Sunday, December 31, 2023

Happy New Year 2024!

New Year's Eve is upon us, and I just want to wish all of you a happy New Year.  By this time of the year, pretty much every year, I'm sick of the "year in review" shows on TV, so I'll just post a little about my year in review.  It's customary to start the New Year with a reference to the Roman god Janus - his name is where the month gets its name - who could look both backward and forward at the same time, so we can do the same thing.

My biggest change of the year was surgery I had in January for my hiatal hernia, and the implant of the LINX device that got me completely off the heartburn medications I'd been taking for nearly two decades of acid reflux.  My surgery was January 26th and at my second post-op followup in early March I was told I can just stop taking the Prilosec I had been taking, so I did.  I can't tell you how surprised I was to not need heartburn medication that night.  I think in the nine months since then, I took Tums twice.  I haven't gone that long without Tums in, well, so long I can't remember not having some on me all the time. 

I'm still bothered by my umbilical (belly button area) hernia.  That keeps me from doing pretty much anything to strengthen my core muscles, which inevitably leads to weakness that makes the hernia hurt.  Homey recognizes a positive feedback loop when he sees one, but there appears to be some magic incantation or diagnosis in this case that makes it get offered as option more acceptable to the insurance companies, the real power in that system.  Hey, gotta have a theme song, right? 

This is gonna sound weird but, thankfully, the negatives of the year were mostly things breaking and either being fixed, in the case of the Exploder, or replaced in the case of air conditioner that died in the workshop.  Family is all well.  Our cat Mojo, who had scared us last year, has had a good year.  We give him an oral steroid pill every night and after a few attempts to cut his dosage to every other day, we've settled on one a day and his blood counts stay normal.  He's better at taking pills than any cat I've ever had.  Since we adopted him in 2010 we're not exactly sure of his age but he's at least 16, could be 17, and could even be pushing 18. 

As for looking toward the future, my crystal ball is cloudy.  I'm a real money guy and the gyrations of the central bankers have had me expecting economic collapse Real Soon Now since about '06 - certainly before the '08 collapse.  I had seen talk of the subprime crisis developing in '06, before it started and led to the '08 collapse.  I've written so many times about economic collapse that haven't come true that I've stopped believing in myself - or my ability to predict it.  I've also written about the collapse of technological civilization, the "new dark ages" so many times that the same conclusion happened.  When we see the DIE mind virus pushing into STEM colleges and programs, when competence, hard work, and attention to detail are derided as "white supremacy" or whatever, will you ever feel safe crossing a bridge or riding a commercial jet?  So few people actually know how to design the critical parts in the essential electronics we take for granted, if the fabrication plants were suddenly gone - intentionally or by some natural disaster - could they be recreated?

I think it's going to happen, I just don't know when.  

On the stuff we watch the closest here: space exploration, I expect this is the year that Starship reaches orbit, quite possibly on the third launch.  This fall, I read Liftoff, Eric Berger's biography of the early days of SpaceX; the first successful launch of the Falcon 1, the introduction of the Falcon 9 and the early days of the company.  (I recommend it to anyone interested)  The Falcon 1 took four launches before they got to orbit successfully, but they weren't fighting the FWS, the FAA, the petty lawsuits, and the totality of the Federal behemoth.  Can something as ambitious as Starship reach orbit in fewer flights than the vastly simpler Falcon 1?  On the other hand, they do know vastly more than they did about making orbital spacecraft back then, but something as ambitious as Starship has never flown.  

I'm fairly confident Vulcan Centaur will fly - maybe even both Certification missions.  I'm rather less confident that Boeing's Starliner will fly, and about the same level of confidence New Glenn will fly.

Let me leave it there, along with a wish for a very Happy New Year to everyone who stops to read here.  May it be healthy and fun for all.

Saturday, December 30, 2023

The Top 10 US Launch Companies of '23 - Who Are the Other Nine?

Since this is the time of year when everyone does their take on the best of the previous year, I'll do it again this year.  Last year's piece was on January 2nd, so just after the start of '23, and I'm a little earlier than last year because the piece I'll reference from Ars Technica's Eric Berger was posted earlier than last year's. 

As always, there's more than a little opinion and gut feel here rather than just data, and like last year, chances are everyone would agree the leader by any measure is SpaceX.  Also like last year, for reference and as a common starting point, let me list the other nine in his order.  In the column he devotes a paragraph or two to each of them explaining why he chose them.  To save space, I'll list them here by the ranking and say to go read the original.

2: Rocket Lab
3: ULA
4: Firefly
5: Northrop Grumman
6: Blue Origin
7: Relativity Space
8: ABL Space
9: Stoke Space
10: Virgin Galactic

2:  Rocket Lab 

The rating is the same as I had last year, and I think they had a good year.  They set a new record (10) for launches in a calendar year, and would have had more except for losing the ninth launch of the year and stopping to understand the failure and take whatever corrective actions came up.  They also had some other notable firsts, including opening their first US-based launch site at Wallops Island in Virginia, launching their first hypersonic mission, HASTE, and re-flying a Rutherford rocket engine for the first time as they work toward reusability.

3: Firefly 

Here's my first difference with Ars.  They rank ULA here, while I rank ULA lower.  In September, the Alpha rocket made its first fully successful launch, performing a rapid-response liftoff for US Space Systems Command with the "Victus Nox" mission. That payload was integrated and launched within 27 hours of receiving the launch order.  Eight days ago, Dec. 22, they launched the Fly The Lightning mission for Lockheed Martin, but the second stage failed on its second burn to circularize its orbit.  Still, this is good progress for a launch company.  They're also working with Northrop Grumman to provide engines for Grumman's replacement of their Antares launch vehicle.   

4: Northrop Grumman 

Speaking of Northrop Grumman, the large government contractor launched just a single rocket in 2023—its final Antares 230+ vehicle in August.  While they're working on the Antares 330, they're going to launch their Cygnus cargo containers to the ISS on Falcon 9s through 2024.  At least. 

5:  ULA  

So why do I drop ULA from 3 to 5 compared to Ars Technica?  It's the old axiom of "so what have you done for me lately?"  While they're within two weeks of launching the first Vulcan Centaur, we've heard that before - or something like it.  People used to think "they're expensive, but they're good;" to me, that stops after just the first two words.  Yes, their Atlas V has had a good record over the 20 years it has been flying, but it's a low flight cadence and designed by a different company than the one that's flying them now. To paraphrase Dean Vernon Wormer, "chronically late and over budget is no way to go through life, son." 

6:  Relativity Space 

Relativity, had one launch this year, and like Firefly, the second stage failed.  We can chalk it up to the quote everyone loves to hate, but can't dispute: "space is hard, orbit is harder."  They shelved that Terran 1 rocket and have gone full bore on developing the Terran R, with goals of reusability and more payload to orbit than the Falcon 9.

7: ABL Space

ABL is a hard choice here; they had one launch last January but its flight ended just seconds later after the cutoff of its main engines. This caused the vehicle to crash back onto the launch pad in Alaska.  They have continued work and numerous upgrades have been made to the launch equipment and the first and second stages. Much of the equipment has already been shipped to Alaska for launch.  It's possible we'll see them try again in the first half of the year. 

8:  Blue Origin 

Eric Berger at Ars ranked Blue at #6, so why do I rate Blue below the previous two, who haven't had a successful launch?  Simply because a failure of the second stage in launch is farther along than not having launched at all.  They haven't launched any tourist suborbital flights in over a year, since they had booster failure, but successfully launched that platform with no people on board earlier this month.  Do I have to specifically say they haven't yet launched a New Glenn and that's probably looking like '25.

9: Stoke Space

Now we're soundly in the range of not really a launch company - but they have tested their radically different engines in a test reminiscent of the SpaceX's early Starship hops.  Overall they're doing some interesting things but there's a very challenging road ahead of them.  

10: Virgin Galactic

Last year, Virgin Orbit was the end of the list, but they went bankrupt and then out of business last year.  Virgin Galactic flew their VSS Unity "Space Plane" on suborbital hops six times this year and then said they were going to reduce their launch cadence and focus on development of a successor vehicle.  The next generation spacecraft are due to begin test flights as early as 2025 and theoretically can fly twice per week, with six customers, instead of the three or four passengers Unity is able to carry.  We'll have to see.

Launch of a GPS III Satellite in January of 2023 aboard a Falcon 9  Trevor Mahlmann photo.

Friday, December 29, 2023

Where I Come From 98 out of 100 is an "A"

Both of SpaceX's launches last night went off on time and were their usual, almost-boringly perfect missions.  The launch set for Saturday night from Vandenberg has been rescheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 2, meaning last night's launches were bringing to an end a spectacular year that's probably going to be a prelude to a more impressive year that's coming.  Stephen Clark at Ars Technica sums it like this:

On Thursday night, the launch company sent two more rockets into orbit from Florida. One was a Falcon Heavy, the world's most powerful rocket in commercial service, carrying the US military's X-37B spaceplane from a launch pad at NASA's Kennedy Space Center at 8:07 pm EST (01:07 UTC). Less than three hours later, at 11:01 pm EST (04:01 UTC), SpaceX's workhorse Falcon 9 launcher took off a few miles to the south with a payload of 23 Starlink Internet satellites.
These were SpaceX's final launches of 2023. SpaceX ends the year with 98 flights, including 91 Falcon 9s, five Falcon Heavy rockets, and two test launches of the giant new Super Heavy-Starship rocket. These flights were spread across four launch pads in Florida, California, and Texas.

In September of 2022, Elon Musk confirmed he had set a goal of 100 launches for this year, a second doubling of their launch rate from 2021.  In 2022, they had 61 successful launches, tying a record from the Soviet Union back in 1980 - a 43 year old record.  Oh, and the Soviets had to launch that rocket 64 times to get 61 successful launches.  SpaceX had to launch 61 times.  Unlike the Soviets, they recovered all of the boosters from those 61 launches for later reuse.  

Just like last night; while the core booster of the Falcon Heavy was expended to get every last pound of thrust and last foot per second of orbital velocity, the two side boosters - each a Falcon 9 first stage - and the first stage from the Starlink 6-36 mission all landed successfully.  This video is timed to start just before the final landing burns of the two FH boosters, landing in the upper right quarter of the screen.

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket lifted off Thursday night from historic pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.  Image credit: SpaceX

The last number I heard as the target for 2024 is 150 launches - another 50% more than this year.  The goal of 100 launches started out as a thought experiment; sort of "everybody brainstorm how we can increase our launch cadence high enough to get there."  Expect innovation.

So now what?  It's the Friday before New Years' Weekend, how about if everyone just lays back and takes it easy?  Maybe leaves early for the holiday weekend?  Doesn't appear to be in the DNA.  Today, SpaceX Starbase static fired both Starship 25 and Booster B10, the two getting prepped for the next Integrated Flight Test.  Ship 25 was static fired already; today's test was to mock up reigniting one of the six Raptor engines - at this link on X.  Booster 10 had some problems during attempts to static fire last week, but this view from X shows what appears to be a successful test.  Both were long duration burns.  

This video from NASA Spaceflight shows multiple views of both tests.

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Two in Three?

While we've had this scheduled before and it hasn't worked out, NextSpaceflight is saying we get two launches in under three hours tonight.  The weather is looking better for both of these than it has in a week.  Chances of weather being acceptable is 80% for the first launch and 90% for the second.

What this doesn't show is that of the remaining launches in 2023, there's these two and a third set for Saturday from Vandenberg at 10:17 PM EST.  SpaceX says the Vandenberg launch is the first flight of a new booster, which is getting to be a rare event.  

Tonight's second launch, Starlink Group 6-36, will be the 12th flight for the first stage booster supporting this mission, which previously launched CRS-24, Eutelsat HOTBIRD 13F, OneWeb 1, SES-18 and SES-19, and seven Starlink missions.  The first launch, the Falcon Heavy USSF-52 mission is flying the same two side boosters for the fifth time.  These two boosters previously supported USSF-44, USSF-67, Hughes JUPTER 3, and NASA’s Psyche mission.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Japan's SLIM Lunar Lander in Lunar Orbit

Perhaps you remember the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully launching its Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) along with its new telescope the X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM) back on September 6.  The launch was on the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries H-2A. 

The two satellites separated soon after launch with XRISM staying in Earth orbit and SLIM on a low energy trajectory that took the probe several months to get to the moon.  More precisely, SLIM went into lunar orbit early Christmas morning, eastern US time.  

[T]he spacecraft was successfully inserted into lunar orbit at 2:51 a.m. EST (0951 GMT or 4:51 p.m. Japan time) on Monday (Dec. 25).

"SLIM successfully completed main engine injection at 16:51 and successfully entered lunar orbit! Below is an image sent from SLIM near the moon," JAXA officials wrote.

A photo in the source article, apparently made from two images in a Twitter (X) post by JAXA.  This appears to me to be the same photo of the moon, with the right view rotated counterclockwise around 60 to 80 degrees.  Look at the bigger and smaller craters near the center of the left picture and note the position of that "pointy thing" on the larger crater's wall with respect to the small crater next to it.  Compare that to the picture on the right.  Also, just below the mid-line of the left picture on the right edge is a small shallow crater.  It appears to be above and to the right of the crater pair from the center. 

Note also the orientation of the shadows in  craters that have visible shadows.  On the left image, the shadow lines are practically horizontal while on the right side they're closer to vertical. 

Getting back to the mission, SLIM is set to touch down on the moon on Jan. 20. If successful, it will make Japan the fifth country after the Soviet Union, the U.S., China, and India to achieve a lunar landing.  Since this is a government job, JAXA is roughly equivalent to NASA, its success or lack thereof has no bearing on the "race" between Astrobotic's Peregrine and Intuitive Machines IM-1 Lunar Lander to be the first private company to land on the moon.  

"By creating the SLIM lander, humans will make a qualitative shift towards being able to land where we want and not just where it is easy to land, as had been the case before," the space agency wrote in a mission description. "By achieving this, it will become possible to land on planets even more resource-scarce than the moon."

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Requiescat in Pace, B1058. Pax Vobiscum

Rest in peace, Booster 1058.  Peace be with you. 

Booster 1058 successfully flew for its 19th operational flight on Friday night, setting the new fleet leadership and reuse record.  Unfortunately, surviving the trip home on the recovery drone was apparently more hazardous than flying well above the edge of space and landing on that metaphorical postage stamp of a recovery drone.  B1058 fell over on deck due to high seas, ending its spectacular life and career.  

Screen capture from the start of this video, which shows many still shots of the ruined booster on deck, then followed by a short video of launch and landing of each of 1058's 19 missions.  As you'll see clearly in the video, the Octagrabber gave its all in trying to save B1058 and was a bit ripped apart.  Chances are it will be reparable - far more so than the booster's chances.  

As the video title reminds us, B1058 was the booster that returned manned spaceflight to the US at the end of May, 2020, after the painful years without that capability and hiring the Russians to do that for us.  

SpaceX posted four images from earlier missions and this short summary:

May of '20 to December of '23 is 3-1/2 years.  We're saying good bye to a 3-1/2 year old, used rocket.  I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have imagined that happening back in '20, before that first flight.

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Christmas Eve 2023

I constantly have to remind myself that while I might put up a post about some event that happens (or happened) on any given day, most people won't read it until the following day.  While I'm writing this on Saturday evening, Dec. 23, most readers will read this on Christmas Eve.  

This year is the 55th anniversary of Apollo 8's lunar orbit mission.  The crew,  Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and William Anders, spent almost one full day in lunar orbit, completing 10 orbits of the moon before heading back to Earth. 

The six-day long mission full of firsts lifted off on Dec. 21, 1968, and it would feature the first time that humans had looked down on the moon from orbit; the first time that humans had seen the far side of the moon with their own eyes, not an orbiting camera.  And it would mark the first time anyone had ever seen the Earth rise over another world.  

I think any vote on the top 10 photos from the Apollo era would include this famous Earth rise shot from Apollo 8, arguably as the most famous or most important. 

Apollo 8 was originally not conceived as the mission it became; it was intended to be part of qualifying the Apollo spacecraft in Low Earth Orbit (LEO).  There had been only one prior manned Apollo mission, Apollo 7, and that had been only two months before in October.  While a Saturn V had been test launched, it had never carried astronauts into orbit.

"NASA officials realized that this was risky, since Apollo 7 had not yet qualified the spacecraft when their tentative decision was made," a NASA historical document reported. The decision was further complicated by Apollo 8's need for a more powerful rocket, called the Saturn V, which had never been tested on a crewed launch. But after months of discussion, NASA decided to move forward with an Apollo 8 moon mission on Nov. 10, about a month before the launch.
Space fans from those days will remember that critical rocket burns happened while the Apollo capsule was out of radio contact - over the far side of the moon.  The burn to stop Apollo 8 from looping around the moon and returning to Earth, enabling them to orbit the moon, had to take place while over the far side.  A day later, the burn to get them out of lunar orbit and returning to Earth took place over the far side as well.
All that remained was the return trip home. Mission controllers waited anxiously Christmas morning as the crew turned their engine on again, on the far side of the moon.

As they re-emerged, Lovell called out, "Please be informed, there is a Santa Claus," signaling that the ship was headed back to Earth. The crew landed successfully on Dec. 27.

Christmas Eve was the day they orbited the moon, the day that the crew spoke to us of the "stark and unappetizing" look of the lunar surface and read from the book of Genesis, the first book in the Christian bible.  Here on Earth, 1968 had been a tumultuous year. There had been riots in many places, assassinations and troubles all around the globe. On Christmas eve, in awe of what these men were accomplishing, it seemed like the world held its breath and watched.

As a space-fanatic 14 year old, I was captivated by the mission.  Of course, the easiest video to find about the mission is the message they sent down on that Christmas eve, 55 years ago.    

As I say every year, hold close the ones you love.  If we're very lucky, this will be the worst Christmas of our lives and everything in life gets better year by year for the rest of our lives.  And if things get worse, we'll remember this as the "good old days".  Either way, hold tight.

Friday, December 22, 2023

SpaceX Going for a New Record Booster Flight Number Tonight

Tonight's Starlink Group 6-32 mission from SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral is going to be the 19th flight of a Falcon 9 booster, weather and all the rest cooperating.  The workhorse is going to be Booster B1058, which has been the one chosen to be the first booster to try at the next level for a while now.  B1058 flew for the record 18th time less than two months ago, the night of November 3rd.  

That's right.  The record has stood for less than two months.

The launch window has changed while I was putting this piece together.  The launch time is being quoted as 12:02 AM EST December 23rd, or 0502 UTC.  The launch window closes at 3:00 AM. 

B1058 before her first flight, the Demo 2 mission in May of 2020, which was the first manned launch from the US since the end of the Shuttle program in 2011.  Brand new, gleaming white.  Image credit: SpaceX.

Tonight's launch is going to be covered live by NASA  At the moment, it says coverage is going live at 11:20 PM.  

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Operational Vulcan Centaur Stacked at CCSFS

For the first time, the Vulcan Centaur set to be the first to launch has been stacked at SLC-41 on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.  The payload, the Astrobotics' Peregrine lunar lander is enclosed in the payload fairing and the system is fully assembled.  

Image credit: United Launch Alliance

ULA's new rocket has rolled between its vertical hangar and the launch pad at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station several times for countdown rehearsals and fueling tests. But ULA only needed the Vulcan rocket's first stage and upper stage to complete those tests. The addition of the payload shroud Wednesday marked the first time ULA has fully stacked a Vulcan rocket, standing some 202 feet (61.6 meters) tall, still surrounded by scaffolding and work platforms inside its assembly building.

This moves the launch company closer to the first flight of Vulcan, the vehicle slated to replace ULA's Atlas V and Delta IV rockets. After some final checkouts and a holiday break, ground crews will transport the Vulcan rocket to its launch pad in preparation for liftoff at 2:18 am ET (07:18 UTC) on January 8.

Back on December 10th, word broke that the launch of what they're calling the Cert-1 mission for the Vulcan platform, which will carry the Peregrine lander, originally scheduled for early Christmas Eve morning was not going to make it when the attempt to complete a Wet Dress Rehearsal had problems.  Peregrine has only a few days per month when the proper trajectory to the moon is available.  The launch must be timed to allow the spacecraft to reach its landing site with the proper lighting conditions.  The January 8th early morning launch is the next available launch window to meet those requirements. 

ULA has had three launches in calendar 2023, and their fleet of launch vehicles is being used up.  They have one Delta IV Heavy left and 17 Atlas Vs.  As we've talked about for a while, ULA CEO Tory Bruno says that 70 Vulcan Centaur launches have been booked and they're targeting an average of two Vulcan launches per month by the end of 2025. That's a rather aggressive target, since that's pretty much exactly two years from this coming first flight.  Ars Technica's author, Stephen Clark, says that for comparison it took longer for both the Atlas V and Falcon 9 to reach four launches.  Part of that may be demand for the services, which has been growing steadily since the first years of both of those.  Still, 24 launches in two years is far more than either half of the ULA alliance, Lockheed Martin or Boeing, has ever launched in their histories.

A side light to this launch is the "race" to be the first private company to land on the moon between Astrobotics, Peregrine on this Vulcan vs. Intuitive Machines with their IM-1 Lunar Lander.  Tuesday it was announced that the IM-1 launch has slipped from January 12th to "no earlier than mid-February" from the KSC’s Launch Complex 39A, primarily because of the backlog there due to facilities at 39A that aren't available at SLC-40, SpaceX's other launch pad.  The Falcon Heavy USSF-52 launch, currently scheduled for Dec. 28, being delayed pushed the Axiom 3 out to Wednesday, Jan 17, and rippled through SpaceX's launch schedule. 

Landing on the moon is not assured for either probe, but the Peregrine sure seems to have "inside track" at this point.  With the successful landing of India's (the ISRO's) Chandrayaan-3 probe, the number of nations has gone up, but no smaller entity has succeeded at landing on the moon.  You might remember Japanese company ispace and their Hakuto-R lander attempting a landing last April, but not making it.  That said, NASA is still hoping to make private lunar landings a regular occurrence.  Both the Peregrine and IM-1 landers are funded under NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, or CLPS.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Good Grief! It's Almost Christmas!

For reasons I really don't understand, it just hasn't felt like Christmas here.  We decorated later than the last few years, but earlier than we used to before we got our artificial tree in 2017.  I've been using my traditional Christmas mug for a week. 

As an aside, that Springfield Armory XD mouse pad gave up the ghost earlier this year, replaced with radio-related pad that is less comfortable, less padded and not as well shaped. As I've said before, I refer to this as drinking out of the skulls of my enemies. Except that snowmen aren't my enemies. I've never even seen one in real life. No snowmen have ever plotted attacks on me or my family. That I know of. 

I could just regurgitate some of my favorite posts in an effort to enhance the Christmas spirit, or my Christmas spirit.  How about the two pictures I've posted the most?

Found linked on Pinterest, the Great Sargasso Sea of the Internet, where you can wander for hours amid images both sublime and stupid - or both. No true source credited. The original URL from when I ran across the picture years ago is dead.

This one is probably the one I've posted most, but I haven't counted.  Credited to Glenn McCoy cartoons in the bottom right.  More here - I think.

Last year, I remarked that the last launch before Christmas was a Vega C that failed when its second stage took over.  Coincidentally, that was today's date, the 20th.  This year, we have a Falcon 9 scheduled for Friday night at 11:00 PM EST from SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral SFS, and another scheduled for Saturday morning 7:56 AM EST from SLC-4E at Vandenberg SFB.  Unless I'm forgetting something, those will be SpaceX's 94th and 95th launches of the year.  

Next Thursday, Dec. 28, the Falcon Heavy USSF-52 launch of the X-37B is scheduled to launch at 7:00 PM EST from LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center.  Because of the three Falcon 9 boosters, I believe they count that as three launches, getting them to 98 for the year.  Followed by another launch from Vandenberg on Friday the 29th at 12:09 AM EST (so call it the night of Dec. 28).  And there are still three more Falcon 9 launches listed without a time, just listed as No Earlier Than December at  It would be truly remarkable to turn around one of those pads to get to their 100th launch this year.  I don't think they've done it in two days before.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

A Personal Milestone

Monday was an important anniversary for me.  I retired on December 18th, 2015, making yesterday the start of my eighth year out.  The 18th was a Friday back in '15 and the last working Friday of the year.  The company would be open the next week, although only Monday through Wednesday (if I recall...) and then closed until after New Year's weekend.  Around here, the manufacturing companies tend to close between Christmas and New Year's as paid holidays, usually with an extra day or two on the ends.  I've always heard it explained as since we tend to be an area people move to for the job, so many people would take that week off anyway to go visit family for the holidays that it was pretty much impossible to accomplish anything.  

I would have been at my last job for 20 years if I had stayed until April.  

As you might expect, I posted that evening about retiring young (I was 61).  

Everyone was asking what I'm going to do.  Projects, of course.  To begin with, all of my ham radio antenna projects begin with the phrase, "when it cools off, ..."  It hasn't really cooled off to the extent it can in a Central Florida December; tonight's forecast low of 52 is probably the coolest it has been since last March, but it sure isn't summer, either.  I need to do some maintenance on my little antenna tower, and see what kind of shape it's in.  I really haven't done a thorough look at all of it in at least a year.  Then I need to fix anything that needs fixing.

The main project is the CNC conversion of my Grizzly G0704, which I've written about many times, and I think I can get that going pretty easily now that I have more than just 3 or 4 hour days on the weekends.  Then comes a bunch of projects, but I don't really have anything chosen, yet.   

I substituted the link to the separate blog page for the CNC conversion for the one that appeared in the original post.  There's something like 65 pages on the conversion, each typically a complete post.

The other things I talked about involved computer projects that I never got around to.  Yes, I've done some programming, dove into CNC programming, 3D graphics and other things that pop up in the CNC and ham radio hobbies.  Plus adding some code to some apps I've been playing with for almost 30 years.  While this year has been a year of expensive things breaking too often and me extending my repair skill set, it hasn't been that way for the past seven full years.  

Yes I've slowed down.  Perhaps the biggest surprise was that after 40+ years of getting up at 6AM for work after years of getting up early for school, I feel better on eight hours sleep - or more - and don't wake up on my own at 6.  I expected to be getting up at those old familiar times.  Some hobbies have gone dormant, like fishing, others have taken on new aspects like the 3D printing aspect in the shop or my current adventures in the ham shack.  

Let me conclude, though, with the final paragraph from eight years ago.   A friend from the last job once told me that a previous office mate of his had done a lot of analysis on retiring ASAP or working longer.  This friend had done a thick binder of Excel sheets of different scenarios.  The conclusion?  "Retire early - and often, if you have to".  In other words, get out ASAP, and if you need to go back to refill the account now and then, worry about it then.  Those are words to live by or with.  Luckily I haven't had to go find a job as a Walmart greeter or something like that.  I like to think I still have something left to contribute to a technical team. 

Monday, December 18, 2023

Solar Cycle 25 Update for the End of '23

It's just over six months since the last time Dr. Scott McIntosh of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, NCAR, gave a solar cycle 25 update on a radio group that I follow, so this week he joined the group again for another update which was posted to YouTube on Friday.   

Since I've posted NOAA's smoothed sunspot number  (SSN) regularly when I do these updates, here's the latest.

The 10.7 cm solar flux (2800 MHz) plot, also at the link just above the previous plot, is on a different scale so it's not an exact duplicate of this, but it "rhymes" in the sense of having the same general shape.  I'm going to zoom in on the latest data to point out something that's visible in both plots.  After this data is smoothed we see what appears to be an 8 month subcycle.  "Cycles within cycles."  We appear to be on the rising edge of another cycle with its coming peak.

Scott points out that X-flares are only observed on the rising edge of those subcycles.  Depending on where you get your news, you might have heard that last Thursday, Dec. 14, we had an X2.8 flare at 17 hours UTC (1PM EST).  Further evidence we're on the rising edge of another one of those 8 month subcycles. The accompanying CME played out over the weekend with apparently just a G1 class (Minor) geomagnetic storm.  That's the highest I saw. 

I saw references to "one of the largest solar flares ever recorded" which is sensationalism at its worst.  It's the strongest one of this cycle, which means probably the strongest since the declining part of the previous cycles, maybe 2014 to 2015, and conceivably back to the end days of cycle 23, around 2003.  That just doesn't mean much. As I've pointed out before, cycle 24 was the weakest cycle in a hundred years; being stronger than that just doesn't mean much.   

The big questions are always, "when will this cycle peak?" and "how big will the peak be?"  Scott McIntosh is sticking by an earlier prediction that this will peak toward the end of 2024, or early '25.  He says he'd like to see it peak with the SSN at 200, as he predicted before, but isn't sure it will get there.  The sun regularly shows asymmetric behavior between its northern and southern hemispheres and that's a major factor in solar cycles that have double versus single hump.   That's something that he doesn't seem willing to predict, possibly from never having seen a cycle with a single peak.  

Let me update another plot I've presented regularly: an overlay I like to call my ham radio biography (from here - bottom plot on the page).  Every plot since I was first licensed in 1976 is on this, and each cycle has been progressively lower than the one before it until now.  While cycle 25 doesn't appear to be challenging even cycle 23, it has made cycle 24 look as bad as it was.  The plot for cycle 25 is in the lower left quadrant, just above the pink curve of cycle 24 over most of its life.

Every life on this planet depends on the sun.  The amount of study that goes into predicting what it will do is far from trivial and Dr. McIntosh is the director of the NCAR.  There are still vast areas of study that humanity doesn't understand. 

EDIT at 0820 EST Dec. 19 to Add:  Added link to a bogus story about the X2.8 flare being "one of the largest flares ever recorded."

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Activists Step Up Suit to Shut Down Starship Launches

You will recall that soon after Starship's Flight Test 1, several environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration, arguing that the FAA improperly carried out the environmental review of SpaceX Starship launches from Boca Chica, Texas.  SpaceX was not listed as a defendant, nor did the suit demand that any future launches be halted. 

Word came out on Friday that the original complainants had filed a supplemental legal claim against the agencies in Federal court.  

In the supplemental complaint, the groups — Center for Biological Diversity, American Bird Conservancy, Carrizo/Comecrudo Nation of Texas, Inc., Save RGV and Surfrider Foundation — allege the FAA failed to properly analyze the environmental impacts of the first Starship launch before issuing a revised license for the second launch that took place Nov. 18.
The environmental groups argue that both FAA and FWS fell short of what was required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to review the environmental impacts of Starship launches. The FAA, it stated in the complaint, “once again failed to take the requisite ‘hard look’ at the impacts of the Starship/Superheavy launch program through a supplemental NEPA analysis.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service emphasized the new water deluge system installed under the Orbital Launch Mount and intended to prevent the damage to the OLM that the first test caused.  FWS concluded that the deluge system wouldn't produce significant environmental changes and it appears they got that correct, based on what we've seen of the repairs since the second flight test.

The supplemental complaint alleged that the FAA, “once again failed to take the requisite ‘hard look’ at the impacts of the Starship/Superheavy launch program through a supplemental NEPA analysis.”

“Failing to do an in-depth environmental review and letting SpaceX keep launching the world’s largest rockets that repeatedly explode shows a shocking disregard for wildlife and communities,” Jared Margolis, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement about the new complaint. “SpaceX should not be given free rein to use this amazing area as a sacrifice zone.”

Such inflammatory language hides the fact that they're not presenting any solid data showing that "this amazing area" was damaged at all.  It seems hard to say that the booster explosion miles offshore of the launch site and miles up over open water or the Starship explosion hundreds of miles farther down range and miles higher could have damaged anything there in Texas.  It's frankly hard to imagine it could cause damage anywhere along the vehicle's track unless a large chunk of debris landed on a boat.

As with Flight Test 1, the FAA is overseeing a SpaceX-led investigation into the second Starship launch Nov. 18.

Both the Super Heavy booster and Starship upper stage were destroyed during the flight, with Super Heavy exploding shortly after stage separation and the flight termination system on Starship triggered near the end of the powered phase of flight. Neither SpaceX nor the FAA have provided technical updates on the status of that investigation, including what caused the destruction of both vehicles. 

An FAA spokesman didn't provide details but said “we’re moving ahead pretty well” on the investigation.  Completion of this investigation is a necessary step toward the license required for the next flight test.  

Starship and SuperHeavy lifting of for IFT 2 on November 18th.  Credit: Trevor Mahlmann for SpaceNews

Saturday, December 16, 2023

The Ham Radio Series 41 - Ham Radio in the Information Age - Part II

For reference, part 1 was November 12, and I would have sworn it was a couple of weeks ago, not five weeks. 

The theme there was using modern tech to replace time sitting in the chair in front of the radio, listening and watching.  Reduce the hours of BIC time (Butt In Chair) you spend.  In particular, I talked about a web site and phone app called Ham Alert and had an example of how it had worked for me within a matter of days.  

Briefly, the way I set up the "trigger" it used to alert me was that on 6 meters (the 50 MHz ham band), if someone in Florida reports hearing or the software running in their station decodes and reports a station in Hawaii or Alaska, it should let me know.  Your station can generally be configured to report what it decodes (in the digital modes) so that it's possible your station could decode the one you're trying for but it goes through a handful of internet hops along the way.  For example, my station reports what it decodes to PSKReporter without me having to do anything.  It's a setting in the digital mode software called WSJT-X - there's more info on both WSJT-X and PSKReporter in a more detailed article from '22.

At the moment, I have PSKReporter showing a map of everything my station has reported hearing in the last 6 hours, during which the radio was on two different bands, 15 and 12 meters.

The red dots are 12m and the other color are 15m.  At a glance, you can see the 15m dots include locations farther away. 

My emphasis tonight, though, isn't PSKReporter, it's a more direct way of getting your station to alert you if some state, or country or whatever condition you're going after is being heard by your station while you're not sitting BIC in front of the radio. It's called JTAlert, where JT comes from the weak signal mode software called WSJT-X. The main difference between HamAlert and JTAlert is that JTAlert just monitors your station.  The advantage there is you know the desired station is being heard where you are.  The immediate disadvantage is that if your radio is off, like mine was when I got that HamAlert message that someone in Florida was hearing Hawaii, you'll get no alert.  You need to have your station powered on all day everyday, whether you're in it or not

Like HamAlert, JTAlert can be configured to alert you via a message to your phone;  HamAlert requires a 3rd party app to send texts to you but will activate the phone app in your name and send an alert tone.  JTAlert by default will play a sound through your computer sound system - which doesn't do you much good if you're not in front of the computer, and there is no equivalent app. 

I hesitate to say much more other than recommend perhaps watching some YouTube videos or doing some web searches.  For both Ham and JT alert, there are many configuration options that reflect your personal taste in how you like it set up, not to mention that the things you want to be alerted to or track are going to be different.

Friday, December 15, 2023

Small Space News Story Roundup 25

Relativity Space Begins Test Campaign on their New Engine

Relativity Space announced this week that it had hot-fired its new methane-fueled, 3D-printed, Aeon R engine, the power source for its next-generation Terran R rocket.  It was a 10 second burn at NASA's Stennis Space Center that only reached 70% of rated thrust, but marks the beginning of a test campaign.  At a design thrust of just over 1/4 million pounds - they claim 258,000 lbs - that's 180,000 lbs of thrust in this test.  

Relativity Space provided video on YouTube. 

HUGE ... Tim Ellis, Relativity's co-founder and CEO, posted on the social platform X this test was a "HUGE milestone" for the privately held company. The Aeon R has 11 times more thrust than the Aeon 1 engine that flew on the company's now-discontinued Terran 1 launcher. Thirteen of these methane/liquid oxygen Aeon R engines will power the Terran R's reusable first-stage booster, and a single vacuum-rated variant of the Aeon will fly on the Terran R's second stage. Relativity aims to launch the Terran R for the first time in 2026. 

The Terran R will produce over 3.3 million pounds of thrust, putting it between the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy in that category.  

Polaris Dawn Slipping to NET April  '24

I've been following and posting about this mission since they first started talking about it, and the most recent post about launch date I find is saying it would be No Earlier Than March of '22, and that was a delay.  Space News reports that the launch is now scheduled for April '24.

In social media posts Dec. 9, Jared Isaacman, the billionaire backing the Polaris program and who is commanding the initial mission, said the launch of Polaris Dawn is now scheduled for April 2024.

“April is the goal to launch & the pace of training is accelerating,” he wrote, stating that he was at SpaceX that day for testing of extravehicular activity (EVA) spacesuits that will be used on the mission.

This mission is going to be the first spacewalk by a privately run space corporations rather than government-run, and I get the impression reading Isaacman's descriptions that perhaps they or SpaceX underestimated the efforts required.  Doing a spacewalk meant designing suits capable of being exposed to a hard vacuum for a long time, and but it also led to some redesign of the Crew Dragon capsule. 

There is a “big difference,” he wrote, between the pressure suits worn by Crew Dragon astronauts and an EVA suit “engineered from the start to be exposed to vacuum outside the spaceship.” The lack of an airlock also requires changes to Crew Dragon software and hardware to enable depressurization of the cabin before the start of the spacewalk and repressurization afterwards.

Other issues he identified include demonstrating intersatellite laser communications links between the Crew Dragon spacecraft and SpaceX’s Starlink constellation as well as testing electronics for the higher radiation environment on the Polaris Dawn mission. The Crew Dragon will fly an orbit that will take it to altitudes of up to 1,400 kilometers, far higher than previous Crew Dragon missions and one that brings it close to the inner edge of the Van Allen Belt.

Because of that last factor, I've read elsewhere that it led to re-examining the avionics boxes on the Crew Dragon to ensure they could survive the expected radiation environment, not just things the crew might be wearing and carrying out of the capsule.  

“It’s a development program with ambitious objectives.  Schedule slips should be expected,” Isaacman wrote Dec. 9. 

Polaris Dawn crew, (L-R) Anna Menon, Mission Specialist & Medical Officer; Scott “Kidd” Poteet, Pilot;  Jared “Rook” Isaacman; Sarah Gillis, Mission Specialist.  Isaccman and Poteet are both executives at Shift4 as well as extremely qualified pilots; Gillis and Menon are both engineers with SpaceX on the manned spaceflight side.  More detailed biographies on the four at the bottom of the mission page.

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Jeff Bezos Says the Quiet Part Out Loud

Go ahead and say it.  People make fun of small companies like Relatively Space, Firefly, or Astra always countering everything good by saying "they haven't made orbit yet."  The truth is that Blue Origin hasn't made orbit and honestly will be lucky if they make orbit next year.  Quite possibly either late next year or into 2025.  

Bezos has put a lot of his own money into the company he started 23 years ago; some estimates put it as high as $20 Billion.  They have a staff of 11,000 people, in the same size class as SpaceX, but while SpaceX is closing in on 100 orbital launches this year, Blue "hasn't made orbit yet."  Not one launch this year.  

Ars Technica goes into an interesting, two-hour long interview Jeff Bezos did recently.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos gives very few interviews, but he recently sat down with the computer scientist and podcaster Lex Fridman for a two-hour interview about Amazon, Blue Origin, his business practices, and more.
During the interview, Bezos candidly acknowledged this. "Blue Origin needs to be much faster, and it's one of the reasons that I left my role as the CEO of Amazon a couple of years ago," he said. "I wanted to come in, and Blue Origin needs me right now. Adding some energy, some sense of urgency. We need to move much faster. And we're going to."
"We're going to become the world's most decisive company across any industry," he said. "We're going to get really good at taking appropriate technology risks, making those decisions quickly. You know, being bold on those things. And having the right culture that supports that. You need people to be ambitious, technically ambitious. If there are five ways to do something, we'll study them, but let's go through them very quickly and make a decision. We can always change our mind."

The key is to make a decision and move on.  Too many companies are gripped by "paralysis of analysis" and nobody wants to make a decision.  The approach that SpaceX uses is the counter to that.  Make a decision and move on it; if it's wrong, correct it.  If the whole path is wrong and you need to fix things, do it.  Part of that is the freedom to be wrong.  Nobody is right 100% of the time, especially when doing things nobody has ever done before.   

Think of Starship's Orbital Launch Mount in Boca Chica; Flight Test 1 wreaked havoc on that pad and blew chunks of concrete far from the OLM.  SpaceX said, "oops!  What were we thinking?" and fixed it faster than most businesses would even decide to do it.  

A couple of weeks ago, this view of the biggest piece of a New Glenn ever seen was posted around the net implying that Blue Origin was on the verge of launching.  It shows progress but isn't remotely near being ready to launch. 

On Nov. 27, 2023, a New Glenn first-stage tank section was captured outside of Blue Origin’s main manufacturing facility at its Exploration Park campus. This section — referred to as the “First Stage Mid Module” by Blue Origin in the 2018 New Glenn payload users guide — is the combination of both the liquid natural gas and liquid oxygen tanks. This section is the largest and most complete part of a New Glenn booster that has been publicly seen.  Image credit to Max Evans for NASA Spaceflight 

Because of the orientation of the US flag, I believe the left end in this picture is the bottom end of the booster.  This section is mated with an aft module which will carry seven BE-4 Engines and six landing legs.  The Mid Module gets topped with the Forward Module which is the interstage adapter between the first and second stages.

While I give credit to Jeff Bezos for being honest about the situation, I have to wonder if Blue Origin has the flexibility and the drive to work the way he envisions.  After years in the environment they're working, is it really capable of changing the way he wants?   Bezos talks in the interview of launching two dozen New Glenn vehicles per year.  Much like ULA talking about launching a similar number of Vulcan Centaurs, going from zero to two dozen isn't going to happen in a year.  There's a lot of practice that has to happen before that.

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

That Falcon Heavy USSF-52 Mission Found Deeper Problems

The launch of the USSF-52 mission carrying the X-37B space plane that was scrubbed Monday night has slipped out farther as troubleshooting the problem has dug into the "a ground side issue" that caused the scrub.  Monday night they reset the launch time for Tuesday night; by Tuesday afternoon, they slipped it to Wednesday, and on Wednesday it was just cancelled with no date given.  At this point, there is no defined launch date.  Ground teams on the Cape need to roll the Falcon Heavy rocket back into its hangar for servicing.

“We’re working through a couple of technical glitches with our SpaceX team that just are going to take a little bit more time to work through," said Col. James Horne, deputy director of the Space Force's Assured Access to Space directorate. "We haven’t nailed down a specific launch date yet, but we’re going to have to roll back into the HIF (Horizontal Integration Facility) and work through some things on the rocket.”

Horne, a senior leader on the Space Force team overseeing military launches like this one, said the ground equipment problem that prevented liftoff Monday night could be fixed as soon as Wednesday. But it will take longer to resolve other issues he declined to specify. "We found some things that we need to run some analysis on, so that’s what’s driving the delay," he said.

We don't expect someone working in the environment where everything else is classified to be very forthcoming with facts should some of them be something they shouldn't say and SpaceX was similarly reluctant about talking about what's going on.

In a post on the social media platform X, SpaceX said the company was standing down from the launch this week to "perform additional system checkouts."

There's a chance the Falcon Heavy might be back on the launch pad by the end of December or early next year. A SpaceX recovery vessel that was on station for the Falcon Heavy launch in the Atlantic Ocean is returning to shore, suggesting the launch won't happen anytime soon.

"We’ve got to look at the schedule and balance that with all the other challenges," Horne said. "But I hope we can get it off before the end of the year."

As always, there's a long string of missions queued up waiting for this one to fly, not just for SpaceX but add that Vulcan Centaur Cert-1 mission, now claiming NET January 8, into the mix as well.  All launches rely on the US Space Force infrastructure including the Eastern Test Range.  SpaceX plans to launch the IM-1 lunar lander in the tight January 12–16 launch window.  ULA will launch Astrobotics' Peregrine lunar lander, SpaceX will launch the Axiom Space AX-3 private, manned mission to the ISS.  IM-1 needs Pad39A for some infrastructure SLC-40 doesn't have, which means the USSF delay could delay the IM-1 launch, and AX-3 could conceivably be the first manned launch from SLC-40 that just had the crew access arm added to it.   

October 2023's launch of the Psyche probe atop a Falcon Heavy from Pad39A.  Image credit: SpaceX 

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Voyager 1 is Acting Like it had a Stroke

A bit too much anthropomorphism, but Voyager 1 is in trouble.  Again.  This time it seems a lot like a stroke, or perhaps Alzheimer's disease.  While the probe seems to take commands, it's sending back incoherent ramblings.   

Voyager has three computer systems on board, together called the Flight Data System (FDS), and engineers working on the problem have concluded it's what they call the telecommunications unit (TMU). As a result, no science or engineering data is being sent back to Earth. 

Among other things, the FDS is designed to collect data from the science instruments as well as engineering data about the health and status of the spacecraft. It then combines that information into a single data “package” to be sent back to Earth by the TMU. The data is in the form of ones and zeros, or binary code. Varying combinations of the two numbers are the basis of all computer language.

Recently, the TMU began transmitting a repeating pattern of ones and zeros as if it were “stuck.” After ruling out other possibilities, the Voyager team determined that the source of the issue is the FDS. This past weekend the team tried to restart the FDS and return it to the state it was in before the issue began, but the spacecraft still isn’t returning useable data.

I think about this as resembling someone with dementia saying the same things all the time, but I'm at a loss to say which is the less coherent one.  Maybe the TMU is less coherent because the human's words are bigger than "a repeating pattern" of ones and zeroes, but an answer to the wrong question or just saying random words isn't exactly coherent either.  

The Voyager team is saying it will probably take weeks to develop a plan to fix it.  It's a harsh reality that Voyager 1 is over 22 light hours away, so any patch takes pretty much a day to get to the probe and another day for any output to get back to Earth.  It's another harsh reality that Voyagers 1 and 2 are the two longest-operating spacecraft in history; or to put it another way, they're the two oldest spacecraft anyone can work on.  That means consulting original, nearly 50 year old documents written by engineers who may not have anticipated everything that can go wrong, not found every possible failure mode.  

That second fact - that both probes are now 46 and invariably approaching end of life - is the harshest reality of all.  There may not be a fix for this, and if there is, another worse problem might be right behind this one.  

Artist’s illustration of one of the Voyager spacecraft. Credit: Caltech/NASA-JPL

Monday, December 11, 2023

No Double Launch Tonight (Dec. 11)

Tonight's double SpaceX launch is off.  These were to be the Falcon Heavy USSF-52 mission first and then a Falcon 9 Starlink mission a bit under three hours later.   NASA Spaceflight's coverage just posted this: 

The SpaceX Tweet on X says there was "a ground side issue" while the vehicle and payload are "healthy."  Next attempt no earlier than tomorrow.  

As I was typing this, NSF changed the bars in the upper left corner to show both missions have been scrubbed.  No launch at all tonight.

As of 8:30, SpaceX's launches website has both launches set for Tuesday night at pretty much the same times:  FH and USSF-52 at 8:14 and Starlink 11:02.  Starlink was 11:05 tonight and FH was the same time. 

I'm not highly optimistic about the rest of the week after Tuesday because the long range weather forecasts aren't looking good, but the next couple of days should allow launches.  I don't think the forecast 20mph winds violate launch criteria, but visibility is nice to have.

Sunday, December 10, 2023

ULA: Vulcan Centaur “Likely” Out to January

It's looking like the Christmas Eve first flight of ULA's Vulcan Centaur is not going to make it.  Since it's very short launch window just before the full moon, that means a shift to January. 

The launch company's chief executive, Tory Bruno, announced the delay on the social media site X on Sunday. United Launch Alliance had been working toward a debut flight of the lift booster on Christmas Eve, from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

Bruno made the announcement after the company attempted to complete a fueling test of the entire rocket, known as a wet dress rehearsal.

I took the liberty of screen-capturing the tweet - for posterity, you understand.

Now you know how I hate to be the Ackshually guy, but January 8 surprises me. At some point I read and relayed that the reason for the short window of three days, December 24 - 26, was for the trajectory of the main payload on this flight, the Astrobotics Peregrine lunar lander and the days of the launch window were dependent on the phase of the moon.  The full moon in December is the 26th, while the January full moon is the 25th. That implies the same trajectory would be available Jan 23 - 25. 

Clearly one of us is mistaken.  

A side light to this little episode is the "race" to be the first private company to land on the moon between Astrobotics, with their Peregrine on the Vulcan vs. Intuitive Machines with their IM-1 Lunar Lander.  The last info I have on the IM-1 is that it was scheduled to launch on a Falcon 9 in a “multi-day” window that opens Jan. 12 from the KSC’s Launch Complex 39A.  That checks out tonight at's SpaceX manifest.  If January 8 slips to the 11th, we could have a literal race to the moon.

An unrelated point to bear in mind is that pushing the Vulcan's Cert-1 mission into '24 means ULA will have made only three launches all year, their lowest number of launches in their history.  Three launches in a week isn't uncommon at all for SpaceX this year and Eric Berger at Ars Technica points out that on a handful of occasions SpaceX has launched three rockets in three days this year.

Saturday, December 9, 2023

I'm Partying Like It's 2019

Not really partying.  How about working like it's 2019?  Sweating like it's 2019?  

That's too obscure.  Allow me to explain.  

At the end of November in '19, Mrs. Graybeard and I replaced the two computers we use every day with new ones.  The main reason was that her computer was dying after the nearby lightning strike we had in August that damaged a lot of stuff in the house - the few things that weren't surge protected.  The computer power supplies were plugged into a surge-protected strip but lightning got into her system by one of those things that appear purely random.  The length and position of the things like the video monitor cables or the Ethernet cables to the network hub. Her computer was dying a little more day by day.  Slowly at first, then faster.  It had to be replaced.

The work in "working like it's 2019" was migrating to our current computers.  Migrating to a new computer is always a tedious if not outright painful process.

For the last few weeks I've been working to start migrating my ham shack computer to a newer box, hopefully for improvements in speed and ability.  For perspective, the machine in the ham shack is a Dell Precision T3500 Workstation and I had one of those on my desk for running design software back around 2010 or '11.  I think the 2019 machine I'm typing on now is faster than the "high performance workstation" from a decade before.  I'm trying to switch to a machine that I hope to be faster than this one.  Without breaking the bank. 

Over the years, many things I do in my station have come to rely on the computer and I see what I believe to be indications of the T3500 being overloaded.  

I went looking for a used/refurbished computer.  This computer uses an Intel multicore processor called a Core i7-9700.  The i7 is the "generation" of the processor, the 9 is the revision level of the hardware, and in both cases a rough rule is, the higher the better.  I honestly don't know what the 700 means but I've looked it up before and didn't lodge any "get this, not that" rule to keep in mind while looking.  Besides there are look-ups to help decipher this code.   

I've been shopping for a Core i7-10700, FWIW.  There are stories down that road, but I'll leave them for another time.

Why do I want a faster machine?  I want to be able to do something like this:

This is a piece of software called SDR Console (or SDRC).  What it's doing there is running seven simultaneous receivers in one ham band (6m).  It allows you to monitor more than just one frequency or mode, which is what virtually all the ham transceivers on the market allow.  In voice or Morse code, you are the demodulator.  With this software, you can monitor a different mode in each of those windows and run more copies of the demodulation software.  Maybe old fashioned CW in one, Radio Teletype (RTTY), or SSB voice in another, as well as the "new hotness" of FT8, FT4 and other error correcting modes.  

Again, why?  Because it's cool.

Friday, December 8, 2023

SpaceX to Fly Falcon 9 Boosters Beyond 20

I'm sure that's not a surprise, but with the fleet leaders at 18 missions, the expectations are to push beyond 20 missions next year with a long range goal to extend that to 30 missions, more likely in 2025.  

That's an unexpected inclusion in a news article from Santa Barbara county news site Noozhawk, on SpaceX dramatically increasing the number of launches from Vandenberg in the coming year.  The main point of the article is that they will be ramping up launch rates to levels that are completely unheard of in the "old space" or "space 1.0" environment. 

Nate Janzen, a SpaceX manager for Vandenberg operations was in the area for a talk on economic matters at the Santa Maria Country Club.  There are years when the entire calendar of Vandenberg launches has been single digits.  Then SpaceX started launching from the base.

“We’re really ramping up Vandenberg to rates that we’ve never seen before and the area hasn’t seen before,” Janzen said, prompting applause from the audience.

From one launch four years ago to three the next year and 12 the following year, SpaceX expects about 30 liftoffs by the end of this year.

For 2024, the rate could jump to 50, then rocket to 100 in 2025. 

Which is pretty much one per week in '24 doubling in '25 after going from 30 to 50 between '23 and '24.  Earlier this year, SpaceX announced it had leased Vandenberg's Space Launch Complex-6 to give them two launch facilities on the West Coast as well as on the East Coast.  One of the things SpaceX is working toward on both coasts is to be capable of launching all of their platforms on more than one pad.  At the Cape Canaveral side, LC39A has been used for Falcon Heavy missions along with Crew and Cargo Dragon missions on the Falcon 9, while LC 40 was used for Falcon 9 missions that didn't require the extra infrastructure that 39A has.  They're in the final stages of adding a tower to LC-40 that will enable it to handle Crew and Cargo dragons, at a minimum.  The crew access arm was added about a month ago, and it's getting close to operational status. 

The same flexibility appears to be a goal for Vandenberg.  

SpaceX rendering of a Falcon Heavy on Vandenberg SFB, LC-6.  Image credit to SpaceX 

It appears that LC-6 will begin construction work soon with a first launch NET the summer.  

Closer to home, Thursday morning's (12:07 AM EST) Starlink mission from SLC-40 was SpaceX's 90th launch of the year, out of a stated goal of 100.  If everything listed as NET December on the SpaceX manifest launches in December (excepting Starship IFT3), that would be 101 launches in the year.