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

The Los Angeles County Air Show

At long last I have managed to scrape out a half hour of free time to bring you some samples of a marvellous event. Although it was the LA County Airshow, it was no where near LA the city. LA County is probably the size of some small countries and certainly contains more environments.

The Bitcoin L-39 shows they are doing well and are my kind of people!

The Bitcoin L-39 shows they are doing well and are my kind of people!

The BitCoin L-39 pilot seemed to have a penchant for flying upside down and spent a lot of his time in that attitude.

The BitCoin L-39 pilot seemed to have a penchant for flying upside down and spent a lot of his time in that attitude.

→ Continue reading: The Los Angeles County Air Show

The wicked cockroach of the North

For those interested in North Korea, this English language documentary from Japan is rather enlightening.

The journalists involved interviewed former North Korean officials who once carried out the orders of the glorious leader to bring money into the aptly named “Royal Court Economy”. I have said for years that North Korea is more like a Feudal system than a Communist one. I suspect a Teutonic Knight would understand the system straight away.

An Armstrong Whitworth Argosy?

I have not had time to process the photos I need for a good photo blog of the LA County Airshow from about ten days ago, but I am going to push this photo ahead of the bunch. The aircraft in question was not a part of the show; it was parked way back where you need your maximum lens extension to get a fair look. It sits behind a C-97 and not far from a C-119, so I was of course looking for something USAF or USAAF from that era even though I knew of no aircraft of this format in American service. It looked somewhat Russian or British so I tried that approach. The match to the Argosy seems conclusive to me, but I have no idea what one of those is doing at Fox Field outside Lancaster, California.

A C-97 and an Armstrong Whitworth Argosy at Fox Field In Lancaster, California

A C-97 and an Armstrong Whitworth Argosy at Fox Field In Lancaster, California. Copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved.

The effable sadness of the left

The left has gone so far down its own black hole that it has become a caricature of itself. Read it and laugh.

The return

I have for some time been occupied first with survival and then with a transition to a new existence. I have never entirely ‘left’ Samizdata, but I have been a very scarce quantity as there are only so many bits into which a human brain and the day may be split.

Not that my time availability has changed all that much: if anything it has gotten worse. What has happened is that I have become fed up enough with my words vanishing on Facebook and the technology delta between posting there versus posting here has narrowed to point at which it is more worth my while to type words here rather than there. The only real problem that remains for me is the relative difficulty of posting photos there versus here where I have to pre-edit the sizes, which takes time I do not have, versus just clicking on the image and not worrying about the size.

So to many of the long time readers who have known me as one of the Samizdata founders and to the many more recent readers who wonder “Who the hell is this guy?”… let the games begin!

SLS cathedral building

Rand Simberg points out yet more reasons why the Space Launch System is nothing but a cathedral building jobs program.

I would disagree. Cathedral building at least produced something of beauty that lasted for centuries. SLS is more like a strip mine where there are no resources to be had. It keeps loads of people working digging the hole… until the public catches on to the fact that there is nothing there.

It is risen… but from the other place

The House is busy performing some very Un-American Activities this week. I have just heard HR 1147 was introduced a few days ago and is being rammed through with minimal notice to the public.

So… what, you may ask, is HR 1147? It is the shiny new version of Real ID, risen once again from the depths of hell like a B Movie demon. It would, according to Campaign For Liberty:

• Allow federal bureaucrats to include biometric identification information on the card, potentially even including fingerprints, retinal scans, or scans of veins on the back of hands, which could easily be used as a tracking device.

• Be required for all U.S. workers regardless of place of birth, making it illegal for anyone to hold a job in the United States who doesn’t obtain an ID card.

• Require all employers to purchase an “ID scanner” to verify the ID cards with the federal government. Every time any citizen applies for a job, the government would know – and you can bet its only a matter of time until “ID scans” will be required to make even routine purchases, as well.

It is the One Card To Bind Them All In Darkness. It is the card to tie the masses of legally and illegally collected government data about you together for real time access by bureaucrats and the overarmed enforcers. There is no Liberty in a Surveillance State. There is only temporary forbearance for so long as your activities are ‘within parameters’.

Call your Congressman if you are a US Citizen. Tell them that no American would vote for this measure.

I will go further and call on anyone who supports Real ID to turn in their US Citizenship because they do not deserve it or understand what it means. You do not belong to the same nation as I do and you should leave.

You might try North Korea.

Mickey is back and he speaks truth

Rand Simberg pointed out this link over on Transterrestial Musings. Mickey Kaus has gone back to his old Kausfiles blog and is trashing Fox News on a topic on which they very richly deserve it. They have joined the Democratic controlled media in burying the story of the congressional immigration fight.

My suspicion is the Golf Club Republicans do not want a fight on immigration because that will play more to the strengths of the populist side of their party. The Golfers want to keep their toys and really do not want to share them with the unwashed masses.

Ten years after…

It is rather hard to believe that an entire decade has rolled on since the first private manned vehicle released the surly bonds of Earth and flew into space, a realm where heretofore only governments had trod. It was the beginning of a new age, and much has come to pass since then. As with all prognostications, my thoughts of the time were both more and less than the reality of 2014 in commercial space.

I would certainly have been surprised by two things, one of which I would have predicted and one of which I did not even imagine. I am sure at the time I would with certainty have said someone would be flying passengers by now. I would have been equally surprised had someone told me I would be a member of the XCOR Aerospace team working on the Lynx space plane with my own desk in the same location from which I filed my stories that day, in the same room which I had pitched my air bed the night before the big event. I would likewise have been happily surprised to find George Whitesides, our then new Executive Director at the National Space Society, who appears in some of my photos that day, would now be CEO of Virgin Galactic.

So what has happened in the ensuing ten years? For one, SpaceX is now making deliveries to the International Space Station on a regular basis with its Dragon Cargo ship, lifted via its Falcon 9 rocket. They are now sucking up the launch vehicle market, once a near American preserve, that Old Space and their political cronies proved incapable of holding. Noone, not even the Chinese or the French can compete with SpaceX’s prices. Why? No one ever before built a launch vehicle from the ground up to be viable without government cost plus contracts to foot the bill. SpaceX did take government contracts, but they worked through fixed price commercial style contracting. Their startup capital was private venture money that came from the pockets of Elon Musk and friends of his. He put every cent he had on the line and very nearly lost it. He made it through the early Falcon 1 test failures (which I live blogged here as well) on a wing and a prayer. Those failures were pretty much an inevitable part of learning to do something hard in a different way. Elon stuck his own tuckus way out over the edge… and he won.

Virgin Galactic, the company that will be flying SpaceShipTwo, the follow on to the vehicle launched that day ten years ago, has had its share of difficulties, but the company is well funded and they are plodding along towards the finish line for a suborbital tourist vehicle. XCOR is doing pretty much the same, although with a more ‘right stuff’ flight experience.

SpaceX unveiled its Dragon II capsule a couple weeks ago. They will carry out escape system testing this year and will likely be in manned test flight next year. By 2016-17 they will be a Spaceline that is delivering passengers to the International Space Station and the soon to be launched Bigelow Aerospace space station. Robert Bigelow has been ready for years now… but it did not make business sense to create a destination in space until someone could provide a regular taxi service. When the manned Dragon goes operational, I expect his extensively space tested module technology (two ‘small’ ones are currently in orbit) will go up very soon thereafter.

SpaceX has also been working towards a re-usable first stage. They have succeeded in a liftoff, flight to 1000 meters and a precise landing of a Falcon 9R first stage on the spot in Texas from which it lifted. They recently returned one of those stages from a for-hire launch and brought it to a hover over the North Atlantic waves. Later this year they will fly one from a pad at Spaceport America in New Mexico, perhaps as high as 100,000 feet, and then bring it to a landing. Next year they plan to bring one back from a commercial flight to a dry land site. It will then be checked out for re-usability and possibly reflown. They expect ten flights per stage but even if they only got two, it would halve the capital cost of a launch. If they get the full ten, we are looking at a total collapse of Old Space, a Reardon Steel moment. The only survivors will be those few protected by the Wesley Mouch’s of the world.

Later this year, SpaceX will be launching the first Falcon 9 Heavy. It will have the largest cargo capacity available on Earth and that has only ever been outdone by one vehicle, the US Saturn V Moon rocket. One might make a case to put the Space Shuttle and the short lived Buran in that exalted class, but their actual payload to orbit was mostly vehicle weight.

So much is happening in the New Space sector in June 2014 or is scheduled over the next one to two years that I would need to write a far longer article than this to come close to a proper treatment of the topic. I have not even mentioned most of the companies in our industry. Sadly there is also much I cannot talk about as I am drawing my wages in the field and that places limitations on me. If you want more details on XCOR… you can go read the company blog which can be found via the XCOR home page.

And now… a trip down memory lane. Rand Simberg just wrote his retrospective and since he and I were traveling together for that momentous day, here are the stories I filed as well, plus one other by Johnathan Pearce. The pictorial is at the end. There are a lot of fond memories there!

Yet another reason to visit Las Vegas…

A couple weeks ago I had a several hour stop over in Las Vegas on the way from Chicago to LA. Las Vegas has never been one of my favorite places since I do all my gambling in real life and find little need for games of chance. However, this one sign may be enough to draw me back for a visit…

A very good reason to visit Las Vegas.

A very good reason to visit Las Vegas. (Copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved)

21st Century weaponry

I have long been following the slow movement of the new classes of weapons via which will one day arm Space Navies. The rail gun appears to be developing nicely and is a hypervelocity weapon, a very good replacement for explosives laden terminal defense, and perhaps even the venerable shipboard 5 inch gun.

US Navy funds Phase 2 railgun maturity effort
The US Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR) has awarded BAE Systems a USD34.5 million Phase 2 innovative naval prototype (INP) contract to advance the technology of the company’s electromagnetic (EM) railgun. “During phase 2, we are focusing our efforts on three things: maturing the system to allow for multishot capability, maturing the thermal management system [the higher rate shots that are fired, the better our system will need to be at cooling and prevention of overheating] and incorporating an auto-loading feature,” Dr Amir Chaboki, BAE Systems railgun programme manager, told IHS Jane’s

Perhaps one day we will have to modernize a famous US Navy quote: “Don’t fire until you see the sparks of their railguns!”

New Space as Art

I had a rather enjoyable evening at the Lancaster Museum of Art and History last night. Quite an unusual event, although perhaps not so unusual for a community that hosts the Skunkworks, is not all that far from Edwards Air Force Base and NASA Dryden Research Facility… not to mention the Mojave Spaceport where there is a higher density of folks working in New Space than in any other spot on the planet.

So. What was so special? Perhaps the proverbial picture (of the main room of the Art Exhibit) is worth a thousand words.

An early XCOR rocketship and several rocket engines are the central attraction of the art show.

An early XCOR rocketship and several rocket engines are the central attraction of the art show. Copyright DMA, All Rights Reserved.

A work from Doug Jones'  Middle Period.

A work from Doug Jones’ Middle Period. Copyright DMA, All Rights Reserved.

Yep. There is a strong wing of the Art’s community that is excited about not just the concept of the adventure, but also the sheer beauty of the creations of engineers in the field. As major exhibitors, we were part of the after exhibit dinner in the museum and us rocket guys got on great with the artists. I found many of them think the ‘two cultures’ was a farce that needs to end. From my conversations I would say it was no accident some of the works refered to Leonardo da Vinci.

I also was quite surprised at one exhibit item that was a reproduction of the original. Gob-smacked might be a better word. It seems that a tiny art museum was smuggled on board Apollo 12. A tiny metal rectangle contained six even tinier works by 6 artists, among whom were Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol. Yes folks, there is an original, albiet tiny, work by Andy Warhole still attached to an Apollo landing leg. On the Moon.

After dinner, the remaining crew, made up entirely of artists and rocket guys. Sort of. Even us rocket guys gave lie to the two cultures thesis. Doug Jones, a long time reader of Samizdata, was a stand up comic for awhile. As for myself I was in the music business professionally for many years.

XCOR engineer Doug Weathers and his wife Anne discussing the EZ-Rocket cockpit with Lancaster artist and teacher Monica Mahoney.

XCOR engineer Doug Weathers and his wife Anne discussing the EZ-Rocket cockpit with Lancaster artist and teacher Monica Mahoney. Copyright DMA, All Rights Reserved.

After the entire group of artists and XCORians were filmed flying about the exhibit room pretending to be airplanes… yes artists have fun doing silly surreal things… we headed for Bex’s bar across the street where a marvelous time was had by all as we sat outside in a perfect desert evening talking art and space flight.

I also talked to one businessman who is a big arts supporter and a fed up Republican who has a solid dislike for the religious right. He asked a key question: How are Libertarians different from Conservatives? I think the illegal Edison Light Bulb went on over his head when I explained.

Naturally I was the last one of the crew to leave the bar. Those old music biz habits die hard.