Rocket Report: Single-core Delta IV is no more, fully automated Soyuz

The Rocket Report is published weekly.

Enlarge / The Rocket Report is published weekly. (credit: Arianespace)

Welcome to Edition 2.12 of the Rocket Report! This week's report might as well be brought to you by United Launch Alliance—but never fear, dear readers, no one influences the report—because there is a lot going on with the Colorado-based company. This week, ULA flew its final single-stick Delta IV rocket, and the company is in the midst of transitioning to its new Vulcan-Centaur booster.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don't want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Air Force seeks bids for small, medium payloads. The US Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center's Launch Enterprise is requesting industry bids for the Orbital Services Program-4, intended to launch payloads of 180kg or larger into orbit. The Air Force will procure about 20 missions over the next nine years, SpaceNews reports. Bids are due August 29.

Read 24 remaining paragraphs | Comments

AFDLOX August 23, 3:22am

FXUS66 KLOX 231022 AFDLOX Area Forecast Discussion National Weather Service Los Angeles/Oxnard CA 322 AM PDT Fri Aug 23 2019 .SYNOPSIS...23/257 AM. A strong eddy circulation across the coastal waters will bring below normal temperatures across much of the forecast area today. High pressure will build in this weekend allowing for a warming trend through at least early next week. High temperatures will be a few degrees above normal by this weekend. Expect night through morning low clouds and fog to continue across many coastal areas this weekend with some coastal valleys could experience some low clouds as well. Warmer than normal temperatures away from the coast will continue into next week.

Lasting marks

In the late 1980s in the UK, Roland Jaggard was part of a loose-knit group of men who engaged in, and occasionally videotaped, consensual sadomasochistic same-sex acts. While Jaggard acknowledged that aspects of his sex life were ‘not to everyone’s taste’, he never imagined that it would cost him his job, unleash a tabloid-fuelled public outcry, and land him and 15 other men in prison. The UK filmmaker Charlie Lyne’s vertical video Lasting Marks delves into the history and complicated legacy of the UK-wide police investigation, codenamed 'Operation Spanner', that cost more than £2.5 million and saw around 100 men questioned over their sex lives. In court, the prosecution argued that consent wasn’t a defence for causing bodily harm, creating a precedent that still holds in UK law today. Composed exclusively of photocopied documents, Jaggard’s voice and a sparse score, the film skilfully explores the evolving and uncertain boundaries between public and private life, what’s socially acceptable and what’s taboo, and how the state tries to police sexual behaviours.

By Aeon Video

Watch at Aeon

Let us now stop praising famous men (and women)

After the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris nearly burned down in April, the French luxury-goods magnate François-Henri Pinault was celebrated for committing €100 million to reconstruct what he called ‘this jewel of our heritage’ and ushering in a flood of donations from other benefactors and compani...

By David V Johnson

Read at Aeon

AFDSGX August 23, 2:51am

FXUS66 KSGX 230951 AFDSGX Area Forecast Discussion National Weather Service San Diego CA 251 AM PDT Fri Aug 23 2019 .SYNOPSIS... A trough of low pressure will continue the cooling trend for inland areas today. High pressure will expand across California for the weekend into next week with high temperatures warming to around average. Coastal low clouds will extend into portions of the inland valleys this morning, but will not extend as far inland for the weekend into next week as the marine layer becomes shallower. A minor influx of monsoonal moisture from the south will increase the humidity for inland areas for the weekend into next week. This will bring some high clouds a times and some afternoon clouds near the mountains, but with minimal chances for thunder.

NHC Eastern North Pacific Outlook


Eastern North Pacific 2-Day Graphical Outlook Image
Eastern North Pacific 5-Day Graphical Outlook Image


ZCZC MIATWOEP ALL
TTAA00 KNHC DDHHMM

Tropical Weather Outlook
NWS National Hurricane Center Miami FL
1100 PM PDT Thu Aug 22 2019

For the eastern North Pacific...east of 140 degrees west longitude:

The National Hurricane Center is issuing advisories on Tropical
Storm Ivo, located several hundred miles southwest of the southern
tip of the Baja California peninsula.

1. A surface trough located about 1100 miles east-southeast of the
Big Island of Hawaii continues to produce disorganized cloudiness
and showers. Although this disturbance is not showing any signs of
development at this time, environmental conditions could become
a little more conducive for some development in the central Pacific
well to the east of the Hawaiian Islands in a few days. The system
is forecast to move slowly northwestward.
* Formation chance through 48 hours...low...near 0 percent.
* Formation chance through 5 days...low...30 percent.

Forecaster Avila


NHC Atlantic Outlook


Atlantic 2-Day Graphical Outlook Image
Atlantic 5-Day Graphical Outlook Image


ZCZC MIATWOAT ALL
TTAA00 KNHC DDHHMM

Tropical Weather Outlook
NWS National Hurricane Center Miami FL
200 AM EDT Fri Aug 23 2019

For the North Atlantic...Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico:

The National Hurricane Center is issuing advisories on Tropical
Depression Chantal, located about 850 miles southeast of Cape
Race, Newfoundland.

1. Recent satellite-derived wind data indicate that a weak area of low
pressure is located between the southeastern coast of Florida and
Andros Island in the northwestern Bahamas. The system is producing
a large area of disorganized cloudiness and showers that extend
primarily northeast of the center over the adjacent Atlantic Ocean.
The low is forecast to move near or over Florida later today, which
should limit development during the next day or so. Environmental
conditions appear conducive for development once the system moves
back over the Atlantic waters, and a tropical depression could form
over the weekend or early next week while the low moves near the
coast of east-central Florida and then offshore of the southeastern
United States coast. Regardless of development, locally heavy rains
are possible over the northwestern Bahamas and southern and central
Florida during the next few days.
* Formation chance through 48 hours...low...30 percent.
* Formation chance through 5 days...medium...60 percent.

Forecaster Berg


Starbucks monetary policy

Starbucks has around $1.6 billion in stored value card liabilities outstanding. This represents the sum of all physical gift cards held in customer’s wallets as well as the digital value of electronic balances held in the Starbucks Mobile App.* It amounts to ~6% of all of the company’s liabilities.

This is a pretty incredible number. Stored value card liabilities are the money that you, oh loyal Starbucks customer, use to buy coffee. What you might not realize is that these balances  simultaneously function as a loan to Starbucks. Starbucks doesn’t pay any interest on balances held in the Starbucks app or gift cards. You, the loyal customer, are providing the company with free debt.

Starbucks isn’t the only firm to get free lending from its customers. So does PayPal. That’s right, customers who hold PayPal balances are effectively acting as PayPal’s creditors. Customer loans to PayPal currently amount to over $20 billion. Like Starbucks, PayPal doesn’t pay its customers a shred of interest. But Starbucks’s gig is way better than PayPal’s. PayPal is required to store customer’s funds in a segregated account at a bank, or invest them in government bonds (see tweet below). So unfortunately for PayPal, it earns a paltry amount of interest on the funds that customers have lent it.

Here is more from JP Koning.

The post Starbucks monetary policy appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

CPHC Central North Pacific Outlook


Central North Pacific 2-Day Graphical Outlook Image
Central North Pacific 5-Day Graphical Outlook Image


ZCZC HFOTWOCP ALL
TTAA00 PHFO DDHHMM

Tropical Weather Outlook
NWS Central Pacific Hurricane Center Honolulu HI
800 PM HST Thu Aug 22 2019

For the central North Pacific...between 140W and 180W:

1. A surface trough located about 1100 miles east-southeast of the
Big Island of Hawaii continues to produce disorganized cloudiness
and showers. Although this disturbance is not showing any signs of
development at this time, environmental conditions could become
a little more conducive for some development in the central Pacific
well to the east of the Hawaiian Islands in a few days. The system
is forecast to move slowly northwestward.
* Formation chance through 48 hours...low...near 0 percent.
* Formation chance through 5 days...low...30 percent.

Elsewhere, no tropical cyclones are expected during the next 5 days.

Forecaster Kino


Those new (old) service sector jobs: personal book curator

From the unusual products flogged on health and wellbeing site Goop to her one-of-a-kind beauty habits, Gwyneth Paltrow never fails to surprise us. Case in point: she once hired a ‘personal book curator’.

Back in 2001, the former actress decided to redesign her Los Angeles home and realised that to complete the gram-worthy look, she needed a good five to six hundred books to fill the empty shelves.

So what does a Hollywood star do when their personal novel collection doesn’t quite make the necessary requirements? They call in a celebrity-approved book curator of course.

The 46-year-old asked longtime friend, Thatcher Wine, a long-time book collector and the founder of Juniper Books, to complete the task. But with A-list clientele including the likes of Laura Dern and Shonda Rhimes, he was certainly no stranger to the job in hand.

And this is indeed an art:

Over in the dining room, Wine made sure to organise the books in a more minimal fashion in keeping with a “rigid colour palette of black, white, and grey since it was less of a space where one might hang out and read”.

Upon closer inspection, heavyweight coffee table books take price of place with shelves dedicated to artists including Frida Kahlo, Salvador Dali and Leonardo Da Vinci.

Here is the full story, here is the interview with Thatcher Wine.  Via Ted Gioia.

The post Those new (old) service sector jobs: personal book curator appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Administration policies seek to promote use of space nuclear power

Nuclear thermal propulsion ship

CHANTILLY, Va. — A revised policy for approving the launch of spacecraft with nuclear power systems is the latest measure intended to support greater use of nuclear power systems in orbit and beyond.

The policy, formally issued by President Trump Aug. 20 to coincide with the latest public meeting of the National Space Council, updates guidelines for how both government and commercial spacecraft carrying space nuclear systems are reviewed and approved for launch.

The policy establishes a three-tier system for reviewing payloads carrying nuclear power systems, such as radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) or fission reactors, based on the amount of radioactive material on board and the probability of certain radiation exposure levels in the event of an accident.

Spacecraft that fall in the first two tiers will be approved by their sponsoring agency, although in some cases with a review by a new Interagency Nuclear Safety Review Board that NASA is tasked to establish within 180 days. Those in the third tier require presidential authorization, which can be done through the National Security Council for national security missions or Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) for other missions.

“Our primary objective here is to ensure that rigorous and effective nuclear safety analysis and reviews are conducted prior to the launch of any space nuclear system,” said Kelvin Droegemeier, director of OSTP, during comments at the National Space Council meeting at the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center here. “To that end, we must provide clear guidelines to help mission planners and launch approval authorities ensure that launch safety is maintained.”

The policy, he continued, is also intended to promote a “positive safety analysis” and “forward-looking” authorization process that can take into announce new space nuclear systems.

Droegemeier said the policy was just one step in supporting greater use of space nuclear systems. “Moving forward, we must also focus on ensuring that we sustain the skills here in America and also develop the technologies needed to provide space nuclear systems that are ready to propel as well as power future American spacecraft,” he said.

While the policy doesn’t go into technology development and related issues, it does call on the Secretary of Transportation to develop in the next year guidance for private organizations proposing to launch a vehicle with a space nuclear system. That guidance would explain the licensing and review process for such systems.

However, there’s been little commercial interest in space nuclear power, given not just the regulatory challenges but also technical and cost issues. One startup, Denver-based Atomos Space, has proposed developing nuclear-powered space tugs for in-space transportation, although the company plans to start with solar electric systems and hasn’t specified when it will attempt to fly nuclear-powered systems.

There’s also been few applications of space nuclear power systems on government missions, at least in the unclassified realm. NASA does use RTGs on some missions, but infrequently due to both the cost and limited supplies of plutonium-238, the isotope used in RTGs. The only upcoming NASA missions formally approved for development that will use RTGs are the Mars 2020 rover mission and the recently selected Dragonfly mission to Saturn’s moon Titan.

That could change in the next several years. NASA has been working with the Department of Energy on a small nuclear fission reactor called Kilopower that could be used on future moon and Mars missions. Congress has also increased funding for nuclear thermal propulsion work at NASA, including a provision in the report accompanying the fiscal year 2019 appropriations bill calling for a flight demonstration of a nuclear propulsion system by 2024.

During a panel discussion at the council meeting, Rex Geveden, president and chief executive of BWX Technologies and a former NASA associate administrator, backed the development of more ambitious space nuclear power systems, citing his company’s decades of experience with nuclear power systems, including NASA-funded nuclear thermal propulsion work.

“America has the nuclear technological capabilities right now to push the boundaries of human exploration at the moon and further on to Mars,” he said. “If we to fulfill the objectives of President Trump’s first space policy directive to establish a long-term presence on the moon and send the first crewed mission to Mars, nuclear power is arguably the most important technology to enable these bold national goals.”

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine endorsed greater use of nuclear power and propulsion technologies. “That is absolutely a game-changer,” he said of nuclear thermal propulsion. “That gives us the opportunity to, really, protect life” by limiting the cosmic radiation exposure astronauts would receive on long-duration flights, like transits to and from Mars.

Geveden told Bridenstine during a brief discussion at the meeting that space nuclear power could also be used in “a variety of national security applications,” such for remote bases or for directed energy weapons.

“That directed energy weapon, could that be used, for example, to protect the Earth from an asteroid?” Bridenstine asked.

“I think you could envision that,” Geveden responded, adding that such systems could also be used to remove orbital debris.

“I think, Mr. Vice President,” Bridenstine said to Vice President Mike Pence, “there’s an amazing opportunity here that the United States of America should take advantage of.”

SpaceNews.com

News Corp Readies News App to Address Publishers’ Concerns About Google and Facebook

Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg and Lillian Rizzo, reporting for The Wall Street Journal:

News Corp is developing a news-aggregation service meant to address concerns that Alphabet Inc.’s Google News and other digital platforms don’t reward publishers’ work adequately and play down articles from certain types of sites, according to people familiar with the plans.

The service, currently called Knewz.com, is expected to be a website and a mobile app.

No gnews is good gnews with Gary Gnu.

 ★ 

NGC 1499: The California Nebula

Drifting through the Orion Arm of the spiral Milky Way Galaxy, Drifting through the Orion Arm of the spiral Milky Way Galaxy,


EFF: ‘Apple’s New WebKit Policy Takes a Hard Line for User Privacy’

Bill Budington, writing for the EFF:

The policy ends with the clause

We want to see a healthy web ecosystem, with privacy by design.

We couldn’t agree more. We sincerely hope more browsers, such as Google’s Chrome, adopt the tenet of “privacy by design” as well.

 ★ 

Friday: New Home Sales, Fed Chair Powell

Friday:
• At 10:00 AM ET, New Home Sales for July from the Census Bureau. The consensus is for 645 thousand SAAR, down from 646 thousand in June.

• Also at 10:00 AM, Speech, Fed Chair Jerome Powell, Challenges for Monetary Policy, At the Jackson Hole Economic Policy Symposium: Challenges for Monetary Policy, Jackson Hole, Wyo.

IKEA’s All-Black Globe

IKEA sells an all-black globe as part of its LINDRADE series. It costs $20 in the U.S. and £17 in the U.K.; for some reason it’s not available on the Canadian store. If it were, I might just get one.

Per standing IKEA policy, New Zealand is not shown.

The reviews on the U.S. store are hilarious, but on the U.K. store the single a review on the U.K. says that the globe is chalkboard (it’s made of polystyrene), which makes the product a good deal less absurd. Otherwise, it occurs to me that it could make a halfway decent base on which you could paste your own globe gores. [Cartophilia]

Links 8/22/19

Trump_greatdisloyalty
Links for you. Science:

Insect ‘apocalypse’ in U.S. driven by 50x increase in toxic pesticides
‘It makes me angry’: is this the end for America’s Joshua trees?
The three technologies bioinformaticians need to be using right now
How much Public #Microbiome or #Metagenomics data is out there?
The Endangered Species Act is incredibly popular and effective. Trump is weakening it anyway.

Other:

The World Is Ever Ending (excellent)
Here’s The Big Gun Reform Idea Getting Attention From 2020 Democrats
YouTube’s Conspiracy Theory Crackdown Has One Big Winner: Fox News
Open Borders Made America Great
Google’s War on Publisher Paywalls
You can easily secure America’s e-voting systems tomorrow. Use paper
Amid a literacy crisis, Michigan’s school librarians have all but disappeared
Danica Roem, Trans History Maker, Fights Another Anti-LGBT Candidate—and Their Donors—in Virginia
This Is What Latinos Think Everyone Got Wrong About El Paso
Public library receipt shows how much money you saved by borrowing instead of buying books
#GreenShirtGuy: How I went viral
The Global Machine Behind the Rise of Far-Right Nationalism
The #MoscowMitch moniker is working: McConnell is finally running scared
Bad Information: Border Patrol Arrest Reports Are Full of Lies That Can Sabotage Asylum Claims
The Politics of Criticism: My life with heavy metal, Tucker Carlson, NPR, and strong opinions
After the White House, she probably can’t go back to the city that made her. So she has cannily devised another exit strategy.
Director of Alaska college resigns due to state budget cuts
In D.C., New York and beyond, Jews mark annual day of mourning by protesting Trump immigration policies
University of Texas researchers aiding Salvadoran teen were threatened with arrest by Mexican authorities
Nearly All Of Mexico’s Gun Violence Is Committed With Illegal Firearms Coming From U.S., Officials Says
‘Dying of whiteness’: why racism is at the heart of America’s gun inaction

Op-ed | NASA must shift its focus to infrastructure and capabilities that support dynamic missions

This op-ed originally appeared in the August 19, 2019 issue of SpaceNews magazine.

During Apollo’s heyday, large organizations like NASA ran on programmatic, linear planning models. MBAs were taught to develop business plans and boards held management accountable to the predefined objectives and milestones within them. “Deviation from plan” was equated with failure.

Five decades after Apollo, NASA — burdened with an old-school management culture — originally offered a linear, programmatic solution to its most recent White House mandate to return Americans sustainably to the moon. That was a mistake, but it need not be a fatal one.

The current goal of sustainably returning to the moon and then moving on to Mars was originally crafted by the 2016-2017 NASA transition team on which I served. It was reinforced and given an aggressive 2024 deadline by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in an inspirational speech in Huntsville, Alabama, in March. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, speaking in June at the International Space Development Conference, praised the clear deadline as an effective tool for reducing the political risk. Political changes have wrecked several previous NASA exploration programs, including Constellation, Journey to Mars and the Asteroid Redirect Mission. These missions were developed by NASA’s human exploration team, a talented group burdened with 1960s-style management. Not surprisingly, the first solution to the new goal that came out of NASA’s traditional thought processes was to throw more money at the old plan, execute it with the usual people and hope for different results. Also not surprisingly, that effort generated more slippages and stirred up new political risk. Thankfully, that phase has clearly been ended.

NASA Ames Lunar Commercial Operations & Transfer Services concept is envisioned as a way to provide lunar explorers with power, communications and navigation infrastructure at bargain prices via competitive commercial proposals. Credit:

In today’s business world, a new dynamism has vanquished linear thinking everywhere that organizations are driven to achieve audacious results via innovation in a changing environment. Modern, high-performing organizations eschew old-school business plans as they gather flexible resources and work to establish a diverse set of capabilities that will allow them to innovate and iteratively pursue current and unknown future organizational goals. When necessary, they are ready to pivot, making a swift and substantial change away from their original path. Pivoting requires accepting failure frequently and openly, while allowing for quick, recrimination-free moves back to the path of success, reducing the impact of these failures. “Fail early, fail often,” as they say in Silicon Valley.

SUCCEEDING WITH WHAT WE HAVE

How might modern management be applied to NASA’s current situation? It would be absurd to imagine that anyone at NASA has been given a blank slate and asked to craft an innovative space program from whole cloth; this is not a fresh start. While the Trump administrations’ goal of returning to the moon in a permanent and economically sustainable manner has received bipartisan support and kudos from both traditional and commercial space interests, NASA’s available kit of spacecraft was crafted for other, less realistic objectives. Specifically, we have systems left over from the nebulous Journey to Mars and the uninspiring Asteroid Redirect Mission. Many people at NASA and even members of the last administration’s space team privately admit they never actually expected either of those programs to succeed, but today’s incomplete space systems nevertheless were designed for them.

Today’s reality is that NASA has a new launch vehicle, the Space Launch System, approaching testing. SLS currently suffers from the lack of a reasonably powered upper stage engine. We also have Orion, a very capable deep space crew capsule that while twice the capacity and weight of an Apollo Command Module is saddled with a service module offering about one-fourth the thrust. The combined SLS Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage and Service Module are frustratingly incapable of delivering an Orion crew to low lunar orbit and returning them to Earth, making a direct moon landing impossible. Further distressing is the fact that SLS and Orion seem to be perennially “nearly ready to fly” and over budget, prompting a scathing review by the U.S. Government Accountability Office that surely spurred recent moves of key personnel.

On the commercial side, NASA under the Obama administration, wisely built upon the successful Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program with Commercial Crew. SpaceX and Boeing have designed and are testing capsules that will ride on flight-proven Atlas 5 and Falcon 9 rockets. However, both capsules have encountered delays and frustrating test failures. They will both miss the oft-bragged upon goal of flying Americans astronauts on American rockets from American soil this year. Further, neither commercial capsule is suitable for a lunar voyage. So how in heaven’s name do we get to the moon in a timely manner with this fleet?

Bill Gerstenmaier testifying July 10 at a House hearing. Hours later, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced Gerstenmaier and another top exploration systems official were being reassigned. Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

BRINGING NEW MINDS TO BEAR

Under the leadership of Bill Gerstenmaier, a brilliant engineer for whom I will always have the deepest personal respect, NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate put forward an ingenious solution based on previous work, the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway. While I supported that solution, I personally argued against the name Gateway because I felt it was a limiting description of a very versatile vehicle. Worse, Gateway allowed this resource to be incorrectly framed as a choke point by the inevitable detractors. I felt “Deep Space Ship” would better highlight the mobility and flexibility of this platform which can move to a variety of cislunar orbits, including leaving the moon to swing through accessible Earth orbits (geostationary transfer orbit, for instance) and back to the moon. The propulsion that makes this possible is the Advanced Electric Propulsion System. AEPS is solar-powered Hall thruster originally developed by NASA Glenn Research Center and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for the Asteroid Redirect Mission that NASA pursued under Obama. To the further credit of Gerst and his team, most of the ARM spending was directed at this generally useful technology.

NASA’s specific plan for utilizing the Gateway in support of a 2024 lunar landing has been to position the Gateway in a near-rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO), which stretches between circling the moon and L1 or L2 points in space 50,000 miles from the moon. This position allows the Gateway to achieve a location and vector that permit a current SLS-launched Orion to dock with it as well as swinging near the lunar pole to deposit crew in a lander. Moving to other interesting lunar orbits from the NRHOs requires very little energy. All the moon’s a playground with the Gateway and a versatile lander. This is a realistic and daring solution to the demands of engineering, budgets and politics.

The Gateway has, however, garnered significant criticism from some space advocates who would scrap our entire investment in existing systems and develop new, primarily commercial architectures to go directly to the surface of the moon. Notable among these critics are Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin and The Mars Society founder and president Robert Zubrin, two people I have also had the pleasure to work with and greatly admire. Zubrin has focused on in-situ resource utilization on the lunar surface as a means for reducing the surface payloads necessary to support habitation and the ascent stage of the lander. Aldrin argues the Gateway should be positioned in Earth orbit for a number of reasons and that a refuelable tug be used to deploy assets to the moon for the landing. These are good ideas that also offer dynamic thinking utilizing existing, commercial rockets.

The Gateway doesn’t care where it is sent, and United Launch Alliance has proposed converting upper stages into tugs using their innovative ACES design. Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin has similar ideas and has had a lunar lander design under development for several years; I first saw the Blue Moon proposal in December 2016. While they are simpler, these commercial-based proposals do lack components that the traditional teams have nearly completed, notably a deep space capsule. They are also based on programmatic thinking, full of linear dependencies that recent history suggests will also experience failures and slippages.

Consequently, the correct route forward for NASA is a multilinear one, free of dependence on any one component and focused on building useful infrastructure. A successful, 21st century space agency must gather resources and establish capabilities that can be reconfigured to address changing technical and political climates for years to come. Building such a dynamic kit need not be more expensive and will offer multiple paths to the lunar surface in a competitive process that drives vendors to move quickly at lower costs, rather than embracing caution and seeking higher budgets.

GATEWAY’S VERSATILITY

The Gateway is useful for either of these paths. It is, in fact, a backup transportation system in itself. With a robust habitation module, the Gateway could take a commercially delivered crew from a geostationary transfer orbit to the moon and back. The round trip would take a couple months, a shorter duration than many stays on the International Space Station, albeit in a higher radiation environment. Answering questions about biological exposure to deep space radiation levels and testing shielding materials is part of the Gateway’s mission.

NASA awarded a sole source contract to Northrop Gumman in July to build a lunar orbit habitat based on the Cygnus cargo tug shown above docked at ISS to the left of a Russian Progress resupply ship. Credit: NASA Johnson Space Center

That knowledge is critical to determining how we will send humans to Mars and beyond and knowing if our children might live in the O’Neill style orbital habitats that the National Space Society has been advocating for years. The Gateway is a fundamental piece of space infrastructure for our expansion into the cislunar environment. Maxar Technologies, the winner of the bidding for the first module, the Power and Propulsion Element (PPE), came in 20% lower than the competition in a testament to NASA’s performance-based proposal. It also means the module is much more likely to be delivered in a timely manner and that the vendor will be able to incorporate learning and new technologies. The traditional, specification-driven approach crushed learning and innovation, delivered systems that were behind the technology curve and taught vendors little.

The swift award to Northrup Grumman for the habitation module was equally bold. The decision to base the module on the proven Cygnus cargo capsule was brilliant. Cygnus has been through the NASA scrutiny required to dock with ISS and has flown on three different rockets (Atlas 5 and the Antares 100 and 200 series). The award was done swiftly and while there are legitimate concerns about the sole-source selection, it reflects a badly needed sense of urgency and decision making at the agency. If that sort of active thinking had been available at NASA Headquarters in 2017, we’d be launching Gateway components on commercial rockets early next year. Another recent spate of awards includes one to SpaceX for on-orbit refueling, an equally brilliant, capabilities-focused choice.

The president has also made it clear that delivering humans to Mars remains a national goal. Disruptive thinkers like Zubrin, Aldrin and Elon Musk share this goal with competing ideas on how to achieve it. The Gateway offers a real first step to Mars, not just a proving ground. A Gateway-derived system could be placed in Martian orbit, with components delivered by existing commercial rockets, equipped with a refuelable upper stage engine and aerobraking to enter orbit. Once assembled, a two-person crew could travel in an Orion equipped with an improved service module and refuelable upper stage to occupy such a Mars-based station and explore the Martian moons using solar electric propulsion.

Such missions may very well depart form Aldrin’s Earth Orbit Gateway, because as he correctly notes, the moon is rarely where you want it to be for a timely Martian rendezvous. Very significant research can be conducted at Phobos, as that moon is visibly coated in red material blasted from the Martian surface by meteor strikes. This Martian material could be collected by astronauts and then analyzed immediately in the Martian Gateway, directing further optimized collection for return to labs on Earth. The questions of Martian life could very well be answered at this point, and the value of real Martian regolith for insitu resource utilization operations can be directly validated.

All this could be done at a Mars Gateway for a reasonable price and within the next decade. No budget breaking Mars Ascent Vehicle or unproven in-situ resource utilization capabilities would be required. This is the sort of dynamic, multi-option mission made possible through gathering resources and establishing capabilities rather than defining programs.

LUNAR COTS’ DYNAMISM

Economic development of the moon requires a sustainable presence. Accordingly, sustained presences has been a major component of the space policy directives produced by National Space Council. Achieving that singularly important requirement will require creative and flexible infrastructure on the ground. The Space Portal team at NASA Ames Research Center have developed some of the most practical ideas for lunar surface exploration and development. This innovative group originated the highly successful Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program that has kept the International Space Station operational after the retirement of the space shuttle. COTS did far more than that by funding the development of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket Dragon capsule as well as adding the Antares rocket and Cygnus capsule to the growing stable of U.S. spacecraft.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine testifies July 17 before the Senate Commerce Committee about U.S. plans for sending humans back to the moon and eventually to Mars. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

The Space Portal team’s proposed Lunar Commercial Operations & Transfer Services — aka LunarCOTS, or LCOTS — promises to do much of the same for the moon. LunarCOTS is a three-phased approach aimed at providing a full range of assets at bargain prices via competitive commercial proposals. LCOTS Phase One includes the installation of surface infrastructure in the form of robotic landers equipped with deployable solar panel towers and power storage systems. These systems, launchable on existing commercial rockets, will allow for the speedy placement of “stakes in the ground” at important sites near the lunar poles. Just as importantly, an expanding array of these towers will act as navigation aids and communications relays across the lunar terrain for robotic and human exploration. LCOTS Phase One towers could be deployed for significantly less than production budget of the latest installment of the Star Wars movie franchise. Exploration and extraction rovers will utilize these towers for recharging, providing up to 1,600 watts during the day and 70 watts at night. The systems will support the important thermal control needs for these rovers during the lunar night. Phase Two will involve demonstrating the production of significant amounts of propellant from lunar water ice.

The third and final LCOTS phase is the critical handoff to commercial operations, where NASA will contract with multiple vendors for expansion and maintenance of these services, similar to how COTS demo missions laid the foundation for the Cargo Resupply Services contracts under which SpaceX and Northrop Grumman resupply the ISS.

LCOTS vendors can make this same infrastructure available to independent, commercial operators for a fee, in much the same way Falcon 9 has become a workhorse launcher for the broader space industry and Cygnus has morphed into a satellite-servicing vehicle for commercial customers. Eventually, larger versions of LCOTS power, navigation and communications towers will support NASA and, ultimately, privately crewed lunar vehicles. All the envisioned LCOTS capabilities fit into the current Gateway-based plan as well as the alternative direct-to-the-surface scenarios. It also offers solid applications to future Mars’ surface operations as well.

The good news is that by embracing a capabilities-based approach, NASA does not have to choose any one path or start over when politically driven objectives shift. Two years ago, in these same pages, Buzz Aldrin and I endorsed the nomination of Jim Bridenstine for NASA administrator. Bridenstine’s diverse educational background, including three bachelor’s degrees and an MBA along with his experience as a military pilot, museum director and U.S. congressman will serve him well in transforming NASA’s culture from linearity to dynamism. He’s also got youth on his side. At 44, he’s the first NASA administrator born after the Apollo program. Whenever the next administrator comes along, they will benefit from the useful set of tools Bridenstine put in place and NASA will move smoothly toward its new missions, without the fits and starts inherent in transitions under the old programmatic approach.


Greg Autry is director of the Commercial Spaceflight Initiative at the University of Southern California. He served as a member of the Trump administration’s NASA transition team and as the White House liaison to NASA. He is vice president of space development at the National Space Society.

SpaceNews.com

What’s Cropped Out of Passport Photos?

Passport Photos

Passport Photos

Passport Photos

Passport photos are subject to an extensive list of guidelines and restrictions — for instance, the background has to be “plain white or off-white” with no pattern, you can’t wear glasses or hats, and the photo must be tightly cropped on your face. Max Siedentopf’s Passport Photos project imagines what might have been going on outside of that carefully controlled frame when the photos were taken. (via colossal)

Tags: art   Max Siedentopf   photography

Commercial lunar lander companies update mission plans

ispace lander

WASHINGTON — Days after Astrobotic announced its selection of United Launch Alliance to launch its first lunar lander, Japanese lunar lander company ispace says it is modifying its schedule for commercial lunar lander missions.

Tokyo-based ispace said Aug. 22 that it is dropping plans to do an initial orbital mission, which was to launch in 2020 as a secondary payload on a SpaceX Falcon 9. Instead, its first mission will be the Hakuto-R lander, scheduled to launch in 2021, with a second lander mission, equipped with a rover, to follow in 2023. Both lander missions will launch as Falcon 9 secondary payloads.

In a statement, ispace said that “dramatic market acceleration and increasing demand for lunar exploration around the world” led it to push ahead directly to a lander mission, noting that the earlier orbiter mission was solely intended to be a technology demonstration, with no commercial payloads.

Another factor, the company says, is its role in NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, where ispace is a subcontractor to Draper. That opportunity came after the company announced its plans for a 2020 orbiter. “To increase its competitiveness and guarantee its ability to support NASA’s needs, as well as to meet the several other market demands developing worldwide, ispace decided to shift its resources to realize a successful landing mission in 2021,” the company stated.

Moving directly to a lander mission is not without risk, the company acknowledged, including additional work on the lander’s structural and power systems. The company will also work to obtain access to a ground station for communicating with the lander and establishing a mission control.

The company, with 100 people in three locations globally, also announced Aug. 22 partnerships with three Japanese companies. Citizen Watch Co. will provide its special processing techniques for titanium components on the lander. Suzuki Motor Corp. will offer its expertise in structural analysis for the Hakuto-R lander. Sumitomo Corp. will work with ispace on unspecific commercial space development opportunities.

The ispace announcement comes after Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic, another lunar lander company, said Aug. 19 it will launch its Peregine lander on United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur rocket. The lander will be a payload on the first Vulcan Centaur launch in 2021.

Astrobotic had announced an agreement with ULA in July 2017, where Peregrine would launch as a secondary payload on an Atlas 5 in 2019. However, when NASA selected Astrobotic in May for a $79.5 million CLPS contract for that 2021 mission, John Thornton, chief executive of the company, said Astrobotic was “assessing our launch options” and would choose a launch provider in the near future.

“This contract with ULA was the result of a highly competitive commercial process, and we are grateful to everyone involved in helping us make low-cost lunar transportation possible,” Thornton said in the statement announcing the Vulcan Centaur contract.

At the May announcement, Astrobotic said Peregrine would launch in June 2021 and land in the crater Lacus Mortis in July. The Aug. 19 announcement only said that the mission would launch in 2021. ULA had previously stated it expected the first Vulcan Centaur launch to take place in the spring of 2021.

“Our rockets have carried exploration missions to the moon, the sun and every planet in the solar system, so it is only fitting that Vulcan Centaur’s inaugural flight will lead the return of Americans to the lunar surface,” Tory Bruno, president and chief executive of ULA, said in a statement.

The announcement didn’t specify if the Peregrine lander would be the primary payload for that mission or a secondary payload. Asked on Twitter about this, Bruno responded, “We’ll see.”

SpaceNews.com

Tech Companies Ignore NTSB Request to Add Railway Crossings to Their Maps

Tech companies have largely ignored a U.S. National Transportation Safety Board recommendation to add railway crossing data to their map apps, Politico reports. In 2016, after an accident in which a tired truck driver who used his mobile phone to navigate crashed into an Amtrak train at a level crossing, the NTSB issued a recommendation asking mapping companies to incorporate at-grade railway crossing data from the Federal Railroad Administration’s database of some 200,000 level crossings, so that their apps can warn drivers that a railway crossing is coming up.

Nearly three years later, hardly any of them have implemented the recommendation, and to date only three have responded to the NTSB recommendation: Garmin said it has railway crossing data in its latest devices, TomTom said it has had such data for a decade; Google, for its part, worried that adding such data might overcrowd the map and distract its users. Other providers, including Apple, Here, MapQuest and Microsoft, did not respond to the NTSB. Meanwhile, UPS says its proprietary navigation system includes level crossings, and while OpenStreetMap doesn’t use the FRA database, it has a level crossing tag that’s been used worldwide more than 730,000 times.

More coverage: Philadelphia Inquirer, The Verge.

G117: Red Sox 5, Royals 4 (10) (Suspended August 7, Completed August 22)

Royals  - 002 001 100 0 - 4 13  0
Red Sox - 000 220 000 1 - 5 12 0
The completion of the Red Sox's suspended game of August 7 took only 12 minutes on Thursday afternoon. Brock Holt singled with one out in the bottom of the tenth inning, scoring Chris Owings from second base with the winning run.

When play resumed in the top of the tenth inning, Josh Taylor was back on the mound, as he was two weeks ago. Nick Dini, pinch-hitting for Meibrys Viloria, inherited a 2-1 count and lined out to first on the first pitch he saw. Ryan O'Hearn struck out looking and pinch-hitter Bubba Starling grounded out to shortstop.

In the bottom of the inning, Richard Lovelady struck out Andrew Benintendi before Christian Vázquez doubled to center. Owings ran for Vázquez and Sam Travis batted for Mitch Moreland. The Royals walked Travis intentionally. Holt then lifted a 1-1 pitch into the left field corner, scoring Owings. Holt rounded first base and headed for second, chased by his teammates. As Holt neared second base, he suddenly turned left and sprinted past the pitcher's mound and slid into home plate!

NESN's replay of the game-winning hit featured its trademark Mega-Zooming, so what viewers saw of Holt was only below the waist. They could not watch him track the pitch with his eyes or see his arms as he swung the bat. Thanks, as always, NESN.


Betts, RF
Devers, 3B
Bogaerts, SS
Martinez, DH
Benintendi, LF
Vázquez, C
Moreland, 1B
Holt, 2B
Bradley, CF
August 7's Royals/Red Sox game was suspended in the top of the tenth inning. Red Sox reliever Josh Taylor had a 2-1 count on leadoff batter Meibrys Viloria. The game will resume at 1 PM today.

Eduardo Rodriguez, Darwinzon Hernandez, Nathan Eovaldi, and Brandon Workman have already pitched in the game. ... Andrew Benintendi will lead off the bottom of the tenth.

The Red Sox have not had a suspended game since April 16, 2010, when a home game against the Rays was stopped in the bottom of the ninth, with the score 1-1. The Rays won the game the following day: 3-1 (12).

The last time the Red Sox had a suspended game that was not resumed the next day was more than 50 years ago: June 13, 1968. The second game of a Fenway Park doubleheader between the Angels and Red Sox was halted in the bottom of the sixth inning, also with the score 1-1. The game was completed on August 4, when Ken Harrelson's walkoff grand slam in the bottom of the ninth gave Boston a 5-1 win. (The game had originally been scheduled for June 10, but a rainout created the need for a June 13 doubleheader.)

After the game is completed, the Red Sox will begin a road trip to San Diego, Colorado, and Los Angeles (Dodgers).
Royals  - 002 001 100 * - 4 13  0
Red Sox - 000 220 000 - 4 10 0
Wednesday's game was suspended in the top of the tenth inning after a rain delay of 109 minutes.

The game will be continued on Thursday, August 22, at 1 PM. Boston reliever Josh Taylor had thrown only three pitches in the inning, a 2-1 count on Meibrys Viloria.

August 22 is an off-day for both teams. The Red Sox host the Phillies on Wednesday, so they'll stay in Boston an extra day before flying to San Diego. The Royals' schedule has them in Baltimore on Wednesday and in Cleveland on Friday.

J.D. Martinez (2-for-5) hit a two-run homer in the fourth and Xander Bogaerts (3-for-5) doubled in two runs in the fifth.

Eduardo Rodriguez (5-7-2-3-1, 101) needed 30 pitches to escape the first inning, leaving the bases loaded. After getting two outs in the third, he issued two walks and gave up two singles. (Rodriguez threw 76 pitches through three innings, tied for most by a Red Sox starter through three innings this year.) Rodriguez was helped out by an 8-5 double play in the fourth, as Jackie Bradley threw out Billy Hamilton at third base.

Bogaerts singled to lead off the fourth and Martinez homered to deep left-center (#25), tying the game at 2-2. With one out in the fifth, Mookie Betts singled and Rafael Devers walked. Bogaerts smoked a double down the third base line and into the left field corner. Both runners scored easily.

Darwinzon Hernandez struck out the first two Royals in the sixth, but gave up a double to Hamilton and a run-scoring single to Whit Merrifield. In the seventh, against Nathan Eovaldi, Hunter Dozier singled. A wild pitch and a groundout put Dozier on third with two outs. Nicky Lopez doubled off Brock Holt's glove, as the second baseman dove to his right. The ball died in short center field. (Eovaldi had five strikeouts in two innings.)

AL Wild Card: CLE/TBR –, OAK 0.5, BOS 6.0, TEX 7.0.

Glenn Sparkman / Eduardo Rodriguez
Betts, RF
Devers, 3B
Bogaerts, SS
Martinez, DH
Benintendi, LF
Vázquez, C
Moreland, 1B
Holt, 2B
Bradley, CF
I was thinking ... If the Red Sox can win the World Series every five years or so, I can live with a third-place finish/.500 season. That doesn't mean I'll be running to watch this one, though. Also, I would like to know when the championship seasons will be, so I can plan my calendar.

AL Wild Card: CLE/TBR –, OAK 0.5, TEX 6.5, BOS 6.5.

The last single-stick Delta rocket launched Thursday, and it put on a show

On Thursday morning, United Launch Alliance's Delta IV Medium rocket took flight for the final time. Beneath clear blue skies at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station launch site in Florida, the rocket carried the GPS III satellite safely into orbit. This is the second of the Air Force's next-generation global positioning system satellites to reach space.

As usual, the single-core Delta IV rocket performed its job well. Since 2002, this rocket (which can fly with or without small, side-mounted solid rocket boosters) has flown 29 missions. All have been successful.

But the venerable Delta rocket will fly no more. Put simply, in today's marketplace—in which United Launch Alliance must compete with SpaceX for national security launches and with many other providers for commercial missions—the Delta-IV Medium cannot compete.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Mapping the Local Void

R. Brent Tully

A team of researchers led by University of Hawaii astronomer Brent Tully has mapped the structure of the universe at a vast scale. In particular, they have mapped the shape of the Local Void, an empty expanse of intergalactic space hundreds of millions of light years across; the Milky Way is found at the edge of the Void. From the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy press release:

Now, Tully and his team have measured the motions of 18,000 galaxies in the Cosmicflows-3 compendium of galaxy distances, constructing a cosmographic map that highlights the boundary between the collection of matter and the absence of matter that defines the edge of the Local Void. They used the same technique in 2014 to identify the full extent of our home supercluster of over one hundred thousand galaxies, giving it the name Laniakea, meaning “immense heaven” in Hawaiian.

A video map and interactive 3D model are available. The study behind this model was published in The Astrophysical Journal (paywall). [NBC News]

Philly Fed: State Coincident Indexes increased in 37 states in July

From the Philly Fed:
The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia has released the coincident indexes for the 50 states for July 2019. Over the past three months, the indexes increased in 44 states, decreased in four states, and remained stable in two, for a three-month diffusion index of 80. In the past month, the indexes increased in 37 states, decreased in nine states, and remained stable in four, for a one-month diffusion index of 56.
emphasis added
Note: These are coincident indexes constructed from state employment data. An explanation from the Philly Fed:
The coincident indexes combine four state-level indicators to summarize current economic conditions in a single statistic. The four state-level variables in each coincident index are nonfarm payroll employment, average hours worked in manufacturing by production workers, the unemployment rate, and wage and salary disbursements deflated by the consumer price index (U.S. city average). The trend for each state’s index is set to the trend of its gross domestic product (GDP), so long-term growth in the state’s index matches long-term growth in its GDP.
Philly Fed State Conincident MapClick on map for larger image.

Here is a map of the three month change in the Philly Fed state coincident indicators. This map was all red during the worst of the recession, and all or mostly green during most of the recent expansion.

The map is mostly green on a three month basis, but there are some grey and red states.

Source: Philly Fed.

Note: For complaints about red / green issues, please contact the Philly Fed.

Philly Fed Number of States with Increasing ActivityAnd here is a graph is of the number of states with one month increasing activity according to the Philly Fed. This graph includes states with minor increases (the Philly Fed lists as unchanged).

In July, 37 states had increasing activity (graph includes minor increases).

Playful BMX Video Full of Rube Goldberg-esque Street Tricks

In this fun BMX video, Tate Roskelley uses all sorts of props — car tires, milk crates, trees, tennis balls — to perform all kinds of street tricks and stunts. Watch until the end…his last maneuver is probably the best. (thx, matt)

Tags: cycling   Tate Roskelley   video

MLB Warns Sexual Enhancers May Include PEDs

Jeff Passan, reporting for MLB:

Major League Baseball in a memo warned about the “very real risk” of over-the-counter sexual-enhancement pills after at least two players this year were suspended for performance-enhancing drugs and said the banned substances found in their urine came from the unregulated products, sources familiar with the situation told ESPN.

The use of over-the-counter pills, which are often sold at gas stations, is prevalent among baseball players, according to multiple sources. It prompted the league to send out a memo on Monday that outlines the risk of consuming non-NSF-certified supplements.

Michael Kay:

You can’t make it up. Millions of dollars at risk and you pop a couple of pills you buy at a gas station. Mind boggling.

“Gas Station Boner Pills” would be a good name for a band.

 ★ 

Would a payroll tax cut help avoid a recession?

Right now, probably not.  Here is an excerpt from my latest Bloomberg column:

The inclination in American politics is to cut the payroll tax on the worker side, not the employer side. That is the opposite of what should be done.

In a recession, the usual problem is that too many people are seeking too few jobs. The reluctance lies on the side of the employer, not the worker. So cutting the taxes paid by the worker won’t help much. In contrast, cutting the taxes paid by the employer might at least boost the demand for workers and thus stimulate employment.

In the long run, according to economic theory, it does not matter whether you cut payroll taxes for workers or employers; eventually wages will adjust so that the true, tax-adjusted set of wage offers ends up the same. But for the purposes of fighting a near-term recession, it matters very much whose taxes are cut.

Do read the whole thing.  Do note, however, that I am not currently expecting a recession, I just don’t see enough pointers in that direction, and furthermore most of the time recessions do not happen.

The post Would a payroll tax cut help avoid a recession? appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Five more Delta 4-Heavy flights in ULA backlog after final “single stick” launch

A Delta 4 rocket took off from Cape Canaveral at 9:06 a.m. EDT (1306 GMT) Thursday with a GPS navigation satellite. Credit: United Launch Alliance

The last Delta 4 launcher to fly in a single-core configuration rumbled into space Thursday morning from Cape Canaveral with a GPS navigation satellite, leaving United Launch Alliance with five more Delta 4-Heavy missions on contract through late 2023 before the Delta rocket family retires from service.

ULA’s final mission using a Delta 4-Medium rocket, which is powered by a single first stage booster core, lifted off at 9:06 a.m. EDT (1306 GMT) Thursday from Cape Canaveral’s Complex 37 launch pad.

The core stage’s RS-68A main engine, made by Aerojet Rocketdyne, ignited in a ball of fire five seconds before liftoff and throttled up for a computer-controlled health check. Moments later, twin Northrop Grumman-built solid rocket motors flashed to life and three swing arms quickly moved out of the way as the 207-foot-tall (63-meter) Delta 4 climbed away from pad 37 and headed northeast over the Atlantic Ocean with more than 1.2 million pounds of thrust.

Less than two hours later, after a pair of on-target burns by the Delta 4’s second stage RL10 engine, the launcher deployed the U.S. Air Force’s 8,170-pound (3,705-kilogram) GPS 3 SV02 spacecraft into an elliptical transfer orbit stretching more than 12,500 miles (nearly 20,200 kilometers) above Earth.

Officials declared success after the spacecraft separated from the launcher, and ground teams at Lockheed Martin — the satellite’s manufacturer — established contact with the GPS network’s newest member to begin a series of post-launch commissioning and checkout steps.

With the successful conclusion of Thursday’s mission, the Delta 4-Medium rocket family retired with an unblemished record over 29 launches since the first Delta 4 flight Nov. 20, 2002.

ULA is phasing out the Delta 4-Medium as the company faces stiff competition from SpaceX for U.S. military launch contracts. The new Vulcan Centaur rocket, set for an inaugural launch in 2021, will be less expensive than than the Atlas and Delta rockets it will replace, according to ULA.

“Thank you to the team and our mission partners for the tremendous teamwork as we processed and launched this critical asset, providing advanced capabilities for warfighters, civil users, and humankind across the globe,” said Gary Wentz, ULA vice president of government and commercial programs, in a statement. “We are proud of the strong legacy of the Delta 4-Medium program, and look forward to the future with our purpose-built Vulcan Centaur.”

The Delta 4-Heavy rocket, made by combining three Delta 4 first stage cores together, will continue flying through 2023. ULA’s Atlas 5 rockets, which cost less than the Delta 4 but more than SpaceX’s Falcon 9, will also remain operational through the early-to-mid 2020s.

“We made a business decision a few years ago that we would transition from the Delta 4 and Atlas vehicles over to a Vulcan Centaur, purpose-built to satisfy the entire mission suite, so it was time for us to phase out the Delta 4-Medium at this point,” Gary Wentz said in a pre-launch press briefing. “We don’t see any specific payloads that would require the Delta 4-Medium that we can’t fly on an Atlas 5.”

The five Delta 4-Heavy missions left in ULA’s backlog will all haul top secret payloads into orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office, the U.S. government’s spy satellite agency. Those payloads are too heavy to fly on the Atlas 5.

Thursday’s launch marked the final flight of a Delta 4-Medium rocket. ULA plans at least five more Delta 4-Heavy missions, using the configuration on the right side of this chart with three first stage booster cores. Credit: United Launch Alliance

The next Delta 4-Heavy launch, codenamed NROL-44, is scheduled for June 2020 from Cape Canaveral, ULA and Air Force officials said. ULA teams will prepare a second Delta 4-Heavy launcher for liftoff on the NROL-82 mission in September 2020 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

Three more Delta 4-Heavy missions are set for launches in 2022 and 2023, two from Cape Canaveral, and one from Vandenberg. Here is the Delta 4-Heavy’s launch manifest, based on information provided to Spaceflight Now within the last week by the Air Force and ULA:

  • Delta 4-Heavy with the NROL-44 payload
    • Launch Date: June 2020
    • Launch Site: SLC-37B, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida
  • Delta 4-Heavy with the NROL-82 payload
    • Launch Date: September 2020
    • Launch Site: SLC-6, Vandenberg Air Force Base, California
  • Delta 4-Heavy with the NROL-91 payload
    • Launch Date: 2022
    • Launch Site: SLC-6, Vandenberg Air Force Base, California
  • Delta 4-Heavy with the NROL-68 payload
    • Launch Date: 2022
    • Launch Site: SLC-37B, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida
  • Delta 4-Heavy with the NROL-70 payload
    • Launch Date: Late 2023
    • Launch Site: SLC-37B, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida

ULA received a sole source request for proposals for the latter three Delta 4-Heavy missions in 2017. An Air Force spokesperson told Spaceflight Now that the Delta 4-Heavy “is the only launch vehicle with the unique capabilities to meet the NRO’s requirements and launch dates.”

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, which the Air Force certified for national security launches last year, can lift heavier cargo into space than ULA’s Delta 4-Heavy, and at a fraction of the cost. The Air Force last year awarded SpaceX a $130 million contract for a Falcon Heavy launch, less than half the current price of a Delta 4-Heavy.

The “unique capabilities” needed for the NRO missions may include the Delta 4-Heavy’s larger fairing volume, and ULA’s ability to integrate payloads in a vertical orientation, according to industry sources. The design of some exquisite national security payloads require vertical integration on their launch vehicle, while SpaceX installs payloads on their rockets horizontally.

Future heavy-lift missions — known as Category C payloads in the Air Force’s parlance — will be part of the military’s ongoing competition to select new launch vehicles for national security satellites starting in the early-to-mid 2020s, and will not be sole-sourced, an Air Force spokesperson said.

The Delta 4 launcher was originally designed and developed by Boeing in the 1990s. The Atlas 5 was conceived by Lockheed Martin.

The competing aerospace contractors merged their launch divisions in 2006, marking the birth of ULA as a 50-50 joint venture. ULA kept the the Atlas and Delta rocket lines operational to ensure the U.S. military had two independent launch options for national security satellites, a cornerstone tenet of the Air Force’s assured launch procurement strategy.

ULA’s Delta 4 rocket climbs off pad 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida with more than 1.2 million pounds of thrust. Credit: United Launch Alliance

But SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets are now certified to launch U.S. national security payloads. With the Falcon and Atlas rocket families, the military will continue to have two launch options after the Delta 4-Medium’s retirement.

The Delta 4 that launched Thursday flew in the “4,2” configuration with a 4-meter (13.1-foot-diameter) payload fairing and two 53-foot-long (16-meter) strap-on solid rocket boosters. With the retirement of the Delta 4-Medium variant, the Delta 4’s solid rocket boosters — designated GEM-60s — and 4-meter fairing flew for the final time Thursday.

Delta rockets started launching in 1960, but today’s Delta 4 rocket bears little resemblance fo the Delta boosters from the early days of the space program. Thursday’s launch was the 384th flight of a Delta vehicle.

The Lockheed Martin-built GPS satellite separate from the Delta 4 launcher at 11:01 a.m. EDT (1501 GMT) Saturday, and ground teams soon began communicating with the spacecraft.

The GPS 3 SV02 navigation satellite, nicknamed “Magellan,” will use its own engine to circularize its orbit and join the GPS constellation some 12,550 miles above the planet, where ground teams will test the new spacecraft and put it into service to replace an aging member of the constellation.

“GPS 3 SV02 is receiving and responding to commands just as planned,” said Johnathon Caldwell, Lockheed Martin’s vice president of navigation systems. “In the days ahead, we’ll finish orbit raising to our operational slot and then send the satellite commands telling it to deploy its solar arrays and antennas.

“Once we are set up, we’ll begin on-orbit checkout and tests, including extensive signals testing with our advanced navigation payload,” Caldwell said.

The GPS 3 SV02 navigation satellite, nicknamed “Magellan,” was encapsulated inside the Delta 4 rocket’s payload fairing in late June. Credit: Lockheed Martin

The GPS network provides positioning and timing services worldwide for military and civilian users, beaming signals relied upon by airliners, ATMs, drivers and smart bombs, among numerous other users.

“We’re committed to maintaining GPS as the gold standard of positioning, navigation and timing for all other systems to be measured against,” said Lt. Col. Maggie Sullivan, the Air Force’s GPS 3 program manager.

Thirty-one satellites are currently providing GPS navigation services.

The satellite launched Thursday is the second in a new generation of GPS satellites, providing more accurate navigation signals and boasting longer design lifetimes. The new GPS 3 satellites provide a new L1C civilian signal that is compatible with Europe’s Galileo network.

Other space-based navigation networks operated by Japan and China are also adopting similar compatible signals.

“Compared to the satellites in today’s constellation, this next generation of GPS satellites have three times greater accuracy, eight times improved anti-jam capabilities, and the new L1C civil signal compatible with other international satellite navigation systems like Galileo,” Caldwell told reporters before the launch.

“For those user equipment (providers) who elect to incorporate the L1C civil signal into their chipsets, those users will now have access not just to the GPS constellation but to Galileo and others who choose to then follow on with the L1C civil signal implementation,” Caldwell said. “So for users who are authorized to do that, instead of having just the legacy 31 points in the sky that you get from GPS, you’ll add on to it the ever-growing Galileo constellation.

“When it comes to finding out where you are, the more satellites you can see the better your position is.”

The first GPS 3-series satellite, named GPS 3 SV01, completed its post-launch checkout July 12 following an on-target deployment by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket last December, officials said. More testing is planned before GPS 3 SV01, named “Vespucci,” is ready to join the active GPS network.

“We’re excited now that the vehicle is through its on-orbit checkout and moving into the next phase of operational testing,” Caldwell said. “We expect that to begin later this year, and we’re looking forward to officially handing over the vehicle to the Air Force.”

Artist’s concept of a GPS 3 satellite in space. Credit: Lockheed Martin

Like the previous line of Boeing-built GPS 2F satellites, all GPS 3-series spacecraft broadcast a dedicated L5 signal geared to support air navigation. The GPS 3 satellites also continue beaming an encrypted military-grade navigation signal known as M-code.

The M-code signal allows GPS satellites to broadcast higher-power, jam-resistant signals over specific regions, such as a military theater or battlefield. The capability provides U.S. and allied forces with more reliable navigation services, and could also allow the military to intentionally disrupt or jam civilian-grade GPS signals in a particular region, while the M-code signal remains unimpeded.

L3Harris Technologies builds the navigation payloads for the GPS 3 satellites.

Thursday’s launch was timed to place the GPS 3 SV02 spacecraft into Plane D, Slot 3 of the GPS constellation. That position is currently occupied by a GPS satellite launched in March 2003. Sullivan said the Air Force will make an “operational decision” on which aging GPS satellite, presumably in Plane D, the new spacecraft will replace.

The GPS satellites are spread among six orbital planes, each with four primary spacecraft, plus spares.

According to Sullivan, the GPS 3 SV02 spacecraft cost around $500 million. Future GPS 3 satellites will cost less, and officials target a cost of less than $200 million per spacecraft by time GPS 3 SV10 is ready for launch.

“The great thing about GPS is the volume of satellites,” Caldwell said. “You gain tremendous efficiencies when you have production volume, and you get commensurate cost reduction.”

Lockheed Martin is on contract with the Air Force to build up to 32 satellites, including 10 GPS 3 spacecraft and 22 upgraded GPS 3F satellites.

The next GPS mission, designated GPS 3 SV03 and nicknamed “Columbus,” is set for launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in January. The satellite for that mission has already been declared available for launch, Air Force officials said.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Its back, and its still wrong: the Urban Mobility Report

After a four year hiatus, the Texas Transportation Institute has once again generated its misleading Urban Mobility Report–and its still wrong.

The UMR has been comprehensively debunked–it has never been peer-reviewed nor have its authors responded to authoritative critiques, it relies on a series of false premises, penalizes cities with compact development patterns and short commutes, ignores non-automobile travelers, and exaggerates all of its key claims.  We’ll have an updated look at the latest iteration of the UMR (which relies on the same discredited methodology).  In the mean time, here’s what we’ve written at City Observatory about this and other similar congestion cost “studies.”

The top ten reason’s to ignore the Urban Mobility Report.

Is congestion worse now? The Urban Mobility Report can’t tell us.

Another tall tale from the Texas Transportation Institute.

Boo! The annual carmaggedon scare is upon us.

Our essay, the Cappuccino Congestion Index, explains why, fundamentally, the methods used by TTI and others are utterly meaningless as measures of consumer costs.

Unsurprisingly, the newest iteration of the report is sponsored by the Texas Department of Transportation. And as always, the message is “build, baby, build.”  The UMR has always been thinly veiled propaganda for building more and wider roads. It’s not designed either to help understand the root causes of traffic congestion (i.e. underpriced roadways), nor to fashion meaningful solutions.  No one should take it seriously.

Todd Litman of the Victoria Transportation Policy Institute has written a comprehensive critique of the Urban Mobility Report.

Our own detailed critique of the Urban Mobility Report–“Measuring Urban Transportation Performance”– is published here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apple Support: ‘How to Clean Your Apple Card’

Apple Support:

Some fabrics, like leather and denim, might cause permanent discoloration that will not wash off. […]

Place your card in a slot in your wallet or billfold without touching another credit card. If two credit cards are placed in the same slot your card could become scratched.

My first instinct was to make fun of this: This is no big deal, because it’s not like anyone uses a leather wallet or wears denim jeans. I mean, who cleans a credit card? But after thinking about it, I feel like this really is no big deal because all of the credit cards I’ve ever owned get used-looking over time. If Apple Card gets genuinely sloppy-looking after carrying it like you would any other card — if it’s atypically prone to staining or scratching — that’s a problem. But I suspect these are instructions for obsessives who want to keep their cards in mint condition.

 ★ 

Thursday assorted links

1. Leela Chess Zero.  And the latest in computer chess.  And podcast with Ken Regan.  And Shelby Lyman passes away (NYT).

2. The culture that is India.

3. Not a mistake, but touch football is now requiring helmets (NYT).

4. Cinematic markets in everything for Canadian service dogs.

5. “Teacher-designed practice was perceived as less relevant to improving performance on the violin than practice alone. Further, amount of teacher-designed practice did not account for more variance in performance than amount of practice alone.”  Link here.

6. Software Engineering Daily podcast with me.

The post Thursday assorted links appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

A Collection of 100 Years of US National Parks’ Graphical Ephemera

From the folks that produced the NYC Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual and the NASA Standards Manual comes a new book, Parks, about the art, maps, and printed materials produced to support American’s national parks.

Parks Book

Parks Book

Parks Book

From the book’s introduction by Lyz Nagan-Powell:

If, as Wallace Stegner famously declared, the national parks are “America’s best idea,” how can we explore this idea? There is the historical aspect: America invented the concept of nationally owned and operated parks in 1872, when Ulysses S. Grant signed Yellowstone National Park into existence. But there is more to Stegner’s sentiment than just the invention of the parks. The rest of the quote goes on to say that the parks are “Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”

The national parks story isn’t simple or easy. It’s full of splendor and glory, as well as greed and exploitation. For every person who loves one of the parks like it’s their own home, there is another who resents the federal government for owning it. Even before Yellowstone became the first national park, park history was fraught with tension. Tension between preservation and use, between indigenous people and white explorers, between local rights and federal oversight, between wild freedom and human control, between park purists and park recreationists, and between commercial exploitation and historic value.

With this tense backdrop, or maybe because of it, art, imagery, writing, and design have played a vital role in the history of the national parks. Compelling creative materials that celebrated the land — including books, paintings, performances, and advertisements — have marked developments and milestones. These items have brought the rich landscapes and their scientific and historical significance to life.

Perhaps together, the tension and celebration make the National Park System - parks, monuments, natural areas, historic sites, and more - the perfect embodiment of America itself, and what the “best idea” of the parks is really all about.

Parks is out in October but you can pre-order it now.

Tags: books   design   Parks

Last Delta 4 Medium launches GPS-3 satellite

WASHINGTON — United Launch Alliance completed the last launch of a Delta 4 Medium Aug. 22, sending a GPS-3 satellite into a medium Earth orbit for the U.S. Air Force. 

The Delta 4 Medium rocket lifted off at 9:06 a.m. from Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The GPS-3 satellite, nicknamed Magellan, separated from the rocket 1 hour and 56 minutes later. 

The launch was the 29th mission for Delta 4 Medium, a Boeing-originated vehicle that first took flight in 2002. ULA took over Delta launches in 2006 when it formed as a joint venture of Boeing’s and Lockheed Martin’s launcher businesses.

“It was time for us to phase out the Delta 4 Medium at this point,” Gary Wentz, ULA’s vice president of government and commercial programs, said during an Aug. 20 teleconference. “We don’t see any specific payloads that would require the Delta 4 Medium that we can’t fly on an Atlas 5.”

ULA is ending use of the Delta family of rockets in order to eliminate the expense of keeping multiple vehicles in production. The lighter Delta 2 had its final flight in September 2018. Delta 4 Heavy, the “triple core” version of the Delta 4, has five more missions on manifest before its expected retirement in 2023

Wentz said the company’s next-generation rocket, Vulcan Centaur, is slated to debut in April 2021. That vehicle will eventually replace all Delta launchers and the Atlas 5, a Lockheed Martin-originated vehicle used for launching civil, military and the occasional commercial spacecraft. Congress mandated ULA stop using the Russian supplied RD-180 engine — part of the Atlas 5’s first stage — for national security launches by 2022. Vulcan Centaur’s first stage will be powered by two domestically built BE-4 engines from Blue Origin.

The Delta 4 Medium lifted off on its final mission powered by two solid-fueled strap-on boosters from Northrop Grumman and a cryogenic RS-68A first-stage engine from Aerojet Rocketdyne. The rocket carried its GPS-3 payload to a transfer orbit, where it will use onboard propulsion to join the Air Force’s other 31 GPS satellites in a 20,200-kilometer medium Earth orbit.

GPS-3 constellation grows 

The GPS-3 satellite onboard ULA’s final Delta 4 Medium was the Air Force’s second satellite in the series. The first was launched by SpaceX in December on a Falcon 9 rocket.

Each GPS-3 satellite has eight times as the signal jamming resistance of the previous generation of satellites, the GPS-2Fs, and has signals three times as accurate. L3Harris provides the navigation payloads. 

The Air Force selected Lockheed Martin in 2008 to build the first 10 GPS-3 satellites, but opened subsequent satellites to competition after experiencing delays and cost overruns. The Air Force ultimately chose Lockheed Martin again in 2018 for up to 22 follow-on satellites valued at $7.2 billion after Boeing and Northrop Grumman chose not to bid.

The Air Force and Lockheed Martin now say the GPS-3 program is shedding cost as it gains production efficiency. 

“The first two were a little over half a billion dollars [each],” Maggie Sullivan, the Air Force’s GPS-3 program manager, said during the teleconference. “By satellite 10, we will be under $200 million.”

Johnathon Caldwell, Lockheed Martin’s vice president of navigation systems, said the first few GPS-3 satellites bear higher costs from non-recurring engineering work. Once the first few are completed, others get cheaper to build. 

“You gain tremendous efficiencies when you have production volume, and you get a commensurate cost reduction,” he said. 

GPS-3 satellites have a design life of 15 years — the same as most commercial geostationary communications satellites, but 25% longer than the legacy GPS-2F spacecraft. 

GPS-3 satellites also support a new civilian signal called L1C. Sullivan said Europe’s Galileo satellites carry the same signal, meaning end users can boost positioning accuracy through interoperability. 

The Raytheon-supplied OCX Block 0 ground control system will guide the second GPS-3 satellite through checkout and calibration, as it did the first satellite.  Lockheed Martin said Aug. 22 that the Operational Control Segment software updated it completed in May is currently undergoing preparations for installation. That system is for flying the GPS-3 satellites until Raytheon’s OCX Block 1 is ready in 2021.

Sullivan said the next GPS-3 launch is scheduled for January on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

SpaceNews.com

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Lunar Community Speaks Up About Exploration Plans

Community Letter regarding NASA's Lunar Discovery and Exploration Program

"As you are aware, the Lunar Discovery and Exploration Program (LDEP) is the continuation of a credible plan to re-engage in lunar surface exploration that has evolved and matured in the past few years, and shown significant progress in the last year. After years of planning next steps toward the Moon, we believe this program is designed for both expediency and cost-effectiveness. That is why we urge its full funding in FY2020, thereby ensuring the continued operation of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft, and restoring U.S. access to the surface of Earth's nearest neighbor for the first time in almost five decades.

We believe that the LEDP is critical to a vibrant space economy that will bring new and exciting employment opportunities to the next generation of scientists and engineers, as well extend beyond to all sectors of society. The LDEP will give the United States the opportunity to, at long last, systematically prospect for lunar resources, gather comprehensive new samples from many new locations, explore lunar lava tubes, investigate magnetic anomalies, and address a long list of unanswered geophysical questions whose answers have deep implications for advancing our knowledge of the formation of the Solar System and key planetary processes."

Native Tribes Frozen Out of Controversial Plan for Bears Ears Monument

Bureau of Land Management Stacks the Deck Against Preserving the Shrunken Protected Area

Sarah Okeson

Federal law requires our government to consult with Native American tribes about the Bears Ears monument in southern Utah. But Trump is only giving lip service at best to attempts to consult the Navajo, Hopi and others about what was once the second-largest national monument in the lower 48 states, before Trump shrunk it by 85%.

Now, the general public has less than a week to file public comments on Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s plan that could turn could add more ATV trails and approve cell phone towers and utility lines to what are now two smaller monuments. Bernhardt has appointed an advisory committee that doesn’t include anyone who supported creating the monument in the first place.

“The BLM and the Forest Service are asking people who don’t think the monument should exist for advice on how to manage it,” said Josh Ewing, executive director of Friends of Cedar Mesa.

ACTION BOX/What You Can Do About It

Citadel Ruins, Bears Ears National Monument.

Citadel Ruins, Bears Ears National Monument, Utah. (BLM photo)

File a protest with the BLM director about plans for Bears Ears by Aug. 26. To review the documentation and to file a protest, go here and follow the directions highlighted in yellow. General instructions for filing a protest are online.

Contact Friends of Cedar Mesa at 435-414-0343 or online.

 

Bears Ears, named after twin peaks that look like the ears of a bear, has about 9,000 recorded archaeological sites, including petroglyphs, woven cloth, human remains and ancient roads.

Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke trimmed Bears Ears from 1.35 million acres to 201,876 acres, eliminating Cedar Mesa with its cliff ruins and rock art. He also took out Grand Gulch,a canyon, and other places that five native American tribes wanted protected when they urged former president Barack Obama to create the monument.

The management plan would allow “chaining,” a practice favored by Utah ranchers to clear land for cattle grazing.

“Bears Ears is not the kind of place for chaining thousands of acres of forest or stringing up utility lines,” said Heidi McIntosh of Earthjustice, one of the parties involved in the Indian tribes’ federal lawsuit against the Trump administration over shrinking Bears Ears.

Bernhardt appointed rancher Gail Johnson who holds a grazing allotment that was entirely within the original monument to a Bears Ears advisory group. Johnson and her husband, Sandy, have intervened in the lawsuits challenging Trump’s shrinking Bears Ears, arguing that a larger monument would put them out of business.

Bernhardt also appointed San Juan County Commissioner Bruce Adams and Ryan Benally,the son of former County Commissioner Rebecca Benally to the panel. San Juan County, the poorest county in Utah, paid $485,600 to a Louisiana law firm to oppose Bears Ears being named a national monument and then to lobby for reducing it.

Bernhardt did not appoint any of the seven people recommended by Rupert Steele, the chairman of the Utah Tribal Leaders Association. Steele’s picks included Navajo medicine man Jonah Yellowman and Kevin Madalena, a paleontologist from the Pueblo of Jemez, N.M.

Featured image: The twin buttes that give the Bears Ears National Monument its name. (BLM photo)

The post Native Tribes Frozen Out of Controversial Plan for Bears Ears Monument appeared first on DCReport.org.

Kansas City Fed: "Tenth District Manufacturing Declined in August"

From the Kansas City Fed: Tenth District Manufacturing Declined in August
The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City released the August Manufacturing Survey today. According to Chad Wilkerson, vice president and economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, the survey revealed that Tenth District manufacturing activity declined in August, while expectations for future activity edged higher.

Regional factory activity had its largest monthly drop in over three years, and over 55 percent of firms expect negative impacts from the latest round of U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods,” said Wilkerson. “However, even though many firms expect trade tensions to persist, expectations for future shipments and exports expanded slightly.”
...
The month-over-month composite index was -6 in August, down from -1 in July and 0 in June, and the lowest reading since March 2016. The composite index is an average of the production, new orders, employment, supplier delivery time, and raw materials inventory indexes. The drop in manufacturing activity was driven by declines at both durable and nondurable plants, but especially from decreases in primary metal, electrical equipment, appliances, paper, printing, and chemical manufacturing. Most month-over-month indexes decreased in August, and the shipments and supplier delivery time indexes also turned negative. All of the year-over-year factory indexes decreased in August, and the composite index fell from 11 to -1. On the other hand, the future composite index edged higher from 9 to 11, as expectations for shipments, order backlog, employment, and new orders for exports grew slightly.
emphasis added
Another weak report.

Who wins from foreign investment?

A new study shows the gains are unequal

The Japanification of bond markets

The eternal moment

China’s interest-rate revamp highlights the slow march of reform

The central bank modernises monetary policy, but also adds to a muddle

France is giving unilateralism a go

The Trump administration is preparing to hit back

Tidjane Thiam’s overhaul of Credit Suisse is paying off

A non-banker is reviving Switzerland’s second-biggest bank

Apple and Goldman Sachs launch their credit card

But it’s not juicy enough

Photos: Final “single stick” Delta 4 rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral

The last Delta 4-Medium rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral Thursday with a GPS navigation satellite for the U.S. Air Force.

The 207-foot-tall (63-meter) rocket launched from pad 37 at 9:06 a.m. EDT (1306 GMT), powered by a hydrogen-fueled RS-68A main engine and two strap-on solid rocket boosters producing more than 1.2 million pounds of thrust.

The engine and booster nozzles vectored their thrust to steer the Delta 4 rocket northeast from Cape Canaveral, aligning its trajectory with one of six orbital planes in the GPS navigation satellite network some 12,550 miles (20,200 kilometers) above Earth.

Thursday’s launch was the 40th flight of a Delta 4 rocket since November 2002, and the 29th and final mission to use one of ULA’s Delta 4-Medium variants, which use a single first stage core. At least five more launches by ULA’s Delta 4-Heavy rocket, made of three Delta 4 first stage booster cores, are planned through late 2023.

See our Mission Status Center for updates on the mission.

Credit: Alex Polimeni / Spaceflight Now
Credit: Alex Polimeni / Spaceflight Now
Credit: United Launch Alliance
Credit: Alex Polimeni / Spaceflight Now
Credit: Alex Polimeni / Spaceflight Now
Credit: Alex Polimeni / Spaceflight Now

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Double Trouble

In Arizona, an key 2020 state, the Republican attorney general is launching a new “election integrity” unit. Among the first hires? A Tea Party voter fraud alarmist.

The AG’s office is taking pains to say that it will not just prosecute voter fraud (reminder: super rare!) but also help to restore public confidence in elections by debunking bogus claims.

You can see again the vicious cycle where those making bogus voter fraud claims (including the president himself) create an environment where “confidence” becomes an issue, and elected officials respond to the supposed climate of concern. It basically rewards those making the most outlandish bad faith voter fraud claims.

But beyond that, it’s important to note the difference between good election administration practices (usually performed by secretaries of state) and the introduction of law enforcement into the mix, as is happening in Arizona. The threat of criminal prosecution for an exceedingly rare crime like voter fraud is a disproportionate response to the small underlying threat, with serious knock-on effects from creating the public perception that there is some risk associated with voting.

All of those concerns would persist even if you stood up the most stalwart, careful, sober election integrity unit. But when you staff it with people who have championed the myth of rampant voter fraud? Come on.

This isn’t hard. You either favor widespread participation in the electoral process and taking reasonable steps to encourage and enable it or you have partisan political reasons for opposing it. The choice is pretty simple.

Reviews of Edney’s Cartography

Matthew Edney’s Cartography: The Ideal and Its History was published by the University of Chicago Press last April. I have a review copy and a review is in the works. While you’re waiting for me to get said review written, here are a couple of reviews to tide you over: one from Steven Seegel at New Books Network; and one (behind a paywall) at Times Higher Education from Jerry Brotton.

(Incidentally, Seegel is the author of Map Men: Transnational Lives and Deaths of Geographers in the Making of East Central Europe: a review of that is forthcoming as well. Brotton has several books to his name: he’s co-author of this year’s Talking Maps, and in 2012 published A History of the World in 12 Maps, which I reviewed here.)

Related: Map Books of 2019.

The bullish case for ride-sharing services

In a survey by AARP last year, only 29 percent of those over 50 had used ride-hailing apps. Two-thirds said they weren’t likely to do so in the coming year, citing in part concerns about safety and privacy.

I don’t think today’s young will lose the capacity to use ride-sharing services as they age.  In the meantime, there is this:

So Lyft and Uber and others are contracting with third parties, bypassing the need for older riders to use apps or to have smartphones at all.

They’re joining forces with health care systems, for instance. In the past 18 months, more than 1,000 — including MedStar, in the Washington area, and the Boston Medical Center — have signed on with Uber Health for “nonemergency medical transportation,” the company said.

Case managers and social workers can use Uber or Lyft to ferry patients to or from clinics and offices, reducing missed appointments.

Here is the full NYT story by Paula Span.

The post The bullish case for ride-sharing services appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Two Prosaic Reasons for Small(er) Protests in the U.S.: Transit and Geography

With the inspiring protests in Hong Kong, there has been the occasional remark along the lines of ‘why aren’t there larger protests’, especially in D.C. While there are lots of reasons, there are two rather boring, yet important, ones, as this report from Hong Kong shows (boldface mine):

The time and location of protests are set via social media alchemy; once you get notified about one, you descend through a spotless mall onto a bright and clean train platform, get whisked away by a train that arrives almost immediately, step out into another mall, then finally walk outside into overwhelming heat and a gathering group of demonstrators.

When it’s over, whether the demonstrators have dispersed of their own will, or are running from rubber bullets and tear gas, you duck into another mall, and another train, and within minutes are back in a land of infinite hypercommerce, tiny alleys and posh hotels with their lobby on the 40th floor of a skyscraper.

Not everyone lives in a luxury hotel, man! I get it. But my eyes are like saucers. I ask forgiveness of Hong Kongers if at times I am still that six year old kid, dazzled by what to you is ordinary. You live in a kind of city we Americans can only aspire to, and it’s no wonder you love your home so much you will take any risk to save it…

Tai Po is easily reachable by MTR, the city’s commuter train system. Everywhere except the islands is easily reachable by MTR. The MTR is the one technology the Hong Kong protests could not do without, an autonomous fiefdom that the police mostly stay out of. It is neutral territory. The train ride is uneventful until we get off at Tai Po station, where there are an unusual number of people in black, the color of the protests (lucky is the Hong Konger who started the summer as a goth or metal fan, and has some wardrobe options!)…

Finally, the decision surfaces that the position is too unfavorable. This has been another development in the protesters’ tactics since the start of the summer. Rather than standing their ground, they have found it more effective to melt away and reassemble somewhere else. The tactic is a classic one, but I am impressed with the ability of a decentralized group to adopt it so effectively.

And so, everyone makes their way back to the train station, where again things transition to normal, as if a street protest with thousands of participants hasn’t just happened. The trains absorb the extra passengers easily (the New York subway would be in flames), and we return to the heart of the city.

In D.C., I’m fortunate enough to live within walking distance of many of the places where people hold protests; I also have multiple mass transit options. But many people, within D.C. itself, as well as the surrounding metro area, are car-dependent. If there’s a protest after work, I could attend (and have). But for most people, the transportation would be a real hurdle–and transportation includes parking. There’s a reason why many impromptu/short notice demonstrations occur at Dupont Circle, Lafayette Park, or Gallery Place*: these are easy to reach Metro hubs, often with some space nearby (especially after 5pm, when office workers begin to clear out).

Which brings us to the second boring reason: geography. Cities have public spaces, both formal (e.g., parks) and informal. I’ve spent part of my life in the burbs, and, in many of them, I don’t even know where you could hold a protest. In a parcel of soccer fields? Doesn’t have quite the impact. And it’s hard to do anything en masse on traffic islands. Even in places that have ‘old centers’, you still run into the transportation issues.

It’s just a lot easier to attend protests in a city with public spaces and good mass transit.

The King of Fish and Chips

In the 1960s, Haddon Salt built up a small empire of fish & chips shops in North America — they eventually had more than 500 stores. That attracted the attention of Kentucky Fried Chicken, then flush with cash after their IPO. And then…

An initial Google search revealed that this shop was the last gasp of a once-sprawling fish-and-chips empire with hundreds of locations that started with an immigrant’s secret family recipe, flourished into an eight-figure deal with Colonel Sanders and ended in collapse.

It took several years and the research help of friends to track down Mr. Salt. We found him in a remote retirement community in Southern California’s desert. The rest you can see in the film before you.

For every icon there are those who were almost famous. And perhaps they, even more than their conqueror, have the lessons we need to hear.

See also when Colonel Sanders badmouthing KFC: For the Colonel, It Was Finger-Lickin’ Bad.

Tags: Ben Proudfoot   business   food   Haddon Salt   restaurants   video

Lie to Me

From A Test of the Micro Expressions Training Tool:

Image result for lie to meThe theory behind micro‐expressions posits that when people attempt to mask their true emotional state, expressions consistent with their actual state will appear briefly on their face. Thus, while people are generally good at hiding their emotions, some facial muscles are more difficult to control than others and automatic displays of emotion will produce briefly detectable emotional “leakage” or micro‐expressions (Ekman, 1985). When a person does not wish to display his or her true feelings s/he will quickly suppress these expressions. Yet, there will be an extremely short time between the automatic display of the emotion and the conscious attempt to conceal it, resulting in the micro‐expression(s) that can betray a true feeling and according to theory, aid in detecting deception.

…The METT Advanced programme, marketed by the Paul Ekman Group (2011), coined an “online training to increase emotional awareness and detect deception” and promoted with claims that it “… enables you to better spot lies” and “is meant for those whose work requires them to evaluate truthfulness and detect deception—such as police and security personnel” (Paul Ekman Group, METT Advanced‐Online only, para. 2). The idea that micro‐expression recognition improves lie detection has also been put forth in the scientific literature (Ekman, 2009; Ekman & Matsumoto, 2011; Kassin, Redlich, Alceste, & Luke, 2018) and promoted in the wider culture. One example of this is its use as a focal plot device in the crime drama television series Lie to Me, which ran for three seasons (Baum, 2009). Though a fictional show, Lie to Me was promoted as being based on the research of Ekman. Ekman himself had a blog for the show in which he discussed the science of each episode (Ekman, 2010). Micro‐expression recognition training is not only marketed for deception detection but, more problematically, is actually used for this purpose by the United States government. Training in recognising micro‐expressions is part of the behavioural screening programme, known as Screening Passengers by Observation Technique (SPOT) used in airport security (Higginbotham, 2013; Smith, 2011; Weinberger, 2010). The SPOT programme deploys so‐called behaviour detection officers who receive various training in detecting deception from nonverbal behaviour, including training using the METT (the specific content of this programme is classified, Higginbotham, 2013). Evidently, preventing terrorists from entering the country’s borders and airports is an important mission. However, to our knowledge, there is no research on the effectiveness of METT in improving lie detection accuracy or security screening efficacy.

…Our findings do not support the use of METT as a lie detection tool. The METT did not improve accuracy any more than a bogus training protocol or even no training at all. The METT also did not improve accuracy beyond the level associated with guessing. This is problematic to say the least given that training in the recognition of micro‐expressions comprises a large part of a screening system that has become ever more pervasive in our aviation security (Higginbotham, 2013; Weinberger, 2010).

Note that the online training failed but micro-expressions are real and better, more intensive training or maybe an AI could do better though on that last I wouldn’t accept the hype.

Hat tip the excellent Rolf Degen on twitter.

The post Lie to Me appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

The Untapped Power of Vulnerability & Transparency in Content Strategy

In marketing, transparency and vulnerability are unjustly stigmatized. The words conjure illusions of being frightened, imperfect, and powerless. And for companies that shove carefully curated personas in front of users, little is more terrifying than losing control of how people perceive the brand.

Let’s shatter this illusioned stigma. Authentic vulnerability and transparency are strengths masquerading as weaknesses. And companies too scared to embrace both traits in their content forfeit bona fide user-brand connections for often shallow, misleading engagement tactics that create fleeting relationships.

Transparency and vulnerability are closely entwined concepts, but each one engages users in a unique way. Transparency is how much information you share, while vulnerability is the truth and meaning behind your actions and words. Combining these ideas is the trick to creating empowering and meaningful content. You can’t tell true stories of vulnerability without transparency, and to be authentically transparent you must be vulnerable.

To be vulnerable, your brand and its content must be brave, genuine, humble, and open, all of which are traits that promote long-term customer loyalty. And if you’re transparent with users about who you are and about your business practices, you’re courting 94 percent of consumers who say they’re more loyal to brands that offer complete openness and 89 percent of people who say they give transparent companies a second chance after a bad experience.

For many companies, being completely honest and open with their customers—or employees, in some cases—only happens in a crisis. Unfortunately for those businesses, using vulnerability and transparency only as a crisis management strategy diminishes how sincere they appear and can reduce customer satisfaction.

Unlocking the potential of being transparent and vulnerable with users isn’t a one-off tactic or quick-fix emergency response tool—it’s a commitment to intimate storytelling that embraces a user’s emotional and psychological needs, which builds a meaningful connection between the storyteller and the audience.

The three storytelling pillars of vulnerable and transparent content

In her book, Braving the Wilderness, sociologist Brené Brown explains that vulnerability connects us at an emotional level. She says that when we recognize someone is being vulnerable, we invest in their story and begin to develop an emotional bond. This interwoven connection encourages us to experience the storyteller’s joy and pain, and then creates a sense of community and common purpose among the person being vulnerable and the people who acknowledge that vulnerability.

Three pillars in a company’s lifecycle embrace this bond and provide an outline for telling stories worthy of a user’s emotional investment. The pillars are:

  • the origins of a company, product, idea, or situation;
  • intimate narratives about customers’ life experiences;
  • and insights about product success and failure.

Origin stories

An origin story spins a transparent tale about how a company, product, service, or idea is created. It is often told by a founder, CEO, or industry innovator. This pillar is usually used as an authentic way to provide crisis management or as a method to change how users feel about a topic, product, or your brand.

Customers’ life experiences

While vulnerable origin stories do an excellent job of making users trust your brand, telling a customer’s personal life story is arguably the most effective way to use vulnerability to entwine a brand with someone’s personal identity.

Unlike an origin story, the customer experiences pillar is focused on being transparent about who your customers are, what they’ve experienced, and how those journeys align with values that matter to your brand. Through this lens, you’ll empower your customers to tell emotional, meaningful stories that make users feel vulnerable in a positive way. In this situation, your brand is often a storytelling platform where users share their story with the brand and fellow customers.

Product and service insights

Origin stories make your brand trustworthy in a crisis, and customers’ personal stories help users feel an intimate connection with your brand’s persona and mission. The last pillar, product and service insights, combines the psychological principles that make origin and customer stories successful. The outcome is a vulnerable narrative that rallies users’ excitement about, and emotional investment in, what a company sells or the goals it hopes to achieve.

Vulnerability, transparency, and the customer journey

The three storytelling pillars are crucial to embracing transparency and vulnerability in your content strategy because they let you target users at specific points in their journey. By embedding the pillars in each stage of the customer’s journey, you teach users about who you are, what matters to you, and why they should care.

For our purposes, let’s define the user journey as:

  • awareness;
  • interest;
  • consideration;
  • conversion;
  • and retention.

Awareness

People give each other seven seconds to make a good first impression. We’re not so generous with brands and websites. After discovering your content, users determine if it’s trustworthy within one-tenth of a second.

Page design and aesthetics are often the determining factors in these split-second choices, but the information users discover after that decision shapes their long-term opinions about your brand. This snap judgement is why transparency and vulnerability are crucial within awareness content.

When you only get one chance to make a positive first impression with your audience, what content is going to be more memorable?

Typical marketing “fluff” about how your brand was built on a shared vision and commitment to unyielding customer satisfaction and quality products? Or an upfront, authentic, and honest story about the trials and tribulations you went through to get where you are now?

Buffer, a social media management company that helped pioneer the radical transparency movement, chose the latter option. The outcome created awareness content that leaves a positive lasting impression of the brand.

In 2016, Joel Gascoigne, cofounder and CEO of Buffer, used an origin story to discuss the mistakes he and his company made that resulted in laying off 10 employees.

In the blog post “Tough News: We’ve Made 10 Layoffs. How We Got Here, the Financial Details and How We’re Moving Forward,” Gascoigne wrote about Buffer’s over-aggressive growth choices, lack of accountability, misplaced trust in its financial model, explicit risk appetite, and overenthusiastic hiring. He also discussed what he learned from the experience, the changes Buffer made based on these lessons, the consequences of those changes, and next steps for the brand.

Gascoigne writes about each subject with radical honesty and authenticity. Throughout the article, he’s personable and relatable; his tone and voice make it obvious he’s more concerned about the lives he’s irrevocably affected than the public image of his company floundering. Because Gascoigne is so transparent and vulnerable in the blog post, it’s easy to become invested in the narrative he’s telling. The result is an article that feels more like a deep, meaningful conversation over coffee instead of a carefully curated, PR-approved response.

Yes, Buffer used this origin story to confront a PR crisis, but they did so in a way that encouraged users to trust the brand. Buffer chose to show up and be seen when they had no control over the outcome. And because Gascoigne used vulnerability and transparency to share the company’s collective pain, the company reaped positive press coverage and support on social media—further improving brand awareness, user engagement, and customer loyalty.

However, awareness content isn’t always brand focused. Sometimes, smart awareness content uses storytelling to teach users and shape their worldviews. The 2019 State of Science Index is an excellent example.

The annual State of Science Index evaluates how the global public perceives science. The 2019 report shows that 87 percent of people acknowledge that science is necessary to solve the world’s problems, but 33 percent are skeptical of science and believe that scientists cause as many problems as they solve. Furthermore, 57 percent of respondents are skeptical of science because of scientists’ conflicting opinions about topics they don’t understand.

3M, the multinational science conglomerate that publishes the report, says the solution for this anti-science mindset is to promote intimate storytelling among scientists and layfolk.

3M creates an origin story with its awareness content by focusing on the ins and outs of scientific research. The company is open and straightforward with its data and intentions, eliminating any second guesses users might have about the content they’re digesting.

The company kicked off this strategy on three fronts, and each storytelling medium interweaves the benefits of vulnerability and transparency by encouraging researchers to tell stories that lead with how their findings benefit humanity. Every story 3M tells focuses on breaking through barriers the average person faces when they encounter science and encouraging scientists to be vulnerable and authentic with how they share their research.

First, 3M began a podcast series known as Science Champions. In the podcast, 3M Chief Science Advocate Jayshree Seth interviews scientists and educators about the global perception of science and how science and scientists affect our lives. The show is currently in its second season and discusses a range of topics in science, technology, engineering, and math.

Second, the company worked with science educators, journalist Katie Couric, actor Alan Alda, and former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly to develop the free Scientists as Storytellers Guide. The ebook helps STEM researchers improve how and why they communicate their work with other people—with a special emphasis on being empathetic with non-scientists. The guide breaks down how to develop communications skills, overcome common storytelling challenges, and learn to make science more accessible, understandable, and engaging for others.

Last, 3M created a film series called Beyond the Beaker that explores the day-to-day lives of 3M scientists. In the short videos, scientists give the viewer a glimpse into their hobbies and home life. The series showcases how scientists have diverse backgrounds, hobbies, goals, and dreams.

Unlike Buffer, which benefits directly from its awareness content, 3M’s three content mediums are designed to create a long-term strategy that changes how people understand and perceive science, by spreading awareness through third parties. It’s too early to conclude that the strategy will be successful, but it’s off to a good start. Science Champions often tops “best of” podcast lists for science lovers, and the Scientists as Storytellers Guide is a popular resource among public universities.

Interest

How do you court new users when word-of-mouth and organic search dominate how people discover new brands? Target their interests.

Now, you can be like the hundreds of other brands that create a “10 best things” list and hope people stumble onto your content organically and like what they see. Or, you can use content to engage with people who are passionate about your industry and have genuine, open discussions about the topics that matter to you both.

The latter option is a perfect fit for the product and service insights pillar, and the customers’ life experiences pillar.

To succeed in these pillars you must balance discussing the users’ passions and how your brand plays into that topic against appearing disingenuous or becoming too self-promotional.

Nonprofits have an easier time walking this taut line because people are less judgemental when engaging with NGOs, but it’s rare for a for-profit company to achieve this balance. SpaceX and Thinx are among the few brands that are able to walk this tightrope.

Thinx, a women’s clothing brand that sells period-proof underwear, uses its blog to generate awareness, interest, and consideration content via the customers’ life experiences pillar. The blog, aptly named Periodical, relies on transparency and vulnerability as a cornerstone to engage users about reproductive and mental health.

Toni Brannagan, Thinx’s content editor, says the brand embraces transparency and vulnerability by sharing diverse ideas and personal experiences from customers and experts alike, not shying away from sensitive subjects and never misleading users about Thinx or the subjects Periodical discusses.

As a company focused on women’s healthcare, the product Thinx sells is political by nature and entangles the brand with themes of shame, cultural differences, and personal empowerment. Thinx’s strategy is to tackle these subjects head-on by having vulnerable conversations in its branding, social media ads, and Periodical content.

“Vulnerability and transparency play a role because you can’t share authentic diverse ideas and experiences about those things—shame, cultural differences, and empowerment—without it,” Brannagan says.

A significant portion of Thinx’s website traffic is organic, which means Periodical’s interest-driven content may be a user’s first touchpoint with the brand.

“We’ve seen that our most successful organic content is educational, well-researched articles, and also product-focused blogs that answer the questions about our underwear, in a way that’s a little more casual than what’s on our product pages,” Brannagan says. “In contrast, our personal essays and ‘more opinionated’ content performs better on social media and email.”

Thanks in part to the blog’s authenticity and open discussions about hard-hitting topics, readers who find the brand through organic search drive the most direct conversions.

Conversations with users interested in the industry or topic your company is involved in don’t always have to come from the company itself. Sometimes a single person can drive authentic, open conversations and create endearing user loyalty and engagement.

For a company that relies on venture capital investments, NASA funding, and public opinion for its financial future, crossing the line between being too self-promotional and isolating users could spell doom. But SpaceX has never shied away from difficult or vulnerable conversations. Instead, the company’s founder, Elon Musk, embraces engaging with users interests in public forums like Twitter and press conferences.

Twitter thread showing an exchange between Elon Musk and a user

Musk’s tweets about SpaceX are unwaveringly authentic and transparent. He often tweets about his thoughts, concerns, and the challenges his companies face. Plus, Musk frequently engages with his Twitter followers and provides candid answers to questions many CEOs avoid discussing. This authenticity has earned him a cult-like following.

Elon Musk gives an honest, if not flattering, response on Twitter to a user

Musk and SpaceX create conversations that target people’s interests and use vulnerability to equally embrace failure and success. Both the company and its founder give the public and investors an unflinching story of space exploration.

And despite laying off 10 percent of its workforce in January of 2019, SpaceX is flourishing. In May 2019, its valuation had risen to $33.3 billion and reported annual revenue exceeded $2 billion. It also earned global media coverage from launching Musk’s Tesla Roadster into space, recently completed a test flight of its Crew Dragon space vehicle, and cemented multiple new payload contracts.

By engaging with users on social media and through standard storytelling mediums, Thinx and SpaceX bolster customer loyalty and brand engagement.

Consideration

Modern consumers argue that ignorance is not bliss. When users are considering converting with a brand, 86 percent of consumers say transparency is a deciding factor. Transparency remains crucial even after they convert, with 85 percent of users saying they’ll support a transparent brand during a PR crisis.

Your brand must be open, clear, and honest with users; there is no longer another viable option.

So how do you remain transparent while trying to sell someone a product? One solution employed by REI and Everlane is to be openly accountable to your brand and your users via the origin stories and product insights pillars.

REI, a national outdoor equipment retailer, created a stewardship program that behaves as a multifaceted origin story. The program’s content highlights the company’s history and manufacturing policies, and it lets users dive into the nitty-gritty details about its factories, partnerships, product production methods, manufacturing ethics, and carbon footprint.

Screenshot of the Collaborating for Good website

REI also employs a classic content hub strategy to let customers find the program and explore its relevant information. From a single landing page, users can easily find the program through the website’s global navigation and then navigate to every tangential topic the program encompasses.

REI also publishes an annual stewardship report, where users can learn intimate details about how the company makes and spends its money.

Screenshot of REI's stewardship report

Everlane, a clothing company, is equally transparent about its supply chain. The company promotes an insider’s look into its global factories via product insights stories. These glimpses tell the personal narratives of factory employees and owners, and provide insights into the products manufactured and the materials used. Everlane also published details of how they comply with the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act to guarantee ethical working conditions throughout its supply chain, including refusing to partner with human traffickers.

Screenshot of Everlane's page about the factory in Lima

The crucial quality that Everlane and REI share is they publicize their transparency and encourage users to explore the shared information. On each website, users can easily find information about the company’s transparency endeavors via the global navigation, social media campaigns, and product pages.

The consumer response to transparent brands like REI and Everlane is overwhelmingly positive. Customers are willing to pay price premiums for the additional transparency, which gives them comfort by knowing they’re purchasing ethical products.

REI’s ownership model has further propelled the success of its transparency by using it to create unwavering customer engagement and loyalty. As a co-op where customers can “own” part of the company for a one-time $20 membership fee, REI is beholden to its members, many of which pay close attention to its supply chain and the brands REI partners with.

After a deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, REI members urged the company to refuse to carry CamelBak products because the brand’s parent company manufactures assault-style weapons. Members argued the partnership violated REI’s supply chain ethics. REI listened and halted orders with CamelBak. Members rejoiced and REI earned a significant amount of positive press coverage.

Conversion

Imagine you’ve started incorporating transparency throughout your company, and promote the results to users. Your brand also begins engaging users by telling vulnerable, meaningful stories via the three pillars. You’re seeing great engagement metrics and customer feedback from these efforts, but not much else. So, how do you get your newly invested users to convert?

Provide users with a full-circle experience.

If you combine the three storytelling pillars with blatant transparency and actively promote your efforts, users often transition from the consideration stage into the conversion state. Best of all, when users convert with a company that already earned their trust on an emotional level, they’re more likely to remain loyal to the brand and emotionally invested in its future.

The crucial step in combining the three pillars is consistency. Your brand’s stories must always be authentic and your content must always be transparent. The outdoor clothing brand Patagonia is among the most popular and successful companies to maintain this consistency and excel with this strategy.

Patagonia is arguably the most vocal and aggressive clothing retailer when it comes to environmental stewardship and ethical manufacturing.

In some cases, the company tells users not to buy its clothing because rampant consumerism harms the environment too much, which they care about more than profits. This level of radical transparency and vulnerability skyrocketed the company’s popularity among environmentally-conscious consumers.

In 2011, Patagonia took out a full-page Black Friday ad in the New York Times with the headline “Don’t Buy This Jacket.” In the ad, Patagonia talks about the environmental toll manufacturing clothes requires.

“Consider the R2 Jacket shown, one of our best sellers. To make it required 135 liters of water, enough to meet the daily needs (three glasses a day) of 45 people. Its journey from its origin as 60 percent recycled polyester to our Reno warehouse generated nearly 20 pounds of carbon dioxide, 24 times the weight of the finished product. This jacket left behind, on its way to Reno, two-thirds [of] its weight in waste.”

The ad encourages users to not buy any new Patagonia clothing if their old, ratty clothes can be repaired. To help, Patagonia launched a supplementary subdomain to its e-commerce website to support its Common Thread Initiative, which eventually got rebranded as the Worn Wear program.

Patatgonia’s Worn Wear subdomain gets users to engage with the company about causes each party cares about. Through Worn Wear, Patagonia will repair your old gear for free. If you’d rather have new gear, you can instead sell the worn out clothing to Patagonia, and they’ll repair it and then resell the product at a discount. This interaction encourages loyalty and repeat brand-user engagement.

In addition, the navigation on Patagonia’s main website practically begs users to learn about the brand’s non-profit initiatives and its commitment to ethical manufacturing.

Screenshot of Patagonia's page on environmental responsibility

Today, Patagonia is among the most respected, profitable, and trusted consumer brands in the United States.

Retention

Content strategy expands through nearly every aspect of the marketing stack, including ad campaigns, which take a more controlled approach to vulnerability and transparency. To target users in the retention stage and keep them invested in your brand, your goal is to create content using the customers’ life experiences pillar to amplify the emotional bond and brand loyalty that vulnerability creates.

Always took this approach and ended up with one of its most successful social media campaigns.

An Always ad portraying a determined girl holding a baseball

In June 2014, Always launched its #LikeAGirl campaign to empower adolescent and teenage girls by transforming the phrase “like a girl” from a slur into a meaningful and positive statement.

The campaign is centered on a video in which Always tasked children, teenagers, and adults to behave “like a girl” by running, punching, and throwing while mimicking their perception of how a girl performs the activity. Young girls performed the tasks wholeheartedly and with gusto, while boys and adults performed overly feminine and vain characterizations. The director then challenged the person on their portrayal, breaking down what doing things “like a girl” truly means. The video ends with a powerful, heart-swelling statement:

“If somebody else says that running like a girl, or kicking like a girl, or shooting like a girl is something you shouldn’t be doing, that’s their problem. Because if you’re still scoring, and you’re still getting to the ball in time, and you’re still being first...you’re doing it right. It doesn’t matter what they say.”

This customer story campaign put the vulnerability girls feel during puberty front and center so the topic would resonate with users and give the brand a powerful, relevant, and purposeful role in this connection, according to an Institute for Public Relations campaign analysis.

Consequently, the #LikeAGirl campaign was a rousing success and blew past the KPIs Always established. Initially, Always determined an “impactful launch” for the video meant 2 million video views and 250 million media impressions, the analysis states.

Five years later, the campaign video has more than 66.9 million views and 42,700 comments on YouTube, with more than 85 percent of users reacting positively. Here are a few additional highlights the analysis document points out:

  • Eighty-one percent of women ages 16–24 support Always in creating a movement to reclaim “like a girl” as a positive and inspiring statement.
  • More than 1 million people shared the video.
  • Thirteen percent of users created user-generated content about the campaign.
  • The #LikeAGirl program achieved 4.5 billion global impressions.
  • The campaign received 290 million social impressions, with 133,000 social mentions, and it caused a 195.3 percent increase in the brand’s Twitter followers.

Among the reasons the #LikeAGirl content was so successful is that it aligned with Brené Brown’s concept that experiencing vulnerability creates a connection centered on powerful, shared emotions. Always then amplified the campaign’s effectiveness by using those emotions to encourage specific user behavior on social media.

How do you know if you’re making vulnerable content?

Designing a vulnerability-focused content strategy campaign begins by determining what kind of story you want to tell, why you want to tell it, why that story matters, and how that story helps you or your users achieve a goal.

When you’re brainstorming topics, the most important factor is that you need to care about the stories you’re telling. These tales need to be meaningful because if you’re weaving a narrative that isn’t important to you, it shows. And ultimately, why do you expect your users to care about a subject if you don’t?

Let’s say you’re developing a content campaign for a nonprofit, and you want to use your brand’s emotional identity to connect with users. You have a handful of possible narratives but you’re not sure which one will best unlock the benefits of vulnerability. In a Medium post about telling vulnerable stories, Cayla Vidmar presents a list of seven self-reflective questions that can reveal what narrative to choose and why.

If you can answer each of Vidmar’s questions, you’re on your way to creating a great story that can connect with users on a level unrivaled by other methods. Here’s what you should ask yourself:

  • What meaning is there in my story?
  • Can my story help others?
  • How can it help others?
  • Am I willing to struggle and be vulnerable in that struggle (even with strangers)?
  • How has my story shaped my worldview (what has it made me believe)?
  • What good have I learned from my story?
  • If other people discovered this good from their story, would it change their lives?

While you’re creating narratives within the three pillars, refer back to Vidmar’s list to maintain the proper balance between vulnerability and transparency.

What’s next?

You now know that vulnerability and transparency are an endless fountain of strength, not a weakness. Vulnerable content won’t make you or your brand look weak. Your customers won’t flee at the sight of imperfection. Being human and treating your users like humans isn’t a liability.

It’s time for your brand to embrace its untapped potential. Choose to be vulnerable, have the courage to tell meaningful stories about what matters most to your company and your customers, and overcome the fear of controlling how users will react to your content.

Origin story

Every origin story has six chapters:

  • the discovery of a problem or opportunity;
  • what caused this problem or opportunity;
  • the consequences of this discovery;
  • the solution to these consequences;
  • lessons learned during the process;
  • and next steps.

Customers’ life experiences

Every customer journey narrative has six chapters:

  • plot background to frame the customer’s experiences;
  • the customer’s journey;
  • how the brand plays into that journey (if applicable);
  • how the customer’s experiences changed them;
  • what the customer learned from this journey;
  • and how other people can use this information to improve their lives.

Product and service insights

Narratives about product and service insights have seven chapters:

  • an overview of the product/service;
  • how that product/service affects users;
  • why the product/service is important to the brand’s mission or to users;
  • what about this product/service failed or succeeded;
  • why did that success or failure happen;
  • what lessons did this scenario create;
  • and how are the brand and its users moving forward.

You have the tools and knowledge necessary to be transparent, create vulnerable content, and succeed. And we need to tell vulnerable stories because sharing our experiences and embracing our common connections matters. So go ahead, put yourself out into the open, and see how your customers respond.

Black Knight: "Mortgage Delinquencies See Strong Recovery from June Spike"

From Black Knight: Black Knight’s First Look: July Prepayment Activity Hits Highest Level Since 2016; Mortgage Delinquencies See Strong Recovery from June Spike
• Prepayment activity jumped 26% from June to its highest level in nearly three years and 58% above this time last year as falling interest rates continue to fuel refinance incentive

• The national delinquency rate fell by 7% in July, offsetting the bulk of June’s calendar-related spike

• At 3.46%, July 2019’s delinquency rate is the lowest of any July on record (dating back to 2000)

• Both serious delinquencies (-11,000) and active foreclosure inventory (-1,000) fell as well

• Serious delinquencies (all loans 90 or more days delinquent but not in active foreclosure) fell below 445,000 for the first time since June 2006
According to Black Knight's First Look report for July, the percent of loans delinquent decreased 7.3% in July compared to June, and decreased 4.3% year-over-year.

The percent of loans in the foreclosure process decreased 0.5% in July and were down 13.2% over the last year.

Black Knight reported the U.S. mortgage delinquency rate (loans 30 or more days past due, but not in foreclosure) was 3.46% in July, down from 3.73% in June.

The percent of loans in the foreclosure process decreased in July to 0.49% from 0.50% in June.

The number of delinquent properties, but not in foreclosure, is down 54,000 properties year-over-year, and the number of properties in the foreclosure process is down 35,000 properties year-over-year.

Note: The "spike" in delinquencies in June was due to timing and seasonal factors. No worries.

Black Knight: Percent Loans Delinquent and in Foreclosure Process
  Jul
2019
Jun
2019
Jul
2018
Jul
2017
Delinquent3.46%3.73%3.61%3.90%
In Foreclosure0.49%0.50%0.57%0.87%
Number of properties:
Number of properties that are delinquent, but not in foreclosure:1,807,0001,950,0001,861,0001,986,000
Number of properties in foreclosure pre-sale inventory:258,000259,000293,000398,000
Total Properties2,065,0002,209,0002,154,0002,384,000

Wanted by Governor Wanton

The official Rhode Island response to the destruction of the Customs sloop Liberty in Newport harbor started even before the ship went up in flames. 

A mob attacked the ship on 19 July. Two days later, this proclamation appeared, as printed in the newspapers: 
By the Honorable
Joseph Wanton, Esquire,
Governor, Captain-General, and Commander in Chief, of and over the English Colony of Rhode-Island, and Providence Plantations, in New-England, in America:

A PROCLAMATION.
Whereas, Charles Dudley, Esq; Collector and Surveyor, and John Nicoll, Esq; Comptroller, of His Majesty’s Customs for the Colony aforesaid, have this Day presented unto me a Memorial, setting forth, That a Number of People on the Nineteenth Instant, in the Evening, being assembled in a riotous and tumultuous Manner, did, with Threats against his Life, compel Captain William Reid, Commander of the Sloop Liberty in the Service of the Revenue, lying in the Harbour of Newport, to order the People who had the keeping and Charge of his Vessel, to come on Shore; after which a Number of Men boarded the said Sloop, and set at Liberty a Sloop brought into this Port by the said William Reid, laden with prohibited Goods and under Seizure, and she was afterwards carried away to the great Prejudice of his Majesty: And that they then proceeded to destroy the said Sloop Liberty, by cutting away her Mast and Rigging, and scuttling her so that she sunk; and burnt her Two Boats:

I HAVE, THEREFORE, thought fit, by and with the Advice of such Members of his Majesty’s Council, as could conveniently be called together, to issue this Proclamation, hereby directing and requiring all the Officers of Justice, in this Colony, to use their utmost Endeavours, to enquire after and discover the Persons guilty of the aforesaid Crimes, that they may be brought to Justice.
Many of the men who had attacked the Liberty on 19 July probably came off Capt. Joseph Packwood’s brig, based in New London, Connecticut. Packwood had sailed out of Narragansett Bay as soon as he could after the riot. The Rhode Island authorities would therefore have had a hard time tracking down those men—if they even really wanted to.

Ten days after this proclamation, the rest of the Liberty burned on Goat Island. That was more likely a local job, but since it took place away from town on a stormy night, there were no witnesses. Gov. Wanton didn’t even bother to use a new proclamation.

COMING UP: A new lead for the Customs office.

Mapping the Moon in Black and White

Mapping the Moon in Black and White, an exhibition curated by the Harvard Map Collection at Harvard’s Pusey Library, “guides you through the mutually reinforcing efforts to map the Moon using orbital imagery and the race to walk on the Moon. At ‘Mapping the Moon in Black and White,’ you will also learn how these mapping efforts sat within larger critiques of the Space Race, especially from Civil Rights organizations like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Black Panther Party.” Runs until 31 October 2019; a reception and curatorial talk will take place on 18 September.

Previously: Lunar Cartography During the Age of Apollo; Many Moon Maps; Lunar Geology and the Apollo Program.

A Land and Water Grab in Parched Utah

Bureau of Land Management Weighs Plan to Extract ‘Frac Sand’ and Millions of Gallons of Water from the Region

Sarah Okeson

A company wants to mine sand in southern Utah about 10 miles from Zion National Park to use for fracking and has signed contracts to buy more than 391 million gallons of water a year from a nearby city and a water district.

Environmental groups and an animal sanctuary are trying to block improvements to an 0.81-mile unpaved Utah county road in Kane County about 10 miles northwest of Kanab, Utah, on federal land that the business, Southern Red Sands LLC, would need to operate. The Bureau of Land Management is considering the request.

The Center for Biological Diversity and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance said the project “will likely have significant, negative environmental impacts.” An endangered snail found only in the Grand Canyon and in small ponds near the proposed mine could be harmed.

ACTION BOX/What You Can Do About It

Kane County, Utah (Google map)

Call Whit Bunting, the acting BLM field manager, at 435-644-1272; write him at 669 S. Hwy 89A, Kanab, Utah 84741 or email him at wbunting@blm.gov.

Sign an online petition against the frac sand mine

Contact the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance at 801-486-3161 or info@suwa.org

 

The Kane County Planning Commission approved a permit in July for Southern Red Sands after about 100 people attended a hearing, speaking about everything from climate change to marring the beauty of an area that includes glimpses of scenic pink cliffs.

‘Inevitable’ Project

“Regardless of what we do here tonight, this project will go forth,” said Kanab Mayor Robert Houston at an earlier meeting.

Sand is used in fracking to hold open fractures in rocks to allow oil to flow out. The sand, often quartz sand with very round grains, has to be able to withstand intense pressure without being crushed. Much of the frac sand comes from the South and Midwest states such as Wisconsin. The mining uses vast amounts of water, as much as 2 million gallons a day.

Critics of the proposed mine such as the Best Friends Animal Society have questioned whether it would harm the water supply for Kanab and the surrounding area. Utah is the third driest state in our nation. Kane County gets about 15 inches of rain a year, less than half of the national average, and relies on the Navajo aquifers.  Utah had its driest year on record in 2018.

Chad Staheli, the CEO of Southern Red Sands, wrote in the Southern Utah News that studies have shown “more than sufficient water reserves.”

Hugh Hurlow, the groundwater program manager for the Utah Geological Survey, sent Kanab what he called “rough estimates” about the impact of drilling a well for the mine and said the numbers would have “too many assumptions and simplifications to make any significant water rights or long-term planning decisions.”

State and Local Connections

The manager of the Kane County Water Conservancy District, Mike Noel, is a former Utah state legislator and former BLM employee who built a reservoir on an American Indian burial ground. Noel’s brother-in-law, Andy Gant, is a Kane County commissioner and the operations manager for the proposed mine.

Noel said the mining company is “led by some of finest people in the state” including Kem Gardner, a prominent Utah developer and associate of Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah). Gardner helped bring the 2002 Olympic Winter Games to Salt Lake City.

Gardner’s son-in-law, J.T. Martin, a former Salt Lake City councilman, signed paperwork for the lease in 2018 as an officer for Integrated Logistics LLC, a previous name for Southern Red Sands. The company address in Salt Lake City is the same as Integrated Energy Companies where Gardner is the chair of the company board.

In May 2019, Southern Red Sands held active mining claims on 10,357 acres of BLM land surrounding the proposed mine site, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

Featured image: A hand-painted sign alerts Kanab residents to a City Council meeting at the local library. The council voted during a July 9 meeting to conditionally approve a controversial water service agreement for a proposed frac sand mine. (David Fuchs / KUER)

 

 

The post A Land and Water Grab in Parched Utah appeared first on DCReport.org.

Four short links: 22 August 2019

I Don't Know, Map Quirks, UI Toolkit, and Open Power Chip Architecture

  1. I Don't Know (Wired) -- Two percent of Brits don’t know whether they’ve lived in London before. Five percent don’t know whether they’ve been attacked by a seagull or not. A staggering one in 20 residents of this fine isle don’t know whether or not they pick their nose. (via Flowing Data)
  2. Haberman -- interesting research into one way that online maps end up with places that aren't places.
  3. Blueprint -- a React-based UI toolkit for the web. It is optimized for building complex, data-dense web interfaces for desktop applications that run in modern browsers and IE11. This is not a mobile-first UI toolkit.
  4. IBM Open Sources Power Chip Instruction Set (Next Platform) -- To be precise about what IBM is doing, it is opening up the Power ISA [Instruction Set Architecture] and giving it to the OpenPower Foundation royalty free with patent rights, and that means companies can implement a chip using the Power ISA without having to pay IBM or OpenPower a dime, and they have patent rights to what they develop. Companies have to maintain compatibility with the instruction set, King explains, and there are a whole set of compatibility requirements, which we presume are precisely as stringent as Arm and are needed to maintain runtime compatibility should many Power chips be developed, as IBM hopes will happen.

Continue reading Four short links: 22 August 2019.

Apple’s New Map Data Rolls Out Region by Region

Apple’s new map data was promised to be live across the United States by the end of 2019. It’s been rolling out in batches, region by region: Arizona, New Mexico and southern Nevada in April; this month it went live in Texas, Louisiana and southern Mississippi and, in a huge update, the U.S. Northeast.

Previously: Apple Maps Data Being Completely Rebuilt for iOS 12; Apple Maps at WWDC 2019: New Map Data, Look Around and More.

Last Weekend for ‘Mapping Memory’

Teozacualco Map, ca. 1580. 177 × 142 cm. Benson Library, University of Texas at Austin.

Mapping Memory, the exhibition of 16th-century indigenous maps at the University of Texas at Austin’s Blanton Museum of Art that I told you about last month, wraps up this weekend. If you need more information to help you decide whether to visit, here are writeups from Atlas Obscura and Hyperallergic.

The Blanton Museum has also released a short video about the exhibition.

For a closer look at the Teozacualco Map (above), see this site.

Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims decreased to 209,000

The DOL reported:
In the week ending August 17, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 209,000, a decrease of 12,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 1,000 from 220,000 to 221,000. The 4-week moving average was 214,500, an increase of 500 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 250 from 213,750 to 214,000.
emphasis added
The previous week was revised up.

The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971.

Click on graph for larger image.

The dashed line on the graph is the current 4-week average. The four-week average of weekly unemployment claims increased to 214,500.

This was lower than the consensus forecast.

Today's Agenda: The Winnowing

Happy Thursday, August 22. There has been some movement in the massive 2020 Democratic field. Here’s more on that and the other stories we’re watching.

Three Things We’re Watching Today

2020 movement

After dropping his presidential bid last week, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is jumping into the race for the seat of Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), one of the most vulnerable members of the chamber. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee dropped his presidential bid Wednesday to pursue a third term as governor.

Debate watch

ABC News confirmed that one more qualifying candidate will stretch the third round of debates into two nights — Tom Steyer is closest.

Recession stress

The Trump administration is fretting about a potential recession, with White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney admitting in private that he’s worried about that possibility. We’ll be following the administration’s public posturing and private concerns.

Today’s Rundown

Both the House and the Senate are out of session. 

11 a.m. ET: President Trump will receive his daily intelligence briefing in the Oval Office.

4:30 p.m. ET: Trump will present the Presidential Medal of Freedom to former Boston Celtics star Bob Cousy in the Oval Office.

Yesterday’s Top Story

Carlson Hemorrhaging Advertisers After Offensive Comments — Kate Riga

Reading List

The Summer of Warren — Julia Ioffe, GQ

Inside the Twisted, Worldwide Hunt for a $7 Million Stolen Car — Stayton Bonner, Esquire

Inside America’s Dysfunctional Trillion-Dollar Fighter-Jet Program — Valerie Insinna, New York Times Magazine

 

Black market in rosewood

National Geographic has the story on the trade in endangered rosewood, which pits forest rangers in Guatemala against Chinese furniture makers on the one hand and  impoverished villagers on the other, and makes clear why it is difficult to enforce bans that lack local support.

The fight to protect the world’s most trafficked wild commodity
Chinese demand for rosewood—trafficked more than ivory, rhino horn, and pangolin scales—is fueling a crisis in Guatemala's forests

"So coveted is rosewood that it’s now the world’s most trafficked wild product by value or volume—more than ivory, rhino horn, and pangolin scales combined. According to the Global Environment Facility, an international partnership among governments, civil society, and the private sector to support conservation, the illegal wild animal trade is worth between $5 billion and $20 billion a year; it’s often ranked as the world’s fourth most lucrative black market business after narcotics, human trafficking, and the weapons trade.

"According to Interpol, timber trafficking is valued at between $30 billion and $100 billion a year and accounts for 15 percent to 30 percent of the global timber trade. Sam Lawson, the director of Earthsight, a London-based nonprofit that investigates global environmental crime, estimates that the annual value of smuggled rosewood could exceed a billion dollars.
...
"The first time Guatemalan forest officials realized they had a rosewood problem was in 2011, according to documents submitted to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), the body that regulates cross-border trade in wildlife, including rare timber. That’s when three shipping containers of the precious hardwood were discovered at Puerto Santo Tomas de Castilla, one of Guatemala’s two commercial shipping ports.
...
"The emergence of Guatemala's illegal rosewood trade has been driven largely by demand among China’s nouveau riche for traditional Ming and Qing dynasty-style rosewood furniture. Between 2009 and 2014, customs data analyzed by the Environmental Investigation Agency, a U.K.-based nonprofit, show a 14-fold increase in rosewood imports to China from around the world. This expansion coincided with (and contributed to) the decimation of preferred Southeast Asian rosewoods, which earlier had replaced depleted native rosewoods in southern China. Buyers searched for new sources, and Guatemala, which has at least four commercially desirable species, was one.
...
"CONAP’s Beltetón says “it’s terrible that [rosewood] is distributed in the poorest areas of Guatemala, and that that's where the trafficker goes, taking advantage of the poverty and ignorance of people who don't have other options.” He adds, “of course, the government also bears some responsibility”—for not providing state services and active law enforcement in the most contested and conflict-ridden areas, such as the Chiquibul Mayan Mountains Protected Area, where El Carrizal is located.

"On the evening of July 1, 2018, acting on an anonymous tip about the illegal transport of rosewood, three environmental police agents made the two-and-a-half hour drive from their post in La Libertad, Petén, to El Barillal, an unincorporated village neighboring El Carrizal.

"As they approached their destination, instead of encountering the suspect, they found themselves surrounded by at least 45 men, some armed, according to the report the police filed the next day. The report says the men prevented their vehicle from passing, threatened them, questioned them about their presence, detained them for over an hour, and fired their weapons, although no one was injured. In the end, the three policemen broke the standoff by returning to La Libertad empty-handed.

In the nine months since, the environmental police have not returned to El Barillal."

Europa Clipper passes key review

Europa Clipper

WASHINGTON — A NASA mission to a potentially habitable moon of Jupiter has cleared a major review despite uncertainty about when, or how, it will launch.

NASA announced Aug. 19 that it had formally confirmed the Europa Clipper mission to proceed into its next phase of development, known as Phase C. That will cover final design of the spacecraft, followed by assembly and testing.

“We are all excited about the decision that moves the Europa Clipper mission one key step closer to unlocking the mysteries of this ocean world,” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science, said in a statement announcing the milestone.

Europa Clipper will enter orbit around Jupiter and make dozens of close approaches to Europa, one of the planet’s largest moons. Europa has an icy surface, below which most scientists believe is a deep ocean of liquid water. Combined with the interior heat source that keeps the ocean from freezing, and the presence of organic compounds, Europa has the basic requirements to support life.

While the programmatic milestone Europa Clipper achieved, known in NASA parlance as Key Decision Point C, is the point where NASA sets the schedule and budget for the mission, exactly when Europa Clipper will launch is not yet clear. In the statement announcing the mission’s confirmation, NASA noted that current plans have the spacecraft ready for launch as soon as 2023. However, the mission has a formal launch readiness date of 2025.

That uncertainty is linked to how the mission will be launched. The mission’s preferred launch option is the Space Launch System, which will allow the spacecraft to travel directly to Jupiter without the need of gravity assists, arriving within three years of launch. Language in appropriations bills for fiscal year 2019 and prior years also directed NASA to use the SLS.

However, in its fiscal year 2020 budget request, NASA proposed using a commercial launch vehicle, such as a Delta 4 Heavy or Falcon Heavy, to launch Europa Clipper, saying that doing so would save several hundred million dollars even though the transit time to Jupiter would be about seven years. A report by NASA’s Office of Inspector General in May downplayed the cost savings by using an alternative launch vehicle, but noted it is not possible to launch Europa Clipper on an SLS in 2023 since there won’t be an available SLS for that mission then.

The announcement didn’t include a cost estimate for the mission, but agency spokesperson Alana Johnson said Aug. 21 that the agency baseline commitment for the mission is $4.25 billion, covering all costs for the entire mission. The NASA Office of Inspector General report cited an assessment last October by the mission’s standing review board that estimated the mission’s cost at between $3.5 billion and $4 billion.

Despite the uncertainty about launch vehicle and schedule, other aspects of the mission are going well. “Things are looking reasonably good,” Robert Pappalardo, project scientist for Europa Clipper at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said at an Aug. 21 meeting of the Outer Planets Assessment Group (OPAG) in Boulder, Colorado.

Earlier in the year, NASA decided to replace a planned magnetometer instrument on the spacecraft that had suffered extensive cost overruns with a less complex “facility” magnetometer. That had raised concerns about whether the new magnetometer would have the precision needed to achieve science goals such as measuring the depth of Europa’s subsurface ocean. Pappalardo and others at the OPAG meeting said that changes to the instrument’s operation, notable periodic rolls of the spacecraft to calibrate it, should recover sufficient precision to achieve those science goals.

SpaceNews.com

Fire Weather in the West; Strong to Severe Storms in Southern Mid-Atlantic; Tropics off Florida and Southeast

Modifying a Tesla to Become a Surveillance Platform

From DefCon:

At the Defcon hacker conference today, security researcher Truman Kain debuted what he calls the Surveillance Detection Scout. The DIY computer fits into the middle console of a Tesla Model S or Model 3, plugs into its dashboard USB port, and turns the car's built-in cameras­ -- the same dash and rearview cameras providing a 360-degree view used for Tesla's Autopilot and Sentry features­ -- into a system that spots, tracks, and stores license plates and faces over time. The tool uses open source image recognition software to automatically put an alert on the Tesla's display and the user's phone if it repeatedly sees the same license plate. When the car is parked, it can track nearby faces to see which ones repeatedly appear. Kain says the intent is to offer a warning that someone might be preparing to steal the car, tamper with it, or break into the driver's nearby home.

Spring chicken

'It's important to have something that makes you laugh a little bit.'

At 94 years old, Anny Junek has a streak going: she's the three-time winner of the Purim costume contest at her retirement home in Rehovot in Israel. As the Jewish holiday approaches again, she's angling for a fourth win. How will she capture the prize? Don’t ask, it’s a surprise! As a young woman, Junek survived the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, but lost her parents to the gas chambers of Auschwitz. After the trials and tragedies of her early years, Junek's perseverance and humour have carried her through a life that included raising a family in Mexico before retiring to Israel. Now her indomitable spirit and sense of what makes for a good show have her hatching a new plan for Purim in this charming film by the US-born, Israel-based director Tamir Elterman.

By Aeon Video

Watch at Aeon

United by feelings

Universal emotions are the deep engine of human consciousness and the basis of our profound affinity with other animals

By Stephen T Asma & Rami Gabriel

Read at Aeon

Delta 4 rocket’s launch timeline with GPS 3 SV02

A United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket will deliver the U.S. Air Force’s second GPS 3-series navigation satellite into an elliptical transfer orbit nearly two hours after liftoff from Cape Canaveral.

Liftoff is scheduled during a launch window opening at 9:00:30 a.m. EDT (1300:30 GMT) Thursday. The window extends to 9:27 a.m. EDT (1327 GMT).

See our Mission Status Center for live updates on the countdown and flight.

T+00:00:00 — Liftoff

The United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket takes off powered by an Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-68A main engine and two solid rocket boosters built by Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems. The hydrogen-burning main engine ignites at T-minus 5 seconds, following by ignition of the two boosters at T-minus 0, the release of four hold-down bolts and retraction of the launch pad’s three swing arms.

T+00:00:58.5 — Max-Q

Heading northeast from Cape Canaveral on an azimuth of roughly 60 degrees, the Delta 4 surpasses the speed of sound at T+plus 42 seconds, then experiences the most extreme aerodynamic pressures of the mission at T+plus 58.5 seconds.

T+00:01:40.0 — Solid Rocket Motor Separation

The Delta 4’s two GEM-60 solid rocket boosters are jettisoned in two pairs around seven seconds after consuming all their propellant.

T+00:03:55.9 — Booster Engine Cutoff

The Delta 4’s RS-68A main engine shuts down after burning its supply of super-cold liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen.

T+00:04:02.4 — Stage Separation

The Delta 4’s Common Booster Core separates from the rocket’s second stage.

T+00:04:16.9 — First Second Stage Ignition

The Delta 4’s second stage Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10B-2 engine ignites and powers up to 24,750 pounds of thrust in the first of its two firings to place the GPS 3 SV02 satellite into a MEO transfer orbit.

T+00:04:26.9 — Payload Fairing Jettison

The Delta 4’s composite bisector fairing jettisons from the rocket once the launcher reaches a safe altitude above the dense lower layers of Earth’s atmosphere.

T+00:13:33.1 — First Second Stage Engine Shutdown

The second stage’s RL10B-2 engine shuts down after placing the GPS 3 SV02 satellite in a preliminary parking orbit, beginning a 53-minute coast before the engine reignites.

T+01:06:47.3 — Second Stage Engine Restart

The RL10B-2 second stage engine ignites again for a three-and-a-half-minute burn to send the GPS 3 SV02 spacecraft into a higher, elliptical transfer orbit.

T+01:10:14.6 — Second Stage Engine Shutdown

The Delta 4’s second stage engine shuts down after placing the GPS 3 SV02 spacecraft in a transfer orbit ranging between 745 miles (1,200 kilometers) and 12,542 miles (20,185 kilometers) above Earth, with an orbital plane tilted 55 degrees to the equator.

T+01:55:26.6 — GPS 3 SV02 “Magellan” Separation

The Lockheed Martin-built GPS 3 SV02 spacecraft, nicknamed “Magellan,” separates from the Delta 4’s second stage.

The nature of pessimism

Pessimists are happy dreamers.  They make the world in their own image and so always manage to feel at home.

That is from Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet.

The post The nature of pessimism appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Robot-carrying capsule launches on test flight to space station

The Russian Skybot F-850 robot, seen here inside the Soyuz MS-14 spacecraft after launch, will undergo experiments at the International Space Station. Credit: NASA TV/Roscosmos

With a robot rather than a cosmonaut in the commander’s seat, a Russian Soyuz spacecraft rocketed into orbit from Kazakhstan late Wednesday (U.S. time) en route to the International Space Station on a critical test flight before crews begin riding an upgraded Soyuz booster next year.

A Soyuz-2.1a rocket fired into a clear sky over Site 31 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 11:38:32 p.m. EDT Wednesday (0338:32 GMT; 8:38:32 a.m. local time Thursday), right on time to launch on a trajectory to intercept the space station.

The kerosene-fueled launcher arced toward the east-northeast from Baikonur, shedding its four first stage boosters and launch escape system less than two minutes after liftoff. An aerodynamic shroud later released from the Soyuz spacecraft, and the Soyuz core stage shut down and fell away nearly five minutes into the mission.

On-board video views showed the rocket’s staging events occurring as intended, and a third stage RD-0110 engine powered the Soyuz MS-14 spacecraft into orbit. The capsule deployed from the third stage nearly nine minutes into the flight, and the Soyuz MS-14 spacecraft’s solar arrays and navigation antennas unfurled moments later, just as they would on a mission carrying a crew to the space station.

But the Soyuz MS-14 spaceship launched without a crew — the first Soyuz crew craft to fly without cosmonauts in 33 years — to allow Russian engineers to conducted a fully automated test flight. The experimental mission was conceived to test the compatibility of the Soyuz spacecraft with the upgraded Soyuz-2.1a booster, a modernized variant of the venerable Russian rocket family that is slated to begin launching crews next March.

A Soyuz-2.1a booster climbs away from Site 31 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Credit: Roscosmos

The Soyuz-2.1a rocket variant has launched dozens of times since 2004, including ten flights with Progress cargo freighters on missions to resupply the space station.

But one of the Progress supply ships launched on a Soyuz-2.1a booster in April 2015 went into an uncontrolled spin after separating from the Soyuz third stage. Russian engineers traced the failure to a botched deployment of the Progress spacecraft from the Soyuz third stage.

The 2015 Progress accident prompted Russian officials to fly the first Soyuz crew capsule on a Soyuz-2.1a rocket without people aboard.

The Soyuz-FG variant currently used to launch Soyuz crews to the space station is set for retirement later this year.

One more Soyuz-FG rocket remains in Russia’s inventory, and it is scheduled to launch Sept. 25 carrying the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft into orbit with commander Oleg Skripochka, NASA co-pilot Jessica Meir and flight engineer Hazzaa Ali Almansoori, set to become the first person from the United Arab Emirates to fly in space.

The Sept. 25 launch of the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft is the final planned mission to lift off from Site 1 at Baikonur, the same facility used on the launch of Yuri Gagarin on humanity’s first orbital flight in April 1961.

Beginning next March, Soyuz crews will launch on Soyuz-2.1a boosters from Site 31 at Baikonur, which is outfitted for the upgraded Soyuz-2 family.

The Soyuz-2.1a’s upgrades include a modernized digital flight control system, replacing the analog guidance system on older Soyuz models, along with improvements to engine injection systems.

The digital control system allows the Soyuz-2.1a rocket to execute a roll program a few seconds after liftoff to reach the correct azimuth to align its flight path with the space station’s orbit. The Soyuz-FG rocket currently used to launch Soyuz crews has to be rotated into the correct orientation on the launch pad before liftoff.

After its successful ride into space, the Soyuz MS-14 vehicle will raise its altitude and match its orbit with the space station, setting up for a docking with the Poisk module at 0530 GMT (1:30 a.m. EDT) Saturday.

The Skybot F-850 robot, seen here, will launch to the International Space Station on the Soyuz MS-14 spacecraft. Credit: Roscosmos

Instead of a crew, the Soyuz MS-14 spaceship is hauling 1,450 pounds (657 kilograms) of cargo to the space station, including the Russian Skybot F-850 robot, a two-legged, two-armed humanoid stand-in for a cosmonaut commander.

Skybot F-850 sat in the Soyuz MS-14 spacecraft’s center seat during launch, holding a Russian flag in one hand. Soon after reaching orbit, an in-cabin video feed showed the robot turning its head side-to-side.

The Skybot F-850 will not manipulate any flight controls during the Soyuz mission, but sensors on the robot’s body will measure key parameters — such as acceleration, vibrations, temperature and humidity — during the flight, including launch, docking and landing.

Alexander Bloshenko, a science advisor at Roscosmos, said the Skybot F-850 robot will conduct experiments at the space station prepared by Russian engineers.

Russian cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov will work with Skybot F-850 after it arrives at the station. Skvortsov will be able to communicate with the robot, according to Roscosmos.

Cosmonauts will move Skybot F-850 will into the space station for five days of experiments and tests, before returning the robot to the Soyuz capsule for the trip back to Earth, according to Rob Navias, a NASA spokesperson.

Measuring nearly 6 feet (1.8 meters) tall and weighing about 350 pounds (160 kilograms), Skybot F-850 will replicate the movements of Skvortsov during a series of tests in orbit. If the tests are successful, Russia could launch upgraded robots that could work outside the space station, helping crews with tasks on spacewalks, or allowing cosmonauts to avoid spacewalks altogether, Bloshenko said.

The Skybot F-850 robot is an evolution of Russia’s FEDOR series of robots, which engineers originally developed for rescue operations. Videos from ground testing have shown the FEDOR robot shooting guns, lifting weights and driving a car.

The Russian Foundation for Advanced Research Projects, with a role similar to DARPA in the U.S. government, led the development of the FEDOR robot. FEDOR stands for Final Experimental Demonstration Object Research.

Skybot F-850 is not the first robot to travel to the space station.

NASA’s experimental Robonaut 2 robot launched to the station in 2011, but the robot returned to Earth last year in need of repairs. Robonaut 2 could return to the space station later this year.

Roscosmos created a Twitter account for the Russian robot set to fly to the station, complete with tweets composed from Skybot F-850’s point-of-view.

In one tweet, it wrote that conditions inside the Soyuz MS-14 spacecraft were tight. The robot can “barely fit among the cargo in the cabin” of the spaceship, the tweet said.

The Soyuz MS-14 spacecraft will remain at the space station for more than 13 days. The spaceship — with Skybot F-850 — will undock from the Poisk module at 2:13 p.m. EDT (1813 GMT) on Sept. 6, heading for a parachute-assisted landing in south-central Kazakhstan at 5:35 p.m. EDT (2135 GMT).

Navias said the Soyuz MS-14 spacecraft will also test new systems during re-entry and landing, which could pave the way for Russia to develop a payload return vehicle based on the Soyuz design.

SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft is currently the only vehicle capable of returning significant cargo to Earth from the space station. There is limited room for crews to bring home equipment or experiment specimens inside the cramped Soyuz descent module.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

What I’ve been reading

1. Robert Lawson and Benjamin Powell, Socialism Sucks: Two Economists Drink Their Way Through the Unfree World.  A good, short “give it to your high school kid” book on why socialism is not an entirely ideal way to arrange society.

2. Ben Lewis, The Last Leonardo: The Secret Lives of the World’s Most Expensive Painting.  I felt I knew this story already, but nonetheless found interesting information and conceptual analysis on virtually every page.  And while the author is agnostic and balanced, the text upped my opinion of the “likely Leonardo weighted expected value” component from about 0.1 to maybe 0.25?  Yet so much fuss about a painting that resurfaced in 1907 — model that…  And don’t forget: “None of the great art historians and connoisseurs who saw it before 1958 identified it as a Leonardo.”  Recommended.

3. Lene Rachel Andersen and Tomas Björkman, The Nordic Secret: A European story of beauty and freedom.  There should be many more books about why the Nordics are special, and this is one of them.  The central notion here is “secular Bildung” as a means of elevating society and cooperative relations.  Uneven in its structure of exposition, but definitely interesting in parts and the importance of the question makes this better than most of the other books you might be likely to read.  Just don’t expect 100% polish.

4. David Cahan, Helmholtz: A Life in Science.  At 768 pp., I only read about half of this one.  Nonetheless I read the better half, and it is one of the more useful treatments of 19th century German science.  I hadn’t realized the strong connections with Siemens and Roentgen, for instance, and one clear lesson is that German science of that time had some pretty healthy institutions outside of the formal university system.

The post What I’ve been reading appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Live coverage: Delta 4 rocket lifts off with GPS satellite

Live coverage of the countdown and launch of a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket with the U.S. Air Force’s GPS 3 SV02 navigation satellite. Text updates will appear automatically below. Follow us on Twitter.

ULA’s live video coverage of the Delta 4 launch will begin Aug. 22 at 8:40 a.m. EDT (1240 GMT). We will have live updates available on this page beginning at 5 a.m. EDT (0900 GMT).

ULA’s last Delta 4-Medium rocket set for launch Thursday

A United Launch Alliance Delta 4-Medium rocket, fitted with two solid rocket boosters, stands ready for launch Thursday at Cape Canaveral’s Complex 37 launch pad. Credit: United Launch Alliance

United Launch Alliance is set to retire part of its rocket family Thursday with the final flight of the Delta 4 rocket’s “single stick” configuration, a mission set for liftoff from Cape Canaveral carrying a new GPS navigation satellite into orbit for the U.S. Air Force.

The Delta 4-Medium’s 29th and last flight is scheduled for takeoff from Cape Canaveral’s Complex 37 launch pad at 9:00:30 a.m. EDT (1300:30 GMT) Thursday. The launch window extends until 9:27 a.m. EDT.

There is an 80 percent chance of favorable weather for Thursday’s launch window.

ULA is phasing out the Delta 4-Medium as the company faces stiff competition from SpaceX for U.S. military launch contracts. The new Vulcan Centaur rocket, set for an inaugural launch in 2021, will be less expensive than than the Atlas and Delta rockets it will replace, according to ULA.

The Delta 4-Heavy rocket, made by combining three Delta 4 first stage cores together, will continue flying through 2023. ULA’s Atlas 5 rockets, which cost less than the Delta 4, will also remain operational through the early-to-mid 2020s.

“We made a business decision a few years ago that we would transition from the Delta 4 and Atlas vehicles over to a Vulcan Centaur, purpose-built to satisfy the entire mission suite, so it was time for us to phase out the Delta 4-Medium at this point,” said Gary Wentz, ULA’s vice president of government and commercial programs, in a pre-launch press briefing. “We don’t see any specific payloads that would require the Delta 4-Medium that we can’t fly on an Atlas 5.”

The Delta 4 launcher was originally designed and developed by Boeing. The Atlas 5 was conceived by Lockheed Martin.

The competing aerospace contractors merged their launch divisions in 2006, marking the birth of ULA as a 50-50 joint venture.

ULA’s launch team will load super-cold liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen into the two-stage Delta 4 rocket during Thursday morning’s countdown.

The cryogenic propellants will feed the first stage’s RS-68A main engine and the second stage’s RL10 engine. Both powerplants are produced by Aerojet Rocketdyne.

The Delta 4 launching Thursday will fly in the “4,2” configuration with a 4-meter (13.1-foot-diameter) payload fairing and two strap-on solid rocket boosters built by Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems.

Thursday’s launch will mark the final flight of a Delta 4-Medium rocket. ULA plans at least five more Delta 4-Heavy missions, using the configuration on the right side of this chart with three first stage booster cores. Credit: United Launch Alliance

The RS-68A core engine will ignite at T-minus 5 seconds and throttle up for a computer-run health check. Assuming all systems are ready, the side-mounted solid-fueled boosters will fire when the countdown clock reaches zero to push the Delta 4 into the sky.

The main engine and solid rocket boosters will generate around 1.2 million pounds of combined thrust. Vectoring nozzles on the RS-68A engine and twin strap-on motors will steer the Delta 4 on a northeasterly trajectory roughly parallel to the U.S. East Coast.

The launcher will surpass the speed of sound in less than a minute, and the two 53-foot-long (16-meter) solid rocket boosters will burn out and jettison at T+plus 1 minute, 40 seconds.

The RS-68 core stage engine will shut down at T+plus 3 minutes, 55 seconds, followed by stage separation roughly seven seconds later. An RL10 engine on the Delta’s upper stage, also built by Aerojet Rocketdyne, will ignite for the first of two firings required to place the GPS satellite into an elliptical transfer orbit.

The Delta 4’s payload fairing will jettison in a clamshell-like fashion at T+plus 4 minutes, 26 seconds, once the rocket soars into the rarefied upper atmosphere. The shroud protects the GPS payload during launch preparations and the ascent through the lower layers of the atmosphere.

The RL10 upper stage engine will switch off at T+plus 13 minutes, 33 seconds to reach a preliminary orbit. Restart of the RL10 engine is planned nearly 67 minutes after liftoff for a three-and-a-half-minute burn to inject the GPS spacecraft into an egg-shaped transfer orbit ranging between 745 miles (1,200 kilometers) and 12,542 miles (20,185 kilometers) above Earth, with its orbital plane tilted 55 degrees to the equator.

The Lockheed Martin-built GPS satellite will separate from the Delta 4 launcher at T+plus 1 hour, 55 minutes.

The GPS 3 SV02 navigation satellite, nicknamed “Magellan,” will use its own engine to circularize its orbit and join the GPS constellation some 12,550 miles above the planet, where ground teams will test the new spacecraft and put it into service to replace an aging member of the constellation.

The GPS network provides positioning and timing services worldwide for military and civilian users, beaming signals relied upon by airliners, ATMs, drivers and smart bombs, among numerous other users.

“We’re committed to maintaining GPS as the gold standard of positioning, navigation and timing for all other systems to be measured against,” said Lt. Col. Maggie Sullivan, the Air Force’s GPS 3 program manager.

Thirty-one satellites are currently providing GPS navigation services.

The satellite set for launch Thursday is the second in a new generation of GPS satellites, providing more accurate navigation signals and boasting longer design lifetimes. The new GPS 3 satellites provide a new L1C civilian signal that is compatible with Europe’s Galileo network.

Other space-based navigation networks operated by Japan and China are also adopting similar compatible signals.

The GPS 3 SV02 navigation satellite, nicknamed “Magellan,” was encapsulated inside the Delta 4 rocket’s payload fairing in late June. Credit: Lockheed Martin

“Compared to the satellites in today’s constellation, this next generation of GPS satellites have three times greater accuracy, eight times improved anti-jam capabilities, and the new L1C civil signal compatible with other international satellite navigation systems like Galileo,” said Johnathon Caldwell, Lockheed Martin’s vice president of navigation systems.

“For those user equipment (providers) who elect to incorporate the L1C civil signal into their chipsets, those users will now have access not just to the GPS constellation but to Galileo and others who choose to then follow on with the L1C civil signal implementation,” Caldwell said. “So for users who are authorized to do that, instead of having just the legacy 31 points in the sky that you get from GPS, you’ll add on to it the ever-growing Galileo constellation.

“When it comes to finding out where you are, the more satellites you can see the better your position is.”

The first GPS 3-series satellite, named GPS 3 SV01, completed its post-launch checkout July 12 following an on-target deployment by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket last December, officials said. More testing is planned before GPS 3 SV01, named “Vespucci,” is ready to join the active GPS network.

“We’re excited now that the vehicle is through its on-orbit checkout and moving into the next phase of operational testing,” Caldwell said. “We expect that to begin later this year, and we’re looking forward to officially handing over the vehicle to the Air Force.”

Like the previous line of Boeing-built GPS 2F satellites, the GPS 3-series spacecraft will broadcast a dedicated L5 signal geared to support air navigation. The GPS 3 satellites also continue beaming an encrypted military-grade navigation signal known as M-code.

The M-code signal allows GPS satellites to broadcast higher-power, jam-resistant signals over specific regions, such as a military theater or battlefield. The capability provides U.S. and allied forces with more reliable navigation services, and could also allow the military to intentionally disrupt or jam civilian-grade GPS signals in a particular region, while the M-code signal remains unimpeded.

L3Harris Technologies builds the navigation payloads for the GPS 3 satellites.

Thursday’s launch is timed to place the GPS 3 SV02 spacecraft into Plane D, Slot 3 of the GPS constellation. That position is currently occupied by a GPS satellite launched in March 2003. Sullivan said the Air Force will make an “operational decision” on which aging GPS satellite, presumably in Plane D, the new spacecraft will replace.

The GPS satellites are spread among six orbital planes, each with four primary spacecraft, plus spares.

According to Sullivan, the GPS 3 SV02 spacecraft cost around $500 million. Future GPS 3 satellites will cost less, and officials target a cost of less than $200 million per spacecraft by time GPS 3 SV10 is ready for launch.

“The great thing about GPS is the volume of satellites,” Caldwell said. “You gain tremendous efficiencies when you have production volume, and you get commensurate cost reduction.”

Lockheed Martin is on contract with the Air Force to build up to 32 satellites, including 10 GPS 3 spacecraft and 22 upgraded GPS 3F satellites.

The next GPS mission, designated GPS 3 SV03 and nicknamed “Columbus,” is set for launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in January. The satellite for that mission has already been declared available for launch, Air Force officials said.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Live coverage: Soyuz launches from Kazakhstan

Live coverage of the test flight of the Soyuz MS-14 spacecraft on a mission to the International Space Station. Text updates will appear automatically below; there is no need to reload the page. Follow us on Twitter.

NASA TV

Roscosmos Webcast

ULA’s Delta 4 Heavy down to final five missions

WASHINGTON — As United Launch Alliance prepares for the last launch of its Delta 4 Medium rocket Thursday, the company is also counting down its final five missions with the Delta 4 Heavy. 

Gary Wentz, ULA’s vice president of government and commercial programs, said the last Delta 4 heavy mission is currently slated for the second half of 2023. 

“We’ve got two heavies scheduled right now targeting June and September of next year,” Wentz said during an Aug. 20 teleconference about Thursday’s planned GPS-3 launch. “Then we’ve got two scheduled in the latter part of [20]22 and the final is targeting a 2023 launch.”

A ULA spokesperson said all future Delta 4 Heavy missions are to “support our U.S. Air Force/National Reconnaissance Office customer.”

The two Delta 4 Heavy launches planned for 2020 are the National Reconnaissance Office’s NROL-44 mission out of Cape Canaveral, Florida, and NROL-82 out of Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, according to Spaceflightnow.com.

ULA is also building Delta 4 Heavy hardware for three NRO missions under a 2018 Launch Vehicle Production Services contract now worth $467.5 million following a $149 million modification in May and a $156.7 million modification earlier this month.

Additional contract awards are expected in coming months to cover the actual launches of NROL-70 and NROL-91 in 2022 and NROL-68 in 2023.

ULA is phasing out the Delta 4 Heavy in favor of Vulcan, its next-generation rocket which Wentz said will first fly in April 2021. The Delta 4 Heavy is an expensive rocket, costing upwards $350 million a launch, limiting its use to government customers. While ULA’s Delta 4 Heavy’s price has reportedly fallen below $300 million, it’s still considered too expensive to be commercially viable.

For certain government payloads, such as big-ticket spy satellites, Delta 4 Heavy remains an attractive ride. 

“We’re continuing to fly the Delta 4 Heavy out through the latter part of 2023 for specific payloads that require that capability and that mission success assurance that we provide,” he said. “We will continue to fly those as long as the customer sees the need, and we have planned an on-ramp for Vulcan Centaur to provide us some overlap for that capability to give some additional redundancy to our customers.”

Delta 4 Heavy uses three liquid-propellant rocket boosters on its first stage in order to loft 14,200 kilograms to geostationary transfer orbit. The rocket’s lift capacity was unrivalled in the U.S. until SpaceX’s introduction of the Falcon Heavy last year, which can loft 26,700 kilograms to that orbit, also using three liquid-fueled rocket cores.

Delta 4 Heavy has launched 11 times since its 2004 introduction. Aside from lower-than-expected performance on its debut mission, the heavy-lift rocket — like the rest of ULA’s current fleet — has not suffered a failure. 

ULA’s Delta 4 Medium, which uses one liquid-propellant first stage supplemented by smaller solid-fueled boosters, has launched 28 times. Its 29th and final mission will carry the Air Force’s second GPS-3 satellite Aug. 22. 

SpaceNews.com

Newt Gingrich Has A Space Posse - And A Space Plan

The Moon-Mars Development Prize Competition, Gingrich 360

"A number of us have been working on prizes for lunar development (for an illustrated outline of possibilities that currently exist or are in development go to Gingrich 360 for a paper inspired by Gen.l Kwast and his team). We believe that a prize open to American companies and American teams would attract a lot of talent and private investment. We also believe that such competitive innovation and entrepreneurship will create new assets and capabilities for the emerging Space Force."

Keith's note: Its hard to argue with most of what Newt and his gang say. One major problem: none of this will happen - at least not as they imagine - under the current administration since it would upset a serious portion of congressional power centers that are heavily invested in the SLS/Orion/Gateway architecture. We have already seen how the mere suggestion of commercial alternatives for EM-1 was stomped out by Sen. Shelby within hours. Just last week we saw the Human Lunar Lander program handed to the same center in Alabama that has given us the chronically delayed and grossly over-cost SLS program.

However, some of what Newt's posse has suggested may well happen anyway - without any prodding from government prizes. Let's wait and see what SpaceX and Blue Origin do - with their own money - for their own reasons. Its called disruptive innovation and it is happening in plain sight in Boca Chica. When SpaceX's Starship reaches orbit things will change forever.

GHGSat, Canadian Foundation plan emissions monitoring campaign

PHOENIX – GHGSat, a Montreal company preparing to operate a constellation of greenhouse gas and air quality monitoring satellites, forged an agreement with a Canadian government foundation to monitor emissions in a region of British Columbia.

Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC), a foundation that supports environmental technologies, will contribute $3.3 million Canadian dollars ($2.48 million) and GHGSat will contribute $6.5 million Canadian dollars ($4.89 million) from its most recent funding round to measure emissions from oil and gas operations in British Columbia’s Montney Region.

“These funds will allow GHGSat to demonstrate to regulators that our technology can offer accurate and more frequent measurements, enabling industrial operators to identify and repair leaks faster, all for lower cost than conventional methods,” GHGSat CEO Stéphane Germain said in a statement. “We’re very excited to be partnering with SDTC again for this next stage of our growth.”

During the 33-month project scheduled to begin in early 2020, GHGSat will compare emissions data from satellite and aircraft sensors with data collected by terrestrial sensors.

GHGSat launched its first satellite in June 2016. The firm plans to launch a second satellite later this year on an Arianespace Vega rocket.

“GHGSat understands the need for globally standardized technology to quantify greenhouse gas emissions from industrialized facilities,” Zoe Kolbuc, SDTC vice president for partnerships, said in a statement. “Their innovative satellites can reduce monitoring costs in the oil sands by over 50 percent. More frequent and accurate reporting better informs the industry on where and how to reduce GHG emissions.”

GHGSat raised $10 million in a Series A2 funding round announced in September 2018.

 

SpaceNews.com

Russians ready unpiloted Soyuz capsule for launch

An unpiloted Russian Soyuz spacecraft, with a humanoid robot in the commander’s seat instead of a cosmonaut, is scheduled for liftoff late Wednesday (U.S. time) from Kazakhstan on a test flight to verify the spaceship’s compatibility with the new-generation Soyuz-2.1a rocket set to begin launching crews to the International Space Station next year.

Flying without a crew, the Soyuz MS-14 spacecraft set for launch from Site 31 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 11:38:31 p.m. EDT Wednesday (0338:31 GMT; 8:38:31 a.m. local time Thursday) to kick off a two-day pursuit of the space station.

The Soyuz MS-14 spacecraft will be the first Soyuz ship to fly without a cosmonaut crew in 33 years. Officials from Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, decided to conduct the unpiloted launch as a full-up test flight of the Soyuz-2.1a rocket with the Soyuz spacecraft.

The Soyuz-2.1a rocket variant has launched dozens of times since 2004, including ten flights with Progress cargo freighters on missions to resupply the space station.

But one of the Progress supply ships launched on a Soyuz-2.1a booster in April 2015 went into an uncontrolled spin after separating from the Soyuz third stage. Russian engineers traced the failure to a botched deployment of the Progress spacecraft from the Soyuz third stage.

The 2015 Progress accident prompted Russian officials to fly the first Soyuz crew capsule on a Soyuz-2.1a rocket without people aboard.

The Soyuz-FG variant currently used to launch Soyuz crews to the space station is set for retirement later this year.

One more Soyuz-FG rocket remains in Russia’s inventory, and it is scheduled to launch Sept. 25 carrying the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft into orbit with commander Oleg Skripochka, NASA co-pilot Jessica Meir and flight engineer Hazzaa Ali Almansoori, set to become the first person from the United Arab Emirates to fly in space.

The Sept. 25 launch of the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft is the final planned mission to lift off from Site 1 at Baikonur, the same facility used on the launch of Yuri Gagarin on humanity’s first orbital flight in April 1961.

Beginning next March, Soyuz crews will launch on Soyuz-2.1a boosters from Site 31 at Baikonur, which is outfitted for the upgraded Soyuz-2 family.

The Soyuz-2.1a’s upgrades include a modernized digital flight control system, replacing the analog guidance system on older Soyuz models, along with improvements to engine injection systems.

After launching from Kazakhstan, the Soyuz MS-14 spacecraft will raise its altitude and match its orbit with the space station, setting up for a docking with the Poisk module at 0530 GMT (1:30 a.m. EDT) Saturday.

The Skybot F-850 robot, seen here, will launch to the International Space Station on the Soyuz MS-14 spacecraft. Credit: Roscosmos

Instead of a crew, the Soyuz MS-14 spaceship will haul 1,450 pounds (657 kilograms) of cargo to the space station, including the Russian Skybot F-850 robot, a two-legged, two-armed humanoid stand-in for a cosmonaut commander.

The Skybot F-850 will not manipulate any flight controls during the Soyuz mission, but sensors on the robot’s body will measure key environmental parameters during the flight, including launch, docking and landing.

Alexander Bloshenko, a science advisor at Roscosmos, said the Skybot F-850 robot will conduct experiments at the space station prepared by Russian engineers.

Russian cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov will work with Skybot F-850 after it arrives at the station. Skvortsov will be able to communicate with the robot, according to Roscosmos.

Skybot F-850 will copy the movements of Skvortsov during a series of tests in orbit. If the tests are successful, Russia could launch upgraded robots that could work outside the space station, helping crews with tasks on spacewalks, or allowing cosmonauts to avoid spacewalks altogether, Bloshenko said.

The Skybot F-850 robot is an evolution of Russia’s FEDOR series of robots, which engineers originally developed for rescue operations. Videos from ground testing have shown the FEDOR robot shooting guns, lifting weights and driving a car.

The Russian Foundation for Advanced Research Projects, with a role similar to DARPA in the U.S. government, led the development of the FEDOR robot.

These pictures show the Skybot F-850 robot during testing at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, and inside the Soyuz spacecraft awaiting launch. Credit: Roscosmos

Skybot F-850 is not the first robot to travel to the space station.

NASA’s experimental Robonaut 2 robot launched to the station in 2011, but the robot returned to Earth last year in need of repairs. Robonaut 2 could return to the space station later this year.

Roscosmos created a Twitter account for the Russian robot set to fly to the station, complete with tweets composed from Skybot F-850’s point-of-view.

In one tweet, it wrote that conditions inside the Soyuz MS-14 spacecraft were tight. The robot can “barely fit among the cargo in the cabin” of the spaceship, the tweet said.

The Soyuz MS-14 spacecraft will remain at the space station for more than 13 days. The spaceship — with Skybot F-850 — will undock from the Poisk module at 2:13 p.m. EDT (1813 GMT) on Sept. 6, heading for a parachute-assisted landing in south-central Kazakhstan at 5:35 p.m. EDT (2135 GMT).

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

The onset of a downturn is as much a matter of mood as of money

How recessions start

Things You Didn’t Know About GNU Readline

I sometimes think of my computer as a very large house. I visit this house every day and know most of the rooms on the ground floor, but there are bedrooms I’ve never been in, closets I haven’t opened, nooks and crannies that I’ve never explored. I feel compelled to learn more about my computer the same way anyone would feel compelled to see a room they had never visited in their own home.

GNU Readline is an unassuming little software library that I relied on for years without realizing that it was there. Tens of thousands of people probably use it every day without thinking about it. If you use the Bash shell, every time you auto-complete a filename, or move the cursor around within a single line of input text, or search through the history of your previous commands, you are using GNU Readline. When you do those same things while using the command-line interface to Postgres (psql), say, or the Ruby REPL (irb), you are again using GNU Readline. Lots of software depends on the GNU Readline library to implement functionality that users expect, but the functionality is so auxiliary and unobtrusive that I imagine few people stop to wonder where it comes from.

GNU Readline was originally created in the 1980s by the Free Software Foundation. Today, it is an important if invisible part of everyone’s computing infrastructure, maintained by a single volunteer.

Feature Replete

The GNU Readline library exists primarily to augment any command-line interface with a common set of keystrokes that allow you to move around within and edit a single line of input. If you press Ctrl-A at a Bash prompt, for example, that will jump your cursor to the very beginning of the line, while pressing Ctrl-E will jump it to the end. Another useful command is Ctrl-U, which will delete everything in the line before the cursor.

For an embarrassingly long time, I moved around on the command line by repeatedly tapping arrow keys. For some reason, I never imagined that there was a faster way to do it. Of course, no programmer familiar with a text editor like Vim or Emacs would deign to punch arrow keys for long, so something like Readline was bound to be created. Using Readline, you can do much more than just jump around—you can edit your single line of text as if you were using a text editor. There are commands to delete words, transpose words, upcase words, copy and paste characters, etc. In fact, most of Readline’s keystrokes/shortcuts are based on Emacs. Readline is essentially Emacs for a single line of text. You can even record and replay macros.

I have never used Emacs, so I find it hard to remember what all the different Readline commands are. But one thing about Readline that is really neat is that you can switch to using a Vim-based mode instead. To do this for Bash, you can use the set builtin. The following will tell Readline to use Vim-style commands for the current shell:

$ set -o vi

With this option enabled, you can delete words using dw and so on. The equivalent to Ctrl-U in the Emacs mode would be d0.

I was excited to try this when I first learned about it, but I’ve found that it doesn’t work so well for me. I’m happy that this concession to Vim users exists, and you might have more luck with it than me, particularly if you haven’t already used Readline’s default command keystrokes. My problem is that, by the time I heard about the Vim-based interface, I had already learned several Readline keystrokes. Even with the Vim option enabled, I keep using the default keystrokes by mistake. Also, without some sort of indicator, Vim’s modal design is awkward here—it’s very easy to forget which mode you’re in. So I’m stuck at a local maximum using Vim as my text editor but Emacs-style Readline commands. I suspect a lot of other people are in the same position.

If you feel, not unreasonably, that both Vim and Emacs’ keyboard command systems are bizarre and arcane, you can customize Readline’s key bindings and make them whatever you like. This is not hard to do. Readline reads a ~/.inputrc file on startup that can be used to configure various options and key bindings. One thing I’ve done is reconfigured Ctrl-K. Normally it deletes from the cursor to the end of the line, but I rarely do that. So I’ve instead bound it so that pressing Ctrl-K deletes the whole line, regardless of where the cursor is. I’ve done that by adding the following to ~/.inputrc:

Control-k: kill-whole-line

Each Readline command (the documentation refers to them as functions) has a name that you can associate with a key sequence this way. If you edit ~/.inputrc in Vim, it turns out that Vim knows the filetype and will help you by highlighting valid function names but not invalid ones!

Another thing you can do with ~/.inputrc is create canned macros by mapping key sequences to input strings. The Readline manual gives one example that I think is especially useful. I often find myself wanting to save the output of a program to a file, which means that I often append something like > output.txt to Bash commands. To save some time, you could make this a Readline macro:

Control-o: "> output.txt"

Now, whenever you press Ctrl-O, you’ll see that > output.txt gets added after your cursor on the command line. Neat!

But with macros you can do more than just create shortcuts for strings of text. The following entry in ~/.inputrc means that, every time I press Ctrl-J, any text I already have on the line is surrounded by $( and ). The macro moves to the beginning of the line with Ctrl-A, adds $(, then moves to the end of the line with Ctrl-E and adds ):

Control-j: "\C-a$(\C-e)"

This might be useful if you often need the output of one command to use for another, such as in:

$ cd $(brew --prefix)

The ~/.inputrc file also allows you to set different values for what the Readline manual calls variables. These enable or disable certain Readline behaviors. You can use these variables to change, for example, how Readline auto-completion works or how the Readline history search works. One variable I’d recommend turning on is the revert-all-at-newline variable, which by default is off. When the variable is off, if you pull a line from your command history using the reverse search feature, edit it, but then decide to search instead for another line, the edit you made is preserved in the history. I find this confusing because it leads to lines showing up in your Bash command history that you never actually ran. So add this to your ~/.inputrc:

set revert-all-at-newline on

When you set options or key bindings using ~/.inputrc, they apply wherever the Readline library is used. This includes Bash most obviously, but you’ll also get the benefit of your changes in other programs like irb and psql too! A Readline macro that inserts SELECT * FROM could be useful if you often use command-line interfaces to relational databases.

Chet Ramey

GNU Readline is today maintained by Chet Ramey, a Senior Technology Architect at Case Western Reserve University. Ramey also maintains the Bash shell. Both projects were first authored by a Free Software Foundation employee named Brian Fox beginning in 1988. But Ramey has been the sole maintainer since around 1994.

Ramey told me via email that Readline, far from being an original idea, was created to implement functionality prescribed by the POSIX specification, which in the late 1980s had just been created. Many earlier shells, including the Korn shell and at least one version of the Unix System V shell, included line editing functionality. The 1988 version of the Korn shell (ksh88) provided both Emacs-style and Vi/Vim-style editing modes. As far as I can tell from the manual page, the Korn shell would decide which mode you wanted to use by looking at the VISUAL and EDITOR environment variables, which is pretty neat. The parts of POSIX that specified shell functionality were closely modeled on ksh88, so GNU Bash was going to have to implement a similarly flexible line-editing system to stay compliant. Hence Readline.

When Ramey first got involved in Bash development, Readline was a single source file in the Bash project directory. It was really just a part of Bash. Over time, the Readline file slowly moved toward becoming an independent project, though it was not until 1994 (with the 2.0 release of Readline) that Readline became a separate library entirely.

Readline is closely associated with Bash, and Ramey usually pairs Readline releases with Bash releases. But as I mentioned above, Readline is a library that can be used by any software implementing a command-line interface. And it’s really easy to use. This is a simple example, but here’s how you would you use Readline in your own C program. The string argument to the readline() function is the prompt that you want Readline to display to the user:

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
#include "readline/readline.h"

int main(int argc, char** argv)
{
    char* line = readline("my-rl-example> ");
    printf("You entered: \"%s\"\n", line);

    free(line);

    return 0;
}

Your program hands off control to Readline, which is responsible for getting a line of input from the user (in such a way that allows the user to do all the fancy line-editing things). Once the user has actually submitted the line, Readline returns it to you. I was able to compile the above by linking against the Readline library, which I apparently have somewhere in my library search path, by invoking the following:

$ gcc main.c -lreadline

The Readline API is much more extensive than that single function of course, and anyone using it can tweak all sorts of things about the library’s behavior. Library users can even add new functions that end users can configure via ~/.inputrc, meaning that Readline is very easy to extend. But, as far as I can tell, even Bash ultimately calls the simple readline() function to get input just as in the example above, though there is a lot of configuration beforehand. (See this line in the source for GNU Bash, which seems to be where Bash hands off responsibility for getting input to Readline.)

Ramey has now worked on Bash and Readline for well over a decade. He has never once been compensated for his work—he is and has always been a volunteer. Bash and Readline continue to be actively developed, though Ramey said that Readline changes much more slowly than Bash does. I asked Ramey what it was like being the sole maintainer of software that so many people use. He said that millions of people probably use Bash without realizing it (because every Apple device runs Bash), which makes him worry about how much disruption a breaking change might cause. But he’s slowly gotten used to the idea of all those people out there. He said that he continues to work on Bash and Readline because at this point he is deeply invested and because he simply likes to make useful software available to the world.

You can find more information about Chet Ramey at his website.

If you enjoyed this post, more like it come out every four weeks! Follow @TwoBitHistory on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed to make sure you know when a new post is out.

Previously on TwoBitHistory…

I sometimes think of my computer as a very large house. I visit this house every day and know most of the rooms on the ground floor, but there are bedrooms I’ve never been in, closets I haven’t opened, nooks and crannies that I’ve never explored. I feel compelled to learn more about my computer the same way anyone would feel compelled to see a room they had never visited in their own home. GNU Readline is an unassuming little software library that I relied on for years without realizing that it was there. Tens of thousands of people probably use it every day without thinking about it. If you use the Bash shell, every time you auto-complete a filename, or move the cursor around within a single line of input text, or search through the history of your previous commands, you are using GNU Readline. When you do those same things while using the command-line interface to Postgres (psql), say, or the Ruby REPL (irb), you are again using GNU Readline. Lots of software depends on the GNU Readline library to implement functionality that users expect, but the functionality is so auxiliary and unobtrusive that I imagine few people stop to wonder where it comes from.

Nearby Spiral Galaxy NGC 4945

Large spiral galaxy NGC 4945 is seen Large spiral galaxy NGC 4945 is seen


Thursday: Unemployment Claims

From Matthew Graham at Mortgage News Daily: Mortgage Rates Pop Higher
Mortgage rates moved higher today, and it had nothing to do with any of the day's events or news headlines. Quite simply put, the bond market (which dictates the rates that can offered by lenders) had already begun to weaken as of yesterday afternoon. Weakness continued overnight as global financial markets dialed back their demand for safe havens. … Safe haven demand has been waxing and waning as the broader market settles in to a new range following the big shake-up in early August. Today was just another minor fluctuation in that regard, but the timing issue (bond market weakness yesterday afternoon followed by more this morning) made for a noticeable adjustment from mortgage lenders. [Most Prevalent Rates 30YR FIXED - 3.5% - 3.625%]
emphasis added
Thursday:
• At 8:30 AM ET, The initial weekly unemployment claims report will be released.  The consensus is for 215 thousand initial claims, down from 220 thousand last week.

• At 11:00 AM, the Kansas City Fed manufacturing survey for August.

Steven Sinofsky on Steve Jobs’s ‘Bicycle for the Mind’ Metaphor for Personal Computers

It’s a Twitter thread collected in a Medium post, so the narrative doesn’t read perfectly straight through, but it’s worth your time. Jobs’s 1981 appearance on Nightline is worth it alone. I hadn’t seen this before, and both Jobs (on the potential of personal computers, and their inevitable ubiquity — at a time when only 1 in 1,000 U.S. households owned one) and his counterpart David Burnham (who, even then, was deeply concerned about the privacy implications of computing) are remarkably prescient.

 ★ 

Search continues for new NASA human spaceflight leader

Kaptur, Kavandi, Bridenstine and Portman

WASHINGTON — More than a month after he reassigned the longtime head of its human spaceflight division, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Aug. 21 it may be several weeks before he appoints a successor.

Speaking at a press conference at the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Bridenstine said the agency was still carrying out a broad search for a new associate administrator for human exploration and operations to replace Bill Gerstenmaier, who was reassigned to a special advisor role on July 10.

“We are looking wide and far. We are doing a nationwide search,” Bridenstine said. “We are, at this point, wide open looking at all the possible alternatives.”

Bridenstine both described compiling a long list of potential candidates while also stating that only a limited number of people have the background needed for the job. “There’s very few people on the planet that have experience with human spaceflight missions, that have experience managing large programs,” he said.

“At this point we have not even begun to narrow the field,” he said. “We’re going to start narrowing it down in the coming weeks, and we’ll be ready to announce a name, I would imagine, in the not-too-distant future.”

Since Gerstenmaier’s reassignment last month, the human exploration and operations mission directorate has been led on an acting basis by Ken Bowersox, a former astronaut who rejoined the agency early in the year as Gerstenmaier’s deputy. Bridenstine said that Bowersox was doing a “great job,” but didn’t say if he was being considered for the position on a permanent basis.

Bridenstine has stated in the past that he was holding off on some decisions related to exploration programs, like a revised launch date for the first flight of the Space Launch System, until both a new associate administrator was in place as well as a deputy associate administrator for exploration systems. Bill Hill, who previously held that position, was reassigned at the same time as Gerstenmaier.

The livestreamed press conference also covered funding for the Artemis program. The White House submitted an amendment to its fiscal year 2020 budget request in May, seeking an additional $1.6 billion, of which $1 billion would be used to start work on lunar landers needed to achieve the goal of landing astronauts on the moon by 2024.

“We’re working towards getting that funding,” Bridenstine said. “I have talked with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, I have traveled the country visiting people in their districts, and we have strong bipartisan support for that funding.”

However, the appropriations bill that the House passed in June did not include that additional $1.6 billion. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), a member of the appropriations subcommittee whose jurisdiction includes NASA, and whose district includes the Glenn Research Center, said at the press conference that the funding will depend on revised budget allocations after Congress approved a two-year budget deal last month with new overall spending caps, avoiding sequestration.

“Those who set the rules are trying to get a final bill completed before the end of September,” she said. “Now we’re waiting for final agreement with the senators.”

She said she expected Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, will play a key role in deciding if NASA gets that additional $1.6 billion because of both his chairmanship and his support of agency programs, particularly those at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.

While Glenn will have only a supporting role on the lunar lander program, being led out of Marshall, Bridenstine said at least 40 civil servant positions at the center will be devoted to lander work.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who also attended the press conference, emphasized the importance of Glenn for NASA’s overall exploration efforts, as demonstrated by the center’s growing budget over the last few years. “There are very few federal facilities in the country that can claim this kind of increase, and it’s because they have confidence in us,” he said. “Our mission is tied to this broader mission, which is Artemis and eventually Mars.”

SpaceNews.com

WebKit Tracking Prevention Policy

Major new policy from WebKit, with inspiration credit given to Mozilla:

We treat circumvention of shipping anti-tracking measures with the same seriousness as exploitation of security vulnerabilities.

If a party attempts to circumvent our tracking prevention methods, we may add additional restrictions without prior notice. These restrictions may apply universally; to algorithmically classified targets; or to specific parties engaging in circumvention.

No Exceptions

We do not grant exceptions to our tracking prevention technologies to specific parties. Some parties might have valid uses for techniques that are also used for tracking. But WebKit often has no technical means to distinguish valid uses from tracking, and doesn’t know what the parties involved will do with the collected data, either now or in the future.

Unintended Impact

There are practices on the web that we do not intend to disrupt, but which may be inadvertently affected because they rely on techniques that can also be used for tracking. We consider this to be unintended impact.

Equating tracking with malware and security exploits is a major policy change, and absolutely correct. Notably, they are not respecting commercial interests at all. The user’s privacy comes first, and if there is commercial collateral damage from that, fuck it:

WebKit will do its best to prevent all covert tracking, and all cross-site tracking (even when it’s not covert). These goals apply to all types of tracking listed above, as well as tracking techniques currently unknown to us.

If a particular tracking technique cannot be completely prevented without undue user harm, WebKit will limit the capability of using the technique. For example, limiting the time window for tracking or reducing the available bits of entropy — unique data points that may be used to identify a user or a user’s behavior.

Hopefully, this will help close the email tracking-pixel loophole as well.

The ball is now in Chrome’s court to follow suit. I think Google could aggressively close these same privacy-invasive loopholes without losing their ability to serve targeted ads — they’d simply be limited to serving targeted ads to users who sign into Chrome with their Google accounts.

 ★ 

NASA awards Aerospace Corp. contract worth up to $621 million

PHOENIX – The Aerospace Corp. won one of its largest NASA contracts to date, an engineering, evaluation and testing support contract with a maximum potential value of $621 million over nine years.

Under the sole source contract for the NASA-wide Specialized Engineering, Evaluation and Test Services (NSEETS) program, Aerospace Corp. will lend support, which may include staff, for focused science and technology studies, advanced systems architecture, systems engineering and independent reviews. Work under the contract is set to begin Oct. 1.

The NSEETS contract announced Aug. 19 carries on work Aerospace Corp. began performing in 2011.

“We’re delighted to continue delivering critical engineering, evaluation, and test services to NASA that will advance and shape the future of our nation’s space exploration, science and technology over the next decade,” Edward Swallow, Aerospace Corp. Civil Systems Group senior vice president, said in a statement. “As the leading federally funded research and development center operator for space, our unique technical expertise and objective analysis align well with NASA’s needs as it opens an exciting era of vital missions.”

Specifically, Aerospace Corp. will assist NASA with management, scientific and technical studies, including defining payloads to meet scientific goals and analyzing the feasibility of instruments, spacecraft and designs.

“We’re excited to continue our long-term relationship with NASA,” Ron Birk, Aerospace Corp. Civil Systems Group development director, said in a statement. “Beginning with Mercury-Atlas and Gemini-Titan, through current Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion developments, and on to future exploration and science programs, Aerospace is ready to shape the future with NASA to assure mission success, insert commercial innovations, conduct rapid prototyping, and integrate enterprise architectures to return to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.”

In 2011, Aerospace Corp. won five NASA cost-plus-fixed-fee contracts for similar work. The combined maximum value of the 2011 contracts was nearly $658.3 million. Under those contracts, the Aerospace Corp. offered independent assessments of NASA programs, including evaluating technical risk, cost assessments, schedules and safety for NASA Headquarters, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA Ames Research Center, NASA Johnson Space Center, Glenn Research Center, NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center (then known as Dryden), NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, NASA Stennis Space Center and NASA Langley Research Center.

A large team of engineers and scientists who support ongoing NASA missions along with Aerospace CEO Steve Isakowitz deserve credit for the new contract, Swallow said by email. “Our insight from across the entire space enterprise, in-depth technical capabilities in our laboratories and our experienced engineering team uniquely qualifies us to provide advanced support to our customers that is cost-effective, independent and unbiased,” he added.

Isakowitz, who took the helm of Aerospace Corp. in 2016 served previously as White House Office of Management and Budget science and space programs branch chief, where he oversaw federal science and technology programs including NASA’s.

With about 4,000 employees based in California, New Mexico, Colorado and Washington, D.C., the nonprofit Aerospace Corp. operates a federally funded research and development center.

 

 

SpaceNews.com

Links 8/21/19

Trump_greenlandliberationforce
Links for you. Science:

Why Weather Forecasting Keeps Getting Better
The Paternity Reveal
Hepatitis A is breaking out across the country in wake of opioid crisis
USDA tried to cast doubt on UW-linked study about climate effects on nutrients in rice
Meet the ClimaCell weather app. Alerting you when it’s about to rain, down to the minute, all around the world.

Other:

The brand label that stokes Trump’s fury: ‘Racist, racist, racist.’
Anthony Scaramucci Is the Embodiment of Moral Failure
When Children at the Border Got Compassion
Forget Tariffs. Here’s a Better Way to Close the Trade Gap.
Time To Change The 15-Minute Limit For Doctor Visits
Christopher Reeve, Chevy Chase, and Mel Brooks weigh in on “Pong games” and “those stupid Ataris” in the October 1982 issue of Videogaming Illustrated.
Why are we all paying a tax to credit card companies?
Harry Reid: The Filibuster Is Suffocating the Will of the American People
Elizabeth Warren Wants To Raise Taxes On Guns And Ammunition
These vivid, nostalgic photos show what Tokyo looked like in the 1970s
So, You Want To Boycott A Trump Donor?
‘Where do you want us to go?’ Homeless in the South End speak out
I’m from El Paso. Here’s what it’s like to go home after a mass shooting
Charlottesville’s Confederate statues still stand — and still symbolize a racist legacy
Massachusetts needs congestion pricing now
All hands on deck to clean up a troubled corner
Rich People Like Trump
The Battle of the Bogside was 50 years ago – so why are the same mistakes being made right now?
Mandatory National Service: A Bad Idea That Won’t Die
Jeffrey Epstein’s Death Underlines A Nationwide Problem

G129: Phillies 5, Red Sox 2

Phillies - 000 030 101 - 5  6  1
Red Sox - 110 000 000 - 2 8 2
Wednesday evening featured yet another discouraging performance by the Red Sox. The bats scored two early runs and then took the rest of the night off. Rick Porcello (5-3-3-4-3, 100) ran into trouble in the fifth and those three runs were enough for the Phillies to finish off a sweep of the two-game series.

The Red Sox are now 33-34 on their home field this season and last week's five-game winning streak feels like a distant memory.

The night started with some promise when Mookie Betts and Rafael Devers hit back-to-back doubles, but the first inning ended with a sizeable squander. A one-out wild pitch put Devers on third and J.D. Martinez walked. The opportunity for more runs fizzled as Andrew Benintendi struck out and Sam Travis flied to center.

Bad luck stung the Red Sox in the second as Marco Hernández was gunned down trying to steal second right before Jackie Bradley homered to right (#16). In the fourth, Benintendi doubled and Travis was safe on an infield single (events that would have been very welcome back in the first). Christian Vázquez bunted the runners to second and third and Hernández walked. Bradley struck out swinging and - after the Phillies pulled Drew Smyly (3.2-5-2-3-4, 84) and brought in Jared Hughes - Betts grounded to third, leaving three runners on base.

Immediately after that LOB-tomy, the Phillies (naturally) grabbed the lead. César Hernández doubled to right. Porcello threw a wild pitch and Hernández scored when Devers could not catch Vázquez's off-balance throw. Adam Haseley walked. Rhys Hoskins flied out, but Bryce Harper homered to left (#27), giving Philadelphia a 3-2 lead. (Porcello walked a batter in each of the first three innings.)

Ryan Brasier gave up a single and a walk and was charged with an error on a wild pickoff throw, but escaped without allowing a run. Andrew Cashner was not such fortunate in the seventh, issuing a leadoff walk to Hoskins and a two-out triple to Corey Dickerson.

The Red Sox had one more squander up their sleeves. They put the potential tying runs on base, as Travis reached on a fielder's choice and Vázquez doubled to right. Alex Cora sent Chris Owings (his OPS+ this year is 7) up to pinch-hit for Hernández. José Álvarez had little trouble striking out Owings (who is now 1-for-13, with nine strikeouts, with the Red Sox).

Héctor Neris retired Boston's 9-1-2 batters in order in the ninth, with Betts and Devers making the game's final two outs.

AL Wild Card: CLE/TBR –, OAK 0.5, BOS 7.0.
Drew "Guy" Smyly / Rick Porcello
Betts, RF
Devers, 3B
Bogaerts, SS
Martinez, DH
Benintendi, LF
Travis, 1B
Vázquez, C
Hernández, 2B
Bradley, CF
Mookie Betts is on pace to finish the season with 146 runs scored (he leads the majors with 115 right now). Ted Williams is the only Red Sox player to score 140+ runs in a season: 141 in 1942, 142 in 1946, 150 in 1959. (Before 1961, regular seasons were roughly eight games shorter than they are now.) A Red Sox player has not topped 130 runs in almost 70 years, since Dom DiMaggio finished the 1950 season with 131. Betts scored 129 runs last season.

Red Sox relievers have allowed only one run in the last five games (23.1 innings, 0.39 ERA). ... They have not allowed a home run since August 12 (102 batters). ... Matt Barnes leads American League relievers with 16.13 K/9.

AL Wild Card: CLE/TBR –, OAK 0.5, BOS 6.5.

Google DeepMind Co-Founder Mustafa Suleyman Placed on Leave

Giles Turner and Mark Bergen, reporting for Bloomberg*:

The co-founder of DeepMind, the high-profile artificial intelligence lab owned by Google, has been placed on leave after controversy over some of the projects he led.

Mustafa Suleyman runs DeepMind’s “applied” division, which seeks practical uses for the lab’s research in health, energy and other fields. Suleyman is also a key public face for DeepMind, speaking to officials and at events about the promise of AI and the ethical guardrails needed to limit malicious use of the technology.

“Mustafa is taking time out right now after 10 hectic years,” a DeepMind spokeswoman said. She didn’t say why he was put on leave.

Probably not a good sign.

* Bloomberg, of course, is the publication that published “The Big Hack” last October — a sensational story alleging that data centers of Apple, Amazon, and dozens of other companies were compromised by China’s intelligence services. The story presented no confirmable evidence at all, was vehemently denied by all companies involved, has not been confirmed by a single other publication (despite much effort to do so), and has been largely discredited by one of Bloomberg’s own sources. By all appearances “The Big Hack” was complete bullshit. Yet Bloomberg has issued no correction or retraction, and seemingly hopes we’ll all just forget about it. I say we do not just forget about it. Bloomberg’s institutional credibility is severely damaged, and everything they publish should be treated with skepticism until they retract the story or provide evidence that it was true.

 ★ 

No near-term satellite orders for ABS • Amazon joins SIA • Speedcast, Australian Space Agency team up

To receive FIRST UP Satcom, a weekly SpaceNews newsletter for satellite and telecom professionals, sign up here.

TOP STORIES

Fleet operator ABS expects to wait until 2021 before planning additional satellites. Jim Frownfelter, ABS’s new chief executive, said the company’s current focus is gaining customers for its newest satellites. ABS launched three satellites since 2014 — ABS-2, ABS-2A, and ABS-3A — and canceled a fourth, ABS-8, when the U.S. Export-Import Bank’s 2015 charter lapse undercut financing plans. Frownfelter estimated ABS has a fill rate of 50% to 70% on its most recent three satellites. He estimated it will take roughly five years to fill the capacity on each satellite. [Via Satellite]

Amazon’s Kuiper Systems subsidiary has joined the Satellite Industry Association, a Washington-based trade group that represents the satellite industry on policy matters. Kuiper Systems is preparing a constellation of 3,236 satellites split into three low Earth orbits for high-speed Ka-band broadband internet. The company is joining SIA’s board of directors and is the group’s newest executive member. “We look forward to working with Kuiper and their leadership as the Company prepares to roll out its next-generation high speed satellite broadband and global 5G connectivity services,” Tom Stroup, SIA president, said. [SIA]

Satellite network operator Speedcast has formed a collaborative agreement with the Australian Space Agency. The two gave few details on the nature of the partnership other than that it is focused on growing Australia’s space industry. Speedcast said it will support the agency’s goal of tripling the nation’s space sector in size by 2030. The Australian Space Agency said Speedcast is “opening its supply chain” to partner with local industry and grow Australia’s international market share. [Speedcast/Australian Space Agency]

MORE STORIES

Software company Bluestaq is creating a space situational awareness marketplace under a Small Business Innovation Research contract from the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center. The marketplace, described by SMC as a “digital storefront,” is to function as a central hub connecting Defense Department customers with commercial providers of space situational awareness data. Companies will offer real-time bids in response to customer submissions, from which customers can choose the best product. The marketplace is intended to streamline data acquisition. [SMC]

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated a ground station in the neighboring country of Bhutan. The Thimphu Ground Station supports GSAT-9, an Indian satellite launched in 2017 with the stated intention of being a regional gift for nearby countries to use. GSAT-9 is also known as the South Asia Satellite. Bengaluru, India-based Alpha Design Technologies built the ground station in nine months. India is preparing additional ground stations in Nepal, Afghanistan and elsewhere to support satellite communications. [The Wire]

Australian satellite operator Optus is partnering with smallsat company Myriota.Optus, which operates five geostationary satellites covering Australia, said the partnership will combine its “national networks and digital enablement capabilities” with technology Myriota is developing for low-cost connectivity to millions of devices. Myriota is an Australian startup planning a constellation of about 50 smallsats for Internet of Things services. [SpaceNews]

A Chinese satellite launched Monday is still malfunctioning. The Chinasat-18 satellite launched into a geostationary transfer orbit Monday, but Chinese officials said it is suffering “abnormalities” but didn’t disclose details about them. While the launch itself was successful, it was not without its own incident: falling stages from the Long March 3B rocket reportedly killed two cows. [SpaceNews]

Hughes Network Systems has created a new set of products developed with Virtual Network Communications, Inc. (VNC) that combine satellite and cellular connectivity. The products use Hughes Jupiter networking technology and VNC’s deployable LTE technology to support 4G communications. The products are designed for government users, such as militaries and first responders, as well as mobile network operators. VNC is preparing 5G technologies and said it anticipates integrating those with Hughes’ Jupiter platform as well. [Hughes]

Viasat has awarded Blue Canyon Technologies a contract to build a smallsat to demonstrate a military communications terminal. The 12-unit cubesat, equipped with Viasat’s Link 16 terminal, will launch in 2020, according to a contract announced by Blue Canyon Monday. U.S. military and NATO allies rely on Link 16, an encrypted radio frequency, to relay information in a line-of-sight from aircraft, ships and ground vehicles. The Air Force Research Laboratory Space Vehicles directorate awarded Viasat a $10 million contract earlier this year to test whether a Link 16 terminal on a small satellite could serve as a communications network relay. [SpaceNews]

SpaceNews Senior Staff Writer Jeff Foust contributed to this newsletter.

SpaceNews.com

One could fly to Mars in this spacious habitat and not go crazy

On Wednesday, Sierra Nevada Corporation—the company that makes aerospace equipment, not beer—showed off its proposed in-space habitat for the first time. The inflatable habitat is, first and foremost, large. It measures more than 8 meters long, and with a diameter of 8 meters has an internal volume of 300 cubic meters, which is about one-third the size of the International Space Station.

Sierra Nevada developed this full-scale prototype under a NASA program that funded several companies to develop habitats that could be used for a space station in orbit around the Moon, as well as potentially serving as living quarters for a long-duration transit to and from Mars. As part of the program, NASA astronauts have, or will, spend three days living in and evaluating the prototypes built by Sierra Nevada, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Bigelow Aerospace.

The selling point for Sierra Nevada's habitat is its size, which is possible because the multi-layered fabric material can be compressed for launch, then expanded and outfitted as a habitat once in space. It can fit within a standard payload fairing used for launch vehicles such as SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket, United Launch Alliance's Vulcan booster, or NASA's Space Launch System. It is light enough for any of those rockets to launch to the Moon.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Crypto to make your head spin

We analyze a two-country economy with complete markets, featuring two national currencies as well as a global (crypto)currency. If the global currency is used in both countries, the national nominal interest rates must be equal and the exchange rate between the national currencies is a risk- adjusted martingale. We call this result Crypto-Enforced Monetary Policy Synchronization (CEMPS). Deviating from interest equality risks approaching the zero lower bound or the abandonment of the national currency. If the global currency is backed by interest-bearing assets, additional and tight restrictions on monetary policy arise. Thus, the classic Impossible Trinity becomes even less reconcilable.

That is a new paper from Pierpaolo Benigno, Linda Schilling, Harald Uhlig.

The post Crypto to make your head spin appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

FOMC Minutes: A Wide Range of Views

From the Fed: Minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee, July 30–31, 2019. A few excerpts:
In their discussion of monetary policy decisions at this meeting, those participants who favored a reduction in the target range for the federal funds rate pointed to three broad categories of reasons for supporting that action.
• First, while the overall outlook remained favorable, there had been signs of deceleration in economic activity in recent quarters, particularly in business fixed investment and manufacturing. A pronounced slowing in economic growth in overseas economies—perhaps related in part to developments in, and uncertainties surrounding, international trade—appeared to be an important factor in this deceleration. More generally, such developments were among those that had led most participants over recent quarters to revise down their estimates of the policy rate path that would be appropriate to promote maximum employment and stable prices.

• Second, a policy easing at this meeting would be a prudent step from a risk-management perspective. Despite some encouraging signs over the intermeeting period, many of the risks and uncertainties surrounding the economic outlook that had been a source of concern in June had remained elevated, particularly those associated with the global economic outlook and international trade. On this point, a number of participants observed that policy authorities in many foreign countries had only limited policy space to support aggregate demand should the downside risks to global economic growth be realized.

• Third, there were concerns about the outlook for inflation. A number of participants observed that overall inflation had continued to run below the Committee's 2 percent objective, as had inflation for items other than food and energy. Several of these participants commented that the fact that wage pressures had remained only moderate despite the low unemployment rate could be a sign that the longer-run normal level of the unemployment rate is appreciably lower than often assumed. Participants discussed indicators for longer-term inflation expectations and inflation compensation. A number of them concluded that the modest increase in market-based measures of inflation compensation over the intermeeting period likely reflected market participants' expectation of more accommodative monetary policy in the near future; others observed that, while survey measures of inflation expectations were little changed from June, the level of expectations by at least some measures was low. Most participants judged that long-term inflation expectations either were already below the Committee's 2 percent goal or could decline below the level consistent with that goal should there be a continuation of the pattern of inflation coming in persistently below 2 percent.
A couple of participants indicated that they would have preferred a 50 basis point cut in the federal funds rate at this meeting rather than a 25 basis point reduction. They favored a stronger action to better address the stubbornly low inflation rates of the past several years, recognizing that the apparent low sensitivity of inflation to levels of resource utilization meant that a notably stronger real economy might be required to speed the return of inflation to the Committee's inflation objective.

Several participants favored maintaining the same target range at this meeting, judging that the real economy continued to be in a good place, bolstered by confident consumers, a strong job market, and a low rate of unemployment. These participants acknowledged that there were lingering risks and uncertainties about the global economy in general, and about international trade in particular, but they viewed those risks as having diminished over the intermeeting period. In addition, they viewed the news on inflation over the intermeeting period as consistent with their forecasts that inflation would move up to the Committee's 2 percent objective at an acceptable pace without an adjustment in policy at this meeting. Finally, a few participants expressed concerns that further monetary accommodation presented a risk to financial stability in certain sectors of the economy or that a reduction in the target range for the federal funds rate at this meeting could be misinterpreted as a negative signal about the state of the economy.

In their discussion of the outlook for monetary policy beyond this meeting, participants generally favored an approach in which policy would be guided by incoming information and its implications for the economic outlook and that avoided any appearance of following a preset course. Most participants viewed a proposed quarter-point policy easing at this meeting as part of a recalibration of the stance of policy, or mid-cycle adjustment, in response to the evolution of the economic outlook over recent months. A number of participants suggested that the nature of many of the risks they judged to be weighing on the economy, and the absence of clarity regarding when those risks might be resolved, highlighted the need for policymakers to remain flexible and focused on the implications of incoming data for the outlook.
emphasis added

NY AG Questions Oliver North About NRA Amid Battle With LaPierre

Investigators with the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James questioned former National Rifle Association President Oliver North on Tuesday, deposing a former NRA official with an axe to grind over the gun group’s strenuous objections.

The interview followed a last-ditch and ultimately unsuccessful effort by the NRA to convince a judge to allow it to send an attorney to sit in on the meeting with the power to object.

The intensity of the NRA’s objections — and North’s axe to grind in the matter — offer some insight into James’s probe. Attorneys with her office filed reams of documents into the public record as part of the case, many of which raise new questions about how the turmoil began.

But first, it’s worth taking a step back and recognizing why Oliver North could prove to be so significant for James’s investigation. As New York attorney general, James oversees charities that are chartered in the Empire State. The NRA, founded as a marksmanship organization by Union veterans of the Civil War, has been chartered there since 1871.

By the time the Iran-Contra participant was chosen as the NRA’s President in May 2018, a few months after the Parkland shooting, the pro-gun group had become a very different organization.

North’s presidency started during a period of turbulence for the NRA. With Hillary Clinton’s loss in the 2016 election, it became harder to argue that the government was about to take everyone’s guns, depriving the NRA of some of its fear-generated funding. At the same time, an insurance policy that the NRA marketed called Carry Guard had failed spectacularly, landing the charity in deeper legal troubles.

Within a year, North’s appointment had only added to the turmoil. In an April 2019 lawsuit, the NRA accused him of signing a separate contract to produce a web series with Ackerman McQueen, the gun group’s longtime ad vendor, that was significant enough to raise questions over to which group he owed a fiduciary duty.

At the same time, letters filed in New York state court show, North was calling for investigations into unsavory financial arrangements in which the NRA was allegedly involved.

In one February 2019 memo, North — along with two other board members — took aim at the NRA’s outside counsel, Brewer Attorneys, in a message to NRA chief Wayne LaPierre. The head of the law firm is the son-in-law of recently departed Ackerman executive Angus McQueen, stoking questions among NRA watchers about incestuous ties between the two, and fueling speculation around the high fees that Brewer appears to have charged the gun group.

North’s letter came as he was personally implicated in the deteriorating relationship between Ackerman and the NRA. According to a court filing, Ackerman provided the NRA’s general counsel a “brief, limited review” of North’s contract for the web series in February 2019 — the same month that the disgraced lieutenant colonel appears to have begun agitating for reform.

North continued his internal campaign against the NRA throughout the spring. In a March 2019 letter — sent by the same trio to the NRA’s audit committee — North demanded that the panel hire an outside firm to conduct an “independent review” of Brewer’s “fees and expenses.”

“As you know, the Brewer firm currently is billing significant fees and expenses to the NRA for work that is outside the scope of its original engagement letter with the NRA,” the message reads.

These are serious allegations, though North stops short in the letter of suggesting that anyone at the NRA itself is benefitting from the arrangement; rather, he suggests that Brewer is ripping the gun group off. And it’s not clear what sparked North’s internal activism. The NRA has dismissed him as an “employee” of Ackerman’s, and it’s true that the Oklahoma City-based ad firm’s relationship with the NRA had already begun to deteriorate at the time.

By the time of the NRA’s annual meeting in late April, North staged what LaPierre has called an “attempted coup,” allegedly threatening to expose embarrassing insider deals by LaPierre and other top NRA execs.

LaPierre survived the attempt, and North was replaced by the group’s current president, Carolyn Meadows. Meadows was a co-signer of the letters with North, and it’s not clear why or how she went from alleging wrongdoing at the group to becoming its titular leader.

At the same time, much of the embarrassing material that North threatened to release appears to have found its way to the public. It is also in the hands of the New York attorney general.

So for James, North could be a real boon for the investigation. In a subpoena to North, James asks him specifically to provide documents relating to “allegations” he made “of financial impropriety, mismanagement, misuse or waste of assets, governance failures or other wrongdoing” at the NRA.

The NRA fought hard to intervene in North’s testimony (and all 899 pages of documents he produced to James).

Emails filed in the case show the NRA’s failed attempt to convince a judge to allow it to sit in on North’s deposition and to prevent certain documents from being produced on privilege grounds.

“The NRA must object to disclosure of such information to protect the NRA members’ and donors’ rights to free speech and free association under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution,” one Aug. 10 letter to North and James’s office reads. “The NRA hopes that, irrespective of any disagreements with its leadership, Lt. Col. North remains attentive to the constitutional rights of NRA members and donors.”

AIA: "Architecture Billings Index Continues Its Streak of Soft Readings"

Note: This index is a leading indicator primarily for new Commercial Real Estate (CRE) investment.

From the AIA: Architecture Billings Index Continues Its Streak of Soft Readings
Demand for design services in July remained essentially flat in comparison to the previous month, according to a new report released today from The American Institute of Architects (AIA).

AIA’s Architecture Billings Index (ABI) score of 50.1 in July showed a small increase in design services since June, which was a score of 49.1. Any score above 50 indicates an increase in billings. In July, the design contracts score dipped into negative territory for the first time in almost a year. Additionally, July billings softened in all regions except the West, and at firms of all specializations except multifamily residential.

“The data is not the same as what we saw leading up to the last economic downturn but the continued, slowing across the board will undoubtedly impact architecture firms and the broader construction industry in the coming months,” said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker, PhD, Hon. AIA. “A growing number of architecture firms are reporting that the ongoing volatility in the trade situation, the stock market, and interest rates are causing some of their clients to proceed more cautiously on current projects.”
...
• Regional averages: West (51.2); Midwest (48.9); South (48.3); Northeast (48.3)

• Sector index breakdown: multi-family residential (50.6); institutional (49.8); commercial/industrial (49.2); mixed practice (48.9)
emphasis added
AIA Architecture Billing Index Click on graph for larger image.

This graph shows the Architecture Billings Index since 1996. The index was at 50.1 in July, up from 49.1 in June. Anything above 50 indicates expansion in demand for architects' services.

Note: This includes commercial and industrial facilities like hotels and office buildings, multi-family residential, as well as schools, hospitals and other institutions.

According to the AIA, there is an "approximate nine to twelve month lag time between architecture billings and construction spending" on non-residential construction.  This index has been positive for 10 of the previous 12 months, suggesting some further increase in CRE investment in 2019 - but this is the weakest five month stretch since 2012.

Wednesday assorted links

The post Wednesday assorted links appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Art Deco, Overcast

Observed on 16th Street NW, between T and U, Dupont Circle, D.C.:

Hot 16th July 2019

Comments on July Existing Home Sales

Earlier: NAR: Existing-Home Sales Increased to 5.42 million in July

A few key points:

1) Existing home sales were up 0.6% year-over-year (YoY) in July.  This was the first YoY increase since early 2018.

2) Inventory is still low, and was down 1.6% year-over-year (YoY) in July.

3) As usual, housing economist Tom Lawler's forecast was closer (barely this month) to the NAR report than the consensus. See: Lawler: Early Read on Existing Home Sales in July.   The consensus was for sales of 5.39 million SAAR.  Lawler estimated the NAR would report 5.40 million SAAR in July, and the NAR actually reported 5.42 million SAAR.

Existing Home Sales YoYClick on graph for larger image.

4) Year-to-date sales are down about 2.9% compared to the same period in 2018.   On an annual basis, that would put sales around 5.20 million in 2019.  Sales slumped at the end of 2018 and in January 2019 due to higher mortgage rates, the stock market selloff, and fears of an economic slowdown.

The comparisons will be easier towards the end of this year, and with lower mortgage rates, sales might even finish the year unchanged or even up from 2018.

Existing Home Sales NSAThe second graph shows existing home sales Not Seasonally Adjusted (NSA).

Sales NSA in July (540,000, red column) were above sales in July 2018 (528,000, NSA), and were the highest sales for July since 2015.

Employment: Preliminary annual benchmark revision shows downward adjustment of 501,000 jobs

The BLS released the preliminary annual benchmark revision showing 501,000 fewer payroll jobs as of March 2019. The final revision will be published when the January 2019 employment report is released in February 2020. Usually the preliminary estimate is pretty close to the final benchmark estimate.

The annual revision is benchmarked to state tax records. From the BLS:
In accordance with usual practice, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is announcing the preliminary estimate of the upcoming annual benchmark revision to the establishment survey employment series. The final benchmark revision will be issued in February 2020 with the publication of the January 2020 Employment Situation news release.

Each year, the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey employment estimates are benchmarked to comprehensive counts of employment for the month of March. These counts are derived from state unemployment insurance (UI) tax records that nearly all employers are required to file. For national CES employment series, the annual benchmark revisions over the last 10 years have averaged plus or minus two-tenths of one percent of total nonfarm employment. The preliminary estimate of the benchmark revision indicates a downward adjustment to March 2019 total nonfarm employment of -501,000 (-0.3 percent).
emphasis added
Using the preliminary benchmark estimate, this means that payroll employment in March 2019 was 501,000 lower than originally estimated. In February 2020, the payroll numbers will be revised down to reflect the final estimate. The number is then "wedged back" to the previous revision (March 2018).

Construction was revised down by 9,000 jobs, and manufacturing revised down by 3,000 jobs.

This preliminary estimate showed 514,000 fewer private sector jobs, and 13,000 more government jobs (as of March 2019).

NAR: Existing-Home Sales Increased to 5.42 million in July

From the NAR: Existing-Home Sales Climb 2.5% in July
Existing-home sales strengthened in July, a positive reversal after total sales were down slightly in the previous month, according to the National Association of Realtors®. Although Northeast transactions declined, the other three major U.S. regions recorded sales increases, including vast growth in the West last month.

Total existing-home sales, completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, rose 2.5% from June to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.42 million in July. Overall sales are up 0.6% from a year ago (5.39 million in July 2018).
...
Total housing inventory at the end of July decreased to 1.89 million, down from 1.92 million existing-homes available for sale in June, and a 1.6% decrease from 1.92 million one year ago. Unsold inventory is at a 4.2-month supply at the current sales pace, down from the 4.4 month-supply recorded in June and down from the 4.3-month supply recorded in July of 2018.
emphasis added
Existing Home SalesClick on graph for larger image.

This graph shows existing home sales, on a Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate (SAAR) basis since 1993.

Sales in July (5.42 million SAAR) were up 2.5% from last month, and were 0.6% above the July 2018 sales rate.

The second graph shows nationwide inventory for existing homes.

Existing Home InventoryAccording to the NAR, inventory decreased to 1.89 million in July from 1.92 million in June.   Headline inventory is not seasonally adjusted, and inventory usually decreases to the seasonal lows in December and January, and peaks in mid-to-late summer.

The last graph shows the year-over-year (YoY) change in reported existing home inventory and months-of-supply. Since inventory is not seasonally adjusted, it really helps to look at the YoY change. Note: Months-of-supply is based on the seasonally adjusted sales and not seasonally adjusted inventory.

Year-over-year Inventory Inventory was down 1.6% year-over-year in July compared to July 2018.

Months of supply decreased to 4.2 months in July.

This was at the consensus forecast.  For existing home sales, a key number is inventory - and inventory is still low. I'll have more later …

Before & After: A Kitchen Adds Function and Beauty

Nicole Cole for Design*Sponge

Nicole Cole for Design*Sponge

A few years ago, I found this amazing woodworker on Instagram and immediately fell in love with her work. I asked my husband for a piece she had created for my birthday that year, and have been following her ever since. We’ve developed a friendship since then (mainly me completely geeking out on her aesthetics), and I’ve gone on to write about her previous home here on Design*Sponge as well. I’m talking about Nicole Cole of Vestige Home. She and her husband Adam have since moved into a new home, which I had hoped to feature in a full-home tour, but as the site winds down you will just have to find her on Instagram to get a look at all the sweat she is putting into to transforming their new space. Today, though, we have the joy of sharing Nicole and Adam’s transformed kitchen with you in their 1900s stone home in Philadelphia, PA.

“When we moved into the home last fall I knew I needed to make some functional changes to the space so it would work better for our family,” Nicole begins. “And of course, being a designer, I am always imagining a room with a new look and feel. I decided that while we saved up enough money to do a more extensive renovation on the kitchen (likely several years off), that I could do a ‘kitchen refresh’ to add in some of the functionality and style that the space needed.” Having always admired moody, English kitchens with original details, Nicole knew that was the look she wanted to create in their new space. “There are large banks of windows in the space, and the room is flooded with light most of the day, so it felt like the perfect space to be able to try some dark colors. I have loved Farrow & Ball’s Dead Salmon paint color for years and have been on the lookout for the perfect space to be able to use it in. With the existing wainscoting in the space to create a two-tone look in the room, this felt like the perfect place to try out my favorite muddy pink,” Nicole shares. 

As she began work on the remodel — which Nicole did all herself (other than plumbing and electrical) — she had to consider the need for increased functionality in the space. That included adding a dishwasher and garbage disposal, installation of cabinets on either side of the stove, a narrow island for storage and workspace/prep by the stove, and adding a ventilation hood for task lighting over the stove and to ventilate while cooking. “As a designer I am constantly evaluating the functionality of spaces and this kitchen had many problems to be solved,” she says. “When we moved in there wasn’t a dishwasher and I was able to create an opening in an existing bank of cabinets to make room for one with minimal construction and rework of the existing cabinets. Using a panel-ready dishwasher whose style can be matched when we remodel the kitchen allows us to reuse the appliance and gives us a built-in look. When we added the dishwasher, we were able to see that there are original hardwood fir floors underneath and we ended up tearing up five layers of old flooring, plywood and hundreds of nails to get to them. It was worth it.”

We agree, Nicole! This refresh is as complete as a Before & After, in my opinion. Scroll below for the full transformation of the space. Erin 

Photography by Rebecca McAlpin/ @mcbecks_pix

Image above: The final outcome of the kitchen brings in a more muted palette that’s more inline with the 1900s stone home. “The statement lighting piece above the sink (I love how it blends in a modern aesthetic) is from one of my favorite lighting brands, Troy Lighting,” Nicole notes. 

Before & After: A Kitchen Adds Function and Beauty

Nicole Cole for Design*Sponge

Nicole Cole for Design*Sponge

A few years ago, I found this amazing woodworker on Instagram and immediately fell in love with her work. I asked my husband for a piece she had created for my birthday that year, and have been following her ever since. We’ve developed a friendship since then (mainly me completely geeking out on her aesthetics), and I’ve gone on to write about her previous home here on Design*Sponge as well. I’m talking about Nicole Cole of Vestige Home. She and her husband Adam have since moved into a new home, which I had hoped to feature in a full-home tour, but as the site winds down you will just have to find her on Instagram to get a look at all the sweat she is putting into to transforming their new space. Today, though, we have the joy of sharing Nicole and Adam’s transformed kitchen with you in their 1900s stone home in Philadelphia, PA.

“When we moved into the home last fall I knew I needed to make some functional changes to the space so it would work better for our family,” Nicole begins. “And of course, being a designer, I am always imagining a room with a new look and feel. I decided that while we saved up enough money to do a more extensive renovation on the kitchen (likely several years off), that I could do a ‘kitchen refresh’ to add in some of the functionality and style that the space needed.” Having always admired moody, English kitchens with original details, Nicole knew that was the look she wanted to create in their new space. “There are large banks of windows in the space, and the room is flooded with light most of the day, so it felt like the perfect space to be able to try some dark colors. I have loved Farrow & Ball’s Dead Salmon paint color for years and have been on the lookout for the perfect space to be able to use it in. With the existing wainscoting in the space to create a two-tone look in the room, this felt like the perfect place to try out my favorite muddy pink,” Nicole shares. 

As she began work on the remodel — which Nicole did all herself (other than plumbing and electrical) — she had to consider the need for increased functionality in the space. That included adding a dishwasher and garbage disposal, installation of cabinets on either side of the stove, a narrow island for storage and workspace/prep by the stove, and adding a ventilation hood for task lighting over the stove and to ventilate while cooking. “As a designer I am constantly evaluating the functionality of spaces and this kitchen had many problems to be solved,” she says. “When we moved in there wasn’t a dishwasher and I was able to create an opening in an existing bank of cabinets to make room for one with minimal construction and rework of the existing cabinets. Using a panel-ready dishwasher whose style can be matched when we remodel the kitchen allows us to reuse the appliance and gives us a built-in look. When we added the dishwasher, we were able to see that there are original hardwood fir floors underneath and we ended up tearing up five layers of old flooring, plywood and hundreds of nails to get to them. It was worth it.”

We agree, Nicole! This refresh is as complete as a Before & After, in my opinion. Scroll below for the full transformation of the space. Erin 

Photography by Rebecca McAlpin/ @mcbecks_pix

Image above: The final outcome of the kitchen brings in a more muted palette that’s more inline with the 1900s stone home. “The statement lighting piece above the sink (I love how it blends in a modern aesthetic) is from one of my favorite lighting brands, Troy Lighting,” Nicole notes. 

Democrats Fire a Warning Shot at the Supreme Court

It only took thirty years or so, but Democrats seem to coming to a slow understanding that the Supreme Court is hopelessly politicized. In an amicus brief, several Democratic senators, led by Sen. Whitehouse (RI) have laid out in very stark terms (by legal standards anyway) what they think of the court (boldface mine):

The brief itself is less a legal document than a declaration of war. Though parts of it argue that the high court lacks jurisdiction over this case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. City of New York, the thrust of the brief is that the Supreme Court is dominated by political hacks selected by the Federalist Society, and promoted by the National Rifle Association — and that if those hacks don’t watch out, the American people are going to rebel against them.

Seriously…

This is, to say the least, not the sort of argument lawyers typically present to a court. Judicial legitimacy flows from the myth that judges are above politics. Lawyers normally take care not to question that myth, because they do not want to anger a judge and because a lawyer’s own ability to make a living flows from their client’s belief that law exists separately from politics.

But, as the polling cited by Whitehouse demonstrates, the myth of the politically agnostic court is collapsing fast. Here’s an telling example: a 2014 review of Obamacare cases by the conservative Washington Times found that “Democratic appointees ruled in favor of Obamacare more than 90 percent of the time, while Republican appointees ruled against it nearly 80 percent of the time.” In cases involving America’s most politically charged law, in other words, the best predictor of a judge’s vote isn’t some abstract question about judicial philosophy. It’s whether the judge is a Democrat or a Republican….

In other words, Republicans may come to find that by seizing control of the judiciary through constitutional hardball, they did so much damage to their prize that it is no longer worth having. The Whitehouse brief is an early warning sign that Democratic elected officials are, at the very least, ambivalent about whether they should obey courts that are increasingly seen as illegitimate. If those courts push too hard, that ambivalence could harden into something that will do permanent damage to judicial power.

This really isn’t an overstatement. From the brief (pdf; boldface added, notes removed for clarity):

Accordingly, justiciability doctrines, such as standing and mootness, have evolved to serve as an “apolitical limitation on judicial power,” confining the courts to their constitutionally prescribed lane…. In short, courts do not undertake political “projects.” Or at least they should not.

Yet this is precisely—and explicitly—what petitioners ask the Court to do in this case, in the wake of a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign to shape this Court’s composition, no less, and an industrial-strength influence campaign aimed at this Court. Indeed, petitioners and their allies have made perfectly clear that they seek a partner in a “project” to expand the Second Amendment and thwart gun-safety regulations. Particularly in an environment where a growing majority of Americans believes this Court is “motivated mainly by politics,” rather than by adherence to the law, the Court should resist petitioners’ invitation.

Then Whitehouse gets mean:

Petitioners’ effort did not emerge from a vacuum. The lead petitioner’s parent organization, the National Rifle Association (NRA), promoted the confirmation (and perhaps selection) of nominees to this Court who, it believed, would “break the tie” in Second Amendment cases. During last year’s confirmation proceedings, the NRA spent $1.2 million on television advertisements declaring exactly that: “Four liberal justices oppose your right to self-defense,” the NRA claimed, “four justices support your right to self-defense. President Trump chose Brett Kavanaugh to break the tie. Your right to self-defense depends on this vote.”

…The [far right Federalist] Society counts over eighty-six percent of Trump administration nominees to the circuit courts of appeal and to this Court as active members. It is not yet clear who the powerful funders are behind Leonard Leo and the Federalist Society judicial selection effort, nor what took place as the Federalist Society was “insourced” into the Trump administration’s judicial selection process. But massive political spending and secrecy are rarely a salubrious combination

Out in the real world, Americans are murdered each day with firearms in classrooms or movie theaters or churches or city streets, and a generation of preschoolers is being trained in active-shooter survival drills. In the cloistered confines of this Court, and not withstanding the public imperatives of these massacres, the NRA and its allies brashly presume, in word and deed,that they have a friendly audience for their “project.”

With bare partisan majorities, the Court has influenced sensitive areas like voting rights, partisan gerrymandering, dark money, union power, regulation of pollution, corporate liability, and access to federal court, particularly regarding civil rights and discrimination in the workplace. Every single time, the corporate and Republican political interests prevailed.

The pattern of outcomes is striking; and so is the frequency with which these 5-4 majorities disregarded “conservative” judicial principles like judicial restraint, originalism, stare decisis, and even federalism.

Damn. Needless to say, professional conservatives were mighty butthurt. Yes, the same movement which still decries the Warren court (Earl Warren retired in 1969–fifty years ago) is complaining that Democrats are attempting to ‘politicize’ the Supreme Court, even as Whitehouse’s brief, along with anyone who has been paying the slightest attention, knows the court is operating as a de facto legislative body, albeit one with very weird rules about what it will and will not legislate.

The professional Democratic class really needs to get past legal victories that are a half century old, and realize that the Supreme Court is a Republican body. Then they need to pack the court(s).

Output From The National Space Council Meeting

Recommendations Approved by the National Space Council to President Trump

"1. Within 60 days, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Administrator will designate an office and submit a plan to the Chairman of the National Space Council for sustainable lunar surface exploration and development, including necessary technologies and capabilities, to enable initial human missions to Mars.

2. NASA and the Department of State will continue joint efforts to engage international partners in identifying prospective cooperation involving the 2024 Moon landing and subsequent activities around and on the Moon. Lunar surface operations will be NASA's top priority for international cooperation.

3. At the next Council meeting, the NASA Administrator will present a plan to stabilize the Space Launch System and Orion programs and prevent future cost and schedule overruns. The plan will include the current projected launch windows for the first two launches of these vehicles.

4. At the next Council meeting, Council members will report on support to NASA in implementing Space Policy Directive-1."

The White House Issues National Security Presidential Memorandum on Launch of Spacecraft Containing Space Nuclear Systems

"Today, President Donald J. Trump issued a National Security Presidential Memorandum (NSPM) on the safe and effective utilization of space nuclear systems as America explores and uses the Moon to develop sustainable technologies and operations necessary for human missions to Mars and elsewhere in the solar system."

Remarks by U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross at the Sixth National Space Council Meeting

"Within the Commerce Department, we have re-established the Office of Space Commerce after it was dormant for decades. It is the only place within the U.S. Government that is charged with pursuing the unique interests of the commercial space industry. The commercial industry has said repeatedly that it needs an advocate -- a one-stop shop -- in its dealings with both the U.S. government and foreign governments."

National Space Council Remarks As Prepared for Deputy Secretary Brouillette

"Today, we are working with NASA on a number of major initiatives to enable nuclear power space exploration over the next decade including powering the Mars 2020 Rover, demonstrating nuclear thermal propulsion and fission surface power, and developing the Dragonfly Rotorcraft, which in the 2030s will explore Saturn's moon Titan."

Visit Newport in the Summer of 1769, 24 Aug.

On Saturday, 24 August, the Newport Historical Society will host a living-history exploration of “Life During the Burning of H.M.S. Liberty.”

This is the society’s Sixth Annual Living History Event, and its presentations bring in top-notch reenactors from all over New England to explore different events.

Since you’ve read the last three postings, you know all about how what led to the Liberty Customs sloop going up in flames in July 1769, two and a half centuries ago this summer.

The society’s event announcement says:
This one-day event features over 50 costumed historical interpreters who will represent all ages and various stations of life, along with conflicting political viewpoints. Learn and experience aspects of life from 1769 including:
Visit stations around Washington Square such as a tavern, school and printer. Much like the Newport Historical Society’s previous summer History Space events, visitors might find themselves in the midst of hostile debates as the living historians recreate the tensions that surrounded this incident which helped to spark the American Revolution.
“Life During the Burning of H.M.S. Liberty” will take place from noon till 5:00 P.M. in Washington Square and at the Wanton-Lyman-Hazard House, 17 Broadway.

The program is free to all, but donations to the Newport Historical Society are welcome.

(Photo from a past event in Newport by Sarah Long.)

Trump’s Labor Department OKs Religious Bigotry

Proposed Rule Will Allow Companies to Deny Employment to Gays, Transsexuals and ‘Who Knows Who Else’

Terry H. Schwadron

Just in case you wanted to believe that the Trump administration isn’t on a campaign to trample rights for Americans, here comes the Labor Department to shove a grapefruit in your face.

Labor officials have made public a new rule—no Congress, needed, thank you—to allow companies contracting with the federal government who are “religion-exercising organizations” to ignore federal laws protecting the rights of gays, transsexuals, and who knows who else in hiring or workplace practices. Religious employers and companies with “closely held” religious ties now will be shielded from claims of bias in court or other law enforcement actions, says the rule.

When did it come about that the only way you can enjoy or pursue your idea of a God or of a heavenly record of good deeds is at the expense of someone else?

Specifically, the word came from the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, which started talking about this approach last year, drawing a long list of civil rights complaints from around the country, from the ACLU, the Anti-Defamation League, and the NAACP in addition to groups specifically carrying LGBTQ credentials. Indeed, the issue pitted one government agency against another as the Equal Employment Opportunity folks did battle with the Department of Justice. Those groups will have this in court faster than you can say The Most Rev. Justice Suspended.

Apparently, it’s not enough to have the listed job qualifications. Now you’ll have to have to promise to pretend you’re someone you’re not. Just where is the list of what you can’t do and still stay employed?

When did it come about that the only way you can enjoy or pursue your idea of a God or of a heavenly record of good deeds is at the expense of someone else?

September Deadline

For the record, you have until Sept. 16 to submit public comment on this before it automatically becomes enacted.

Here’s what the Labor Department says: “The proposed rule is intended to clarify the longstanding civil rights protections afforded to religious organizations that contract with the federal government. The proposal would ensure the ‘religious protections are given the same federal recognition as all other civil rights.’”

ACTION BOX/What You Can Do About It

Think this is outrageous or even, say, questionable?

Submit comments at the Federal eRulemaking Portal by facsimile or mail. The Federal Register notice has the details. Comments must be submitted by Sept. 16.

You can also write your representative and senators. Refer to Docket ID: OFCCP-2019-0003.

 

Opponents say this move weaponizes religious freedom, while religious advocates welcomed the clarification. Bias complaints from LGBT job seekers have tripled in recent years.

Labor says the rule is intended to make clear that religious employers can condition employment on acceptance of or adherence to religious tenets without sanction by the federal government, provided that they do not discriminate based on other protected bases. They don’t say how someone does that.

‘Muddled Issues’

The logic of the Labor Department is that since the Civil Rights Act of 1964, there have been various statutes, Supreme Court decisions and Executive Orders that have left the issues muddled and that this rule is meant to provide guidance. Indeed, recent Supreme Court decisions have backed cakemakers who don’t want to bake for gay wedding customers and the Hobby Lobby folks and churches who objected to the inclusion of contraception in required health insurance. A White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative, along with U.S. Department of Justice guidance, likewise instructed federal agencies to protect religious exercise and not impede it.

“In keeping with that rich history, the proposed rule would clarify that religious organizations may make employment decisions consistent with their sincerely held religious tenets and beliefs without fear of sanction by the federal government. The proposal also reaffirms employers’ obligations not to discriminate on the basis of race, sex, or other protected bases and does not exempt or excuse a contractor from complying with any other requirements,” the Labor Department explains. That office within Labor is supposed to enforce anti-discrimination employment laws—for protected classes of workers identified on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability or status as a protected veteran.

Apparently, unless the company prays.

We know that workplace protections for LGBTQ employees have been hotly debated under the Trump administration. After Donald Trump said a federal ban on sex discrimination doesn’t include sexual orientation and gender identity bias, the Justice Department overturned its own position under the previous administration.

Justice Sides Against Transsexuals

The Supreme Court has three cases on the docket for the fall to test employment bars based on sexual orientation or gender identity. On Friday, the Department of Justice weighed in on the side of making it okay to fire an employee—this case involves a funeral home—just for moving towards transsexual surgery.

Curiously, the adjacent news release on the Labor Department’s website described a recent court conciliation agreement reached by this office with a technology company by which the federal contractor was forced to pay $175,000 in back wages to resolve claims of systemic hiring discrimination at its Portland, Oregon facility. That case involved more than 1,000 women, black and Asian-American applicants.

Last year, the same office launched a contractor assistance portal as a source of online help in how to take the best advantage of the rules.

How about this for a rule: Let’s keep religion out of government, like the Constitution says.

Featured image: Employment Non-Discrimination protest in 2010. (Michael Key/Washington Blade)

The post Trump’s Labor Department OKs Religious Bigotry appeared first on DCReport.org.

Spacewalkers help install new space station docking port

NASA astronauts Andrew Morgan and Nick Hague (out of view) helped install a new docking port on the International Space Station during a spacewalk Wednesday. Credit: NASA TV

NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Drew Morgan completed a 6-hour, 32-minute spacewalk outside the International Space Station Wednesday to help connect a newly-arrived docking port to the orbiting research outpost.

The astronauts switched their spacesuits to internal battery power at 8:27 a.m. EDT (1227 GMT) Wednesday, marking the official start of Wednesday’s spacewalk as they headed outside the space station’s Quest airlock.

On Monday, the space station’s Canadian-built robotic arm pulled the International Docking Adapter-3, or IDA-3, from the trunk of a SpaceX Dragon cargo craft, which delivered the docking mechanism to the station last month.

The docking system, built by Boeing, is a replacement for the IDA-1 docking adapter destroyed on a 2015 SpaceX launch failure. IDA-3 cost around $22.5 million, a NASA spokesperson said in response to questions from Spaceflight Now.

SpaceX successfully delivered IDA-2 to the station on a Dragon mission in 2016, and the new docking mechanism was first used in March by SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft on an unpiloted test flight before officials clear astronauts to ride the vehicle.

After removing IDA-3 from the Dragon’s aft trunk section Monday, the space station’s robotic arm placed it on Pressurized Mating Adapter-3, the space-facing zenith port of the space station’s Harmony module. IDA-2 is located on the Harmony forward port.

IDA-3 weighed around 1,177 pounds (534 kilograms) before launch. The docking adapter measures about 42 inches (1.1 meters) tall and 63 inches (1.6 meters) wide.

Both docking adapters are designed to fit over disused docking ports designed for visiting space shuttles, but new commercial crew capsules built by Boeing and SpaceX use a different docking system design. The addition of two IDAs on the station allows Boeing’s Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsules to park at the complex at the same time, using two separate docking adapters.

SpaceX future Dragon cargo vehicles will also dock with one of the IDAs on the station.

“As we rotate crews through the vehicle, we want to have them time to directly hand over face-to-face, so enabling those two docked vehicles is very important,” said Bill Spetch, NASA’s deputy manager of space station transportation integration, in a press conference before IDA-3’s launch July 25 from Cape Canaveral aboard the Dragon cargo ship.

During Wednesday’s spacewalk, Hague and Morgan connected power and data cables between the space station’s Pressurized Mating Adapter-3 and IDA-3. The connectors power sensors, heaters and other mechanisms inside the docking system.

After the spacewalkers installed the first set of cables, astronaut Christina Koch inside the space station commanded a series of 12 hooks to close, completing a firm structural connection between IDA-3 and PMA-3.

Hague and Morgan then routed another set of cables to power IDA-3, removed a thermal cover from the docking adapter, and covered a rendezvous reflector aid on PMA-3 once used by arriving space shuttles. The astronauts added new laser retroreflectors on IDA-3 to be used by rendezvous sensors on Starliner and Crew Dragon spaceships.

Credit: NASA TV

The astronauts returned to the Quest module and began repressurizing the airlock at 2:59 p.m. EDT (1829 GMT), bringing the spacewalk to a close.

Hague was designated EV-1, or the lead spacewalker, on Wednesday’s excursion. Morgan, on his first spacewalk, was designated EV-2.

Wednesday’s spacewalk was the third in Hague’s career. With the time accumulated on Wednesday’s excursion, Hague has logged 19 hours, 56 minutes, of spacewalking time.

The spacewalk to outfit IDA-3 was the fifth spacewalk conducted from the space station this year, and the 218th spacewalk since 1998 in support of station assembly, maintenance and upgrades, according to NASA.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

More chaos in the medical resident interviewing process

Not only do graduating medical students go on (too) many interviews for residency positions, but the process by which interviews are offered and accepted is chaotic. (I'm reminded of the process of offering and accepting actual positions in the 1940's, before a matching clearinghouse was first developed...)

Here's a paper from the August 2019 issue of the Journal of Graduate Medical Education, by three concerned doctors at Northwestern University, who describe the situation and then offer their own suggestions. (I admire the description, and am skeptical that the suggestions are radical enough to change the incentives responsible for the current congestion...)

A Challenge to Disrupt the Disruptive Process of Residency Interview Invitations
Matthew R. Klein, MD, MPH
Sandra M. Sanguino, MD, MPH
David H. Salzman, MD, MEd

"Residency programs may also contribute to the sense of urgency to secure an interview by offering
more invitations than available interview slots. The rise in the number of applications per
applicant, while certainly multifactorial, is facilitated in part by the ease of online interview scheduling...
...
"In the current environment, applicants who receive an interview invitation while they are in a situation where interruption is impossible—such as taking a clerkship examination, assisting in an operating room, performing a bedside procedure, participating in a difficult conversation with a patient or family, rounding on the wards, or simply being asleep as a result of time zone differences—are effectively penalized. A delay in response may result in the inability to schedule a favorable date or an increase in the cost to travel to an interview at a less convenient time, or it may preclude an interview altogether if all interview slots have been taken.
...
"We propose a 2-step process that we believe balances the need for residency programs to recruit
applicants and schedule interviews with the goal of preserving an environment that allows students to
maintain their commitment to their educational and patient care responsibilities. We recommend the
following process
Step 1: A program informs an applicant of an invitation for an interview. In that communication,
the program shares the interview dates and indicates the date and time when online interview
scheduling will become available. This allows medical students to plan in advance when they
need to be briefly excused from clinical or educational responsibilities to attend to interview
scheduling
Step 2: At the time indicated in the initial communication, and no earlier than the day after
that communication, the online interview scheduling system opens to applicants
...
"In an effort to further decrease pressure to reply immediately to an interview invitation, programs
should also ensure that the number of initial invitations does not exceed the number of interview
slots available. Additional interview offers from a wait-list could occur as needed based on unclaimed
interview slots or subsequent cancellations."

Today's Agenda: Trump Throws Hissy Fit Over Greenland

Happy Wednesday, August 21. President Donald Trump cancelled his trip to Denmark in a fit of pique that the prime minister wouldn’t sell him Greenland. Here’s more on that and the other stories we’re following.

Three Things We’re Watching Today

Green(land) with envy

Trump shot off tweets Thursday night to inform the world that he would not be making the trip after the Danish prime minister said she wouldn’t sell the territory. The news reportedly came as a “surprise” to the Danes.

Arizona’s ‘election integrity’ unit

It looks like the Arizona attorney general is staffing up his new “elections integrity” unit. Tierney Sneed will be looking into that today.

Looks familiar

Trump is telling the NRA not to fret, promising Wayne LaPierre that background checks are “off the table.” Aaaaaand we’re back to square one, ready to go through this cycle yet again as soon as the next mass shooting happens.

Today’s Rundown

The House and the Senate are out of session.

2:00 p.m. ET: Trump will speak at the AMVETS 75th annual convention at the Galt House Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky.

3:15 p.m. ET: Trump will participate in a roundtable discussion at Seelbach Hilton Louisville. An hour later, he’ll speak at a fundraiser at the hotel.

7:10 p.m. ET: Wheels down back at the White House.

Yesterday’s Top Story

Tipster Claims ‘Inappropriate Efforts to Influence’ Presidential Tax Audit — Josh Kovensky

Reading List

Colossal crabs may hold clue to Amelia Earhart fate — Rachel Hartigan Shea, National Geographic

Trump, QAnon and an impending judgment day: Behind the Facebook-fueled rise of The Epoch Times — Brandy Zadrozny and Ben Collins, NBC News

Trump Says He’s Exploring ‘Various Tax Reductions’ and the Economic Data He Loves Shows Why — Jim Tankersley, New York Times

Google Finds 20-Year-Old Microsoft Windows Vulnerability

There's no indication that this vulnerability was ever used in the wild, but the code it was discovered in -- Microsoft's Text Services Framework -- has been around since Windows XP.

Four short links: 21 August 2019

Competition vs. Convenience, Super-Contributors and Power Users, Forecasting Time Series, and Appreciating Non-Scalability

  1. Less than Half of Google Searches Now Result in a Click (Sparktoro) -- We can see a consistent pattern: organic shrinks while zero-click searches and paid CTR rise. But the devil’s in the details, and, in this case, mostly the mobile details, where Google’s gotten more aggressive with how ads and instant answer-type features appear. Everyone has to beware of the self-serving, "hey, we're doing people a favor by taking (some action that results in greater market domination for us)" because there's a time when the fact that you have meaningful competition is better for the user than a marginal increase in value add from keeping them in your property longer. (via Slashdot)
  2. Super-Contributors and Power Laws (MySociety) -- Overall, two-thirds of users made only one report—but the reports made by this large set of users only makes up 20% of the total number of reports. This means that different questions can lead you to very different conclusions about the service. If you’re interested in the people who are using FixMyStreet, that two-thirds is where most of the action is. If you’re interested in the outcomes of the service, this is mostly due to a much smaller group of people. This dynamic applies pretty much everywhere and is worth understanding.
  3. Facebook Prophet -- a procedure for forecasting time series data based on an additive model where non-linear trends are fit with yearly, weekly, and daily seasonality, plus holiday effects. It works best with time series that have strong seasonal effects and several seasons of historical data. Prophet is robust to missing data and shifts in the trend, and typically handles outliers well. Written in Python and R.
  4. On Nonscalability: The Living World Is Not Amenable to Precision-Nested Scales -- to scale well is to develop the quality called scalability, that is, the ability to expand—and expand, and expand—without rethinking basic elements. [...] [B]y its design, scalability allows us to see only uniform blocks, ready for further expansion. This essay recalls attention to the wild diversity of life on earth through the argument that it is time for a theory of nonscalability. (via Robin Sloan)

Continue reading Four short links: 21 August 2019.

MBA: Mortgage Applications Decreased in Latest Weekly Survey

From the MBA: Mortgage Applications Decrease in Latest MBA Weekly Survey
Mortgage applications decreased 0.9 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending August 16, 2019.

... The Refinance Index increased 0.4 percent from the previous week and was 180 percent higher than the same week one year ago. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 4 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index decreased 5 percent compared with the previous week and was 5 percent higher than the same week one year ago.
...
“In a week where worries over global economic growth drove U.S. Treasury yields 13 basis points lower, the 30-year fixed mortgage rate decreased just three basis points. As a result, the refinance index saw only a slight increase but remained at its highest level since July 2016,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “The small moves in rates and refinancing are potentially signs that lenders may be approaching capacity constraints as they continue to deal with the largest wave of refinance activity in three years. The refinance share of applications, at almost 63 percent, was also at its highest level since September 2016.”

Added Kan, “Lower mortgage rates have yet to lead to a notable rise in homebuyer demand. Purchase applications fell more than 3 percent, but were still 5 percent higher than a year ago.”
...
The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($484,350 or less) decreased to 3.90 percent from 3.93 percent, with points remaining unchanged at 0.35 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.
emphasis added
Mortgage Refinance IndexClick on graph for larger image.


The first graph shows the refinance index since 1990.

Mortgage rates have declined from close to 5% late last year to under 4%.

With lower rates, we saw a recent sharp increase in refinance activity.

Mortgage Purchase Index The second graph shows the MBA mortgage purchase index

According to the MBA, purchase activity is up 5% year-over-year.

No absolute time

Two centuries before Einstein, Hume recognised that universal time, independent of an observer's viewpoint, doesn't exist

By Matias Slavov

Read at Aeon

Going green is all about what you gain, not what you give up

According to The New Republic magazine in June this year: ‘You will have to make sacrifices to save the planet’, while the US newspaper Metro asks: ‘What would you give up to end climate change?’ These headlines, read from my desk in London where I carry out research in environmental psychology, ...

By Kate Laffan

Read at Aeon

Warsaw notes

I recommend a trip here.  Imagine a European country with (roughly) a four percent growth rate and the streets full of young people.  Dining out here is much better than it was in Milan, and cheaper too (eat in the serious Polish place on the left side of the food hall, Hala Kozyski, and get gelato afterwards).  What seems to be the city’s second best hotel is less than half the price it would be in Western Europe.  For better or worse, e-scooters and bike lanes are everywhere.  The city has a lively concert life, even in August.

There aren’t many traditional tourist sites.  Construction workers will look at you funny if you visit the remnants of the Warsaw Ghetto, and the memorial plaque isn’t exactly prominent.  The city’s much-heralded Jewish Museum is as much a critique of the Jews during medieval times as anything else.  I don’t consider those sites as focal for the Warsaw population as a whole, but the official side of life here has not exactly taken the German tack of ongoing apologies.  It is now against the law to suggest that Poles were complicit in the Holocaust (now only a fine, the threat of imprisonment was removed).

These days the 1953 Stalin building downtown looks quite beautiful.  Cross the river to see more of Warsaw’s residential districts, such as the Praga district, and stop by to see the architecture — both new and old — near the Neon Museum.

“Poland issued more first-time residence permits to non-EU citizens than any other EU nation in 2017, with 86% of them going to Ukrainians, in the latest available European migration statistics. Those Ukrainians accounted for 18.7% of all newcomers to the entire EU.”  (WSJ link here).

Poland is a country where nationalism doesn’t seem to be going away.  In fact, there seems to be a kind of intertemporal substitution into a new nationalism, a secure nationalism, finally safe from the bullying of larger neighbors.  Polish flags are everywhere.  So many Poles, even secular ones, view the Catholic Church as the central institution of Western civilization, and indeed they have a concept of Western civilization as having a central institution (though a minus for gay rights).

The country is not on the verge of becoming a “Western liberal’s dream,” at least not in terms of mood or rhetoric.  Yet actual life here is fairly liberal, and is more prosperous every day.  2019 has been the best year in Polish history, ever, and you feel it palpably.

Do not be surprised if more and more of Western Europe sees Polish nationalism as a model to be copied.

The post Warsaw notes appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

A countercultural take on China

That is what I serve up in my Bloomberg column, note it is a reminder more than a modal prediction.  Here is one excerpt:

Is the rest of the world getting China wrong yet again? Maybe the country is not doomed to live out unending top-down rule. What is history, after all, but the realization of the wills of countless unpredictable human beings.

Past mistakes about China are too numerous to mention.

A list then follows.  And:

But has China suddenly become so predictable? Are events there now no longer contingent on the exercise of human will? Modern China is one of the most unusual and surprising societies humankind has created. There are no good models for it, nor are there data from comparable historical situations.

There is, unfortunately, a tendency for Westerners to impose superficial narratives on China and the Chinese, often based on scant observation.

To close:

For myself, I don’t have a coherent story about how the Chinese might move to greater liberty in the next 10 to 15 years. But I do think the actions of the current regime can be read as signs of vulnerability rather than entrenchment. Taiwan and Hong Kong, despite its current crisis, remain strong examples of the benefits of liberalization. Meanwhile, the notion of the internet — even with censorship — as a liberalizing force has been too quickly dismissed, especially in an America that has fallen out of love with Big Tech.

Which leads to a reality even deeper than China’s unpredictability: people’s continuing capacity to respond to current events and shape their futures for the better. As you listen, watch and read about China, keep in mind this essential human quality.

There is much more at the link.

The post A countercultural take on China appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Space Council recommendations address exploration and management concerns

Space Council meeting

CHANTILLY, Va. — Despite a strong public endorsement of NASA’s efforts to return humans to the moon as a step towards Mars, a series of recommendations approved by the National Space Council Aug. 20 highlight concerns about the agency’s plans to do so.

The council, at its sixth public meeting since being reconstituted two years ago, did not discuss the recommendations when presented by Vice President Mike Pence, chair of the council, at the end of the two-hour meeting. Pence, citing schedule constraints, only briefly described the recommendations and asked council members to endorse them. Members did so unanimously and without debate.

The council released the recommendations late Aug. 20, which are primarily in three areas: exploration and international cooperation, commercial space and industrial base issues, and NASA acquisition and workforce reform.

The exploration recommendations include one highlighting uncertainty about the status of the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft. “At the next Council meeting, the NASA Administrator will present a plan to stabilize the Space Launch System and Orion programs and prevent future cost and schedule overruns,” the recommendation states. “The plan will include the current projected launch windows for the first two launches of these vehicles.”

NASA has not provided an updated schedule for the first SLS/Orion mission, Artemis 1, although contractors involved in the program said at an Aug. 19 conference that they now expect the launch to take place in early 2021, rather than 2020. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has said he wants to wait until a new associate administrator for human exploration and operations, replacing Bill Gerstenmaier, is in place before setting a new formal launch date.

At the meeting, Pence didn’t discuss any concerns about SLS or Orion, saying that NASA’s efforts to return humans to the moon were “on track” and citing milestones in the development of both SLS and Orion. SLS, he noted, “will be fully assembled by the end of this year,” a reference to the completion of the long-delayed core stage of the rocket.

Another recommendation calls on the NASA administrator to “designate an office and submit a plan to the Chairman of the National Space Council for sustainable lunar surface exploration and development, including necessary technologies and capabilities, to enable initial human missions to Mars.”

Pence did offer a new emphasis about the importance of long-duration stays on the moon and learning to use resources there in his remarks. “Unlike a half-century ago, this time our objective will be to establish a permanent presence on the lunar surface, and from there we will develop the capabilities to journey to the Red Planet of Mars,” he said. NASA has provided few details about what kind of long-term lunar presence it will have once it returns to the moon for short-duration stays in 2024.

A separate recommendation called on NASA to work with the State Department on identifying opportunities for international cooperation. “Lunar surface operations will be NASA’s top priority for international cooperation,” it states.

Two other recommendations address how NASA will manage its exploration programs. One requests that, by the next council meeting, NASA work with the Office of Personnel Management and Office of Management and Budget “on the status of workforce modernization efforts to address the barriers in Federal statute, regulations, policies, or practices that impede NASA’s ability to deliver on its critical mission requirements.”

The other asks NASA and the Defense Department to report “on efforts to mitigate, as appropriate, industrial base barriers and constraints, up to and including submission of a DX rating package, consistent with requirements of the Defense Production Act, to accomplish the 2024 human lunar landing mission.” A “DX rating” is used by the Defense Department for programs of the highest national priority, giving them priority in contracting over other programs.

Pence had hinted at changes he sought in how NASA manages programs and personnel in his speech. “We’ll continue to transform NASA into a leaner, more accountable and more agile organization,” he said. “We’re going to make it easier than ever to recruit and retain the world’s brightest scientists, engineers and managers, and we’re going to hit our goals and make new American history in space.”

Several recommendations addressed commercialization issues, including a request for NASA to “report on potential lunar resources to support sustainable lunar activities and science opportunities that could involve commercial partners.” Another recommendation directed the Commerce Department to, within 90 days, examine the health of the commercial space sector and the factors that influence it, “including proposals to strengthen United States commercial space leadership.”

One recommendation tackles a longstanding concern among some commercial space companies about a lack of regulatory authority for so-called “non-traditional” activities, ranging from commercial space stations to lunar landers. Article 6 of the Outer Space Treaty requires countries to provide “authorization and continuing supervision,” but for many commercial space activities no U.S. government agency has that clear responsibility.

The recommendation instructs the Commerce Department to, within 90 days, report on such commercial space activities not regulated by agencies today, and then work with the Department of Transportation to “provide a roadmap to enable all current and evolving United States commercial space activities to receive authorization under appropriate Federal regulatory frameworks.”

One other recommendation, included in the section on commercial space but that will also involve NASA’s exploration activities, calls for the creation of “a Moon-Mars Development Strategy that includes low-Earth orbit commercialization, robotic and human exploration, national security capabilities, and international cooperation for science, safety, security, and economic growth.” That plan will be developed by the National Space Council staff and be completed within 180 days.

While many of the recommendations approved at the Aug. 20 meeting request action at the next council meeting, that meeting has not been scheduled. Previous council meetings have taken place every four to five months.

SpaceNews.com

Review

Controls are a little hard to figure out.

The Orion You Can Almost See

Do you recognize this constellation? Do you recognize this constellation?


Predatory precarity

I was reading Matt Stoller’s newsletter this morning:

To put it into words, the problem we have is corruption in the government contracting world, aided by immense amounts of useless overpaid make work. In 2011, an antitrust attorney did a report on how we overpay for government contracting. In service of ‘shrinking government,’ policymakers chose to set up a system where instead of hiring an engineer as a government employee for, say, $120,000 a year, they paid a consulting firm like Booz Allen $500,000 a year for a similar engineer. The resulting system is both more expensive and more bureaucratic.

Here’s one example I grabbed from a public government contracting schedule. The rate negotiated by the government’s General Services Administration for Boston Consulting Group is $33,063.75/week to get a single relatively junior contractor.

I’m certainly with Matt on general disgust at the gorging of the trough by the contactor-consultancy complex, and have long favored rebalancing government employment away from contractors, back towards directly employed civil servants. So, yay. That’s the correct position, and it’s an easy one to take, so I take it.

But it is a bit too easy. The Boston Consulting Group may be charging $33,063.75 per week for the services of a single kind-of-bright conformist straight out of business school. But that kid, he isn’t getting paid $1.7M a year. He’s probably “only” paid 10% of that. From that take, his managers and their managers, their assistants and his, not to mention of course the firm’s shareholders, are all getting a piece of that sweet government slop. And all those guys and gals, they are living in places like Arlington, VA, and some of them have families and mortgages on houses they indebted themselves perhaps millions of dollars to inhabit.

There are people at the top of the American food chain who are stupid rich, for whom questions of making ends meet and financial security are laughably distant. People like that, they are easy to deal with. If it was “us” (whoever the fuck we are) versus only them, politics would be easy. We’d have taxed the billionaires to pay their fair share a long time ago.

But most of the people towards the top of the American food chain are not stupid rich, but stupidly rich. They “make” sums of money that by any fair reckoning, obviously in a global context but even in an American context, are huge. But they plow that affluence into bidding wars on incredibly (if artificially) scarce social goods. Nobody “needs” to live in Arlington (or my own San Francisco). No one’s kid “has” to go to private school (or for the more woke among us, notionally public schools rendered exclusive by the cost of nearby housing). If you make price your first priority in, say, shopping for preschool or daycare, perhaps you can find something reasonable.

But most of us, if we are no longer free, young, and single, if we are rich enough to pay the vig you have to pay to be sure your kid’s preschool will in fact be “safe” and “nurturing”, well, we pay it. If we haven’t rigged our housing choice so that the local public school is good enough, we pay up for a private school. If we can afford to be choosy, if we are really rich, we pay up for the private school that devotes significant resources to the searches and scholarships that deliver, in Nikole Hannah-Jones memorable words, a “carefully curated integration, the kind that allows many white parents to boast that their children’s public schools look like the United Nations.” It is extraordinarily expensive to be both comfortable and some facsimile of virtuous. You’ll never see as many rainbow flags as you see in Marin County.

The point of this is not that you should have sympathy for the Arlingtonians (or San Franciscans). Fuck ’em (er, us). But you are missing something important, as a matter of politics if nothing else, if you don’t get that the people who are your predators financially are, in their turn, someone else’s prey. Part of why the legalized corruption that is the vast bulk of the (dollar-weighted) US economy is so immovable is that the people whose lobbyists have cornered markets to ensure they stay overpaid are desperately frightened of not being overpaid, because if they were not overpaid they would become unable to make all the absurd overpayments that are now required to live what people of my generation (and race, and class) understood to be an ordinary life. It’s turtles all the way down, each one collecting a toll and wondering how it’s gonna pay the next diapsid.

Perhaps the most straightforward examples of all this, much more sympathetic than Boston Consulting Group swindlers, are doctors. It’s well and good to rail against health insurance companies and big pharma, and really, fuck ’em so hard they disappear into perpetual orgasm and we never have to encounter them again. But we know that healthcare in the US is exorbitantly expensive compared to anywhere else, and we also know, even if it is not shouted as loudly in political stump speeches, that a big part of this is that doctors are paid roughly twice as much in America as they are paid elsewhere in the developed world.

But what would it mean, really, to cut US doctors’ salaries in half? In theory, if you are the most imperceptive sort of economist, it means they could live as well as doctors do in Europe, which is not so bad. US doctors are paid twice as much in what is imaginatively described as “real terms”, so they should be able to purchase the same goods and services with their income as their European peers do. Where’s the problem?

But economists’ “real terms” do not measure the realest terms at all, the social relations in which the dance of our production and consumption is embedded. If you cut doctors’ salaries in half tomorrow, they would have to sell their mortgaged, absurdly expensive homes. At half their present salary, doctors would no longer be able to afford to live amongst “peer” professions like lawyers, management consultants, middling corporate executives, and the employees of surveillance monopolists. Doctors would fall precipitously from the social class, embedded in geography and consumption habits, to which many of them even now cling only precariously. More calamitously, they would lose the capacity to produce or reproduce membership in that social class for their children, often the most expensive amenity American professionals seek to purchase.

Doctors in France don’t have this problem because they live in a society less stratified than the one that we are unfortunate to inhabit. In societies in which the lives and prospects of the rich and less rich are not so divergent, people can afford to be a bit less rich. After all, even in the United States, the problem is not scarcity in a straightforward economic sense. We can build, to a first approximation, as much great housing as we want. The skills required to care for and educate kids are reproducible. They could be elastically and economically supplied. The scarcity of a slot at Harvard (and that slot’s many antecedents, all the way back to birth) has little to do with some ingrained incapacity to educate wonderful teachers.

The solution to the problem of “positional goods”, which are inherently zero-sum and inelastically supplied, is supposed to be the infinite multiplicity of social dimensions over which we can measure our positions (ht Arjun Narayan). The most famous exposition of this view is perhaps David Brooks’ from On Paradise Drive:

“Know thyself,” the Greek philosopher advised. But of course this is nonsense. In the world of self-reinforcing clique communities, the people who are truly happy live by the maxim “Overrate thyself.” They live in a community that reinforces their values every day. The anthropology professor can stride through life knowing she was unanimously elected chairwoman of her crunchy suburb’s sustainable-growth study seminar. She wears the locally approved status symbols: the Tibet-motif dangly earrings, the Andrea Dworkin-inspired hairstyle, the peasant blouse, and the public-broadcasting tote bag… Meanwhile, sitting in the next seat of the coach section on some Southwest Airlines flight, there might be a midlevel executive from a postwar suburb who’s similarly rich in self-esteem. But he lives in a different clique, so he is validated and reinforced according to entirely different criteria and by entirely different institutions… [H]e has been named Payroll Person of the Year by the West Coast Regional Payroll Professional Association. He is interested in College Football and tassels. His loafers have tassels. His golf bags have tassels. If he could put tassels around the Oklahoma football vanity license plate on his Cadillac Escalade, his life would be complete.

It’s hard to know, from this excerpt, which of these two is richer, the anthropology professor or the payroll guy. Both crouch together in the eternal middle class of unreserved coach seating on a Southwest Airlines flight. And in that skyward netherworld, On Paradise Flight, Brooks would be right. When there are not objective correlates of anyone’s definition of positional status, each of us can choose whichever measure of position flatters us most. We need agree only that is it gauche to try to impose our values on others for us all to live as happiest and best, quietly pitying our inferiors even as we cheerfully pass along a bag of pretzels.

But what it means to live in a stratified society, precisely what it means to live in a stratified society, is that there are objective correlates to position along dimensions that individuals and communities cannot themselves choose. There are positional dimensions whose importance is a social fact, not arbitrary, but real as social facts are, by virtue of their consequences. In such a society, positional goods with desirable correlates, inherently scarce and inelastically supplied, become extremely valuable. In some societies, those goods may be rationed by custom, or by heredity, by caste or race. But to the degree that a society is “liberal” and capitalist, they will be price-rationed, as they largely (but incompletely) are in our American society.

In a stratified, liberal capitalist society, the ability to command market power, to charge a margin sufficiently above the cost of inputs to cover the purchase of positional goods, becomes the definition of caste. When goods like health, comfort, safety, and ones children’s life prospects are effectively price-rationed, individuals will lever themselves to the hilt to purchase their place. The result is a strange precariot, objectively wealthy, educated and in a certain sense well-intended, who justify as a matter of defensive necessity participation in arrangements whose ugliness they cannot quite not see. In aggregate, they are predators, but individually they are also prey, and they feel embattled. So long as the intensity of stratification endures, they will feel like they have little choice but to participate in, even to collude to entrench, the institutions that secure their market power and their relatively decent place.

Reforming government contracting, controlling medical costs, breaking up big-tech, opening the professions to international competition, these sound technocratic, even “pro-market”. But under present levels of stratification, the consequences of these things would be a revolution, whole swathes of society accustomed to status and political enfranchisement would find themselves banished towards a “normal” they used to only read about, opiate crises and deaths of despair, towards loss of the “privilege” it has become some of their custom to magnanimously and ostentatiously “check”. Did I say they? I mean we, of course.

But of course, not doing these things means continuing to tolerate an increasingly predatory, dysfunctional, stagnant society. It means continuing deaths of despair, even as we hustle desperately to try to ensure that they are not our deaths, or our children’s. Even for its current beneficiaries, the present system is a game of musical chairs. As time goes on, with each round, yet more chairs are yanked from the game.

The only way out of this, the only escape, is to reduce the degree of stratification, the degree to which outcomes depend on our capacity to buy price-rationed positional goods. Only when the stakes are lower will be find ourselves able to tolerate, to risk, an economy that delivers increasing quantity and quality of goods and services at decreasing prices, rather than one that sustains markups upon which we, or some of us, with white knuckles must depend.

Lower the stakes.


p.s. While I was writing, the wonderfully pseudonymous “Lester Burnham” tweeted me this, which seems related.