Posts Tagged ‘Military’

The Sky At Night Looks at Britain in Space

October 19, 2018

I just managed to catch the weekday repeat a day or so ago of this month’s Sky at Night, in which presenters Maggie Aderin-Pocock and British astronaut Tim Peake looked at the history of Britain in space, and forward to the country’s future in the deep black. The programme’s changed a bit over the past few years in the case of its presenters. It was famously presented by Sir Patrick Moore from its beginning in the 1950s until he passed away a few years ago. This made the programme the longest-running show presented by the same person. Aderin-Pocock joined it before Moore’s departure. She’s a black woman scientist, with a background in programming missile trajectories. She’s obviously very intelligent, enthusiastic and very definitely deserves her place on the show. But I wish she’d done a job that didn’t involve the military use of rocket technology, however much this is needed as part of national defence.

Aderin-Pocock was speaking to one of the management officials from Orbex, a new, British company, which has developed a rocket launcher and intends to open a spaceport in one of the more deserted areas of Scotland. The rocket will stand about 17 meters tall, using propane and High Test Peroxide as fuel. High Test Peroxide is a highly concentrated version of the hydrogen peroxide used by hairdressers to bleach peoples’ hair. The use of propane is particularly important, as it’s lighter than conventional rocket fuels, meaning that the rocket doesn’t have to carry as much fuel to lift off into space. Advances in satellite design have also allowed the rocket to be smaller than other spacecraft used elsewhere. British universities have succeeded in developing microsatellites – satellites that are much, much smaller than some of the satellites put into orbit, but which can perform the same functions. As these satellites are smaller and lighter, they only need a relatively smaller, lighter rocket to launch them.

The Scottish launch complex also wasn’t going to be as big as other, larger, major launch complexes, such as those of NASA, for example. I think it would still contain a launch tower and control buildings. As well as the official from Orbex, the show also talked to a woman representing the rural community in the part of Scotland, where they were planning to build it. She admitted that there would be problems with building it in this part of the Scots countryside. However, the community was only going to lease the land, not sell it to Orbex, and care would be taken to protect the farms of the local crofters and the environment and wildlife. Like much of rural Britain, this was an area of few jobs, and the population was aging as the young people moved away in search of work. She looked forward to Orbex and its spaceport bringing work to the area, and creating apprenticeships for the local young people.

The programme went on to explain that this would be the first time for decades that a British company was going to build a British rocket to launch a British satellite. From what looked the British space museum in Manchester, Time Peake stood under the display of Britain’s Black Knight rocket and the Prospero satellite. He explained how the rocket launched the satellite into space from Australia in 1975. However, the project was then cancelled, which meant that Britain is the only country so far which has developed, and then discarded rocket technology.

But Black Knight wasn’t the only space rocket Britain developed. Peake then moved on to talk about Skylark, a massively successful sounding rocket. Developed for high altitude research, the rocket reached a maximum of altitude of 400 km in the few minutes it was in flight. At its apogee – its maximum distance from Earth – the vehicle briefly experienced a few minutes of zero gravity, during which experiments could be performed exploring this environment. The Skylark rocket was used for decades before it was finally cancelled.

Aderin-Pocock asked the official from Orbex how long it would be before the spaceport would be up and running. The manager replied that this was always an awkward question to answer, as there was always something that meant operations and flights would start later than expected. He said, however, that they were aiming at around the end of 2020 and perhaps the beginning of 2021.

Orbex are not, however, the only space company planning to open a spaceport in Britain. Virgin Galactic have their own plans to launch rockets in to space from Cornwall. Their vehicle will not, however, be launched from the ground like a conventional rocket, but will first be carried to a sufficiently high altitude by an airplane, which would then launch it. I’m not a betting man, but my guess is that of the two, Orbex is the far more likely to get off the ground, as it were, and begin launching its rocket on schedule. As I’ve blogged about previously, Branson has been telling everyone since the late 1990s at least, that Virgin Galactic are going to be flying tourists into space in just a few months from now. This fortnight’s Private Eye published a brief list of the number of times Branson had said that, with dates. It might be that Branson will at last send the first of his aspiring astronauts up in the next few months, as he claimed last week. But from his previous form, it seems far more likely that Orbex will start launches before him, as will Branson’s competitors over the pond, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos.

When asked about the company’s capability of perfecting their technology, Orbex’s manager not stressed the skill and competence of the scientists, technicians and engineers working on the project. This included not just conventional space scientists, but also people, who had personally tried and failed to build their own spacecraft. He said that it was extremely important to fail to build rockets. He’s obviously referring to the many non-professional, hobby rocketeers out there trying to build their own spacecraft. He didn’t mention them, but one example would be the people at Starchaser, who started out as a small group of enthusiasts in Yorkshire but have gone on to create their own space company, now based across the pond in America. I think it’s brilliant that amateurs and semi-professionals have developed skills that the professionals in the industry find valuable. And the failures are important, as they show what can go wrong, and give the experience and necessary information on how to avoid it. I don’t think the rocket will be wholly built in this country. The manager said that some of it was being constructed in Copenhagen. This sounds like Copenhagen Suborbitals, a Danish team of rocket scientists, who are trying to put a person into space. They’re ex-NASA, I believe, but it’s a small, private venture. They have a webpage and have posted videos on YouTube, some of which I’ve reblogged. They’ve also said they’re keen for people to join them, or start their own rocket projects.

I’d been looking forward to that edition of the Sky at Night for the past week, but when the time came, it slipped my mind that it was on. I’m very glad I was able to catch it. If Orbex are successful, it will be the first time that a British satellite will launch a British satellite from here in Britain. And it sounds really optimistic. Not only will Britain be returning to space rocket development, but the Scots spaceport sounds like it will, hopefully, bring work to a depressed area. I’m also confident that the local environment there will also be preserved. The launch complex around NASA is necessarily so remote from other buildings, that it’s actually become a wildlife haven. So much so that it’s now a location for birdwatching.

When it was announced that they were planning to build a new spaceport in Scotland, I assumed it would be for Skylon, the British spaceplane. There had been articles in the paper about the spacecraft, which stated that it would be launched either from Scotland or Cornwall. It seems I was wrong, and that it’s Orbex’s rocket which will be launched there instead. But nevertheless, I wish Orbex every success in their venture, and hope that sometime soon Skylon will also join them in flight out on the High Frontier.

China Aims at Probes to the Moon and Mars

December 29, 2016

Another space story.

The I newspaper yesterday reported that China is aiming to send probes to the far side of the Moon and Mars, and with an unstated further aim of landing a man on the Moon. The article by Louise Watt, entitled Beijing Joins Space Race with Plans to Explore Moon and Mars ran

China has laid out plans to become the first country to soft land a probe on the far side of the Moon, by around 2018, and launch its first Mars probe by 2020.

“To explore the vast cosmos, develop the space industry and build china into a space power is a dream we pursue unremittingly,” read a White Paper released yesterday listing the country’s space strategy for the next five years.

It says China aims to use space for peaceful purposes and to guarantee national security, and to carry out cutting-edge scientific research.

The document points to the growing ambitions of China’s already rapidly advancing space programme. China places great emphasis on the development of its space industry, seen as a symbol of national prestige that will raise the country’s standing in the world. Although the White Paper does not mention it, China’s eventual goal is to land an astronaut on the Moon.

While Russia and the United States have more experience in manned space travel, China’s military-backed programme has made steady progress in a comparatively short time.

The White Paper reiterated China’s plans to launch its first Mars probe by 2020, saying that it would explore and bring back samples from the Red Planet, explore the Jupiter system and “conduct research into major scientific questions such as the origin and evolution of the solar system, and search for extra-terrestrial life.”

There is also an inset panel providing a little snippet of further information.

Since China conducted its first crewed space mission in 2003, it has staged a spacewalk and landed a rover on the Moon in 2013 – the first time humans soft landed anything on the Moon since the 1970s. (p,. 22).

I say good luck to them. The Apollo moon lands are now nearly 50 years in the past, and I really believe that it’s high time we sent people back out into space to explore the planets. And some western space scientists and writers have been predicting for well over a decade now that China might just be the nation to do it. The quantum physicist and SF writer, Stephen Baxter, wrote a piece in Focus magazine speculating that the Chinese may be the first nation to send a person to Mars in the next decade or so, and wrote a fictional scenario in which the first person to step out onto the Martian surface is a female taikonaut from the Middle Kingdom. The SF author, Paul McAuley, wrote a novel, Red Dust, set on a future, Chinese dominated Mars with an ecosystem created through genetic engineering, to tailor creatures specially adapted for conditions on the Red Planet. nd a decade or so before then, 2000 AD in its future war strip, The V.C.s, also portrayed a Mars settled by the Chinese.

I wish the Chinese every success in their peaceful exploration of the Solar System, and hope that this will encourage the other developed nations to expand their space programmes. The Chinese space programme will be a challenge to the American space programme, but the potential benefits of space travel, exploration and colonisation are far too important to be monopolised by any one nation.

Louise Mensch and American Republicans Demand War with Iran

January 16, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has this piece reporting an article in the Canary commenting on the latest frenzy of sabre-rattling and jingoism from former Tory MP and full-time airhead motormouth, Louise Mensch: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/01/15/this-renowned-tory-wants-to-blunder-into-full-blown-war-with-iran/. Yesterday, an American ship strayed into Iranian waters and was duly captured. Its crew were later released. According to the Canary, the American military ain’t bothered by the incident. They’ve said it was a genuine mistake. So, from their point of view, it’s ‘My bad, no problem, guys!’

This isn’t good enough for the Repugs by far, and the usual suspects have worked themselves into a frenzy demanding Obama bomb them back into the Stone Age. The pro-war party naturally includes the usual recidivists like Tom Cruz. Cruz is almost as bad as Trump in his hatred of Muslims, but it more concealed about it. And in some of his proposed policies, he’s actually worse. He also has absolute no clue about affairs in the Middle East. He got very huffy with a group of Middle Eastern Christians he was addressing a few years ago, when they responded very badly when he started telling them they should support Israel. He really didn’t know that, although they’re Christians, the people to whom he was talking were also the indigenous peoples of the Middle East, Arabs and Assyrians. They share the comment resentment towards Israel across the Middle East as a modern settler state. Moreover, Christian Palestinians in Israel are monitored and have suffered discrimination by the Israeli authorities. They’ve also been attacked by their Muslim compatriots as collaborators. So the Christian population of the Holy Land has declined from about 25 per cent to 1 per cent.

As for attacking Iran, this would be a monumentally bad move. The article in the Canary, to which Mike’s piece is linked, list a number of very good reasons why attacking Iran would be a very bad idea. Not least is the fact that any attack in Iran would be countered by more military force and determination than the other campaigns in the Middle East, and would result in a nightmarish war would that would last for many, many years.

Iran is the Shi’a state, and so is the leader and protector of region’s Shi’a Muslims. Any attack on Iran would provoke the rest of the Shi’a into hostilities against America. The result would be that America and the West would end up fighting everyone in the Middle East, with the Israel and Turkey. As Shi’a, the Iranians are also the enemies of al-Qaeda and ISIS, who under the command of the Saudis have targeted and massacred Shi’a in Iraq and Syria as ‘rejectionist heathens’. By attacking Iran, America would be deliberately alienating and provoking a potentially useful ally.

Of course, the Republicans also hate Obama for what they consider to be his betrayal of America by signing a deal on nuclear power with Iran. If you listen to them, Obama has allowed the Iranians to develop nuclear missiles. A year or two ago they were running ads against the President’s negotiations with the Iranians, frightening Americans with pictures of America suffering a nuclear attack. In reality, Obama’s deal has actually ended any Iranian programme to develop a nuclear weapon, while still leaving them space for the peaceful development of nuclear power.

This is particularly a blow to Netanyahu, who was also trying to scare everybody with the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, using pretty much the same scare tactics that were used in the ‘dodgy dossier’ about Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction that could be deployed within 45 minutes. Netanyahu claimed that Iran was only a year away from building an atomic bomb. This was absolute rubbish, and senior Israeli generals and intelligence officers said so.

Netanyahu would like a war with Iran, because of the Iranian regime’s poisonous hatred of Israeli and its very ostentatious support for the Palestinians. The American Republicans publicly share these sentiments. But the reality is more likely it’s another, grubby attempt to nick their oil. Back in the 1950s, the Americans and Britain overthrew the Iranian Prime Minister, Mossadeq, after he dared nationalise the Iranian oil industry. This meant the seizure of the property of Anglo-Persian Oil, now BP. The oil industry was renationalised by the Iranians, who have made the date of this a national holiday. And while Iran is keen to sell its oil and other industrial products, it won’t allow foreigners to invest or own Iranian industry.

This has driven the plutocrats berserk. Forbe’s has place the country very high up in its list of countries lacking ‘commercial freedom’. Which seems to mean in their case, countries that won’t allow mega-rich multinationals to buy up their firms.

This is the real reason Cruz and the other Republicans want a war with Iran. It’s about more than American pride and jingoism, though that’s also one of the powerful drivers. It’s about more than defending Israel. It’s the same reason America and his poodle, Bliar, invaded Iraq: oil, and the seizure and looting of whatever industries and companies Haliburton and the rest of the American multinationals think worth getting their mitts on.

Bush at the beginning of the Iraq invasion convinced himself and his fellow Neocons that somehow, the American and western forces would be hailed as liberators by the Iraqi people. As events have shown, that has manifestly failed to occur. The result has been a further destabilisation of the country, along with the radicalisation that has spawned ISIS. The same would happen again if America went to war with Iran.

Like Iraq, Iran is a mosaic of different ethnic minorities. 51 per cent of the population speak Farsi, modern Persian. Other ethnic groups include Kurds, Various Turkic-speaking peoples, peoples speaking languages related to Persian, and Arabs in the West of the country. The Kurds have been fighting a war with the Iranian government to have their own, autonomous homeland since the 1970s. There have also been jihads by the Turkish peoples, after the government began seizing their land to give to Farsi speakers. If central government in Tehran was shattered, the result could be another bloody mess of ethnic conflict and cleansing such as has occurred in Iraq.

And all so that big oil can get its hands on yet another country’s supplies.

Cruz and co. are ignorant stooges for the big corporations. Mensch is also, though in this case I wonder if some of it’s the result of all the E she was trying to get her colleagues to take when she was a shop assistant in the 1980s. These people have nothing to offer the world except more blood, pain and suffering, all so that big business can once again boost their profits.

They should never be allowed anywhere near public office. Boot them out.

The Young Turks on CIA Using Domestic Appliances to Spy on You

October 23, 2015

This is another item from The Young Turks, revealing the Orwellian nightmare into which Western society is rapidly descending. It’s a report on an article in Wired magazine about the CIA’s venture capital firm, In-Q-Tel, and its plans to insert spying devices inside the domestic appliances – fridges, and so on – of ‘persons of interest’. As the hosts Cenk Uyghur and Ana Kasparian point out, the fact that the CIA possesses a venture capital firm in itself shows how far business and the military has become enmeshed in America.

The rightly point out this is an Orwellian step, taking us towards the world of Big Brother, where the government was in your home watching you. They point out that the legal prohibition on the CIA spying within the US has been removed following the law’s revision. They also consider that the most likely ‘persons of interest’ will at first be innocent Muslims. Ordinary Muslim in New York have already been the target of CIA and police investigation.

It will not stop there, however. Other groups will be targeted, and the definition of ‘persons of interest’ will expand to cover just about everybody. In addition to spying on Muslims, the CIA has also spied on PETA, the Quakers and peace groups. And as the espionage agency cannot know when a ‘person of interest’ is going to buy a new fridge or TV, the devices will be put in all the devices so everyone will have them.

At the present moment, the devices will only be geographical trackers, rather than bugs. This, however, raises the question of what else the CIA is doing, which hasn’t been made public. It also shows how far constitutional protection for American citizens has been eroded. Once upon a time the authorities had to get a warrant in order to bug someone. Now they no longer have to do so. We are truly approaching the totalitarian world of Big Brother.

Here’s the video: