Rover McRoverface?

They only want K-12 students to help, so talk to your younger friends, or the children of your younger friends, and get them to suggest “Rover McRoverface.”

You could also suggest “Wade” as in “Rover Wade”, if you want to see someone’s head explode:

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover is beginning to take shape. Earlier this month, crews installed some of its legs and six of its wheels. Now, the vehicle needs a name, and for that, NASA is turning to students. Beginning in fall 2019, NASA will run a nationwide “Name the Rover” contest open to K-12 students in the US. The spacecraft will need a name by July 2020, when it’s expected to launch.

The contest is part of NASA’s ongoing effort to engage the public in its Moon to Mars mission, which will search for signs of microbial life, characterize the planet’s climate and geology and pave the way for human exploration. If you’re not a K-12 student but want to get involved, NASA is also accepting applications to judge the contest submissions.

Bad Day at the Office

The SpaceX Dragon crew capsule experienced an anomaly during testing at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

In plain language, it blew up.

There are no repeated casualties:

An accident Saturday during an abort engine test on a Crew Dragon test vehicle at Cape Canaveral sent a reddish-orange plume into the sky visible for miles around, a setback for SpaceX and NASA as teams prepare the capsule for its first mission with astronauts.

SpaceX is testing the Crew Dragon ahead of the capsule’s first test flight with astronauts later this year, following a successful Crew Dragon demonstration mission to the International Space Station in early March.

SpaceX confirmed the accident, first reported by Florida Today, in a statement Saturday evening. No injuries were reported.

“Earlier today, SpaceX conducted a series of engine tests on a Crew Dragon test vehicle on our test stand at Landing Zone 1 in Cape Canaveral, Florida,” a company spokesperson said. “The initial tests completed successfully but the final test resulted in an anomaly on the test stand.”

The red plume in the photo is from the nitrogen tetroxide propellant.

Finally, Some Good News

Watch NASA Staff Lose their Sh%$ Completely (about 2:55)

NASA’s InSight probe nailed the landing on Mars:

NASA has not botched a Mars landing since December 1999, when the Polar Lander fell silent following its powered descent to Planum Australe. Then came the successes of the Spirit and Opportunity rovers, the Phoenix lander and, in 2012, the bellwether Curiosity rover, which discovered organic materials and habitable environments on Mars.

Still, NASA downplayed the chances of InSight surviving atmospheric entry, descent and landing (EDL) on the wide, flat plains of Mars’ Elysium Planitia, located 4.5 deg. N. Lat. and 135.9 deg. E. Long., about 340 mi. (550 km) away from where Curiosity is exploring Gale Crater.

With an 8.1-min. time delay for radio signals from Earth to reach Mars 91 million mi. away, flight controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) here had little to do but watch and wait as InSight shed its cruise stage and dived into the Martian atmosphere at 11:47 a.m. PST (2:47 p.m. EST) on Nov. 26, with the probe still traveling at more than 12,000 mph.

A tense 6.5 min. followed as InSight, built by Lockheed Martin, traveled the final 77 mi. to the surface of Mars. Its ablative heat shield, composed primarily of crushed cork, reached temperatures as high as 2,700F—hot enough to melt steel—as friction from Mars’ atmosphere bled the spacecraft of kinetic energy, gradually trimming its speed to 295 mph.

At 11:51 a.m. PST, a mortar fired to release InSight’s 39-ft.-dia. supersonic parachute, which inflated with a force of 12,500 lb./ft.2, leaving the probe free to shed its heat shield, deploy three shock-absorbing landing legs and activate a ground-facing radar system to relay altitude and descent rates to the onboard flight computer.

Finally, a dozen Aerojet Rocketdyne MR-107N retrorockets, each capable of providing 68 lb. of force, pulsed to steer InSight clear of its discarded backshell and parachute and slow its speed to 5.5 mph for a soft landing on Mars at 11:54 a.m. PST. “This never gets old,” JPL chief engineer Rob Manning said during NASA’s landing webcast.

Unfortunately, no Mohawk guy, but a good time was had by all.

Shades of the B-70 Bomber

The prototype today

The XB-70 in 1960

Have a video

A slightly clearer view

Nasa is investigating wings that fold down in flight to reduce drag and increase stability: (paid subscription required)

Folding the tips of a wing in flight can increase stability and reduce drag, NASA flight tests have shown. Now researchers plan additional flights to test control laws that actively adjust wing fold in flight to minimize drag. They are also proposing a project to test wing folding in supersonic flight.

The Spanwise Adaptive Wing (SAW) project, a rapid feasibility assessment under NASA’s Convergent Aeronautics Solutions (CAS) program, showed folding the outer sections of the wing in flight improved directional stability and control. In a new aircraft design, this would allow tail size and drag to be reduced.

One of the interesting bit of tech here is the actuator for wing folding.

As opposed to the rather large and heavy hydraulic actuators used by the Valkyrie, they are using memory metals and heating:

The tests involved NASA’s subscale unmanned prototype-technology evaluation and research aircraft (PTERA), essentially an 11%-scale Boeing 737, with the outer 15 in. on either side of its 176-in.-span wing hinged to fold up or down by up to 75 deg. The sections were folded in flight using shape memory alloy (SMA) actuators built into the hinge lines.


SAW is built around torsion actuators made of an alloy that, when heated electrically, “remembers” and returns to its original twisted shaped, and in doing so moves the wingtip. The PTERA uses an actuator with a single SMA tube that produces 500 in.-lb. of torque. NASA Glenn has ground-tested a 5,000 in.-lb. actuator with nested SMA tubes. This was used to fold the outer wingbox of the F/A-18 wing.


NASA Glenn has developed the nickel-titanium-hafnium shape-memory alloy and is working to scale up the tubes to sizes never before produced. “Glenn is working with the material supplier, pouring melts and breaking records,” says Moholt. “They are working to make sure it scales, with the right crystalline structure.”

The raw SMA stock is provided to Boeing, which gun-drills the tubes and assembles them into an actuator. The 20,000 in.-lb. SAW actuator has 12 0.5-in.-dia. tubes, each with a gear at the end driving a ring gear that moves the wing. Boeing is also “training” the SMA actuators, a process that requires thousands of thermal cycles.

The SAW project ends in September. The team is proposing a follow-on project that would demonstrate SMA wing folding on a supersonic aircraft. Folding the wingtips down in supersonic flight generates compression lift from shockwaves under the wing and can dramatically reduce induced drag, says Moholt. This was used in the North American XB-70 bomber. Folding the tips down also increases lateral stability and control in supersonic flight, allowing a smaller tail.

Also, at supersonic speeds, the drooped wingtips capture the shock-wave from the bottom of the aircraft, and can increase lift.

It’s a neat piece of kit.

I’m With NASA on This

NASA has said that it is profoundly uncomfortable with man rating the SpaceX booster, because one of its core technologies, super-cooled propellants, would require that fuel be loaded when the astronauts are already in the capsule.

I agree.  Cooling LOX and kerosine well below their boiling point prior to loading does increase the total mass of fuel in the tank, but, because of thermal issues, this requires very fast loading immediately before launch, and as such is a menace:

When Elon Musk and his team at SpaceX were looking to make their Falcon 9 rocket even more powerful, they came up with a creative idea — keep the propellant at super-cold temperatures to shrink its size, allowing them to pack more of it into the tanks.

But the approach comes with a major risk, according to some safety experts. At those extreme temperatures, the propellant would need to be loaded just before takeoff — while astronauts are aboard. An accident, or a spark, during this maneuver, known as “load-and-go,” could set off an explosion.

The proposal has raised alarms for members of Congress and NASA safety advisers as the agency and SpaceX prepare to launch humans into orbit as early as this year. One watchdog group labeled load-and-go a “potential safety risk.” A NASA advisory group warned in a letter that the method was “contrary to booster safety criteria that has been in place for over 50 years.”

Concerns at NASA over the astronauts’ safety hit a high point when, in September 2016, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blew up while it was being fueled ahead of an engine test. No one was hurt, but the payload, a multimillion-dollar satellite, was lost. The question on many people’s minds at NASA instantly became: What if astronauts were on board?

The fueling issue is emerging as a point of tension between the safety-obsessed space agency and the maverick company run by Musk, a tech entrepreneur who is well known for his flair for the dramatic and for pushing boundaries of rocket science.

he concerns from some at NASA are shared by others. John Mulholland, who oversees Boeing’s contract to fly astronauts to the International Space Station and once worked on the space shuttle, said load-and-go fueling was rejected by NASA in the past because “we never could get comfortable with the safety risks that you would take with that approach. When you’re loading densified propellants, it is not an inherently stable situation.

(emphasis mine)

Think about Autopilot.

Also notice the next bit:

SpaceX supporters say tradition and old ways of thinking can be the enemy of innovation and thwart efforts to open the frontier of space.

Greg Autry, a business professor at the University of Southern California, said the load-and-go procedures were a heated issue when he served on Trump’s NASA transition team.

Note that Musk, and the rest of the “eBay Mafia”, made their fortunes by exploiting an area of regulatory forbearance, which allowed them to operate without the (expensive) consumer protections that banks were required.

And note that Greg Autry, is a f%$#ing Business Professor talking about literal rocket science.

Launching unmanned payloads is not as much of an issue, because if Musk attempts to launch something unreliable, the insurance industry will price it into their premiums.

This is not possible with a life on the line.

I would note that even with the NASA safety standard of 1 in every 270 flights with a death, it means that you have a 50% chance of death after 186 flights, and this is what the dotcom and the business types find to be an insufficiently risk-taking culture.

Seriously, this is not ordering shoes online.

Stopped Clock, NASA Edition

Donald Trump is proposing privatizing the international space station:

The Trump administration wants to turn the International Space Station into a kind of orbiting real estate venture run not by the government, but by private industry.

The White House plans to stop funding the station after 2024, ending direct federal support of the orbiting laboratory. But it does not intend to abandon the orbiting laboratory altogether and is working on a transition plan that could turn the station over to the private sector, according to an internal NASA document obtained by The Washington Post.

I actually agree with move.

In scientific terms, the ISS is complete pants.  It has consumed massive resources for next to no scientific value.

Of course, there really isn’t a commercial justification for this either:  Anything that you want to set up tto take advantage of micro-gravity would be cheaper to do without people.

It’s basically a white elephant.

OK, I am Now Mildly Excited

I’ve been hearing about the EM drive for some time.

It’s a space propulsion system which requires no reaction mass or fuel.

I’ve been dubious, but NASA has published a favorable report in a peer reviewed journal, which means that the concept is credible on a mainstream level.

I look forward to the tests:

NASA scientists have been daydreaming about a new kind of engine that could carry astronauts to Mars in 70 days without burning any fuel. Now, in a new paper published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Propulsion and Power, they say that it might really work.

The paper, written by astrophysicists at NASA’s Eagleworks Laboratories, tested a electromagnetic propulsion system, or “EM drive,” that generates a small amount of thrust simply by bouncing microwaves around a cone-shaped copper chamber. No propellant goes in, no exhaust comes out, and yet, somehow, the engine can make things move.

If you think that news sounds too good to be true, you’ve got good instincts — it just might be. This “impossible” fuel-less engine appears to violate one of the fundamental laws of physics.


That’s Newton’s third law of motion. It’s the principle that explains why pushing against a wall will send an ice skater zooming in the opposite direction. It also explains how jet engines work: As hot gases are expelled out the back of the plane, they produce a thrusting force that moves the plane forward.

But the EM drive doesn’t work that way. Its thrust seems to come from the impact of photons on the walls of the copper cavity. That would be like moving a car forward by just banging against the windshield.


According to the new paper, yes. The Eagleworks scientists report that their machine generated 1.2 millinewtons of thrust per kilowatt of electricity pumped in. (That electricity could come from solar panels in a hypothetical spaceship.) That’s a fraction of thrust produced by the lightweight ion drives now used in many NASA spacecraft, National Geographic noted, but it’s a lot more than the few micronewtons per kilowatt produced by light sails, a proven technology that generates thrust using radiation from the sun.

I’d like to see some orbital testing, and a theoretical model explaining how it works, but I am now officially intrigued.