We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

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

The view from inside a government box

This article leaves me speechless. How could anyone capable of putting words together in a sentence about space hardware put forth a premise that is “not even wrong”. It is not even from the same reality most of us exist in.

Now I do not expect most of you to be current on what is going on in the aerospace business today. Unlike the person who wrote the article, it is not your job and perhaps not even something that interests you. That means the falsehoods get passed on because you are unlikely to dig. But believe me, this is a howler if it was done in ignorance and is the ‘big lie’ if done in full knowledge of what American industry is up to. Since I cannot believe anyone could write this without knowing at least a little about the topic, I have to assume it is intentional.

Why is that so? Because there have been more and better developments in hydrocarbon rocket engines in the last 15 years than in the preceding three decades. From SpaceX we have mass production of the Merlin engines. SpaceX is already the largest rocket engine manufacturer in the US and in a few years will be turning out more engines than the entire rest of aerospace on the planet. They also developed the Kestrel for their smaller rocket some years ago; and the Merlin has gone through multiple iterations, each of which is effectively a new engine in capabilities. To top it off they are already working on the largest hydrocarbon engine since the Saturn V F-1: their Raptor engine. It’s not just a paper engine either. They are rebuilding a test stand at NASA Stennis and may already be testing the giant turbopumps for it.

But wait! There’s more! Blue Origin has developed a family of hydrocarbon engines and recently tested their suborbital craft using the BE-3, the 3rd generation engine, all done in less than a decade. They are short listed to produce the even larger BE-4 for United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket, their replacement for the too expensive Delta and the Russian engine using Atlas V.

And that is not all. In my day job I do data acquisition on the hydrocarbon engine for the Lynx suborbital spaceship.

There are others but these are the highlights which no honest/competent journalist could have missed.

Now it can be told…

As I am now part of the core engineering team on a spaceship, I am much more limited in what I can say on certain subjects than I was as a consultant assisting on early stage projects in the previous decade. Here is a picture of our baby, the XCOR Lynx, as it sits in our hangar. My job is its ‘nervous system’, the sensor systems and onboard data collection and storage and use.

XCOR Lynx Spaceplane under construction

XCOR Lynx Spaceplane under construction

In the spirit of the Guardian…

I think it is safe to say that the first Social Justice Warrior to be spaced has already been born.

(For non-spacers, that means “tossed out of the airlock… without a space suit.”)

The Guardian seeks to take market share from The Onion

Ok, this is awesome. I mean seriously, who knew those funsters at the Grauniad had such a self-depreciating sense of humour?

How can our future Mars colonies be free of sexism and racism?

Firstly, destiny is rarely great for the people already at the destination. When Africans moved north to colonise Europe they obliterated the Neanderthals. When Europeans seized the New World, its cultures were virtually extinguished. Luckily the only population on Mars that we know of is a handful of rovers, but no doubt we’ll start a war anyway, before dragging them into some form of slavery or oppression. It’s just what we do.
Computer rendering of the Curiosity Rover.

Second, whose destiny is it anyway? Who gets to go? D N Lee wrote a fascinating deconstruction of this in Scientific American where she makes a number of interesting points. Not least, how little attention this question has been given in the rather white and male race to conquer Mars.

The last thing we need is to wake up in 50 years and find that a bunch of #gamergate nobheads are running Mars.

I mean read this whole article, then I defy you to look me in the eye and tell me they are not taking the piss out of themselves.

Heroes and cowards

Over a period of years we at Samizdata have noted cases of cowardice in those who are paid to rescue fellow humans in mortal danger. At least one organization maintains that level of bravery. The US Coast Guard motto is: “You have to go out. You don’t have to come back.” This is why I have no sympathy whatever for those who follow ‘regulations’ and hide behind them rather than do their jobs. If they did not wish to put their life on the line to save others, they should have found a different line of work.

If you want to see what real courage looks like, watch the early part of this documentary about an airline crash in DC. It was caught on camera and it shows a standard to which all rescue personnel should aspire.

Incidentally… I was working on a job in Falls Church at the time and I believe I had been across that bridge earlier the same day.

ULA is not going down without a fight

The ULA (United Launch Alliance) press conference is worth viewing if you are interested in the space industry. Their upper-stage engine design is quite interesting, partly because they are looking at the ability to store propellants in orbit for long-ish periods of time. They have now pushed the rest of the camel of orbital refuelling depots on to the national scene.

From a business perspective, they have taken pages out of SpaceX’s play book. The new rocket will be done with IR&D funds and once built it will have a published price schedule. Both are considerable breaks with the past.

A number of the big players have tried hard to down play this idea. A few years ago NASA tried to deep-six their report that showed such depots were better for deep space than the ‘program of record’. The effort failed and the report got out anyway and I have it.

I am considerably less excited by other elements of their vehicle and their time scale. They may have to do better than partial reuse by 2023 to survive in what is rapidly becoming a ferociously competitive market for cheap launch.

Private asteroid search telescope rises from the ashes

Last fall when the Orbital Sciences Corporation rocket blew up in spectacular fashion, one of the payloads that went with it was the Arkyd space telescope nanosat.

Unlike their giant billion dollar big brothers, the Arkyd group use modern technology and methods to the fullest. They have the flexibility of a small company and they do things faster, better and cheaper. So much so that they have a replacement nanosat not just built, but ready for launch on Monday’s SpaceX CRS-6 flight to the International Space Station (ISS).

From there, it will be ejected from the Japanese Kibo module at some point in the coming months when ISS crew time is available. Here is Planetary Resources President Chris Lewicki giving the details. Just for full disclosure, I put a hundred dollars where my mouth is during their Kickstarter about two years ago.

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

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.

Yet another reason to look forward to pilotless civil aviation

This is too nightmarish to write about at length, but it suggests yet another upside to taking the human out of the loop: avoiding a CFIT of the worst kind possible.

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.

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.