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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

On the scarcity of one Dale Amon and rumours regarding his whereabouts

Long time readers have no doubt wondered why I have become a scarce commodity on the pages of Samizdata; such readers also are aware of my long term connection with things spatial and free market.

For many years I have made some portion of my mostly meagre living in the Commercial Space arena. Staying in the game has been a costly proposition in terms of what I might have earned by simply forgetting the dream and just going for the gold. Those on the left seem to think that is what Libertarians do; but they are wrong. We are not about maximizing our wealth; we are about maximizing our liberty and doing what we want to do to the extent we can manage with our own resources. In my case, lacking much in the way of resource to begin with, that has meant surviving day to day on whatever short term contracts I could manage while I worked by myself or with others to gain a foothold in the then tiny NewSpace economy. I always thought it would be soon, really soon now… but this world for which I was born for took far longer than I had ever imagined to come to pass.

But it is finally happening and that is why there has been so little heard from me. I am now working under contract for XCOR, a number of whose members are long time Samzidata readers, out at the Mojave Spaceport in California. The future looks very bright for XCOR and many others in this industry. The big milestones are starting to get ticked off. SpaceX has had a stunning launch record and flew its Dragon to-be-manned reusable capsule in ProxOps [Proximity Operations] with the space station; Armadillo will probably bust the Von Karman line this year.

SpaceX is bending metal on the Falcon Heavy which will launch next year and will have the biggest lift capacity in the world. Of all the launchers that ever existed, only the Saturn V moon rocket was bigger. I suspect SpaceX will surpass even that before this decade is out. Bigelow has launch contracts in place and customers for his inflatable habitats that should be up around the mid-decade and will have a significant fraction of the capabilities and volume of the government owned space station. By the end of the decade or earlier in the next he will almost certainly have surpassed them.

By the end of this year or early next year the XCOR Lynx suborbital space plane will see air under its wings. As to when it will see vacuum under its tail, I could not tell you even if I knew for sure. It will happen when it happens and it will not be all that far in the future.

At first blush, Mojave is a speck in a vast desert, an old Western town that grew up into something not far removed from what you saw in old 1950’s SciFi movies. It is so much so I would not be at all surprised to find that the folks from 2 hours drive West in Hollywood did some of those movies here. At night when I drop into the local gas station, there is usually a Sheriff and several troopers hanging out talking with the woman who runs the store: just like it was in those old films.

Mojave main street
No gunfighters, but it looks the part.
Photo: copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved

The current day town has three main industries. Wind farms and the railyards. If you are a train buff you would love the view from my motel as mile long freights go by just about every hour of the day.

→ Continue reading: On the scarcity of one Dale Amon and rumours regarding his whereabouts

SpaceX berthing this morning

By all that I know so far, berthing should occur within the next couple hours; keep an eye out here if you want to see live coverage.

I am getting ready for the morning sessions; we should have this on the screens here this morning, just before General Bolden does the opening session of our ISDC.

Practicing Prox Ops…

Dragon has been flying near the space station and has performed all tasks perfectly so far. One of the astronauts on ISS took this video of the SpaceX Dragon flying a couple kilometres away.

The berthing is due tomorrow. Apparently there are sensitivities about using the word’s docking versus berthing to the ISS docking collar. Berthing means they use the robot arm to pull it in the last few feet; docking is intended to mean the approaching craft flies into contact itself.

SpaceX second try tonight/this morning

SpaceX will try again for the one second launch window this monring at 03:44 am EDT; coverage will start at 03:00 am. The link is not yet up, I will add it here when I see it.

The link is here and will go live in about 1.5 hours from now.

Broadcast is live both at SpaceX and at NASA’s web site.

Falcon 9 launch flawless, Dragon capsule is in orbit, solar arrays deployed. Dragon is on its way to ISS! It is a new ballgame in space.

SpaceX launch in about 3 hours

I am sitting in a motel room near the Mojave Spaceport where I am working at present and will be watching the SpaceX launch HERE and probably *not* trying to type what you can already see there. If you have questions about what is going on, fire off a comment and I will try to explain as best I can. Keep in mind though that I will have a cut off different than most of you since I am in Pacific Daylight Time, -3 hours from EDT and -8 from BDT.

For those who have not been following it, this is the first commercial cargo test flight to the International Space Station. The Dragon capsule will deliver food, water, clothing and other miscellaneous not-critical supplies; it will return to Earth carrying a lot of special purpose gear from experiments that have been completed.

The flight is a combination of two test flights which were originally planned to be separate. COTS 2 is the demonstration that the Dragon can do all of the sorts of maneuvering required for space station ‘Prox Ops'; the COTS 3 portion is an actual docking and deliver of cargo to the station and back to Earth.

This is a very big deal to those of us in the commercial space world. NASA is an initial customer but not the only one. SpaceX has signed a contract with Bigelow Aerospace to handle resupply for the Bigelow space stations that will be going up starting in the middle of this decade.

01:17 PDT: Video feed is live

01:44 PDT: This is going to be a tough one. The launch window is seconds wide… any hold and they will have to wait until Tuesday to try again.

01:56 PDT: Oh, well. Not tonight. Vehicle had a terminal abort. SpaceX has very conservative limits and go criteria. If this wasn’t a one window per day due to the tight parameters for an ISS rendezvous, they will not be able to recycle and try again as they have in the past. It will be a Tuesday window. I will be in DC for the runup to the ISDC by then.

02:00 PDT: They had a chamber pressure high on one of the engines. Well, they have several days to work it out. For now they are safing the vehicle.

Moore’s Law keeps on ticking…

Intel is keeping up the pace established many decades ago in Gordon MooreŠ› eponymous law:

The chips are the first to become available from any company with features as small as 22 nanometers (the finest details on today’s chips are 32 nanometers), allowing transistors to be smaller and packed more densely. Ivy Bridge chips offer 37 percent more processing speed than the previous generation of chips, and can match their performance while using just half the energy.

I personally believe it is one of the reasons why Socialist efforts at Global Domination have been spiked. It is damned difficult to control the flow of information when individuals have this kind of power in their hands.

Dragon flies on April 30th

NASA has given SpaceX a go ahead for their trip to the ISS to test the Dragon spaceship in its cargo mode.

What differentiates Dragon from other Commercial Cargo contract holders is that this is only one small step towards a much bigger goal for SpaceX. Dragon has heat shield capacity for a free return into the Earth’s atmosphere from deep space; it carries solar panels so that as far as energy supplies are required it has unlimited endurance; it is roomy enough for 7 people to be in couches for liftoff with two technicians *standing* inside the capsule. Not only that, it is reusable and Elon is working out the details for the booster and second stages to be re-usable as well, with a long term goal of briinging the systems price down to $.5M per person for a trip to Mars.

Elon is not the only big news coming up this year. Within the next 12 months we can expect up to 4 private vehicles to fly suborbital test flights.

This is going to be a very big year for NewSpace.

The good news for today

There are a whole bunch of intact, carefully packed Spitfires coming home to roost. It may be the case that parts are swapped into a couple to get some in the air quickly, but my bet is that all 20 will fly within then next 15 years.

And there may be a lot more of them if they can find the other sites.

The Polywell Fusion technology marches on

EMC2, the company founded to advance Dr. Bussard’s fusion technology to a practical state, has been flying so under the radar that you really have to hunt to find out what is going on. They are still moving ahead and the technology has not hit any major road blocks that I have been able to find out about. The US Navy ONR is still funding them and is the reason for keeping the profile low. This bit on Wikipedia is the only bit of really current news I have been able to find:

During 4Q of 2011, EMC2 modified the electron injectors to increase the plasma heating. The higher plasma density in WB-8 prompted the need for higher heating power. They plan to operate WB-8 in high beta regime with the modified electron injectors during 1Q of 2012.

This game is still afoot.

John Carter

The movie was, as I had expected, a great deal of fun. It was also worlds better than the also admittedly fun comics based movies that have become so popular. It was Science Fiction of the Golden Age, swords and ray guns and a gorgeous and scantily clad Martian princess… what is there not to like?

There are two technical issues I had, which are perhaps more due to being true to Edgar Rice Burroughs than to being careless. The two moons of Mars are in very different orbits and do not appear that large and in any case Deimos is not quite round. Also, with 1/3 Earth gravity, you would indeed be able to do some rather amazing leaps, but not quite the altitudes and distances John made in his regular rescues of the Princess. Again, to be fair, even I could probably make a standing jump to a window on the second level of a building; an Olympic high jumper could probably make the roof of a 3 story building.

I loved their Dejah Thoris. She was everything you could imagine in a Burroughs Martian Princess. Drop dead gorgeous, athletic, a deadly swords-woman and a voice like Bettany Hughes. The more I think about it, Bettany would make a rather good Dejah in real life. I wonder what she is like with a sword?

I thought it appropriate that a true Southern man like John Carter quickly got himself a dawg. And not just any dawg, but the god damndest ugliest old houndog you ever did see.

So lets see: great CGI? check. Beautiful, scantily clad warrior Princess? check. Heroic and dashing hero who just wants to stay out of other people’s fights but can’t? check. Great action scenes? check. Swords, Ray guns and supertechnology? check. An ancient race of super-scientists trying to run worlds? check. Touching love story? check. Brilliant panoramas? check. An Edgar Rice Burroughs plot and adventure with interesting characters? check. Fascinating and alien aliens? Yep.

So why the hell do the reviewers hate it? Is it a statement about their lack of education beyond feminist studies, Foucaultian historical and Marxist Class Analysis? Do they actually teach anything useful in colleges these days?

USN Rail guns in test

According to a news brief from a Janes newsletter, the move into the realm of what was once science fiction weaponry continues apace:

US Navy receives EM railgun prototype.
The US Navy (USN) has taken delivery and started testing a prototype electromagnetic (EM) railgun from BAE Systems as the service continues to develop a surface ship gun that can fire a projectile 50-100 n miles (93-185 km) without using propellants. General Atomics is due to deliver its competing prototype to the USN’s Office of Naval Research (ONR) in April

The future is here.

Evil, thy name is Mary

The Nevada Health Department attacked a private farm and forced the destruction of a feast of friends. I can not comprehend how people can sink to this depth. I used to think much more highly of Nevada, but it appears the rot is setting in even there…

Something is going to break. Americans are not going to put up with this crap much longer.