The UK media is getting quite excited about British astronaut Tim Peake and his trip to the International Space Station. I was watching on Sky News. Their guest expert was space journalist Sarah Cruddas, and after the launch they allowed her to gush excitedly about private space travel for a couple of minutes.
She was not entirely coherent as she was talking excitedly — but that is the point. She mentioned “Space 2.0”, a new term to me, and Elon Musk, and Planetary Resources who want to mine asteroids which contain enough wealth to make everyone a billionaire. She talked positively about wealthy people making money in space. She talked about how Internet access in the developing world has an “absolutely revolutionary effect on the number of people on our planet who will have access to knowledge”, improving education and increasing the pool of talent and getting them rich. She talked about businesses making space travel more efficient. She talked about the UK space industry, which “does exist and should be celebrated”.
It struck me that all this private enterprise and wealth creation should be brought up and positively plugged during a government space launch.
In the ’50s and ’60s it seems as if it was normal to be optimistic and excited about technology. In the ’90s and recently we seem mostly to hear about how greedy rich industrialists trample the poor and destroy the planet. Perhaps that pendulum can swing back the other way.
December 15th, 2015 | 32 comments - (Comments are closed)
I doubt that many realise that it was on 11th November 1940 that the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy struck a blow at Royal Fascist Italy’s Navy that may well have slowed the march of the Axis powers in the Mediterranean and marked the first check on their advance after the fall of France. The operation, called ‘Operation Judgment‘, involved two waves of Fairey Swordfish biplanes (almost certainly the slowest surprise air attack of WW2 apart perhaps from the springing of Mussolini) attacking the Italian fleet at Taranto harbour on the ‘heel’ of Italy. The outcome was that the Italian surface fleet was severely reduced in capability, and the remnants moved further up the peninsula to Naples, thereby limiting their capability to interfere with British shipping in the Mediterranean and to re-inforce North Africa. British casualties were 2 aircraft lost, 2 men killed, 2 PoWs. The Italians lost one battleship, and had 2 battleships and 2 cruisers heavily damaged.
The raid had been planned for Trafalgar Day, 21st October, but was put back due to a fire, fittingly enough to Armistice Day. A Swordfish also went on to cripple the Bismarck, and later in the War they accounted for 22 U-boats. Not a bad record at all.
It has been speculated that this raid inspired the Japanese to use air power at Pearl Harbor, but perhaps emboldened would be a better term, after all, it is not as if Japan wasn’t gearing up for something by this time. The anniversary of the raid has attracted some comment, a piece here in the American Thinker (an organ of which I know little), but pointing out that it actually makes sense to attack your enemies, not to wait for them to attack you. I particularly liked this part:
Third, fight to win, and winning means destroying the power of those who hate us. Had the Second World War been, instead of a continuous struggle, a series of peace talks and ceasefires and diplomatic pussyfooting, it is certain that Hitler would never have lost. Democracies naturally loathe war and yearn for peace, but evil regimes who control their subject peoples can maintain war fever indefinitely.
You might think that that author had some people from the present-day in mind.
And for those brave men of the Fleet Air Arm, flying in open cockpits at night against a major enemy harbour, I shall raise a glass of prosecco tonight, to sink something Italian.
November 11th, 2015 | 35 comments - (Comments are closed)
I am sure most of you have by now heard at least a garbled version of the discovery of a very unusual object in the skies, a possible alien mega-structure. I have not been following the mass media but they probably went for the spectacular in their reporting.
Well, it could be spectacular, but only if after a few years or even decades of hard science it does not turn out to be something else. Some science news outlets have compared it to the discovery of the pulsar by Jocelyn Bell. There was no known explanation at the time for something in the heavens that could generate a pulse train that was so precise you could set your time standard to it.
Still, an alien civilization is a candidate explanation, even if the only thing we can say is “We’ve got something we’ve never seen before and some of our wild ass guesses, including an alien civilization, have not yet been ruled out”. I want to make this absolutely clear before I get to the fun stuff.
Now… what if it turns out to be true and we find we have a neighbor who is building structures in space large enough to obscure up to 20% of its sun’s output for significant periods of time? That is one serious civilization, one that is well on its way to becoming a Kardeshev Type II.
But let us turn things around. If they exist, what do they know about us?
The star in question is about 1400 light years away from us. That means what we are seeing happened back in the dark ages, back in an era oft written of in books by Dr. Sean Gabb in his historical novels. Whatever we are detecting now of their technology happened that long ago. Fourteen Hundred Years of advancement beyond what we can see. One and a half millennia. Just imagine it.
Lets go further. Fourteen hundred years ago they were building structures that could block 20% of their star’s light when passing in front of it. That is not the capability of a new space faring civilization. In our terms, it is probably several millenia beyond where we are in our space capabilities, possibly even more.
So how many thousands of years ago did they map a lovely little life bearing world? They almost certainly have thousands of years of data on our star and planets. But their data shows no sign of civilization because their most recent data about us comes from our 600AD.
Unusual situation then. We would know there is a space faring civilization out there… and they would only know there was a life bearing world with no signs of a technological civilization here.
So… I wonder when the generation ships of the colonists will show up?
I’m just having a bit of fun. But What If?
October 19th, 2015 | 66 comments - (Comments are closed)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
April 16th, 2015 | 8 comments - (Comments are closed)
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.
April 10th, 2015 | 2 comments - (Comments are closed)
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 pilot seemed to have a penchant for flying upside down and spent a lot of his time in that attitude.
The Samizdata people are a bunch of sinister and heavily armed globalist illuminati who seek to infect the entire world with the values of personal liberty and several property. Amongst our many crimes is a sense of humour and the intermittent use of British spelling.
We are also a varied group made up of social individualists, classical liberals, whigs, libertarians, extropians, futurists, ‘Porcupines’, Karl Popper fetishists, recovering neo-conservatives, crazed Ayn Rand worshipers, over-caffeinated Virginia Postrel devotees, witty Frédéric Bastiat wannabes, cypherpunks, minarchists, kritarchists and wild-eyed anarcho-capitalists from Britain, North America, Australia and Europe.