Virgin Galactic’s Budget Problems

You know, if they’d get a working engine and actually start flying, I don’t think they’d need as big a promotional budget.

[Update a couple minutes later]

WhiteKnightTwo just took off with SpaceShipTwo, presumably for a glide test. Meanwhile, Jeff Foust has a story on plans for powered flight test.

[Update a while later]

Meanwhile, just down the flight line, here’s what it looks like to build a Lynx.

Orbits And Suborbits

I’ve updated yesterday’s piece at Ricochet to clarify, for those in comments. I’ve probably discussed this here before, but…

Per discussion in comments, there seems to be some confusion about the difference between high-altitude flight, suborbital flight, and orbital flight. As John Walker points out, orbital flight requires a minimum speed to sustain the orbit, but while that is necessary, it is not a sufficient condition. In fact, a flight can be suborbital with the same speed (energy) as an orbital flight. The best, or at least, most rigorous way to define a “suborbit” is an orbit that intersects the atmosphere and/or surface of the planet. So if you launched straight up at orbital velocity, it would still be a suborbit, because it would (after an hour or two, I haven’t done the math) fall back to the ground. So John’s numbers in terms of comparative energy are roughly correct for the particular vehicles being discussed here (XCOR Lynx and VG SpaceShipTwo), they can’t be generalized for any suborbital vehicle (e.g., a sounding rocket isn’t orbital, but it goes much higher than those passenger vehicles, often hundreds of kilometers in altitude).

The speed necessary to achieve orbit is partly a function of the mass of the body being orbited, but it is also a function of its diameter, and whether or not it has an atmosphere. If the earth were a point mass, an object tossed out at an altitude equivalent to the earth radius (that is ground level) would have very little velocity, but it would have a lot of potential energy. It would fall, gain speed, whip around the center and come back up to the person who had tossed it. That is, it would orbit. So even for the relatively low-energy suborbital vehicles discussed in this post, the reason that they’re not orbital is simply that the planet gets in the way.

One other interesting point is that, under the definition above, subsonic “parabolic” aircraft flights in the atmosphere, to offer half a minute or so of weightlessness (offered by the Zero G company), are suborbital flights, in terms of their trajectory. I put “parabolic” in quotes because in actuality, if properly flown, they are really elliptical sections, as all orbits and suborbits are. The parabola is just a close approximation if you assume a flat earth, which is a valid assumption for the short distances involved. Galileo did his original artillery tables based on flat earth, which is why beginning physics students model cannonball problems as parabolas, but modern long-range artillery has to account for the earth curvature, and it does calculate as elliptical trajectories.

Finally, one more extension. Ignoring the atmosphere, every artillery shell fired, every ball thrown or hit, every long jumper, every person who simply hops up into the air, is in a suborbit. The primary distinction for the vehicles discussed is that they are in a suborbit that reaches a specific altitude (at least a hundred kilometers to officially be in “space”), and leaves the atmosphere.

Clear as mud?

Another “Phony” Scandal

May be about to explode?

The wheels of justice, as they say, grind slowly. As with other Obama administration scandals, Barack’s effort is to run out the clock. It may be that by the time we learn the full extent of the Obama administration’s lawlessness, the administration will be over. But the remaining options are not good: either Austan Goolsbee, a senior adviser to Obama, made up a smear of Koch Industries out of whole cloth, or else Obama’s IRS allowed the White House illegal access to confidential taxpayer data for political purposes. That’s a crime for which at least two people should go to jail.

Not if the media has anything to say about it. They’ll just ignore it.

What Happened To My Suborbital Ride?

I have some thoughts and links on the 10th anniversary celebration, over at Ricochet:

Basically, the late Jim Benson of SpaceDev (now part of the Sierra Nevada corporation, which finally seems to have given up on its own plans to use a hybrid motor for its Dream Chaser vehicle) sold Burt Rutan a bill of goods with the hybrid, with claims of simplicity and safety. In fact, as many of us told him at the time, he’d have been a lot better off purchasing a liquid engine from XCOR, but they didn’t have a sufficient track record at the time for him to think they could meet the deadline to win the prize. Then, once they’d (sort of) succeeded in flying something into space, they continued on with what they thought they knew. They’ve been in a sunk-cost trap ever since, unable to get themselves out of the hybrid-propulsion rut.

As I’ve long noted, the delays in the arrival of commercial spaceflight have been a combination of people who knew what to do not having money, and the people how had money not understanding the problem, and being too arrogant to listen to the veterans. Only now is the crucial combination of money and know how finally coming together.

As I note there, I stopped by XCOR in the morning before the event. Looks like they’re making good progress in bringing the spacecraft together.

Mann Versus Me

For those of you who have been following the progress of the case, the appellate court will hear oral arguments on November 25th (a few weeks from now). That will be over two years since the lawsuit was filed, in utter defiance of the District of Columbia’s anti-SLAPP law, whose purpose was exactly to prevent this kind of delay in dismissal of vexatious free-speech torts.

[Cross posted at Ricochet]

The Collapse Of The Obama Presidency

Don’t let this crisis go to waste:

Are the young struck by the dashed hopes of Obamacare? Give them a copy of Friedrich Hayek’s The Fatal Conceit. They can’t believe the Secret Service farce? Introduce them to James Q. Wilson on bureaucracy. They’re befuddled by the exploitation of an unfortunate incident in Ferguson? Have them read Edward C. Banfield’s The Unheavenly City (especially the chapter he titled “Rioting Mainly for Fun and Profit”). Liberalism’s domestic policies aren’t working quite the way they were supposed to? Acquaint them with Irving Kristol: “I have observed over the years that the unanticipated consequences of social action are always more important, and usually less agreeable, than the intended consequences.”

Similarly, we should be running ads telling them that “We told you so.”

James Lileks

Internet copyright criminal:

YouTube had detected that I was using a 30-year old performance now owned by Sony, and thus I was VIOLATING EVERYTHING HELD SACRED or words to that effect. One had to marvel at a system that could detect such things, especially since the impression one gets from reading YouTube comments is that the service is aimed at a unique species of chimp that is making the transition from flinging its feces as a means of expressing disagreement to typing words which occasionally add up to an actual sentence.

It’s possible someone would have watched the video, and thought: Interesting piece, this Mahler thing. Even though I have heard but two minutes I believe I have grasped the totality of the work, and will refrain from seeking out the entire movement. Surely more could only add up to less. And thus Sony would be deprived of 23 cents in royalty.

Well, I didn’t own the copyright, and while I could claim Fair Use under the guise of using Mahler’s early use of his own Judaic heritage to score slo-mo goose-stepping spark plugs as means of examining the composer’s nominal acceptance of Christianity to ward off the anti-semitism of fin de siecle Vienna, ahhh, to hell with it.

And yes, before you ask, I am indeed behind on my Lileks.

Turning The Country Around

No, now is not the time:

Now, back in 2008, Barack Obama was elected president with a Democrat-controlled House and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Many of us correctly knew this was like having a toddler armed with power tools. Others, though, didn’t see the danger and cooed, “Oh, look at that little guy. He’s so industrious! He’s going to get a lot done,” while the rest of us were freaking out, worried about him getting near anything valuable. And before we could yell, “No, little Barry, no!” he went right after health care with his drill, and it’s basically all ruined now.

So in 2010 we voted to take away his power tools by turning the House over to the Republicans. Obama was still a destructive little tyke who just refused to listen, but at least now it was a bit harder for him to burn the whole house down or something. In 2012, we — well, I don’t know how to stretch the analogy — had the option to exchange little Barry at the kid-trade-in emporium and get a better kid who might not be as dumb and destructive. I guess we had grown fond of the little dummy, though, and thought maybe he was finally learning. We were just being sentimental, of course. We really should have done the smart thing and sold the kid to gypsies.

And that brings us to 2014 and the option we have before us now: mittens. Now, no one is talking about giving the tyke power tools again. There’s just no conceivable scenario in which the Democrats take back the House this year — and I’m including science fiction scenarios involving advanced aliens and Doctor Who-type closed time loops — so the only real question is whether the Republicans can get a majority in the Senate. That would be like forcing little Barry to wear mittens to keep his grubby little fingers out of things. He’ll still be able to knock things over and run into furniture, but the mittens will at least somewhat limit the damage he can cause.

Now, I want to note that I don’t mean this analogy to be disrespectful to President Obama. But I think most historians will back me when I say his presidency is the equivalent of a dumb child running into tables.

Read the rest. You know you want to.

Dreamchaser And Stratolaunch

I didn’t mention this earlier in the week, but SNC is teaming with StratoLaunch to get a subscale version into orbit. If it’s 75% scale, I figure that’s about 40% of the current interior volume, which lines up with their claim of being able to carry two or three passengers (the full-scale system is designed for seven). The big advantage of such a system would be single-orbit rendezvous, and runway landing, so if it happens, there’d certainly be a market niche for it.

The Perils Of Being Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Thoughts from Charles Cooke:

…the nature of the apology seems to tell us exactly why he did not just own up and move on. He can’t. He’s trapped, having become responsible for the self-esteem and self-identity of millions of adoring followers. Deep down, I bet Tyson wished he could just say, “my mistake.” Instead, he had to embed his note in an avalanche of superfluous pseudo-context; to insist that the whole affair “fascinated me greatly”; to enter into peculiar digressions about the nature of evidence and of memory; and, rather than admitting that a critic was right, to propose extraneously that “the mind is surely the next mysterious universe to be plumbed.” I find this all rather sad, I must say. I like Neil deGrasse Tyson. I’m sure he’s a nice, smart, interesting guy. His most ardent followers, however, are not. And, if his behavior over the past month is any indication, he’s been captured by them.

Yes. This hasn’t enhanced his reputation. Or notoriety.

USB Devices

I hadn’t realized they’re more than just memory:

“People look at these things and see them as nothing more than storage devices,” says Caudill. “They don’t realize there’s a reprogrammable computer in their hands.”

In an earlier interview with WIRED ahead of his Black Hat talk, Berlin-based Nohl had said that he wouldn’t release the exploit code he’d developed because he considered the BadUSB vulnerability practically unpatchable. (He did, however, offer a proof-of-concept for Android devices.) To prevent USB devices’ firmware from being rewritten, their security architecture would need to be fundamentally redesigned, he argued, so that no code could be changed on the device without the unforgeable signature of the manufacturer. But he warned that even if that code-signing measure were put in place today, it could take 10 years or more to iron out the USB standard’s bugs and pull existing vulnerable devices out of circulation. “It’s unfixable for the most part,” Nohl said at the time. “But before even starting this arms race, USB sticks have to attempt security.”

Caudill says that by publishing their code, he and Wilson are hoping to start that security process. But even they hesitate to release every possible attack against USB devices. They’re working on another exploit that would invisibly inject malware into files as they are copied from a USB device to a computer. By hiding another USB-infecting function in that malware, Caudill says it would be possible to quickly spread the malicious code from any USB stick that’s connected to a PC and back to any new USB plugged into the infected computer. That two-way infection trick could potentially enable a USB-carried malware epidemic. Caudill considers that attack so dangerous that even he and Wilson are still debating whether to release it.

Great.

Steyn Versus Mann

Norms of behavior.

People on twitter ask things like “How is Mann’s calling Curry a serial climate misinformer as bad or worse as Steyn referring to Mann’s fraudulent hockey stick?” Well the issue is the different norms of behavior between scientists and political commentators. In the climate wars, there is not a level mudslinging playing field for scientists and political commentators.

When I have criticized Mann, I have criticized his involvement in Hiding the Decline, and also his violations of the norms of what I regard as appropriate behavior by scientists. This is far different than what Mann has been doing in #1-#5 above. 5 years ago, defending Michael Mann against his attackers was regarded by many scientists as defending climate science. At this point, I am not seeing many climate scientists standing up for Michael Mann, owing to his violations of the norms, unless they are extreme partisans.

Related: Mann is an Island.

Note also that Steve McIntyre has found more hockey-stick problems.