Saturday, October 23, 2021

Senate Tells NASA to Choose Another Lunar Lander

Remember Blue Origin's attempt to sue NASA to get selected for the next Human Landing System contract, after NASA selected just SpaceX instead of two companies?  

This week, the Senate Appropriations Committee wants NASA to select a second company for its HLS program.  The kicker is that they gave the NASA about $1.50 to pay for it.  Well, $1.50 in DC, which is a lot more to you and me.  

That bill offers $24.83 billion for NASA overall, slightly above the administration’s request of $24.8 billion but less than the $25.04 billion in a House bill.

I mean, DC couldn't blow their nose for less than a million, and the $24.83 billion vs $24.8 implies $30 million for HLS.  Then the article says this:

The committee increased funding for HLS by $100 million, to $1.295 billion. “The Committee believes having at least two teams providing services using the Gateway should be the end goal of the current development program,” it stated in the report. “Using this funding, NASA is expected to ensure redundancy and competition, including robust support for research, development, testing, and evaluation for no fewer than two HLS teams.”

The 30 vs. 100 million difference is apparently that they allocated $100 m for HLS and budget cuts to other things reduce the total budget number so that it looks like $30 million.

For perspective on the costs, the total contract to SpaceX was $2.9 billion and Blue asked for $5.9 b.  In July, Jeff Bezos offered to pay part of that out of his own pocket.  Or, as most of us would say, Blue submitted a lower bid after they lost and the contract was already awarded. 

Jeff Bezos published an open letter to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson on Monday morning and offered to pay more than $2 billion to get the agency's Human Landing System program "back on track." In effect, the founder of Blue Origin and world's richest person says he will self-invest in a lunar lander because NASA does not have the money to do so.

Even with all that, the committee is offering $100 million to pay for a program that still costs $3.9 billion after Bezos' $2 billion "instant rebate."  If you're like me, you're probably wondering why.

Appropriators rejected claims that the [HLS] program is underfunded, noting that last year, the agency predicted that it would need nearly $4.4 billion for the program in fiscal year 2022 but only requested $1.195 billion. “Given that request, NASA’s rhetoric of blaming Congress and this Committee for the lack of resources needed to support two HLS teams rings hollow,” the report states.

I should point out that this is the Senate's appropriations committee, and there's another bill that's probably equally messed up coming from the House.  After both bills are finalized, the sausage making process goes into overdrive, and they're combined into one budget.  Since Congress hasn't passed an actual budget since 2008, the reconciled agency budget then gets worked into those continuing resolutions congress uses to avoid responsibility.  

Oh, and if that one makes you confused, the Senate Appropriations bill also includes $579 million this year for Boeing's Space Launch System's Exploration Upper Stage, which has been unfunded.  It specifically says that money is for "engine development and associated stage adapter work." The engine in question is Aerojet Rocketdyne's RL-10.

The RL-10 has been flying since, oh, 1963, and is generally very well-respected from everything I can find.  How could it really need nearly $600 million worth of work?  

Artists' renderings of SpaceX's Starship HLS (left) and Blue Origin's lander.


Friday, October 22, 2021

A Little More About Last Night's Starship Tests

Toward the end of writing last night's post, SpaceX did a second test fire of Starship S20, marking the first time for multiple static fires on one vehicle in one day since SN9 back at the end of January.  

SpaceX Tweeted on their official account that this was the first firing of a Raptor vacuum engine integrated onto a Starship, and posted a nice video loop.  This is a screen cap from it in full screen mode. 

While previous static fires seemed to last three to four seconds, this one lasted closer to six or seven.  This static fire was the Raptor vacuum version, but the second static firing was more interesting; it tested both sea level and vacuum engines at the same time.

Finally, after perhaps the windiest road yet for a Starship from cryoproof to static fire, Starship S20 sailed through a static fire test flow on October 21st and ultimately fired up for the first time ever at 7:16 pm CDT (00:16 UTC). In perfect opposition to weeks of unprecedentedly slow testing, Starship S20 not only completed its first true static fire early in the test window, but it completed the first on-vehicle static fire of a Raptor Vacuum engine and then, just over an hour later, performed a second static fire – this time simultaneously igniting both a Raptor Vacuum and Raptor Center (sea-level-optimized) engine. Aside from also marking the first time that two Raptor variants have been simultaneously fired on the same vehicle, Starship S20’s two-test surprise was technically the fastest back-to-back static fire SpaceX has ever completed, beating Starship SN9 by about 15 minutes.

Back in January, SN9 completed three static fires; the three were at 12:28, 2:23 and 3:37 PM, according to my notes.  First to second firing was five minutes short of two hours, or 115 minutes.  The second to third was much faster, 1 hour 14 minutes or 74 minutes, setting an impressive company turnaround record. Starship S20, however, achieved two static fires in 62 minutes yesterday, October 21st.  

Completing the two firings in 62 minutes versus 74 probably doesn't mean much, but Musk's vision for Starship is unlike any other rocket ever.  He views it more as an extremely high powered commercial jet.  Maybe even an ultra fast, ultra long range car.  When you get off your jet at Atlanta Hartsfield or someplace similar it's probably going to be taking off again in a time similar to 62 to 74 minutes (60 to 90 or 120). 

For your amusement, Lab Padre put up a video of both static firings with views from several cameras.


Thursday, October 21, 2021

Another Space News Roundup

As usual a few stories I think of being interesting enough to talk about, but that aren't big stories.

Starliner Put Off Into '22

It's hardly news, but the last time I ran a dedicated piece on Starliner, I dropped the opinion that it wasn't likely Starliner would fly its unmanned Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission to the ISS until January 3rd to February 22nd.  This Tuesday, NASA and Boeing announced that they were going into deeper failure analysis of some of the failed valves, with a most likely date being before the end of the 2nd quarter of next year.  One source interviewed for that article said the "No Earlier Than" date for OFT-2 is May. 

NASA and Boeing officials said Tuesday that they have successfully removed two valves from the Starliner spacecraft and have shipped them to Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama for further analysis.

The forensic examination—the two valves will be inspected with a variety of techniques, including a CT scan—is part of Boeing's ongoing effort to diagnose the "stuck" valve issue that caused an abort of Starliner's uncrewed test flight on August 3. With less than five hours remaining in the countdown to launch, during a routine procedure, 13 of the 24 valves that control the flow of dinitrogen tetroxide oxidizer through the service module of the spacecraft would not cycle between closed and open.

The funniest part of this to me is the failure was attributed to humidity.  Who would have guessed there would be humidity in Florida in August?  Listen, Boeing, humidity is one of Florida's main exports.  And they say this capsule is designed to be launched from Florida.  

Boeing's chief engineer for space and launch, Michelle Parker, said during a news conference with reporters Tuesday that the company has a pretty solid hypothesis for what went wrong. At some point during the 46-day period when the vehicle was fueled—and when the valves were found to be stuck—humidity must have gotten into the spacecraft. This moisture combined with the oxidizer and created nitric acid, beginning the process of corrosion.

The First SLS Flight Vehicle is Fully Stacked

Early Wednesday, the Orion capsule was lifted by cranes inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center and placed on top of the SLS in preparation for the first Artemis unmanned flight.  Technicians inside the VAB worked overnight to tighten 360 bolts connecting Orion to the first Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket.

Cliff Lanham, NASA’s Artemis 1 flow director, said late Wednesday that the Orion spacecraft was “soft mated” to the rocket with an initial set of five bolts in each quadrant. The spacecraft sits on top of the Orion Stage Adapter, the uppermost element of the Space Launch System that sits atop the rocket’s cryogenic upper stage.

The rest of the process of “hard mating” the two was expected to last through today.  A launch date will be set after the completion of a wet dress rehearsal currently scheduled for December.  February '22 is likely to be the earliest the SLS could launch.

SpaceX Successfully Static Fires Starship S20

The test late Monday night Boca Chica time seemingly was a pre-burner test for the Raptor Vacuum engine.  Quite a bit earlier this evening, 7:16 PM CDT, they had a successful static fire of S20.  SpaceX's Twitter account says it was the static firing of the Raptor Vac, and the first such test ever.  A second static fire occurred at 8:18:25.  This one looked rather different from the first, and lasted over five seconds.

Not that you can see anything except overexposure.  There should be videos of this on YouTube by the morning.



Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The Major Buildout At Boca Chica is Wrapping Up

It seems like the build out at Boca Chica has been consuming virtually all of the time being spent on Starship Development for the last couple of months.  In the last week, since about Oct 14, virtually all of the major parts have been put into place, culminating today in putting the full Mechazilla Chopsticks onto the Orbital Launch Integration Tower or OLIT.  A few days ago, the last tank and tank insulating cover for the cryogenic fuel farm were transported to the Launch Complex.  This picture captures the major changes, although due to the distance of the camera and focal length chosen, they might not be immediately obvious. 

The eight large tanks for liquid oxygen and methane are just to the left of the launch pad and behind the yellow crane.  A few days ago, one of those tanks was gleaming stainless until the last insulating cryoshell (white insulating cover) was transported to the Launch Complex and lifted into place over the stainless steel tank.  There was a large horizontal tank taken to the pad complex at the same time as that last insulator which was said to be a liquid methane tank.  I don't see it in this view. 

Right above the launch pad, the Chopsticks are being put into place today.  Early this morning, they were still on the assembly fixture.  A few hours later they were in virtually the same place they are in these pictures from this afternoon as the work of attaching them goes on (and they appear to be in the same place at the time of this writing, four hours after this photo). 

The Chopsticks are integrated with the OLIT and will go up and down depending on the task they're doing.  They can lift Starship onto the top of a booster, or will eventually catch the returning boosters and lower it onto the launch pad. 

Meanwhile, Starship S20 underwent some sort of test Monday night/Tuesday morning.  It was either an irregular static firing or a preburner test.  Probably the latter.  Why the question?  In the early days of Starship testing, they did preburner tests regularly, but as the sea-level optimized Raptor Boost engines matured, that part of the testing was done less often.  S20, however, has the first Raptor Vacuum engines (RVac) to be installed on a Starship and it wouldn't be out of the question for them to go back to the preburner testing for a little while.  In that case, a full static fire is still probably necessary.  

Whatever it was, it didn't look at all like the previous static fires I've seen.  Lab Padre has a short video with a few views of the test.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Just-Launched Satellite Lucy's Solar Panels Have a Problem

NASA's Lucy mission to the Trojan asteroids of Jupiter launched successfully early this past Saturday morning, but after deployment of its two enormous solar panels, one has not reported successfully latching into place.  

Combined, the two solar arrays have a collecting area of 51 square meters. Such large arrays are necessary because the spacecraft will spend much of its 12-year journey about five times the distance of the Earth from the Sun. Lucy's solar panels can only generate about 3 percent of the energy at a Jovian distance than they can at Earth's orbit around the Sun.

A rule of thumb number to remember is that the sun delivers around 1300 Watts per square meter to the top of Earth's atmosphere.  The 3% value they quote is 39 W/sq.m., and the 51 square meter array would give the spacecraft 1990 Watts every hour at those distances.  Lucy is traveling farther from the sun for a longer mission than any previous satellite that was completely solar powered.  Earlier satellites commonly used Radioisotope Thermal Generators, RTGs.  

The other way to think about this issue is that if it's designed to run on 3% of what's available in Earth orbit, it's got 33.3 times that right now while they troubleshoot the issue.  On Lucy's NASA project website to watch, they note:

Lucy’s two solar arrays have deployed, and both are producing power and the battery is charging. While one of the arrays has latched, indications are that the second array may not be fully latched. All other subsystems are normal. In the current spacecraft attitude, Lucy can continue to operate with no threat to its health and safety. The team is analyzing spacecraft data to understand the situation and determine next steps to achieve full deployment of the solar array.

This is yet another example of the saying that "space is hard."  Lucy is in an escape orbit and beyond the reach of any other spacecraft to help out.  The mission controllers are on their own.  I should point out that they said, "indications are that the second array may not be fully latched."  They still need to determine it's actually a problem with the latching and not the circuit that measures whether or not the latch is properly set.  If the sensor or circuit is bad, it's annoying but not a show stopper. 

Lucy is an interesting mission that seems totally academic.  The mission is to the Trojan asteroids, orbiting at the LaGrange points of Jupiter, ahead of and behind Jupiter itself.  

The $981 million mission will fly an extremely complex trajectory over the span of a dozen years. The spacecraft will swing by Earth a total of three times for gravitational assists as it visits a main-belt asteroid, 52246 Donaldjohanson, and subsequently flies by eight Trojan asteroids that share Jupiter's orbit around the Sun.
Lucy will fly by its first asteroid target in April 2025, a main-belt asteroid named after Donald Johanson, the American anthropologist who co-discovered the famed "Lucy" fossil in 1974. The fossil, of a female hominin species that lived about 3.2 million years ago, supported the evolutionary idea that bipedalism preceded an increase in brain size.

The mission itself is named after that fossil Lucy as well.  It's a fanciful name, but these asteroids themselves are considered to be old fossils from the formation of the solar system. 

This is Lucy's trajectory over the next 12 years.  It looks complex but it's really more complex than this shows.  This perspective is created by fixing Jupiter's position, so during the 12 years of the mission that this is showing, Jupiter and both groups of Trojan asteroids will complete a little more than one full orbit around the sun, making this a more complex plot.  Plot from the Southwest Research Institute, the scientists behind the mission.  

I'll end this with a mind-blower.

Somewhat ironically, although Lucy is visiting the "Jupiter trojans," it will never be closer to Jupiter than when it is on Earth. This is because the Trojans trail Jupiter at a greater distance than the distance that lies between Earth and the Solar System's largest planet.



Monday, October 18, 2021

No, It Doesn't Appear That SpaceX's First Orbital Flight Has Slipped to March

A buzz has been going on in active space and SpaceX watcher communities that a NASA document shows that SpaceX's "first orbital flight" has slipped to late March.  It apparently started on Reddit's /r/SpaceXLounge and then was picked up by Teslarati's Eric Ralph.  As of late today, Reddit's readers and Eric Ralph both seem to have converged on the actual message; saying that not necessarily the first orbital flight, but that an orbital flight will be in used in March '22 for a project NASA is working on.  

The story focuses on a program NASA is going to do the monitor the surface tile temperatures of the Starship during reentry.  The whole story focuses around these two graphics, which appear to be the kind of slides that get presented during a design review, from a program called the NASA Scientifically Calibrated In Flight Imagery or SCIFLI.  Click em to embiggen em, as usual.

As you can see, the plan is to use a set of infrared imaging cameras that they're currently developing to monitor the "entire lower surface of the Starship spacecraft during hypersonic reentry."  The cameras will be flown on a NASA WB-57F research aircraft which will have to be tracking the vehicle from a high altitude in a parallel course.  The very last sentence on the top graphic says, "Targeting Starship reentry observation opportunity near March 2022."  That clearly doesn't say "Targeting the first Starship reentry ..." and if anything, it can be read as the March suggestion saying that's the target date for their equipment to be ready.

If you'll pardon the expression, the exact date of the first orbital flight is still up in the air.  The FAA has yet to announce either an approval for them to continue or a disapproval.  SpaceX has needed to put a lot of effort into completing the ground infrastructure for Starship/Super Heavy operations, or "Stage Zero" as Elon Musk refers to it.  As we've talked about many times, in the last several months there has been a constant effort to move every little bit of infrastructure possible from the vehicles to the ground.  This time hasn't been wasted, although we all would like to see them trying to fly these ships.

As launch facility work has been going on, they continue to produce more Starships and more boosters.  Currently at the launch facility they have Starship S20 and booster B4.  Booster B5 and S21 are said to be nearly ready.  It's conceivable that B4/S20 might do some testing before attempting a true orbital flight.  Since everything published so far on them says both will end up being tossed into the Gulf of Mexico (B4) or the Pacific near Hawaii (S20), it might well be that B5/S21 will attempt the first orbital flight.  

The sooner any of this kicks off, the better.  Oh, and if you want to see a cool video that just might show what a Starship reentry would look like, check out this one.

Fixed It For Ya

With apologies to whomever posted this and that I got it from over the weekend. This is the problem.

This the fix. 

From everything I've read about this ***hole funding state's attorneys general and then prosecutors, I never cease to be amazed that he's not behind bars somewhere.  He's wanted in several countries, but apparently none that have police competent enough to take him in. 

Saturday, October 16, 2021

This Week's Update on the 1 by 1 - Part 10

I concluded the last report by saying I was going to sand the journal to get it down to the final size, using the plastic sticks I had made to hold the sandpaper.  It had been filed down to a bit oversized and I used the plastic sticks with 220, 400 and 1000 grit to finish.  The final size of the journal varied from 0.3751 to 0.3752", or within 1/10,000 of an inch over its length.  Since I make the other side of that matching pair, the piston, that should end up being easy to live with.  

I didn't get as far as I wanted to because I continued to dump hours into troubleshooting the odd printer problems I spent days on last week, but I was able to make progress on the crankshaft. 

Once I had let it sit for a day, and measured it another few times, the next task is to take off the extra metal around that journal and prepare it for turning the rest of the bar down to its final size (also 0.375").  I did that on my bandsaw and didn't take any pictures until it was done and put back on the lathe.  Which is when I realized I had problems with the tooling.  

The problem?  Look at the top left of the picture where you'll see a kludge of a bolt, a wingnut, two washers (to increase diameter) and a hex nut.  That was because the system I bought from Little Machine Shop offered a bolt for that radial slot in the plate, but the bolt was at least 1/4 inch above the end of the rod it needed to be pushing.  I replaced that M8 (metric) bolt with a 5/16-18 bolt from my stash, going through a couple of lengths before I found one that work for the job.

While that worked, and I skinned back the side of the "cheek" holding the journal, I thought it felt flimsy enough that it was worth making a replacement tool.  My first thought was an L-shaped bar that would replace the hex nut and stick down far enough to push on that steel bar (the lathe dog's tail?) and be more secure.  

I had two rectangular (steel) bars that used to be the other half of that crankshaft blank, and cut down one to make the reinforcing piece in the middle of the shaft (visible just above the rounded journal above).  I tried to think of how that leftover piece could work and couldn't see a way.  So I took an inch off the end of a 3/4 x 1" wide steel bar I had and made the tool from that.  (The reinforcing block is there to keep the pressure on the ends of the crankshaft bar from bending it around the journal - it's epoxied in place while I work.)

There's not much adjustment range, you can see the adjustment slot just above the nut and washer, but it's about 1/2 or 5/8" long.  It feels more secure than the stacked washers.

So with that in place, it was time to start turning down the rectangular steel bar and making it round.  It's far from done, but I took this picture at a convenient stopping point yesterday. 

The top side of the bar here is flat from the saw cut.  I think the numbers tell me that it ends up circular before it reaches final size, but I have to admit I'm sweating it a little.  

Both ends are too long and will be cut to final size.  Both sides should have had enough extra material coming off the (manual) cut on the bandsaw.

Operations left to do:

  1. Turn this side, the long side, to final size and shape.  That will reduce the width of the rectangular block and put a raised ring on the left end of the bar ( .025" tall by 0.440" diameter).
  2. Cut length to final size
  3. Flip the shaft end for end and turn the other side to final diameter with the same detail ring on it.
  4. Cut other side to length. 
  5. Move to the mill and cut a 3/32 wide keyway on the short side. 
  6. Reduce the thickness and length of the rectangular side blocks to final sizes (currently .025" over)
  7. Drill and tap a 5-40 hole in the centers of both side blocks.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Astra Explains Their August Sidways Launch, Sets Date for Next Try

Some of you will remember from the end of August when California rocket company Astra launched a rocket that flew sideways for a while before starting to fly vertically and eventually going to its second stage.  

Early this week, the company announced a launch date of October 27th, the last Wednesday of the month, and will be flying from their mini spaceport on Kodiak Island, Alaska.  The rocket, this time called LV0007 (LV for Launch Vehicle) rather than Rocket 3.2 or 3.3 as the last two were called, will be carrying a small payload weighing a few dozen kilograms for the US Space Force.  The diminutive size of the payload belies the importance of this launch to the company, which has yet to achieve orbit. 

As its name implies, this is the seventh rocket Astra has built. The first two models were strictly for suborbital tests. The third rocket was lost during a launch pad fire. The fourth rocket—the company's first actual attempt at an orbital launch—failed after about 30 seconds due to a guidance error. That flight took place in September 2020. During a subsequent attempt in December 2020, LV0005 reached space but did not have enough propellant to reach orbit.

That attempt last December led to a small redesign of the vehicle to add about five feet of length to the first stage for slightly larger fuel and oxidizer tanks.  The December flight got high enough to be in space, but wasn't fast enough to attain orbit, falling about 500 meters/second (about 1100 miles/hour) short.  The redesigned vehicle was the one tested on August 28th and went sideways for a while until it burned off enough fuel to have a thrust to weight ratio greater than 1:1. 

What happened?  

In a blog post published Tuesday morning, Astra chief engineer Benjamin Lyon provided more information about this failure and steps the company has taken to ensure it does not happen again.

"The issue we encountered was something we hadn’t seen before," Lyon wrote. "Leading up to liftoff, the first stage propellant distribution system provides the rocket with fuel and oxidizer. We designed the system to quickly disconnect and seal when the rocket lifts off. On this launch, propellants leaked from the system, mixed, and became trapped in an enclosed space beneath the interface between the rocket and the launcher."

At this point, exhaust from the rocket's five engines ignited the propellant, which in turn cut the connection to the fuel pump electronics. This led to a shutdown of one of the rocket's engines a fraction of a second after the booster lifted off. This caused the rocket to effectively hover before its on-board flight software compensated, allowing the rocket to fly more upward. The four remaining engines, however, did not have enough thrust to boost the rocket into orbit.

Lyon said Astra has modified the design of the rocket's fueling system so that the kerosene fuel and liquid oxygen oxidizer can no longer mix. It has also been modified to further reduce the risk of leakage during the fueling process. "We believe these changes significantly reduce the likelihood of seeing a similar event in the future," Lyon said.

Again, this is a very important launch for Astra.  They need to demonstrate they can get to orbit and safely deliver paying customers' payloads if they're to be taken seriously in an increasingly crowded and competitive market.  This past July, Astra became a publicly traded company and between the stock sales and some NASA contracts, I noted they could keep working after August's mishap.  The company's stock has fallen by nearly 50 percent compared to July's stock price.  Nothing would help that situation as much as some success at their core business: getting into orbit and delivering payloads to required orbits. 

Astra's launch facility in Kodiak, Alaska.  (Photo by John Kraus for Astra)

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

On The Big Story of the Day

Today singer/songwriter Paul Simon, Rhymin' Simon his self, is 80 years old.  Happy Birthday, Paul!  

Accredited as one of the best singer/songwriters of his generation, Simon might be best known as half of the iconic duo of Simon & Garfunkel formed in 1965, although his solo career was longer and arguably more productive.  His popular songs are too numerous to list.  The guy has 12 Grammy Awards, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, a Songwriters Hall of Fame induction, a Johnny Mercer Award, and not one but two Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of fame inductions, one for Simon and Garfunkel and one as a solo artist.

Just kidding.  Well, I mean it really is his birthday and all of that is true, but to most of the news of the world the big story of the day is William Shatner's trip to space on Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket.  

There's a 39 second video from their time in weightlessness in a couple of places.  This screen capture is from the C/Net Highlights channel at about the 23 second mark, where you can see Shatner visibly saying "oh, wow!"  

Eric Berger at Ars Technica (and @SciSpaceGuy on Twitter) pointed out: 

Finally, there can be no question that inviting Shatner to fly as a guest on just the second human flight of New Shepard is a marketing ploy. This mission lacks the novelty of the first crewed flight—carrying Bezos—and interest would otherwise have been low for sending two millionaires (Chris Boshuizen and Glen de Vries) and Blue Origin employee Audrey Powers into space for a few minutes.

I asked Twitter followers on Tuesday whether they thought the spectacle of flying Shatner to space was more "marketing" or more "marvelous," and by a three-to-one margin they voted for "marketing."

As someone who has written about space for decades and watched most episodes of most Star Trek series, I would say that flying Shatner into space is marvelous marketing. This flight does not solve any of the problems at Blue Origin, which are substantial. Due to poor management, the company has under-delivered. But Captain Kirk is finally going to space, and it's thanks to Blue Origin and Jeff Bezos.

There are a lot of things to be upset about in the world today, but sending Shatner to space, after he's delivered so much joy to so many for so many years, is not one of them.

Note that Berger said Shatner flew "as a guest" today; I take that to mean that he didn't pay but was given the flight by Blue.  I've read that Jeff Bezos is a big fan of the Star Trek worlds and especially Captain Kirk.  

On the scale from utter contempt to unrequited love for William Shatner, I come down kind of neutral.  He's clearly no Lawrence Olivier, but he played fun roles and was entertaining.  The only thing I want from the dancing monkeys I hire is to dance better than I can.  It's not a high bar to get over.  I'm happy for Bill.  Qapla', Kirk!  chay' jura'?

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

The Trillion Dollar Coin Scam

By now, I'm sure everyone has heard the story about the way to fund the growing federal debt.  Some one said simply mint a coin in platinum and declare it to be worth $1 Trillion dollars, then deposit the coin with the Federal Reserve.  Then the Fed could add the stated value of the coin to their balance sheet and buy the trillion dollars worth of bonds.  Since a trillion is nothing in the face of the current debt levels, they'll have to mint a lot of them.  The recognized national debt is closing in on $29 trillion with other payments due in the future (most places call those unfunded liabilities) of nearly $158 trillion.  They'd have to mint 187 of them.  

Since there's nothing backing it and nothing to distinguish the value other than "the coin is worth what we say it's worth," I suggest they go buy some silver dollars, some paint, and create something like this.  

Maybe get some first graders to do the lettering.  Give it more personality than my edit in "Paint".  And add that pesky "s" that needs to go on the end of "dollar."

Saying the coin is worth a trillion dollars is the essence of Modern Monetary Theory.  The fact that someone would seriously consider minting such a coin shows economic ignorance of epic levels, but the whole country is running on MMT now, which is nothing but ignorance of economic history.  Nobody stops to think how other countries would react to us doing that, and how it would affect their confidence in our bonds or anything else.  (Much like their confidence in our leadership after Afghanistan).  Nobody stops to ask the question that if we can create trillions like that, why do we tax anybody in the country anyway.  It's a nonstop train to no longer being the world's reserve currency. Honestly, though, that train left the station long ago and the death of the dollar in that role is a matter of when, not if.  I wouldn't be surprised to see it happen almost any day, now.

It's kind of fun in a macabre sort of way to watch MMT failing all around them yet they seem incapable of seeing that's why things are falling apart now.  A common failing in all sorts of endeavors is to be so in love with your theories that you can't see that other ideas might work better.

Treasury Secretary and long term Deep State Hack Janet Yellen is still saying the inflation is only transitory, and oh by the way, let's get rid of that pesky debt ceiling so we can just create and spend whatever we want whenever we want.  Money is just medium of exchange, right, peons?  What's that about store of value?  Don't be silly.  We want a constant 2% inflation so that the prices of everything will double at least twice in your wretched lives.  That's not storing value, it's planned destruction of value. 

Even John Maynard Keynes didn't envision his Keynesian brand of economics creating money perpetually; he thought it would be done in times of crisis, and then stopped.  The excess dollars could be wrung out of circulation. 

Monday, October 11, 2021

Just A Couple of Images From Boca Chica

I was going to have more to say, but our evening was interrupted by our water leak alarm under the kitchen sink.  It appears to have been a "replace the battery" alert;  some checks for water came up negative but it took up time.  

Meanwhile, the first ever Raptor Vacuum engine was installed in S20 this morning.  This is before it was lifted into place, and may have nothing at all connected.

Photo credit to Nic Ansuini via Twitter.

Later in the day, the second "Chopstick" of the pair being installed on the Orbital Launch Integration Tower (OLIT) was lifted into place.  It's the one on the left in this picture.  

Screen capture from Lab Padre, with a little photo contrast enhancement.

The red structure visible around the big crane (Kong) is an assembly fixture; the smaller red structure is farther from the camera than the taller one.  Although it only shows one of the chopsticks, this 14 second animated video shows what that assembly fixture looks like.   The two giant arms in the back (unrecognizable in this view) with wrap around ends, wrap around the OLIT and the straighter chopsticks open and close. 

Cameron County's road closure website says a "primary" closure for tomorrow, 5PM to Midnight has been cancelled, but the back up dates of Wednesday the 13th and Thursday the 14th, same times, are still open.  If the road closures are to static fire S20, it will mark the first time the Raptor Vacuum engine has been fired in a Starship.  If S20 is fully configured for flight with six engines, three sea level and three vacuum, that will be a first.  I don't know of scenarios in which all six will be used simultaneously, but all six need to be tested.  

A road closure shouldn't be necessary to put the Mechazilla Chopsticks in place so that could happen as soon as it's ready to lift. 


Sunday, October 10, 2021

Meanwhile at Boca Chica - Someone is Playing Chopsticks

Well, someone is playing with chopsticks.  That's the term for the massive steel arms that are supposed to catch the Super Heavy booster out of the air at the launch site.  Instead of having it land on a barge at sea or landing pad near the launch pad, which is apparently too easy now.  Yesterday and today have marked the slow motion movement of the first of the chopsticks onto what appears to be a fixture that will be used to assemble the pair before they're mounted on the Orbital Launch Integration Tower.  

These things have an odd shape and I don't know what they're going to look like in use.  This is a screen capture from very late in this NASA video that shows it horizontally oriented, suspended in the air by the big crane.   

Yes, it's rather asymmetrical with that big section on the left end that extends vertically downward to large piece that looks like a pipe flange.  I watched that around some other things I was doing yesterday and they had some problems getting the cables to the crane over the chopstick's center of gravity.  Eventually, it was positioned near that red structure along the left edge of this picture.  There's a rendering of that on Twitter if you want a better look.

While it isn't as glamorous as watching the actual launches, this is extremely important work going on at Boca Chica Starbase.  Teslarati's Eric Ralph has a summary posted today

SpaceX has begun preparing its Starbase ‘launch tower’ for the installation of a pair of giant arms designed to lift, stack, and even catch Starships and Super Heavy boosters out of mid-air.

Deemed ‘Mechazilla’ by CEO Elon Musk, assembly of first of the structure’s three main arms only began in earnest in June 2021. That ‘quick disconnect’ (QD) arm – designed to fuel Starship and stabilize Super Heavy during Starship stacking – was installed on August 29th and followed by the addition of a claw-like appendage meant to grab onto boosters about a month later. Now, all that’s missing from Mechazilla’s first arm is the actual ‘quick-disconnect’ device that will connect to Starship’s umbilical panel to supply propellant, power, and communications links.

However, ever since Musk first hinted at the possibility of catching Super Heavy and Starship, the star of the Mechazilla show has always been its ‘chopsticks’ – SpaceX’s internal colloquialism for the pair of giant, moving arms meant to lift and catch rockets.

Super Heavy boosters are enormous: 225 feet tall and 29.5 feet in diameter.  The thought of its landing system knowing its position accurately and precisely enough to catch the booster without flying it into one of the chopsticks is a bit mind-bending.  Then there's thinking of the load those arms will have to bear to catch the booster, yet be delicate enough to not crush it.  

During the two hour and 20 minute walk around of Starbase with Elon Musk that Everyday Astronaut conducted, Elon said something that stuck in my mind like a sand spur in a wool sock.  He said when the Super Heavy returns to the launch tower to be caught in the air, its density (pounds per cubic inch) is close to that of an empty beer can.  A very, very big beer can. Beer cans can be crushed in your hand.  How rugged are they if you scale the beer can up to 225 feet by 30 feet diameter? 

Saturday, October 9, 2021

A Little Shop Update

This is not an update to the 1 by 1 engine I've been tracking, at least not exactly.  I didn't do much to the cam shaft at all this week.  Last Saturday, I concluded my update by saying it should be done "tomorrow" - meaning last Sunday.  Nope.  

I did some more reading and decided the cylinder I'd been turning (more precisely called a journal bearing) needed to be not only reduced to the right diameter but almost left with a polish.  That means sandpaper.  I did some research and found that the most common way of getting sand paper into a place like that and minimize the chance of repeating my finger injury (or worse) is by gluing sandpaper to a Popsicle stick.  Well, there's two of us in this house and neither of us eats Popsicles so it became a question of how I got one.  

While sitting in the shop, I almost put my arm on my 3D printer when my brain said, "it's a plastic Popsicle stick maker."  And so began a week of misadventures.  A comedy of errors that, like most of them, wasn't funny at all.  

If I'm going to print anything, I need G-code file and to get that, I need a 3D solid model of a Popsicle stick.  This didn't take long, and I quickly made a version 1 of what I started calling the Fat Popsicle Stick - because I wanted to put a nice handle on it.  

The dimensions aren't there, but it's 5 inches long, the thick part of the handle is 1/2" tall, and the stick portion is 0.4" wide by 1/16" thick. That number was completely pulled from thin air.  I mean, I have had Popsicles, just not in the last 35 years or so.  They seemed about that thick.

So Tuesday it was time to print it.  The print failed.  I watched it for the first few minutes and came in to do other stuff during the remaining hour the print would take.  Just as I was about to go check on it Mrs. Graybeard came in to tell me the thin, stick part was off the table.  I went out to check it out and figure out what to do.  I thought about putting a spot of glue under that end and pushed on it to see how flexible it was.  When I did that, I popped the whole stick off the print bed.  No choice left but to kill the job.  

Except that it was about 3/4 done and probably usable.  So I gave it a try and found two problems.  First, it was too wide.  The design was 0.40, but it came out a little wider.  When I wrapped sandpaper on it, it was too close to the .438 of the journal.  The second problem was that it felt too flimsy.  

Within a few minutes, I had a redesigned "Ver. 2" stick ready to print.  I doubled the thickness of the stick portion to 1/8" thick.  Stiffness in bending here is proportional to the fourth power of the thickness, so doubling the thickness should make it 16 times stiffer.  The minor change was to drop  the width to 3/8".  

Except that I noticed before I left the first time that it looked like the right front corner of the print didn't look as opaque as it did farther away from that corner.  I ran one of these bed level tests like I did when I was getting set up to use the printer and it came out that the right front corner didn't print.  Time to re-level the printer bed.  Except I realized I didn't remember how to go through the process of leveling the bed, so I gave up for the day. 

Of the various channels I found on YouTube, the one I think I got the most from was CHEP, so I went to his channel, searched on bed leveling, and found a video that was dated a month ago. Obviously not the one I watched back last January, but I watched it and thought it was a big improvement over the way I did it. The main difference is that the previous video is based on sliding a piece of paper out from under the print head while this one is based on a feeler gauge.  The 3D printed gun guys stress doing a better layer thickness calibration and I think they talked about using a feeler gauge. 

To do this calibration, I needed to load some new firmware onto my printer, which required that I verify which processor board revision I have.  I'd been meaning to do both of those things anyway.  

With the new firmware and the bed leveled, it was time to print the revised design.  Except that I hadn't put the Rev. 2 model's G-code on my memory card and printed Rev. 1. OK, time to really print Rev 2 and very quickly found a problem.  The G-code was having it print the 1/8" thick part but left it the original 1/16" in the back.  Then it went back to print the handle on top of that thinner area and it didn't even attach to it.  A real mess.  I ended up with two parts not really attached to each other. 

Between the first layers looking thin, and the layers not bonding well when I printed the squares to check the bed level, I started to doubt this brand new yellow filament.  So I removed it and put in the other new spool of PLA+ filament I have, this one white.  I started printing with that and then broke for dinner.  After eating I went to check it and found it had printed the bottom half of the 1/8" thick part and then got lost.  The extruder went the width of the stick up in Y and some random offset to the right in X.  Totally FUBAR.  It left me puzzling over which piece of software screwed up or if it was the printer hardware.  There's three possible sources of software errors: the new firmware in the printer, the slicer software that creates the G-code, or it could be that my CAD model had defects I can't see.  

I decided to start everything over from scratch, except for leveling the bed.  I redrew the model and sliced it with the other slicer software I have but switched away from, Cura.  That required me to convert the model to metric in Rhino.  That's not hard, just more to do and not having to do that is one reason I switched to the newer (to me) slicer software, Prusa.  Then I started printing it again.  This one worked fine and was done in an hour.   

If you lost count, I had to print it three times to get one to come out right.  The one that came out in two pieces is usable, I had to cut off the loose filament and glue that one together.  I now have two of the sticks that I think will work and that's all I need.  One will get 400 grit glued to it and the other will be more like 1000.  Maybe.  Probably?

The Fat Popsicle Stick family.  In the back is the Rev. 1 stick that popped off the bed before it was done, but was usable - except for being too wide. It has 220 sand paper glued to it and I actually ran that on the journal for a little while.  The one on the left is the second Rev. 1 that I printed accidentally.  Second from left is the first Rev. 2 that printed in two pieces.  I shaved all the loops of filament off the bottom of the back's top piece and glued it to the bottom.  The odd looking white mess is what came out of the printer losing its X and Y coordinates.   The last one on the right is the finished Rev. 2 stick that printed properly.  

Back in March of '17, I quoted an article from Machine Design magazine, "Are 3D Printers Overrated?" in a post for those of us who don't have one.  The author's point was that you can buy a 2D printer (better known as an inkjet or laser printer) set it up and get great results instantly.  Go buy a 2D printer at your local office supply store and you'll be printing out grandma's recipes in less than an hour.  3D printing is still a much, much less established technology.  

I've had several prints that went without a hitch, but days like this week remind me of this guy's article.  Yet another thing I've been thinking of doing is building an enclosure for my printer, which is his first recommendation. 

Friday, October 8, 2021

A Space Story Like No Other

Every so often, you come across a story so unusual, so different from all the other stories, that you just have to pass it on. It's even more unusual when the story revolves around spaceflight, or, at least, spaceflight hardware.   This week's Rocket Report from Ars Technica included this story, by their space correspondent Eric Berger. 

Most people know the former Soviet Union created a duplicate of the American Space Shuttle called Buran.  The first Buran shuttle made just a single, unmanned flight to orbit in 1988. However, Buran was destroyed in 2002 after the roof of the hangar where it was stored at the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan collapsed.  

The Buran shuttle at Baikonur at some unspecified time between 1988 and 2002.  Scott Peterson/Liaison photo from Getty Images and Ars Technica.  I seriously wanted to correct the color in this but decided, by the white lights in a few places, that this is probably close to how it looked to the naked eye. 

What most people don't know is that they built a second vehicle of the same size called Burya.  A duplicate.  

This was the second orbiter built as part of the Soviet Buran program, which aimed to produce a fleet of space shuttle-like vehicles four decades ago. At the time of the program's cancellation in 1993 due to a lack of funding, the Burya vehicle was deemed to be more than 95 percent completed for flight operations.

The one that flew was Buran 1.01, while Burya was Buran 1.02.  Parts of other Buran orbiters were built and largely scrapped in the 1990s.  Through a convoluted series of events, a Kazakh businessman named Dauren Musa has apparently acquired Burya.  Burya is stored in another building at the Baikonur cosmodrone in Kazakhstan, and was vandalized pretty badly by graffiti "artists."  

Kind of peculiar already, but nothing really extremely weird, right?  Hang on.

Roscosmos, the Russian state corporation that pretty much runs the Russian space program, wants to preserve Burya as one of the few pieces left of a big, impressive program they completed.  They want it in Russia where they have the facilities to restore and display Burya.  

Musa, however, does not simply want to give the vehicle back to Russia. In September, reports emerged that he would only return Burya to Russia in exchange for the skull of the last Kazakh Khan, a man named Kenesary Kasymov. He has emerged as a hero in modern-day Kazakhstan for leading a 10-year struggle opposing the Russian Empire's attempts to colonize the region during the 1840s. A rival ultimately beheaded Kenesary Kasymov in 1847 and sent his head to Russia.

Now, Musa wants the skull back, and he is willing to trade Burya for it. In an interview published Friday in a Russian language newspaper in Kazakhstan, Musa escalated his rhetoric. He said he would definitely not allow the shuttle to be returned to Russia for nothing, emphasizing the value of Burya as a bargaining chip by noting that it is the most valuable Russian artifact in Kazakhstan. He emphasized his determination, saying, "It is not water that flows in our veins, but blood, and it has the scent of wormwood." Wormwood is a common plant in Kazakhstan and a key ingredient of absinthe.

The complication is that Russia may not have the skull of Kenesary Kasymov that Musa is pressuring them for.   Russian officials say they don't know where it is. 

Dauren Musa has other problems.  After the fall of the Soviet Union the Russian companies in Kazakhstan had to start paying rent and other fees to the Kazakh government.  Over time, the Russian companies would sell off assets to meet expenses.  

The prime contractor for the Buran program was a company called RSS Energia, the biggest contractor for the Russian space program. According to, a subsidiary of Energia was created to manage its properties at Baikonur. In 2004, this company transferred the two Buran vehicles to RSE Infrakos, which in turn turned them over to the Russian-Kazakh company JSC KRISP Aelita. In 2011, Musa bought the company’s shares. He renamed the company RSC Baikonur.

The ownership of Burya remains somewhat in doubt, however. Kazakhstan government officials have asserted their ownership of the assets of RSC Baikonur. The matter is being litigated in court in Kazakhstan.

In an interview published Friday, Musa said these court proceedings have been dragging on for three years.  He asserts he owns Burya, while the Kazakhstan government asserts they do.  Any trade of a never-flown space shuttle copy for a 174 year old skull, which no one seems to know the exact location of, will have to wait.


Thursday, October 7, 2021

All The Same Old Lies and BS

As we go through the kabuki theater of another "debt ceiling crisis" the same old tropes are showing up all over again.  Same old lies.  Same old bullshit.  Same old charade, drama-llama, attention-grabbing, media whore-fest as always.

I've been hearing them saying that not raising the debt ceiling means the US is going into default.  Check your favorite corporate media outlet (CNNNY Times?).  Pick one; all of them are running stories about looming default.  It's an old lie.  Some cursory searching shows the first time I blogged this was in July of 2011, about a 1-1/2 years into the life of the blog. 

No it's not default.  By definition, the debt ceiling means they're not allowed to borrow more money.  They're not allowed to issue bonds and spend more than the insane amounts they've made up already.  Read that again: it's not even a balanced budget, it just can't be more unbalanced than it is now.  Not being able to borrow is not default   Default is to not pay their mandatory payments and among the most important of those obligations is the interest on the debt they already have.  That interest, estimated as $300 billion, is a small percentage of Federal revenues, on the order of 10%.  

Only a government can be stupid enough to think that not being able to borrow means ignoring their obligations.  Rather than default, this would be better called "living within their means" or "being responsible."  We won't default unless the administration chooses to.   

You'll also hear them talking about a tough, temporary deal to put off facing the debt ceiling and (gasp!) shutting down the government.  There's a cartoon I've been running for years, almost every reference to the debt ceiling, that I really think sums up the whole story.  

Yup.  They drag it out as long as they want, make it sound as dire as possible, all so that they can look like heroes, as in the last panel.  I went to the credit, in the lower left of the cartoon and the web site appears to be gone, with just a place holder there.  

Let's be honest about this.  The other way of saying "government shutdown" is "paid vacation" for the lucky 's nonessential workers.  The longest government shutdown ever was 35 days between December of '18 and January of '19, under President Trump.  The essential workers had to work without pay until the deal was made and their pay could be issued and that must have been tough.  The result, though, was that while they suspended the ceiling, the debt kept going up (see below).

The biggest lie, however, is that there's really a debt ceiling at all.  There hasn't been one time since the debt ceiling became law in 1917 that the ceiling has been reduced.  It's either raised, or suspended - which pretty much means ignored - every time the limit seems like a hard limit.  If every time the ceiling becomes a restraint the ceiling is raised or ignored, how can they claim to have a ceiling?  Does it create even the smallest amount of restraint of spending in the congress?  

It took me an unusually long time to find a plot of the debt ceiling this time. 

I was only able to find two graphs of the debt vs time.  This one (from Sherman research) goes farther back and does a better job of showing the congressional debt ceilings as blue steps.  That difference at the right, where the blue line stays at $22 trillion while debt goes up to $28.4 trillion is the deal from the end of the second Trump shutdown until this year.  

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

As Starliner Remains Bogged Down, NASA Moves Pair to Crew Dragon

It was rumor yesterday when Ars Technica's space reporter Eric Berger said his sources were telling him the agency was probably going to move crews, who had been dedicated to studying Starliner and working with Boeing, over to SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule.  

NASA will not make an official announcement for weeks or months, but two sources say the space agency is moving several astronauts from Boeing's Starliner spacecraft onto SpaceX's Crew Dragon vehicle for upcoming missions to the International Space Station.
The most likely scenario is that Nicole Mann, Josh Cassada, and Jeanette Epps will now fly on the SpaceX Crew-5 mission, targeted for launch no earlier than August 2022 on a Falcon 9 rocket. They are likely to be joined by an international partner astronaut, probably Japan's Koichi Wakata, for the mission. 

From what I'm able to glean from what was published as rumors, Mann, Cassada and Epps worked as liaisons to Boeing much like Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley worked on Crew Dragon for a couple of years before their historic flight on the flight called Demo2 in May of '20.  Eric Berger notes that Mann has been assigned to the Crew Flight Test for Starliner since August 2018.  

What was rumor yesterday was confirmed by NASA today.  

NASA has reassigned astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada to the agency’s SpaceX Crew-5 mission to the International Space Station as part of the Commercial Crew Program.

Mann and Cassada will serve as spacecraft commander and pilot, respectively, for the Crew-5 mission. Additional crew members will be announced later.

Crew-5 is expected to launch no earlier than fall 2022 on a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The duo and their crewmates will join an expedition crew aboard station for a long duration stay to conduct science activities for the benefit of humanity and exploration.

NASA photo.

My first reaction to the announcement was to wonder if this was NASA quietly throwing Starliner out, but I don't quite get to that level.  Boeing, after all is under contract to deliver launch services although they're paying for this repeat of their awful test flight out of their own corporate pockets.  Plus, NASA and the Commercial Crew program have always said they want more than one contractor to fly.  

Instead, it appears that NASA wants to get these rookie astronauts their first chance to fly.  Back to Eric Berger at Ars:

[S]ources suggested to Ars that NASA feels it can no longer wait to get its rookie astronauts—Epps is from the class of 2009, and Mann and Cassada are from the class of 2013—some spaceflight experience.

At the time of her assignment in 2018, Mann's flight was targeted to occur as early as 2019. Since then, however, the Starliner program has suffered a series of setbacks. An initial uncrewed test flight, OFT-1, finally got off the ground in December 2019. However, due to software errors, this vehicle was nearly lost, both shortly after launch and then shortly before reentry into Earth's atmosphere. Because of the vehicle's problems in flight, NASA did not clear Starliner to attempt to dock at the International Space Station, a key objective for the test flight.

The only thing that Eric's sources got wrong was the reference to Jeanette Epps.  She isn't mentioned in that press release from NASA.  That's not to say there isn't something else to get her a first flight sooner than waiting for Starliner to be announced in the future or that there won't be a similar press release within the next week or two.



Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Another Space News Roundup

We don't get a Falcon Heavy launch this month. 

Back in early September, we heard there was to be a Falcon Heavy launch No Earlier Than (NET) October 9th.   

After the Inspiration4 mission, SpaceX needs to reconfigure the pad for a the first Falcon Heavy launch since 2019, carrying the classified USSF-44 mission NET October 9th.  The liftoff time is apparently not publicly available yet.  This mission was initially scheduled for a late-2020 target, gradually slipping to Q1, Q2, Q3, and finally Q4 (October) of 2021.  These were all due to delays from the payload, not the rocket.

The often-delayed payload has been delayed again, and the mission currently doesn't have a declared date, but will be in "early 2022."  Hey, it's only a six month window of uncertainty.  I'd been looking forward to this one but noticed a launch date wasn't appearing in any of the usual places I look.


The delay is going to have quite an impact on SpaceX operations at the Kennedy Space Center.  Falcon Heavy launches use Launch Complex 39A.  Regular Falcon 9 missions can use their other pad, LC-40, but they have several missions for LC-39A.  

USSF-44’s latest delay means that SpaceX is now likely to go a full 30 months between Falcon Heavy flights after completing the rocket’s third and most recent launch in June 2019. The slip to “early 2022” also leaves the company with an extremely ambitious launch manifest in the first half of 2022. Barring one or several significant delays, which now seems like the most plausible outcome, SpaceX has four major Falcon Heavy missions – USSF-44, USSF-52, ViaSat-3, and NASA’s Psyche probe – scheduled to launch by August, with three of the four scheduled in H1 2022. A fifth mission – USSF-67 – is scheduled to launch in Q4 2022 and likely on another Falcon Heavy rocket, though the US military has yet to specify the Falcon variant.

Further, requiring the use of the same Kennedy Space Center (KSC) LC-39A pad, SpaceX also has at least six Crew and Cargo Dragon launches scheduled in February (Ax-1), April (Crew-4), May (CRS-25), Q3 (Ax-2), September (CRS-26), and October 2022 (Crew-5). In other words, in Dragon and Falcon Heavy missions alone, SpaceX already has 10-11 launches scheduled in 2022 – all of which require the use of Pad 39A. If SpaceX manages to pull that off on top of a myriad of other commercial and Starlink launches scheduled next year, it will be a feat to remember.

SpaceX Awarded a Contract to launch Italian satellite after Arianespace Vega rocket failed twice in three attempts.   

Over the years of blogging, certain stories tend to lodge in my brain and certain quotes become part of me.  In this case, the story is from July of '18, mainly about how the US launch companies - and SpaceX in particular - were dominating the rest of the world.  The essence of the money quote there was the European Space Agency was a make-work program.  They didn't want to make reusable rockets because it would mean they made fewer jobs. 

Truthfully, if Europe ever did develop a reusable rocket, one that could fly all the missions in a year, this would be unhelpful politically. What would the engine and booster factories sprinkled across Europe do if they built one rocket and then had 11 months off? The member states value the jobs too much. This is one difference between rocket-by-government and rocket-by-billionaire programs.

As I said at the time, "rocket by billionaire"?  How about rocket by private sector that's driven to optimize service for all customers?  But that quote makes it completely understandable why those countries in Europe were not allowed to go to SpaceX for launch services.  Under EU agreements those nations are required to launch domestic satellites and spacecraft on the Ariane 5, Ariane 6, and Italian Vega rockets, "if at all possible."  In this case, it's the Italian Vega rocket that was set to launch the Italian satellite, the COSMO SkyMed CSG-2 Earth observation satellite.  

Weighing around 2.2 tons (~4900 lb), SkyMed CSG-2 is the second of four synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites designed to “[observe] Earth from space, meter by meter, day and night, in any weather conditions, to help predict landslides and floods, coordinate relief efforts in case of earthquakes or fires, [and] check crisis areas.” Primarily focused on the Mediterranean, the nature of sun-synchronous orbits (SSOs) nevertheless give SkyMed satellites views of most of the Earth’s surface every day.

In this case, the group responsible for the satellite argued that the delays caused by the rocket problems was going to impact their planned mission and they were allowed to contract with SpaceX.  No launch date has been set. 

Finally, a little story worth noting is that Starship prototype S20 underwent some tests of its flaps late Sunday night/early Monday morning.  While not unusual for Starships, it marks another test for the S20 Booster B4 combination in the move toward the first orbital flight, hopefully before the end of the calendar year.  

(Image source, Mary @bocachicagal for NASA

Cameron County's road closure web site is saying the next road closure is Thursday, October 7, from 5 PM to midnight (CDT) with a beach closure.  While too early to tell, the long closure in the evening hours could conceivably be a static fire of S20.  The cryogenic tests last week were declared successful by Elon Musk on Twitter, so a static fire isn't out of the question and may even be the next step. 



Monday, October 4, 2021

A Deeper Look at That Poll Everyone is Talking About

In the last few days, several of my everyday reads talked about a University of Virginia Center for Politics poll that has been quoted from widely.  This is the poll that gets the national press with the pull quote that conservatives feel it's time for a "national divorce."  Some places just outright say that conservatives want civil war (John Wilder presents two images taken from the Daily Mail and Atlantic magazine).  That's not what the poll says, at least as I read it.

Before I can really talk about what it says, I need to go into how the poll is structured and the answers displayed.  From the UVA site:

From July 22 to Aug. 4, 2021, Project Home Fire worked with InnovateMR, an industry-leading top 20 marketing research data collection firm, to capture online responses to more than 300 questions spanning social, political, and psychological topics from 1,001 Donald Trump presidential election voters and 1,011 Joe Biden voters (N=2,012), with a margin of error of +/- 2.2 percentage points.

Scoring the responses is a bit involved.  The description of how the participants scored their reactions to the questions is here (also from the poll website):

For the statements listed in [this document - edit by SiG], respondents were asked how much they agreed or disagreed with the statement on a 0-100 point scale (0 was categorized as disagreeing completely, 1-25 means strongly disagreeing, 26-50 was disagreeing somewhat, 51-75 was agreeing somewhat, 76-99 was strongly agreeing, and 100 was agreeing completely). So the percentage of people who at least somewhat agreed with the statement selected 51 or above on the scale for the given statement, and the percentage of those who at least strongly agreed selected 76 or above. 

The way the results are shown, then, is there are three tables which they group by their perspectives of how the questions go together.   For example they take the statement “I have come to view elected officials from the [OPPOSITION PARTY] party as presenting a clear and present danger to American democracy.”  is in the left column of the table.  Then the answers are presented as “somewhat agree / strongly agree” with Biden voters in the middle column and Trump voters on the end.  In this example the answers were:  Biden voters said 80% / 51% while Trump voters said 84% / 57%.  

Note that the first (somewhat agree) percentages are 4 points apart.  Those should both be read as + 2.2%.  The high side of 80% with that, 82.2% overlaps with the low side of 84 at 81.8%  Both of their stated numbers are consistent with a result of 82%, which says that we really can't know those numbers are different.  They both could be 82%.  The "strongly agree" numbers (51% Biden vs. 57% Trump) are a bit farther apart, but not too far from both being 54% + 2.2%.  The difference is we can tell those results are different.  Both parties are strongly agreeing that the other guys are “a clear and present danger to American democracy.”

Table 1 concerns items in the big Infrastructure Spending bill we hear about endlessly.

There are some items with large differences, but what struck me was how large the Somewhat Support numbers for Trump voters were on all of them.  Over 80% of responses were somewhat supporting improvements to the electric grid, "modernizing" drinking water, wastewater and storm water systems and then "hard infrastructure" of roads, rail lines, ports, bridges and such.  A big government program of "universal pre-Kindergarten" got virtually 60% support.  There was 74% support for funding rural broadband internet.   All of these Trump voters had some support for these big-government, Democrat programs. 

While it's true Biden voters strongly supported all of these more than Trump voters, these Trump voters don't seem to be fiscal conservatives at all.  They're only slightly closer to ambivalent on "tax the rich" ideas.  The only ideas they don't support are "free" (taxpayer funded) community college and allowing unions to ban right-to-work laws.

Table 2 is an attempt to measure fear and distrust of the other guys.

Some of this was also surprising to me.  While we see tons of leftists on Twitter or other social media acting like they want to kill off all Trump supporters, Trump voters view the elected Democrat officials as more of a clear and present danger to the Republic than the way Biden voters view elected Republicans.  Then again, the way the elected Republicans vote, for the most part, says Biden voters are probably right thinking that the Republicans are not a threat. 

Finally, Table 3 contains the line everyone's talking about.  It's supposed to be determining the commitment to democracy of both groups. 

Both sides think the other side is "radical, immoral" with Trump supporters thinking that more strongly, and both sides think it's the duty of "every true citizen to help eliminate the evil" afflicting the US.  Again, Trump voters more strongly agree. 

The next two surprised and disappointed me. Both groups said we should have a stronger President, both sides had 45% "somewhat support" of the idea that it would be better if the president could do more without having to deal with congress or the courts.  That's another example of both groups being almost identical. 

82% of Trump voters somewhat support a stronger president.  That got 62% of Biden voters' somewhat support.  Both this and the previous question imply changing or getting rid of the constitutional balance of powers . 

Finally, the one everyone is jumping on, only 25% of Trump voters strongly support the Red/Blue states seceding from the union, which isn't much, but a smaller percentage of Biden voters say the same thing.  Because it's more than 50%, the somewhat support number of Trump voters caught everyone's attention, but "somewhat" supporting secession is a long way from working for it to happen.  It's the difference between saying, "someone ought to do something" and stepping up to do it yourself.

If it's not clear, I see this poll as showing the two groups as more similar than different.