Sunday, July 21, 2024

55 Years Ago This Afternoon, Apollo 11 Was Leaving the Moon

After all the hype and excitement, Apollo 11 spent less than 24 hours on the moon.  They landed at 4:18 PM on the 20th and fired the LM ascent engine to leave the moon at 1:54 PM on the 21st (all times EDT, as has been the convention for these few posts).  Other missions would stay longer, and bring increasing sophistication, including color video cameras and electric vehicles to get the crews around on the surface.

I first posted this picture back in 2018, and it's good but incomplete: 

After "living or dead", I would change that statement to say, "the only human living or dead in all of history" for emphasis.  At 9:44 AM, when Mission Control sent their wake up call to Collins, someone in Mission Control noted,"Not since Adam has any human known such solitude as Mike Collins is experiencing during this 47 minutes of each lunar revolution when he's behind the Moon with no one to talk to except his tape recorder aboard Columbia."

The return flight depended on the performance of a system never tested in its intended use: the Lunar Module ascent engine. The prime contractor on the engine was Grumman Aerospace; the contractor for the engine was Bell Aerosystems. They delivered an engine that relied on hypergolic propellants - a system which doesn't require an igniter because the fuel and oxidizer explode on contact. It worked flawlessly on every Apollo mission that landed on the moon. It is said that the ascent stage was the one system that Neil Armstrong expressed concern about failing, because there was no backup. If it failed, they were going to die on the moon.

It wasn't the only such single point failure.  If the engine fired but a set of explosives called the guillotine failed - a system that blew apart all of the connections between the two halves of the lunar module - there was no way to fix or recover from that, either.  I'd be surprised if there weren't more possible single point failures. 

The liftoff was at 1:54 PM EDT and the LM docked with the CM at 5:35 PM.  The lunar module was jettisoned at 7:42 PM.   Apollo 11 didn't have the ability to record its departure from the moon, but later missions did.  This is a 30 second video of the LM launch during Apollo 17 - the last men to ever visit the moon.

The crew will start their engine burn for the three day return flight to Earth in the early hours of tomorrow morning, July 22nd; 12:56 AM (ET). Reentry, splashdown in the Pacific, and transfer of the crew to an isolation unit as a precaution against possible, unknown, lunar microorganisms will occur on July 24th.  Over the course of the last few days, I've read things I haven't read in years, if ever.  One the things that's noteworthy is this sentence from the NASA Apollo 11 log.

It is recognized as the most trouble-free mission to date, almost completely on schedule and successful in every respect.

This has been a fun little romp down through the historical notes from Apollo 11 over the last few posts. For many of us, if not all, it was one of the highlight moments of our lives we can recall. With the passing of Michael Collins back in 2021, only one of the three crew members is still with us: Dr. Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, now age 94. I've read that he has a home around here somewhere; I don't know if it's a place he just visits on occasion or just what. It would be a wild thing to run into Buzz in a store while shopping.

Saturday, July 20, 2024

55 Years Ago Today - "The Eagle Has Landed"

This morning at 9:27 EDT, Buzz Aldrin crawled into the Lunar Module Eagle and began the lengthy process of powering things up for the short mission life of the module.  An hour later, Neil Armstrong joined Buzz in the LM.

A little over three hours after that, 1:47 PM, they released the latches and separated from the Command Module.  At 2:12, Michael Collins fired thrusters on the CM moving it two miles away from the LM.  Except for that small altitude difference, both vehicles remained in their initial orbit from yesterday's lunar orbit insertion until 3:08 PM when Armstrong fired the descent engine to lower the Eagle's orbit. 

What follows is a 20 minute video depicting the landing which is easily the best modern reconstruction of the landing that I've seen.  It combines video from the window as Armstrong would have seen it with the audio traffic from Mission Control.  The first three minutes gives a modern simulation and animation of how it all worked; after that, it goes to the view recorded on the LM with spacecraft communication on the left speaker and mission control intercom on the right.  Yes, I think it's worth the time. 

The LM touches down at 4:18PM EDT.

At 6:00 PM, Armstrong radios down to mission control that he recommends they start the EVA (Extra Vehicular Activity) sooner than planned; at 9 PM.  Although they don't make the 9PM goal, the 10:39 beginning of the EVA is still five hours earlier than the mission plans.

As I've mentioned elsewhere, this was the last vacation I would ever take with my parents. July of 1969 was the summer between my 9th and 10th grade years of school, and I was 15 years old. Like millions of people around the world, I hung by the front of the black and white TV; this one in my uncle's house in New York City.  We watched intently but I don't recall exactly how much we saw or if we watched until 1:11 tomorrow morning when the EVA officially concluded. It's a sobering thought how many of the family members there on that historic day and night have passed away. Both of my parents, my uncle and aunt, and I'm simply not sure how many else. 

Over the years, this meme from Aesop at Raconteur Report has become my default way of thinking of the Apollo program itself. While he clearly means the landing of Apollo 11, I can see the entire Apollo program as a strong contender for the Peak of Western Civilization.

Friday, July 19, 2024

55 Years Ago - Apollo 11 Slips into Orbit of the Moon

At 17:21:50 Universal Time (or Greenwich Mean Time as it was more often called in 1969) the Service Module's 20,500-pound-thrust engine started firing to slow Apollo 11's velocity enough to go into lunar orbit. In Eastern Daylight Time that was 1:21:50 PM. The burn lasted just under six minutes (5:57). The burn placed the the three modules into an elliptical-lunar orbit of 69 by 190 miles. That was made more circular by a second, much shorter burn of 17 seconds.  This placed the docked vehicles into a lunar orbit of 62 by 70.5 miles. 

This took place on July 19, 1969; most of you will see this post on July 20. The burn necessarily took place with the spacecraft on the far side of the moon, so ground controllers - and the millions of us hanging on every word - wouldn't know if the burn was successful until the spacecraft came over the horizon and could re-establish radio contact with Earth.  Not that mission control or we could have done anything for the crew if there was constant communications.  It's a quarter million miles away; and light or radio takes over a second to go each way. Nobody could have done a thing for them. 

An artist's concept from the Apollo days:

It's just over 24 hours until the landing.  The crew is busy scouting their landing site, checking out the Lunar Module and preparing for tomorrow as they orbit the moon every two hours.  They do a couple of video transmissions for those keeping track of the mission.

Thursday, July 18, 2024

NASA Cancels VIPER Lunar Lander Mission

Over the last few years, NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program has been featured here several times, because, well, it's a rare smart program that does good things. The purpose of the CLPS program is to use private companies to send small- and medium-size landers to the Moon's surface for primarily science-based missions. That particular article references both the CLPS program and the particular example, the VIPER mission that has been cancelled. 

The accepted 50/50 risk of throwing the money away, and small budget probes starts to look different if the probe is bigger budget, and more important.  Then VIPER, the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover came to the top of the list of missions NASA really wanted, and Zurbuchen oversaw rewarding a start-up company called Astrobotic a $200 million dollar contract to design, build, and launch the probe to the south pole by 2023.  In a lunar lander they still haven't flown.  

This is an important scientific mission tasked with searching for ice at the south pole and using a one-meter drill to prospect for subsurface samples. The total value of the mission is $660 million, and it matters to scientists and NASA's human exploration division, which hopes to send astronauts to the south pole in the 2020s.

Note the reference to "a lunar lander they still haven't flown" was in April of '22.  The lander was Astrobotic's Peregrine lander which suffered a mission ending accident back in January.

The decision to axe the VIPER mission was announced Wednesday, July 17 in a teleconference; cancelling the program is expected to save the agency an additional $84 million in development costs. NASA has spent about $450 million on the program so far.  The last mentioned launch date for Viper was "in 2025". It appears VIPER will be scrapped for parts or potentially sold to industry. 

Despite the cancellation, NASA leadership stressed that the program was successful thus far and that the termination was solely a budgetary concern.

"We were very confident in the VIPER team. This really gets down to cost and a very constrained budget environment in the United States," said Joel Kearns, deputy associate administrator for exploration at NASA headquarters in Washington, during today's teleconference.

Reading between the lines a little gives me the perspective that Artemis and SLS are sucking up all the money available. It was only a week ago, after all, that we ran Yet Another Story of Congress lecturing NASA on getting costs out of the SLS program. Some bright morons in congress think if they can just get "other customers" to adopt SLS the system will magically get cheaper instead of bankrupting other agencies. "Misery loves company!"

NASA's VIPER robotic moon rover stands taller than ever after engineers integrated its mast in a clean room at the agency's Johnson Space Center in Houston.  (Image credit: NASA/Helen Arase Vargas)

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

A Take on the Relevance of Apollo 11 55 Years Later

55 years ago yesterday, July 16, 1969, the world watched in great wonder as the massive, dragon-fire-spitting Saturn V rocket lifted off launchpad 39A at Kennedy Space Center. 

Of course, we know the rest of this grand and magnificent history and we still marvel at the extraordinary feat that was finally achieved on July 21st when both Armstrong and Aldrin embossed human footprints in the lunar dust. That astounding achievement may have happened over a half-century ago but its imprint on culture, on scientific exploration, on human understanding, on America and indeed, on the world, is still strong and deep. A few additional perspectives on the legacy of Apollo are worth considering.

This is a relatively short and relentlessly optimistic piece about the early days of the Space Program, not just Apollo but also Gemini and Mercury. It's authored by Grant Anderson, the President and CEO of Paragon Space Development Corporation. He holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and an M.S. in Aeronautical & Astronautical Engineering from Stanford University. 

On a very broad and basic level, when I think of Apollo 11, I’m reminded of what Americans are capable of, particularly when we’re unified and focused on important shared goals. Americans make up a nation of great vision with citizens who are often willing to take a few calculated gambles in order to see that vision become reality. Despite periodic episodes where we hesitate to commit to grand endeavors, we excel when we are compelled to act, often demonstrating a capacity for greatness in a way that other nations and societies have a hard time matching. Apollo 11 — and indeed the entire early space program including projects Mercury and Gemini prior to Apollo — exemplify both the American spirit for boldness and the magic that can occur when our forces of industry, innovation and free thought are synched together for a noble purpose. The goal was ambitious and the timeline was tight, but the drive to demonstrate to the world that we could put a human on the moon allowed America to perform at her best.

In a very real sense, we've never equaled our accomplishments of the Apollo era. The silly "we never went to the moon" arguments are another symptom of that. It's singularly illogical to think because we haven't duplicated a prior mission that the prior mission didn't happen, but here we are. 

Apollo 11 Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin’s bootprint. Image Credit: NASA

A short article worth your time to read. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Last Week's Ariane 6 Carried a Neat Little Cubesat

Tuesday (July 9)'s First Flight of the Ariane 6 carried an interesting little scientific payload, especially to those of us who follow the solar activity, solar flaring, Coronal Mass Ejections and more.  Called CURIE, for CubeSat Radio Interferometry Experiment, it was really a pair of cubesats launched as one, which will then be spread apart a known distance and used to attempt determine the sources on the sun of low frequency signals from the sun that are emitted during these events.

According to NASA, scientists first detected these radio signals decades ago. While they know that they occur during solar storms, they don’t know exactly where they come from. Do they come from the spread out part of a solar CME, like this one, or do they come from well under the sun's surface?

CURIE will investigate where solar radio waves originate in coronal mass ejections, like this one seen in 304- and 171-angstrom wavelengths by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. Image credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

CURIE is made up of two spacecraft that launched bolted together as one, later separating into two in orbit. From their separate vantage points, the satellites CURIE A and B will make it possible to measure the same radio waves from two locations at the same time. Using the technique of radio ‘interferometric analysis,’ the origin of detected radio waves can be reconstructed. 

The CURIE mission aims to advance our understanding using a technique called low frequency radio interferometry, which has never been used in space before. This technique relies on CURIE’s two independent spacecraft — together no bigger than a shoebox — that will orbit Earth about two miles apart. This separation allows CURIE’s instruments to measure tiny differences in the arrival time of radio waves, which enables them to determine exactly where the radio waves came from.

Don't let the 304 and 171 angstrom wavelengths of the dramatic photo influence your thinking. The two CURIE Cubes will measure from 0.1 to 19 MHz, which corresponds to a wavelength of 3000 meters (at 0.1 MHz (100 kHz)) to 15.79 meters at 19.0 MHz. 304 and 171 angstroms are enormously higher in frequency than these Cubesats can measure: 9.8 and 17.5 GHz. The baseline of the interferometer - how far about the two satellites will be - affects what it can measure, and with a separation of two miles, I'd say they're expecting the answers to be in the bottom part of that 0.1 to 19 MHz range (2.0 miles is 3218 meters). I'd guess more like 1 MHz than 10 MHz.

Still, it's a pretty neat sounding experiment. I haven't designed interferometers before but have been around them - optical and radio. Here's hoping they get some nifty results.  

And don't forget - sometimes the most important answer in science isn't that you found what you expected it's that what you found that makes no sense whatsoever. Not, "Eureka! I've found it!"; it's "That's weird." 

Monday, July 15, 2024

My Favorite Headline from the Weekend

My favorite story is from ZeroHedge, and is only tangentially related to the big story of the weekend, the attempt to murder President Trump. This story focuses on Elon Musk who says, "I have had two cases in the last six months where two people, unfortunately very mentally ill, came to try to kill me in Austin with guns." The lead-in is that people on X were telling Musk that if they'll come for Trump, they'll come for him, too, so double and triple your security.

The headline that got my attention, though, was, "Elon Musk Reveals Multiple Assassination Attempts, Says Time "To Build Flying Metal Suit Of Armor". An Iron Man suit? For real?  

This is a dream story. See, when actor Robert Downey Jr. was trying to find someone to pattern Tony Stark after, someone suggested Elon Musk and stories I've read are that he spent hours daily observing Musk in the earlier, crazier days of SpaceX at their facility in Hawthorne, California. Scenes in Iron Man 2 in 2010 were shot in Hawthorne.  Musk was given a speaking cameo role in the movie and they asked if they could use the facility as a set for the movie. He said, "sure!" - presumably after getting things out of camera range they didn't want everyone to see. 

(I'm not sure who the actor on the left is. Second to right is Mickey Rourke as Vanko and then Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer - the two main anti Iron Man characters in the movie) Those are Falcon parts. 

This patterning of Tony Stark after Elon Musk tells me that in a sense, Tony Stark is Elon Musk. Besides, if you were going to bet that some solitary genius was going to come up with a flying suit of armor, who would you bet real money on to do it besides Elon Musk? Jeff Bezos? Please.

Sunday, July 14, 2024

On The Attempted Assassination of President Trump

The news was breaking around the time I sat down to work on yesterday's post and my first reaction was that first reports are always wrong and so it didn't make much sense to write a long post on it. Combined with my second reaction, which is what do I have to say that's more authoritative and a better reference than the dozens of posts that are out there already. 

That's still the case. 

I have the same concerns everyone talks about. How did this clown get to climb on a building that close to the president without being shot first? Why wasn't the building sealed off with guards on the roof or monitoring it such that as soon as a person with rifle was noted on the building, his head would have left his body right then and there - unlike after he shot Trump as happened. 

Like many of those who wrote about this, in this case Bayou Renaissance Man, I think that the FBI isn't to be trusted running an investigation of this. Peter Grant (BRM) also ran this:

Then there's this allegation.  It may be a complete fabrication - we don't know yet, and I've seen nothing to confirm it - but I'd love to know whether the shooter was observed by President Trump's security detail before he pulled the trigger, and if so, why none of them stopped him before he could do so.  Was permission to shoot denied?  If so, by whom?  And why?  And who told the leader(s) of his security team what to do under such circumstances?

Then there's this that I've seen several places - but I grabbed this copy from Daily Timewaster:

While I don't know Dan Bongino any more or less than any of these people, I've sure heard more sense out of him in the last few years than anybody working in the DOJ, or any of the law enforcement agencies. I'm with Bongino and Elon Musk, the head of the secret service needs to be unemployed, especially if the stories of the SS being all wrapped up in DEI are real. 

The real questions, of course, center on "what's next?" There's a famous meme of the right wing attitude to violence as a switch, that's either do nothing or kill everything. Has that switch been thrown? I suppose we shall see.

A distant second, third or 90th place to these goings on is that since Wednesday (the 10th) I've had a nasty cold. Lost my voice from all the coughing and sore throat. For most of the day, I thought I was getting over it, but as evening arrived, it started back up with a vengeance. I'll do my best to stay in the chair and blogging, but the old saying about colds is true. If you take all the magical vitamins and potions different people push, you'll get over it in a week. If you just fight it off with something like ibuprofen and Mucinex, you'll have it a whole seven days.

Saturday, July 13, 2024

Yeah, Ham Radio has Some Psychopaths/Sociopaths, Too

Like any other activity or grouping of people bigger than a small room size, there are psychopaths or sociopaths (or both) in ham radio. Unlike some of the groups demanding to be recognized as special, we tend to ignore ours and not give them the attention they're demanding, but I've never heard of anyone trying to track them down and run them out of the hobby or some other sort of punishment. 

It turns out that 10 days ago, last Wednesday evening, July 3rd, I was witness to one. I thought it might be a little interesting for some of you who have never heard of this. 

Let me start by saying I don't know which characterization fits the people who do this: psycho- or socio-. I've come across them in my nearly half century as a ham, and have heard some types of bad behavior thousands of times. The type of behavior I ran across 10 days ago is known by two common names: the most common is "pirate" and I think I've heard the term "slim" used for them. 

The most common time or place to find them is when a group goes to some remote or unoccupied place that's recognized as a ham radio country but essentially has no resident population of hams (or no residents at all!) Someone for reasons I don't have much understanding of pretends that they're the station the big crowd is calling and starts making contacts using their call sign. The person pretending to be the remote station gets no reward; nobody is going to send them money or anything like that. The only thing they get (as I see it) is some satisfaction in ruining someone else's happiness with having made the contact with the rare station; or ruining someone else's enjoyment of the hobby.

Perhaps a real example that happened to me in the last few years might explain it better? A small expedition was made to the Crozet Islands a sub-antarctic group of islands off the SE coast of Africa and a French possession. For various reasons related to radio propagation, my best chance of contacting the station (FT8WW) was in our local evenings on the small 10.1 MHz allocation we have.  One night, after calling the station quite a while, I managed to "work" them. Because they were near a place where they could get internet connectivity, I could check their logs. A couple of days later, the log didn't show my call. I clearly contacted someone else, but who was it? A pirate. Someone who got on the same band at the same times but was only pretending to be who I was trying to contact. 

So I went back to work and contacted them in another day or two, and verified I was in their log.

Doing this is illegal here in the US and could get your licenses suspended (assuming they have a license in the first place). I would be surprised if any country that licensed amateur radio didn't punish this. 

The one that happened July 3rd was a bit more surprising in some ways. On an otherwise quiet evening on the VHF band I'm working on the most lately (6m), a friend here in town worked Alaska.  Like most evenings, my station was on and I was out of the room when it happened. This is a plot like ones I've shown before, of every station my station copied. It's a dramatic example of "one of these things is not like the others." The locations plotted are from what the stations are transmitting. In this computer-mode, the standard calling messages are your call sign and four character grid square.

Now it's not breaking any laws of physics to contact Alaska from Florida, and ISTRC having spoken with guys who have done it. It's just exceptionally unusual. More like once or twice in a lifetime than once a year. Does that prove that the station shown in Alaska wasn't really there? Not at all, I just expect the rest of the plot to be different. That sorta fan-shaped group of contacts on the right very much looks like any old day. For the propagation to be "once in a lifetime", I'd expect those trails to be covering much more of the USA and into more of western Canada. The way this looks is a bit ... funny. A bit suspicious.

I happen to know that this friend and I both have every other state confirmed in the US except Alaska. We just tend to work at it differently. In my early days of ham radio, I learned the lesson to listen much more than you talk. My friend is more inclined to call "CQ Alaska" (calling anyone in Alaska) for long periods while I rarely do that. Actually I don't think I've ever done that.

The day after this (it was evening, local time, right around 8:30 PM EDT, or 0030UTC), the guy from Alaska whose call sign was used (and his grid square used to pinpoint his location on plots like this) said, "sorry not me; I wasn't home when this was reported and I wasn't on." Another pirate.

Finding out who did something like that is probably unrealistic. I can think of ways to do it but they'd all be beyond the budget of a single ham or small-sized club. It would be the exclusive domain of those with "more money than sense." Which is probably why pirates still exist.

Friday, July 12, 2024

SpaceX Has a Falcon 9 Fail

For the first time in a long time, SpaceX had an upper stage anomaly on last night's Starlink launch from Vandenberg SFB in California. Ars Technica reports that was the first Falcon 9 launch failure after 344 successful launches. It's probably important to note this was not the booster, the reused portion of the Falcon 9, but rather the upper stage, which flies once and then is directed to reenter where it will splash into the ocean.

If you've watched the videos on any of these missions, you know the typical progression is they burn the first stage, drop that and ignite the second stage for a relatively short period and then shut it down for a half hour to an hour. Then they relight the second stage to finalize the orbit for the satellites by raising the lowest point in the orbit, the perigee. That's the point where the second stage engine self-destructed; a Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly or RUD.  The first stage landed successfully, which we've come to expect.

There are reports that observers felt they were seeing too much ice on the vacuum Merlin engine, typically called an M-Vac, during the first burn and that more ice than typical was falling off the engine. Some of that is evident in this photo:

Numerous pieces of ice fell off the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket during its climb into orbit from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California. Image credit: SpaceX.

The FAA has declared that they are "requiring an investigation" and would work with SpaceX on corrective actions. 

The FAA is aware an anomaly occurred during the SpaceX Starlink Group 9-3 mission that launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on July 11. The incident involved the failure of the upper stage rocket while it was in space. No public injuries or public property damage have been reported. The FAA is requiring an investigation.

An investigation is designed to further enhance public safety, determine the root cause of the event, and identify corrective actions to avoid it from happening again.

The FAA will be involved in every step of the investigation process and must approve SpaceX’s final report, including any corrective actions.

A return flight is based on the FAA determining that any system, process, or procedure related to the mishap does not affect public safety. In addition, SpaceX may need to request and receive approval from the FAA to modify its license that incorporates any corrective actions and meet all other licensing requirements.

Chances are the loss of the 20 Starlink satellites - if they actually lose all 20 - isn't a big deal to SpaceX, but let's assume they lose all 20. At the rate they launch satellites, I'd guess that's a week of production for SpaceX, if that much. They launch two or three of these 20 satellite missions every week. 

The issue is going to be Falcon 9s are grounded until the FAA says they can fly again. That means Crew 9 is on hold in mid-August, as well as the Polaris Dawn mission set for NET July 31. Then there are the one or two other missions for everyone on Earth that they've been launching every week. 

Going into Thursday's mission, the current version of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, known as the Falcon 9 Block 5, was indisputably the most reliable launch vehicle in history. Since debuting in May 2018, the Falcon 9 Block 5, which NASA has certified for astronaut flights, never had a mission failure in all of its 297 launches before the ill-fated Starlink 9-3 mission.

Let's see - 1 failure on the 298th launch is a failure rate of 0.34%, or a success rate of 99.66%. It's easy to laugh at the FAA anomaly investigation, but as long as they don't muck up the schedule too much, if there's a way to knock that up to "five nines" or 99.999%, it would be interesting to see it.

Thursday, July 11, 2024

Small Space News Story Roundup 39

Just because:

Poland Launches First Rocket to Reach Space

According to European Spaceflight (.com!) the Łukasiewicz Institute of Aviation has made history with the launch of its ILR-33 Amber 2K rocket from the Andøya Space Centre in Norway. It's the first time a rocket designed and built in Poland has made it to space, but it's still a work in progress. Perhaps that's better said as "technically made it to space."

The ILR-33 Amber 2k rocket was launched on its first space shot on 3 July from the Norwegian launch facility. Powered by a hybrid core stage and two solid-fuel boosters, the rocket reached an altitude of 101 kilometers, which is above the generally accepted boundary separating Earth’s atmosphere from outer space, known as the Kármán Line.

“The crossing of the space barrier by the ILR-33 AMBER 2K rocket developed at the Łukasiewicz – Institute of Aviation is a historic moment,” said Dr. Michał Wierciński, Vice President of the Polish Space Agency. “Never in our history has a Polish rocket reached such a level. This is a historic day for the Łukasiewicz – Institute of Aviation, but also a historic moment for the entire Polish rocket community.”

The development of the ILR-33 rocket has been going on for a decade - since 2014 - and they've launched three times so far. The last flight in 2019 made it to 23 km, and they developed an upgraded variant with larger, more powerful strap-on boosters. 

To this observer, they still have a long way to go, but I'm glad to see it. They didn't claim to have made orbit, just that they made it to the generally accepted definition of space at 100 km. They can enjoy the accomplishment and begin work on a version that can put small payloads in orbit, like under a metric ton. Sort of a Polish version of the Rocket Lab Electron.

The ILR-33 Amber 2K rocket. Image credit: Łukasiewicz Institute of Aviation 

Congress to NASA: find more customers for SLS

And I can't resist the subtitle to the source article: “Because I'm tall enough, I'm orange enough, and doggone it, Senators like me.”  Shades of Stuart Smalley from back when Saturday Day Night Live was funny more often.

There's a strange little section stuck into NASA's new reauthorization bill making its way out of the committees and into the budget - should they actually pass one. 

The section is titled "Reaffirmation of the Space Launch System," and in it Congress asserts its commitment to a flight rate of twice per year for the rocket. The reauthorization legislation, which cleared a House committee on Wednesday, also said NASA should identify other customers for the rocket.

"The Administrator shall assess the demand for the Space Launch System by entities other than NASA and shall break out such demand according to the relevant Federal agency or nongovernment sector," the legislation states.

Twice a year is about 4x the actual SLS launch rate of once every two years - and that's being generous. Congress further requires NASA respond within 180 days, explaining how they can achieve the twice a year rate for SLS and Artemis. 

Additionally, Congress is asking for NASA to study demand for the SLS rocket and estimate "cost and schedule savings for reduced transit times" for deep space missions due to the "unique capabilities" of the rocket. The space agency also must identify any "barriers or challenges" that could impede use of the rocket by other entities other than NASA, and estimate the cost of overcoming those barriers.

How do they achieve that? Let me 'splain it to you. NFW. No way. 

For newbies who don't know the back story, the SLS program was created at the end of the Space Shuttle program to keep the gravy train flowing to the contractors - so they could keep skimming the congress critters' share of that gravy back to them. There might be something new about the details of the SLS, but it's virtually entirely recycled hardware from the Shuttle era. It reuses engines that actually flew on Shuttles over 15 years ago, for God's sake.

Congress created the SLS rocket 14 years ago with the NASA Authorization Act of 2010. The large rocket kept a river of contracts flowing to large aerospace companies, including Boeing and Northrop Grumman, who had been operating the Space Shuttle. Congress then lavished tens of billions of dollars on the contractors over the years for development, often authorizing more money than NASA said it needed. Congressional support was unwavering, at least in part because the SLS program boasts that it has jobs in every state.

Under the original law, the SLS rocket was supposed to achieve "full operational capability" by the end of 2016. The first launch of the SLS vehicle did not take place until late 2022, six years later. It was entirely successful. However, due to various reasons, the rocket will not fly again until September 2025 at the earliest.

As for the "unique capabilities" of the SLS, more bullcrap. It costs over $2.5 billion to launch an SLS. When the Europa Clipper program was told to use the SLS, they (somehow) got their mission moved to a Falcon Heavy. A single recycled Space Shuttle Main Engine on the SLS costs $146 million. That's per engine and there are four of them on the SLS core stage. Compare that to NASA's entire cost for the Falcon Heavy: the total for the Falcon Heavy launch services is approximately $178 million.

If you think NASA is nothing but government waste, you're not exactly right. It's not 100% waste but think of the old Ivory soap commercials: it's 99 and 44/100% waste.

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Today's NASA Conference About Starliner

In a word, I'd have to say, "meh." I didn't get much new out of it, if anything. 

The video conference was at 11 AM EDT, a telecast from the International Space Station. A summary is online at which includes a link to a 22 minute video of Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams answering questions.  Following the crew news conference, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program Manager Steve Stich and Boeing Commercial Crew Program Manager and Vice President Mark Nappi spoke extensively about the mission and testing plans ahead of the Crew Flight Test (CFT) return. This wasn't a video, but rather a roughly 70 minute meeting that was broadcast. You can listen to a replay of the leadership briefing on YouTube; not moving video, just audio. 

The bottom line, though is that the ground testing of the thrusters at White Sands, New Mexico hasn't repeated the issues seen in space as Starliner was approaching the ISS. 

“The temperatures we have been able to achieve are not quite what we would have hoped for based on the flight data,” said Steve Stich, NASA commercial crew program manager. He said engineers used heaters to try to replicate the thermal conditions experienced by the thrusters from the firing itself as well as exposure to the sun.

The thrusters in Starliner's Service Module are housed in “doghouses” and the idea being investigated is that those little housings might retain more heat than previously modeled. During reentry, the Reaction Control Thrusters used for rendezvous and docking aren't used as much as bigger thrusters in the Service Module. 

Mark Nappi, Boeing vice president and commercial crew program manager, said engineers are working on a “little bit over 30” actions linked to both the thruster problems and helium leaks, of which more than half have been completed. All of them are scheduled to be wrapped up by the end of next week.

While there was talk around the web today saying Starliner might be coming home by the end of July, the audio conference doesn't seem to support that. The next obvious date for the Starliner to depart the ISS is the next crew rotation mission, Crew 9, penciled in for mid-August. The usual protocol is for the new Crew to dock at the ISS and overlap with the the departing crew (Crew 8) for around a week. For both Crew 8 and 9's capsules to be docked to the ISS would ordinarily mean Starliner would leave before Crew 9 got there. There is such a thing as an “indirect handover,” though, where the Crew-8 Crew Dragon departs before the Crew-9 mission launches, rather than the preferred approach of having the two crews overlap on the station for several days. 

All of which combines to make me think the whole thing is still “up in the air,” so to speak. (No, it's above the air. Sorry.) There is no particular news here about when the Starliner CFT is going to be declared done. Could be the end of July; could be the end of August or any date before or after. There are no indications that ground-based testing has been successful or that any good information has come out of it. SSDD. Same Situation Different Day.

Starliner docked to the ISS earlier in June. Image credit: NASA

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Ariane 6 First Flight "Nominal"

Today's lift off from Guiana. Image credit: ESA with some contrast enhancement by me

The first headline I saw said the mission was flawless but as time went by, that was revised to say, “Ariane 6 reaches orbit with long-awaited first flight.” In fact, the story that link takes you to has URL that says, "performs-flawlessly-on-long-awaited-first-flight" and the title has been changed on the article it links to. 

The Ariane 6 rocket lifted off from the Kourou launch site in French Guiana at 3:01 p.m. Eastern (1901 UTC) July 9. Launch followed a short delay due to a data acquisition system issue.
The first separation command, seeing the deployment of the OOV-Cube, Curium One and Robusta-3A, took place one hour five minutes into flight with the Ariane 6 upper stage in a circular, 577-kilometer-altitude orbit. Experiments YPSat and Peregrinus, attached to the upper stage, were also initiated.
Three further separations were due to follow at time of first reporting. The European Space Agency official stream later reported an issue with the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) which allows the upper stage Vinci engine to reignite*.

The issue is only expected to affect the end of the mission, according to ESA. A first passivation maneuver of the upper stage was planned for two hours 40 minutes into the flight. The agency announced a press conference to follow at 6:30 p.m. Eastern. The final release was intended to see capsules reenter the atmosphere and fall into the Pacific Ocean as part of the deorbit maneuver.

Despite the snag/SNAFU with the APU, the ESA seems pretty happy with the mission, coming as it does years later than originally planned. Its debut was originally envisioned to take place in 2020, the slippage was due to both factors under their control and others (COVID-19). The important part is that it's flying now, and with some more work on the APU, it may be ready to start getting Europe back into space. Arianespace already has a log of 30 launches on backorder. 

“This is just the first step,” Josef Aschbacher, director general of ESA, said on X ahead of launch. “We have lots of work to do yet, but we are laser-focused on changing the future of the European space transportation ecosystem.”

Monday, July 8, 2024

Japan's H3 Has Its First Successful Flight

In a piece of news I have to admit got by me with last week's atypical schedule is that Japan launched the first successful mission of their new H3 rocket on July 1. The mission was the third flight of the H3 and the first that the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) declared to be a success. The H3 rocket launched the Daichi 4 satellite, also known as ALOS-4, with a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) for all-weather observations of Earth's surface. 

“It was truly a perfect launch, a perfect 100 out of 100,” said Makoto Arita, the JAXA H3 project team manager.

You might remember that the first test flight of the H3 in March of '23 failed when the second stage malfunctioned and a $200 million Earth observation satellite was lost on the doomed rocket. A second test flight of the H3 rocket this past February was successful, and this time the launcher only carried small test payloads. 

H3 is expected to become the workhorse for the Japanese space agency for the next decade. Despite no mention of reusability, JAXA is targeting flying six times per year, up from the cadence of three flights per year achieved by the H-IIA rocket, the vehicle the H3 will replace. There are two more H-IIA flights left to fly this year - the fiscal year in Japan runs through March 2025. 

Japan views a stable and commercially competitive space transport capacity as essential not only for its space program but also for its national security needs.

Japan's new flagship H3 rocket is launched from Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture on Monday. Image Credit JIJI

Sunday, July 7, 2024

SpaceX Teases Flight Test 5

In a short video released Thursday, possibly to celebrate Independence Day with the world's biggest rocket's red glare, SpaceX provided a highlight video of the most recent test of Starship, Flight Test 4. 

During the flight, the first stage of the rocket performed well during ascent and, after separating from the upper stage, made a controlled reentry into the Gulf of Mexico. The Starship upper stage appeared to make a nominal flight through space before making a controlled—if fiery—landing in the Indian Ocean.

The new video focuses mostly on the "Super Heavy" booster stage and its entry into the Gulf. There is new footage from a camera on top of the 71-meter-tall first stage as well as a nearby buoy at water level. The video from the buoy, in particular, shows the first stage making an upright landing into the ocean.

Then the video switches to the mind-blowing video snippets of Starship reentering, with the flaps being melted and breaking apart as it descends, molten metal or other debris obstructing the camera's view until we hear the call out that Starship has shut off its engines after its own splashdown. 

The tease comes after all that. The video goes from the splashdown to cheering people at headquarters in Hawthorne, California. The screen goes black for three seconds and then switches to an image looking up into the sky, through Starship's monstrous launch tower at Starbase Boca Chica. Then we notice the two "chopsticks," are spread a bit. The perspective turns to looking at the tower from the distance and it becomes an animation, where we see the booster moving toward the chopsticks. With Starship's first stage descending back toward the launch tower and slowing the title "Flight 5" appears and the video goes black before the booster is caught. 

Is it real? Are they going to try to catch the booster in IFT-5? In the talk after IFT-4, Musk had said they'd try to catch the booster next flight. That was repeated recently with the phrase "in the next month." 

In a talk last week with local residents in south Texas, Starbase General Manager Kathy Lueders said this attempt might not occur on Flight 5.

The video being released after GM Lueders made the statement sure makes it seem like the attempt is back in consideration.  

Saturday, July 6, 2024

NASA Hires SpaceX to Launch Another New Space Telescope

NASA announced on Tuesday the 2nd they've awarded a contract to SpaceX to launch a small research satellite designed to study the violent processes behind the creation and destruction of chemical elements. The telescope's launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is expected in 2027, although no more specific date was given. Added to the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, and Europa Clipper (not simply a telescope) both of which will ride Falcon Heavy to space is why I said "Another."

The Compton Spectrometer and Imager (COSI) mission features a gamma-ray telescope that will scan the sky to study gamma-rays emitted by the explosions of massive stars and the end of their lives. These supernova explosions generate reactions that fuse new atomic nuclei, a process called nucleosynthesis, of heavier elements.

Using data from COSI, scientists will map where these elements are forming in the Milky Way galaxy. COSI's observations will also yield new insights into the annihilation of positrons, the antimatter equivalent of electrons, which appear to be originating from the center of the galaxy. Another goal for COSI will be to rapidly report the location of short gamma-ray bursts, unimaginably violent explosions that flash and then fade in just a couple of seconds. These bursts are likely caused by merging neutron stars.

The COSI mission will be sensitive to so-called soft gamma rays, a relatively unexplored segment of the electromagnetic spectrum. The telescope is based on a design scientists have flown on research balloon flights.

COSI is relatively small satellite, less than a ton, and built by Northrop Grumman. It will ride alone on a Falcon 9 because of the peculiar orbit it requires takes as much energy as delivering a much larger satellite to geosynchronous orbit.  COSI will operate in an unusual orbit about 340 miles over the equator, an orbit chosen to avoid interference from radiation over the South Atlantic Anomaly, the region where the inner Van Allen radiation belt comes closest to Earth’s surface.

SpaceX's Falcon 9 will deliver COSI directly into its operational orbit after taking off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, then will fire its upper stage in a sideways maneuver to make a turn at the equator. This type of maneuver, called a plane change, takes a lot of energy, or delta-V, on par with the delta-V required to put a heavier satellite into a much higher orbit.

The contract is what appears to be SpaceX's preferred type, "firm-fixed price," like they bid to design the Deorbit Vehicle for the Space Station, for $69 million. In 2019 NASA paid SpaceX about $43 million for the launch of the similarly sized IXPE X-ray telescope into a similar orbit as COSI. The 37% higher price seems pretty close to the damage done by inflation. What else that you buy isn't up in price since 2019? 

Artist's concept rendering of COSI with some cool gamma ray colors that are quite invisible in real life. Image credit: Northrop Grumman/European Southern Observatory (background image)

Friday, July 5, 2024

Lawfare Against SpaceX? Say it Ain't So !

A couple of weeks ago, the FAA closed public comments to a proposal for SpaceX adding a second Starship launch complex on the Kennedy Space Center. That linked piece focuses on a few comments from people who live around the Cape and while they certainly matter, they're not from the population that would be most affected, the people who work on the Cape itself. 

Today we learned that United Launch Alliance and Blue Origin have filed objections to SpaceX's plans for expansion. ULA and Blue both raised concerns about the impact of Starship launch operations on their own activities on the Space Center. 

Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX, called Blue Origin's filing with the FAA "an obviously disingenuous response. Not cool of them to try (for the third time) to impede SpaceX’s progress by lawfare."
The FAA and SpaceX are preparing an environmental impact statement for launches and landings of the Super Heavy booster and Starship rocket at Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC), while the US Space Force is working with SpaceX on a similar environmental review for Starship flights from Space Launch Complex 37 at nearby Cape Canaveral Space Force Station (CCSFS).

Just to be clear, here's a labeled aerial photo of the pads. The KSC/CCSFS "property line" is somewhere between SLC-41 and LC-39A - I'm not 100% sure, but I think that pad between SLC-40 and LC-39A that's not in a pink box is SLC-41 that was built to launch the Titan III and IV vehicles.

Image credit: NASA (with labels by Ars Technica)

SpaceX launches Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets from Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center and Falcon 9s from Pad 40 (including manned flights starting with Polaris Dawn) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The company plans to develop Starship launch infrastructure at Pad 39A and Pad 37. United Launch Alliance flies Vulcan and Atlas V rockets from Pad 41, and Blue Origin will base its New Glenn rocket at Pad 36.

Both ULA and Blue have expressed concerns that SpaceX's pace of operations will make working so close to them force the two of them to a slower cadence. 

During the environmental review process, the FAA should weigh how regular flights of the reusable Starship—as many as 120 launches per year, according to TechCrunch—will affect other launch providers operating at Cape Canaveral, ULA and Blue Origin said. SpaceX's final proposed launch cadence from each site will be part of draft environmental assessments released for public comment as soon as the end of this year.

SpaceX plans to launch Starlink satellites, customer payloads, and missions to support NASA's Artemis lunar landings from the launch pads in Florida. Getting a launch pad up and running in Florida is one of several schedule hurdles facing SpaceX's program to develop a human-rated lunar lander version of Starship, alongside demonstrating orbital refueling.

Starship/Super Heavy launches and landings "are expected to have a greater environmental impact than any other launch system currently operating at KSC or CCSFS," Blue Origin wrote in their filing. Starship is the largest, most powerful rocket in history and SpaceX is said to be working to make it bigger. ULA's filing was a little more direct:

"It’s a very, very large rocket, and getting bigger," wrote Tory Bruno, ULA's CEO, in a post on X. "That quantity of propellant requires an evacuation zone whenever fueled that includes other people’s facilities. A (weekly) launch has injurious sound levels all the way into town. The Cape isn’t meant for a monopoly."
"The total launch capacity of the Cape will go down if other providers are forced to evacuate their facilities whenever a vehicle is fueled," Bruno wrote.

We know, for example, that for fueling operations, the keep out zone at Boca Chica is set to 1.5 miles, while for Starship test flights, that has been pushed back to 3 miles. ULA's pad 41 is 2.2 miles from pad 39A, definitely inside that 3 mile zone. ULA has said these hazards could prevent it from fulfilling its contracts to launch critical national security satellites for the US military. One could just as well argue "critical national security" launches would take precedence over regular commercial operations of Starship, though.

It seems to me that while expansion of the Kennedy Space Center is going to be limited, it may be time to renew the talk about Launch Complex 49 (last story of three). It's the top tight, blue-striped rectangle marked "Notional LC-49" on this map. 

A story made the local news today that the Florida legislature passed a bill to develop two more large scale launch complexes in the state that went into effect on July 1. The most reasonable to me is near the old Homestead Air Force Base and now called Homestead Air Reserve Base, and the second is in the western panhandle portion of Florida, near Tyndall Air Force Base. Tyndall is close to Panama City Beach, a rather popular winter visit for southerners. Homestead is more reasonable for two reasons, the first is that being on the east coast, it would launch out over the Atlantic for mostly easterly trajectories; the second reason is being a couple of hundred miles farther south than the Cape, it gets just a little more of the extra velocity the Earth's rotation gives rockets launching here. Tyndall would have to launch more southerly, perhaps polar or sun synchronous orbits, like Vandenberg.  Easterly launches would be over far too much populated state.

It could well introduce inconveniences for a company to have to support Homestead and the Cape, but I don't know how bad those costs are. The source article on Ars Technica talks about how other US launch providers, Firefly, and Alpha for example are moving to, and Rocket Lab has already moved to Wallops Island, Virginia rather than deal with the crowded facilities of the Cape area.

Thursday, July 4, 2024

Surprise! Starliner Can Stay at the ISS Another 45 Days

It's startling, I know, but NASA and Boeing say the Starliner is doing so well it can stay there another 45 days, making the original 8 day mission into 90 days. The article is a bit long and roundabout, but the money quote is here:

"We've been looking at those batteries and their performance on orbit. They're getting recharged by station, and that risk hasn't really changed. So the risk for the next 45 days is essentially the same as the first 45 days," he said.

The article references the extended thruster testing mentioned Monday, in which they'll test the thrusters in as close to flight usage as they can get on the ground. That was talked about as starting as early as Tuesday the 2nd but there's no news confirming that or updating in any way.

The big obstacle is that these thrusters are in the Service Module which will be jettisoned and burned up on reentry, so that it's not possible to examine the actual thrusters that had the problem. That means to be as thorough troubleshooting as they want, they need to do as much as possible before they jettison the SM. 

In operation, Starliner will fly the six month missions that Crew Dragon flies, technically rated at 210 days, so extending this to 90 days shouldn't be an issue as long as there aren't things they do differently to Starliner for those longer flights. As for the batteries themselves:

When asked how long the mission could continue, Stich said, "We haven't decided how long to extend it yet." Starliner has 12 different batteries, he explained. Before this flight, similar batteries sat on the ground for a year and were then tested to make sure there were no defects, and none were found.

"What we really are doing now is looking at the performance of the battery in flight. We don't see any degradation in any of the cells where the batteries are," he added.

Starliner docked to the ISS. Image credit: NASA

It seems like we may as well stop tracking this. There's no mention of a target date for the end of the mission, another 45 days, or 90 from June 6, sounds like early September. All we can do is just wait and see what they tell us next.

Speaking of dates, I see that on July 3rd, SpaceX and Jared Isaacman announced a target date for the Polaris Dawn mission that will feature the world's first space walk by a non-military or government astronaut. The date is July 31. Another feature of the mission is that it will fly higher than any manned flights since the end of the Apollo era. Polaris Dawn's orbit will take the mission about 435 miles above the Earth. For comparison, the ISS orbits around 250 miles up.

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Happy Independence Day - 2024

I've run this post almost every July 4th in the 14 years I've been blogging.  There were only two years I didn't and both of those posts were about problems that must have seemed really big. They not only were really big but still are (20122014).  My lesson is that while they were important, the big picture is to remind ourselves of the history, and enjoy the day with family and friends.  The problems will still be here on the fifth. On Glenn Beck's program today, he said maybe we should make it a point to reread the Declaration of Independence. I think that's especially important if you still have kids at home. 


The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America  

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. --Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them. 

He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only. 

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures. 

He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people. 

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within. 

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands. 

He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers. 

He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries. 

He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance. 

He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislature. 

He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation: 

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us: 

For protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states: 

For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world: 

For imposing taxes on us without our consent: 

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury: 

For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses: 

For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule in these colonies: 

For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments: 

For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever. 

He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us. 

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people. 

He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation. 

He has constrained our fellow citizens taken captive on the high seas to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands. 

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions. 

In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people. 

Nor have we been wanting in attention to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends. 

We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.


It has been shown mathematically that in a system with multiple parties, they either converge to two declared parties or through something like a coalition system they functionally become a two party system. In our society, we are too broken apart along party lines, despite the idea of one big “uniparty” now being the subject of millions of jokes and other comments.  In reality, the important choice is a question of whether or not the politico you're referring to is a follower of our founding documents or someone else's. Right now, it appears the biggest competing idea is a tyrannical minority in the name of some form equality, equity or some such nonsense. The biggest competitor is Karl Marx. People are not, and cannot be both free and equal. We are either free or forced into subjugation to create equal outcomes. Opportunities can be equal, like that word that used to be a goal but is now punishable: colorblind. Outcomes can't be.

Enjoy your day no matter what you do. To those who serve - and have served - to provide this gift of liberty for us:  Thank You from the bottom of my heart.

Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Keep an Eye on Beryl and Starbase

As always around this time of year, it kind of becomes a hobby of mine to watch the tropics and whatever is going on. Needless to say, this week has been focused on what became Hurricane Beryl and watching the predictions. The storm track has always been fairly narrow, meaning the models tended to be in agreement. A minor exception is that a couple of days ago, the forecast approach to Jamaica drifted away from the island but then started drifting back. As of now, it looks like the south side of Jamaica is going to get hammered. As of the 5PM update, Beryl was no longer Cat 5 with winds at 165, but at 8PM, she's still a strong Cat 4 with winds of 150 mph. Very little infrastructure, even well built, can take that. This prediction chart can be found at the National Hurricane Center.

I want to draw your attention to the westernmost end of the predicted track, showing the storm going ashore in Mexico as a tropical storm at 2PM Sunday. The expansion of the track as the 5 days goes by is normal, and I've seen everything from about this width to giant circles at 5 days when the models don't agree.  The way the end of the path goes asymmetric, with a kink around where the date/time is 2PM Saturday, is an indication the models are leaning toward the storm curving more northerly toward the end. Here's the plot of the 1800Z UTC (2PM EDT) model runs from Tropical Tidbits, a good, geeky place to get info.

You can see a few traces toward the top of the path, and those are like the the bubble showing a bias to that direction.

SpaceX's Starbase Boca Chica is essentially at the Texas/Mexico border not quite half the diameter of that circle above the point of impact in the NHC forecast above. The blue lines at the bottom of the model runs are the UK Meterological Office, or UKMET models, which over the years have garnered my respect for being right quite often. That argues it probably will take the centerline that the Hurricane Center plot above it shows. Probably.

How do we know what to expect? We don't know. We have to wait and find out. Chances are that by the time the storm hits the Yucatan peninsula around the northern border of Belize early Friday morning, we'll have a better idea where this is going. If every run of the models keeps pushing the storm further north and east, keep up with those models.

The potential impacts to Starbase obviously go up the closer landfall gets to the base. At some point, and it might be Thursday (?), they're going to have to start preparing for the storm. It's hard to imagine the storm can generate as much force as the launch mount gets from a Super Heavy, but it's just as hard to imagine nothing gets thrown around in the wind.