AFDSGX April 21, 3:50am

FXUS66 KSGX 211050 AFDSGX Area Forecast Discussion National Weather Service San Diego CA 350 AM PDT Wed Apr 21 2021 .SYNOPSIS... A low pressure system from the northwest will bring cooler weather and a deep marine layer through Thursday. Onshore flow will bring strong and gusty west winds for the mountains and deserts through this evening. Patchy drizzle and light rain is possible from the marine layer into Thursday, especially nights and mornings. There is also a slight chance of thunderstorms over the higher mountains on Thursday afternoon. Then dry with a warming trend into the weekend. A low pressure system from the west could bring more widespread precipitation some time from Monday into Tuesday with stronger and gusty west winds in the mountains and deserts.

China is developing plans for a 13,000-satellite megaconstellation

Illustration of satellite coverage for telecommunications services.

HELSINKI — China is to oversee the construction and operation of a national satellite internet megaconstellation through coordinating the country’s major space actors. 

Recent comments by senior officials indicate that plans are moving ahead to alter earlier constellation plans by space sector state-owned enterprises and possibly make these part of a larger “Guowang” or “national network” satellite internet project. 

Spectrum allocation filings submitted to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) by China in September last year revealed plans to construct two similarly named “GW” low Earth orbit constellations totaling 12,992 satellites. 

The filings indicate plans for GW to consist of sub-constellations ranging from 500-1,145 kilometers in altitude with inclinations between 30-85 degrees. The satellites would operate across a range of frequency bands.

Bao Weimin, a senior official with the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC), China’s main space contractor, made a first public acknowledgement of the megaconstellation plan in an interview with Shanghai Securities News March 7, stating “we are planning and developing space-based internet satellites and have launched test satellites.”

“A “national network” (Guo Wang) company will also be established to be responsible for the overall planning and operation of the satellite internet construction,” Bao added.

On Monday Ge Yujun, president of China Spacesat Co., Ltd., a CASC subsidiary, told ThePaper that the Hongyan and Hongyun broadband constellations previously planned CASC and sister state-owned giant China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) respectively would be altered by authorities.

Ge said that “relevant national departments” are conducting overall planning for constellation construction and that he understands that the original plans for Hongyan and CASIC’s Hongyun will “undergo major changes”.

The Hongyan-1 satellite ahead of launch in 2018.
The Hongyan-1 satellite ahead of launch in 2018. Credit: CAST

Both constellations, announced around 2018, were to consist of hundreds of communications satellites in low Earth orbit. A handful of technology verification satellites have since been launched. CASC was planning to have an initial 60 Hongyan satellites in orbit by 2022. 

The comments suggest that the older constellations may form part of the new, larger “national network” project.

It is unclear how the project will proceed but the development of satellite internet has become a national priority.

China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) added “satellite internet” to a list of “new infrastructures” in April 2020. 

The recently approved 14th Five-year Plan for the period 2021-2026 and “long-range objectives through 2035” call for an integrated network of communications, Earth observation, and navigation satellites. 

China has already constructed its Beidou navigation and positioning system and is deploying Gaofen satellites for its  China High-resolution Earth Observation System (CHEOS).

Additionally private enterprise Galaxy Space in 202 launched its Yinhe-1 to test Q/V and Ka-band communications. Beijing Commsat Technology Development Co., Ltd., earlier this year received government funding from the China Internet Investment Fund (CIIF) for research and industrialization of satellites. It is unclear what role, if any, such firms will play in the national network project.

Ian Christensen, director of private sector programs at Secure World Foundation, sees the “GW” or national network project as potentially serving a number of goals for China. These include supporting domestic technology and economic development goals and contributing to China’s soft power diplomacy and regional leadership efforts. 

“Development of the constellation will also provide domestic employment, anchor space-related industry clusters, and contribute to economic development through serving and enabling domestic connectivity needs,” Christensen says. He adds that the project could also be used as a tool for soft power, as part of the Belt and Road Initiative or diplomacy efforts in nearby regions.

With constellations such as SpaceX’s Starlink and OneWeb already underway and Amazon this week ordering Atlas 5 missions for its Kuiper broadband satellites, the planned GW constellation brings even more urgency to the need to address issues related to the deployment of megaconstellatons including space debris and space traffic management.

“I personally would take the likelihood of the successful deployment of the GW constellation seriously. It should place further emphasis and urgency on the need to improve global coordination practices for the deployment and operation of large constellations,” Christensen says. 

“Space safety is an area where there are shared interests between U.S and Chinese actors, including both government and private sector actors, but overall geopolitical trends make meaningful dialogue challenging.”

Proposed and developing megaconstellations are raising concerns of the heightened risk of orbital debris. The growing number of satellites in LEO is also a threat to visible astronomy.


AFDLOX April 21, 3:32am

FXUS66 KLOX 211032 AFDLOX Area Forecast Discussion National Weather Service Los Angeles/Oxnard CA 332 AM PDT Wed Apr 21 2021 .SYNOPSIS...21/230 AM. A cooler air mass will remain in place through Thursday as strong onshore flow and a deep marine layer will combine to bring extensive low clouds. Clouds will struggle to clear from the coast and valleys each day. Drizzle or light rain is possible at times through Thursday. High pressure aloft will bring a slight warming trend for the end of the week, then a storm system could bring rain and mountain snow early next week.

Lockheed Martin removes Momentus from NASA technology demonstration mission

Lockheed Martin Tipping Point cryo mission

WASHINGTON — Six months after including it on the team that was a NASA technology contract, Lockheed Martin has quietly dropped in-space transportation company Momentus from that project.

Lockheed was one of 14 companies that received Tipping Point awards from NASA in October 2020 to demonstrate key technologies needed for sustainable lunar exploration. Lockheed’s award was the largest single contract, valued at $89.7 million, to test liquid hydrogen storage technologies on a small satellite.

In its own statement about the contract, Lockheed Martin said it was working with several companies to develop and fly the mission. Those partners included Momentus, who would integrate the payload on its Vigoride transfer vehicle that would then be launched in October 2023 on Relativity Space’s Terran 1 small launch vehicle.

However, in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing April 7, Momentus disclosed that Lockheed Martin had dropped Momentus from that contract. “Lockheed Martin decided not to proceed with Momentus as their partner for the NASA Tipping Point contract,” the company said.

Momentus did not explain in the filing why Lockheed ended their partnership, and a company spokesperson declined to provide additional details. Lockheed Martin told SpaceNews that it is “committed to executing the NASA Cryogenic Demonstration Mission for NASA as we make final decisions on suppliers.”

Momentus said in the SEC filing that while it lost its role on the Tipping Point contract, “Lockheed has indicated that this action will not impact its ability to do business with Momentus in the future and Momentus currently has another contract with Lockheed.” The company didn’t identify that contract, but Lockheed Martin is cooperating with the University of Southern California on a cubesat program whose first mission will be launched on a Vigoride vehicle.

The loss of the Tipping Point partnership is a further complication for a company that is facing several government reviews while also working to complete a merger with a special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC), Stable Road Acquisition Corporation, announced in October.

The company delayed the launch of its first Vigoride vehicle, which was to fly on a SpaceX rideshare mission in January, because it could not complete a payload review by the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation in time. Momentus said that the FAA could not approve the payload “due to national security and foreign ownership concerns regarding Momentus raised by the DoD during an interagency review.”

Momentus now hopes to launch that first Vigoride mission on another Falcon 9 rideshare mission in June. The company said the FAA is still working on that interagency review that is being held open by the Defense Department. The review needs to be completed by the end of May for the company to keep its slot on that June launch.

Momentus sought to address those concerns in March, when it announced both former chief executive Mikhail Kokorich and Brainyspace LLC, a firm owned by co-founder Lev Khasis and his wife, had placed their shares of the company into a voting trust and would divest them within three years. That came after Kokorich stepped down as chief executive in January.

The company is still in a voluntary review of its ownership structure by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), prompted by those Defense Department concerns that the delayed the FAA approval. The company noted in the filing that it is willing to enter into a “mitigation agreement” with the government as part of the CFIUS review to resolve any national security concerns.

In the same filing, Momentus said that the SEC is performing its own investigation of “certain disclosures” involving the planned merger of Momentus with Stable Road Acquisition Corporation. That review will delay the completion of the merger, assuming shareholders approve it. Stable Road has until May 13 to complete a deal, but is asking its shareholders to approve a three-month extension. Shareholders will vote May 6 to approve that extension.

The investigations and delays have had some effect on the company’s backlog of customers. Momentus said that two customers for that first Vigoride mission opted not to fly with the company after the January delay and a lack of assurances that the mission will launch in June. Another customer encountered what Momentus called a “a technical issue with its satellite manufacturer that caused it to rebook on a mission with another provider.” The cumulative effect of those actions, including Lockheed’s decision not to partner with Momentus, is less than $5 million, the company stated.

Momentus added that its efforts to address its foreign ownership issues is starting to pay off. “Mr. Kokorich’s departure, and the resolution of the U.S. government’s national security concerns relating to his control and ownership, could present new opportunities for Momentus,” it stated. “For example, Momentus has seen increased interest from potential customers with security clearances who previously had expressed reluctance to engage with Momentus, however, such interest is preliminary and may not result in any definitive contracts or definitive commitments or any revenue for Momentus.”


Are young or old lives worth more?

Jeremy Horpedahl and Bryan Caplan debate this topic, with Jeremy pointing out that older, wealthier people can have just as high a willingness to pay to reduce risk, if not higher.

In all things Covid I usually agree with Jeremy, though in this case I side with Bryan’s conclusion (though he doesn’t explain well why he is correct).

For purposes of simplicity, let us consider purely selfish individuals and move to the case where the “p” of death will be equal to one if the “risk” is not avoided.  And make capital markets perfect.  Then both young and old will then pony up the full value of their prospective human capital to avoid death.  The lives with more human capital will be worth more, at least according to economic standards.  Young lives usually will be worth more than old lives, though of course highly productive older people might count for more if the higher productivity outweighs the smaller number of years left.  You might prefer to save fifty-year-old Thomas Schelling over the life of a forty-year-old who is doing less.

This is so far quite intuitive, again noting these are economic judgments not final moral judgments (which will be more contentious and bring in many additional considerations).  Furthermore, you can scale down these numbers, and adjust for risk-aversion, to cover mortality risks much lower than p = 1.

Now consider some older people who have a lot of wealth but very little human capital.  These (selfish) individuals still will pay a lot to avoid death or risk of death, but in essence there is an externality.  They treat their wealth as “disappearing with their death” when in reality that wealth simply is transferred to others.  Therefore they overspend to keep themselves around on planet earth, and they will overpay for risk reduction.

So the lives of high wealth, low human capital individuals, including older individuals, are overweighted by traditional economic metrics, given that “naive” WTP measures do not adjust for the “wealth transfer upon death” externality.  That is some but by no means all of the elderly.  Their willingness to pay for risk reduction may be as high as the WTP of the young, but in social terms that does not mean their lives are equally valuable.

In sum, check your WTP calculations against human capital intuitions.

The first version of this argument appeared in my dissertation, though it has surfaced a few times since, including in some QJE pieces.

And if you would like some homework for your spare time, try solving for the conditions under which selfish individuals, but living in families, can make intra-family trades to internalize these wealth transfer externalities.

The post Are young or old lives worth more? appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

‘The Fine Print: What Apple Didn’t Talk About’

Dan Moren has a good rundown of some details from today’s announcements:

An AirTag that has been separated from its owner for a long period of time will make an audible noise when it’s moved, as part of a privacy feature to let you know there’s a tag present. You can reset an AirTag by tapping with an iPhone or “NFC-capable device” — strange wording that implies maybe other non-Apple devices?

I talked to folks from Apple today about some of this. The timeout period for when an AirTag will play a sound if separated from its owner is currently three days — but that’s not baked into the AirTags themselves. It’s a server-side setting in the Find My network, so Apple can adjust it if real-world use suggests that three days is too long or too short.

The “NFC-capable device” thing means Android phones.


Noosphere Ventures aims to build an integrated space powerhouse: Q&A with managing partner Max Polyakov

Ukrainian entrepreneur Max Polyakov, with his Silicon Valley-based investment vehicle Noosphere Ventures Partners, is on a mission to build out a vertically integrated space business.

Two years after Noosphere founded satellite imagery venture Earth Observation Data Analytics (EOSDA) in 2015, Polyakov got into the launch business by snapping up Firefly Aerospace out of bankruptcy.

The Noosphere space portfolio that is public today includes electric propulsion systems maker SETS and orbital transfer vehicle provider D-Orbit.

However, small-satellite-focused Firefly Aerospace, which is nearing its first orbital attempt, is its flagship space investment. In January, Firefly Aerospace said it is looking for $350 million to accelerate development, as SPACs — special-purpose acquisition companies that offer businesses a fast route to public markets — attract a significant amount of investor attention in the space industry.

Max Polyakov, managing partner at Noosphere Ventures.
Max Polyakov, managing partner at Noosphere Ventures. Credit: Noosphere Ventures.

Meanwhile, EOSDA aims to launch its first synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites next year, with optical spacecraft also on the way.

Linking different space businesses together helps Noosphere gain flight heritage for components under development. Products that are ready for the marketplace can be bundled together to lower costs for customers interested in integrated solutions.

SpaceNews caught up with Polyakov, Noosphere’s managing partner, about how this integrated approach is fairing during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how SPACs are changing the business environment.


How has the pandemic created opportunities for different kinds of partnerships or acquisitions with space companies that have perhaps come under distress?

The pandemic may have caused some companies to move more slowly and reassess their plans. However, I am more interested in the long-term health of my companies and our contribution to the space sector, and I am happy to report that we are moving ahead as expeditiously as possible. 

Regardless of any short-term external challenges, we believe that we retain a significant advantage because of our thorough understanding of the market and deep expertise within our companies.

Has it helped or hindered your multi-sector, integrated investment strategy?

Obviously, the pandemic has had an impact on all industrial sectors, and space is no exception. However, COVID-19 has not affected our strategy. We are continuing to invest and innovate in each of our space companies and our long-term prospects remain very bright. 

The principles of vertical integration hold firm, allowing a new generation of space companies to retain control over launch vehicles, communications, space earth observation, ground stations and data analysis. This will continue to give us significant advantages long after COVID-19 has been controlled.

Voyager and Redwire are other investors that seem to be following a similar integrated strategy to Noosphere. Are you seeing more competition for deals?

Noosphere was an early entrant in the sector. Right now, we are focused on ensuring that our existing investments continue to be successful, while always keeping an eye out for deals that may provide synergies for our businesses and advantages to our customers.

Firefly Aerospace was largely protected from COVID-19 supply issues because it is so vertically integrated. But it looks like the first launch is still delayed — what is the latest there?

Firefly plans to launch soon this year. First launches are typically delayed as teams continue to refine the details. Even though the world has been launching modern rockets for decades, spacecraft are highly complex vehicles. So we anticipated some delays. Our partners are doing their best to minimize any delays. We remain in a very good place.

The launch company recently said it is looking to raise $350 million to help it expand faster. How much of this need for growth equity is in response to all the SPAC activity we’re seeing, which is accelerating many early space companies?

Firefly is seeking to raise more capital to continue its growth. Its need for capital is unrelated to the SPAC activity. The democratization and commercialization of space attracts a lot of speculative money, which tends to have a short-term approach. Our strategy, on the contrary, is to build a company with a long-term future.  

Given all the activity and changes in the capital markets right now, do you anticipate this investment coming from strategic companies — like large satellite prime contractors — venture capital, or somewhere else?

We are hearing from a variety of investors who are excited about what we are doing. However, we want to partner with those who will be passionate about the venture they join, who have a long-term approach, and who are willing to invest not just their money but also their knowledge and expertise. 

How is the rise of SPACs changing the game for early-stage space companies? Is it a healthy trend for the industry?

We are not surprised that capital is flowing into the space industry and SPACs are just another investment vehicle. Every decade, a new trend brings new bubbles. Even Isaac Newton, one of the smartest people on Earth, got trapped with his investment in England’s hottest stock at that time — the South Sea Company. But, I am worried that this trend could have some negative effects on the space industry specifically.  

It’s possible that some space companies will partner with SPACs that have high-quality C-level investors who can bring not just money, but expertise and passion to grow these companies post-merger. However, this is a best-case scenario, which in my opinion is very remote. The overall trend is not healthy for the industry as companies with no intrinsic value can easily try to compete with complex technologies and overpromise what they actually can deliver. That means we could see an overcrowded market of projects with no real products. 

I strongly believe that, with the space industry, companies’ core business must be viable, and there must be delivered products before any company can realistically go public. For these companies, SPACs may present a good chance to accelerate their growth, so let’s hope they’re the ones who will win this competition.  

Could Noosphere be interested in setting up its own SPAC?

I don’t think so. 

Environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) is becoming increasingly important for all companies, and the financial markets that support them. How could this growing importance boost companies like EOS Data Analytics?

Organizations need to be aware of the impact their operations have, for example, on the Earth’s surface, the natural environment and on local communities. They must have detailed plans to mitigate those impacts. And, crucially, they must be able to communicate progress to a wide variety of stakeholders. 

This creates tremendous opportunities for companies like EOS Data Analytics, which offers a superior solution here. Our satellites will have an impressive 2-3 day target revisit time for all locations on Earth. Combined with our modern data processing and compression algorithms, this will bring enormous benefits to a wide range of customers that need to monitor the physical impact of their operations. Furthermore, with the advanced cameras that we are developing and will employ, we are able to reduce the number of satellites required and this will enable us to make our pricing even more attractive.

We expect that EOSDA and companies like it will increasingly become an important part of the global economy as they provide significant benefits for both modern businesses and humankind overall. 

Is ESG another one of those trends that are helping to branch space out to companies that have not traditionally been a part of the sector?

ESG is much more than a trend; I believe it is a permanent feature required of companies by concerned stakeholders. The Noosphere Ventures principles are rooted in the noosphere philosophy — first introduced by Volodymyr Vernandsky — in which knowledge is the driving force behind every further positive development on Earth.   

I agree that it is bringing the space industry closer to new industrial sectors. In our case, because we can offer analytics of superior quality at much reduced prices — I am confident that our services are accessible to so many more end users that previously would not have engaged with the space industry.

You have spoken of a multi-decade plan for EOSDA that brings together launch vehicles, satellites, sensors, ground segments and data analytics. Does the SPAC trend accelerate that vision/plan?

EOSDA is the foundation of the entire vertically integrated ecosystem we are developing. It is the point of integration for all the firms that we have and for other market players. The strategy is to build a project that will accumulate all data and knowledge we receive from space and Earth and to make sure it is used to preserve the nature and environment on Earth. The EOSDA’s mission is not to raise fast money but to prolong our safe existence on the planet. 

Is there anything you would like to add?

I am a strong believer that investing in world-class entrepreneurial teams, breakthrough technologies, transformative business models, and strong intellectual property can change the world — and I am convinced that we’re doing just that. 

As a result, space is becoming more and more accessible to a vast range of industries due to its expanding applications and accessible pricing. Firefly’s contracts with NASA, for example, are extremely exciting, and I am honored by the responsibility that we have been given to deliver a suite of 10 science investigations and technology demonstrations to the Moon in 2023. I am equally excited by the possibilities that our vertically integrated system can bring to a vast range of customers in agricultural analytics, climate change monitoring, disaster management, oil and gas, forestry, green energy and real estate.

Exploring space is truly a great adventure — and now is perhaps the most exciting time for that. But, it is also important to understand why we do that and the answer is clear — for the benefit of humankind.

This Q&A has been edited for clarity


Below Normal Temperatures Continue

Congested orbits a top concern for U.S. Space Command

WASHINGTON — The rapidly growing number of satellites orbiting the Earth is causing apprehension, the commander of U.S. Space Command said April 20. 

Gen. James Dickinson told lawmakers on Capitol Hill that congestion in space mostly fueled by commercial activity could create safety problems if it’s not managed. 

“We need a new level of awareness,” Dickinson said.  

Dickinson testified on Tuesday at a posture hearing in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee alongside Adm. Charles Richard, commander of U.S. Strategic Command.

U.S. Space Command’s traffic watchers at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, currently track about 32,000 objects on orbit, including more than 3,400 active satellites. They estimate the probability of collisions and send warnings to satellite operators.

Dickinson noted that the three largest constellations of satellites today are operated by commercial companies: SpaceX, Planet and Spire.

“Commercial opportunities open new possibilities, but can also complicate access to the domain with the proliferation of mega constellations,” he said. 

“The safety and sustainability of an increasingly crowded space domain grows more complex as commercial entities plan to launch thousands of satellites in the next few years,” Dickinson said. “The explosive growth of nano, micro, and small satellites will further stress our existing space surveillance networks.”

Senators on the committee, including Thom Tillis (R-NC), Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), asked Dickinson for specific recommendations on how to address this issue. 

Dickinson said Space Command is focused on improving “space domain awareness,” or knowledge of objects and activities in space. He said more resources are needed to track commercial traffic and also potential threats such as weapons that China and Russia could deploy to target U.S. satellites.

“We need to characterize what we’re seeing in the space domain,” said Dickinson. 

He said Space Command is expanding its space surveillance network by integrating data from ground and sea-based radar used by the Army and the Navy for missile defense. 

Civil and commercial spaceflight safety responsibilities now carried out by Space Command should be transitioned to the Department of Commerce in 2024, Dickinson said. 

The Trump administration ordered the transfer of responsibilities in a 2018 policy directive but the transition has been slow mostly because Commerce does not have the resources to take on space traffic management. 

Shaheen, who also sits on the Appropriations Committee, said lawmakers would like to know how much money Commerce needs to do this task. He asked Dickinson how much the Air Force and Space Force spend today on space traffic management. Dickinson said he would get back to her. 

In written testimony, Dickinson said he urged Congress to “afford the Department of Commerce the resources they need to accomplish the civil and commercial spaceflight safety mission.”


Centaurus As Warped Magnetic Fields

When galaxies collide -- what happens to their When galaxies collide -- what happens to their

April 20th COVID-19 Vaccinations, New Cases, Hospitalizations

Note: I'm looking forward to not posting this daily! I've been posting this data daily for over a year, and I'll stop once all three of these criteria are met:
1) 70% of the population over 18 has had at least one dose of vaccine,
2) new cases are under 5,000 per day, and
3) hospitalizations are below 3,000.

According to the CDC, 213.4 million doses have been administered. 33.3% of the population over 18 is fully vaccinated, and 51.1% of the population over 18 has had at least one dose (131.9 million people over 18 have had at least one dose).

And check out COVID Act Now to see how each state is doing. 

Almost 13,000 US deaths were reported so far in April due to COVID.

COVID-19 Positive Tests per DayClick on graph for larger image.

This graph shows the daily (columns) 7 day average (line) of positive tests reported.

Note: The ups and downs during the Winter surge were related to reporting delays due to the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

This data is from the CDC.

The 7-day average is 66,687, down from 68,602 yesterday, and close to the summer surge peak of 67,337 on July 23, 2020.

The second graph shows the number of people hospitalized.

COVID-19 HospitalizedThis data is also from the CDC.

The CDC cautions that due to reporting delays, the area in grey will probably increase.

The current 7-day average is 38,185, up from 36,118, reported yesterday, and well above the post-summer surge low of 23,000.

Our interview with Steve Jurczyk, NASA’s acting administrator

Stephen Clark, Spaceflight Now’s editor, asked NASA’s acting administrator about the space agency’s commercial crew and Artemis programs during a one-on-one virtual interview Tuesday, April 20.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

NASA, SpaceX watching weather in downrange abort zones for crew launch

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft stand on pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

Preparations for the planned liftoff Thursday of a SpaceX Dragon capsule with a four-person crew to the International Space Station cleared another readiness review Tuesday at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, but officials are tracking marginal wind and sea conditions in downrange abort zones in the Atlantic Ocean that could force a launch delay.

With no significant technical issues standing in the way of launch Thursday, NASA and SpaceX officials gave a “go” to continue flight preps at the conclusion of a Launch Readiness Review early Tuesday.

Liftoff of the Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft on top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is set for 6:11:35 a.m. EDT (1011:35 GMT) Thursday from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

It will be the first time astronauts have launched on a Falcon 9 rocket powered by a previously-flown first stage booster, and the first reuse of a Crew Dragon spacecraft. The mission, known as Crew-2, is the third SpaceX flight with astronauts overall.

The astronauts and NASA managers are comfortable with SpaceX’s reuse plan. The company has successfully flown 57 missions using recycled Falcon boosters.

The Launch Readiness Review early Tuesday was the final major meeting to clear the Crew-2 mission for liftoff Thursday.

“Safety has been number one in all these reviews, and that’s the way it should be,” said Norm Knight, deputy director of flight operations at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. This business of human spaceflight is unforgiving. It’s the vigilance from the teams that guarantee that continued safety, and it was definitely present in these reviews this week.”

NASA managers cleared a prior technical concern associated with SpaceX’s loading of liquid oxygen propellant into the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket.

SpaceX recently discovered during a ground test in Texas that it was slightly over-filling the oxidizer tank with super-cold liquid oxygen tank. A company official said last week it appeared SpaceX had loaded more liquid oxygen into the rocket throughout the Falcon 9’s flight history, which includes more than 100 missions since 2010.

Steve Stich, NASA’s commercial crew program manager, said an analysis showed the Falcon 9 rocket is good to go without changing SpaceX’s loading procedures.

“We concluded the that amount of liquid oxygen on the first stage was well within family of the guidance navigation and control analysis, and performance analysis, within the loads and structural capability of the vehicle,” Stitch said in a press conference Tuesday.

Engineers also demonstrated the Falcon 9 rocket can handle last-second aborts and other situations with the extra liquid oxygen on-board.

“So we were going to proceed with that amount of LOX (liquid oxygen) on the vehicle,” Stich said.

The only concern noted by officials Tuesday was with weather and sea conditions along the Falcon 9 rocket’s flight corridor northeast of Cape Canaveral. Officials are monitoring winds, sea states, and lightning in the areas where the Crew Dragon capsule might splash down in the event of an in-flight emergency.

The weather forecast for the launch site in Florida looks good, with an 80% chance of acceptable conditions for liftoff Thursday. There’s a 90% chance of good weather at the Kennedy Space Center for a backup launch opportunity at 5:49 a.m. EDT (0949 GMT) Friday.

The forecast for abort zones in the Atlantic Ocean is a “little bit tricker,” Stich said. Forecast models show some areas along the Falcon 9’s flight path may have high winds later this week.

“Of the two days, right now, I would say Friday looks a little bit better than Thursday,” Stich said. “We’ll continue to watch that weather.”

This map illustrates the ground track for the Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 rocket heading northeast from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The red zone — called the Downrange Abort Exclusion Zone — in the North Atlantic Ocean is a region where the control teams want to avoid Ann abort due to cold water temperatures and rough seas. Credit: NASA

There is also a “moderate” risk that upper level winds over the Florida launch site might exceed the Falcon 9 rocket’s limits Thursday morning, according to the official outlook issued by the U.S. Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron.

NASA and SpaceX officials will meet again Wednesday to reassess the weather forecast, and decide when to make a final decision on whether to proceed with the predawn launch countdown early Thursday.

Assuming an on-time launch Thursday, the Falcon 9 rocket will release the Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft in orbit about 12 minutes after liftoff. An automated series of thruster firings will guide the capsule to a docking with the space station at 5:30 a.m. EDT (0930 GMT) Friday.

If the launch is delayed to Friday, docking would slip to Saturday.

NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough, the Crew-2 spacecraft commander, said he and his crewmates will be along for the ride on the Dragon spacecraft if all goes according to plan.

“The spacecraft is a futuristic spacecraft, and it pretty much can do it all,” he said in a press conference last month.

All four Crew-2 astronauts are veterans of prior space missions. Kimbrough and Japanese mission specialist Akihiko Hoshide have each flown on both a space shuttle and a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. NASA pilot Megan McArthur and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet have each flown on one space shuttle and one Soyuz mission, respectively.

“The technology is much different (than the shuttle and Soyuz),” said Kimbrough, a 53-year-old retired U.S. Army colonel and Apache helicopter pilot. “We’re doing touchscreens instead of a joystick in your hand to fly the thing … Megan and I are trained to take over manually during any phase of the flight if need be, but hopefully, we’ll just be along for the ride and get to enjoy it.”

It will be the first visit to the space station for McArthur, 49, who was selected as an astronaut in 2000 and flew on the space shuttle Atlantis on the final servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope in 2009.

She likened the her 13-day flight on the space shuttle to a business trip. Now she’s actually moving to a new home.

McArthur’s husband, astronaut Bob Behnken, flew on the first mission of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Endeavour capsule last year. She will occupy the same seat in the refurbished and upgraded spaceship.

The Crew-2 astronauts are scheduled to return to Earth for a splashdown off the coast of Florida in late October.

Hoshide will take over as commander of the space station’s Expedition 65 crew next week, assuming the helm from NASA astronaut Shannon Walker. Walker and her crewmates — Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi — are scheduled to come back to Earth on April 28 on their Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft, wrapping up a mission that launched in November.

The Crew-2 astronauts speak with reporters Friday at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Stephen Clark/Spaceflight Now

Later this year, Pesquet will get a turn as space station commander. He said the automation of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft makes the vehicle safer.

“For us, what it means is we don’t have that many actions to take in a nominal situation,” said Pesquet, who was an instructor in cockpit protocols for Air France, and logged 196 days in orbit on his first space mission. “Of course, in an off-nominal situation, we have to take action. But what it means is you’re available to manage the situation. Your situational awareness is just unbelievable.

“You have these huge big screens that are showing you, in every possible way, what’s happening,” Pesquet said. “The priority of the information is already pre-analyzed by the system. The color coding is great. The way the information is laid out is just fantastic. You know all the time what’s going on.

“Soyuz is unbelievably reliable, but you had to make sense of all that information that was sparse and disseminated at every corner of your control panel, with digital gauges and analog gauges,” Pesquet said. “That’s why the training was so much longer. I think it’s great. We will love it, and I think it makes the system more reliable overall.”

The Crew-2 astronauts will support more than 200 research experiments on the space station, perform spacewalks to maintain and upgrade the more than 20-year-old complex, and help demonstrate new technologies for missions to the moon.

The arrival of the Crew-2 astronauts will temporarily raise the space station’s crew size to 11 people, including three newly-arrived residents who flew to the outpost on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft earlier this month. With the return of the Crew-1 astronauts April 28, the staffing of the space station will return to its long-term level of seven crew members.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Indiana Real Estate in March: Sales Down 3% YoY, Inventory Down 58% YoY

Note: I'm tracking data for many local markets around the U.S. I think it is especially important to watch inventory this year.

For for the entire state Indiana:

Closed sales in March 2021 were 7,181, down 3.0% from 7,401 in March 2020.

Active Listings in March 2021 were 5,898, down 57.6% from 13,916 in March 2020.

Months of Supply was 0.7 Months in March 2021, compared to 1.8 Months in March 2020.

NASA chief: Russian cosmonauts unlikely fly on U.S. crew capsules until next year

Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy has his Sokol launch and entry suit pressure checked before boarding a Soyuz spacecraft for liftoff April 9 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Credit: NASA/GCTC/Irina Spector

NASA’s acting administrator said Tuesday he does not expect Russian cosmonauts to start launching to the International Space Station on U.S. commercial crew vehicles until next year.

A proposed agreement with Russia to ensure the space station is always staffed with an international crew is awaiting U.S. government approval. The no-funds-exchanged agreement has been in discussion by NASA and Russian space agency officials for years, but sign-off of a final deal has hit roadblocks in recent months.

Steve Jurczyk, NASA’s acting administrator, said Tuesday that the draft version of an “implementing agreement” between NASA and Roscosmos is still being reviewed by the U.S. State Department.

“We’re waiting for the final signatures from the State Department on the implementing agreement, and then we’ll provide that draft to Roscosmos and begin negotiations,” Jurczyk told Spaceflight Now in an interview.

He said he believes NASA is close to getting final State Department approval of the agreement’s text, but the clock has likely run out for getting the State Department signatures and finalizing the agreement with the Russian government in time to assign a Russian cosmonaut to a SpaceX crew mission later this year.

Once the agreement is in place, a Russian cosmonaut would have to be approved to travel to the United States, have a custom SpaceX-developed pressure suit manufactured, and receive basic training on the Crew Dragon spacecraft.

“I believe it’s now too late to develop a suit and do the training for Crew-3,” Jurczyk said, referring to a SpaceX Crew Dragon mission scheduled for launch Oct. 23. “So most likely the earliest mission to have a cosmonaut on it would be Crew-4.”

The Crew-4 mission is currently scheduled for launch no earlier than the first quarter of 2022.

Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi poses with a SpaceX pressure suit inside the International Space Station. Noguchi was the first international astronaut to fly on a U.S. commercial crew ship. Credit: NASA

Last November, NASA said it had submitted the draft agreement to the State Department for approval. At that time, NASA hoped to have the deal finalized in time to assign a Russian cosmonaut to the Crew-3 mission late this year.

Rookie NASA astronaut Raja Chari — a former U.S. Air Force fighter pilot — veteran physician-astronaut Tom Marshburn, and European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer have been assigned to the Crew-3 mission. NASA left open the Dragon’s fourth seat for a Russian cosmonaut, but that position is now expected to be filled by a crew member from NASA’s astronaut corps or another international partner.

Once NASA and Roscosmos sign the final agreement, managers want every U.S. crew launch to the space station to have a Russian cosmonaut on-board. And every launch of a Russian Soyuz crew capsule would have an astronaut from the United States or another partner qualified to operate NASA’s segment of the space station.

The agreement will help ensure there is always a crew member on the space station to operate the outpost’s Russian section and U.S. Operating Segment, or USOS, which includes U.S., Japanese, European, and Canadian hardware. If Russia’s Soyuz program or the U.S. crew vehicles are grounded, crew members from the other international partners will still be able to fly to the space station.

It would also guard against a medical emergency that could force half of the space station’s crew to leave the outpost early and return to Earth. If one spacecraft had to depart the station early, all of that capsule’s crew would have to come back to Earth to ensure they’re not stranded in orbit without a lifeboat.

That could force all Russian or all U.S. crew members to evacuate the space station, leaving critical parts of the spacecraft’s propulsion, life support, and control systems at risk.

International astronauts are already flying on SpaceX Crew Dragon missions. Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi launched on the Crew-1 mission — the first regular Crew Dragon flight — in November and is due to return to Earth next week.

The Crew-2 mission scheduled for launch Thursday will include Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and French-born mission specialist Thomas Pesquet, the first European Space Agency crew member to fly on Dragon. They will join NASA commander Shane Kimbrough and pilot Megan McArthur for a half-year on the space station.

NASA relied on Soyuz spacecraft for all crew transportation to and from the station from the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011 until the start of astronaut launches by SpaceX last year.

Members of the Soyuz MS-18 prime and backup crews pose for a photo April 9 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

NASA has paid the Russian government roughly $4 billion billion since 2006 to purchase Soyuz seats for astronauts from the United States and the station’s other international partners, according to a report in 2019 by NASA’s inspector general.

Flush with NASA money, Russian space contractors doubled the production of Soyuz crew capsules for launches beginning in 2009 to meet the demand for astronaut transportation to the space station. After NASA’s previous bulk purchase of Soyuz seats in 2017 expired, Russian officials cut back the Soyuz flight rate to two flights last year.

The Soyuz final seat NASA purchased from Russia was filled by astronaut Kate Rubins, who launched on a Soyuz spacecraft last October and landed with two Russian crewmates Saturday in Kazakhstan.

NASA arranged for another Soyuz seat on the most recent Russian crew launch April 9, but did not pay for the ride in cash. NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei launched on the mission after NASA booked the seat with the help of Axiom Space, a Houston-based company that brokers flights for space tourists and is planning its own private space station.

In exchange for paying for Vande Hei’s ride, Axiom will get a seat for one of it’s private customers on a future NASA-sponsored U.S. crew mission.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Alabama Real Estate in March: Sales Up 23% YoY, Inventory Down 46% YoY

Note: I'm tracking data for many local markets around the U.S. I think it is especially important to watch inventory this year.

For the entire state of Alabama:

Closed sales in March 2021 were 7,024, up 23.4% from 5,690 in March 2020.

Active Listings in March 2021 were 9,721, down 46.4% from 18,122 in March 2020.

Months of Supply was 1.4 Months in March 2021, compared to 3.2 Months in March 2020.

Two Quick Links for Tuesday Afternoon

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has been found guilty on all charges in the murder of George Floyd. []

Lofi Cafe: relaxing beats for your workday. []


Note: Quick Links are pushed to this RSS feed twice a day. For more immediate service, check out the front page of, the Quick Links archive, or the @kottke Twitter feed.

Chauvin Guilty on All Three Counts

Jury Convicts on Murder, Manslaughter Charges, Bail Revoked, Sentencing to Come

Terry H. Schwadron

Terry H. Schwadron

Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. All three charges.

Across the country, the moments before the verdict announcement were tense and dramatic in ways that few such events bring. The sense was that there was a lot hanging on the jury decision besides the individual guilt of one, now-fired Minneapolis police officer in the death of George Floyd – all beyond the scope of the trial.

A finding of not guilty would be read by anyone other than the two people at the defense table as a blow for American justice, hours of witness videotape of that seemingly endless nine minutes and 29 seconds and an overwhelming pile of prosecution evidence. We were all aware that for even one juror to hang a decision might launch a street reaction, a multi-racial reaction, that would careen on rage.

In the street outside our Harlem apartment, there was cheering. It was true in Minneapolis as well.

A finding of guilt on even one of the charges, however, might just show that we could acknowledge that sometimes it is necessary to punish excessive force by police for whom this country has turned itself inside out to support.

The verdict itself was not anticlimactic, though it was read aloud by the judge rather than Juror 19, the foreperson. Individually, the jurors confirmed their decision; Chauvin showed no reaction, even as bail was revoked, and was led away in handcuffs.

In the street outside our Harlem apartment, there was cheering. It was true in Minneapolis as well.

But it came with an immediate chorus of reminders and rejoinders from all sides that this verdict did not solve or unravel the Gordian knot of community policing. It was meant all along to address bad judgment and bad action by Derek Chauvin in stepping into the arrest of a large, Black George Floyd outside a convenience store where he mistakenly had paid for his cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill, subduing him onto the ground, and holding his knee on that man’s neck until several minutes after he was dead.

Anticipating Tension

Jurors had known from the get-go that it would come to this, that the clash between street calls for justice would run into the realities of trying an actual police officer for actions in a single, tense encounter at Chicago and East 38th  Street last May.

Even with all the caveats, this was a trial that never really mentioned race,  was being read as whether, on some level it, America was rendering a judgment about whether Black Lives Do Matter.

There was a lot that had been remarkable about the more than two-week trial and 45 witnesses and expert perhaps the most noteworthy was the gap between what common sense and morality would say about right and wrong, and what is required in this country to prove legal guilt in a modern-day law court deluged by procedure. The depth of the technical information and a defense that would blame the victim here undoubtably played a role.

The trial had taken on iconic status – regardless of the verdict: This was being widely pictured as a showdown in which the safety of being Black in America, of Driving while Black, Shopping While Black, Walking While Black, was being pitched again against backing law enforcement with no questions asked.

The verdict would not by itself change fears – Black and White — about police immunity and force.

The city and the region had braced for the outcome by pre-positioning the National Guard, by erecting plywood protections for downtown stores and buildings, by canceling physical school for the rest of the week. But that was Minneapolis alone. Whatever reaction was to come would reach cities across the country, from nearby Brooklyn Center struggling to handle an “accidental” police killing of its own, to police stations and community centers in every city, to Washington where the usual people were readying themselves to take the usual partisan outcomes.

For jurors, the question became whether they could “believe their eyes” as prosecutors had asked or to put themselves in the shoes of a harried policer officer whom the defense depicted as making “reasonable” decisions to take actions to keep Floyd down. What the quickness of the decisions could only say was that jurors must have focused on the charges themselves, and not on reliving all the life choices that Floyd himself had made, an alternate version of vision that the defense tried to make Floyd’s death one seemingly of his own decision.

Policing Matters, So Does Race

What has not been addressed in this verdict remains crucial: Race and treatment of The Other still expose our critical American underbelly.

Whether we are talking race or housing, education, income or hope, our national legacy of differing treatment for White and non-whites, or citizens and non-citizens, of straight and gay and trans, of people of different religions is what stains our dreams. The unaddressed list of affirmative actions that require attention is long and disputed.

In this very week, we have had actual congressional byplay about whether we would have a White Caucus, by whatever catchy name, as well as voter suppression legislation under the name of “election integrity” that would dampen Black voting, and a passel of economic and public health issues that show more about difference than they do about agreement.

Topping the list is how we choose to police ourselves, and whether we will do anything beyond this individual prosecution or those considered in Brooklyn Center or Cleveland or Chicago, Kenosha, Louisville, Washington and Staten Island to re-create community policing from its assumed military stance to adopt tactics of de-escalation. The wild thing here is that there are actual bills on the table, just awaiting action in the Senate.

Again, even yesterday and today, we were hearing more criticism of Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., for encouraging protest and “confrontation” to keep policing issues alive than for the circumstances under which police escalation to shootings, chokeholds and knees on necks is alive and widespread.

The question in the aftermath is not how wide the public rage into building a better way.

The post Chauvin Guilty on All Three Counts appeared first on

NASA completes launch readiness review for Crew-2 mission

Crew-2 on pad

WASHINGTON — The next commercial crew mission to the International Space Station passed its final review before its scheduled April 22 launch, with weather the only major issue.

At an April 20 briefing, NASA said the Crew-2 mission passed its launch readiness review, the final major review before launch. That allows NASA and SpaceX to proceed with a Falcon 9 launch of the Crew Dragon spacecraft Endeavour at 6:11 a.m. Eastern April 22 from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. The launch has an instantaneous window.

Steve Stich, NASA commercial crew program manager, said officials resolved the one technical issue remaining from the Crew-2 flight readiness review April 15. At that earlier review, SpaceX noted that on a number of recent Falcon 9 launches it loaded slightly more liquid oxygen (LOX) propellant than expected into the rocket’s first stage.

Stich said a technical review concluded that any additional liquid oxygen was “well within family” of analyses of the rocket, including additional loads on the rocket that the excess propellant might create. “We had an exception at the flight readiness review, and we closed that,” he said. He latest estimated that the additional liquid oxygen only accounted for “a very small percentage” of the total weight of the vehicle.

The Falcon 9 also performed a successful static-fire test April 17, followed a day later by a “dry dress rehearsal” where the four astronauts suited up, went to the pad and boarded the Crew Dragon for a practice countdown, although the vehicle itself was not fueled. “The crew is doing great. They’re really excited,” said Norm Knight, deputy manager of the flight operations directorate at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

The only outstanding issue discussed at the briefing is the weather. Brian Cizek, launch weather officer with the U.S. Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron, projected an 80% chance of acceptable weather for launch April 22, and 90% if the launch is delayed a day. Winds are the primary concern for the first launch attempt.

However, those probabilities do not include weather at abort locations along the Eastern Seaboard. “Downrange weather is a little bit trickier,” Stich said, citing high winds and high waves in some of the abort locations. “Of the two days right now, I would say Friday looks a little bit better than Thursday.” He said NASA and SpaceX will evaluate the weather again 24 hours before the launch.

If the Crew-2 mission does launch on schedule April 22, the spacecraft will dock with the station at about 5:30 a.m. Eastern April 23. The four people on the spacecraft — NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, JAXA astronaut  Akihiko Hoshide and ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet — will join the seven people currently on the station.

The station’s crew will be at 11 people through the departure of the Crew-1 spacecraft April 28, returning NASA’s Shannon Walker, Victor Glover and Michael Hopkins and JAXA’s Soichi Noguchi to Earth. That will require some adjustments to the station’s life support systems and temporary sleeping accommodations, said Joel Montalbano, NASA ISS program manager.

“The cool thing again is that the added crew member allows another set of hands on board to help us with research and utilization,” he said, referring to commercial crew’s ability to allow the station to host seven people at a time. “It’s an awesome time to be in human spaceflight.”


Why not faster computation via evolution and diffracted light

Something I wonder is: what if computation, with today’s technology but done differently, could be - say - a million times faster? Here’s my thinking.

If there’s a defining feature of what computers are, I would say it’s abstraction layers.

You can tap buttons and move windows without thinking about what’s going on behind the screen. The programmer of that app sets out the instructions to draw those windows, and how they should behave, all without having to think about how exactly the instructions will be carried out.

Those instructions are defined in simpler instructions, and so on, and so on. Eventually there are instructions that tell the chip what to do – but even that isn’t the end of it. Because, as I learnt recently, the chip itself turns its instructions into still more fundamental operations: microcode. Microcode choreographs the physical building blocks of the machine… registers, adders, flip-flops. And below those are gates. And below those are transistors.

It is absurd that a finely inscribed piece of silicon, with electricity running across it - the pattern on the stone - can be this thing, the computer. And yet!

Each abstraction layer hides the complexity beneath, and provides general purpose flexibility to the layer above.


Here’s my question. Abstraction means reliability and composability. But surely each layer comes at a cost? And there are so. many. layers.

Let’s say you just wanted to perform just one task. Say, recognise a face. Or know whether a number is prime or not. And you didn’t care about flexibility at all.

Could that task be performed by simply the right set of transistors, at the hardware level, no matter how insanely arranged?

What shortcuts could be taken?

Here’s my evidence that this is a valid question to ask: a paper from 1996 on the topic of evolvable hardware.

‘Intrinsic’ Hardware Evolution is the use of artificial evolution – such as a Genetic Algorithm – to design an electronic circuit automatically, where each fitness evaluation is the measurement of a circuit ‘s performance when physically instantiated in a real reconfigurable VLSI chip. This paper makes a detailed case-study of the first such application of evolution directly to the configuration of a Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA). Evolution is allowed to explore beyond the scope of conventional design methods, resulting in a highly efficient circuit with a richer structure and dynamics and a greater respect for the natural properties of the implementation medium than is usual.

I want to unpack that abstract:

  • Thompson designed an electric circuit to perform a tone-discrimination task – it listens to a sound, and can tell you which of two expected tones it has heard.
  • Thompson then evolved the circuit by taking its computer representation, introducing randomness, and making multiple variations.
  • The critical part: the evolved circuit was selected not as a simulation, but by making a physical version and - experimentally - measuring how well it performed.

This line in the abstract is far too modest: a greater respect for the natural properties of the implementation medium than is usual – because what happens is - excuse my French - BATSHIT INSANE.

Jumping to Section 5. Analysis in the PDF:

The evolved circuit is a mess.

So, of that tangle: Parts of the circuit that could not possibly affect the output can be pruned away. (By tracing what is connected.)

BUT! It turns out: if these parts of the circuit are prunes, the circuit no longer performs as well.

It turns out that 20% of the components cannot be removed even though there is no connected path by which they could influence the output.

What has happened? Thompson has evolved a circuit from a ‘primordial soup’ of reconfigurable electronic components – and he speculates that some of the components are interacting via the power-supply wiring or electromagnetic coupling. Not by conventional means.

(The circuit also stops working outside the 10 degrees Celsius range in which it was trained.)

In 1996, the idea of “training” a computer to perform a task was slightly absurd – yes, there were expert systems and there was AI, but it was a toy. 25 years later, and computers are fast enough such that machine learning is standard practice at every tech firm… and we’re still figuring out how far it can go. If trainable software’s time has come, how about trainable hardware?

Given a single task, such as recognising a few simple words or a face, or performing protein folding, and so on, would it be possible to discard the complexity we currently devote to general purpose computing, and train a primordial soup of transistors to perform only that exact task – taking advantage of whatever nonlinear local effects and physics is available, abstraction layers be damned?

Here’s another type of computer that makes use of deep physics: Artificial Intelligence Device Identifies Objects at the Speed of Light. It’s called a diffractive deep neural network.

The existing way for a camera to recognise an object is for the camera to convert light to pixel data, then the computer has, in software, a trained neural network (that’s machine learning again) that runs matrix maths on the grid of pixels until an object category pops out at the other end. The matrix math is fearsomely complex, and is trained in a process called machine learning. The result: It’s a dog! It’s a face! It’s a tree! Etc.

This new way still uses machine learning, but the maths is replaced by a series of very thin, semi-transparent 8-centimeter-square polymer wafers. Each wafer diffracts the light that comes through it. And:

A series of pixelated layers functions as an “optical network” that shapes how incoming light from the object travels through them. The network identifies an object because the light coming from the object is mostly diffracted toward a single pixel that is assigned to that type of object.

So you don’t need a camera.

You don’t need software.

You take a stack of FINELY ETCHED TRAINED PLASTIC WAFERS, and you look through it at an object, like using a monocle. But instead of seeing the object more clearly in focus, you see a cryptic constellation of glittering pixels. You look up the constellation in your handbook, and… It’s a dog! It’s a face! It’s a tree! Etc. Only, at the speed of light. With no power required.

Physics performing computation at the granularity of the universe.

By using the interference of light with itself.

The analogy for me is that you have a swimming pool, the shape of which is ingeniously and carefully constructed, such that when you throw in an object, the ripples all bounce around and reflect off the edges and change in speed given the depth, and all collide in such a way that the shape of the splash spells a word in the air: the name of the object you threw in.

I can’t help but cross these ideas in my head.

What if we disregarded general purpose computing and abstraction layers in favour of speed?

What if we could evolve hardware to make use of hidden physics?

What if we used light?

What then?

Perhaps a computer, for a specific task, would be a million times faster. Or to put it another way, that’s 20 Moore’s Law cycles: 40 years of performance gain. That’s like saying we could leapfrog from 1981 computers to 2021 computers.

The speed of computers now is what has made machine learning possible. Advanced statistics, neural networks, etc, all of this was known pretty well decades before. But it was impossible to run.

So what today is impossible to run?

What if you could make a single-purpose, zero power lens that looks at a handwritten number and breaks cryptography?

Or sequences a gene?

Or runs a thousand faster than realtime simulations and drives your car for you? Or predicts behaviour of a person in a negotiation? What about computational photography that can look around corners by integrating the possibility of photons, or can brute force prove or disprove any mathematical theorem?

Or understands and can generate natural language just like GPT-3 but a million times better? Or, as in that speculation about an AI overhang: Intel’s expected 2020 revenue is $73bn. What if they could train a $1bn A.I. to design computer chips that are 100x faster per watt-dollar? (And then use those chips to train an even better A.I…)

What is the ultimate limit of computational operations per gram of the cosmos, and why don’t we have compilers that are targeting that as a substrate? I would like to know that multiple.

And, a question for computer scientists, what single question would you ask if you have a dedicated computer that was [that multiplier] faster? Because I would like to know.

I guess what I’m saying is that it might be possible, with today’s technology, to make a monocle, perhaps one that you fold down like a pirate’s patch, that when you look through it with your eye performs - with zero power - a single massively complex AI computation on whatever you’re looking at, as fast as computers will run decades in the future.

If I were the US government, I would be pouring billions into this.

Links 4/20/21

Links for you. Science:

How Many People Have Had COVID-19?
Humans solve problems by adding complexity, even when it’s against our best interests
U.S. to spend $1.7 billion to detect, monitor coronavirus variants
Biden administration removes Trump-era restrictions on fetal tissue research
Biden wants $6.5 billion for new health agency to speed treatments


“Mayor Bowser Announces At-Home COVID-19 Test Kits Now Available” (3-5 day turnaround time though…)
The Speculator
Don’t Tell Me What To Do, Mom
Doug Ford must resign
Offering twice-weekly Covid tests is futile without proper support for self-isolators
Many veterans don’t trust coronavirus vaccines. For a VA crew in the rural West, that means changing minds, one by one.
These Native American women are reclaiming a ‘stolen’ part of their identity: Their language
US-made guns are ripping Central America apart and driving migration north
100 Days Without Trump on Twitter: A Nation Scrolls More Calmly
D.C. Denies ‘COVID-Immune Section’ For Fully Vaccinated Parishioners At Capitol Hill Baptist Church
Biden Inherits F.D.R.’s Supreme Court Problem
Biden takes on Dems’ ‘Mission Impossible’: Revitalizing coal country
The only gun reform story that matters — GOP obstruction: It’s not about “Congress”
Top European Soccer Teams Form Breakaway League
If You Care About Social Justice, You Have to Care About Zoning
Prominent COVID conspiracy theorist dies of virus: He reportedly hid his symptoms and hosted two illegal gatherings
Return the National Parks to the Tribes
Part-time Employee (lol)
Biden Inherits F.D.R.’s Supreme Court Problem
Everyone Loves the $100 Million Deli

Math-Challenged Idiot (Chuck Grassley (Republican, Of Course)) Claims Relocated All-Star Game Cost State Of Georgia (Population 10.6 Million) "100 Million Jobs"

In 2019, Georgia's population was 10.62 million.

Each of the state's residents – from 97-year-old senior citizens to three-week-old infants – just lost 10 jobs each (for one game!), when MLB "cancelled" the 2021 All-Star Game.

In 2020, there were roughly 160.7 million jobs in the United States. Which means, in Grassley's addled mind, one single baseball game in July* is responsible for 62.2% of all employment in the country.

(*: Atlanta's stadium (which was funded by taxpayers who will share in 0% of the profits and will actually have to pay additional money to even get into the facility) will now host only 82 games this year instead of the robust number of 83.)

Thanks, Obama Manfred. . . . This wouldn't have happened if Donald Trump was still alive.

AE Industrial Partners’ American Pacific Corp. invests in Frontier Aerospace

SAN FRANCISCO – AE Industrial Partners subsidiary American Pacific Corp. announced a multimillion-dollar investment in Frontier Aerospace, a space propulsion startup based in Simi Valley, California. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Private equity firm AE Industrial Partners has become well known in the space industry since last year when it founded Redwire, a space structures firm growing rapidly through acquisitions that plans to become a publicly traded company through a merger with a special-purpose acquisition corporation.

In 2020 AE Industrial Partners acquired American Pacific, a specialty materials manufacturer based in Cedar City, Utah. Frontier is American Pacific’s first investment since its acquisition.

“With our investment in Frontier, we now have a strategic partner in next-generation, in-space liquid propulsion technology,” American Pacific CEO Hal Murdock said in a statement. “Jim and the Frontier team bring a strong space heritage and have a solid reputation for innovation, and we are proud to work together to better serve our launch industry customers.”

Frontier is unusual for a space industry startup because it has not sought outside investment, fueling its growth through contracts, until now. Frontier was formed in 2014 by Jim McKinnon, a former propulsion research engineer at Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. Prior to establishing Frontier Aerospace, McKinnon ran Frontier Engineering, a consulting firm he founded in 1997.

Frontier has raised its profile in the last year as it won contracts to provide propulsion systems for lunar landers being built by Astrobotic and Masten Space Systems.

“With American Pacific’s investment, we gain additional resources to take advantage of the tremendous interest in today’s space industry, combined with the added benefit of their deep defense industry expertise,” McKinnon said in a statement. “We also look forward to leveraging AEI’s relationships and intimate understanding of aerospace and defense’s unique challenges.”

With funds provided by American Pacific, which is claiming a minority stake in the business, Frontier plans to expand its staff and testing operations.

“Guidance navigation and control and in-space propulsion are critical to the national defense and space industries, and we are pleased to have American Pacific partner with a company on the cutting edge of next-generation liquid propulsion technologies,” said Kirk Konert, a Partner at AEI. “We’re excited about the possibilities that a partnership between two well-respected leaders can offer.”

Bryce Dabbs, Frontier finance and operations vice president, told SpaceNews, “This is the start of a prolonged relationship with AE Industrial Partners and American Pacific.”


The Conversation Has Never Been Wider

I am still listening to the excellent interview with Tressie McMillan Cottom on The Ezra Klein Show, but I wanted to highlight this exchange right at the beginning of the interview because I think it’s relevant to a lot of our shared interests, especially if you’ve been online reading blogs or personal sites for 15, 20, or even 25 years:

EZRA KLEIN: Well, I’m always asking for us to bring back blogging.


There is a nostalgia, oftentimes, among people who came up in it, for the internet of the aughts.

TRESSIE MCMILLAN COTTOM: Yeah. The old internet.

EZRA KLEIN: Do you think that’s nostalgia, or do you think something was lost?

TRESSIE MCMILLAN COTTOM: Hmm. OK. So I now work with a lot of internet people. I’m in an information school at a university. And so a lot of my very good friends are those people, so I want to tiptoe carefully. I do think that there was a clubbiness and a camaraderie, even among people who politically disagreed. There was a class of thinkers, a class of writers who came up in that web 2.0 that does feel like, yeah, we lost something there.

There was a humanity there for good or for bad. Humanity is messy, but there was a sense that those ideas were attached to people, and there were things driving those people, there’s a reason they had chosen to be in that space before it all became about chasing an audience in a platform and turning that into influencer and translating that into that — before all that happened, the professionalization of it all. And that’s what I think we’re missing when we become nostalgic for that web 2.0. I think it’s the people in the machine.

Having said that, I am very resistant to nostalgia as a thing because usually what we are nostalgic for is a time that just was not that great for a lot of people. And so what we were usually really nostalgic for is a time when we didn’t have to think so much about who was missing in the room, who wasn’t at the table. So when I talk to friends, and especially younger people coming up behind us either in the internet or in writing spaces, we’re like, that time was horrible for young queer people.

They talk about looking for little safe pockets of space in web 2.0 world where it was still very OK to be homophobic, for example, in those spaces and our casual language and how we structured that kind of thing. And they love being able to leave that part behind in this new world of whatever the web is now, both a consolidated and a disaggregated new web.

That’s why I’m like resistant to nostalgia. At the same time, I’m like, yeah. I also laugh and go, I really miss having a blog. In some ways, coming back to the newsletter, and Substack was kind part of that. It’s me being nostalgic for having a place where I could put thoughts that didn’t fit into any other discourse or genre, and I wanted a space where I could talk to people who were actually interacting like real people. They weren’t acting like bots, or trolls, or whatever your internet persona is.

So, I mean, I say I’m resistant to nostalgia. I just try not to reproduce it, but even I get a little — I’ll always have a soft spot for Blogger, which is coincidentally my first “where I state” space on Blogger.

EZRA KLEIN: Yup. Me too.

TRESSIE MCMILLAN COTTOM: [LAUGHS] I’ll always be a little romantic about it.

EZRA KLEIN: But I think you’re right about that criticism of it, too. Something that, for all that I can tip into nostalgia, something that I think is often missed in today’s conversation is the conversation has never been wider.


EZRA KLEIN: People talk all about things they can’t say, but it has never been wider.


EZRA KLEIN: There’s never been a larger allowable space of things you could say.


EZRA KLEIN: And people have also never been more pissed about how it feels to participate in it. I don’t want to say never, but broadly, there is an intensity to that conversation that is distinct, and I don’t think those things are unrelated, right? I think it is the wideness of the conversation and the fact that there are so many people you might hear from that make you feel cautious and insecure and unsafe, and the good of it is the bad of it.

TRESSIE MCMILLAN COTTOM: Exactly. One of the things I like to say to people is that we think that broadening access in any realm — we do this with everything, by the way. It’s such an American way to approach the world. We think that broadening access will broaden access on the terms of the people who have benefited from it being narrowed, which is just so counterintuitive.

Broadening access doesn’t mean that everybody has the experience that I, privileged person, had in the discourse. Broadening it means that we are all equally uncomfortable, right? That’s actually what pluralism and plurality is. It isn’t that everybody is going to come in and have the same comforts that privilege and exclusion had extended to a small group of people. It’s that now everybody sits at the table, and nobody knows the exact right thing to say about the other people.

Well, that’s fair. That means we all now have to be thoughtful. We all have to consider, oh, wait a minute. Is that what we say in this room? We all have to reconsider what the norms are, and that was the promise of like expanding the discourse, and that’s exactly what we’ve gotten. And if that means that I’m not sure about letting it rip on a joke, that’s probably a pretty good thing.

Look, as someone who benefitted hugely from it, I miss the golden age of blogging as much as anyone — productive discussions in comment threads, the community alchemy of Flickr, Google Reader, cross-blog conversations, the Open Web, small pieces loosely joined, etc. etc. etc. — but over the past few years, I’ve felt a lot less nostalgia for it for exactly the reasons McMillan Cottom & Klein are talking about here. Make the Internet Great Again is, in many important ways, as short-sighted, futile, and limiting as, well, you know.

Tags: Ezra Klein   interviews   Tressie McMillan Cottom   weblogs

SpaceX Crew-2 Dragon ‘go’ for launch April 22

The Falcon 9 with the Crew-2 Dragon, Endeavour, on Launch Complex 39A. Credit: Theresa Cross / Spaceflight Insider

The Falcon 9 with the Crew-2 Dragon, Endeavour, on Launch Complex 39A. Credit: Theresa Cross / Spaceflight Insider

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — In just a couple days, the second operational Crew Dragon mission, Crew-2, is set to fly atop a Falcon 9 rocket from historic Launch Complex 39A for a six-month stay aboard the International Space Station.

Crew-2 will use the same spacecraft that carried NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley for the Demo-2 crew test in in May 2020: Endeavour. This time the vehicle will carry NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet to the International Space Station for a six-month flight.

During a NASA press conference, the four Crew-2 veteran astronauts all agree that “working with SpaceX and their dynamic, living and working together as they train” has been one of their favorite parts of their preparedness for the launch of Crew Dragon, currently slated for 6:11 a.m. EDT (10:11 UTC) April 22, 2021.

Seeing the SpaceX Falcon 9 spacecraft going vertical was another special moment for the astronauts as the crew approached the launch pad on April 16, not long after they arrived at Kennedy Space Center in advance of their mission. Collectively the crew expressed their anticipation for “feeling the pounding in their chest and feelings those G’s” in a live NASA teleconference on April 17.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket has been going through a series of pre-flight checks and a static fire test was completed early morning on Saturday April 17. A static fire test is where rocket engines are briefly ignited while the vehicle is anchored to the ground.

An infographic showing some of the basic Crew-2 details. Credit: Derek Richardson/Spaceflight Insider/Orbital Velocity

An infographic showing some of the basic Crew-2 details. Credit: Derek Richardson/Spaceflight Insider/Orbital Velocity

Meanwhile, the completion of the flight readiness review was completed on April 15 and the launch readiness review on April 20.

“We’re ‘go’ for launch,” said Steve Stich, manager of the Commercial Crew Program at Kennedy Space Center, in a NASA blog post. “Both Thursday and Friday launch weather looks good, with concern of winds around the pad for Thursday. Downrange weather is trickier as the front and the winds combine to create winds and waves. Friday looks better than Thursday, but we’ll continue to watch; we have another briefing tomorrow and will decide when the right time to make a decision is.”

Right now the 45th Weather Squadron is predicting an 80% chance of favorable weather conditions for the April 22 launch attempt, with the primary concern being winds at liftoff.

However, this forecast doesn’t take into account conditions downrange in Crew Dragon abort zones.

A backup launch date of April 23 is available, should the launch get delayed. After that, opportunities move to April 26 or April 27, according to Stitch.

Of note, this is the first mission approved by NASA to use SpaceX’s previously-flown hardware for a human spaceflight mission. The Falcon 9 first stage, core B1061-2, was first used for the Crew-1 mission in November 2020.

The Crew-2 astronauts pose for a picture beneath their rocket. Credit: NASA/SpaceX

The Crew-2 astronauts pose for a picture beneath their rocket. Credit: NASA/SpaceX

Once in orbit, Crew-2 Dragon is slated to take about a day to reach the ISS, docking with the forward port of the Harmony module at about 5:30 a.m. EDT (9:30 UTC) April 23. They are replacing the Crew-1 astronauts — NASA’s Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon walker and JAXA’s Soichi Noguchi — who have been aboard the ISS since November 2020 when they launched in Crew Dragon Resilience.

Some of the science experiments to be performed by this crew at the International Space Station include tissue engineering in microgravity. The experimental research of 3D tissues in space will help to focus on the use of stem cells and specialized cells, which can be used for drug testing and for radiation experiments on earth.

Also, in-space production of Retinol implants is another item of research. Additionally, lung tissue, a 3D bio-printer and tissue chip investigations, which could be used as disease models, are a few more of the investigations expected to be performed on the space laboratory in the coming months.

The Crew-2 astronauts are expected to return to Earth sometime in October, likely following the arrival of the Crew-3 Dragon mission.

Video credit: NASA

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Tuesday assorted links

1. MIE: Used AmEx card of Michael Jordan sells for 3k.

2. Criticisms of Galef.

3. AEA best paper prizes.

4. MIE: putting product placement in old classic movies.

5. Promising Young Woman is indeed a very good movie, at times hard to watch, and most of the reviews are either inarticulate or uncomprehending because few are willing to grasp and explain (part of) what makes it so interesting.

The post Tuesday assorted links appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Ted Lasso Season 2 Teaser Trailer

Apple just announced that season two of Ted Lasso will be premiering on Apple+ on July 23. That’s it, that’s the news. Watch the trailer. Rejoice. Be happy.

See also Ted Lasso, a Model for the Nurturing Modern Man.

Tags: soccer   sports   Ted Lasso   trailers   TV   video

The Upward Slope of Real House Prices

Many years ago, I wrote: The upward slope of Real House Prices. I argued that real house prices (adjusted for inflation) had typically increased about 1.0% to 1.5% per year (much higher than Professor Shiller's estimate of 0.2%).

In 2012, housing economist Tom Lawler dug through some data and calculated that real prices increased 0.83% per year (See: Lawler: On the upward trend in Real House Prices)

In my previous posts, I tracked the bottom of real prices over time. This graph shows the peaks over time (the trend lines are 0.83% and 1.1%).

Upward Slope of Real House Prices Click on graph for larger image.

This graph shows there have been four surges in real prices since the early '70s. One in the late '70s, one in the late '80s, the housing bubble, and the current surge in prices.

It is important to note that nationally nominal house prices did not decline following the surges in the '70s and '80s.  However, there were regional declines.

Since homeowners are concerned about nominal prices (not real prices), I wasn't concerned in December 2018, when Professor Shiller wrote in the NY Times: The Housing Boom Is Already Gigantic. How Long Can It Last?

Here were my comments on Shiller's article in 2018:
During the housing bubble, the difference between a slight upward slope in real prices (0.2% per year according to Shiller's index) and a slightly larger increase in real prices using other indexes (probably between 1% and 1.5% per year) didn't make any difference; there was obviously a huge bubble in house prices. But when comparing price "booms" over time, there is a huge difference.

If we use 1.5% per year for real price increases, the current "boom" in prices would be the fourth largest since the 1970s (and only about half the size of the late '70s and late '80s price boom), and if we use a 1.0% real increase, the current "boom" is on the same order as the late '70s and '80s price booms.

No big deal, and definitely not a "gigantic" boom in house prices.
Since I wrote that post in 2018, house prices have increased 16% nationally (from November 2018 to January 2021) according to the Case-Shiller index. Prices in Phoenix are up 25%, and in Seattle and San Diego, up about 20% since that Shiller article was written.

And prices have increased quickly over the last few months.

Now, I'd argue house prices are too high based on historical real prices. Prices are also too high based on price-to-rent measures, and price-to-income.

I wouldn't call this a "bubble" because of the lack of both speculation and loose lending (see: Is there a New Housing Bubble?).  But I am becoming concerned about fundamentals:
Maybe prices are too high based on fundamentals (due to extremely low supply and record low mortgage rates), but there is very little evidence of speculation (not like the loose lending of the housing bubble).
The lack of wild speculation doesn't mean house prices can't decline, but it means that we won't see cascading declines in prices like what happened when the housing bubble burst.
We might see some price declines, especially in some 2nd home areas that saw a surge in demand at the onset of the pandemic, but the recent buyers are all well qualified, and some price declines will not lead to forced selling. So there is no threat to the financial system with widespread defaults.

How will crypto wealth transform philanthropy?

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

If the price of Bitcoin were to reach $200,000, Coinbase Chief Executive Officer Brian Armstrong observed recently, half of the world’s billionaires would be crypto billionaires. Even at the lesser valuations that currently prevail, this crypto wealth has vast potential to reshape philanthropy. Expect a relative decline in the influence of longstanding nonprofit institutions — and more weird, stand-alone projects.

Bitcoin itself is a weird, stand-alone project. The true identity of its inventor, Satoshi Nakamoto, is still unknown, and the broader Bitcoin ecosystem is not owned or controlled by any company or institution. It has been self-sustaining since the beginning, and so it should hardly come as a surprise that Bitcoin billionaires take Bitcoin itself as a model for future institutions, including in philanthropy.

As philanthropists, Bitcoin and other crypto billionaires will likely look to support ideas that can launch in a dramatic way and quickly acquire escape velocity. They are unlikely to fund the ongoing labor costs of established cultural institutions.

Bitcoin and many other cryptocurrencies seem designed to stand independent of any government or mainstream financial institution. That too suggests that the philanthropic emphasis of crypto wealth will be on non-establishment, non-governmental organizations.


Venture capitalist Paul Graham has pointed out that wealth is earned much more quickly nowadays, and that is all the more true in crypto, which after all is only 12 years old. Unlike many of the wealthy people in law or investment banking, these are not people who had to spend their lives working their way up, finally achieving a top position in their 60s. They either are founders of rapidly growing and scaling companies, or they bought large sums of the right crypto assets early on, or both. Either way, their temperaments are geared to expect immediate action and rapid results.

Nonprofits will have to adjust accordingly, even though speed is not typically their comparative advantage. That in turn suggests that the organizational structures of many nonprofits will have to change fairly radically. Many of them were designed or have evolved to be good at continuity, like the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra, which after all is still playing Beethoven with violins and cellos.

There is much more at the link.

The post How will crypto wealth transform philanthropy? appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Mealworm Feast Time Lapse

This is pretty simple: 10,000 mealworms eating a tomato, piece of corn, and romanesco broccoli, filmed with a time lapse camera. My only comment is that for something called a mealworm, they don’t eat as quickly as I thought they would. 10,000 mealworms couldn’t polish off a tomato in less than 48 hours? You’re never going to be a beetle at that pace! (via the kid should see this)

Tags: food   time lapse   video

Hacking McDonald’s Notoriously Finicky Ice Cream Machines

Andy Greenberg, writing for Wired:

Of all the mysteries and injustices of the McDonald’s ice cream machine, the one that Jeremy O’Sullivan insists you understand first is its secret passcode.

Much crazier story than you’d think.

(Here’s a cached version that gets you around Wired’s odious paywall and super-annoying animated ads.)


Russia's Annual ISS Complaints Begin - Again

Russia says to launch own space station in 2025, AFP

"Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov said in recent days that Moscow was considering whether to leave the ISS programme from 2025 because of the station's age. Roscosmos said on Monday that a decision on quitting the ISS had not yet been made. "When we make a decision we will start negotiations with our partners on forms and conditions of cooperation beyond 2024," the space agency told AFP in a statement."

Russia to Quit Int'l Space Station in 2025 - Reports, Moscow Times

"We have 2024 as an agreed time limit with our partners on the work of the ISS. After that, decisions will be made based on the technical condition of the station's modules, which have mostly worn out their service life, as well as our plans to deploy a next-generation national orbital service station," Roscosmos said."

Keith's note: It is springtime and right on schedule the Russians are once again making strange noises as a prelude to renegotiating something. It happens every year. They never have enough money to do the things that they threaten to do - or not do - or both. Of course, all of the problems they allude to seem to have to do with their hardware (and lack of Soyuz seat sales). So ... what are they going to do? Give their ISS hardware to the ISS partners? Sell it? Detach it and deorbit it? FYI there is a huge lien against the entire program to deorbit ISS once it has completed its task. Is Russia going to help pay for this? As for the new Russian space station - show me the money.

- Earlier posts about Russia

CoreLogic: Mortgage Application Fraud Risk Index increased in Q1

A few excerpts from CoreLogic: Q1 2021 Mortgage Fraud Brief
The CoreLogic® National Mortgage Application Fraud Risk Index (Index) increased by 11.9% for the first quarter of 2021—from 110 to 122. The year-over-year trend is up 7.7% from Q1 2020 (at 113).

Last quarter we noted an uptick in income reasonability alerts for both purchases and refinances and that trend continued in Q1. Valuation alerts increased for all transactions, due to rapid home price increases as demand exceeds supply. We observed a slight increase in occupancy alerts for refinances, along with a decrease in flipping alerts for purchases.

We expect fraud risk to continue to rise in 2021, fueled by an insufficient supply of affordable housing and rising interest rates that will change the purchase/refinance mix. New guidelines on GSE financing for investment and second homes, including a 7% cap and stricter underwriting guidelines have the potential to heighten occupancy misrep motivations.
emphasis added
CR Note: This is still low, but something to watch.

Canada budgets for next-generation EO satellites and ground systems

Radarsat Constellation

VICTORIA, British Columbia — The Canadian government will fund upgrades to aging ground-based infrastructure for receiving satellite data as well as provide seed money to begin planning for the country’s next generation of Earth observation satellites.

The commitments were in the 2021 federal government budget tabled in the House of Commons on April 19 by Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland.

The budget was mainly focused on supporting an economic recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, with plans to extend aid programs to businesses and individuals as well as improve health services.

But two initiatives focused on Canada’s space industry and capabilities. A total of 80 million Canadian dollars ($64 million) will be spent over the next 11 years to replace or expand aging ground-based infrastructure to receive satellite data, Freeland noted in the budget. That infrastructure is used by two federal departments, Natural Resources Canada and Environment Canada. Details were not provided by Freeland on the specific locations of the ground infrastructure.

In addition, the finance minister announced 9.9 million Canadian dollars for the Canadian Space Agency to start planning for the next generation of Earth observation satellites.

That project is expected to replace the Radarsat Constellation Mission, or RCM, which was launched June 12, 2019 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The RCM constellation of three satellites provides daily images of Canada’s territory and maritime approaches, as well as images of the Arctic, according to the Canadian Space Agency.

“Earth observation satellites support critical services that Canadians rely on,” the 2021 budget noted. “They also create high-quality jobs in Canada and the government will continue to explore opportunities to support Canadian capacity, innovation, and jobs in this sector.”

The Canadian government has not yet decided on how to proceed with such a project. But Last year the CSA asked Canadian firms for their initial ideas on what could come after RCM.

The Canadian Armed Forces has also indicated an interest in having its own next generation earth observation satellite to replace RCM. That system could operate at a top secret level.

While the budget presented by Freeland outlined broad areas of spending for the Canadian government, more detailed information is expected to be released in the coming weeks in the individual planning documents for each federal department or agency. The Canadian Space Agency’s departmental plan would include its new budget and more specific areas it wants to focus on.


Make Everything Important

I enjoyed this interview with actor Mads Mikkelsen.

Q: Is there a life philosophy that you feel has carried you through your career?

A: My approach to what I do in my job — and it might even be the approach to my life — is that everything I do is the most important thing I do. Whether it’s a play or the next film. It is the most important thing. I know it’s not going to be the most important thing, and it might not be close to being the best, but I have to make it the most important thing. That means I will be ambitious with my job and not with my career. That’s a very big difference, because if I’m ambitious with my career, everything I do now is just stepping-stones leading to something — a goal I might never reach, and so everything will be disappointing. But if I make everything important, then eventually it will become a career. Big or small, we don’t know. But at least everything was important.

“All his life has he looked away, to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was, what he was doing.” —Yoda, Empire Strikes Back. See also “I’ve Never Had a Goal”. (via @tadfriend)

Tags: interviews   Mads Mikkelsen   movies   Star Wars

Gym Jordan Is an Asshole, but Fauci’s Response Should Have Been Better

Last week, Republican Congressman Jim ‘Gym‘ Jordan pressed NIAID Director Anthony Fauci on when the horrible infringements on our liberties modest public health measures because it’s just a cloth mask, not a fucking testicle clamp would end. While it’s kinda enjoyable to watch both Fauci and Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters smack Gym Jordan around, the reality is Fauci missed an opportunity to provide some guidance.

Rep. Jordan wanted specific guidelines, and it shouldn’t have been hard for Fauci to answer along the lines of something like this:

Before we consider loosening restrictions, the first and critical benchmark should be: can we open our children’s schools safely according to the CDC benchmarks. That is, at the state and county levels, is the number of new cases per week less than fifty per 100,000 and the percent positive rate less than eight percent*. While we have to use common sense–one very small county perhaps shouldn’t hold back a state, and claiming that most counties are good, even as the two counties which have fifty percent of the population are above the thresholds should hold back a state, that should be the first set of criteria for returning to normal. As I’ve said before: the virus makes the timeline.

Currently, only 206 counties in the U.S. and only three states meet these guidelines.

But that would have shut Gym up for a while, and provided some actual metrics to guide policy.

*As we’ve discussed before, that’s too high, but that’s what the CDC endorsed.

Andrew (Nestor) Tezna Pleads Guilty To COVID-19 Related Loan Fraud

Senior NASA Employee Pleads Guilty to COVID-19 Related Loan Fraud, DOJ

"According to court documents, Andrew Tezna, 36, of Leesburg, fraudulently submitted three loan applications to two financial institutions (totaling $272,284) under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a federal initiative designed to help businesses pay their employees and meet their basic expenses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tezna also submitted two Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program applications to the Small Business Administration (totaling $69,500), and he applied for COVID-related unemployment benefits from Virginia, ostensibly for his mother-in-law, who was retired and did not qualify for the benefits (totaling $15,950). In support of the fraudulent PPP loan applications, Tezna submitted fabricated IRS tax returns and fraudulently claimed payroll expenses that did not exist."

NASA employee submitted over $350,000 in fraudulent COVID-19 loans, benefits, Fox43

"Tezna used the money to pay off a personal loan for a residential pool, a personal loan for a minivan, credit card debt, a dog breeder and even put a down payment on a new car, court documents say."

PPP Loan Data -- Nestor Tezna, Leesburg, VA: "Nestor Tezna in Leesburg, VA received a Paycheck Protection Loan of $172,966 through Celtic Bank Corporation, which was approved in May, 2020."

NESTOR TEZNA, "NESTOR TEZNA is in the All Other Personal Services industry, has a $150,000 - $350,000 PPP loan from Celtic Bank Corporation, and has potentially retained 0 jobs."

Keith's note: Andy (Nestor) Tezna is (or was) acting head of the NASA CFO Policy & Grants Office. Prior to that he was NASA's Financial Policy and Compliance Director/Senior Travel Official, and prior to that, Chief and Financial Policy & Compliance at NASA HQ. While applying for fraudulent PPP loans during the COVID pandemic he actually signed off on this NASA COVID-19 Grant Information Circular. I have found a dozen links with this info - some from last year. It is not like this was a secret and he jumped on this as early as May 2020. He was some kind of a civic leader of sorts in Loudoun County (see Loudoun 40 Under 40 - go to page 31 screengrab). Several sources report that he liked to post pictures of himself and his wife on Instagram as they visited Trump Winery in Virginia. That account has been taken offline.

Isaiah Andrews wins the John Bates Clark medal

Here is the announcement.  Here is his home page.  Here is for him.  Congratulations!

The post Isaiah Andrews wins the John Bates Clark medal appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

How to Win the Fight to Expand Social Security

Beat the Billionaires Who Want to Ruin America’s Most Popular Government Program

Nancy J. Altman

Nancy J. Altman

Out of sight from most Americans, powerful, organized and determined monied interests have waged a more than three-decade-long, billionaire-funded campaign to dismantle Social Security. That campaign has enjoyed some success. And it is with us still.

It is not hard to see the successes of that campaign. Many Americans have been persuaded that Social Security is unaffordable, in crisis and must, at the very least, be scaled back. But while the campaign has succeeded in undermining confidence in the future of Social Security, it has failed to scale back Social Security’s modest, but vital benefits, or, worse, radically transform Social Security, ending it as we know it. The good news is that over the last few years, the movement to expand, not cut, Social Security has been growing.

This is the time for our elected leaders to expand Social Security, as the overwhelming majority of Americans who elected them want.

Professor Eric Kingson

Eric Kingson

It is no accident that so many in the news media and political elite have bought the lies. The campaign is backed by hundreds of millions of dollars and a cottage industry of academics who have built their careers on criticizing Social Security. Together, those forces brought a veneer of respectability to claims that Social Security is unaffordable, in crisis, and spawning competition and conflict between generations.

Trudy Lieberman, a noted media critic and former New York University journalism professor, has observed that most media outlets have been reporting “only one side of this story using ‘facts’ that are misleading or flat-out wrong while ignoring others.”

The machinations of the anti-Social Security campaign largely explain why media elites and both political parties lost an understanding of the conceptual underpinnings that have led to Social Security’s popularity. Indeed, Social Security is often described as a problem rather than the solution that it is.

An Earned Right

Rather than define Social Security as an earned right to insurance purchased with our work and contributions, the critics imply that it is a government handout. The media and politicians use words and phrases like “entitlement,” “makers versus takers,” “deficit crisis” and “safety net” to spread and reinforce the message. The campaign’s messaging, repeated over and over again, falsely asserts that Social Security was and remains a cause of federal deficits, even though Social Security does not add even a penny to the federal debt.

The truth is that Social Security has a $2.9 trillion surplus, which it invests. By law, it can only invest in Treasury bonds and other federal instruments backed by the full faith and credit of our government. It is a creditor to our federal government. That means Social Security has loaned our federal government $2.9 trillion. In turn, that means that our government has to borrow less from foreign governments and other investors to finance budget shortfalls. Even so, the false claim that Social Security is a government giveaway and a drain on the nation’s resources has become a standard talking point of those who would dismantle the program.

The winds are shifting, however. President Joe Biden explicitly ran on expanding Social Security, as did Hillary Clinton in 2016. Expanding Social Security was a plank in both the 2016 and 2020 Democratic platforms.

That position is in line with what surveys show the overwhelming majority of voters support—Republicans, independents, and Democrats alike. But that doesn’t mean that any of us who want to see Social Security expanded, not cut, can let down our guard. Quite the opposite. The anti-Social Security campaigners know how to adjust their tactics to changing situations, how to fade away, how to blend in, and how and when to attack. If those of us who favor expanding, not cutting, Social Security are to be successful, we must remain vigilant and active. The billionaire campaign remains well-funded, well-organized, active, and strategic.

Going forward, we can expand Social Security, even in the face of distortions, misunderstandings, and outright lies promoted by moneyed interests. All of us who care about the economic security of our families have a stake in this cause. Everyone who cares about what kind of nation we leave for our children and grandchildren has a stake.

How to Win

How do we successfully build on the legacy that has been bequeathed to us, leaving it even better for the generations that follow? In short, how do we get our elected officials—who, after all, work for us—to vote to expand Social Security?

We already have some very dedicated leaders championing the cause of expansion, but we need more of them if expansion is to pass the Senate and get signed into law. Getting those now in office who disagree with us to change their minds and getting people elected who already do agree is tricky. All politicians these days claim to support Social Security. All say that their goal is to strengthen or save it. We cannot be satisfied with platitudes. We must demand clear support for expansion, with no cuts whatsoever.

Electing more champions and convincing others to change their minds won’t be done without knowledge, commitment, perseverance and action. It won’t be done without a vision backed by values that we all share.

It won’t be done behind closed doors, without politics and policies that involve the American people and puts us first.

And, it won’t be done without a fight. Nor will the fight be an easy one. There is too much money on the side of those who want to dismantle our Social Security system.

Broad Support

Fortunately, the American people—across demographics and the political spectrum—are unified in their opposition to cutting benefits and favor benefit expansions. They appropriately have a sense of contributing toward their own retirement and feel good about receiving Social Security benefits. They understand the importance of providing disability protection for themselves and their families, and the importance of protecting children and other family members if they die. Having witnessed losses in their extended families from unforeseen events—for example, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the devastation in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and now today’s pandemic—they understand how quickly and efficiently Social Security responds to community and personal crises. They understand that benefits are not based on need, but rather have been earned through labor and contributions from salaries and wages. They understand how important Social Security is to their own and their family’s economic security.

It is imperative to recognize that Social Security didn’t just happen. Past generations of politicians and citizens created, improved, fought for and defended our Social Security system. They protected it, safeguarded it, expanded it and passed it forward, stronger than before, as a legacy to all of us, young and old alike. Now it is our turn.

The debate over the future of Social Security is most fundamentally a debate about decency and fairness. It is a debate about our values. In the words of President Franklin Roosevelt, it’s not about “the creation of new and strange values,” but, as he explained 86 years ago: “It is rather the finding of the way once more to known, but to some degree forgotten, ideals and values. If the means and details are in some instances new, the objectives are as permanent as human nature. Among our objectives I place the security of the men, women, and children of the Nation first.”

American Values

Among these values that now underlie the fight over Social Security is compassion for and responsibility to care for our families, our neighbors and ourselves. The recognition that Social Security is part of our compensation for our hard work and contributions is another value this fight over Social Security is about.

Still another value the fight is about is recognition of Social Security’s conservative, prudent management of our money. Of all federal programs, Social Security and Medicare are the most closely monitored. Social Security is extremely conservatively financed and must balance its budget without any borrowing whatsoever. Yet this important value is disregarded by our politicians, who tend to lump it together with all other federal spending.

This is not a time for compromising the economic well-being of the middle class and poor, not when income and wealth inequality are higher than they have ever been in the past 50 years. Not when the worldwide pandemic has exacerbated that income and wealth inequality.

This is not a time to accept cuts to our Social Security as “reasonable compromise,” as little “tweaks” that will do no lasting harm. Rather, this is the time for our elected leaders to expand Social Security, as the overwhelming majority of Americans who elected them want.

It is a time to successfully build on the legacy that has been bequeathed to us, leaving it even better for the generations that follow. At base, this is about the kind of nation we want for ourselves, our children, and their children. Although couched largely in terms of economics, the debate over the future of Social Security is most fundamentally a debate about the role of government, about all of us working together, and about the societal values the nation seeks to achieve through Social Security for today’s and tomorrow’s generations.

Nancy Altman, a lawyer, and Eric Kingson, a Syracuse University professor of social work, co-founded Social Security Works, a non-profit organization working to protect and expand Social Security. This article is adapted from their new book Social Security Works for Everyone!, published by The New Press, with a foreword by David Cay Johnston, DCReport editor-in-chief.

Featured Image: President Franklin D. Roosevelt signing the Social Security Act on August 14, 1935.

The post How to Win the Fight to Expand Social Security appeared first on

Trends in Educational Attainment in the U.S. Labor Force

The first graph shows the unemployment rate by four levels of education (all groups are 25 years and older) through March 2021. Note: This is an update to a post from a few years ago.

Unfortunately this data only goes back to 1992 and includes only three recessions (the stock / tech bust in 2001, and the housing bust/financial crisis, and the 2020 pandemic). Clearly education matters with regards to the unemployment rate, with the lowest rate for college graduates at 3.7% in March, and highest for those without a high school degree at 8.2% in March.

All four groups were generally trending down prior to the pandemic.   And all are trending down now.

Unemployment by Level of EducationClick on graph for larger image.

Note: This says nothing about the quality of jobs - as an example, a college graduate working at minimum wage would be considered "employed".

This brings up an interesting question: What is the composition of the labor force by educational attainment, and how has that been changing over time?

Here is some data on the U.S. labor force by educational attainment since 1992.

Labor Force by EducationCurrently, almost 61 million people in the U.S. labor force have a Bachelor's degree or higher.  This is almost 44% of the labor force, up from 26.2% in 1992.

This is the only category trending up.  "Some college" has been steady (and trending down lately), and both "high school" and "less than high school" have been trending down.

Based on current trends, probably more than half the labor force will have at least a bachelor's degree by the end of this decade (2020s).

Some thoughts: Since workers with bachelor's degrees typically have a lower unemployment rate, rising educational attainment is probably a factor in pushing down the overall unemployment rate over time.

Also, I'd guess more education would mean less labor turnover, and that education is a factor in lower weekly claims (prior to the pandemic).

A more educated labor force is a positive for the future.

Lexington Lectures, 22-24 April

The Lexington Historical Society isn’t resting after a busy Patriots Day weekend. It’s offering four online presentations this week.

Thursday, 22 April, 7:00 P.M.
The Will of the People
Prof. T.H. Breen delivers a special Cronin lecture discussing how the ordinary people of New England reacted to war in their backyards. Based on his book The Will of the People, Breen’s talk will explore how debates raged throughout the country about the fate of the new nation when the outcome of the war was far from certain, while fiery Patriots like the Rev. Jonas Clarke continued to keep the dream alive.

Friday, 23 April, 10:00 A.M.
The Right to Liberty
African-Americans, both enslaved and free, grappled with what becoming part of a nation where all men were theoretically created equal meant, and often took matters into their own hands when the liberties they were owed did not come to fruition. Professional storyteller Valerie Tutson shares the heroic tales of James Forten, who as a teenager fought against the British navy and later worked to abolish slavery, and Elizabeth Freeman, who in 1781 successfully sued for her freedom, citing the Massachusetts constitution. This program is suitable for all ages.

Friday, 23 April, 2:00 P.M.
April 19th Collections Spotlight
The Lexington Historical Society’s museums hold many relics of the first day of the Revolution. Objects that witnessed bloody battle live in situ in our historic houses or rest in exhibit cases, and still more spend their time behind closed doors in our archives. Join Collections and Outreach Manager Stacey Fraser for a behind-the-scenes look at some of the most treasured, but least seen, relics of the Revolution in our museum collection.

Saturday, 24 April, 4:00 P.M.
Noble Volunteers
Author Don Hagist has spent years studying the demographics and personal stories of British soldiers. Far from nameless killing machines, these men came from a variety of ages, ethnicities, and occupations. Many had far more in common with the Americans than we remember, and most never expected to one day be waging war with their own people when they took the King’s shilling. Hagist shares surprising insights from his latest book.

The surge in exam-optional applications for college admissions

 Covid forced lots of colleges to make standardized tests optional in admissions, and that seems to have jolted the growth in college applications to new highs.  The Chronicle of Higher Education has the story:

The Endless Sensation of Application Inflation  By Eric Hoover

"consider a big-deal development: the suspension of standardized-testing requirements. After most of the nation’s big-name colleges adopted test-optional policies for the 2020-21 cycle, they all but guaranteed a surge in applications from students who otherwise wouldn’t have applied. When that surge came, some admissions deans publicly expressed surprise that their testing requirements apparently had been suppressing applications from underrepresented students all along, just as critics of ACT and SAT requirements have been saying for decades.


"there are some drawbacks to having an overwhelming number of choices, Brennan says: “In admissions, you don’t get a 20-percent increase in staff to account for a 20-percent increase in applications.”

Vox on BLM

VOX: From 2014 to 2019, Campbell tracked more than 1,600 BLM protests across the country, largely in bigger cities, with nearly 350,000 protesters. His main finding is a 15 to 20 percent reduction in lethal use of force by police officers — roughly 300 fewer police homicides — in census places that saw BLM protests.

Campbell’s research also indicates that these protests correlate with a 10 percent increase in murders in the areas that saw BLM protests. That means from 2014 to 2019, there were somewhere between 1,000 and 6,000 more homicides than would have been expected if places with protests were on the same trend as places that did not have protests. Campbell’s research does not include the effects of last summer’s historic wave of protests because researchers do not yet have all the relevant data.

…One other possible explanation for the increased murder rate is that law enforcement officials are the ones voluntarily reducing their interactions with the community and as a result emboldening criminal activity. One way to observe whether police are reducing their efforts is to see whether the share of property crimes cleared falls over this period. In other words, are police not trying as hard — either because they are demoralized or angry at public scrutiny of their behavior — to solve low-level crimes that are reported to them? Campbell observes a 5.5 percent decline in the share of property crimes cleared, which is consistent with police reducing their efforts immediately following the protests.

Based on this paper. The explanation is consistent with what happened in Baltimore after the Freddie Gray protests and riots, namely arrests went down and murders went up.

The post Vox on BLM appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

The secret language of trees

How trees share food, supplies and the wisdom gained over long lives via an information superhighway in their root systems

By Aeon Video

Watch at Aeon

Trump Blazed a Trail That Clears the Way for Biden

Mathematics for gamblers

If philosophers and mathematicians struggle with probability, can gamblers really hope to grasp their losing game?

By Catalin Barboianu

Read at Aeon


A friend with Libertarian leanings down in Los Angeles reached out and asked about a particular legal case that’s currently working its way toward the federal Supreme Court. Pakdel vs. San Francisco is based on the “Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause, which prohibits the government from taking private property for public use without just compensation.”

For my entire life San Francisco has struggled with the competing and mutually exclusive needs of two very different constituencies. Property owners and renters. 70% of the population rents and these tenants are a powerful voting block that’s highly organized and politically active.

But the 30% of the population that owns property is made up not just of individual home owners with one or two homes, but large property owners with considerable holdings. They have the money and lawyers to influence the regulatory process in their own ways. So San Francisco has accumulated an alluvial delta of byzantine property laws and elaborate processes to balance these competing interests. Mr. Pakdel found himself squeezed by these laws and decided to fight back. Hold on to that thought and I’ll return to it in a moment.

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I want to revisit a conference I attended at Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy sponsored by Fieldstead and Company back in October of 2019. I was one of the invited speakers and I had a minor clash with some of the other presenters. There was a distinction made between government regulations and private contractual agreements. Some speakers insisted that while it was not the place of governments to dictate what owners can and can’t do with their own property, it’s perfectly appropriate to have a private home owners association restrict all sorts of things. The people buying into such communities were doing so voluntarily. They choose to live with those specific covenants and codes. But the government had no business interfering with private property in the same way.

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I pointed out that large chunks of the country have municipal and/or county mandates that all new construction must be incorporated within a private home owners association. So I asked if it’s illegal to build or purchase a home without all manner of onerous and picayune private controls, is that really voluntary? And what legal justification would local governments have for mandating such private communities in the first place? Haven’t people been building homes for centuries and managing just fine without HOAs?

My inquiry was met with complete silence from the panel. No one had any desire to address the issue. And that was my point. They chafed at some government rules that infringed on their liberties, but turned a blind eye to others that served their interests. The panel wasn’t really interested in liberty. They were preoccupied with a very specific and highly limited interpretation of their favorite kinds of freedom - mostly the ability to own things and control their neighbors’ behavior in particular ways. What we have everywhere is a symbiotic relationship between private interests and government bodies that work cooperatively to guarantee specific outcomes.

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Will the government in your town allow you to subdivide your existing single family home into a duplex to create supplemental retirement income without leaving your home, while simultaneously creating much needed market rate affordable housing? Almost certainly not. If you wanted to convert your two car garage into a bicycle repair shop or your front room into a beauty salon to earn income would the local authorities allow this? In most places in North America, absolutely not. There are rules.

Are these legal restrictions a “taking” by government? They’re certainly a prohibition on how you can use your own private property. They absolutely prevent you from earning income so there’s a financial loss involve. Personally, I think this is a straight up “taking” plain and simple. But that’s not how most jurisdictions interpret the situation. They focus instead on the effects on the larger community. So it may very well be a “taking,” but that’s irrelevant. The restrictions on private property stand because of the more important cultural value of maintaining exclusivity and order in the neighborhood.

These dynamics reflect the culture of particular locations. Many places want to restrict development, forbid density, filter out “the wrong element,” and guarantee that only fairly prosperous people will ever be able to afford to live in the area. If your neighbors were allowed to rent out rooms, operate small businesses from home, and so on it would profoundly change the nature of the community. There’s a general assertion that restrictions to prevent that kind of chaos is exactly what the government should do to preserve property values, maintain a specific demographic, and uphold the quality of life. And just to be sure no undesirables slip through the cracks private HOAs are superimposed to double bag the whole process.



Now, back to Pakdel vs. San Francisco. According to the Pacific Legal Foundation:

“Mr. Pakdel is a small business owner in Ohio. In 2009 he bought what’s known as a “tenancy in common” (TIC) apartment in San Francisco and leased it to a residential tenant. As part of the purchase, Pakdel signed an agreement with the other owners to convert the building’s six units into condominiums. But the City of San Francisco requires that property owners doing this conversion must offer lifetime leases to any tenants. Rather than allow the city to trample his property rights by dictating the use of his own property, Pakdel is fighting the unconstitutional mandate in federal court.”

I can speak with some authority on this process because I and many of my friends and neighbors have had to navigate this exact set of parameters. I’m a property owner, a landlord, and I’ve been a renter in the past. I see all sides with equal sympathy and general frustration.

San Francisco voters (this would be the 70% who rent) were alarmed that rental units were being converted to condos. The condo conversion process often resulted in evictions since the people who bought the units had every right to live in their own homes so the tenants had to go. As more and more condos were created from old rental stock the already limited supply of rental accommodation in the city decreased and rents went up even higher. So a law was passed by popular demand restricting the number of such condo conversions each year. A backlog instantly formed and the city created a lottery system to administer the conversion bottleneck.

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A pool of multi-unit building owners who were interested in selling were suddenly separated from all the potential buyers of would-be condos due to the administrative friction. Remember, that’s a feature not a bug as far as the voters were concerned. But this also opened a new opportunity for crafty investors in the Tenancy-In-Common (TIC) market.

A TIC is a legal fiction, not unlike a corporation. It describes a collection of unrelated people as one legal “person” as it concerned the purchase and ownership of a multi-unit building. If a group of people got together and bought a building collectively as a TIC it’s as if a single person were buying the property. There was no law against that. Those owners could move in and occupy the units, typically displacing the existing renters.

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Of course, financing such a purchase was tricky because conventional mortgages were not designed to work this way. Enter the fractional mortgage offered by a handful of specialty private lenders in search of higher yields. These financial instruments made it possible for a group of buyers to take on a single loan for an entire building and each pay their share of that one loan. The interest rates were a bit higher and there was the risk that some members of the group might not always pay as planned. But the market boomed in such TIC deals. Once a TIC had been formed the building then queued up for the condo conversion lottery. After the building converted the individual owners would refinance into separate standard condo loans and Bob’s your uncle.

Eventually opposition to this process led the city to ban all such conversions. Existing TICs would remain TIC. Full stop. And protections for existing tenants in limbo were put in place to prevent evictions. This is how Mr. Pakdel got stuck with an apartment he can’t live in.

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What if the Supreme Court rules in Mr. Pakdel’s favor? I understand his frustration and wish him well. But the legal repercussions could be weird, not just for San Francisco, but the whole country. Could the “Takings Clause” be interpreted more broadly? Or more narrowly? And in ways we may not expect? Time will tell.

Multiple levels of government regulations determine every aspect of the built environment. What isn’t dictated by law is exquisitely controlled by finance mechanisms, insurance companies, and the overwhelming demands of the dominant culture. Sometimes the culture is right wing. Sometimes it’s left wing. Mostly it’s just a perpetuation of what people have become used to in a given place and they resist change out of fear.

In the end all sorts of people are prevented from using or profiting from their own private property in all sorts of ways. Let’s stop pretending this is about liberty. No one really wants their neighbors to be free to do whatever they want with their property. Everyone wants more control over the people and things around them. How we do this is a matter of cultural consensus. We reverse engineer the laws backward from our emotional comfort zones. Libertarians are no different. It’s time to drop the act.

Ingenuity success opens door for future Mars helicopter missions


WASHINGTON — The successful flight of NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter on Mars paves the way for its use on future missions, agency officials said, but exactly when and how remain to be determined.

At a press conference April 19, project officials said Ingenuity’s first flight, also the first powered flight by an aircraft on another world, opened the door to using similar vehicles in future exploration of the planet.

“What the Ingenuity team has done is given us the third dimension,” said Michael Watkins, director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where Ingenuity was developed. “They’ve freed us from the surface now, forever, in planetary exploration.”

Ingenuity performed well in the 39-second flight, rising to an altitude of three meters, making a roughly one-quarter turn, then descending to a safe landing. “This flight was all about proving that it is possible to fly on Mars,” said Håvard Grip, chief pilot for Ingenuity at JPL. “From everything we’ve seen so far, it was a flawless flight.”

The project team is already preparing for a second flight, tentatively scheduled for April 22. On that flight Ingenuity will fly to an altitude of five meters, then translate, or move sideways, two meters, then go back two meters and land where it took off from. A third flight will be similar, but with the helicopter translating 50 meters out and back.

If Ingenuity performs those flights successfully, the project will carry out two more flights, but the flight plan for those isn’t decided yet. “We still have a little bit of team discussion,” said Grip, based on what happens on the next two flights. “In general terms, what we’re talking about is going higher, going further, going faster; stretching the capabilities of the helicopter in those ways.”

“We will be pushing the envelope,” added MiMi Aung, project director for Ingenuity. “As we succeed in certain lateral flights, we’re going to go further and faster, especially towards the end of the experimental window.”

She said that those later flights may push Ingenuity to the point where it crashes. “The flight today perfectly matched what we were predicting, but we want to push,” she said. “Ultimately, we expect the helicopter will meet its limit, but that information is extremely important. This is a pathfinder.”

The Mars 2020 mission allocated one month to tests of Ingenuity, a time frame that started when the helicopter was released from the rover. Aung said that she was optimistic that the project could get the four remaining flights in over the next two weeks.

In the briefing, project officials compared Ingenuity to Sojourner, the small rover flown on the Mars Pathfinder mission that landed in 1997 and demonstrated the importance of mobility in planetary exploration. “Now those rovers have become Curiosity and our latest, Perseverance, driving tens of miles on the surface and going to the best places for scientific discovery,” Watkins said.

Bob Balaram, the chief engineer for Ingenuity, believed the 1.8-kilogram helicopter could be scaled up. “The fundamental dynamics of these vehicles do scale up to fairly reasonable sizes,” he said. He envisioned helicopters weighing 25 to 30 kilograms that could carry 4 kilograms of science payloads. “That would be a good sweet spot for the next-generation design.”

However, when a larger version of Ingenuity might fly on Mars isn’t clear. NASA’s Mars exploration program is focused primarily on Mars sample return for the next decade with the Perseverance rover caching samples that two later missions, developed in cooperation with ESA, will collect and return to Earth. The only other major Mars mission NASA is currently working on is the Mars Ice Mapper orbiter, scheduled for launch no earlier than 2026.

“I don’t know” when the next helicopter will fly on Mars, said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science. “What I’m really interested in, frankly, is the science community’s ideas about how to turn this into a science machine.”

Later in the briefing, he appeared to rule out including a helicopter on the next lander mission, which will collect the samples Perseverance caches and launches them into orbit. “We need to keep it as streamlined as possible. There’s a lot of things we could be adding to this,” he said of that lander. “The campaign we have in front of us is very much focused exactly one key objective, and that is to bring the samples back to Earth.”

Most of the emphasis at the briefing, though, was to discuss the successful first flight of Ingenuity, which attracted worldwide attention. In Washington, White House press secretary Jen Psaki mentioned the flight at her daily briefing. “Today, we congratulate the men and women of NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for yet again making history in outer space,” she said. “This brief flight now paves the way for more extensive exploration down the road.”

Later, the White House released a photo of President Joe Biden, seated in a studio with a model of Ingenuity, talking by video with the Ingenuity project team. “Today, President Biden joined NASA as the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter took off from the surface of Mars,” the White House tweeted, but did not disclose additional details of the conversation.

There was also, for the project team itself, a chance to finally enjoy success after years of work. “This is the first day in our six, seven years of effort that we feel a license to celebrate,” Aung said. “We have never allowed ourselves to celebrate fully. Yes, we will be celebrating, 100%.”


What should I ask Richard Prum?

I will be doing a Conversation with him, here is part of his Wikipedia page:

Richard O. Prum (born 1961) is William Robertson Coe Professor of Ornithology, and Head Curator of Vertebrate Zoology at the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University.

Prum describes himself as “an evolutionary ornithologist with broad interests in diverse topics,” including phylogeneticsbehaviorfeathersstructural colorationevolution and developmentsexual selection, and historical biogeography.

Prum holds that birds are the living descendants of theropod dinosaurs, a once disputed finding that is now almost universally accepted in the ornithological and evolutionary biology scientific communities.

Prum grew up in rural Vermont and took his bachelor’s degree at Harvard in 1983, and received his Ph.D. in 1989 from the University of Michigan. After gradually losing his hearing throughout the early 1990s due to illness, Prum moved from primarily doing field work to conducting research on plumage pigmentation, feather evolution, and Darwin‘s sexual selection theory. He released a book in 2017 on the role of beauty in natural selection: The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin’s Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World – And Us.

So what should I ask him?

The post What should I ask Richard Prum? appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

The forthcoming Facebook audio product

Facebook is making a push into audio, launching a suite of new features that will allow users to host audio conferences and podcasts, in a dash to compete with up-and-coming apps such as Clubhouse. Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive of the world’s largest social media company by users, said on Monday said that over the next three to six months it planned to roll out live audio rooms as well as new tools allowing users to search for, listen to and create podcasts.

In addition, its live audio rooms, which will be available on the main platform and its Messenger app, can be saved and turned into podcasts. Zuckerberg also announced the launch of a feature called “Soundbites”, where users can post or listen to short audio clips that will be showcased in a continuous feed, in a similar way to its Reels video feed in Instagram.

Facebook plans to allow users to earn money from the podcasts and audio rooms they create — for example, by allowing users to charge for access to a room by purchasing it individually or as part of a subscription.

Here is more from The Financial Times.

The post The forthcoming Facebook audio product appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

[Sponsor] Tom Bihn: Big Restock Coming Thursday

13 different bags including the popular Synik 30 backpack and Monster Truck tote will be restocked on 4/22 at 7:00am. What’s with the restock, you may ask? At any given time, some TOM BIHN bags are sold out / in production, and here’s why: a control-freak level of quality, cut and sewn in Seattle in small batches, and, as a Certified B Corporation, the company is dedicated to measured, sustainable growth. In 2020, the company pivoted to making non-medical face masks and eventually donated over 200,000 masks — now we’re back to making bags and restocking on a regular basis.

 ★ Does Not Know The Difference Between An "At-Bat" And A "Plate Appearance"

The Red Sox rebounded from losing both ends of Sunday's doubleheader against the White Sox by scoring six runs in the first inning on Monday. The first six batters hit safely – a home run by Enrique Hernández and five singles – in what became an 11-4 rout. The Red Sox pounded Lucas Giolito (1-8-8-2-0, 54) and cruised to their 11th win in their last 14 games.

In the six-run first inning, Bobby Dalbec fouled off eight pitches to draw a walk in a 14-pitch battle. published the list below with this comment ("Only three other Red Sox players have had longer at-bats that ended in a walk since 1988"). Does this mean there have been longer post-1988 plate-appearances that did not end with ball 4. Who knows?

Longest Red Sox Plate Appearances (Since 1988)
15 pitches – Danny Heep, against Tom Henke, June 4, 1989
15 pitches – Alex Cora, against Paul Byrd, April 27, 2006
15 pitches – Victor Martinez, against Cole Hamels, June 13, 2010
14 pitches – Dalbec, against Lucas Giolito, April 19, 2021 called Dalbec's 14-pitch plate appearance "the fourth-longest in Sox history", which is (almost certainly) incorrect. MLB started keeping records of individual pitches in 1988, which is only 27.5% of the Red Sox's existence (33 of 120 years). got something else wrong, too. When a player walks, he has not had an "at-bat". He had a "plate appearance". (I know you know this.) And this bizarre way of doing things – which would never pass muster if it was being instituted now – has been going on since before the Civil War. So please try to keep up, MLB.

Alex Verdugo (18-for-50 (.360) with a 1.064 OPS in his last 13 games), J.D. Martinez (leads MLB with 20 RBI), and Christian Vázquez (has three three-hit games this year) each had three hits and the first five batters in the lineup each scored two runs.

Nathan Eovaldi (6.1-9-4-0-10, 100) matched a career high with 10 punchouts, on of which was Nick Madrigal, who had not whiffed in 42 previous at-bats. Also, Eovaldi has walked exactly none of his last 51 batters.

The Red Sox (11-6) will finish this homestand with two games against the Blue Jays and four against the Mariners.

MFY Watch: They did not lose today. But that's only because they did not play.

The NASA CIO OpenNASA Website Has Expired - Further

The NASA CIO OpenNASA Website Has Expired

Keith's update: It has been 3 weeks since this post and not much has changed - except that the page was supposedly updated on 2 April 2021 (but shows a responsible NASA official who retired several years ago). And if you go to the Datanauts link you get a broken link error "Not Found The requested URL /explore/datanauts/ was not found on this server." Typical NASA CIO. When they try to fix things they just end up breaking more things instead.

Keith's 27 March note: The NASA Office of the Chief Information Officer is charged with lots of things and has dabbled over the years in "Open Government" - something that the Obama Administration championed and the Trump people ignored. There is a website called OpenNASA that is supposed to be a focal point for NASA's engagement in Open Government. When you click on the NASA Open Government Plan (the "most recent" report from 2016) you see a CIO who left NASA a year ago. The current CIO seems to have had no interest in revising this activity.

Let's look at the OpenNASA main page. Note that says: "Page Last Updated: Dec. 4, 2019 April 2, 2021 Page Editor: Jason Duley NASA Official: Beth Beck". Beth Beck retired from NASA in 2018. And yet she is listed as the NASA official on virtually all of the OpenNASA pages. Anyone from outside NASA who wants to contact Open NASA is going to have a hard time. As a matter of fact despite, being established to promote openness, this website has no way to contact the page's authors or the NASA CIO. No link or email address or phone number. Nothing. Isn't this a little ironic that the NASA CIO makes it hard to interact with all of this supposed openness? In fact, this site does not even have a link to the NASA CIO organization itself - or even to

But wait there's much more.

Let's look at the top menu items (all pages have "Page Editor: Jason Duley NASA Official: Beth Beck"). So even though she has left NASA nearly 3 years ago she is listed as the responsible NASA official. Unless of course she is not and the CIO folks have not found a replacement. That said some pages still list her as the responsible official even though they were updated several years after her departure. So how do you contact this program? BTW email addresses are not provided for either Beth Beck or Jason Duley.

earlier post

Ingenuity: First Flight over Mars

What's the best way to explore Mars? What's the best way to explore Mars?

U.S. Army approves plans for a future ‘tactical space layer’

WASHINGTON — U.S. Army leaders have signed off on plans to explore the use of satellites in low Earth orbit to give soldiers dedicated surveillance, navigation and imaging capabilities.

The Army’s effort is called “tactical space layer” and is led by the U.S. Army’s Futures Command, based in Austin, Texas.

The Futures Command in an April 19 news release said it was given approval for “rapid experimentation and prototyping efforts for tactical space-based sensors with supporting ground-based equipment.”

One of the desired capabilities for the tactical space layer is positioning, navigation and timing (PNT), a service that is provided by the U.S. Global Positioning System satellites. The Army worries that adversaries in a conflict will jam GPS and want to have backup systems available. The Army also wants satellites for surveillance and reconnaissance.

“The tactical space layer will provide deep area sensing, rapid targeting and unmatched battlefield situational awareness,” said Lt. Col. Travis Tallman, director of the Future Command’s tactical space signature effort. “Leveraging the tactical space layer will further enable long range precision fires and ground maneuvers in GPS-challenged environments.”

“Space is an important component of battlefield dominance,” said Willie Nelson, who leads the Futures Command’s assured PNT team in Huntsville, Alabama.

The tactical space layer will help inform future programs of record and procurements, he said. 

The use of satellites is part of a larger project by Army Futures Command to connect ground forces with those that operate in the air, sea and space domains. 

In 2019, a tactical space layer “interagency memorandum of agreement” was signed by the Secretary of the Army, the Director of the National Reconnaissance Office, the Director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the director for defense intelligence.  

The Army Space and Missile Defense Command — which has been working on space experiments such as the recently launched Gunsmoke-J satellite — is supporting the tactical space layer effort, said Thomas Webber, director of the SMDC Technical Center. “As the Army proponent for space and high altitude it only makes sense that SMDC would play a critical role in delivering a tactical space layer for the Army.”

SMDC’s Col. Timothy Dalton said the tactical space layer is “the first big step to identify and establish validated Army requirements in the space mission area.”  

The tactical space layer will be integrated with an existing ground station called Tactical Intelligence Targeting Access Node (TITAN) which the Army uses to process data from land-based and aerial sensors. 

The Army’s tactical space layer is different than the “Transport Layer” that is being planned by the Defense Department’s Space Development Agency and will be deployed in low Earth orbit starting in 2022. 


After successful first flight, NASA wants to push Mars helicopter to its limits

The work isn’t over for NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter.

Engineers hope to fly the rotorcraft four more times in the next two weeks before calling it quits on the pioneering technology experiment, which accomplished the first powered flight of an aircraft on another planet Monday.

As officials celebrated the helicopter’s historic flight, teams were already looking forward to a series of more daring hops to take Ingenuity higher and farther away from its makeshift “airfield” on the Red Planet.

The helicopter’s one-month test flight campaign officially began April 3, then the Perseverance rover deployed Ingenuity onto the surface of Mars.

“We have a 30 day experiment window, so we have two weeks left,” said MiMi Aung, Ingenuity’s project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

She said the helicopter will attempt “increasingly bolder flights” that could travel more than 2,000 feet (600 meters) from its takeoff location. “We do want to push it, and I believe we have enough time to squeeze the next four flights in the next two weeks left.”

“Ultimately, we expect the helicopter will meet its limit,” Aung said. “But that information is extremely important. This is a Pathfinder. This is about finding unknown unknowns that we can model, and we really want to know what the limits are, so we will be pushing them very deliberately.”

On its first flight Monday, the helicopter took off to an altitude of about 10 feet (3 meters) Monday, hovered and turned, then set down in the same location. Due to the vast distance to Mars — some 173 million miles (278 kilometers) from Earth — there’s no real-time control of the helicopter. Instead, Ingenuity uses an altimeter, navigation camera, and a sophisticated processor to help guide its motion.

“From everything we’ve seen thus far, it was a flawless flight,” said Håvard Grip, Ingenuity’s chief pilot at JPL. “It was a gentle takeoff. At altitude, it gets pushed around little bit by the winds, but it really just maintained station very well, and it stuck the landing right in the place it was supposed to go.”

Cameras on-board the Ingenuity helicopter took pictures throughout the automated test flight. Long-range observations from NASA’s Perseverance rover showed the rotorcraft’s historic flight from an observation post about 211 feet (64 meters) away.

The rover’s Mastcam-Z instrument, featuring two telephoto cameras capable of long-distance imaging, recorded video of the 39-second flight. The first video downlinked from the Perseverance rover was a wide-angle view recorded in 720p at 6.7 frames per second, according to Justin Maki, deputy principal investigator for the Mastcam-Z instrument at JPL.

Ingenuity beamed black-and-white images from an down-looking on-board camera back to ground teams Monday. Grip said the imagery indicated the helicopter kicked up less dust than expected, a good sign for future flights.

The data route between the helicopter and mission control passes through a base station on the Perseverance rover, then through an orbiter flying around Mars, which then transmits information back to engineers on Earth. Commands from mission control reach the helicopter the same way.

Still to come are the first views from a color camera on the helicopter, and a more zoomed-in view from Perseverance’s other Mastcam-Z camera that should show a portion of the rotorcraft’s flight.

“We are swimming in data right now,” Maki said.

Steve Jurczyk, NASA’s acting administrator, congratulated the helicopter team on an “amazing job.”

“This really is a Wright Brothers’ moment,” he said. “It’s the start of a whole new kind of planetary exploration, and we’ll build on Ingenuity’s success to see how we can deploy this capability on future Mars missions.”

NASA says it developed and flew the Ingenuity helicopter on an $85 million budget. The success adds a new dimension to the way NASA explores other worlds.

“We have this evolution of exploring planets in the solar system, first we do a flyby, then we’ll do an orbiter mission, then we’ll do a lander mission, we’ll land a rover, and now we’ve added another evolutionary capability … of flight on another planet,” Jurczyk said.

President Biden said the helicopter flight on Mars “proved once again that with relentless determination and the power of America’s best minds, anything is possible.”

Ingenuity’s fuselage is not much larger than a tissue box, and its twin counter-rotating carbon-composite rotor blades span about 4 feet (1.2 meters) tip-to-tip. The entire helicopter weighed about 4 pounds (1.8 kilograms) on Earth, or 1.5 pounds under weaker Martian gravity.

Members of the NASA Ingenuity helicopter team attach a thermal film to the exterior of the flight model of the rotorcraft. The image was taken on Feb. 1, 2019 inside the Space Simulator, a 25-foot-wide (7.62-meter-wide) vacuum chamber at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Officials said one of the biggest challenges of the Mars helicopter’s six-year development was controlling the rotorcraft’s weight. Engineers had to fit the rotorcraft’s computer, batteries, rotor blades, and motors under the strict weight limit.

The rotors have to spin at near 2,500 rpm, much faster than helicopter blades on Earth, to create enough lift to power Ingenuity off the ground in the rarefied atmosphere of Mars, which is less than 1% the density of Earth’s at sea level. That’s roughly equivalent to the density of Earth’s atmosphere at 100,000 feet.

Ingenuity’s team took some extra time preparing for the first flight after a command sequence error cut short a spin-up test of the helicopter’s rotors. The time to troubleshoot the problem delayed Ingenuity’s first takeoff by about eight days, but officials are still optimistic to complete the helicopter’s five-flight test campaign by early May.

The second flight is scheduled as soon as Thursday, when Ingenuity will climb to an altitude of about 16 feet (5 meters), according to Aung. The helicopter will move laterally nearly 7 feet (2 meters), then come back to its original position for landing.

Flight No. 3 will extend the range of the helicopter by flying up to 160 feet, or 50 meters, from its “helipad” before returning for touchdown.

Grip, a guidance engineer serving as the helicopter’s chief pilot, said ground teams will command Ingenuity to travel downrange at around 4.5 mph (2 meters per second) on the third flight.

“In general terms, what we’re talking about here is going higher, going farther, going faster — stretching the capabilities of the helicopter in those ways,” Grip said.

Plans for the fourth and fifth flights haven’t been announced, but Aung said she hopes the helicopter can travel to distances between 600 and 700 meters, or nearly a half-mile, from its airfield — and go “as fast as we can go.”

According to Grip, the theoretical limit for Ingenuity’s altitude is constrained by the rotorcraft’s altimeter, which uses a laser range finder to measure the distance from the helicopter to the ground. That altitude limit is “probably around 10 meters (33 feet), or a little bit more, but not much more,” Grip said.

Teams also want to ensure the helicopter stays within range of its communications relay station on the Perseverance rover.

NASA named the helicopter’s takeoff and landing zone as “Wright Brothers Field.” The space agency also announced the International Civil Aviation Organization — the United Nations’ civil aviation agency — presented NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration with the official ICAO designator IGY, call-sign INGENUITY.

The location of the flight also received the ceremonial location designation JZRO for Jezero Crater, where the Perseverance rover landed Feb. 18, according to NASA.

Ingenuity’s demonstrations are scheduled to end in early May to allow the Perseverance rover to continue its primary mission. The $2.7 billion mission is designed to explore an ancient dried-up river delta a few miles from where the rover landed on Mars on Feb. 18.

Perseverance will gather rock samples for return to Earth on a future mission due to arrive on Mars in the late 2020s. Scientists will analyze the specimens — the first pristine samples ever returned from Mars — in search of signs of ancient life.

Ingenuity paves the way for aerial scouts that NASA could dispatch across the solar system. Future airborne drones could provide reconnaissance for rovers and astronauts exploring the surfaces of other worlds, and they could reach areas inaccessible to other vehicles, according to NASA officials.

NASA has selected a robotic mission named Dragonfly to explore Saturn’s largest moon Titan. But Titan has a much thicker atmosphere than Mars, which eases the difficulty of rotor-driven flight. The Dragonfly mission is scheduled for launch in 2027.

There are no more helicopters currently scheduled to fly to Mars. Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA’s science mission directorate, said one area where future Mars helicopters might assist scientists is in exploring the walls of craters, places inaccessible to rovers driving on the surface.

Bob Balaram, Ingenuity’s chief engineer, said Monday that the Ingenuity design could be scaled up to masses between 25 and 50 kilograms — or 55 to 110 pounds — to accommodate scientific instruments. Ingenuity’s only payloads are black-and-white and color cameras.

NASA’s next Mars lander is scheduled for launch in 2026. It will land in the Jezero Crater region to retrieve the rock samples collected by the Perseverance rover, then launch the specimens on a journey back to Earth.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

‘A Very Good Weird’: Israel Drops Outdoor COVID Mask Order

Dan Williams, reporting for Reuters:

Israelis went about barefaced on Sunday after the order to wear masks outdoors was rescinded in another step towards relative normality thanks to the country’s mass-vaccination against COVID-19. With about 81% of citizens or residents over 16 - the age group eligible for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in Israel - having received both doses, contagions and hospitalisations are down sharply. […]

“Being without a mask for the first time in a long time feels weird. But it’s a very good weird,” Amitai Hallgarten, 19, said while sunning himself at a park. “If I need to be masked indoors to finish with this - I’ll do everything I can.”

A good weird, indeed.


More on Eliminating Outdoor Mask Mandates

Dr. Paul E. Sax, writing for the New England Journal of Medicine’s Journal Watch:

But what about the community solidarity engendered by wearing a mask outside in public? Isn’t this worth something? A way of showing that I’m 100% part of Team Mask? Maybe — certainly there’s a strong component of this messaging among the highly adherent mask wearers here in Boston. But this performative aspect of outdoor mask-wearing has a downside, too.

You might think you need to wear a mask while walking me in the morning to set a good example for others, said Louie the other day. But really you might be misleading people about how the virus is transmitted. […]

Here’s a bold proposal — let’s make public policy based on our best understanding of the science of SARS-CoV-2 transmission:

  • Dangerous — crowded indoor spaces with poor ventilation, in particular with unmasked individuals talking, shouting, singing. Wear a well-fitted mask until case numbers are down and more people are vaccinated.

  • Safe — outdoors, especially while distanced. Masks only needed for lengthy interactions with others at close distance.


Three Quick Links for Monday Afternoon

This is pretty cool: a DIY open-source split-flap display. If I had a small IRL business of some sort (bakery, cafe, package shipping place), I'd 100% have a functioning split-flap display on the wall. []

How Fit Can You Get From Just Walking? "Walking is probably the single most underutilized tool in health and wellness." []

They're making a second Downton Abbey film. Inject this low-stakes Britishness right into my veins! []


Note: Quick Links are pushed to this RSS feed twice a day. For more immediate service, check out the front page of, the Quick Links archive, or the @kottke Twitter feed.

Dragon crew rehearses for launch day, first-look weather forecast looks good

NASA commander Shane Kimbrough, pilot Megan McArthur, European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet, and Japan’s Akihiko Hoshide stand inside the crew access arm leading to the Crew Dragon hatch at pad 39A during Sunday’s dress rehearsal. Credit: SpaceX

After completing a dress rehearsal for launch day over the weekend, the four astronauts gearing up for liftoff Thursday on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket are in good spirits and spending time with their families in Florida before leaving the planet for six months.

Forecasters with the U.S. Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron predict an 80% chance of acceptable weather for launch at 6:11 a.m. EDT (1011 GMT) Thursday from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The four astronauts, led by veteran NASA commander Shane Kimbrough, will fly with a Crew Dragon capsule to the International Space Station.

Kimbrough and NASA crewmate Megan McArthur, Akihiko Hoshide of Japan, and Thomas Pesquet of France — all with spaceflight experience — suited up in their SpaceX pressure garments early Sunday and rode in Tesla Model X SUVs from crew quarters at Kennedy to pad 39A. The astronauts used the same timeline they will follow on launch day, and departed their suit-up room at the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building shortly before 3 a.m. EDT (0700 GMT).

They arrived at the launch pad less than a half-hour later to board the Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft on top of the 215-foot-tall (65-meter) Falcon 9 rocket. They then disembarked after simulating a scrubbed launch attempt, and returned to crew quarters for a debriefing before sunrise Sunday.

The “dry dress rehearsal” was a practice run for the astronauts and SpaceX support teams who will help the crew members suit up and strap in to the Dragon capsule.

Pesquet, a French-born European Space Agency astronaut, said Monday everything was on track for liftoff Thursday. The mission will be the second regular space station crew rotation flight by SpaceX under a multibillion-dollar contract with NASA, which also arranges rides to the complex for European, Japanese, and Canadian astronauts.

“We are putting the finishing touches on the training,” Pesquet said Monday morning. “There are only … three days exactly, a little bit less now, to go before the launch. Everything is going well. The rocket is ready. The spacecraft is ready.”

“We actually had a couple of days of margin that we didn’t need in the end, so now the rocket is just going to sit on the launch pad today and tomorrow, pretty much, before the final prep on Wednesday, and then on Thursday we’ll be ready to launch,” said Pesquet, who spent 196 days in orbit on a previous trip to the space station. “The crew is happy. The crew is in great shape, in high spirits. The families are here at the Cape, and everything is fine. We’re trying to enjoy our last few days on Earth before leaving the planet for six months.”

The Dragon astronauts are scheduled to return to Earth for a splashdown off the coast of Florida in late October.

Hoshide will take over as commander of the space station’s Expedition 65 crew next week, assuming the helm from NASA astronaut Shannon Walker. Walker and her crewmates — Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi — are scheduled to come back to Earth on April 28 on their Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft, wrapping up a mission that launched in November.

The Crew-2 astronauts — Thomas Pesquet, Akihiko Hoshide, Shane Kimbrough, and Megan McArthur — wave to onlookers as they depart crew quarters early Sunday at the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

Later this year, Pesquet will get a turn at space station commander. Pesquet worked as a spacecraft engineer in European industry and for the French space agency, then became an airline pilot for Air France before his selection as an ESA astronaut in 2009. He first launched into space in 2016.

On his first spaceflight, Pesquet launched and landed on a Russian Soyuz capsule, which has a design rooted in the 1960s. He told reporters Monday that he expects a similar ride during launch on the Falcon 9 rocket, which burns the same kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants as Russia’s venerable Soyuz launcher.

The Crew-2 mission is the first time SpaceX has used a reused booster and Crew Dragon spacecraft for an astronaut mission.

“I don’t expect it to be bad at all,” Pesquet said. “Everybody who flew on the Dragon and Falcon 9 loved it so far. The return to Earth is always a bit rough, but that’s the same in every single space vehicle.”

He said the automation of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft makes the vehicle safer. Under normal conditions, the capsule flies to and from the space station on autopilot.

The Crew-2 astronauts pose with the Falcon 9 rocket that will launch them into orbit. Credit: SpaceX

“For us, what it means is we don’t have that many actions to take in a nominal situation,” said Pesquet, who was an instructor in cockpit protocols for Air France. “Of course, in an off-nominal situation, we have to take action. But what it means is you’re available to manage the situation. Your situational awareness is just unbelievable.

“You have these huge big screens that are showing you, in every possible way, what’s happening,” Pesquet said. “The priority of the information is already pre-analyzed by the system. The color coding is great. The way the information is laid out is just fantastic. You know all the time what’s going on.

“Soyuz is unbelievably reliable, but you had to make sense of all that information that was sparse and disseminated at every corner of your control panel, with digital gauges and analog gauges,” Pesquet said. “That’s why the training was so much longer. I think it’s great. We will love it, and I think it makes the system more reliable overall.”

While forecasters predict good conditions at the launch site in Florida early Thursday, officials may have to monitor weather downrange in the Atlantic Ocean.

There is a “moderate” risk of poor conditions in the Falcon 9 booster’s downrange landing zone in the Atlantic — roughly due east of South Carolina — and a low probability of unfavorable upper level winds over the launch pad. SpaceX and NASA officials will continue evaluating downrange winds and sea states at locations across the Atlantic Ocean to assess whether the conditions are acceptable for splashdown of the Dragon capsule in the event of an in-flight abort.

A Tesla Model X carrying two of the Crew-2 astronauts drives by the Kennedy Space Center press site on the way to pad 39A for Sunday’s dress rehearsal. Credit: Stephen Clark/Spaceflight Now

“A wet and unstable pattern will continue over Central Florida as a frontal boundary remains stalled across the area,” the weather team wrote in the forecast Monday morning. “Rain showers and isolated thunderstorms are likely as low pressure waves move along the boundary over the next two days.

“On Wednesday, high pressure begins to build in and push the unsettled weather south through the day. By Thursday morning, the high pressure will be centered near Arkansas, creating gusty northerly winds along the Space Coast due to the pressure gradient between the high and the departing boundary,” the foresters wrote.

“The primary weather concern Thursday morning will be these gusty liftoff winds associated with this strong pressure gradient.”

At launch time Thursday, forecasters expect north-northeast winds of 17 to 22 mph, a temperature of about 68 degrees Fahrenheit, and a few low-level clouds.

There is also an 80% chance of good weather for a backup launch opportunity at 5:49 a.m. EDT (0949 GMT) Friday.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

April 19th COVID-19 Vaccinations, New Cases, Hospitalizations; Spring Wave May Have Peaked

Note: I'm looking forward to not posting this daily! I've been posting this data daily for over a year, and I'll stop once all three of these criteria are met:
1) 70% of the population over 18 has had at least one dose of vaccine,
2) new cases are under 5,000 per day, and
3) hospitalizations are below 3,000.

According to the CDC, 211.6 million doses have been administered. 33.0% of the population over 18 is fully vaccinated, and 50.7% of the population over 18 has had at least one dose (131.0 million people over 18 have had at least one dose).

And check out COVID Act Now to see how each state is doing. 

Over 12,000 US deaths were reported so far in April due to COVID.

COVID-19 Positive Tests per DayClick on graph for larger image.

This graph shows the daily (columns) 7 day average (line) of positive tests reported.

Note: The ups and downs during the Winter surge were related to reporting delays due to the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

This data is from the CDC.

The 7-day average is 66,747, down from 67,964 yesterday, and close to the summer surge peak of 67,337 on July 23, 2020.

The second graph shows the number of people hospitalized.

COVID-19 HospitalizedThis data is also from the CDC.

The CDC cautions that due to reporting delays, the area in grey will probably increase.

The current 7-day average is 36,118, down from 36,976, reported yesterday, and well above the post-summer surge low of 23,000.

Links 4/19/21

Links for you. Science:

The Louisiana red swamp crayfish, Procambarus clarkii
More young people are getting hospitalized as a ‘stickier,’ more infectious coronavirus strain becomes dominant
This ancient shark fossil is exquisite. But some researchers wonder if they’ll be able to study it
In the ancient Mississippian settlement of Cahokia, vast social events – not trade or the economy – were the founding principle.
Why is it so hard to review the Johnson & Johnson vaccine? Data.


‘You Can’t Trust Anyone’: Russia’s Hidden Covid Toll Is an Open Secret
Whatever we may think of modern monetary theory, its day in the sun has arrived
Respectfully, Justice Breyer, court enlargers aren’t the problem
John Boehner Should Just Shut the #&%! Up
One America News Network Stays True to Trump. A recent OAN segment said there were “serious doubts about who’s actually president,” and another blamed “anti-Trump extremists” for the Capitol attack.
Republicans got the Supreme Court they wanted: That will change America forever (“When you control the Supreme Court, you have the option to abandon democracy.”)
How Facebook let fake engagement distort global politics: a whistleblower’s account
Andrew Yang, Celebrity Politician
NSA official installed as Trump left office resigns after he was sidelined (one burrower down, so many to go…)
Two blocks from the Federal Reserve, a growing encampment of the homeless grips the economy’s most powerful person
I’ve worked for two billionaires. Here’s my advice for rich people who want to buy a newspaper.
Whose streets? Their streets.
America Has Pandemic Senioritis: Being so close (and yet so far) is a stress all its own.
‘Ripe for fraud’: Coronavirus vaccination cards support burgeoning scams
Fox executives think Tucker’s ‘replacement theory’ talk was just fine as white nationalists exult
The fake innovation of gig companies
Left-Behind Suburbs Are a Civil-Rights Battleground: Communities like Brooklyn Center, Minnesota—where police killed Daunte Wright—are perfectly tailored to produce inequality, discrimination, and conflict.
How Taiwan Beat COVID-19 – New Study Reveals Clues to its Success
The superspreader events that governments let happen
DeSantis Vaccine Slogan Is ‘Seniors First’ – But ‘Rich, White Seniors First’ Is What Happened
The GOP’s big bulk book-buying machine is boosting Republicans on the bestseller lists

MBA Survey: "Share of Mortgage Loans in Forbearance Decreases to 4.50%"

Note: This is as of April 11th.

From the MBA: Share of Mortgage Loans in Forbearance Decreases to 4.50%
The Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) latest Forbearance and Call Volume Survey revealed that the total number of loans now in forbearance decreased by 16 basis points from 4.66% of servicers’ portfolio volume in the prior week to 4.50% as of April 11, 2021. According to MBA’s estimate, 2.3 million homeowners are in forbearance plans.
The share of loans in forbearance decreased for the seventh straight week and has now dropped 40 basis points in the last two weeks. The forbearance share decreased for all three investor categories, with the rate for portfolio and PLS loans decreasing by 31 basis points this past week – the largest drop across investor categories,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s Senior Vice President and Chief Economist. “Forbearance exits increased for portfolio and PLS loans but decreased for GSE and Ginnie Mae loans. More than 36 percent of borrowers in forbearance extensions have now exceeded the 12-month mark.”

Fratantoni added, “Economic data on home construction and consumer spending in March show a strong housing market and a quickened pace of economic activity. Combined with the homeowner assistance and stimulus payments that many households are receiving, we expect that the forbearance numbers will continue to decline in the months ahead as more individuals regain employment. Homeowners who are still facing hardships and need to extend their forbearance term should contact their servicers.”
emphasis added
MBA Forbearance Survey Click on graph for larger image.

This graph shows the percent of portfolio in forbearance by investor type over time.  Most of the increase was in late March and early April, and has trended down since then.

The MBA notes: "Total weekly forbearance requests as a percent of servicing portfolio volume (#) remained flat relative to the prior week at 0.05%."

NRO to sign deals with commercial providers of satellite radar imagery

WASHINGTON — The National Reconnaissance Office plans to sign new deals with commercial providers of satellite radar imagery as the agency looks to better understand the capabilities of the private sector, a senior NRO official told SpaceNews.  

Satellite imagery known as synthetic aperture radar (SAR) is now offered by a growing number of commercial companies, a trend that has drawn the attention of U.S. national security agencies. 

 “One of the things that we are moving out on is the potential to purchase commercial radar imagery,” said Pete Muend, director of the NRO’s Commercial Systems Program Office.

The NRO in December 2019 awarded SAR imagery provider Capella Space a contract to experiment with the use of the company’s data and figure out the utility of the data for national security. Other providers of satellite-based Earth intelligence received similar study contracts over the past two years.  Muend said the next round of contracts will focus on SAR imagery.

“I’m very excited about the commercial radar side,” said Muend. He said the NRO in November 2020 issued a request for information to “really get a better understanding of where U.S. domestic commercial radar providers might be.”

There was a significant response from the industry, said Muend. “We got a lot of really good feedback from that and we’re in the process of awarding a number of study contracts.”

The NRO acquires satellite data for the U.S. intelligence community, the military and homeland security agencies. It buys primarily optical satellite imagery, or photographs taken from space. The dominant supplier of electro-optical commercial imagery is Maxar Technologies. In 2019 the NRO launched an industry competition as it looks to select new suppliers of electro-optical imagery. It awarded study contracts to Maxar, Planet and BlackSky. 

“We are trying to do something on the SAR side very similar to what we did on the electro-optical side,” Muend said.

Under a study contract, the company provides a “fair amount of imagery” so the government can assess the quality and performance, he said. The data will be analyzed by the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, which is responsible for defining the requirements for the imagery the NRO procures. 

“We’re working hand in hand with NGA to lay the foundation for a future set of validated requirements so we can ultimately have a competition to purchase that radar imagery at scale for the long term,” Muend said. 

The SAR study contracts are expected to be awarded in mid to late 2021. 

One of the benefits of SAR is that it sees through clouds and other atmospheric obstacles that interfere with optical satellites. SAR imagery, however, requires a different type of skill and training to analyze. The commercial SAR constellations now being built project to have many satellites in orbit that can capture images of areas on Earth multiple times a day. Companies offer their services to civilian industries like agriculture and energy, but they view defense and intelligence as their most important market. 

Electro-optical imagery contracts

As it evaluates SAR imagery bids, the NRO also plans to seek proposals for its next round of electro-optical imagery contracts, Muend said.

The NRO currently spends about $300 million a year on imagery provided by Maxar under a sole-source contract known as EnhancedView. 

EnhancedView was extended until 2023. The study contracts awarded to Maxar ,Planet and BlackSky were intended to help the NRO figure out a plan for the next contract after EnhancedView. 

“Obviously that is all leading to a competition for us to put in place the next generation of electro optical commercial imagery contracts,” Muend said. “We’re working as rapidly as we can down that path.”

The next step will be the release of a draft request for proposals this summer or fall and a contract award later in the year, he said.

Muend said a key hurdle that has to be cleared before contracts are awarded are licensing agreements. 

“The imagery that we purchase is restricted under an end user license agreement that dictates who we can give it to, and who we can’t,” he said. “And it’s very important to make sure we have a good understanding on both sides of dissemination audiences” as that dictates the pricing of the imagery. 

The NRO developed a family of end user license agreements that would be part of any imagery contracts. “We wanted to get away from individually negotiated end user license agreements,” he said. “That can be quite complicated. So we wanted something that was standard, relatively simple.”

The NRO and the NGA want to create a ‘license architecture” so when agencies order imagery they know they have rights to disseminate it to their audiences, said Muend. “That’s definitely folded into our contract moving forward.”


Perfectly Synchronized Dancing

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A post shared by Taylor Pierce (@taylor_thatdancer)

I love this short dance video made by Taylor Pierce and Jackson Myles Chavis. For me, it’s when they slide to the side and then to the back in complete synchronized motion, like they’re on a dolly. I’ve watched this a dozen times at least. And a bunch of other videos by Pierce and Chavis. Mesmerizing.

Tags: dance   Jackson Myles Chavis   mesmerizing   Taylor Pierce   video

Amazon buys nine Atlas 5 launches for Kuiper broadband constellation

Nine Atlas 5 rockets will launch satellites for Amazon’s Kuiper internet network. Credit: United Launch Alliance

Amazon has selected United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket for nine missions from Cape Canaveral to deploy satellites for the Kuiper internet constellation, a fleet designed to eventually number more than 3,200 spacecraft, the companies announced Monday.

The nine missions will lift off from ULA’s facilities at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, but officials did not reveal when they will launch. Amazon and ULA — a 50-50 joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin — also did not disclose how many satellites will fly on each Atlas 5 mission, or which Atlas 5 rocket configuration will launch the Kuiper spacecraft.

“We’re determined to make affordable broadband a reality for customers and communities around the world,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO. “ULA is a fantastic partner that’s successfully launched dozens of missions for commercial and government customers, and we’re grateful for their support of Kuiper.”

Atlas 5 rockets have flown 86 times since 2002, all successfully, with payloads for the U.S. military, the U.S. government’s intelligence agencies, NASA, and commercial customers.

Amazon and ULA did not disclose financial terms of the launch services agreement. On its website, ULA says the price for an Atlas 5 rocket launch starts at $109 million, suggesting the total value of the contract may exceed $1 billion.

The Kuiper network will beam low-latency Ka-band broadband services to customers between 56 degrees north and 56 degrees south latitude, according to Amazon. Half of the Kuiper network’s 3,236 satellites must be launched by mid-2026 for Amazon to maintain network authorization from the Federal Communications Commission.

The nine Atlas 5 missions are just a start. Amazon says it plans to use multiple types of launch vehicles from multiple companies to deploy the entire fleet of Kuiper satellites.

In its FCC filings, Amazon outlined a strategy to launch the Kuiper satellites in five phases, placing the spacecraft into orbital “shells” at altitudes between 366 miles (590 kilometers) and 391 miles (630 kilometers). The Kuiper satellites will fly in orbital planes, or pathways, inclined at 33 degrees, 42 degrees, and 51.9 degrees to the equator.

The first phase of the Kuiper deployment sequence will launch 578 satellites into 391-mile-high orbits with an inclination of 51.9 degrees, according to Amazon’s FCC filings.

The FCC approved Amazon’s Kuiper network last July. Amazon says it is investing $10 billion into the project, which is headquartered in Redmond, Washington, home to a Kuiper research, development, and manufacturing facility. More than 500 employees are currently working on the Kuiper project, according to Amazon.

Amazon has not revealed the size and mass of the Kuiper satellites.

“We’ve designed our satellites and dispenser system to accommodate multiple launch vehicles — this gives us the flexibility to use many different rockets and providers to launch our satellite system,” said Rajeev Badyal, vice president of technology for Project Kuiper. “Atlas 5 is a capable, reliable rocket, and we’re proud to be working with ULA to support these important first launches.”

“Project Kuiper is an ambitious project with the potential to connect tens of millions of people around the planet,” said Tory Bruno, president and CEO of ULA. “The scope and scale of the initiative will also provide an enormous boost to U.S. leadership in space, helping create jobs and providing steady, reliable demand for the launch services industry. We’re honored to have Amazon turn to ULA and Atlas 5 to support its deployment plans.”

ULA is developing a next-generation rocket named the Vulcan Centaur to replace the company’s current Atlas 5 and Delta 4 rocket families. The first Vulcan test launch is scheduled at the end of this year.

ULA is ending production of Delta 4 rockets, and only four Delta 4 flights remain on ULA’s schedule through late 2023, including a Delta 4-Heavy launch scheduled April 26 from California.

The Atlas 5 will also be phased out, but ULA has said it plans to keep launching Atlas rockets in tandem with the early Vulcan launches for several years.

United Launch Alliance and SpaceX won contracts from the U.S. military last year to launch a series of national security satellites through 2027. ULA’s Vulcan rocket and SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launchers will be the military’s primary heavy-lift launch providers during that time.

With the nine Kuiper missions now reserved with ULA, there are nearly 30 Atlas 5 missions in the company’s backlog.

Several companies are in the pool of commercial launch providers vying for Kuiper launches. Blue Origin, a space company also owned by Bezos, has said it will have to compete for Kuiper launch contracts, alongside ULA, Arianespace, and perhaps even SpaceX, which is deploying its own internet network in competition with Amazon’s Kuiper.

“We will continue to explore all options to launch the remainder of our satellite constellation, and we look forward to working with companies across the launch services industry to advance U.S. leadership in space and create jobs across the country,” Amazon said in a statement.

The Kuiper network will compete with SpaceX’s Starlink fleet, the OneWeb broadband system, Telesat’s planned Lightspeed network, and other future low Earth orbit constellations.

SpaceX has more than 1,300 active Starlink satellites in orbit, and their network is already providing intermittent services to users in advanced beta testing. The Starlink satellites launch on SpaceX’s own partially-reusable Falcon 9 rockets.

OneWeb is behind SpaceX, with 146 of its planned 648 internet satellites successfully launched on Russian Soyuz rockets. OneWeb aims to start limited commercial service by the end of this year.

Telesat plans to start launching its nearly 300 Lightspeed satellites next year.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Risky Business Cycles

Is there any other major macroeconomic idea you hear so little about outside the halls of academia?:

We identify a shock that explains the bulk of fluctuations in equity risk premia, and show that the shock also explains a large fraction of the business-cycle comovements of output, consumption, employment, and investment. Recessions induced by the shock are associated with reallocation away from full-time permanent positions, towards part-time and flexible contract workers. A real model with labor market frictions and fluctuations in risk appetite can explain all of these facts, both qualitatively and quantitatively. The size of risk-driven fluctuations depends on the relationship between the riskiness and productivity of different stores of value: if safe savings vehicles have relatively low marginal products, then a flight to safety will drive a larger aggregate contraction.

That is from a new NBER working paper by Susanto Basu, GiacomoCandian, Ryan Chahrout, and Rosen Valchev, and you will find related ideas in my 1998 book Risk and Business Cycles and also the earlier work of Fischer Black.

The post Risky Business Cycles appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Recession Measures and NBER

Calling the beginning or end of a recession usually takes time.   However, the economic decline in March 2020 was so severe that the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) quickly called the end of the expansion in February.
The committee has determined that a peak in monthly economic activity occurred in the U.S. economy in February 2020. The peak marks the end of the expansion that began in June 2009 and the beginning of a recession. The expansion lasted 128 months, the longest in the history of U.S. business cycles dating back to 1854. The previous record was held by the business expansion that lasted for 120 months from March 1991 to March 2001.
The usual definition of a recession involves a decline in economic activity that lasts more than a few months. However, in deciding whether to identify a recession, the committee weighs the depth of the contraction, its duration, and whether economic activity declined broadly across the economy (the diffusion of the downturn). The committee recognizes that the pandemic and the public health response have resulted in a downturn with different characteristics and dynamics than prior recessions. Nonetheless, it concluded that the unprecedented magnitude of the decline in employment and production, and its broad reach across the entire economy, warrants the designation of this episode as a recession, even if it turns out to be briefer than earlier contractions.
The NBER will probably wait some time before calling the end of the recession, this process can take from 18 months to two years or longer.   It is likely the NBER will date the beginning of the expansion in Q2 2020.

It will take some time for all major indicators to be above their previous high after the pandemic recession because of the severe contraction as the graphs below show.

GDP is the key measure, as the NBER committee notes in their business cycle dating procedure:
The committee views real GDP as the single best measure of aggregate economic activity.
Recession Measure, GDPClick on graph for larger image.

This graph is for real GDP through Q4 2020.

This is the key measure, and the NBER will probably use GDP and GDI to determine the trough of the recession (likely in April and in Q2 2020).

As of Q4, real GDP was 2.5% below the pre-recession peak.

Most forecasters expect GDP to increase strongly in Q1 2021, but even with a 7% annualized increase, real GDP will be down about 0.8% from Q4 2019.

Real GDP will likely be above Q4 2019 levels in Q2 2021.

Recession Measure Industrial ProductionThe second graph is for monthly industrial production based on data from the Federal Reserve through Mar 2021.

Industrial production is off over 4.5% from the pre-recession peak.

Note that industrial production was weak prior to the onset of the pandemic.

Industrial production usually takes a long time to recover after a significant decline.

Recession Measure EmploymentThe third graph is for employment through March 2021.

Historically employment was a coincident indicator for the end of recessions, but that hasn't been true for the previous three recessions (1990-1991, 2001, 2007-2009).

Employment is currently off about 5.5% from the pre-recession peak (dashed line).  This is a significant improvement from off 14.6% in April 2020.

There is still a long way to go for employment to recover to pre-pandemic levels.

Recession Measure IncomeAnd the last graph is for real personal income excluding transfer payments through Feb 2021.

Real personal income less transfer payments was still off 2.5% in February.

These graphs are useful in trying to identify peaks and troughs in economic activity.

Economic activity bottomed in Q2 (in April).

Greta Thunberg: A Year to Change the World

Greta Thunberg took a year off of school to travel the world to better understand the changing planet, a journey captured in this three-part BBC series set to debut on PBS this Thursday (April 22, aka Earth Day). I found out about this from Lizzie Widdicombe’s short profile of Thunberg in the New Yorker.

Thunberg is on the autism spectrum, and the film illustrates how the condition lends a unique moral clarity to her activism. “I don’t follow social codes,” she said. “Everyone else seems to be playing a role, just going on like before. And I, who am autistic, I don’t play this social game.” She eschews empty optimism. Her over-all reaction to the coronavirus pandemic is to compare it with her cause: “If we humans would actually start treating the climate crisis like a crisis, we could really change things.”

Her uncompromising words can give the wrong impression. “People seem to think that I am depressed, or angry, or worried, but that’s not true,” she said. Having a cause makes her happy. “It was like I got meaning in my life.”

Also from that piece: Thunberg doesn’t live at home; she lives in a safe-house “in a kind of witness-protection program” situation because, one would assume, she gets a lot of threats due of her work.

Tags: global warming   Greta Thunberg   Lizzie Widdicombe   PBS   trailers   TV   video

Apple TV+ Original Content Quality

José Adorno, writing for 9to5Mac:

A new study reveals that Apple TV+ has the highest-quality content when compared to Netflix, HBO Max, Prime Video, Disney+, and Hulu. The analysis from Self Financial uses IMDb scores with US customer data.

The study found that although Apple TV+ had the highest average IMDb score for its titles (7.24), it has fewer than 70 titles to choose from. In terms of their libraries of content, Apple TV+ has the highest percentage of “good” and “excellent” at almost 86%. But, again, it has the smallest offering at just 65 titles.

This fits with my theory (which I stole from M.G. Siegler) that Apple TV+ is the new HBO: the streaming service with an emphasis on quality not quantity.

Speaking of which — I very much liked season 1 of For All Mankind, but season 2 is even better. Last week’s episode — my god, that ending. Just a terrific show.


Six Quick Links for Monday Noonish

Why You Can't Hear The Dialogue in Tenet. This drove me nuts – one of the reasons I was really disappointed in Tenet. []

I guess "Are Outdoor Mask Mandates Still Necessary?" is a perfectly fine question to ask but is this really an urgent concern right now? []

Herman Miller is acquiring Knoll to create a modern design supercompany. []

"We're talking about a deadly flesh-eating vapor cloud that could affect 1 million people." []

The rules for Covid chess. "The queen just got her first dose of the Moderna vaccine and now thinks she can fly diagonally, horizontally, or vertically to Austin for vacation." []

"All adults in every U.S. state, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico are now eligible for a Covid-19 vaccine, meeting the April 19 deadline that President Biden set two weeks ago." []


Note: Quick Links are pushed to this RSS feed twice a day. For more immediate service, check out the front page of, the Quick Links archive, or the @kottke Twitter feed.

Irrational COVID Fears

Good column by David Leonhardt for The New York Times today:

“We’re not going to get to a place of zero risk,” Jennifer Nuzzo, a Johns Hopkins epidemiologist, told me during a virtual Times event last week. “I don’t think that’s the right metric for feeling like things are normal.”

After Nuzzo made that point, Dr. Ashish Jha of Brown University told us about his own struggle to return to normal. He has been fully vaccinated for almost two months, he said, and only recently decided to meet a vaccinated friend for a drink, unmasked. “It was hard — psychologically hard — for me,” Jha said.

“There are going to be some challenges to re-acclimating and re-entering,” he added. “But we’ve got to do it.”

And how did it feel in the end, I asked, to get together with his friend?

“It was awesome,” Jha said.

Get vaccinated and get back to normal life. It’s that simple.


Apple Is Allowing Parler Back on the App Store

Brian Fung, reporting for CNN:

The letter — addressed to Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. Ken Buck and obtained by CNN — explained that since the app was removed from Apple’s platform in January for violations of its policies, Parler “has proposed updates to its app and the app’s content moderation practices.”

On April 14, Apple’s app review team told Parler that its proposed changes were sufficient, the letter continued. Now, all Parler needs to do is to flip the switch. “Apple anticipates that the updated Parler app will become available immediately upon Parler releasing it,” Apple’s letter said.


NASA OIG: Planned Artemis Launch Dates Are "Highly Unlikely"

Artemis Status Update: NASA OIG

"While NASA had been working for the past decade to return astronauts to the Moon, in March 2019 the White House directed the Agency to accelerate its timetable by approximately 4 years in order to land on the Moon by the end of 2024. Although the new Administration has expressed support of the Artemis program, it has not spoken in any detail about its human exploration plans or its intent to maintain the goal of a 2024 lunar landing. .... Nonetheless, the Agency faces significant challenges that we believe will make its current plan to launch Artemis I in 2021 and ultimately land astronauts on the Moon by the end of 2024 highly unlikely."

"... At the time of our November 2020 report, the Gateway program faced challenges related to the PPE's propulsion system development, vehicle weight, and mass levels, as well as defining requirements for the HALO component to avoid schedule delays and cost increases."

"... In January 2021, the program reported no schedule margin for a January 2024 launch with the PPE component facing the same challenges reported in November 2020. Combined with issues in HALO's thermal control systems, as of March 2021 the program faces up to 12 months of schedule risk."

"... As we reported in November 2020, the Agency suggested that an integration on the ground and a co-manifested launch of the PPE and HALO would also result in time savings. However, the requirements changes resulting from co-manifesting the PPE and HALO launches are not certain to result in the Agency's suggested savings and instead have led to schedule delays."

"... NASA's plan was to "downselect" from three contractors to one or two to begin the HLS development phase with award of a development contract in April 2021. According to NASA officials, the wide gulf in funding between what the program requested and what it received in FY 2021 jeopardized the Agency's plan to select two contractors to build the HLS. At the time, officials expressed concern that selecting a single contractor would result in a lack of redundancy and potenially higher, less sustainable future HLS costs due to a lack of competition. Nevertheless, on April 16, 2021, NASA announced award of a $2.9 billion contract to SpaceX for the HLS. Despite selecting a single contractor, the reduction in funding will likely slow HLS development and extend its schedule. Given the lunar lander's central role, any development delays could jeopardize NASA's plans to land astronauts on the Moon in 2024 or the foreseeable future."

"... Although the new Administration has publicly expressed support for the Artemis missions, it has not weighed in on the Agency's current plans for a lunar landing by the end of 2024. Nonetheless, achieving any date close to this ambitious goal--and reaching Mars in the 2030s--will require strong, consistent, sustained leadership from the President, Congress, and NASA, as well as stable and timely funding."

Derek Thompson on Wearing Face Masks Outdoors

Derek Thompson, writing for The Atlantic:

But as more and more of the population is vaccinated, governments need to give Americans an off-ramp to the post-pandemic world. Ending outdoor mask mandates — or at the very least telling people when they can expect outdoor mask mandates to lift — is a good place to start, for a few reasons.

Requiring that people always wear masks when they leave home, and especially in places with low levels of viral transmission, is overkill. As mentioned, the coronavirus disperses outside, posing little risk to people who are walking alone or even swiftly passing by strangers. In fact, almost all of the documented cases of outdoor transmission have involved long conversations, or face-to-face yelling. The risk calculation changes if you’re standing in a crowd: Some uneven evidence suggests that the Black Lives Matter protests last summer increased local infections. But that’s an easy carve-out. States can end blanket mandates and still recommend outdoor masking by anyone experiencing symptoms, or in crowds. (Extended conversations pose their own risk, but when people are vaccinated, the odds of viral transmission are probably somewhere between microscopic and nonexistent.)

His closing:

We can reduce unnecessary private anxiety and unhelpful public shame by thinking for a few seconds about how the coronavirus actually works and how to finally end the pandemic. Let’s tell people the truth and trust that they can take it. Let’s plan for the end of outdoor mask mandates.


Fauci: GOP’s Refusal to Get Vaccinated Hurts Efforts to Lift Restrictions

Jackie Salo, reporting for The New York Post:

Dr. Anthony Fauci on Sunday said Republicans who want to lift COVID-19 restrictions but don’t want to get vaccinated don’t “make any sense.”

“It’s almost paradoxical that on the one hand, they want to be relieved of the restrictions, but on the other hand, they don’t want to get vaccinated. It just almost doesn’t make any sense,” Fauci said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

It’s almost as though the Republican Party is chockablock with ignoramuses.


Amazon contracts nine Atlas 5 missions for Kuiper broadband satellites

TAMPA, Fla. — Amazon has ordered nine Atlas 5 rockets from United Launch Alliance to help place its 3,236-strong Project Kuiper broadband constellation.

The U.S. internet retailing giant declined to disclose a time frame for its deal with ULA, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin known more for its government missions than commercial space.

However, Amazon must deploy half the low Earth orbit (LEO) constellation by July 2026 under regulatory conditions tied to its license. All the satellites have to be in place by July 2029.

“We’ve designed our satellites and dispenser system to accommodate multiple launch vehicles—this gives us the flexibility to use many different rockets and providers to launch our satellite system,” Project Kuiper vice president of technology Rajeev Badyal said. 

“Atlas V is a capable, reliable rocket, and we’re proud to be working with ULA to support these important first launches.” 

While SpaceX has been launching its Starlink broadband satellites in batches of 60, Amazon is not yet disclosing how many Kuiper spacecraft could be on one Atlas 5 mission.

The full Kuiper constellation will be deployed in five phases, according to regulatory filings. The first phase includes 578 satellites deployed at 630 kilometers altitude at an inclination of 51.9 degrees. 

The Atlas 5 has been used to launch multiple national security and NASA missions, including the Perseverance Rover currently roaming Mars. 

The rocket has a 100% success rate over more than 85 launches, according to Amazon.

The Atlas 5 missions for Kuiper will launch from Space Launch Complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. 

It is the first launch contract that Amazon has announced for Kuiper, although it is widely thought to be lining up Blue Origin, the rocket maker owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

Amazon has insisted Blue Origin will compete with others for Kuiper launch contracts in the market, with the companies kept at arm’s length from each other.

The first launch of Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket was recently pushed back to late 2022 after it lost a significant Pentagon contract last year.

LEO broadband development

Amazon has committed an initial $10 billion for Kuiper, and said April 19 that more than 500 people are now working on the program.

The company unveiled Dec. 16 what it describes as a low-cost, flat-panel Ka-band antenna, which will be part of the terminals used by Kuiper customers.

The company said in an April 19 blog post that its “team is heavily focused on inventing new technology to make broadband more affordable and more accessible for customers.”

SpaceX is currently offering Starlink beta testers a terminal that includes an antenna and router for $499, which the company is heavily subsidizing as it brings down the overall cost. 

The cost of Starlink’s terminal is already less than half the $3,000 that SpaceX was originally paying for the equipment, according to company president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell. 

During an April 6 panel discussion at the Satellite 2021 LEO Digital Forum, Shotwell said she expects the “terminals coming in the few-hundred-dollar range within the next year or two.”

SpaceX is estimated to have more than 1,300 Starlink satellites in orbit amid a prolific launch campaign that lofted over 800 of them in 2020 alone.

Other LEO broadband entrants include OneWeb, which launched a batch of 36 satellites on a Soyuz-2.1b March 25 to bring its total to 146. 

The venture, owned by the British government and Indian telecom company Bharti Global, is planning three more launches by June to cover north of 50 degrees latitude. That would expand coverage across the U.K., Alaska, Northern Europe, Greenland, Iceland, the Arctic Seas, and Canada.

Canadian satellite operator Telesat, which announced plans April 13 to raise $500 million in debt to develop its LEO broadband network Lightspeed, has early launch arrangements with Blue Origin and Relativity Space.

Relativity Space, which is building the world’s largest 3D printer to develop its rockets, also has yet to conduct an orbital launch.

Dan Goldberg, Telesat’s CEO, said April 6 he expects to finalize contracts in the next couple of months to start launching nearly 300 Lightspeed satellites from next year.


Adults in All U.S. States Are Now Eligible for Vaccination; Half Have Had at Least One Dose

The New York Times:

All adults in every U.S. state, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico are now eligible for a Covid-19 vaccine, meeting the April 19 deadline that President Biden set two weeks ago.

“For months I’ve been telling Americans to get vaccinated when it’s your turn. Well, it’s your turn, now,” Mr. Biden said Sunday on a program called “Roll Up Your Sleeves” on NBC. “It’s free. It’s convenient and it’s the most important thing you can do to protect yourself from Covid-19.”

Just over 50 percent of U.S. adults have at least one dose: a great milestone.


Thanks For The Mars Helicopter, John

Protecting Reputations

Nick Heer, quoting from and commenting upon a line from the aforelinked Washington Post story on how the FBI cracked the San Bernardino iPhone in 2016:

Apple has a tense relationship with security research firms. Wilder said the company believes researchers should disclose all vulnerabilities to Apple so that the company can more quickly fix them. Doing so would help preserve its reputation as having secure devices.

What a bizarre turn of phrase. It would help it “preserve its reputation as having secure devices” because it really would help improve the security of its devices for all users, in much the same way that telling a fire department that there is a fire nearby would help a building’s reputation as a fire-free zone.

It’s a little thing, but this hyper-cynical slant is pervasive in a lot of recent mainstream coverage of the big tech companies. It’s hard to find a Reed Albergotti-bylined story in the Post without it.


How the FBI Cracked the San Bernardino Shooter’s iPhone 5C in 2016

Ellen Nakashima and Reed Albergotti, reporting last week for The Washington Post:

Azimuth specialized in finding significant vulnerabilities. Dowd, a former IBM X-Force researcher whom one peer called “the Mozart of exploit design,” had found one in open-source code from Mozilla that Apple used to permit accessories to be plugged into an iPhone’s lightning port, according to the person. […]

Using the flaw Dowd found, Wang, based in Portland, Ore., created an exploit that enabled initial access to the phone — a foot in the door. Then he hitched it to another exploit that permitted greater maneuverability, according to the people. And then he linked that to a final exploit that another Azimuth researcher had already created for iPhones, giving him full control over the phone’s core processor the brains of the device. From there, he wrote software that rapidly tried all combinations of the passcode, bypassing other features, such as the one that erased data after 10 incorrect tries. […]

From the “Where Are They Now?” department:

Apple sought to recruit Wang to work on security research, according to the people. Instead, in 2017 he co-founded Corellium, a company based in South Florida whose tools help security researchers. The tools allow researchers to run tests on Apple’s mobile operating system using “virtual” iPhones. The virtual phones run on a server and display on a desktop computer.

In 2019, Apple sued Corellium for copyright violation. As part of the lawsuit, Apple pressed Corellium and Wang to divulge information about hacking techniques that may have aided governments and agencies such as the FBI.


Amazon’s first Internet satellites will not launch on Blue Origin rockets

An Atlas V rocket launches in December 2012.

Enlarge / An Atlas V rocket launches in December 2012. (credit: United Launch Alliance)

Amazon announced on Monday that its first Project Kuiper satellites will launch into low Earth orbit on an Atlas V rocket.

The announcement provides concrete evidence that the ambitious Internet-from-space project is making progress. It is also notable for the choice of launch vehicle—Amazon is not employing the New Glenn rocket, which is under development by Jeff Bezos' rocket company, Blue Origin.

Amazon did not say when the first launch will occur, but the company said it had contracted with United Launch Alliance for nine launches to begin building out its constellation of 3,236 satellites in low Earth orbit. A spokesman declined to say how many of the satellites each Atlas V rocket would be capable of launching.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Monday assorted links

The post Monday assorted links appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Download our April 19 issue of SpaceNews magazine

Download the digital edition of the April 19 issue of SpaceNews magazine, provided compliments of Blacksky

Inside the April 19 issue:

1. Business of Climate Change
How ESG is transforming the satellite industry

2. NASA and the new urgency of climate change
When Biden won, many expected NASA would shift direction, emphasizing climate change over human spaceflight. Three months into Biden’s term, it’s increasingly clear those changes aren’t nearly as radical as some might have thought.

3. U.S. role up in the air
While China, Europe and Japan are making major investments in satellites to verify how well countries are fulfilling their Paris Agreement commitments, the U.S. is working on greenhouse gas sensors but currently has no plans for ambitious atmospheric monitoring.

4. Space and the new ESG business climate
The E in ESG is getting another boost as the United States rejoins the climate change fight, and space promises to play a central role.

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Gulf Energy excludes Thaicom in $5.4 billion buyout deal for parent company InTouch


TAMPA, Fla. — Gulf Energy Development, a Thailand-based power producer, offered April 19 to buy out the parent company of Thai satellite operator Thaicom for as much as 169 billion baht ($5.4 billion).

But Bangkok-based Gulf Energy said it will only pursue the deal for Intouch Holdings, which also owns Thailand’s largest wireless operator Advanced Info Service (AIS), if it can buy the group without having to acquire the rest of Thaicom.

The company is asking Thailand’s securities regulator to waive a requirement to make an offer for all of the satellite operator’s shares.

Controlled by billionaire Sarath Ratanavadi, Gulf Energy already owns 18.9% of Intouch, which has a 40.45% stake in AIS. InTouch owned 41.13% of Thaicom as of Feb. 19.

Singaporean telecoms giant Singtel, which is InTouch’s largest shareholder with about 21%, also owns 23% of AIS.

Singtel said in a stock exchange announcement that it is reviewing its strategic options for InTouch and AIS.

“Singtel views its stakes in INTUCH and ADVANC as strategic investments and we believe in the long term outlook of the businesses,” it said. 

Gulf Energy offered to buy the shares it does not already own in InTouch for 65 baht each, which is 11% higher than where they closed April 16.

If it secures at least 50% of InTouch with this tender offer, it proposed buying out AIS stockholders at 122.86 baht per share. Those shares closed on Thailand’s stock exchange April 19 at 169.5 baht.

Thaicom reported a 23.7% fall in revenues from sales and services to 3.6 billion baht for 2020, compared with 2019, which it said was mainly because it had to de-orbit its Thaicom 5 satellite.

Thaicom 5 de-orbited in February 2020 following technical issues in December 2019.

Launched in May 2006 and built by Europe’s Thales Alenia Space, Thaicom 5 had been providing TV broadcast services for 14 years.

Customers were migrated to Thaicom 6, positioned at the same 78.5 degrees East orbital slot as Thaicom 5, and other satellites.

Thaicom’s net profit for 2020 improved to 514 million baht, compared with a 2.25 billion baht loss in 2019, mainly due to the impairment of satellite assets.


A Helicopter Flies on Mars

Ingenuity Shadow

Deployed from NASA’s Perseverance rover, the Ingenuity helicopter took off and hovered for about 30 seconds in its first flight early this morning.

The solar-powered helicopter first became airborne at 3:34 a.m. EDT (12:34 a.m. PDT) — 12:33 Local Mean Solar Time (Mars time) — a time the Ingenuity team determined would have optimal energy and flight conditions. Altimeter data indicate Ingenuity climbed to its prescribed maximum altitude of 10 feet (3 meters) and maintained a stable hover for 30 seconds. It then descended, touching back down on the surface of Mars after logging a total of 39.1 seconds of flight. Additional details on the test are expected in upcoming downlinks.

Ingenuity’s initial flight demonstration was autonomous — piloted by onboard guidance, navigation, and control systems running algorithms developed by the team at JPL. Because data must be sent to and returned from the Red Planet over hundreds of millions of miles using orbiting satellites and NASA’s Deep Space Network, Ingenuity cannot be flown with a joystick, and its flight was not observable from Earth in real time.

NASA livestreamed the team in Mission Control as the test results were transmitted back to Earth. The photo above is of Ingenuity’s shadow taken while in flight by its onboard camera.

Tags: astronomy   Ingenuity   Mars   NASA   Perseverance   science   space

Housing Inventory April 19th Update: A Slight Increase from Record Low

One of the key questions for 2021 is: Will inventory increase as the pandemic subsides, or will inventory decrease further in 2021?

Tracking inventory will be very important this year.

Lumcber PricesClick on graph for larger image in graph gallery.

This inventory graph is courtesy of Altos Research.

As of April 16th, inventory was at 312 thousand (7 day average), compared to 749 thousand the same week a year ago.  That is a decline of 58%.

A week ago, inventory was at 307 thousand, and was down 59% YoY.  Seasonally, inventory might have bottomed.

Mike Simonsen discusses this data regularly on Youtube.

The State of COVID-19 in D.C.: Still Rising

Even though vaccination is doing well. The entire city and all wards, with the exception of Ward 3, are still well above the German rollback threshold of 50 new cases per 100,000 per week–which also is the threshold the CDC suggests schools for all grades can reopen (0.05% in the second column below):

Ward one-week prevalence one-week % pos. two-week prevalence two-week % pos.
1 0.094% 2.6% 0.156% 2.1%
2 0.054% 0.9% 0.149% 1.4%
3 0.039% 1.0% 0.089% 1.1%
4 0.087% 2.4% 0.166% 2.2%
5 0.148% 4.1% 0.291% 3.6%
6 0.096% 2.2% 0.195% 2.3%
7 0.204% 5.4% 0.362% 4.6%
8 0.217% 5.1% 0.420% 4.5%
D.C. total 0.116% 2.6% 0.227% 2.5%

The city as a whole had a small increase in prevalence, with Wards 1 and 7 seeing massive spikes, and Wards 4, 5, and 8 having smaller increases. Wards 2 and 3 saw large decreases, though Ward 3 was already low, so that did not offset the increases. Percent positive rates are high in Wards 4, 7, and 8, meaning the prevalence is likely higher there, while Ward 2 has an extremely low percent positive rate. R(t) wobbled around 1.0 for the week.

What is very discouraging is that deaths are still high, with 15 death in the last week. The deaths aren’t slowing down among those sixty and older, and there has been a slight increase among those aged 50-59. Wards 5-7 are the wards that are carrying this burden (no one died this week from COVID-19 in Wards 1-3 and 8). D.C. really needs to turn the death rate around: vaccinating more non-elderly people, especially those in their fifties, will be critical.

Speaking of vaccination, last week, the percentage of those eighteen and older who are partially vaccinated increased by 6.2% to 48.5%. Hopefully, we’ll be able to break a seven percent increase as the ‘general’ population that wants to be vaccinated continues to do so and D.C. residents continue to learn about other ways to get the vaccine out-of-state. As some asshole with a blog noted in December, the decision to vaccinate out of state employees who were not medical workers combined with the Trump and Biden administrations’ refusal to provide more vaccine continues to put D.C. about ten days behind other states in terms of vaccine coverage.

Considering D.C., like most state governments essentially has given up on methods other than vaccination to stop the spread of COVID-19, it’s really up to individuals to do what they can to protect themselves and others. Now, we just have to get more people vaccinated–and the federal government needs to stop sending so much vaccine to states that aren’t using those doses and to those regions that need them and can administer them (which includes D.C.).

That said, I’m hoping July will be alright, though we also will need to start vaccinating kids.

As usual, I’ll remind you that the good news is we still could be only around four to six weeks away–probably four now with vaccination–from returning to normal-ish, even though we intentionally remain four to six weeks away from safely returning to normal-ish because we’re unwilling to do what it takes to make that happen.

Anger isn’t the appropriate emotion, rage is.

It didn’t need to be like this.

NASA celebrates first historic helicopter flight on Mars

A navigation camera on NASA’s Perseverance rover captured this view of the Ingenuity helicopter’s historic flight Monday. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

An automated mini-helicopter driven by two fast-spinning, counter-rotating rotors took off from the surface of Mars, hovered for 30 seconds, then successfully landed Monday to complete the historic first powered flight of an aircraft on another planet.

NASA officials received telemetry from Mars confirming the successful test flight early Monday. Engineers gathered at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory broke out in applause as data and imagery showed the Ingenuity helicopter accomplished its first flight as designed.

Håvard Grip, NASA’s chief pilot for the Ingenuity helicopter, analyzed the data stream from the rotorcraft and announced the drone had completed its historic hop at 6:52 a.m. EDT (1052 GMT).

“Ingenuity is reporting having performed spin up, takeoff, climb, hover, descent, landing, touchdown, and spin down,” Grip said. “Altimeter data confirms that Ingenuity has performed its first flight, the first flight of a powered aircraft on another planet.”

The helicopter’s ascent into the atmosphere of Mars came more than 117 years after the Wright Brothers accomplished the first airplane flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, and nearly a century after the first helicopters flew on Earth.

“We can now say human beings have flown a rotorcraft on another planet,” said MiMi Aung, the Ingenuity project manager. “We’ve been talking so long about our Wright Brothers’ moment on Mars, and here it is.

The flight actually occurred more than three hours earlier, at around 3:34 a.m. EDT (0734 GMT), NASA said in a press release. As expected, it took about three hours for signals from Ingenuity to reach Earth after relays through NASA’s Perseverance rover, then through the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter flying several hundred miles over the Red Planet.

Then the signals raced across the solar system at the speed of light, covering the 178 million-mile (287 million-kilometer) gulf between Mars and Earth in about 16 minutes.

“Ingenuity is the latest in a long and storied tradition of NASA projects achieving a space exploration goal once thought impossible,” said acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk in a statement. “The X-15 was a pathfinder for the space shuttle. Mars Pathfinder and its Sojourner rover did the same for three generations of Mars rovers. We don’t know exactly where Ingenuity will lead us, but today’s results indicate the sky — at least on Mars — may not be the limit.”

A black-and-white camera on the Ingenuity helicopter recorded this view of the rotorcraft’s ethereal shadow on the Martian surface. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Ingenuity helicopter’s carbon-composite rotor blades spun up to near 2,500 rpm to climb off the Martian surface, must faster than helicopter blades need to spin to fly in Earth’s atmosphere. That’s because the atmosphere of Mars is less than 1% the thickness of Earth’s at sea level.

The blades span about 4 feet (1.2 meters) in diameter, generating lift to overcome Martian gravity, which is about 38% the strength of that on Earth. The 1.6-foot-tall (49-centimeter) rotorcraft was supposed to climb to an altitude of about 10 feet (3 meters), momentarily hover there, then perform a turn before descending back to a touchdown on its four carbon fiber legs.

An early assessment of flight data from Ingenuity indicated it reached its 10-foot target altitude and maintained a stable hover for 30 seconds. The entire flight lasted 39.1 seconds, close to the predicted duration.

Moments after the data confirmed the successful flight, ground teams at JPL in Pasadena, California, received the first images from the hop.

One black-and-white picture from a down-looking camera on the helicopter showed Ingenuity’s shadow cast on the Martian surface. The flight occurred around midday local time at Jezero Crater on Mars.

Sharp-eyed cameras on the Perseverance rover, which carried the Ingenuity helicopter to the Red Planet, also recorded short video clips of the rotorcraft’s flight. NASA showed one of the videos on the agency’s television broadcast of the test flight’s data downlink early Monday.

Perseverance observed the flight from a perch about 200 feet (60 meters) from the helicopter’s flight zone, which NASA has named “Wright Brothers Field.”

NASA officials plan to have a press conference at 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT) Monday to discuss more details about Ingenuity’s flight. A side-facing color camera on the Ingenuity helicopter was also expected to capture views the Martian horizon during the hop, and a microphone on the Perseverance rover was programmed to try recording the sound of the rotorcraft’s rotors.

That data is expected to come back to Earth later Monday, and on subsequent days.

The helicopter’s $85 million technology demonstration mission will pave the way for aerial scouts that NASA could dispatch across the solar system. Future airborne drones could provide reconnaissance for rovers and astronauts exploring the surfaces of other worlds, and they could reach areas inaccessible to other vehicles, according to NASA officials.

NASA has selected a robotic mission named Dragonfly to explore Saturn’s largest moon Titan. But Titan has a much thicker atmosphere than Mars, which eases the difficulty of rotor-driven flight.

“If we can scout and scientifically survey Mars from the air with a thin atmosphere, we can certainly do the same in a number of other destinations across the solar system, like Titan or Venus,” said Bobby Braun, director of planetary science at JPL. “The future of powered flight in space exploration is solid and strong.”

Mission managers plan five Ingenuity test flights, trying more daring maneuvers on each hop. Future flights will reach a higher altitude of about 16 feet (5 meters), traversing downrange along a pre-selected flight zone, before returning to its “helipad” for landing.

The 16-foot limit for Ingenuity’s flights is largely driven by the performance limitations of a laser rangefinder on-board that measures the helicopter’s distance to the ground, Grip said in a press briefing last month.

“History does tell us that soon after that first flight, Wilbur and Orville did go right back to work,” Aung said in a speech to the Ingenuity team after Monday’s flight. “They flew three more flights that day, higher and farther than the first one. Like the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk, we know our time to make a difference at Jezero Crater is not yet over. This is just the first great flight.

“We must take a moment to celebrate this moment,” she said. “Take that moment, and then after that let’s get back to work, and more flights!”

Next month, Ingenuity’s demonstrations will end to allow the Perseverance rover to continue its primary mission. The $2.7 billion mission is designed to explore an ancient dried-up river delta a few miles from where the rover landed on Mars on Feb. 18.

Perseverance will gather rock samples for return to Earth on a future mission due to arrive on Mars in the late 2020s. Scientists will analyze the specimens — the first pristine samples ever returned from Mars — in search of signs of ancient life.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Op-ed | Canada’s space sector set for a relaunch

On April 1, MDA, Canada’s leading space technology company, best known for developing the robotic Canadarm used on the International Space Station, raised 400 million Canadian dollars ($320 million) in its initial public offering on the Toronto Stock Exchange. 

Last November, Telesat Canada announced that it was combining with its major shareholder Loral Space & Communications to form one public company to finance its LEO constellation, wherein the newly formed Telesat Corporation will be a publicly traded Canadian incorporated and controlled company. 

This is encouraging and in line with the global space industry which has witnessed a growth trajectory last year despite the overall economic slump due to the pandemic. Investment in the space industry set a record in 2020 with the space infrastructure segment clocking $8.9 billion, while the total 2020 investment of $25.6 billion in the space sector was the third highest in the decade, according to a report by Space Capital

Last June, the Canadian Space Agency announced that it has almost doubled the existing budgets of a number of its funding programs, for a total investment of 52 million Canadia dollars over two years. “The additional funds injected into the Canadian economy will have a direct impact on about 100 projects led by SMEs and big companies. Twelve Canadian universities also stand to benefit,” CSA said in a statement

In December, Canada’s participation in the lunar Gateway project was kicked off by way of a contract to prime contractor MDA. As expected, Canada’s prowess in space robotics will help develop the moon-orbiting space station with Canadarm3, a smart robotic system built by MDA, which includes a next-generation, AI-based robotic arm as well as equipment and specialized tools. As CSA notes, Canada’s participation in the lunar Gateway is the cornerstone of its space strategy, which aims to leverage Canadian strengths like robotics, while advancing science and innovation in exciting areas like artificial intelligence, biomedical technologies, food production, and research on the impact of climate change on Earth’s atmosphere. It is also expected to boost the hundreds of domestic companies that will be involved with MDA on the project.

Also in December, the CSA said a Canadian astronaut will be part of Artemis 2, the first crewed mission to the moon since 1972.

Reboot, relaunch

Canada’s space industry seems to be on the path of a relaunch. The relaunch is two-pronged — backed by an ambitious and hungry private sector and increasing government support. 

The momentum actually started building up since February 2019, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a large cash infusion — roughly 2 billion Canadian dollars over the next 24 years – for the CSA. It was then he had announced Canada’s intention to join the NASA-led lunar Gateway project. 

“Canada’s historic investment will create good jobs for Canadians, keep our astronaut program running and our aerospace industry strong and growing, while opening up a new realm of possibilities for Canadian research and innovation. With the Lunar Gateway, Canada will play a major role in one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken. Together, with our partners from around the world, we’ll continue to push the boundaries of human ambition, and inspire generations of kids – and adults – to always aim higher and aspire to something greater,” Trudeau said.

The turnaround came after years of meandering. A University of British Columbia study in 2016 found that Canada spent the least on its space program within the G-8 countries in terms of actual dollars and the second lowest per capita. At that time the U.K. was the lowest per capita but since then it has upped its spending.

At that time, Canada provided about 16 million Canadian dollars a year towards space exploration missions and technology, and about 250 million Canadian dollars in base funding for its space agency — 50 million Canadian dollars less than in 1999. Calling it a “missed opportunity,” the report said Canada was a world leader in space, and every 1 billion Canadian dollars invested into space innovation generates an additional 1.2 billion Canadian dollars in economic activity. Earlier, a 2015 report from Euroconsult — Comprehensive Socio-Economic Impact Assessment of the Canadian Space Sectorfound that the Canadian space sector’s annual revenue was around 5.4 billion Canadian dollars annually — growing at a rate higher than the national GDP (3.7% on average during the last five years compared to 1.8%), driven by a dynamic downstream sector — while employing about 25,000 people. 

Noting that the Canadian space industry recorded its highest market share in the commercial satellite manufacturing market (for telecommunications), Euroconsult  warned that “eroding R&D investments in the national space program challenge the position of Canadian companies in a tough, globally competitive market.”

However, the turnaround now for Canadian space sector backed by a steady government push opens up huge opportunities for the private industry, including new players both in the upstream and downstream sector. 

Glorious legacy

Canada was the third country, only behind Soviety Union and the United States, to enter the space race, when it launched a satellite — Alouette — to study Earth’s ionosphere, in 1962.

It followed up with the launch of Anik in 1972 as it became the first country to operate a commercial domestic communications satellite from geostationary orbit. Anik1, an Inuit word meaning brother, was shortly followed by Anik 2 which enabled deployment of a direct-to-home broadcasting service in 1978 across Canada’s vast landmass, including the Far North.

Undoubtedly, the most famous Canadian aerospace achievement is the Canadarm — the first piece of space robotics — used in orbit in 1981 on the U.S. space shuttle orbiters to deploy, maneuver, and capture satellites and also deploy the Hubble telescope. This was followed up with the Canadarm2, which helped build the International Space Station, and is now used for berthing the commercial vehicles and inspecting the station. Now, Canadarm3 for ;unar Gateway mission will help maintain, repair and inspect the Gateway, besides capturing visiting vehicles, relocating Gateway modules, helping astronauts during spacewalks, and enabling science both in lunar orbit and on the surface of the moon. 

Last November marked 20 years of continuous human presence on the International Space Station. Canada is one of the station’s partners, along with the United States, Russia, Europe and Japan. Other than the Canadarm2, the country has also contributed with Dextre (a robotic handyman, and the Mobile Base System, a transport and storage platform. 

Long before space-borne synthetic aperture radar (SAR) became a hot topic, Canada pioneered the technology with its Radarsat  series. From its launch in 1995 until 2013, Radarsat-1 provided operational service to government and commercial users, making Canada a global leader in space-based SAR technology. This continues with Radarsat-2, and the Radarsat Constellation Mission (RCM) launched in 2019. A three-spacecraft fleet of Earth-observation satellites, the primary goal of RCM is to provide continuous C-band SAR data to RADARSAT-2 users. It is said to be the world’s most advanced, comprehensive method of maintaining Arctic sovereignty, conducting coastal surveillance, and ensuring maritime security. 

In February, MDA, the prime contractor for the Radarsat satellite missions, announced it was working on a new commercial SAR satellite mission to augment the Radarsat-2 program. The new mission will build upon MDA’s existing space-based C-band SAR technology, and will provide operational continuity for its existing Radarsat-2 customers.

Return of MDA 

In a way, MDA has been an active partner in Canada’s glorious space legacy. Starting from the path-breaking space robotics of the Canadarm or the pioneering Radarsat missions, it was always MDA — once known as MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates — that was at the forefront of all innovations alongside the CSA.

In 2017, MDA merged with U.S.-based DigitalGlobe in a complicated deal that led to the formation of Maxar Technologies Inc. Two years later, Maxar sold its Canadian assets – the original MDA to a consortium of Canadian investors led by Northern Private Capital, for 1 billion Canadian dollars. The transaction — a restructuring for Maxar to cut its debt and prioritize investments in its core businesses — included all of MDA’s Canadian and U.K. businesses, encompassing ground stations, radar satellite products, robotics, defense, and satellite components, representing approximately 1,900 employees.

Given the historic role played by MDA in the Canadian space industry’s growth story, it is symbolic now that the company’s turnaround and subsequent IPO becomes a significant milestone in the overall sector’s relaunch path once again.

The infusion of funding will come handy in expanding operations and innovations. Already a key supplier to CSA and NASA, MDA is in a great position to leverage the fast-expanding global space industry and the need for cutting-edge space robotics.

The path forward

“This a significant time for Canada’s space program and it is very meaningful for me to be part of it. I want space to be a true economic engine for Canada and to contribute to not only building back the economy, but building it back better,” Canadian Space Agency President Lisa Campbell commented at the International Astronautical Congress’s Heads of Agencies event, while noting the instrumental role she envisions space will play in Canada’s future.

However, what could really help is a federal push for further commercialization. This includes updating regulations to recognize the growing role of the private sector in space, including revision of the procurement strategy that makes it easier for private participation. There is a lesson here to learn from NASA.

Canada’s space strategy recognizes Earth observation and scientific data as essential for clean growth and monitoring the health of the planet. “In fact, it is now an integral part of daily life in Canada, helping connect and inform us all, enabling everything from navigation, cell phone services and television broadcasts to financial transactions,” it notes. As a vast country with a relatively small population, Canada relies on the information and imagery gathered by space-based systems to observe and monitor the country, and support essential government functions such as environmental monitoring, disaster response, and search and rescue. Space systems are also vital to the Canadian Armed Forces. The new space environment is creating jobs, enabling economic growth, and leading to socio-economic benefits in sectors as diverse as farming and clean tech, the space strategy notes. 

The global demand for space is expected to grow at a record pace, according to Morgan Stanley, expected to nearly triple in size in next 20 years, from $350 billion in 2017 to $1.1 trillion in 2040. From a Canadian perspective, a study by Northern Sky Research forecasts that between 2017 and 2027, annual demand for EO data and services in the country will rise from just over $3 billion to close to $7 billion.

As François-Philippe Champagne, minister of innovation, science and industry, says:“Throughout 202122, the CSA will continue to implement Canadian Space Strategy: Exploration, Imagination, Innovation, which will help ensure that Canadians are ready to take advantage of the jobs of tomorrow, while enabling our space industry and academic institutions to be part of the new space economy. Thanks to the unique opportunities that space provides, the investments that we are making in space will contribute to Canada emerging from COVID-19 with strength and resilience. ” He goes on to say that “In addition, the CSA will advance its activities in space-based Earth Observation (SBEO), which will help tackle complex challenges, including climate change.”

Jonathan Murphy is founder and managing director of GoGeomatics Canada and founder and chair of the GeoIgnite conference taking place April 21-23.



‘Wright brothers moment’: Ingenuity takes flight on Mars

Ingenuity snaps a photo of its shadow as the Mars Helicopter hovers over the surface of the red planet during the April 19, 2021, flight. Credit: NASA

Ingenuity snaps a photo of its shadow as the Mars Helicopter hovers over the surface of the red planet during the April 19, 2021, flight. Credit: NASA

At long last, history has finally been made as humankind has made the next great stride in powered flight; the first flight on another planet.

On April 19, 2021, the Ingenuity helicopter successfully took to the Martian skies in what is hopefully the first of up to five experimental flights expected to take place over the duration of the next few weeks.

“We can now say that human beings have flown a rotorcraft on another planet,” said MiMi Aung, the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory before thanking the whole team for their years of dedication on the project. “We, together, flew at Mars and we, together, now have our Wright brothers moment.”

Aung said history shows that soon after their first flight in 1903 at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Wilbur and Orville Wright went right back to work and flew three more flights that day, higher and farther than the first.

“Like the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk, we know that our time to make a difference at Jezero Crater on Mars is not yet over,” Aung said. “This is just the first great flight.”

Aung asked the team to enjoy this moment and celebrate, in particular because over the years for each major milestone passed, the team held off fully celebrating in order to keep moving forward.

“We must take a moment to celebrate this moment,” Aung said. “Take that moment, and then after that, let’s get back to work and more flights!”

Ingenuity’s first flight occurred about about 3:34 a.m. EST (07:34 UTC). While it was the early-morning hours for controllers at JPL, it was the middle of the day at Jezero crater on Mars. The autonomous flight lasted for a total of 39.1 seconds which saw the vehicle climb to about 10 feet (3 meters) above the ground, hover for about 30 seconds and then slowly descend back to the surface for a safe landing.

Commands for the flight were sent to the spacecraft the day before and confirmation the outcome did not arrive until about 6:46 a.m. EDT (10:46 UTC). This was because once the sequence was completed, the helicopter and Perseverance rover, which carried Ingenuity to the red planet, had to uplink the data to a satellite orbiting Mars. That satellite then had to relay the information back to JPL through the Deep Space Network, a series of ground-based satellite dishes placed around Earth.

Going forward, controllers at JPL plan to make several more powered flights each incrementally longer than the one before it.

The goal of these experimental flights is to pave the way for the next generation of rotorcraft vehicles spacecraft could one day fly on Mars.

“Now, 117 years after the Wright brothers succeeded in making the first flight on our planet, NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter has succeeded in performing this amazing feat on another world,” Zurbuchen said in a NASA press release. “While these two iconic moments in aviation history may be separated by time and 173 million miles of space, they now will forever be linked. As an homage to the two innovative bicycle makers from Dayton, this first of many airfields on other worlds will now be known as Wright Brothers Field, in recognition of the ingenuity and innovation that continue to propel exploration.”

A Mars 2020 mission selfie containing both the Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter. Credit: NASA

A Mars 2020 mission selfie containing both the Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter. Credit: NASA

Getting Ingenuity in the air

In the days leading up to Ingenuity’s historic first flight, the helicopter was unloaded from the bottom of the Perseverance rover where it was stowed in a folded position inside a cargo box. Once it was fully unfolded from its stowed position, the rover “dropped” the craft from a height of about four inches onto the surface of Mars.

From there, the rover had to quickly move away from the helicopter in order for Ingenuity’s onboard solar panels to have an opportunity to begin charging.

Scientists on the ground at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California decided to capitalize on the opportunity by using Perseverance’s onboard robotic arm and camera to take a “selfie” with both the Rover and Ingenuity in the background. This was the first time two separate craft have been photographed on another planet.

Flight controllers at JPL had to make sure that every system on Ingenuity was performing completely nominally before the first flight. This included ensuring the vehicle could survive a cold Martian night, charge autonomously using its solar panel and spinning up the rotor blades while still on the surface.

While a low-speed spin test was successful, when engineers tried a high-speed spin test on April 9, an unexpected “watchdog” timer issue prevented the helicopter from transitioning to “flight mode” in order to perform the test.

Engineers worked on two solutions for this problem, both of which were verified for use. One involved modifying and reinstalling existing flight control software, which JPL said has been stable and healthy for close to two years. The other was to adjust the command sequence to slightly alter the timing of the “flight mode” transition. The former option was chosen as it was the least-disruptive path forward.

According to an April 17 mission update, “from testing this technique on Ingenuity over the last few days, we know this approach is likely to allow us to transition to flight mode and prepare for lift-off about 85% of the time. This solution leaves the helicopter safe if the transition to flight mode is not completed.”

The final spin-up test occurred April 16 and involved the two rotors onboard the helicopter, each measuring about four feet (1.2 meters) in length, being whirled up to about 2,500 rotations per minute — about five times faster than that of a typical helicopter on Earth.

The drive path Perseverance has taken since landing in February. The image also shows Ingenuity's drop-off site and its flight zone. Credit: NASA

The drive path Perseverance has taken since landing in February. The image also shows Ingenuity’s drop-off site and its flight zone. Credit: NASA

Challenges of flight on Mars

Flight on Mars in particular is challenging for a number of reasons, but the main one is the thickness of the atmosphere, which is about 1% as dense as Earths.

Because of that, Ingenuity had to be as light as possible. The helicopter has a mass of 1.8 kilograms. As such it would weigh about 4 pounds on Earth. In the low Martian gravity environment, it weighs about 1.5 pounds.

Even so, the rotor blades still required some 2,500 rotations per minute in order to get airborne. That also requires a lot of power. Aboard Ingenuity are lithium-ion batteries that give enough energy for about 90 seconds of flight.

According to JPL, each flight requires an average of about 350 watts of power.

In the coming days, Ingenuity is expected to fly higher and farther. Ultimately, it is designed to fly up to 15 feet (5 meters) in altitude with a range of about 980 feet (300 meters).

As the mission is a technology demonstration, its mission isn’t expected to last longer than about 30 days. It’s goal is to provide valuable data to engineers on Earth for future Mars helicopters.

Video courtesy of NASA

The post ‘Wright brothers moment’: Ingenuity takes flight on Mars appeared first on SpaceFlight Insider.

Tay, Hayward, and the Massachusetts Government

On 19 Apr 1775, William Tay, Jr., of Woburn helped to storm a house along the Battle Road, kill two redcoats, and capture the third. He claimed that man’s arms for his own.

The only problem, as Tay saw it, was that Lt. Joseph Hayward of Concord came along and took those weapons for himself.

For his part, Hayward told his descendants that he had fought the redcoats and captured that prisoner. And at the end of the day, he had the gun.

Tay didn’t take that lying down. He appealed to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress’s committee of safety, which oversaw the first two months of the war. That body took the time to issue this resolution from its Cambridge headquarters on 24 May:
Whereas Mr. William Tay of Wooburn did on the 19th of april past make prisoner a Sergent of the greniders in the 52th Regiment of the Ministerial Troops and while he the sd Tay had the sd sergent in custody some person known did take the arm of the sd man by him taken and as sd arms are found in the hands of Lieut. Joseph Howard of Concord it is in the opinion of this Comm that as the said Tay can prove he too the abovementioned prisoner that the arms are fairly the property of the Mr. Jay and that they be returned to him accordingly.
That was signed by Benjamin White, a member of the committee from Brookline.

My thanks to Joel Bohy for spotting this document in the Massachusetts state archives and sharing his transcription with me.

The committee’s decree had no effect. So Tay went to a witness who might be deemed neutral: the captured sergeant himself. On 13 June that man deposed:
This may certify, whom it may concern, that I Mathew Hayes, a sergeant of the 52nd Regiment of the Ministerial troops, was taken prisoner on the 19th of April last past by Mr. William Tay Junr. of Woburn—further saith not.
Hayes was then in the jail at Concord alongside other prisoners of war. The local justice of the peace who took down his testimony was Duncan Ingraham, whom neighbors had actually considered a friend of the royal government just four months earlier.

Again, thanks to Joel Bohy for sharing that document.

Months passed, and Tay still didn’t have his gun. This wasn’t just a matter of a trophy and bragging rights. There was monetary value involved. With a war on, good military firelocks were a hot commodity.

Above is a blank printed certificate that the committee of safety issued on 17 June (even as a certain battle raged), as shown on the Library of Congress website. The rebel government was buying people’s guns for the army.

In the summer of 1775, the Massachusetts Patriots decided to return to their regular form of government, acting as if the royal governor and lieutenant governor were simply unavailable. They held elections for a new Massachusetts General Court and chose a new Council, now unencumbered by writs of mandamus or the gentlemen who had previously supported royal policy.

Tay took his case to that legislature late in 1775, restating his claim for the gun and concluding (as transcribed by Richard Frothingham):
all which your petitioner informed the committee of safety for this colony, who, on the 24th day of May, 1775, gave it as their opinion that these arms were fairly the property of your petitioner.

Nevertheless, the said Joseph (though duly requested) refuses to deliver the same, under pretext of his own superior right.

Wherefore your petitioner earnestly prays that your honors would take his cause under due consideration, and make such order thereon as to your honors, in your great wisdom, shall seem just and reasonable, which that he may obtain he as in duty bound shall ever pray, &c.
On 21 September, the Massachusetts House took up Tay’s claim. The published record is garbled, saying that “William Tayie…lost certain Fire Arms” during the battle. But the disposition was clear: “Mr. Tayie has Leave to withdraw his Petition”—a polite and formulaic no.

But Tay still didn’t give up. During the next legislative session he appears to have redirected his petition to the Council. On 14 December those gentlemen took up the matter and issued an order summoning
Joseph Hayward by serving him with an attested copy of the petition and order that he may have opportunity to show cause (if any he hath) on the 26th day of this instant December why the prayer of this petition should not be granted
That’s what the document in the archives says, as transcribed by Joel Bohy. The published House records give the date of 21 December for hearing Hayward’s side of the story.

And there the official record appears to end. What effect did the Council’s summons have? Was there any legal follow-up? Did the two men reach a compromise? All I can say for sure is that in 1835 the sergeant’s gun was in the hands of Joseph Hayward’s son.

COMING UP: The further adventures of Sgt. Matthew Hayes.

Controversial Markets: Public lecture at the Zurich Center for Market Design (video)

 A video of my April 13 lecture on Controversial Markets is now available at the Zurich Center for Market Design. (The talk proper is about an hour, and then includes some Q&A about compensation for donors, among other things, starting at around minute 56.)

Here's a direct link:

Seven High Frequency Indicators for the Economy

These indicators are mostly for travel and entertainment.    It will interesting to watch these sectors recover as the vaccine is distributed.   

IMPORTANT: Be safe now - if all goes well, we could all be vaccinated by June.

----- Airlines: Transportation Security Administration -----

The TSA is providing daily travel numbers.

TSA Traveler Data Click on graph for larger image.

This data shows the seven day average of daily total traveler throughput from the TSA for 2019 (Light Blue), 2020 (Blue) and 2021 (Red).

The dashed line is the percent of 2019 for the seven day average.

This data is as of April 18th.

The seven day average is down 42.1% from the same day in 2019 (57.9% of last year).  (Dashed line)

There was a slow increase from the bottom, with ups and downs due to the holidays - and TSA data has picked up in 2021, but down over the last week.

----- Restaurants: OpenTable -----

The second graph shows the 7 day average of the year-over-year change in diners as tabulated by OpenTable for the US and several selected cities.

IMPORTANT: OpenTable notes: "we’ve updated the data including downloadable dataset from January 1, 2021 onward to compare seated diners from 2021 to 2019, as opposed to year over year." Thanks!

Move Box OfficeThanks to OpenTable for providing this restaurant data:

This data is updated through April 17, 2021.

This data is "a sample of restaurants on the OpenTable network across all channels: online reservations, phone reservations, and walk-ins. For year-over-year comparisons by day, we compare to the same day of the week from the same week in the previous year."

Note that this data is for "only the restaurants that have chosen to reopen in a given market". Since some restaurants have not reopened, the actual year-over-year decline is worse than shown.

Dining picked up during the holidays, then slumped with the huge winter surge in cases.  Dining was picking up again, but turned down last week.

----- Movie Tickets: Box Office Mojo -----

Move Box OfficeThis data shows domestic box office for each week and the median for the years 2016 through 2019 (dashed light blue).  

Blue is 2020 and Red is 2021.  

The data is from BoxOfficeMojo through Apr 15th.

Note that the data is usually noisy week-to-week and depends on when blockbusters are released.

Movie ticket sales were at $33 million last week,  down about 75% from the median for the week.

----- Hotel Occupancy: STR -----

Hotel Occupancy RateThis graph shows the seasonal pattern for the hotel occupancy rate using the four week average.

The red line is for 2021, black is 2020, blue is the median, and dashed light blue is for 2009 (the worst year since the Great Depression for hotels - before 2020).

Occupancy is now above the horrible 2009 levels.

This data is through April 10th. Hotel occupancy is currently down 15% compared to same week in 2019). Note: Occupancy was up year-over-year, since occupancy declined sharply at the onset of the pandemic. However, occupancy is still down significantly from normal levels.

Notes: Y-axis doesn't start at zero to better show the seasonal change.

----- Gasoline Supplied: Energy Information Administration -----

gasoline ConsumptionThis graph, based on weekly data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), shows gasoline supplied compared to the same week of 2019.

Blue is for 2020.  Red is for 2021.

As of April 9th, gasoline supplied was off about 5.1% (about 94.9% of the same week in 2019).

Gasoline supplied was up year-over-year, since at one point, gasoline supplied was off almost 50% YoY in 2020.

----- Transit: Apple Mobility -----

This graph is from Apple mobility. From Apple: "This data is generated by counting the number of requests made to Apple Maps for directions in select countries/regions, sub-regions, and cities." This is just a general guide - people that regularly commute probably don't ask for directions.

There is also some great data on mobility from the Dallas Fed Mobility and Engagement Index. However the index is set "relative to its weekday-specific average over January–February", and is not seasonally adjusted, so we can't tell if an increase in mobility is due to recovery or just the normal increase in the Spring and Summer.

Apple Mobility DataThis data is through April 17th for the United States and several selected cities.

The graph is the running 7 day average to remove the impact of weekends.

IMPORTANT: All data is relative to January 13, 2020. This data is NOT Seasonally Adjusted. People walk and drive more when the weather is nice, so I'm just using the transit data.

According to the Apple data directions requests, public transit in the 7 day average for the US is at 66% of the January 2020 level. It is at 62% in Chicago, and 61% in Houston (the Houston dip was a weather related decline) - and moving up recently.

----- New York City Subway Usage -----

Here is some interesting data on New York subway usage (HT BR).

New York City Subway UsageThis graph is from Todd W Schneider. This is weekly data since 2015. 

Most weeks are between 30 and 35 million entries, and currently there just above 10 million subway turnstile entries per week.

This data is through Friday, April 16th.

Schneider has graphs for each borough, and links to all the data sources.

He notes: "Data updates weekly from the MTA’s public turnstile data, usually on Saturday mornings".

Ingenuity performs first flight on Mars


WASHINGTON — NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter successfully performed the first powered aircraft flight on another planet April 19, briefing hovering above the surface of Mars.

The 1.8-kilogram helicopter performed the flight at 3:34 a.m. Eastern, but data from the flight, relayed through the Perseverance rover and another Mars orbiter, arrived at Earth a little more than three hours later.

An initial analysis of the data by the project team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory indicates the flight went as expected, with Ingenuity taking off, flying to an altitude of about three meters and hovering before landing 39.1 seconds later.

“We can now say that human beings have flown a rotorcraft on another planet,” MiMi Aung, Ingenuity project manager at JPL, said in the control room moments after engineers confirmed the successful flight. “We together flew at Mars and we together now have our Wright Brothers moment.”

The telemetry included one image taken from a camera on Ingenuity, looking down on the surface and capturing its shadow. Perseverance, monitoring the flight from about 65 meters away, also returned a set of images showing the helicopter in flight.

The flight is the first of as many as five scheduled during a month-long test campaign. Later flights will be increasingly ambitious, going to altitudes of up to five meters and traveling dozens of meters downrange and back.

This flight was scheduled for April 11 but postponed because of a problem with a “watchdog” command timer during preparations for a final pre-flight test April 8. While the project considered updating the flight software to correct the problem, they elected instead to adjust the timing of commands, concluding from testing that it would allow the helicopter to take off 85% of the time.

“We picked the solution that really is the most simple, most straightforward option,” Aung said on NASA TV just before the flight. Had it not worked, she said the team would have tried again the next day.

Ingenuity is a technology demonstration that NASA argues could be used on future missions to provide a third dimension for exploration of Mars. “It’s taking a tool that we haven’t been able to use and putting in the box of tools that is available for all of our missions going forward at Mars,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science. “It opens up new doors.”

No future missions at Mars currently plan to use a rotorcraft like Ingenuity. However, that technology will be used for a much larger vehicle, Dragonfly, to allow it to fly in the dense atmosphere of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Dragonfly is scheduled for launch in 2027.

Immediately after the flight, Zurbuchen announced the “airfield” on Mars that is hosting Ingenuity would be called Wright Brothers Field, “in recognition of the ingenuity and innovation that continue to propel exploration.”


Effective Altruism: An Introduction

Effective Altruism: An Introduction is a collection of ten top episodes of The 80,000 Hours Podcast, specifically selected to help listeners quickly get up to speed on the school of thought known as effective altruism.

They cover:

  • What effective altruism is — the use of evidence and careful analysis to do as much good as possible
  • The strategies for improving the world that are most popular within the effective altruism community, and why they’re popular
  • The key disagreements between researchers in the field
  • How to ‘think like an effective altruist’
  • How you might figure out how to make your biggest contribution to solving the world’s most pressing problems

The only thing I would say is that Robert Wiblin has a funny idea about “quickly get up to speed”! But you won’t go wrong with any of these podcast episodes.

The post Effective Altruism: An Introduction appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

NASA has flown a helicopter on Mars, and it went brilliantly [Updated]

An image from <em>Ingenuity</em>, looking down at the surface of Mars. That's its shadow.

Enlarge / An image from Ingenuity, looking down at the surface of Mars. That's its shadow. (credit: NASA/JPL)

Monday morning update: NASA and its engineers have done it! They have flown a powered aircraft on another world for the first time.

Shortly before 7 am ET (11:00 UTC), data came streaming to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory via a circuitous route: from the Ingenuity helicopter to the Perseverance rover, from there to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter above the red planet, across space to a large satellite dish in Madrid, Spain, and finally to the California-based facility.

And the data was good. It indicated the helicopter spun up its rotors to 2,500 revolutions per minute, the vehicle then rose to a little more than 3 meters above the surface, hovered, and then descended safely to the surface.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

All in on Starship

NASA announced Friday that it had selected SpaceX as the sole company to win a contract to develop and demonstrate crewed lunar landers for the Artemis program. Jeff Foust reports on how NASA's human space exploration program has become intertwined with SpaceX's ambitions.

Higher burning: The Air Launched Sortie Vehicle of the 1980s

The TV series "For All Mankind" recently featured a shuttle-like vehicle launching from atop a C-5 cargo plane. Dwayne Day explores how that was based on concepts studied in the early 1980s by the Air Force for a spaceplane that could launch from a Boeing 747.

Putting SpaceX's Starship program in the proper context

SpaceX's Starship vehicle has attracted attention and scrutiny for its unconventional approach to vehicle development. Wayne Eleazer explains just how much it stands out in the long history of launch vehicle projects.

Review: The High Frontier

Gerard K. O'Neill is revered figure among many space advocates, but largely forgotten outside of the field. Jeff Foust reviews a new documentary that attempts to revive interest in the person who, a half-century ago, popularized the concept of space settlements.


Dive into an intimate, entrancing viewing experience that takes you into the midst of dhikr, a ritual at the heart of Sufism

By Aeon Video

Watch at Aeon

Coleridge the philosopher

Though far more often remembered as a poet, Coleridge’s theory of ideas was spectacular in its originality and bold reach

By Peter Cheyne

Read at Aeon

Schadenfreude 286: (A Continuing Series)

Wondering if the title of these posts should be changed to "(A Daily Series)" . . .

Worst Record In MLB (Under .400)

              W   L   PCT      STANDINGS        L10  RS  RA  DIFF
Rockies       4  12  .250  9.0 GB in NL West    2-8  66  76   -10
Yankees       5  10  .333  4.5 GB in AL East    2-8  55  64   - 9
Diamondbacks  6  10  .375  7.0 GB in NL West    4-6  73  83   -10
Tigers        6  10  .375  4.0 GB in AL Central 3-7  55  83   -28
Nationals     5   8  .385  3.0 GB in NL East    4-6  46  61   -15

Kristie Ackert, Daily News:

No matter how much he may want to, Gerrit Cole cannot do it all.

The Yankees right-hander cannot spark the offense or steady the defense behind him. With an impotent offense and more defensive lapses, the Yankees wasted another of his starts Sunday. . . . The Yankees . . . dropped their fifth straight game, losing 4-2 to the Rays at the Stadium.

The Rays swept the three-games to take their second series of the season from the Yankees. . . .The Rays have won the last six regular season series against the Yankees and beat them in the best-of-five American League Division Series last season.

The Yankees managed just three hits off the Rays, who started Andrew Kittredge for 1.2 innings and then went to their bulk guy in Ryan Yarbrough. In the three-game series, the Yankees managed 11 hits, (hitting .120 as a team), including three homers. They struck out 37 times.

The Rays led off the third with three straight singles against Cole, including Kevin Keirmaier's bobbled fly ball to center and an RBI, line drive single by Yandy Diaz which Aaron Hicks missed and let get by him. The error allowed Mike Zunino, who led off with a single, to score. Manuel Margot gave the Rays the lead with a sacrifice fly to left, which Clint Frazier then sent sailing past second allowing Diaz to advance to third. . . .

Cole retired 13 straight until Joey Wendle hit a one-out single in the seventh. It was a hard-hit liner, but even though Chad Green was close to being ready, Aaron Boone kept him in to face Yoshi Tsutsugo. The Rays' designated hitter doubled on Cole's 109th pitch of the game to drive in the Rays' third run.

Joey Wendle homered off Darren O'Day in the top of the ninth. It was the first run O'Day allowed as a Yankee.

Greg Joyce, Post:

Not even Gerrit Cole could save the Yankees from sinking further into the depths of despair.

The $324 million ace tried to play the role of the stopper Sunday . . . but the scuffling offense still came up empty as the Yankees dropped a fifth straight game and were swept by the Rays with a 4-2 loss at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees mustered just three hits as they fell to 5-10, their worst record to begin a season since 1997 . . .

[Cole] was burned by some poor defense in a two-run third inning before giving up the go-ahead run in the seventh. . . . 

[T]he Yankees . . . [had] their first lead of the series in the second inning . . . It was the first time the Yankees had led in 22 innings, dating to the sixth inning of Wednesday's loss to the Blue Jays.

It didn't last long, though, as the Yankees gave it right back in the top of the third, courtesy of a few costly defensive gaffes from their outfield.

Ian O'Connor, Post:

A baseball manager is not a head football coach. He cannot treat an MLB Sunday loss in April like an NFL Sunday loss in September, not when he has to lead his team on a grueling, 162-game journey that isn't best served by the dramatic mood swings that define pro football.

The adjustments are not as extreme, and the reprimands are not as explosive. But right now, with Tampa Bay's series sweep leaving his Yankees at 5-10, Aaron Boone is starting to look like one of those nice-guy NFL coaches whose teams rarely look ready to play. . . .

We quickly transition to the necessary disclaimers in your prototypical negative early-season baseball column . . .

But all that matters today is that there are 29 other teams in major league baseball, and the Yankees have a worse record than 28 of them. Despite a payroll about $134 million fatter than Tampa Bay's, the Yankees have allowed the Rays to take up permanent residence in their big-market heads. The Rays have taken six straight series from the Yanks, and have won 15 of their last 18 regular-season meetings, and eight of their last nine in The Bronx. If they see each other again in the postseason, a year after the Yanks were bounced from the ALDS, the Rays will feel all but invincible walking into that series. . . .

Boone could not even be rescued by his $324 million ace in the hole, Gerrit Cole . . . that wasn't good enough to prevent his team from losing its fifth in a row.

Boone even got a pregame assist from Jay Bruce, who suddenly announced his retirement and got everyone in the building . . . talking about something other than just the godforsaken state of Bruce's last team.

That didn't help, either. The Yankees entered this game 23rd in the majors in on-base percentage, 24th in runs, 25th in total bases and 28th in OPS, and they responded with a grand total of two runs on three hits in the 4-2 defeat. . . .

Worse yet, the Yankees’ amateur-hour play in the outfield did nothing to support the idea that Boone's team was mentally prepared to compete at the highest level. Hicks, the expert golfer, committed a double bogey on one play and a bogey on another . . . while Clint Frazier once inexplicably threw the ball to Cole instead of to second base. That's why most of the 10,606 fans in the stands booed loudly after the final out was made. . . .

Boone said he will consider "shaking some things up." The most obvious move is getting Hicks out of the three-hole . . . His 0-for-4 dropped his batting average to .160 and his OBP to .236, and the numbers — coupled with his defensive breakdowns — have earned the demotion. . . .

Boone has to understand that this horror film of a start is not only on Yanks' stumbling, bumbling stars.

This is very much on the man paid to make sure those stars play up to their billing.

Greg Joyce, Post:

Sunday was Jay Bruce's last game as a Yankee — and major leaguer.

The 34-year-old outfielder/first baseman is retiring after the Yankees' 4-2 loss to the Rays on Sunday . . . marking the end of a 14-year career in the big leagues. . . .

Bruce said his decision came into focus about a week ago . . . [He] was batting 4-for-34 [.118] . . . in 10 games. He started first eight games of the season at first base, but had recently been phased out of the lineup.


Bruce would rather retire than spend even one more day on the sinking ship known as the SS MFY.

(Please note: I wrote the prior sentence well before I saw the Daily News back page.)

*Nuclear Folly: A History of the Cuban Missile Crisis*

Although they did not know it at the time, the seamen of the USS Cony and other ships of the Randolph group were moments away from being killed or shipwrecked by the tremendous waves that a nuclear explosion would produce. Savitsky’s torpedo carried a warhead with 10 kilotons of explosive power.  If dropped on a city, that would suffice to kill everyone with a half-mile radius. Moreover, the torpedoes’ nuclear warheads were designed to create shock waves that would topple or incapacitate ships. The 20-kiloton load tried by the US Navy in the Baker underwater test in 1946 produced waves up to 94 feet high. The Soviets tested their T-5 torpedoes near Novala Zemlia in the Arctic in 1957 but never released the results. Any ship hit by the torpedo would almost certainly have been destroyed, while the rest of the Randolph group would have suffered significant damage.

That is from the new book on this topic by Serhii Plokhy.  An excellent book, with much more on the Soviet side than any other source I am aware of.

The post *Nuclear Folly: A History of the Cuban Missile Crisis* appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Live coverage: NASA confirms successful first flight of Mars helicopter

Live coverage of the the Ingenuity helicopter’s flight test campaign on Mars. Text updates will appear automatically below; there is no need to reload the page. Follow us on Twitter.

What is the proper framework for thinking about cybersecurity?

Long-time MR reader here. I have a question: what is the appropriate framework to think about incentives (economic or otherwise) for electric power utilities to beef up their cybersecurity?

The Biden administration is reportedly putting together a plan to “rapidly shore up the security of the US power grid” [1]. As we know from the Solarwids hack, our nation’s cyber defenses (whether private industry or government) are inadequate [2], especially when targeted by nation-states [3].

The Bloomberg article says “The White House plan, which is voluntary, lays out a series of possible incentives to get power companies to sign on, a less politically precarious route than mandating their participation through regulation.”

It seems to me that the government offering money to private entities to buy some cybersecurity software products is not the optimal, and certainly not the sustainable, solution. There are needed investments in research & development, workforce training, and much more. Simply deploying today’s tech won’t solve this going forward.

So, what’s the right way to approach this from an incentives perspective? It seem to me that this is a very nuanced problem. We have no easy “target” to shoot for; there is no miles per gallon efficiency metric that can be used as a carrot.

That is an email from Matthew Backes.

The post What is the proper framework for thinking about cybersecurity? appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

In a cosmic wonderland

This panoramic selfie was taken on 9 April 2016 by ESO Photo Ambassador Petr Horálek. Petr was in the Chilean Atacama Desert as a member of ESO’s Fulldome Expedition team, a select group of photographers who captured an array of stunning, ultra-high-definition visuals for use primarily in the ESO Supernova Planetarium & Visitor Centre.

The landscape looms large around photographer Petr in this image, making him appear small beneath the striking Chilean sky. He can be seen standing just beneath a column of zodiacal light — perfect positioning that makes this image appear even more otherworldly.

The wide, round-topped objects visible here are some of the 12-metre antennas comprising the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). ALMA is the largest ground-based astronomical observatory in the world, and is located on the Chajnantor Plateau in Chile at an altitude of 5000 metres. A total of 66 antennas make up the array, and can be connected together in different configurations to act as a single telescope, known as an interferometer. This arrangement enables ALMA to be the most powerful explorer of the Universe in millimetre and submillimetre light, the kind of light that is produced by cool, distant, ancient phenomena throughout the cosmos, allowing us to explore the birth of stars, the formation of exoplanets, and distant galaxies


Next Starliner test flights slips to late summer

Starliner at Pad 41

WASHINGTON — Boeing said April 17 that the next test flight of its CST-100 Starliner commercial crew vehicle won’t take place until at least August, confirming a lengthy delay widely expected because of the schedule of other launches and International Space Station missions.

In a statement, Boeing said that the company and NASA are projecting the uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT) 2 mission will take place in August or September. That date is “supported by a space station docking opportunity and the availability of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and Eastern Range.”

Boeing had been working toward a launch of OFT-2 in late March or early April. However, by early March, NASA officials acknowledged that was no longer likely because of delays from the replacement of avionics units on the spacecraft that were damaged by a power surge during ground tests, as well as power outages in the Houston area caused by a winter storm in February that interrupted software testing.

Neither NASA nor Boeing provided an updated launch date at the time, but noted the mission was unlikely to launch in either April or May. That was due to Soyuz and Crew Dragon missions to the ISS scheduled for launch in April, and the May launch of an Atlas 5 carrying a military spacecraft.

At an April 15 briefing about the upcoming Crew-2 Crew Dragon mission, Steve Stich, NASA commercial crew program manager, said another factor was the next cargo Dragon mission to the space station, scheduled for launch in early June. That spacecraft, along with the Crew-2 spacecraft, will occupy the only two docking ports Starliner can use, meaning it can’t launch until after the cargo Dragon departs in mid-July.

“Right now, the windows that we’re looking at are the August-September time frame for OFT-2,” he said.

Boeing, in its statement, said that the Starliner flying OFT-2 will be “mission-ready” in May and the company “will evaluate options if an earlier launch opportunity becomes available.” For now, though, there are no plans to delay the cargo Dragon mission in June, in part because it is carrying solar panels NASA wants to get to the station as soon as possible to begin a long-anticipated upgrade of the station’s power supply.

Stich said at the briefing that NASA and Boeing will take advantage of the delay to do additional software testing. Software issues were at the root of several major problems with the original OFT flight in December 2019, cutting the mission short and preventing the spacecraft from docking with the ISS.

“Boeing expects to conclude all software testing in April and will support the agency’s post-test reviews as needed,” the company said, adding that it is completing all the recommendations made a year ago by an independent review, including those not considered mandatory before the spacecraft’s next flight.

Despite the delay in OFT-2, NASA and Boeing said they are still working to make the vehicle’s first crewed flight, the Crew Flight Test, before the end of the year. Stich said at the briefing that the current target for that flight is the fourth quarter.

That would mean the crewed flight would be no more than four months after OFT-2, while previous schedules suggested a gap of about half a year between them. Boeing said it is working to “enable the shortest turnaround time possible between flights while maintaining its focus on crew safety,” including having the three NASA astronauts who will fly that mission perform tests in the Starliner that will launch on OFT-2.


Aviation Firsts

Mile High Club membership [✓] [ ] Discovery of parts of Amelia Earhart's skeleton [ ] [ ] Mid-flight incident that results in safe landing on the Hudson River [✓] [ ]

The Galactic Center in Infrared

What does the center of our galaxy look like? What does the center of our galaxy look like?

Sunday Night Futures

Schedule for Week of April 18, 2021

• No major economic releases scheduled.

From CNBC: Pre-Market Data and Bloomberg futures S&P 500 futures are down 10 and DOW futures are down 75 (fair value).

Oil prices were up over the last week with WTI futures at $62.88 per barrel and Brent at $66.49 per barrel. A year ago, WTI were below zero, and Brent was at $17 - so WTI oil prices are UP sharply year-over-year (oil prices collapsed at the beginning of the pandemic).

Here is a graph from for nationwide gasoline prices. Nationally prices are at $2.85 per gallon. A year ago prices were at $1.77 per gallon, so gasoline prices are up $1.08 per gallon year-over-year.

Photos: Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon roll out to pad 39A

A Falcon 9 rocket with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft rolls up the ramp to pad 39A Friday. Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft rolled out to pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Friday. Hydraulics raised the 215-foot-tall (65-meter) rocket vertical on the historic launch pad in preparation for liftoff with four astronauts heading for the International Space Station.

The two-stage launcher, powered by a booster stage reused from a crew launch in November, is set to take off Thursday at 6:11 a.m. EDT (1011 GMT) with NASA commander Shane Kimbrough, pilot Megan McArthur, Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, and European Space Agency mission specialist Thomas Pesquet.

All veterans of previous space missions, the four astronauts are setting off on a six-month expedition on the space station. They will ride into orbit inside the cabin of SpaceX’s commercial Crew Dragon Endeavour spaceship, also refurbished after a flight last year.

The Crew-2 mission marks the first time SpaceX has launched a crewed mission using a reused rocket and spacecraft. It’s the third Crew Dragon flight with astronauts overall, and SpaceX’s second full-up crew rotation mission to the space station.

The Falcon 9 rocket rode a transporter along rail tracks for the quarter-mile trip up the ramp to pad 39A, beginning just after sunrise Friday. SpaceX lifted the rocket vertical on the launch pad later the same day.

See our Mission Status Center for comprehensive coverage of Crew-2 flight to the International Space Station.

Additional photos of the Falcon 9 rocket’s rollout to pad 39A are posted below.

Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani
Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani
Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani
Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani
Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani
Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani
Credit: SpaceX
Credit: SpaceX
Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani
Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani
Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani
Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani
Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani
Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani
Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani
Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani
Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani
Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani
Credit: Stephen Clark/Spaceflight Now
Credit: Stephen Clark/Spaceflight Now
Credit: Stephen Clark/Spaceflight Now
Credit: Stephen Clark/Spaceflight Now
Credit: SpaceX

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.