the open border in the last few years.  Not just from the middle east, but from all over the world, joined by Chinese communists.  I'd be shocked to the point of falling over if there aren't Chinese Peoples' Liberation Army special forces teams in the country now.

America is weak now.  Unprecedentedly weak.  I hear numbers around that our non-nuclear weapons stockpiles are essentially gone; given to and used up in Ukraine.  That Ukraine uses more in one day than manufacturers make in a month.  Other adversaries have to be looking at us and thinking "now is the time" to do whatever they thought we'd respond to with force.  It's possible they've decided not to attack us because we're doing such an excellent job of destroying ourselves. 

Sunday, September 10, 2023


It's one of those occasional "I got nothing" Sundays - too many distractions.  I think the latest thing to break is our dishwasher.  "It just ain't right." Got some troubleshooting to do.

So ... an attempt at humor.  

2/3 of this you've probably seen.  KJP being matched up with Jamie Foxx on the left was around in a lot of places last weekend.  I always think of her as Sideshow Bob from the Simpsons.  I've seen her with more Sideshow Bob-like hair.