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]

Life is short

Tehran, Iran. January 2017

Barcelona, Catalonia. January 2017

Palermo, Italy. January 2017
Helsinki, Finland. February 2017
Riga, Latvia. February 2017
A Coruña, Galicia. March 2017
Istanbul, Turkey. March 2017Jodhpur, India. March 2017
Lumbasumba Pass, Nepal. April 2017
Dubai. May 2017
Wuppertal, Germany. May 2017
Oslo, Norway. June 2017.
 Afsluitdijk, Netherlands. July 2017
Berlin, Germany. July 2017
Madras, Oregon. August 2017

→ Continue reading: Life is short

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2018 New Space predictions, Part II: The 2018 list

So… now it is time to unveil the predictions of Amon and Weathers for 2018. Doug Weathers and I changed the format a little this year. If one or the other or even both of us thought an event is iffy but possible or even likely, we put it under a section we are calling ‘Stretch Goals.’

1) Falcon Heavy flies.

The first attempt could happen in as little as two weeks from now. There is a chance it will fail, as this is, after all, the first flight of a very large rocket with very complex structural dynamics. If the simulations and calculations are off, the three booster structure could rip itself apart. With the large number of Merlin rocket engines that have to fire, there is plenty of room for error, albeit also a great deal of redundancy. A successful flight on the first try will let many friends of ours celebrate and sleep well. A failure? Well, it is a long year. They will dust themselves off and almost certainly succeed on a second flight test.

2) A Tesla Sportster goes interplanetary.

If the first Falcon Heavy succeeds, it is likely the well tested second stage will put Elon Musk’s old car on a course to cross Mars orbit within the next year or so. It is NOT going to go to Mars. It will be on a solar elliptical orbit that crosses Earth and Mars orbits at perihelion and aphelion. It ought to be there long enough for Mars to be settled and have a vast population with large museums in which it will someday reside after being recovered by some Belter and sold to the highest bidder.

3) Falcon Heavy goes into commercial service.

If the first flight is reasonably successful, there will be at least one more flight of the vehicle this year with a profit making payload.

4) Boca Chica launch site construction slips to 2019

We both think the SpaceX private space launch facility south of Brownsville Texas on the Gulf Coast is not moving along as snappily as one would hope. We think they well be into next year before it is checked out and launch ready.

5) Dragon 2 in flight abort test

Dragon 2 is a lesser cousin to Red Dragon that will take astronauts to the space station when it is certified. Although not entirely necessary, SpaceX is going to perform an in flight abort. We feel confident that will happen this year and it will succeed. What we do not expect is that the Falcon 9 booster it is riding on will survive the emergency separation. It is a much larger booster than the Blue Origin New Shepherd, and the fact that one survived an emergency SEP test still has us gob smacked.

6) Elon Musk announces BFR launch/landing sites at IAC

The beauty of BFR is that both stages can be tested on their own in a suborbital flight mode. We know SpaceX intends to fly them short distances to prove them out. What we do not know is where those places will be. Will it be a barge launch? That seems unlikely for a first test launch although possible for a landing. Boca Chica? We do not know all the details about the pad requirements for the stages of this big mother. So we are guessing that when Elon gives us the next installment of Elon Musk and His Big Falcon Rocket, we will find out.

7) Rocket Lab enters commercial service.

We expect them to fly their second test flight within days and we expect it to succeed. Even if it does not, there is enough time for another test this year. We are rather confident they will enter revenue generating service this year.

9) Blue Origin BE-4 engine finishes testing

The BE-4 is needed for the New Glenn rocket and also for ULA’s Vulcan rocket. Both are expected to fly around 2020, so we expect they will wind up testing and focus more on production of these babies in the following year.

10) Blue Origin New Glenn starts construction

We really pondered on this one. But the evidence is there if you consider financial planning as well as engineering schedules. They have the manufacturing facility at the KSC (Kennedy Space Center) Exploration Park that is being outfitted to manufacture them. The park is run by Space Florida (the folks who killed XCOR) and it is a straight shot within CCAFS to their Pad 36, which is being prepared for it. The engines are near ready. They are calling a 2020 launch date followed by a ramp up, so they pretty much have to start building the first one by the end of this year. One has to work the bugs out of factories just like one has to work them out of rockets. And one does not spend this kind of money on facilities if they are going to then sit idle for a year.

11) Dreamchaser continues drop testing but does not fly into space.

Sierra Nevada has a contract with NASA to fly a smaller, cargo only version of their design to ISS in the 2020 time frame. It will have folding tips on the wings to fit inside a fairing, unlike the existing crew model. We do not think they are going to retire that vehicle quite yet. It makes sense to wring every bit of data out of it that they can from drop tests. So we think they will do more drop tests but hold off on putting one on an Atlas V until they have the one for the paying customer (NASA) ready for test.

12) SS2 powered flight test

This has just got to happen this year. It should have happened many months ago.

13) SS2 suborbital flight

There are really only a couple test points for engine firings short of flying to the Karman line. They will want to probe the transonic region again; and they will want to test a fairly high altitude flight to check the reaction control system and the shuttle cock mode. Once they have done those… why not give it a go?

14) Boeing CST-100 unmanned test flight

We cannot see any good reason why they will not meet their schedule and get this done this year.

15) Stratolaunch aircraft completes flight test

Since it has already begun taxi trials, we feel a full year is more than enough to test the full envelope on what is, although really, really large, just another transport aircraft. We are not betting on whether they will actually launch a rocket into orbit from it this year. In our minds that is too close to call.

16) LauncherOne flies from Mojave

We think folks have missed things that are right in front of their noses. Virgin Galactic (or the Virgin Launch subgroup) bought a 747 last year, had all of the structural changes to it made and even more notably, has the sign off on those changes from the FAA. That carrier aircraft is sitting in the Long Beach area right now.

The LauncherOne vehicle has been delivered to Mojave Spaceport. We have looked at the pictures of it and come to the conclusion that there is little or nothing they can do with it at Mojave except fly it. It is not there for pad tests since it is not a rocket that launches from a pad. So why is it there? We think the carrier aircraft will fly up there and have it loaded under the wing. They will then fuel it. You can do that in Mojave. They probably did not want to do so in the populous LA area.

Most likely scenarios are a few captive carry flights to get aerodynamic data, followed by a flight out over the Pacific. This is not a vehicle that you drop test and land. You drop it and you put it into orbit or else it joins other wreckage at the bottom of the ocean.

So… we think they are going to fly this year.


1) SpaceX flies a Bigelow B-330 into orbit on a Falcon 9

There is a Bigelow flight manifested but we do not know what for. We do know that Bob Bigelow has been waiting a decade for commercial crew service to orbit. That has been the long pole in his tent. You cannot put rental property in orbit if your customers cannot get to it. Since we expect both Boeing and SpaceX will very soon be able to deliver customers and their cargo to Low Earth Orbit, we think he is going to pull the trigger this year or next year.

2) SpaceX Dragon 2 manned flight

This is almost certainly going to happen this year, but we both went conservative on it due to the tight time line between the first test flights and the scheduled first flight to the space station. It is very likely this will happen this year or not very far into 2019.

3) Boeing CST-100 manned flight

Boeing is also running a tight time line and they cannot be seen to fall too far behind SpaceX. I am sure they would like to beat SpaceX into orbit just for company pride. Competition is a good thing. We still see a fair bit of schedule risk, and as with Dragon 2 feel they will likely fly this year and if not will fly early in 2019.

4) SpaceX launches two paying customers on a lunar free return mission.

This is the big one. It is still scheduled for this year, but it will only happen if the first Falcon Heavy flies successfully and the manned Dragon 2 flight to ISS happens on or at least close to the scheduled dates. Personally we think it more likely to happen in 2019, but we include it here because there is an outside chance Elon’s stars will align and this mission will go. We, and many others, would just love to see this happen on the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 8 Christmas mission of December 21, 1968.

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2018 New Space predictions, Part I: How did we do last year?

Around this time last year, I was discussing / arguing with another aerospace engineer on the sort of topic which tends to come to mind at the New Year. What could we expect in our industry over the next twelve months? Since I have been a pundit here at Samizdata and in other fora for a bit over three decades, I suggested we turn our arguments into a set of predictions of events we expected in 2017. I wrote up the results and published them in a limited fora and set a reminder in my schedule so that we would revisit it a year later both to see how well the universe obeyed our pronouncements during the previous orbit of the Earth about Sol, and to then produce a new set of pontifications for 2018.

Before I unveil those, I will do what most prognosticators fear to do: discuss our results in public, as evaluated by the two of us last night. The publication last year was to a limited audience, I am reproducing it here. We each placed our initials next to the predictions we agreed upon; DMA for Dale Marshall Amon and DW for Doug Weathers. A few are minority predictions to which only one of us felt comfortable in making.

1) Falcon Heavy will fly this year. [DMA, DW]

Close! The vehicle has been assembled, and was raised and lowered at the pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) before the end of the year. It is scheduled for flight this month with a Tesla sports car as an interplanetary payload. We definitely did not see that coming!

2) Red Dragon will be tested in unmanned mode and a landing will be attempted [DW, DMA]
3) Red Dragon will be given a high energy re-entry test by doing a lunar free return. I give it 50% that they do this. DMA.

Both of these fall into a category that we are calling OBE, Overcome By Events. Elon Musk dropped the vehicle late in development due to a massive change in plans for SpaceX. The Big Falcon Rocket design he announced at the IAU conference this year does things a different way so the development was cut.

4) A Raptor engine will not be on a flight vehicle yet this year. [DMA, DW]

Yes. We were correct. The LOX-Methane Raptor engine is still undergoing test and is progressing nicely.

5) There will be a reflight of a Falcon first stage. [DMA, DW]

Yes. Several of them in fact. So much so that from now on people ask why a first stage is not reused rather than arguing that one cannot do it.

6) New Shepherd will fly manned with a test ‘pilot’ on board. [DMA, DW]

No. But they are getting close. The production type capsule flew recently with ‘Mannequin Skywalker’ as the crash test dummy has been dubbed. The flight test was flawless so we can expect a manned trip to happen within the next few test flights.

7) The BE-4 engine will complete its testing and be ready for flight test. [DMA, DW]

No. The Blue Origin engine is still under test, but it is very close to ready and will likely be mounted on a New Glenn hull this year.

8) XCOR will be told to kick the ULA second stage engine program into high gear. [DMA, DW]

OBE. A perfect financial storm, put XCOR into a suspension of trading and then Space Florida filed against them and put them into Chapter 7 bankruptcy. We did not see that coming, and there were signs up until the last moment that they might still pull their goolies out of the fire.

9) Dreamchaser will be flight tested, possibly orbited in an unmanned mode this year. [DMA]

Sort of. They have completed a successful drop test with a new Crew Dreamchaser at Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB). They do not appear to be near ready for an actual launch, although we have some ideas…

10) SS2 will do its first suborbital spaceflight this year [DMA, DW]

No. We were actually rather shocked that this did not happen yet as they had successful drop tests of the new ship much earlier this year. This should have happened.

11) Richard Branson and family will not be on board [DMA, DW]

Yes. We got that right!

12) Long March heavy lift rocket will fly successfully. [DMA, DW]

Sort of. They launched it but it did not make orbit.

13) CST100 will execute a pad abort test. [DMA, DW]

No. Slipped to next year.

14) CST100 will NOT fly into space this year [DMA, DW]

Yep. Slipped to next year.

15) EXOS Aerospace will fly their Sarge rocket this year [DMA, DW]

No. They canceled a captive test due to the hurricane that hit Houston, which although not close, was where many people who would have come as guests were to be found. There may also have been doubt about the weather in Central Texas since one never knows what a hurricane has up its wall cloud. There has been no sign of a re-schedule.

16) Stratolaunch will begin flight test of the big carrier aircraft. [DMA, DW]

Yes. They started taxi tests at Mojave before the end of the year.

17) World View will carry out a manned flight. [DMA, DW]

OBE. They had a ground testing accident. My take is they used Hydrogen for ground test because Helium is bloody expensive; they had an issue with a vent and the Hydrogen burned, caused an overpressure, blew out the top of the balloon and exploded into a fireball in the inrush of air.

To be fair, I must also mention one we thought would not happen until the next year: Rocket Lab did get their test vehicle with their revolutionary electric fuel and oxidizer pumps off the pad. They did a destruct late in the ascent, but as they discovered later, the decision was based on incorrect data. The rocket would have successfully made orbit on the first try.

There were many other advances during the year but we did not try to guess everything; we only went for ‘the big ones’.

Next we will unveil our predictions for 2018 and why we made them.

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Who Dares Wins (Arts Council Edition)

When it came out a couple of weeks ago, I managed to miss this gem from the Guardian’s “Associate Editor, Culture”, Claire Armitstead.

Literary fiction is in crisis. A new chapter of funding authors must begin

Unlike the performing arts, publishing has always been a largely commercial sector that has had to square its own circles. This is reflected in the fact that it gets only 7% of the funding cake handed out by the Arts Council, compared with 23% to theatre and 11% to dance.

Most of that money has gone to support publishers who produce poetry and literature in translation, which have never been able to pay their way. So there will be blood on the carpet if existing resources are shifted to support literary novelists.

There will be those who argue that this just shows that literary fiction is a hangover from the past, and the poor dears should knuckle down and resign themselves to writing what people actually want to read. But few would dare to make the same argument about experimental theatre or dance.

A number of the comments may have helped Ms Armitstead revise upwards her estimate of the audacity of readers outside the literary elite. A sentence or two later she makes one of the most pathetic cases for subsidy I have ever seen:

Moreover, research from the New School for Social Research in New York last year suggested that literary fiction has a measurable social value, increasing empathy levels in readers where more popular forms of genre fiction do not.

It seems unkind to the readers of literary fiction to say that they in particular are in such dire need of an injection of empathy as to justify a targeted intervention. But her profession has obliged Ms Armitstead to live at close quarters with this reclusive and marginal tribe for many years and no doubt she knows their character better than I do.

More recently, the author and occasional Guardian columnist Tim Lott shot back, which is how I came to see the earlier piece. He writes,

Why should we subsidise writers who have lost the plot?

This would not be uncommon. Worrying about plot and story has long been unfashionable on the literary scene. Style and voice are what gathers plaudits. Martin Amis wrote: “If the prose isn’t there, then you’re reduced to what are merely secondary interests, like story [and] plot.” Edna O’Brien suggested plot was for “silly boys”, which might explain why men in particular are reluctant to buy literary novels.

It might also explain why, when I went to teach postgraduate students at the University of East Anglia – the foremost writing course in the country – about the fundamentals of plot, I was astonished to discover that these superbly talented young writers knew nothing whatsoever about it after years of studying the form.

Mr Lott is within the subsidy-bubble himself, hence his surprise that those studying creative writing at university were unaware of such vulgar skills as making a plot. But at least he’s in the bubble looking out.

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Parasites invading Houses of Parliament – DO SOMETHING!!!

Shocking news, despite the best efforts of voters over the years, and repeated manifesto promises, and reform of the House of Lords, all of which has been to no avail, parasites are invading the Houses of Parliament.

As Oliver Cromwell put it:

You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!

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A hundred and fifty years ago it took twenty-five men to all day to harvest and thresh a ton of grain. With a modern combine harvester, a single person can do it in six minutes. In other words, it contributed to a 2,500-fold productivity increase.

– Johan Norberg writing in Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future.

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Have a splendid New Year

2017 was a very good year for me, and I would like to wish our fractious community of contributors and readers a splendiferous 2018.

New Year’s Eve at Samizdata HQ with a La Bomba Daiquiri

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My 2017 in London photos

This posting may not see the light of day until tomorrow, or worse, because this evening I have a date at Chateau Samizdata to see in the New Year. But, I will now try to get it posted before the end of the year that it is retrospectively about. And yes, it’s one of those month-by-month photo-postings, one photo for each month.

Unlike, say, Michael Jennings, I not only live in London but spend almost all of my time in London, and I spend a lot of that time wandering about in London, taking photos of London’s architecture, of its adverts, of its other photographers, and of its many other oddities, such as this one:

I love to discover out of the way spots in London, spots that others don’t know about, but which, if they did, they might enjoy greatly, almost as much as I do. That strange and rather funny sculpture (be patient with this link (to my personal blog) – I do believe it worth the wait), which I photoed in January of 2017, is to be found beside the River Lea, just before it does a kink on its way south. It’s a hard place to describe, because if you look on Google Maps there is little of note in the area. The best I can do is to say that to get to this place, I went to Bromley-by-Bow tube station, went east across the River Lea and then went south, past big warehouses, of the sort that have become so important in this age of computerised shopping. There’s a big Amazon shed there, for instance.

The above sculpture concerns itself with the more regular sort of shopping, and what with it being the work of an artist, she thinks that it criticises such shopping. Materialism, the badness of capitalism, consumerism, blah blah. But to me it looks more like a celebration of shopping. Whatever it “is”, I like it.

Next up, a photo which notes the fact that exactly a hundred years ago from this year, there was that Revolution, in Russia. I didn’t visit the exhibition that this poster advertises, because I feared that too many of the exhibits would be celebrations of that disastrously destructive event, and would hence annoy me. But I did photo the advert:

Thank goodness for the movie The Death of Stalin, which came out later this year, and which I did see. That is very comical, but it is anything but a celebration of Soviet communism. The horrors are not wallowed in photographically, but they are portrayed, in the form of the terror felt by all those who had anything to do with Stalin, and in the form of all the absurd events that Stalin’s most casual instructions were liable to set in motion. Although I promise nothing, I hope to be writing more here about that movie.

March, and more politics, this time in the form of a big anti-Brexit demo that I chanced upon, in Parliament Square:

It’s tempting to mock this demo as a complete farce. It happened, after all, several months after the Brexit referendum had yielded its result. But although a demo like this attracts little public notice, given that the vote it denounced was, you know, a vote, such demos do still accomplish quite a lot. There is more to politics than mere voters merely voting. Demos, much like indoor meetings (of the sort I continue to hold every month in my own home), strengthen the personal relationships which add up to a political movement, and draw more adherents to the cause, whatever it is. Thanks to this effort, and many other less photogenic efforts, the anti-Brexiteers have been able to put all sorts of political barriers in the way of Brexit, to spread all sorts of doubts in the minds of waverers. I still don’t think they will accomplish their central goal, but they are putting up quite a fight.

→ Continue reading: My 2017 in London photos

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Samizdata quote of the day

The wealth gap is not a problem. It is the product of individuals using their liberty to pursue interests that are most satisfying to them: either producing goods and services for others or consuming what others produce. Those who serve many accumulate wealth.

There is a problem when there is no wealth gap. Through various means of wealth redistribution, authorities attempt to equalize outcomes and inadvertently create a permanent underclass. Also, the reduction in wealth via property confiscation reduces the incentive to meet the needs of others. Fewer goods and services are produced and less wealth is created. Ultimately a death spiral occurs, and we all lose.

Jay Owen

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Samizdata quote of the day

Elizabeth Warren is no more able to verify a climate scientist is accurately interpreting data than an illiterate farmer could tell if a bishop was faithfully reading the words of the bible. As for the message, a climate scientist is equally likely to spout self-serving guff as any high priest that’s walked this Earth, safe in the knowledge the average worshipper has no way of challenging them and in any case wouldn’t dare

Tim Newman

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Samizdata quote of the day

“Ordinary people can’t be trusted to make the right decisions about what’s best for themselves and others. That’s why we need government to decide for them.”

“And who will we trust to decide who these government officials are?”

“Ordinary people, of course. It’s only fair.”

I hope you see the irony here.


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A festive quote and two more festive photos

Festive photos to add to that photo of meat, from Christmas Eve, meat which I was lucky enough to share.

That evening we all did much toasting, and one of us photoed all our glasses while we were doing this. Many get angry about the modern habit of photoing food and drink just before it is consumed, but I say: Why not? Where’s the harm?

On Christmas Eve I was too busy holding up my own glass and joining in the fun to be photoing it. But, I did take a photo of a very similar event back on December 18th, on Primrose Hill, just to the north of Regents Park:

Christmas, or in this case the run up to Christmas, is a time to renew old acquaintances. I don’t know who these people were and how they were connected, and in this time of computerised face recognition, I have deliberately made this difficult with my photo. Friends? Relatives? What I do know is that they were greatly enjoying each other’s company, just as Perry and I and his other guests did on Dec 24th.

Later on Christmas Eve I did get my camera out, and I got this shot of our Dear Leader, enjoying a present that one of us had given him, of one of his favourite chocolate treats:

On a more serious note, I have been reading Deidre McCloskey’s book, The Bourgeois Virtues. At the beginning of her chapter entitled: The Very Word “Virtue”, McCloskey offers a number of quotes from bygone years, including this one from Benjamin Constant, who until now has been only a name to me. Apparently, in the year 1814, Constant said, in celebration of the greatly increased opportunities for human enjoyment that commerce was at that time beginning to make available to the generality of people, this:

The progress of civilization, the commercial tendency of the age, the communication among the peoples, have infinitely multiplied and varied the means of individual happiness. To be happy, men need only to be left in perfect independence in all that concerns their occupations, their undertakings, their sphere of activity, their fantasies.

Plus, a bit of spare cash and the chance to spend it on luxuries, like high quality meat (as Perry put it: “Duck with skin turned to quackling, stuffed with pheasant & wood pigeon”), and amusingly packaged chocolate. Here’s another toast, to: stuff. The stuff that has, since Benjamin Constant’s time, so greatly increased, by means of exactly the processes he refers to.

Concerning who and what Benjamin Constant was, I have yet to read this. Tomorrow, I intend to. Happy Christmas everyone, what’s left of it.

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