Published on 18 Apr 2014
Video of Falcon 9 Reusable (F9R) taking its first test flight at our rocket development facility. F9R lifts off from a launch mount to a height of approximately 250m, hovers and then returns for landing just next to the launch stand. Early flights of F9R will take off with legs fixed in the down position. However, we will soon be transitioning to liftoff with legs stowed against the side of the rocket and then extending them just before landing.
The F9R testing program is the next step towards reusability following completion of the Grasshopper program last year (Grasshopper can be seen in the background of this video). Future testing, including that in New Mexico, will be conducted using the first stage of a F9R as shown here, which is essentially a Falcon 9 v1.1 first stage with legs. F9R test flights in New Mexico will allow us to test at higher altitudes than we are permitted for at our test site in Texas, to do more with unpowered guidance and to prove out landing cases that are more-flight like.
April 20, 2014
April 19, 2014
And another story from yesterday that I would have covered:
The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral on schedule at 12:35pm PDT (8:35pm UTC), carrying 5,000 pounds of supplies for the ISS. The first stage separated cleanly two minutes and fifty one seconds into the flight, 103km above the launch pad, and the Dragon capsule has deployed its solar panels and is now on course to dock with the ISS in two days, once orbital paths have matched up.
It was a very close run thing. The CRS-3 mission was due to take off on Tuesday but was cancelled after a helium leak was detected. Friday’s launch was much tighter, and SpaceX said the launch had a one-second window if the rocket was to successfully insert its cargo into the right orbital plane.
Weather was a big worry for the SpaceX team. There was rain and relatively heavy clouds at the launch site, and the team floated multiple weather balloons into the upper atmosphere to make sure that winds weren’t too strong at altitude.
Unfortunately, the heavy winds and storm conditions in the Atlantic may hamper the second part of Friday’s mission: the remote landing of the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket. After separating, the booster is planned to fire up again and slow down, falling back towards the Earth.
If all goes well, the rocket will then deploy four legs, which were covered for the initial launch phase, and begin a controlled burn to slowly sink towards the ocean and hover for landing and retrieval. At least, that was the plan.
But the inclement weather means the SpaceX support ship that was due to witness the rocket’s return and retrieve the hardware couldn’t get into position. SpaceX says it will attempt the soft landing anyway, but there’s no word yet on its success or otherwise.
April 14, 2014
In The Register, Brid-Aine Parnell explains what will be different about the next SpaceX launch to resupply the ISS:
NASA has said that SpaceX’s latest cargoship launch to the International Space Station will go ahead, despite a critical computer outage on the station, allowing the firm to test the craft’s hovering abilities.
The booster rocket that’s blasting the Dragon supply capsule into space is going to attempt to make a hovering soft landing after it’s disengaged and dropped back to Earth.
The spruced-up Falcon 9 has its own landing legs, which Elon Musk’s space tech company hopes will eventually make for precise set-downs on the surface of alien worlds. For this test though, the rocket will still be coming down over the ocean, just in case.
The launch is already a month late with its nearly 5,000 pounds of supplies and payloads, including VEGGIE, a new unit capable of growing salad vegetables for the ‘nauts to munch on. The ship was delayed from March after a ground-based radar system at Cape Canaveral was damaged.
November 14, 2013
Christopher Taylor wants to help you avoid mis-using the word “fact” when you’re talking about “theories”:
These days, criticizing or questioning statements on science can get you called an idiot or even a heretic; science has become a matter of religious faith for some. If a scientist said it, they believe it, and that’s that. Yet the very nature about science is not to be an authoritative voice, but a method of inquiry; science is about asking questions and wondering if something is valid and factual, not a system of producing absolute statements of unquestioned truth.
It is true that people need that source of truth and it is true that we’re all inescapably religious creatures, so that will find an outlet somewhere. Science just isn’t the proper outlet for it.
The problem is that there’s no way to test or confirm this theory [plate tectonics]. You can make a model and see it work, you can check out types of rock and examine fault lines, and you can make measurements, but that’s only going to tell you small portions of information in very limited time frames. Because the earth is so huge, and because there are so very many different pressures and influences on everything on a planet, you can’t be sure without observation over time.
And since the theory posits that it would take millions of years to really demonstrate this to be true, humanity cannot test it enough to be certain. So all we’re left with is a scientific theory: a functional method of interpreting data. In other words, it cannot be properly or accurately describe as fact.
This is true about other areas. The word “fact” is thrown around so casually with science and is defended angrily by people who really ought to know better. Cosmology does this a lot. Its a fact that the universe is expanding from an unknown central explosive point (although there is a fair amount of data that’s throwing this into question). We can’t know because we can’t have enough data and there hasn’t been long enough to really test this.
Michael Crichton’s criticism of global warming was along these lines. He didn’t deny anything, he just said its too big and complex a system that we understand far too little about to even attempt to make any absolute or authoritative statements about it. Science has gotten us far beyond our ability to properly measure or interpret the data at hand, but some still keep trying to make absolute statements anyway.
And that’s the heart of a scientific theory. It isn’t like a geometric theorem (a statement or formula that can be deduced from the axioms of a formal system by means of its rules of inference), or a theory that Sherlock Holmes might develop (a proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural). A scientific theory is a system of interpreting data (a coherent group of general propositions used as principles of explanation for a class of phenomena). It’s a step beyond a hypothesis, which is simply speculation or a guess, but is not proven fact.
Confusing theory with fact is really not excusable for an educated person, but some theories are so wedded to worldviews and hopes that they become a matter of argument and even rage. Questioning that theory means you’re an idiot, uneducated, worthless. If you doubt this theory, you’re clearly someone who is wrong about everything and should be totally ignored in life, even showered with contempt.
For all its rich vocabulary, English fails to correctly differentiate among the various uses of the word “theory”, which allows propagandists and outright frauds to confuse the issues and obscure the difference between what science can say about an issue and what believers desperately want to be true.
August 2, 2013
Warren Ellis has a new novella out (that I haven’t read yet) and talks to Alex Knapp about the new work and other topics:
In Dead Pig Collector, the process of disposing of a body is fairly well detailed. How much research did you do for that?
Four or five hours. Believe it or not, a lot of people seem to spend time talking on the internet about getting rid of bodies. And now they’re all on PRISM-generated watchlists. And so am I.
One of the things that’s fascinating about your work is that it explores subcultures that seem like fantasy, but very much exist in real life. I know, for example, a lot of the cultures you explored in Crooked Little Vein are horribly true. What interests you about them?
I think one of the bigger lessons the internet has taught us is that “niche” or “subculture” are a lot bigger than anyone ever thought. And, frankly, if it’s on the internet, the biggest and widest communication and information system in the world, then it’s not really a subculture any more. If it’s accessible by hundreds of millions of people, then it’s as mainstream as it gets. More people visit body modification websites than watch some tv shows, and yet we think of television as the most mainstream, monocultural thing in the world. How can you not be interested in them? They are the shape of the world to come.
Also infused in a lot of your work is what appears to me anyway to be a deep and abiding love of space travel. What is it about space that fascinates you so much?
Space is the place. We currently keep all our breeding pairs in the same place, which is kind of a stupid way to run a species. Also, it’s full of stuff we haven’t seen yet, which should be impetus enough to go and look.
What do you think about the current state of space travel, especially now with China and now private companies getting into the mix?
I find it all sadly boring. I mean, yes, the Chinese programme looks awfully promising, but it’s just re-running the prime NASA years in fast-forward — doing things we already did, all over again, in a compressed timeframe, with what is probably fairly similar technology. I’m interested to see what they do once they attain the Moon. And, again, the private stuff — Virgin is just finding a new way to replicate Alan Shepard’s sub-orbital lob. That said, Elon Musk’s projects are getting more interesting by the day. I’m starting to wonder if he doesn’t have a full-on James Bond villain long-game scheme. Wouldn’t that be great? Right up until, you know, the orbital death ray platforms.
July 28, 2013
Published on 15 Mar 2012
From the upcoming Special Edition Ascent: Commemorating Space Shuttle DVD/BluRay by NASA/Glenn a movie from the point of view of the Solid Rocket Booster with sound mixing and enhancement done by the folks at Skywalker Sound. The sound is all from the camera microphones and not fake or replaced with foley artist sound. The Skywalker sound folks just helped bring it out and make it more audible.
H/T to Anthony Watts for the link.
July 8, 2013
A letter from L. Neil Smith to this week’s Libertarian Enterprise:
Here’s a matter that may reveal more about psychology or politics than it does about astronomy. You’ll recall, a couple of years ago, the flap over the “demotion” of Pluto, theretofore the tenth planet of the Solar System, to the mean and niggardly status of “dwarf planet”.
I have always believed that an international conspiracy, possibly composed of those who hate our freedom, carried out this astronomical assassination because Pluto is the only planet discovered by an American, Clyde Tombaugh.
However, given the fact that Pluto, whatever its size, is an independent body circling the same primary we do (unlike the Asteroids of the Belt or those found at various Trojan positions around the System, or parked in orbit around Mars) and the pathetic and petty way this demotion was carried out, many people, including yours truly, objected to it as unnecessary, inaccurate, and stupid.
Now we learn (because we don’t always keep up on these things) that in addition to the moon Charon, which we’ve known about for a long while, Pluto possesses four other moons, Nix, Hydra, and more recently, Styx and Kerberos, all named for various underworld-related entities in Greek mythology.
The System’s “gas giants”, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, and the one whose pronunciation mysteriously changes whenever it’s mentioned on TV, all have more moons than we can properly keep track of. Mars, Earth, and Venus, which are also full-blown planets in good standing, possess, respectively, two, one, and zero moons.
And yet Pluto, the little world that has been ignominiously stripped of its rank, and its sword ceremonially broken, has five moons. Count ‘em: five whole moons! I maintain that this confirms its proper dignity as a first-class planet, and to the list of historic phrases like “Carthage must be destroyed!” “Remember the Alamo”, and “Hillary wears army boots!”, we should now add “Restore Pluto!”
L. Neil Smith
May 13, 2013
International Space Station Commander, Chris Hadfield, performs a revised version of David Bowie’s Space Oddity. Seen in this video is the Larrivée Parlor guitar that has found it’s home on the ISS for the last decade. Chris has used this Parlor, the first guitar in space, to write and record the first musical recordings in space. Here at Larrivée we refer to Chris as “The Space Cowboy”.
Below is the original description as posted by Chris himself on his YouTube channel… enjoy.
Published on May 12, 2013
A revised version of David Bowie’s Space Oddity, recorded by Commander Chris Hadfield on board the International Space Station.
With thanks to Emm Gryner, Joe Corcoran, Andrew Tidby and Evan Hadfield for all their hard work.
That Bowie remake wasn’t even Chris Hadfield’s first video in space – here he is live with Barenaked Ladies youtube.com/watch?v=AvAnfi…
— David Burge (@iowahawkblog) May 13, 2013
February 18, 2013
Along with all the jokes about the meteor that streaked over Siberia last week, there has been some useful re-orientation of thought about the demonstrated need for better detection tools:
For decades, scientists have been on the lookout for killer objects from outer space that could devastate the planet. But warnings that they lacked the tools to detect the most serious threats were largely ignored, even as skeptics mocked the worriers as Chicken Littles.
No more. The meteor that rattled Siberia on Friday, injuring hundreds of people and traumatizing thousands, has suddenly brought new life to efforts to deploy adequate detection tools, in particular a space telescope that would scan the solar system for dangers.
A group of young Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who helped build thriving companies like eBay, Google and Facebook has already put millions of dollars into the effort and saw Friday’s shock wave as a turning point in raising hundreds of millions more.
“Wouldn’t it be silly if we got wiped out because we weren’t looking?” said Edward Lu, a former NASA astronaut and Google executive who leads the detection effort. “This is a wake-up call from space. We’ve got to pay attention to what’s out there.”
Astronomers know of no asteroids or comets that pose a major threat to the planet. But NASA estimates that fewer than 10 percent of the big dangers have been discovered.
February 1, 2013
I’ve always wanted a house on the moon:
Architects Fosters and Partners have revealed designs for a building on the Moon that could be constructed from material already on its surface.
An inflatable structure would be transported from Earth, then covered with a shell built by 3D printers.
The printers, operated by robots, would use soil from the Moon, known as regolith, to build the layered cover.
The proposed site for the building is the southern pole of the Moon.
It is designed to house four people and could be extended, the firm said.
In 2010 a team of researchers from Washington State University found that artificial regolith containing silicon, aluminium, calcium, iron and magnesium oxide could be used by 3D printers to create solid objects.
January 23, 2013
H/T to Kathy Shaidle, who writes:
Remember: Conspiracy theories are history for stupid people. They provide idiots with the thrilling sensation that they’re smarter than everyone else, and are a seductive distraction from real problems.
As the (liberal) filmmaker says:
“They lead you to sell your soul for the comfort of being a rebel.”
That’s what Satan did.
December 14, 2012
At sp!ked, Patrick West notes an under-observed anniversary:
It is a fine testament to NASA’s Apollo programme that of all the world-shaking events in living memory, men landing on the moon is the only one that doesn’t involve death. As Andrew Smith, author of Moon Dust (2006), notes, everyone remembers where they were when John F Kennedy was assassinated, Princess Diana died, or on 9/11. Most people, if they were alive at the time, also vividly recall when a man first walked on the moon on 20 July 1969.
Few, however, will remember what they were doing when the last man walked on the moon. That was 40 years ago today.
As he fired up the engines of Apollo 17‘s Lunar Module, Gene Cernan, the last man on the moon, delivered a final message to the world: ‘America’s challenge has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow. And as we leave the moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return with peace and hope for all mankind.’ On this date, many of us lament that we haven’t gone back to the moon. Others won’t, citing the vast expense of this Cold War sideshow, equivalent to roughly $130 billion in today’s money.
We certainly aren’t likely to return to the moon in such cynical and pessimistic times, of Mayan prophecies, omens of economic stagnation and environmental catastrophe, Frankie Boyle misanthropy and books called Is It Just Me Or Is Everything Shit?. In other words, everything the Apollo programme didn’t represent. America’s race to the moon may have been partly a means of getting one over the Soviets, but it also embodied the spirit of adventure and progress, as encapsulated by Neil Armstrong’s first words from the moon.
November 24, 2012
Writing in The Register, Tim Worstall brings his evil economist gaze to the SF fan’s irrational belief that asteroid mining is the way of the future:
Isn’t it exciting that Planetary Resources is going to jet off and mine the asteroids? This is every teenage sci-fi geek’s dream, that everything we imbibed from Verne through Heinlein to Pournelle is going to come true!
But there’s always someone, isn’t there, someone like me, ready to spoil the party. The bit that I cannot get my head around is the economics of it: specifically, the economics of the mining itself.
In terms of the basic processing of what they want to do I can’t see a problem at all, just as all those authors those years ago could see how it could be done.
Asteroids come in several flavours, and the two we’re interested in here are the ice ones and the nickel iron ones. The icy rocks, with a few solar panels and that very bright 24/7 sunshine up there, can provide water. That’s the first thing we need in abundance if we’re going to get any number of people up off the planet for any appreciable amount of time. And we’d really rather not be sending the stuff up out of the Earth’s gravity well for them.
It’s also true that those nickel iron asteroids are likely to be rich in platinum-group metals (PGMs). They too can be refined with a bit of electricity, and they’re sufficiently valuable (say, for platinum, $60m a tonne, just as a number to use among friends) that we might be able to finance everything we’re trying to do by doing so.
All terribly exciting, all very space cadet, enough to bring tears to the eyes of anyone who ever learnt how to use a slide rule and, as the man said, once you’re in orbit you’re not halfway to the Moon, you’re halfway to anywhere.
Except I’m not sure that the numbers quite stack up here. I’m sure that the engineering is possible, I’m certain that it’s all worth doing and most certainly believe that we want to get up there and start playing around with other parts of the cosmos over and above Gaia. But, but…
November 19, 2012
In The Register, Shaun Dormon explains why almost all the electronic components used on modern spacecraft, satellites, and the International Space Station (ISS) are actually not cutting-edge, top-of-the-line items:
I hate to say it, but most of what you think about space-age technology is a total fabrication. It’s the stuff of sci-fi.
Perhaps the biggest misconception of all is that spacecraft are equipped with cutting-edge computing platforms that any self-respecting technophile would commit unspeakable acts to get their mitts on.
If only. The fact of the matter is that even the most advanced chips up there were considered obsolete ten years ago down here. Although it’s true that in space no one can hear you scream, outer space is actually a very noisy place, electromagnetically speaking.
The computer on your desk is very unlikely to experience much in the way of EM radiation unless someone cuts a hole in the side of the kitchen microwave. Out in orbit, though, there are many sources of radiation, ranging from the relatively mundane stuff pouring out of the Sun and collecting in the Van-Allen radiation belts to more exotic things such as cosmic rays and other high-energy particles that cause so-called “single-event effects”.
[. . .]
The damage is cumulative. Individually, an impact causes the ionisation of a single oxide molecule present in the semiconductor. It’s not enough to cause instant failure, but as more and more impacts take place, the effects combine to significantly alter the electrical properties of the circuit until it can no longer function correctly.
More exciting dangers arise from exposure to gamma or cosmic rays. These ultra-high energy impacts cause localised ionisation which results in an unexpected flow of current. In the case of a lower energy event, this may result in a “single event upset” or “bit-flip”, and data corruption can ensue. These are not usually fatal to the system. No so the worst case “single event burnout”, which creates such high currents that the very circuitry itself is burned out almost instantaneously.
October 29, 2012
At The Register, Brid-Aine Parnell reports on the mostly successful cargo delivery round-trip by SpaceX’s Dragon capsule:
The reusable cargoship dropped into the ocean yesterday evening around 250 miles off the coast of Mexico after resupplying the ISS and its crew. The Dragon was ferried to a port near Los Angeles where it will be prepped for its return to SpaceX’s test facility in Texas.
Some of the cargo brought back by the capsule is due to be returned to NASA in the next couple of days, including research samples from the station’s microgravity environment. The ship delivered 882 pounds of gear to the ISS, including scientific research and crew supplies. It returned with nearly twice that weight of stuff.
The mission was only a part-success, as the secondary objective was to launch a satellite for Orbcomm, but due to a malfunctioning engine in the launch phase, the satellite could not be placed in the correct orbit and was lost. Orbcomm is sticking with SpaceX for two more satellite launches in spite of this initial failure.