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Archive for the ‘Space’ Category

Bang not Big?

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Right now I find myself lying awake at three in the morning and wondering if everything I’ve done is wrong.” – Alison Kirkpatrick, astronomer, University of Kansas

Good. That’s real science, not the 100% certainty we often see delivered across TV screens by scientists who, like their journalist partners, have decided on a narrative first.

In this case the problem is a conflict between the theory of the Big Bang describing how the universe started, and the latest data and images coming from the new James Webb Space Telescope (JWST):

Why do the JWST’s images inspire panic among cosmologists? And what theory’s predictions are they contradicting? The papers don’t actually say. The truth that these papers don’t report is that the hypothesis that the JWST’s images are blatantly and repeatedly contradicting is the Big Bang Hypothesis that the universe began 14 billion years ago in an incredibly hot, dense state and has been expanding ever since. Since that hypothesis has been defended for decades as unquestionable truth by the vast majority of cosmological theorists, the new data is causing these theorists to panic

If the universe has been expanding since it started with the Big Bang 14 billion years ago, the galaxies that are the farthest away from us should have a large amount of Redshift in the frequency of their light that we see. The Redshift is the light equivalent of the Doppler sound effect you hear from car horns passing you and moving off into the distance, the notes dropping as they do so with the sound waves being stretched out by the car’s movement (Blue Shift would mean the light source is approaching you, the light waves getting compressed by the movement of the source).

The ultimate example of this, something held to prove the Big Bang, was that the electromagnetic burst from it would have been stretched out so much over billions of years by the expansion of the universe that it would effectively be radio waves – and that was exactly what was discovered in the 1960’s by Radio Astronomers, who thought that the background “noise” (Cosmic Microwave Background) they were picking up from every part of the sky was actually a problem with their electronics. It took a while but eventually they realised they were hearing the faint, “cold”, whisps of the original electromagnetic blast. It fit the theory perfectly.

This red shift should also apply to objects like stars and galaxies that we can see from the early formation of the universe, and over the decades that has been what we’ve seen from multiple telescopes, including the Hubble.

But what Webb is showing us is almost exactly the opposite as it looks back in time ever closer to the Big Bang.

And there are more problems:

The most distant galaxies Webb has located are being seen when they were as little as 400 million years old, as determined by when the big bang is assumed to have happened. That means their stars should all still be hot and blue in color [once adjusted for Redshift] as all young stars are. But many of them are cooler and reddish in color, signifying that they should be at least a billion years old.

No wonder Mr Kirkpatrick is lying awake at 3am. He’s likely not the only astronomer and cosmologist doing so. But it’s the same for the scientists and engineers running the Webb telescope. Have they screwed something up? Were their calibrations against known objects not done properly?

By coincidence I was re-reading Arthur C Clarke’s great, early 70’s, SF novel, Rendezvous with Rama, the other day and was amused by this scene:

He spoke eloquently on the follies of asteroid-chasing, and the urgent need for a new high-resolution interferometer on the Moon to prove the newly revived Big Bang Theory of creation, once and for all. That was a grave tactical error, because the three most ardent supporters of the Modified Steady State Theory were also members of the Council. They secretly agreed with Professor Davidson that asteroid-chasing was a waste of money; nevertheless…

He lost by one vote.

Maybe the JWST should stick to looking at things closer to home:

Written by Tom Hunter

August 23, 2022 at 11:54 am

Posted in Science, Space

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Mahia Down

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A year ago, in the post, The undergraduate NRO – which was about an undergraduate student using commercial Earth-observation satellites to identify a bunch of Chinese ballistic missile silos – I also made reference to some strange implications of the private satellite market, starting with our own local rocket launch outfit, RocketLabs, and their world of launching US military micro-satellites, comment courtesy of Lefty Paul Buchanan:

If the contract to deliver military payloads is solely and exclusively with the US, then Rocket Lab has painted a target on Launch Complex 1 in the event that the US becomes embroiled in a large-scale conflict with a major power. 

The question is whether there is a legal basis to permit or prohibit foreign military satellites, especially weaponised satellites, being launched from NZ soil with NZ technologies. I am unsure if that is the case one way or another and have heard of no parliamentary or ministerial discussion of the matter.

It’s taken a long time but it seems that Paul’s less well-read members of the Far Left have finally caught up with this…

Meanwhile Aotearoa New Zealand moves insidiously closer to the US military.

Here in Christchurch protests will accompany the Rocket Lab presence at the 2022 Aerospace Summit. In case anyone hasn’t caught up with developments, Rocket Lab is now majority owned by the US military and has launched numerous rockets for direct military purposes.

That article is written by John Minto – of course – because …. of course. I guess he can smell Chinese Uranium on the winds.

Written by Tom Hunter

August 17, 2022 at 7:19 pm

Little slices of our universe

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An incredible shot of our closest stellar neighbor, Proxima Centauri (part of the Southern Cross), taken by the James Webb Space Telescope, which began sending amazing pictures of the universe back to Earth in late July. Both the public and scientists have been stunned by the sharpness and detail of images like this.

It was French physicist Étienne Klein who used his time on the telescope to get that image.

“[With] this level of detail,” Klein wrote. “A new world is revealed day after day.”. The image garnered thousands of “likes” and retweets.

Except it turned out that it was actually a photo of a slice of sausage.

Klein himself revealed this a few days later. He issued an apology for having sucked in so many people, but he was actually making a serious point:

It’s a hilarious joke, and blowhards should leave Klein alone. His intention with the little hoax was to advise people to proceed with caution when absorbing information about celestial objects. And that perhaps sometimes what you may see as a burning ball of gas located about four light years away from Earth is nothing more than some sliced pork sausage.

That’s Gizmodo’s take on the subject, but the implication of Klein’s joke was that there is a much wider issue than just “celestial objects”; about people simply accepting whatever they’re told by “experts”.

No one should feel embarrassed about being tricked. Klein was trying to make a point about “fake news” and was more successful than he could have imagined. An appeal to authority, or an argument from authority – Argumentum ab auctoritate – is usually considered fallacious in academia, but it happens every day in political life. Some “study” claims this or that, or some “expert” supports a particular point of view. It’s all part of the fabric of propaganda we’re bombarded with every day. That’s not to say that all appeals to authority are bullshit. The point is that great care should be taken before accepting them, even when it’s science and you’re not a scientist, and that care includes asking questions and looking into it further yourself.

In the meantime mockery of ideas put forward by the Giant Brains in the decidedly non-scientific world of social and political theory, should be encouraged, as with this example:

I apologize for my white baby

Her refusal to listen to her Antiracist Baby audiobook and cry instead further demonstrates the long road we as parents must travel in order to deconstruct her ingrained racist identity. I tried reading passages from White Fragility to calm her, but she only wails harder. My friends claim it’s colic, but what do they know? A much likelier explanation is that she’s expressing her white rage at being confronted with her racism.

As always, read the whole thing.

Written by Tom Hunter

August 13, 2022 at 1:09 pm

Beauty in a grain of sand (UPDATE)

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Back at Christmas I wrote a post about the latest space telescope to be launched by NASA, the James Webb Telescope (Astronomy’s $10 billion Christmas Present).

After six months of travelling to its permanent location at the Sun–Earth L 2 Lagrange point, 1 million miles from Earth, it unfolded itself and began the six month process of being fine-tuned to take images.

There have been images from it released but they were all tests to show how it’s going and the news is that it’s better than expected. Moreover it used so little fuel getting to its location that it’s likely to last twenty years instead of the planned ten. But this is the first operational image:

This slice of the vast universe is approximately the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length by someone on the ground. This deep field, taken by Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam), is a composite made from images at different wavelengths, totaling 12.5 hours – achieving depths at infrared wavelengths beyond the Hubble Space Telescope’s deepest fields, which took weeks.

The image shows the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 as it appeared 4.6 billion years ago. The combined mass of this galaxy cluster acts as a gravitational lens, magnifying much more distant galaxies behind it. Webb’s NIRCam has brought those distant galaxies into sharp focus – they have tiny, faint structures that have never been seen before, including star clusters and diffuse features.

Researchers will soon begin to learn more about the galaxies’ masses, ages, histories, and compositions, as Webb seeks the earliest galaxies in the universe. This image is the telescope’s first-full color image released. It was released July 11, 2022 6:21PM (EDT),

More here on gravitational lensing: those strange curved streaks of light seen in some parts of the image are caused by it. It’s a demonstration of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, and a “trick” used by astronomers to study such distant objects.


I should have included the Twitter account for the telescope…

Stephan’s Quintet. BTW, all of these “images” are not single shots like that of a camera, but composite shots built up from many images of the same spot in the sky.

Some interesting comparisons to Hubble images of the same places.

Written by Tom Hunter

July 13, 2022 at 4:54 pm

Posted in Space, USA

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New Zealand goes for the Moon!

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Sort of.

Actually it’s a NASA spacecraft and it will be controlled from Houston as usual.

But the spacecraft is going to the Moon and it was launched from NZ so it counts as far as I’m concerned. Clearly the Rocket Lab booster configuration was powerful enough to send it on its way, even if it will take four months to get there. Plenty of other nations have not been able to do that, so Yay Us!

The mission is called CAPSTONE (Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment) and the whole idea is to test out the lunar orbit that will be required for the Gateway space station that will orbit the moon while astronauts transfer from Earth to the station and from the station to the surface of the Moon and back.

The mission is part of NASA’s 21st-century moon program named for Artemis, who in Greek mythology was a twin sister of Apollo. The program aims to return humans to the moon in 2024, more than half a century since the last Apollo moon landing.

GATEWAY Lunar Space Station with Orion spacecraft attached

Frankly I don’t think this is such a great idea compared to just building a base on the Moon itself and going straight there and back. Given the many poor decisions, planning and management of the whole Artemis program over the last fifteen years I’m not confident about this concept.

The orbit to be used is an unusual one; a great looping ellipse that flies over the Lunar Polar regions.

This will enable the best coverage for where the surface base will be established.

Mission planners are looking for spots that feature easy access to solar energy, good communication linkage with Earth and modest slopes that allow access to nearby Permanently Shadowed Regions, or PSRs in space speak. Researchers believe that PSRs likely contain water ice deposits. That resource could be extracted and processed into usable items, such as oxygen, water and rocket propellant.

The Shackleton-de Gerlache Ridge area is valuable real estate. While no location on the moon stays continuously illuminated, three points on the rim remain collectively sunlit for more than 90% of the year. These points are surrounded by topographic depressions that never receive sunlight, creating cold traps that can capture ices.

The Gateway orbit will also enable constant communication with Earth: no more of those blackout periods that happened when the Apollo spacecraft swung behind the Moon. It will also enable Gateway to be the primary communications hub for any other spacecraft orbiting the moon, such as the existing LRO, and other such comm nodes may be added to the orbit in the future.

All of this will also lead to putting colonies on Mars, where lava tubes could be used for the bases:

The lava tubes however would provide natural shielding from radiation, an interior space that can quickly be sealed, and a less harsh thermal environment, since the temperature would not experience the day/night cycle.

Putting a colony in these tubes however will likely involve politics. Because, as the paper notes, these tubes might also be ideal locations for finding past (or even existing) Martian life, there is going to be opposition should anyone want to put a colony within them.

Although SpaceX may get there first and they will have their own plans.

Meantime you can re-watch the Rocketlab CAPSTONE launch here and see all of this explained more fully.

Written by Tom Hunter

July 9, 2022 at 6:00 am

Posted in Business, New Zealand, Space, Technology, USA

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About bloody time, Boeing.

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When NASA laid contracts with Boeing and SpaceX a decade ago to develop spacecraft that could transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS), I don’t think anybody expected that it would be Boeing that would drop the ball on the job.

SpaceX was a newbie in an industry where deep-seated, careful design, engineering and testing was prized, and which Boeing had in depth. Most space industry observers thought that SpaceX was merely a backup to Boeing, a little bit of potential redundancy against development problems, but not expected to be the leader.

In fact SpaceX was the one that grabbed the prize, first developing the Dragon spaceship for sending freight to the ISS in the mid-2010’s, then modifying that vehicle into Crew Dragon, to carry humans into space. After an uncrewed test flight to the ISS in 2019, SpaceX got people there a year later in 2020, after some of their own problems. They’ve since sent and returned several ISS crews.

Meantime, Boeing’s problems with their Starliner spacecraft went from bad to worse. You’d think that being slow and careful would at least produce a good spacecraft, even if over-budget and years behind schedule. But that was not what happened, with test flights that went off course or were scrubbed because of potentially catastrophic failures with things like thrusters. It’s been quite the black eye for Boeing and, along with their production problems on the 787 Dreamliner aircraft and crashes of the latest 737 model, has raised serious questions about their engineering prowess.

Well, today they finally managed something with Starliner:

[Boeing’s] Starliner was successfully launched by the aerospace company and NASA from the Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on Thursday .

[It] docked with the International Space Station for the first time Friday. The uncrewed test flight docked with the space station at 8:28 p.m. EDT, NASA said in a tweet.

Sighs of relief all around I’d say, not just inside Boeing but NASA also since, as good as SpaceX and Crew Dragon have proved to be, it’s always nice to have a backup.

Written by Tom Hunter

May 22, 2022 at 1:29 pm

Posted in Aerospace, Space, USA

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Some Hurricane

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Specifically it’s a hurricane on the planet Jupiter.

As space and science writer Robert Zimmerman notes:

I don’t have a scale, but I would guess that this storm is at least a thousand miles across. The depth is harder to measure, but we looking down into a deep whirlpool for sure.

Written by Tom Hunter

April 19, 2022 at 11:07 am

Posted in Science, Space

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A string of bright pearls in heaven

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By a sheer fluke I was outside on the deck last night just after 10pm when I saw not one bright moving light in the sky but an entire string of them, rising in the North West and passing almost directly over head before vanishing to the SouthEast. There may be another such pass tonight (Jan 30) at around 9pm.

I knew what it was of course. SpaceX has been launching their Starlink satellites for a couple of years now and I’d wondered when I’d get the chance to see such a sight. It happens only in the first couple of days after a launch before the satellites climb to their working orbits around 330km altitude and vanish from sight.

It actually made the NZ news, very briefly of course, since few people are interested, and I see they had to throw the word “UFO” into the headline as extra click-bait, even though the article immediately explains what’s going on.

The picture supplied in the Herald does not do justice to the spectacle; we’re so used to seeing satellites that it takes something bright like the ISS to catch our attention, and to see a string of bright moving lights stretching from horizon to horizon does. Each launch releases about sixty of the machines, each weighing about 250kg. They look like a flat panel with a solar “sail” sticking out the side to supply power. The clever little beasties can even adjust their orbits autonomously, which they have to do to work with each other.

Musk’s idea is to blanket the Earth with these things to allow high-speed Internet access with nothing more than a specialised satellite dish, eliminating the need for fibre-optic cables or Microwave towers. Download speeds of 60Mbps (Mega Bits Per Second) are already available, with 150Mbps expected in the future. You can be a Beta user here in NZ.

Of course to do this requires thousands of the things to orbit the Earth. Starlink currently has about 1700 and in the future it will be tens of thousands. The technology of sending and receiving information to such rapidly moving objects is complex but in principle no different than a cellphone switching between towers as you drive along in a car.

Astronomers are concerned about such vast numbers of the things screwing up their observations of the heavens so Starlink is working to try and darken the machines, even though they vanish from sight in their orbits anyhow.

Others are concerned about the “space junk” problem. It was already bad enough with thousands of things whizzing around at tens of thousands of km/h, ranging in size from bolts and specs of paint and foil to dead satellites (and ones blown up in anti-satellite tests). Adding tens of thousands of 1/4 tonne machines sounds like a recipe for a disaster. But orbital space is big and in the low orbits used there’s not much else, plus the fact that being so low means that failed Spacelink satellites burn up quickly. As with the rest of SpaceX, Musk is aiming for mass production of a standard design, so such turnover is accepted as part of the business model, as opposed to the huge, expensive geosynchronous, telecoms satellites that take years to build and replace. Spacelink is currently building six per day.

On that front I saw an interesting article showing how the cost of getting into space has dropped since the dawn of the space age, with SpaceX having had a massive impact.

Every time I see that Shuttle cost I’m reminded of how the concept of “reusability”, like other ideas, can actually be counter-productive: look at the cost/kg versus that of the “throwaway” Saturn V that sent men to the Moon. As I pointed out a couple of years ago for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing:

When the Shuttle program itself ended in 2011 the NASA Administrator set a team of accountants to work up the lifetime cost, adjusting for inflation. They found that each Shuttle flight ended up costing more than each Apollo flight. In other words, rather than flopping around in LEO for three decades, the USA could have continued to send two teams to explore the moon each year, every year, from 1973 to 2003, for less money. Even that ignores the possibilities that would have been enabled by the ever-reducing costs of production line Saturn V’s. The Russians still use fifty year old designs for their rockets.

Looking at SpaceX, that number is what the Space Shuttle program was supposed to achieve: it may be ambitious but looking at his progress to date I would not bet against Musk on this issue.

Finally as a fun note is this piece of silliness for spaceflight.

Written by Tom Hunter

January 30, 2022 at 6:00 pm

Astronomy’s $10 billion Christmas Present

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Although it’s still in the process of unwrapping itself.

A few hours ago, on America’s Christmas Morning, the James Webb Space Telescope was launched by a European Space Agency (ESA) rocket, an Ariane 5, from the ESA site in French Guiana. Ninety minutes later it detached from the upper stage, as shown in the video below.

Rocket launches are always fairly tense, but at maximum when you’ve got a one-of-a-kind bird like this. The original plan had the telescope being launched by 2007 and costing a billion dollars, but for once I won’t throw shade at NASA about these factors because this telescope simply cannot be allowed to fail as it will be stationed about one million miles from Earth and therefore unfixable if anything goes wrong.

By contrast the Hubble Space Telescope orbits Earth about 300 miles up and was designed to be serviced by the Space Shuttles. A good thing too as when it was first launched in 1990 its images were blurred and NASA was horrified to find that its giant mirror had been improperly polished. A problem that basic in the very heart of the machine seemed like a show-stopper, but they finally fixed it in 1993 by fitting it with the equivalent of reading glasses.

It has since become one of the greatest science machines of all time, but astronomers were already planning its successor, built to see the first stars and galaxies that emerged from dust and gas of the early universe, only a few millions of years after the Big Bang. The Hubble can see back to within a billion years of that event. As a result the Webb telescope is sometimes fondly referred to by astronomers as the ‘First Light machine’.

Knowing that Hubble might not last more than twenty years and guessing that Webb would take a long time (although they never imagined it would be this long, and Hubble is still working – just) work on Webb began even before Hubble was launched – and given how Webb had to work, a repeat of the Hubble problem was not acceptable; the machine “is not allowed to fail”. As a result much of the last decade has been spent simply testing the hell out of it:

[Tests] involved lowering the telescope’s temperature to the minus 390 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 217 degrees Celsius) in which it will operate, and in a vacuum similar to that of space.

“The cryo-vacuum tests for Webb were long and gruelling,” [Project scientist] Kimble said. “It would take weeks just to cool everything down safely and then warm up again safely at the end of the test. And in the middle, when you are cold and stable, that’s when you do your detailed testing.”

And there’s a lot that can still go wrong. It has a lot of moving parts that must work to enable it to unfold in space like a giant origami sculpture:

Perhaps the most nerve-wracking move will be the unfurling of the sunshield, which is scheduled to occur in the first week after launch. The sunshield system has 140 release mechanisms, 70 hinge assemblies, 400 pulleys, 90 cables and eight deployment motors, all of which need to perform correctly to get the five thin membranes extended

The mirror consists of 18 hexagonal segments, each of which is made of beryllium and coated with a thin layer of gold.

That second link covers the engineering challenges and has a video of how it’s all supposed to unfold. The sun shade has five layers, spaced apart for maximum thermal cooling to allow the telescope instruments to be as cold as possible, which they have to be to detect faint infrared light from the oldest objects in the universe. That’s also the reason it has to be stationed so far from Earth. Hubble has IR detectors now, but was never designed for the job and so is too warm itself and too close to our warm planet, to be able to see the faintest (and oldest) objects in the sky:

[Webb] will orbit the sun, while simultaneously making small circles around the so-called Lagrange point 2 (L2)… At L2, the gravitational pulls of the sun and of Earth keep the spacecraft aligned with the two big bodies. 

It will take Webb about a month to fly to that point, unfolding all the way. Since they’re made of metal the mirror’s segments can actually be warped slightly by small electric motors mounted behind each one; all part of the process of turning those 18 mirrors into one mirror 6m wide.

If all goes according to plan, the telescope will detect cosmic objects 10 billion times fainter than the dimmest star you can see in the night sky without a telescope. That’s 10 to 100 times fainter than anything Hubble can pick up, NASA officials said. And Webb’s vision will be so sharp that it can see details the size of a penny from 24 miles (40 km) away, they added.

Fingers crossed but so far it’s all good. Check out those two links, Engineering Webb and Launching Webb for more details and videos about how it works and what it will do.

Written by Tom Hunter

December 26, 2021 at 2:07 pm

Posted in Aerospace, Europe, Science, Space, Technology, USA

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NASA is dead

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So I’m sitting on the upper deck this morning, looking at a clear blue sky, and there it is: a waning half Moon, as clear as crystal in the sky, and I sigh and wonder how much longer I have to wait to see a part of my childhood relived with men standing on the surface of Lunar.

And then I see this from space buff Robert Zimmerman, NASA IG: Artemis manned lunar landing will likely not happen in ’25.

Plus this bonus, courtesy of the latest Inspector General Report (pdf)

We also project the current production and operations cost of a single SLS/Orion system at $4.1 billion per launch for Artemis I through IV (p 4).

I knew things were bad with NASA’s Artemis program.

But not this bad.

… although the Agency’s ongoing initiatives aimed at increasing affordability seek to reduce that cost (p. 4 of the report (pdf)).

Perhaps they intend to hand the work over to Nigerian princes?

The cost of the Apollo program was about $156 billion in 2019 dollars, $172 billion if you add in the preceding Gemini program, which you should because it was essential to Apollo’s success. Taking into account all the test and operational flights in both programs, plus four flights of surplus Apollo gear from cancelled Moon missions that was used for the Skylab program, I figure that at about $5.6 billion per flight.

Except that this was for an effort starting from scratch that did the job in less than ten years.

By contrast Artemis has come only to this point after seventeen years of developing the system, starting with its predecessor, the Constellation Program in 2005, which was little different. That’s one of the killer aspects of this failure; it was built on previous developments that should have saved time and money. The Aries V rocket became the SLS, which itself extends rocketry used for the Space Shuttle since the 1980’s; the Orion spacecraft is the same, plus new spacesuits (the report points to them for delaying the landing to 2025), and changes to the launchpad, LC-39B, first developed for Apollo more than half a century ago. As Robert Zimmerman says of the schedule:

NASA’s Artemis program will likely continue to have repeated delays, announced piecemeal in small chunks. This has been the public relations strategy of NASA throughout its entire SLS program. They announce a target date and then slowly over time delay it in small amounts to hide the fact that the real delay is many years.

The final kick in the guts is that the IG report firmly states that the per launch cost of SLS will make any robust lunar exploration program utterly unsustainable.

This crap is already having flow-on effects, although they will be positive if the objective is the human exploration of the Solar System. Scientists have already been given the green light by Congress that one space probe, the Europa Clipper (to study a very important moon of Jupiter, Europa) , can launch on a commercial rocket, after years of insisting it had to be launched on the SLS, a sign that Congress has finally (and quietly) realised the terrible truth. Zimmerman has tracked down another obscure “White Paper” where scientists effectively told NASA that its way of doing things can’t work any longer in the face of SpaceX:

With Starship, missions to the Moon and Mars will no longer be very constrained in terms of weight. Nor will launch schedules be slow and far between. Rather than plan a few billion dollar NASA unmanned missions taking a decade to plan and launch, using Starship NASA could have many planetary missions launching fast and for relatively little cost, with far greater capabilities.

The scientists recognize this, and wrote their paper in an effort to make NASA’s hide-bound management recognize it as well.

What I suspect is going to happen is that the scientists will eventually bypass NASA entirely. Because of the lowered cost provided by Starship, they will find other funding sources, many private, to finance planetary missions. Those other sources will also be much more capable than NASA for reacting quickly to Starship’s fast timetable and gigantic capabilities.

Why bust your gut over sending a 1 tonne rover to Mars every couple of years when you can dump a dozen on the planet in one go? The Earth-based logistics of building and supporting them is another question, but scientists would likely regard this as a happy problem.

One last note that’s not about NASA but a SpaceX competitor, Blue Origin. Their proposal to NASA for a lunar landing vehicle was rejected (along with others) in favour of a modified SpaceX Starship vehicle, so they lodged a complaint with the Government Audit Office (GAO). When they lost that appeal they took it to the US Court of Federal Claims, who announced their decision a couple of weeks ago:

The Court finds that Blue Origin does not have standing because it did not have a substantial chance of award but for the alleged evaluation errors. Its proposal was priced well above NASA’s available funding and was itself noncompliant. Blue Origin argues that it would have submitted an alternative proposal, but the Court finds its hypothetical proposal to be speculative and unsupported by the record. The Court also finds that several of Blue Origin’s objections are waived.

Even if Blue Origin had standing and its objections were not waived, the Court finds that it would lose on the merits. Blue Origin has not shown that NASA’s evaluation or its conduct during the procurement was arbitrary and capricious or otherwise contrary to law. NASA provided a thorough, reasoned evaluation of the proposals, and NASA’s conduct throughout the procurement process was not contrary to law.

Ouch. It doesn’t get worse than that. The synopsis is that Blue Origin submitted a weak, overpriced bid, and when it lost on the merits, whinged and said it would have done something different if only had it known. What bullshit.

Still, the silver lining of this failure is that it may spur Bezos to STFU and start building the space capabilities he’s been taking about for a decade.


See also my 2020 post, Wanderers. Here’s the video.

Written by Tom Hunter

November 28, 2021 at 7:00 pm

Posted in Aerospace, Space, USA

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