May 2021 Archives

Monday, May 31, 2021

CONTEXT: Rockwell Star-raker Single Stage to Orbit Spaceplane

Here is more about Star-raker from Encyclopedia Astronautica. Payload to orbit was 100 metric tons with an estimated turn-around between flights of 1.8 days. The concept was proposed to support launching 1600 metric tons per day into low Earth orbit to support construction of solar power satellites.

Posted at 15:21 Permalink

CONTEXT: What's Inside a Light Aircraft Magnetic Compass?

Posted at 14:51 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Explosive Seed Dispersal in Arabidopsis thaliana

Posted at 12:12 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Small-Gauge Extension Cords and Power Strips—An Underappreciated Hazard

Note that the British system of fuses in individual power plugs (if the fuses are correctly sized) avoids this risk, although its original motivation (“ring main” wiring) was entirely different.

Posted at 11:01 Permalink

Sunday, May 30, 2021

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Tianzhou-2 Cargo Ship Docks with Chinese Space Station

This is the first cargo mission to the Tianhe space station module. The first crew is scheduled to be launched to the station on the Shenzhou-12 mission in June.

Posted at 14:25 Permalink

CONTEXT: Spelling Checker for Source Code

Posted at 13:28 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Venus and Mercury at Dusk this Evening

Here's your opportunity to take a photo of the three inner planets as I did in January, 1988. This is a much closer conjunction, about twice the width of the full Moon.

Posted at 13:07 Permalink

Saturday, May 29, 2021

CONTINUITY: Kerbal Space Program: Everyday Astronaut (Tim Dodd) Livestreaming a Fully Reusable Eve and Return Mission

The event is to celebrate his reaching one million subscribers on YouTube and is a charity benefit for the Challenger Center.

Posted at 15:41 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Decoding the Arecibo Message

Posted at 13:45 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Surveying the (Increasingly Crowded) Small Satellite Launcher Market

Posted at 12:48 Permalink

CONTEXT: Duct Tape on the Moon

Posted at 11:22 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Lee Smolin—Fifteen Years after The Trouble with Physics, String Theory Is Still Wrong

Here is my 2006 review of The Trouble with Physics.

Posted at 10:44 Permalink

Friday, May 28, 2021

CONTINUITY: Plutonium from Space in Deep Sea Sediments

Posted at 11:42 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Mars Helicopter Ingenuity Survives “Anomaly” in Sixth Flight

Posted at 11:27 Permalink

CONTEXT: Third World Problems—And Solutions

Posted at 11:00 Permalink

Thursday, May 27, 2021

CONTEXT: Uncommon Musical Instruments

Posted at 15:48 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: OneWeb/Arianespace Soyuz ST32 Launch

The launch from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia to place 36 OneWeb satellites in orbit is scheduled for 17:43 UTC on 2021-05-27.

Update: The original launch attempt was scrubbed due to a problem with an electrical component in the launcher. The launch has been rescheduled for 17:38 UTC on 2021-05-28. (2021-05-28 11:23 UTC).

Posted at 14:51 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Visible Shockwave During SpaceX Starlink 28 Launch

For a moment, just at the point of max q, I thought the Falcon 9 launcher might be having a Really Bad Day. In fact, what was happening is that the the rocket's supersonic shock wave stimulated cloud formation in the atmosphere through which it was passing, as Scott Manley explains in less than a minute.

Posted at 12:54 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Soft Robotic Grippers with Kirigami

Posted at 12:08 Permalink

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

CONTINUITY: Boeing 2707 Supersonic Transport: The Revolution that Didn't Happen

Here is more on the sorry story of the Boeing 2707.

Posted at 13:27 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: SpaceX Starlink 28 Launch

SpaceX is planning to launch another 60 Starlink satellites into orbit at 18:59 UTC on 2021-05-26. If the launch is scrubbed, another opportunity is available at 18:37 UTC the next day. The webcast will start around 15 minutes before the scheduled launch time. Here are details of the Starlink 28 mission.

Posted at 12:54 Permalink

CONTEXT: Another Delay for the James Webb Space Telescope?

This time it's the payload fairing!

Posted at 11:53 Permalink

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

CONTEXT: Early Telephony: The Magneto Era (1876–1900)

Posted at 14:26 Permalink

CONTINUITY: 1939—Secret Zeppelin Electronic Intelligence Mission

Posted at 13:56 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Probing a Single 7 Nanometre Transistor

Posted at 12:23 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Virgin Galactic Flight from New Mexico

Posted at 10:54 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Why Asteroid Impacts Are So Difficult to Predict

Posted at 09:42 Permalink

Monday, May 24, 2021

CONTEXT: Why Are Chips Square (but Silicon Wafers Circular)?

Posted at 15:37 Permalink

CONTEXT: ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) Fusion Project—A Tour of the Work in Progress

Here is more information on ITER. Construction is expected to be completed in 2025, with plasma experiments beginning soon afterward. The goal, expected by around 2035, is a deuterium-tritium fusion burn producing 500 megawatts of power from 50 megawatts of heating input with a stable burn time of 400 to 600 seconds.

Posted at 14:56 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Perseverance Descending Under Parachute to Mars

Posted at 13:23 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Calculating Any Hexadecimal Digit of π

Posted at 11:34 Permalink

Sunday, May 23, 2021

CONTINUITY: From 1933—Stipa-Caproni Ducted Fan Experimental Airplane

Here is more on the Stipa-Caproni.

Posted at 16:03 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Go with the Flow: The Navier-Stokes Equations

Cellular Automata Laboratory includes a model called WIND which solves the finite element Navier-Stokes equations for two dimensional models.

Posted at 15:51 Permalink

CONTEXT: Molybdenum—Why Is It Named for Lead?

Posted at 13:26 Permalink

Saturday, May 22, 2021

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Virgin Galactic Completes Suborbital “Space” Flight from New Mexico

Virgin Galactic uses a definition of “space” of 50 miles (80.5 km) or above which is only used by the U.S. Air Force, NASA, and some other U.S. government agencies. The rest of the world and most aerospace engineers define space as above the Kármán line (100 km or 62 miles). Virgin Galactic's “space” plane cannot reach this altitude, so they adopted a definition within the capability of their vehicle.

I suggest we call the people who fly to “space” on Virgin's ship “asterisknauts”.

Posted at 19:12 Permalink

CONTEXT: Lockheed CL-346: Vertical Takeoff and Landing Mach 2.2 F-104 Derivative Concept from the 1950s

Posted at 14:13 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Chinese Zhurong (祝融) Rover Descends to Martian Surface

Here is more on Zhurong.

Posted at 13:41 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Proximity Fuze—An Underappreciated Technological Breakthrough in World War II

The Germans never developed a proximity fuze for anti-aircraft artillery because they never imagined it would be possible to make vacuum tube electronics you could fire out of a cannon.

Posted at 12:34 Permalink

CONTEXT: When Agatha Christie Named a Character “Major Bletchley” During World War II

Posted at 11:08 Permalink

Friday, May 21, 2021

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Waxworks: Thermal Fuse

Posted at 15:06 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Starbase, Texas—Why SpaceX Is Starting Its Own City

Posted at 13:36 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: What the Crookes Radiometer Can Teach Us

Posted at 11:33 Permalink

Thursday, May 20, 2021

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Squirrel Confidence Course

Posted at 14:48 Permalink

CONTINUITY: American Information Exchange (AMIX), Split Contracts, Computational Law, and Decentralised Arbitration

Chip Morningstar begins this discussion with a look at the American Information Exchange (AMIX), the first on-line information market, which included mechanisms for digital contracts and dispute resolution. Autodesk invested in AMIX in June of 1988, and funded its development through pilot production launch. AMIX was so far ahead of its time it was difficult to explain the concept, potential scope of the market, and magnitude of the opportunity in getting there first. In September of 1989, I wrote a brief memorandum, “Understanding AMIX” to try to explain this to Autodesk senior management. In August, 1992, before the planned official launch of the service, Autodesk decided to divest AMIX, leaving the project without the resources to establish itself and create this new market.

I have often remarked that had Autodesk pursued AMIX, it is entirely possible the product would have evolved to occupy the market niche that eBay later created with the emergence of Internet access for the general public.

Posted at 13:57 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Restoring a Vintage Hewlett-Packard 410B Vacuum Tube Voltmeter

Posted at 11:49 Permalink

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Stephen Wolfram on Emil Post's Two-Tag Halting Problem

Here is background on tag systems and the halting problem.

Posted at 19:05 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Salyut 1—The First Space Station

The basic shape of Salyut 1 was inherited from the Chelomei Almaz military space station design, which was the subject of my 1998 essay “Blazing Satellites: Guns in Space!”. The odd design, with two cylinders of different diameters, was required on Almaz to accommodate the large aperture telescope for its surveillance mission, and was carried over, not just to all of the subsequent Salyut space stations, but also Mir, the core Zarya module of the International Space Station, and the recently-launched Chinese space station core module, Tienhe. Never underestimate the persistence of a legacy design which just works—think about that every time you program in Intel x86 machine language.

Posted at 12:47 Permalink

CONTINUITY: SpaceX: Flown Raptor Engines

These are the three Raptor engines which flew and landed on the Starship SN15 atmospheric test flight. SN15 has been re-installed on the launch stand, and if inspections reveal nothing amiss, may be re-flown. Getting the engines back is tremendously valuable not only in cost savings, but in allowing tear-down and analysis of potential problems and ways to extend their reusable lifetime.

Posted at 12:07 Permalink

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Hewlett-Packard AC-4G Vacuum Tube Decade Counter

The use of a 4-2-1-1 binary code instead of 8-4-2-1 binary-coded decimal seems odd until you see the stunningly clever way they use it both to drive the indicator neon bulbs and generate the analogue ramp output without the wheelbarrow full of parts it would take to do the way we do now with integrated circuits.

Posted at 13:06 Permalink

CONTEXT: U.S. Army Ready to Do Battle with—the Weather

Posted at 11:46 Permalink

CONTINUITY: James Lovelock: Reanimating Frozen Hamsters with Microwaves

Yes, that James Lovelock—he's 101 years old and vividly remembers this research from the 1950s.

Posted at 10:56 Permalink

Monday, May 17, 2021

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: How Many 3D Nets Does a 4D Hypercube Have?

And, when unfolded to one fewer dimension, do they tile it?

Posted at 15:41 Permalink

CONTEXT: Space Tourism—Back Again to Stay?

Posted at 13:04 Permalink

CONTINUITY: HP 9825 Repair Part 8: It Boots Again!

After digging into the tangled logic of the RAM board, simulating it with Logisim Evolution, the problem is narrowed down to an Intel 3242 dynamic RAM controller chip. This was was a single chip solution which handled multiplexing of row and column addresses as well as the refresh address to an array of dynamic RAM chips, and automatically kept track of the refresh address. This eliminated a handful of MSI chips in a memory board design. I used one in my 1979 M9900 64K RAM board.

Replacing the chip and…it boots!

Posted at 12:23 Permalink


Streaming video of the launch will be available here.

Posted at 11:48 Permalink

CONTEXT: Slavers: Now They're Afraid People Will Escape to Mars

The article is profoundly ignorant. It confuses the Moon treaty, which manages to be both evil and silly at the same time (it has not been ratified by any nation which has launched its own citizens into space) with the Outer Space Treaty, which explicitly does not ban private property, defending the same, or establishment of whatever institutions residents of other worlds (natural or artificial) may choose to create.

One of the principal motivations of space migration will be getting away from technocratic tyranny and mushy logic like the following. “Ultimately, a city on Mars would simply be an extension of Earth, though separated by a different kind of sea.” “International law is clear about private property rights in space — there are none. Private property rights can only be created by a state on the property over which the state has sovereignty.” “Musk elaborated in 2020 that he plans for his government to be a direct democracy. Commentators have questioned why Musk would choose that form of government, which may be terribly ineffective in response to resource scarcity and constant danger.”

“[R]esource scarcity and constant danger” are the chains they use to enslave us (just look at what people have accepted as the “new normal” since early 2020). Expanding into space, where 99%+ of the mass and energy of the solar system is there for the taking, is the way to break these chains and unleash the human potential. This scares them. It should.

Let them have the fantasies they parrot in lockstep about “Great Reset” and “Build Back Better”. We shall be building elsewhere.

You might call it our obligation to the human endowment.

Posted at 10:59 Permalink

Sunday, May 16, 2021

CONTINUITY: China Rolls Out Cargo Mission to Tianhe Space Station

Posted at 16:05 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Do the Surface-Mount Shimmy!

Posted at 13:54 Permalink

CONTEXT: Edward Snowden on Privacy, Cryptocurrency, and Freedom of the Press

He points out that physical cash is often no more secure than today's non-private cryptocurrencies. Central bank digital currencies are the central planners' and looters' dream come true.

Here is my review of Edward Snowden's Permanent Record.

Posted at 13:09 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: SpaceX Starlink 27 Mission

The first stage booster was making its eighth flight, having previous launched, inter alia, the Crew Dragon Demo flight to the International Space Station (ISS), a cargo resupply mission to the ISS, and three earlier Starlink missions. The launch carried two ride-share payloads, along with the 52 Starlink satellites. Both halves of the payload fairing had previously flown.

Posted at 11:33 Permalink

Saturday, May 15, 2021

CONTINUITY: Rocket Lab’s 20th Launch Spins Out of Control after Stage Separation

Posted at 22:22 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Introduction to Logisim Evolution: Open-Source Logic Simulator

Wow! I sure wish I'd had something like this when I was designing the M9900 CPU and M9900 64K!

You can download Logisim Evolution from GitHub. It's free, written in Java, and ready-to-run installable versions are available for Debian (etc.) and Red Hat (etc.) Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows systems.

Posted at 11:00 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Tesla Model S Onboard Systems Battery Runs Down While on Charger

…and the the fun begins.

Posted at 10:34 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Chinese Tianwen-1 (天问) Lands on Mars

In vintage communist style, no streaming video or other contemporary coverage was provided of the landing, only this Stalinesque announcement after the (claimed) success, with the co-ordinates. Independent radio hobbyists have been tracking the telemetry signal from the lander and inferring mission events from its Doppler shift as it performed its final maneuvers and encountered Mars.

Posted at 10:11 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Rocket Lab Electron “Running Out Of Toes” Launch

Launch is scheduled for 10:08 UTC on 2021-05-15. Rocket Lab will attempt to recover the first stage from the sea after a parachute splashdown.

Update: Loss of telemetry, end of Webcast without any further information. It doesn't look good. (2021-05-15 11:24 UTC)

Posted at 08:07 Permalink

Friday, May 14, 2021

CONTINUITY: Andy Weir: Project Hail Mary, Writing, and Life

There are essentially no spoilers for the novel in this interview.

Posted at 16:12 Permalink

CONTEXT: What Happens If You Distill Red Wine?

This experiment used a water distiller which did not, unlike a spirits still, separate the ethanol from the water. Consequently, both the water, alcohol, and any volatiles with a boiling point less than water were in the distillate. Interestingly, most of the flavour and colour compounds are less volatile and remained in the distiller. How would “reconstituted concentrated wine” fare in a blind wine tasting?

Posted at 13:18 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Inside a 10 Gigabit per Second USB-C Cable

The tip of a ball-point pen is shown for scale. Not all such cables use these micro-coaxial conductors: some use shielded twisted pairs. The conductors in the centre are for compatibility with USB 2.0.

Posted at 12:04 Permalink

CONTEXT: SpaceX: Starship Orbital Flight Test Plan

SpaceX have filed a document, “Starship Orbital - First Flight FCC Exhibit” [PDF], as part of their application to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission for a license to downlink S band telemetry from the flight test. This document provides details of the flight, with the “Flight Profile” as follows:

The Starship Orbital test flight will originate from Starbase, TX. The Booster stage will separate approximately 170 seconds into flight. The Booster will then perform a partial return and land in the Gulf of Mexico approximately 20 miles from the shore. The Orbital Starship will continue on flying between the Florida Straits. It will achieve orbit until performing a powered, targeted landing approximately 100km (~62 miles) off the northwest coast of Kauai in a soft ocean landing.

Both stages will land at sea. The orbital stage (Starship) is planned to make a “soft ocean landing”, which presumably means a propulsive landing ending in a splashdown in the ocean off Hawaii. The booster (Super Heavy) will do a partial boost-back and land offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. It is not stated whether this will also be a splashdown or a platform landing, but as no suitable platform is known to exist or to be under construction, the former is the way to bet. If there's no plan to re-fly these vehicles, soft water landings demonstrate the landing capability, allow intact recovery to permit post-flight examination and analysis, and does not put the Starbase infrastructure at risk from a landing attempt on-site.

Some have quibbled with SpaceX's designating this a “Orbital” flight despite its plan to complete less than one complete orbit around the Earth. But from a dynamical and engineering standpoint, once you've achieved a perigee and apogee outside the atmosphere, you're in orbit, and it doesn't matter how many times you go around, even if it's less than one, before you perform a retrograde burn and re-enter the atmosphere. From a flight test perspective, the thermal, flight control, and mechanical stresses on the vehicle are identical, and allow testing return from an arbitrary orbital mission with the same orbital parameters. Targeting the splashdown off Hawaii avoids performing the re-entry over the western U.S., as would be the case for a return to the Starbase in Texas, with the attendant possibility of scattering Starship debris along the trajectory if it ends badly.

Here are the technical details of the application to the FCC. According to this document, the period covered by the application is 2021-06-20 through 2021-12-20, so the flight could occur any time in this June through December window.

Posted at 11:10 Permalink

Thursday, May 13, 2021

CONTINUITY: A Mid-Air Collision with No Injuries

Posted at 13:56 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Chinese Tianwen-1 (天问) Mars Landing

I don't know if anybody will be streaming the landing attempt. If I come across sources, I will add them to this post. Here is background on the mission.

Posted at 12:18 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: The True Cost of Processor Manufacturing: Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company 7 Nanometre Process

Posted at 12:10 Permalink

CONTEXT: News You Can Use—How to Fill a Klein Bottle

Presented by Clifford Stoll.

Posted at 11:30 Permalink

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

CONTINUITY: Darts in Higher Dimensions

This game/puzzle was originally suggested by Greg Egan, whose science fiction often features intricate mathematical constructs.

The problem is similar and related to, at a deep level, the “Sum of Uniformly Distributed Random Numbers”, about which I wrote in 2006.

Posted at 15:10 Permalink

CONTEXT: Finally—A Mind Controlled Flamethrower

Posted at 11:18 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Iron Dome in Action

Here is more on Iron Dome. Remember all the “experts” who said “You can't hit a missile with a missile”?

Posted at 10:37 Permalink

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

CONTINUITY: Vacuum Tube Computer Part 12: Redesigning the Logic Unit and Building Buffers

After experimenting with an actual MC14500, it's decided to extend the design to support full binary arithmetic including carry, which on the original Motorola design requires lengthy bit-twiddling. Driving the resulting arithmetic and logic unit (ALU) will require more fan-out than the instruction decoder provides, so once again it's time to add buffer circuitry. At this point, the largely repetitive circuitry is complete, and it's time to contemplate the messy random logic which the ALU will require.

Posted at 11:43 Permalink

CONTEXT: Sidewinder — The Missile That Changed Air Combat

Posted at 10:15 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Bright Lights: The Story of Neon Signs

Geissler tubes filled with various gases that fluoresce when electrified were popular novelties in the 19th century, often made in whimsical shapes. If you have a Tesla coil, you really ought to have a few Geissler tubes which will light up in its vicinity without a wired connection. You can find them on eBay.

Posted at 08:55 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: The Joys of Surface-Mount Components

Posted at 07:59 Permalink

Monday, May 10, 2021


This, just two days after Dogecoin declines 35% in 24 hours after Elon Musk calls it “a hustle” during a skit on Saturday Night Live.

Posted at 14:24 Permalink

CONTEXT: Nicholas Wade—“Origin of Covid — Following the Clues”

This is a long (10,500 word) piece, but packed with well-documented facts about the nature and potential origins of the COVID virus of which you may not be aware if you rely upon the legacy media for information. Not only will you learn about details such as the furin cleavage site between the S1 and S2 sub-units of the spike protein and the extremely odd appearance of two adjacent CGG codones for arginine in the genome for that site, there's also a “follow the money” trail leading from the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China, which conducted its gain-of-function experiments on bat coronaviruses in a biosafety level 2 (BSL-2) laboratory, which is comparable to a U.S. dentist's office.

I've been describing this entire tawdry episode as the “Bonfire of the Experts”, in which self-appointed figures of authority have self-immolated by deception, outright lies, cover-ups, and constantly changing “truth”—“That was last week's truth. Today's truth is…”. Here is abundant additional fuel for the fire.

Posted at 12:36 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: There's Plenty “Moore” Room: IBM's New 2 Nanometre Silicon Process

Posted at 07:38 Permalink

Sunday, May 9, 2021

CONTEXT: SL-1: What Caused America’s First Nuclear Meltdown?

Here is the original U.S. Atomic Energy Commission film about the accident, investigation, and aftermath.

Posted at 15:13 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: HP 9825 Repair Part 7: How Dynamic RAM Works (or Doesn't)

In the next installment of the “everything is broken” saga, the focus moves on to the random access memory (RAM) of the Hewlett-Packard 9825 laboratory computer. The refresh circuitry appears not to be working, which causes the system to rapidly forget what's been stored. What's refresh? Perhaps a deep dive into the history and technology of dynamic RAM will refresh your memory!

The HP 9825 uses the 4116 dynamic RAM chip, which brought back…memories…as I designed a 64 Kb memory board in 1979 using this same iconic chip.

Posted at 11:41 Permalink

CONTINUITY: SpaceX Starlink L27 Mission

SpaceX successfully launched Falcon 9 booster B1051-10 for the tenth time, achieving the original reusability design goal for the first stage, then recovered it on the drone ship. The mission successfully placed sixty more Starlink satellites in orbit.

Posted at 10:20 Permalink

Saturday, May 8, 2021

CONTINUITY: Long March CV-5B Re-entry Prediction Refined to ± 4 Hours

Re-entry will occur somewhere on the indicated ground tracks. The debris field will be extended along the track depending upon the mass and density of the objects that survive re-entry.

Posted at 14:33 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Judging Theories of Everything, with Lee Smolin and Eric Weinstein

There's even a brief discussion of the forthcoming Pentagon disclosures on UFOs at the end.

Posted at 14:26 Permalink

CONTEXT: Why It’s Hard to Predict Where China’s Spent Rocket Stage Will Land

It can't land on Fourmilab, as its orbit only passes over latitudes ±42. Here is the latest prediction as of the time of this post.

Posted at 11:47 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: SpaceX Starlink L27 Mission to Attempt 10th Flight of Booster

If successful, this will be the tenth flight of first stage booster B1051-10, setting a record and achieving the original re-use goal for Falcon 9, after a 56 day turn-around following its previous flight. This will be the 117th launch of a Falcon 9, 63rd re-flight of a booster, and 84th landing of a booster. Launch is scheduled for 06:42 UTC on 2021-05-09. You can find the Webcast by typing “SpaceX webcast” in a YouTube search box starting around a half hour before the launch time.

Posted at 11:24 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Mars Helicopter Ingenuity Completes Fifth Flight

Posted at 11:19 Permalink

Friday, May 7, 2021

CONTINUITY: Scott Manley on the Flight of SpaceX Starship SN15

Posted at 17:04 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Discovering Physical Laws from Observational Data with Machine Learning

The paper is “AI Poincaré: Machine Learning Conservation Laws from Trajectories”.

Posted at 15:30 Permalink

CONTEXT: Woke Myrmecology

We can also tag this with #AgeOfStupid, in that they appended the English plural/epicene pronoun “they” instead of a Latin plural suffix such as “ayersorum”. Just jamming an English pronoun on the end is as inane as renaming Aleiodes gaga (a wasp named after Lady Gaga) Aleiodes gagashe (or would that be “gagshe", if you drop the final “a” as a Latin feminine ending?).

The one redeeming thing about this age is that it will give its survivors plenty to laugh about as they dig for grubs with dull sticks among its ruins.

Posted at 14:40 Permalink

CONTINUITY: A Floating Ring in a Silicon MEMS Gyroscope

Here is the data sheet for the CRM100 [PDF].

Posted at 14:12 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: GoPro Inside a Dishwasher

If he'd added detergent during the initial rinse cycle (note that the detergent dispenser has an indentation to the left of the compartment that holds the dose for the wash cycle intended for this purpose), the grotty cruft on the plates would likely have been removed much earlier in the cleaning cycle, with more flushed out with the rinse water before the start of the main wash. See SCANALYZER for 2020-12-22 for details.

Posted at 13:28 Permalink


There's a paper in the May 2021 issue of Advances in Microbology 11(5), “Fungi on Mars? Evidence of Growth and Behavior From Sequential Images” (full text [PDF] available for download from this link), which shows some intriguing images, both from orbit and rovers on the surface, that show striking similarities to fungal forms on Earth. Here is the abstract.

Fungi thrive in radiation intense environments. Sequential photos document that fungus-like Martian specimens emerge from the soil and increase in size, including those resembling puffballs (Basidiomycota). After obliteration of spherical specimens by the rover wheels, new sphericals--some with stalks--appeared atop the crests of old tracks. Sequences document that thousands of black arctic “araneiforms” grow up to 300 meters in the Spring and disappear by Winter; a pattern repeated each Spring and which may represent massive colonies of black fungi, mould, lichens, algae, methanogens and sulfur reducing species. Black fungi-bacteria-like specimens also appeared atop the rovers. In a series of photographs over three days (Sols) white amorphous specimens within a crevice changed shape and location then disappeared. White protoplasmic-mycelium-like-tendrils with fruiting-body-like appendages form networks upon and above the surface; or increase in mass as documented by sequential photographs. Hundreds of dimpled donut-shaped “mushroom-like” formations approximately 1mm in size are adjacent or attached to these mycelium-like complexes. Additional sequences document that white amorphous masses beneath rock-shelters increase in mass, number, or disappear and that similar white-fungus-like specimens appeared inside an open rover compartment. Comparative statistical analysis of a sample of 9 spherical specimens believed to be fungal “puffballs” photographed on Sol 1145 and 12 specimens that emerged from beneath the soil on Sol 1148 confirmed the nine grew significantly closer together as their diameters expanded and some showed evidence of movement. Cluster analysis and a paired sample ‘t’ test indicates a statistically significant size increase in the average size ratio over all comparisons between and within groups (P = 0.011). Statistical comparisons indicates that arctic “araneiforms” significantly increased in length in parallel following an initial growth spurt. Although similarities in morphology are not proof of life, growth, movement, and changes in shape and location constitute behavior and support the hypothesis there is life on Mars.

Here are some photos from the paper pointed out by Robin Hanson, with his comments.

Extraordinary claims…” and all that, but if any of this is correct, this is one of the most stunning scientific oversights in the last century, given that we have been observing Mars from orbit and the surface since 1976. If some of all of this (in particular, the gunk seeming to grow on the rovers) turns out to be contamination by terrestrial organisms which prove viable on Mars, it indicates that NASA's “planetary protection” standards (“maximum of 300,000 spores per spacecraft and 300 spores per square meter”) may have been “good enough for government work” but not for a universe in which “life finds a way”.

Posted at 11:49 Permalink

Thursday, May 6, 2021

THE HAPPENING WORLD: A CPU Chip Bigger than Your Head: Cerebras Wafer Scale Engine 2

Cerebras Wafer Scale Engine 2 specifications:

  • 850,000 cores
  • 40 Gb on-chip SRAM
  • 7 nm TSMC process
  • 2.6 trillion transistors
  • 46,225 mm² silicon area;
  • 20 Pb/sec memory bandwidth
  • 220 Pb/sec on-chip interconnect bandwidth
  • 23 kW power dissipation (water cooled)

The wafer is designed with spare cores so that those with defects can be routed around, and hence fabrication yield is 100%.

Posted at 15:02 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Garbage Then, Garbage Now—Microsoft Windows 1.04

The 640 Kb BIOS memory test at the start ran for 48 seconds on this IBM PC/XT clone (4.77 MHz Intel 8088). Testing the 16 Gb RAM installed on many current PCs at this speed would take more than two weeks.

Posted at 12:14 Permalink

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

THE HAPPENING WORLD: SpaceX Starship SN15 Successful Test Flight and Landing

Posted at 22:50 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: That Time a DC-8 Flew Faster than Sound

Here is an interview with Richard H. Edwards, flight engineer on the 1961-08-21 supersonic flight.

Posted at 12:46 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Sixty Years Ago Today: The Flight of Freedom 7

Posted at 12:36 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Internet Security, 1990s Style, from General Electric

From the people who brought you the light bulb.

Posted at 12:15 Permalink

CONTEXT: Cats—“If I Fits, I Sits”

Posted at 11:52 Permalink

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

THE HAPPENING WORLD: SpaceX: Starlink Launch

Launch is scheduled for 19:01 UTC on 2021-05-04. If the launch is scrubbed today, a backup opportunity is available on 2021-05-05 at 18:39 UTC.

Posted at 16:00 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Posted at 14:00 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Freezing Water in a Sealed Container

Posted at 13:04 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Rendering 3D in the Brain—The Pulfrich Effect

Here is more about the Pulfrich effect.

Posted at 12:35 Permalink

CONTINUITY: 1964—Mariner 4 Flyby of Mars

Here is more on Mariner 4. The film includes production of the “paint-by-number” manual production of the first image of Mars, which can still be seen at JPL today.

Posted at 11:38 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: SpaceX Starship SN15 Medium Altitude Test

Road closures and airspace exclusion notices have been posted for today, 2021-05-04, and tomorrow, 2021-05-05 There is no way to know when in this window the flight test will occur, if at all. Today's (May 4th) window opens at 17:00 UTC.

Update: The flight is scrubbed for today, 2021-05-04. Another launch opportunity remains for tomorrow, 2021-05-05. (2021-05-04 16:07 UTC)

Posted at 11:01 Permalink

Monday, May 3, 2021

CONTEXT: News You Can Use—Pure Fusion: D-T Plasma Ignition by Overdriven Detonation of High Explosives

Edward Teller always believed this was possible.

In 1989, I wrote a story about abundant neutron generation by impact-driven pure fusion, “Not with a Bang”.

Posted at 18:24 Permalink

CONTEXT: Make a Space Suit from Duct Tape?

Paging Adam Savage….

Posted at 14:43 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: International Space Station Transits the Moon

Posted at 12:15 Permalink

CONTEXT: Smallest Rational Right Triangle with Area 157

Posted at 11:41 Permalink

CONTINUITY: From 1966—RCA TR-4 Video Tape Recorder

Introduced in 1964, the TR-4 was larger than a big American refrigerator and cost, depending upon options, US$35,000 and up in 1966, or around US$290,000 in today's funny money. It used two inch wide tape on giant reels and was able, with an optional accessory, to handle colour signals.

Posted at 11:00 Permalink

Sunday, May 2, 2021

CONTEXT: Using Liquid Air or Nitrogen as an Energy Storage and Transmission Medium

The Cryomatiks turbine cryogenic expander presently has specific energy around the same as lithium battery packs on current electric vehicles. It is being developed for commercial and fleet vehicles which can be refueled at their depots, avoiding the need for a wide-scale distribution infrastructure for the liquefied gas (which is already produced on a large industrial scale for other uses).

Posted at 15:41 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Rediscovery of the Coelacanth

Posted at 12:38 Permalink

CONTINUITY: HP 9825 Repair Part 6: Can the HP 547A Probe Get Us Out of Trouble?

As analysis progresses of the damage done to a 1970s vintage Hewlett-Packard (H-P) 9825 laboratory computer by a single shorted transistor in its power supply, one of the worst nightmares in digital circuitry debugging manifests itself: a stuck bit in an on-board bus. The stuck bit could be due to any of the numerous components on the bus, all soldered in place. To deal with this problem, in the 1970s, H-P introduced a piece of test equipment, the HP 547A current tracer. The idea was that by sensing the magnetic field of current flowing to the fault in the circuit, it would be possible to localise the fault on a bus with many components attached. Can this H-P gadget diagnose the fault in this H-P computer?

Posted at 11:57 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: SpaceX—Crew-1 Mission Return to Earth

Posted at 11:05 Permalink

Saturday, May 1, 2021

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: The Mind of a Chess Grandmaster

Posted at 14:11 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: When a Boeing 747 Flew with 1088 People on Board

Here is more information about Operation Solomon, of which the flight was a part. The exact number of people on the flight was stated in contemporary reports as between 1078 and 1122, with agreement that two were born on board during the flight.

Posted at 13:36 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: 21st Century Problems—(Memory) Leaky Faucet

Posted at 12:31 Permalink

CONTEXT: Extreme Engineering—Top Fuel Dragsters

Unlike the 1950s and 1960s, where rapid innovation in designs broke records and made champions, they have now standardised on a single engine and supercharger, making things less interesting from an engineering standpoint.

Posted at 12:06 Permalink