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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

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.

Samizdata quote of the day

Close, but no cigar this time. Bodes well for the future tho.

Elon Musk

The correct response to this is…

The correct response to this is…

“I should give a shit why exactly? But please leave your name, address and accomplishments so I can critique your sartorial style in the unlikely event you are ever involved in something never done before in human history.”

But Matt, listen to me buddy… never apologise. Seriously, your friends do not need it and your enemies will still hate you regardless, so either ignore your detractors, or better yet, tell them to shove it.

hat tip: Darryl Watson

Another kind of creative destruction: the technology driving drones-as-an-industry is…

…mobile phone technology!

VICE has a very interesting report, looking at at how the US military is adjusting to the astonishingly rapid proliferation and deployment of cheap drone technology. Faced with using multi million dollar weapons platforms firing munitions costing hundreds of thousands of dollars against these things, they are seeking more feasible ways to counter air threats costing thousands or even mere hundreds of dollars. And the threat is not hypothetical: even the daesh Islamic State claims fairly plausibly to be using cheap reconnaissance drones right now, and Hezbollah appears to have fairly sophisticated armed drones (fast forward to 1:25 or thereabouts to see the boom and hear the invocations to Admiral Ackbar or whatever). We really are entering a new era not just commercially but also militarily.

I want one of these!!!

I want one of these!!!

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!

A Marxist throws down the space-gauntlet

Why outer space really is the final frontier for capitalism

The question is, why haven’t the moon’s resources been thoroughly plundered by now? Why hasn’t it provided us with the energy necessary to colonise the rest of space? I’ll tell you why: it’s because capitalism is weak and timid.

In principle, it shouldn’t be this way. Capitalism, said Rosa Luxemburg, always needs a periphery. There needs to be a non-capitalist outside to appropriate – new land, new resources, to provide profitable investment opportunities. Whether it takes the form of colonisation, privatising public goods, turfing peasants off their lands or creating “intellectual property”, there is a need to accumulate beyond the existing realm of capitalist property relations.

The geographer David Harvey points out that the world capitalist system needs to find $1.5tn profitable investment opportunities today in order to keep growing at its historical average of 3% a year. In 20 years’ time, it will need to find $3tn

Let he who dares accept the challenge in proper fashion. Still, betcha Richard Seymour will be the first to complain when the space barons do start exporting capitalist property relations where no man has gone before.

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!”