Posts Tagged ‘Richard Branson’

‘I’ Report of Successful Test of Virgin Hyperloop Maglev Train

November 13, 2020

Here’s an interesting piece of science/technology news. Tuesday’s I, for 10th November 2020, carried a piece by Rhiannon Williams, ‘New tube: Hyperloop carries first passengers in 100 mph test run’, which reported that Virgin Hyperloop had successfully tested their proposed maglev transport system. This is a type of magnetically levitated train running in a sealed tunnel from which the air has been removed so that there is no atmospheric resistance. The article ran

Two passengers have become the first to use Hyperloop, a technology which claims to be the future of ultra-fast ground transport.

The demonstration took place on a 500-metre test track in the Nevada desert outside Las Vegas on Sunday.

Josh Giegel, Virgin Hyperloop’s chief technology officer and co-founder, and Sara Luchlan, the company’s head of passenger experience, climbed into a Virgin Hyperloop pod before it entered an airlock inside an enclosed vacuum tube.

Footage showed the pod taking about 15 seconds to complete the journey as the air inside the tube was removed, accelerating the pod to 100 mph before it slowed to a halt.

The futuristic system is intended eventually to allow journeys of up to 670 mph using electric propulsion, and magnetic levitation in a tube, which is in near-vacuum conditions.

The Shanghai Maglev, the fastest commercial bullet train, which also uses magnetic levitation, is capable of top speeds of 3000 mph, meaning it could end up being considered slow by the Hyperloop’s theoretical future standards. The fastest speed achieved by a maglev train was 375 mph on a test run in Japan.

Virgin Hyperloop was founded in 2014 and builds on a proposal by Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk.

The technology could allow passengers to travel between Heathrow and Gatwick airports, which are 45 miles apart, in just four minutes, the company’s previous chief executive, Rob Lloyd, told the BBC in 2018.

Ms Luchlan described the experience as “exhilarating”. It had, she added, been smooth, and “not at all like a rollercoaster”.

The business hopes to seat up to 23 passengers in a pod and make its technology “a reality in years, not decades”. Jay Walder, the current chief executive, said: “I can’t tell you how often I get asked, ‘is hyperloop safe?’ With today’s passenger testing, we have successfully answered this question, demonstrating that not only can Virgin Hyperloop safely put a person in a pod in a vacuum environment but that the company has a thoughtful approach to safety.”

The article was accompanied by this handy explanatory diagram.

The text’s blurry, but should read:

How it works

Hyperloop is a new mode of long-distance transportation that uses electromagnetic levitation and propulsion to glide a vehicle at airline speeds through a low-pressure tube.

Electromagnetic coils along the tube are supplied with an alternating current, causing them to rapidly switch polarity. Permanent magnets beneath the pod are attracted then repelled, creating forward motion and magnetic levitation.

It then shows a diagram of various other high speed vehicles with the proposed Hyperloop system for comparison. These are

Virgin Hyperloop …. 670 mph.

Boeing 787 Dreamliner …. 593 mph.

Maglev (Japan) …. 375 mph.

Javelin (UK) … 140 mph.

Well, colour me sceptical about all this. The ‘Virgin’ part of the company’s name makes me wonder if it’s part of Beardie Branson’s empire of tat. In which case, we’re justified in wondering if it this will ever, ever actually be put into operation. After all, Branson has been telling the good peeps, who’ve bought tickets for his Virgin Galactic journeys into space that everything’s nearly complete, and they’ll be going into space next year, for the past 25 years or so. I don’t believe that his proposed Spaceship 1 or whatever it’s called will ever fly, and that the whole business is being run as a loss so he can avoid paying tax legally. I don’t know how much it would cost to set up a full scale Hyperloop line running between two real towns between several stops within a single city like a subway, but I’d imagine it’d cost tens, if not hundreds of millions. I think it’s too expensive for any government, whether national or local authority, to afford, at least in the present economic situation.

And on a more humorous level, it also reminds me of the rapid transit system in the 2000 AD ‘Nemesis the Warlock’ strip. This was set in a far future in which humanity cowered underground, ruled over by the Terminators. They were a kind of futuristic medieval crusading order, dedicated to the extermination of all intelligent alien life, led by their ruthless leader, Torquemada. Earth was now called Termight, and humanity lived in vast underground cities linked by rapid transit tunnels. A system similar to the Hyperloop, the Overground, ran across Termight’s devastated surface. Termight’s surface had been devastated, not by aliens, but by strange creatures from Earth’s future, which had appeared during the construction of a system of artificial Black and White Holes linking Earth to the rest of the galaxy. These creatures included the Gooney Bird, a giant predatory bird that looked like it had evolved from the Concorde plane, which swept down from its nest in an abandoned city to attack the Overground trains and feed them to its young.

From: Nemesis the Warlock: Volume One, by Pat Mills, Kevin O’Neill and Jesus Redondo (Hachette Partworks Ltd: 2017)

The Hyperloop’s too close to the fictional Overground system for comfort. Will the company’s insurance cover attacks by giant rampaging carnivorous mechanical birds? The comparison’s particularly close as Termight’s surface is a desert waste, and the system was tested out in the Nevada desert.

I realise that ‘Nemesis the Warlock’ is Science Fiction, and that even with its successful test run on Tuesday, it’ll be years before the hyperloop system ever becomes a reality, but I think it might be wise to avoid it if it ever does. After all, you wouldn’t want to be on it when the metal claws and beak start tearing through the tunnel.

Ignore the Tory Flag-Waving: Labour and Socialism Represent Real Patriotism

September 3, 2020

It was announced this week that there are plans to set up two independent networks to rival the ‘woke, wet BBC’ as the Daily Mail decided to describe the state broadcaster. This has been described by left-wing bloggers like Zelo Street quite rightly as attempts to set up a kind of Fox News in the UK. And the name of one of these broadcasters shows you just what type of audience they want to appeal to: GB News. Two of its presenters have already been announced. They are Andrew Neil and Nigel Farage. It’s another example of the Conservatives and right Brexiteers laying the claim to be patriots defending Britain, its people and traditions. And it’s rubbish.

The Tories have been making this claim almost since they appeared in the 17th century, but the nationalism became particularly acute under Thatcher. She took over Churchill’s heroic view of British history and consciously modelled her style of government on Churchill’s. Or what she thought was Churchill’s. The result was headlines like one in the Sunday Telegraph defending the patriotic middle classes: ‘Don’t Call Them Boojwah, Call Them British’. World War II and the Falklands were invoked at every opportunity. The Tory party election broadcast was a particularly blatant example. It started with World War II footage of Spitfires zooming about the skies while an excited voice told us that ‘We were born free’. It’s a line from the 18th century Swiss advocate of radical democracy, Rousseau. His Social Contract begins ‘Man was born free, but everywhere he is in chains.’ Obviously, you can see why the Tories didn’t want to include the last bit.

Thatcher passed legislation intended to make New Commonwealth immigration more difficult by revising British citizenship to restrict it only to those born here or who had been naturalised. Previously it had extended to anyone born in the British Empire. At the same time, the Tory press ran article after article attacking Black and Asian immigrants, warning of the dire threat of ‘unassimilable immigrants’. The riots of the early 80s were ascribed, not to Blacks protesting against real racism, but to the racism of the Black community itself. The Labour party was full of Commies and traitors supporting the IRA, a lie that BoJob repeated yesterday in an ad hominem attack on Keir Starmer. Britain was under threat, and only Maggie Thatcher, personifying the spirit of Boadicea and Winston Churchill, could save us.

In fact the reverse was true. We almost lost the Falklands War, despite all the propaganda, flag-waving and sabre-rattling, because of Thatcher’s defence cuts. The Argentinians waited until the British ship guarding the islands had sailed away. We only won thanks to American and Chilean support. Hence Thatcher’s friendship with the old Fascist butcher, General Pinochet.

At the same time, Thatcher was responsible for the destruction of British industry and its sale to foreign companies. She didn’t want the government to bail out ailing firms, and so they were allowed to go under. State-owned enterprises were sold to foreign companies, so that many of the railway companies are owned by the Dutch, French and Germans, while I think Bristol Water is owned by an Indonesian firm. This has not brought the investment Thatcher claimed. Instead, these foreign firms simply take the profits from British companies and concentrate on their own domestic operations.

At the same time, the deregulation of the financial sector, which was supposed to take over from manufacturing as the main motor of the British economy, resulted in capital flight. The Tories hate the free movement of people, except when they’re rich, but are very keen to make sure that the British rich can invest wherever they like around the world, even at the expense of British domestic industry. Hence Jacob Rees Mogg also has investments in a number of far eastern and Indonesian companies.

And the British Empire has actually also been a problem for British domestic industry. British capitalists took their money there to exploit cheap indigenous labour. Even now the City is geared more to oversees investment than domestic, with the result that British industry is starved of investment. Labour tried to solve that problem in the 1980s by advocating a domestic investment bank. That went out the window when they lost the 1987 election, and Kinnock and his successor Blair did a volte-face and turned instead to the financial sector with promises of ‘light touch’ regulation. Further reforms by Blair, continued by the Tories, have resulted the extremely rich taking their money abroad in tax havens like the Cayman Islands in order to avoid paying British tax. Yet the same billionaires still demand the British taxpayer to bail them out. We saw this a month ago when Beardie Richard Branson called on the government to bail out Virgin Airlines, despite the fact that he is resident in the Virgin Islands and his company is also registered abroad in order to dodge paying tax in Blighty.

The playwright and Fabian socialist George Bernard Shaw called out the Tories on the fake patriotism nearly a century ago in his 1928 book, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism. He wrote

So far we have considered the growth of Capitalism as it occurs at home. But capital has no home, or rather it is at home everywhere. It is a quaint fact that though professed Socialists and Communists call themselves Internationalist, and carry a red flag which is the flag of workers of all nations, and though most capitalists are boastfully national, and wave the Union Jack on every possible occasion, yet when you come down from the cries and catchwords to the facts, you find that every practical measure advocated by British Socialists would have the effect of keeping British capital in Britain to be spent on improving the condition of their native country, whilst the British capitalists are sending British capital out of Britain to the ends of the earth by hundreds of millions every year. If, with all our spare money in their hands, they were compelled to spend it in the British Isles, or were patriotic or public-spirited or insular enough to do so without being compelled, they could at least call themselves patriots with some show of plausibility. Unfortunately we allow them to spend it where they please; and their only preference, as we have seen, is for the country in which it will yield them the largest income. Consequently, when they have begun at the wrong end at home, and have exhausted its possibilities, they do not move towards the right end until they have exhausted the possibilities of the wrong end abroad as well. (pp. 133-4).

Shaw was right. In terms of practical politics, the Socialists are the only real patriots. The flag-waving nationalism of Thatcher, BoJob and Farage is to distract you from the fact that they’re not.

Don’t be misled by patriotic rhetoric, the fake controversy about the Proms, the attacks on immigrants and names like GB News. The people who really believe in Britain and all its great people are on the left.

Nandy and Starmer Determined to Privatise NHS as Much as Tories

July 21, 2020

Mike put up a great, very disturbing piece on his blog yesterday, revealing that its seem Lisa Nandy and her boss, Kier Starmer, are every bit as determined to sell the NHS to foreign, mostly American companies as the Tories. Nandy told Andrew Marr on his show that neither she nor Starmer would have disclosed that the NHS was part of the deal with America in the secret trade talks. Aaron Bastani tweeted that ‘It is incontrovertible the publications of these documents was in the public interest. Labour supporting the ‘secret state’. He also added ‘This is probably the most telling comment of the Starmer leadership. Faux patriotism counts more than stopping American corporations buying parts of the NHS.’

Mike commented that it was an act of treachery. He reminded people that the NHS was founded in 1948 based on the Beveridge Report. The Tories opposed it bitterly, but you won’t heart that today now that they’re making money out of it. And now Labour are determined to jump on the privatisation bandwagon. He concludes

It seems no matter which party the public support, we’re going to end up with a privatised health system that only the richest of us will be able to afford. If you want to know why you won’t be able to pay for health care, look up all my articles about the criminal US insurance firm Unum.

If you know anybody who voted Conservative in December, or for Starmer before April 4, why not ask them if they knew they actually intended to end their own entitlement to medical treatment?

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/07/20/the-labour-party-founded-the-national-health-service-why-are-its-inheritors-so-keen-to-let-it-die/

In fact the origins of the NHS go back to Sidney and Beatrice Webb’s minority report on British healthcare back in the very beginning of the 20th century. Bastani has also pointed out – and I think he’s right – that it was based on the excellent municipal healthcare system at Tredegar in Wales. In the 1930s the Socialist Medical Society was demanding state medicine, and this became official Labour party policy later in the decade.

Labour’s reversal on this issue came with Blair. Blair accepted uncritically all of Maggie Thatcher’s dogmas about private enterprise being superior to that of the state, and continued and expanded the Tory policy of the PFI, under which hospitals were to be built partly using private enterprise, who would be allowed to run them. When he set up the polyclinics and health centres in the early part of this century, they were to be set up and run by private healthcare companies, like Beardie Branson’s Virgin Health. Alan Milburn, his wretched health secretary, wanted to privatise the NHS so that it would simply be a kitemark on services provided by private companies. The Care Commissioning Groups brought into manage doctor’s surgeries was, on the advice of the private healthcare officials advising Blair, empowered to contract in services from the private sector, and raise money from private enterprise.

This was interrupted when Corbyn came to power in the Labour. Corbyn demanded the renationalisation of the NHS, which is one of the reasons the Blairites so heartily opposed him. Renationalisation is still official Labour policy, but Nandy’s comments show how seriously she and Starmer take it.

Nandy, Starmer and the Blairites are red Tories, determined to make you pay for your healthcare. Get them out!

Why Is Branson’s Healthcare Company Massively Profitable, But Pays No Corporation Tax

January 28, 2020

Mike yesterday put up a piece reporting that Virgin Healthcare has won £2 billion worth of NHS and local authority contracts, but hasn’t paid any corporation tax. The company has claimed that it has racked up losses since it was founded in 2010. Mike said that it didn’t make sense for him for a company to win such contracts with the promise that it would fulfill them in budget and making a tidy profit for itself. He thought someone was being shortchanged, and if he was in a hospital run by Branson’s wretched firm, he’d work out who they were shortchanging in a very short order.

See:  https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/01/27/virgin-healthcare-has-won-2-billion-in-nhs-contracts-and-paid-no-tax-why/

The snippet from the Mirror article Mike’s report refers to quotes health campaigner Dr. John Lister, who called the company ‘parasitic’ for this. And his right. Branson is a parasite, who’s had his scolex in the guts of the British state and NHS for a very long time. He was chums with John Major’s government, and when that fell switched sides to supporting Blair. Among other services, Virgin Healthcare runs some of the polyclinics or health centres Blair set up.

Mike wondered if Branson’s firm was able to dodge paying tax through creative accounting. And he’s right about this, as well. The Canary’s Emily Apple also wrote a piece about this story. She also quoted the Mirror’s article, which reported that Branson’s firm had a turnover of £248.8 million last year, making a cool profit of £503,000. But this was wiped out by losses elsewhere in the group, so that Beardie’s firm didn’t have to pay cough up £96,000 in corporation tax. Oh yes, and you won’t be surprised to learn that its registered in the Virgin Islands, where Branson has his home. A notorious tax haven.

Dr Lister (any relation to the man who discovered antiseptic?) called Virgin Healthcare parasitic because, fragmenting services and poaching NHS-trained staff and undermining nearby NHS trusts, and not paying corporation tax, it only took from the state and added nothing of value.

Branson’s firm was criticised by former leader of the Green Party, Natalie Bennett, and Labour leadership candidate Keir Starmer. Prem Sikka tweeted that this wasn’t the only company Beardie owned that was trying to get more state money. So was the airline Flybe, which Beardie has a 30 per cent stake in. However, it can’t offer collateral as billionaire investors already hold charges over many of its assets. He summed this up as the wealthy elite continuing to pick everyone else’s pockets.

Devutopia also remarked that Branson’s firm wasn’t the only one profiting from the NHS. Linking to a story published last year by the Mirror, that noted 10 connections between them and the NHS, he stated that the Tories had also been using the health service as their cash cow. He wondered when the Beeb and Sky were going to notice this.

Apple concluded:

Between these deals and whatever deals Johnson ends up concocting with Donald Trump, our NHS needs us more than ever. It’s already being sold off piece by piece with parasites like Branson feeding on every bit he can get his sticky fingers into. We need to wake up. This is happening now. And if we don’t act now, it’ll be too late, and what’s left of our NHS will be auctioned off to the highest bidder.

See: https://www.thecanary.co/trending/2020/01/27/richard-branson-didnt-need-a-trade-deal-to-royally-screw-over-the-nhs/

Absolutely. The NHS needs protecting from parasites like Branson and the Tories. We need to wake up, and take action – NOW!

Double Down News Video: Ken Loach Explains Why People Need to Vote Labour

November 10, 2019

I found this excellent video from the socialist, radical film director Ken Loach. It’s from Double Down News, another online news agency that’s there to tell the world the truth about the Labour party and Jeremy Corbyn, ’cause the lamestream media won’t. Loach is the veteran director who made the films Dirty, Pretty Things, about the low-paid immigrant workers, who do the work we don’t want to, and I, Daniel Blake, about a man struggling with the obstructive, deliberately unhelpful bureaucracy of the Tories’ benefit system. He’s also another person they’ve tried to smear as an anti-Semite because he made a film a few years ago exposing the brutality of the Israeli state towards the Palestinians. However, Loach is demonstrably very far from anti-Semitic. I believe he made the film with an number of Jewish critics of Israel, and was given a rapturously welcome the other year when he appeared at a meeting of Jewish Voice for Labour. Despite what smear merchants like the Campaign AgainstAnti-Semitism, the Jewish Labour Movement, the Blairites, the Tories and the mendacious press would have you believe, Corbyn’s supporters are decent, self-respecting anti-racist people. The many Jews, who support him do so because they are, decent, self-respecting anti-racist people. They are not self-hating, and know that he has done much to support the Jewish community as he people from all racial, ethnic and religious groups in this countries. And so the folks at JVL would very definitely not give their applause to a genuine anti-Semite.

Loach begins the video by saying

The impact of Johnson is like the emperor has no clothes. We can see clearly what is amiss. Get out of Europe fast so that even the small protections that Europe provides in working conditions and the environment disappear, so that he can do deals with people like Trump, where it’ll open the door to the big American multinationals to take over our public services. And the biggest issue of all, climate change will be disregarded. If we care about the future for our kids, and grandchildren in my case, then that’s suicidal. Why are we destroying the planet? Why? Why do some areas of the country exist with nothing while other areas are overwhelmed with wealth? Why is the world like that? It doesn’t need to be like that. 

The Labour government of the past failed with its illegal wars, privatisations. We now have a chance with the beginnings of a policy that will regenerate our country, protect the environment, get rid of privatisation in the public services. Why should Richard Branson make a fortune out of the Health Service? It makes no sense. I mean, the questions are so obvious, of course young people will see it. And then they get confused with this fog of stupidity which you see in the press, broadcast every morning, so that politics becomes not the simple answer to simple questions, but becomes some arcane procedure in a tiny part of London by people, who speak a different language. Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell cut through that, that’s why they’re not allowed to speak. Empathy, solidarity, supporting each other, understanding each other – this is the essence of socialism. We’;re naturally good friends, we’re naturally neighbours, that’s the essence of our political system – it’s the opposite of their political system. 

The video ends with a statement by Loach about Double Down News, explaining that it’s an alternative news service, that doesn’t get funding from anyone except what it’s given. Even by old farts like him. He appeals to people to give to the organisation, offering them £20.

It’s a great video illustrated with some very pertinent images. This includes urban decay contrasted with the wealth of the City of London, Boris Johnson and Rees-Mogg in parliament, the arcane ceremony of the opening of parliament with Black Rod, the warmongers Bush and Blair together, Richard Branson toasting his good fortune, a collage formed by a newspaper photo of Osama bin Laden embracing a newspaper photo of Corbyn and the selection of tabloid front pages smearing the Labour leader. There’s also clips of Corbyn meeting ordinary members of the public, embracing a Muslim woman in a burqa, that’ll no doubt send Boris’ supporters bonkers, and writing messages of condolence to the people of Grenfell Tower.

This is an eloquent talk by one of Britain’s most gifted and critically acclaimed film-makers. He’s right, and especially about the way the concentration on the arcane ritual of parliament may be putting off young people. It certainly seems to me to be a way of dividing people into a politically-literate class of affluent people, who understand it and its jargon, and the rest of us.

Loach is getting on a bit, but he’s still active and his voice needs to be heard. We need to listen to him and organisations like DDN, and not to the lamestream media.

RAF Pilot Set to Join Branson Satellite Programme

October 6, 2019

There were a couple of really great, fascinating science stories in Friday’s I newspaper, which I’d like to cover before I get to the political stuff of attacking and refuting Boris Johnson, the Tories, and other right-wing nonsense.

One of these was the report that the RAF had selected a pilot to join the crews set to fly Cosmic Girl, an adapted 747 developed by Branson’s company, Virgin Orbit, send satellites into space. The article by Ewan Somerville, titled ‘RAF pilot gets space wings as first to join satellite programme’ on page 15 of the newspaper for Friday, 4th October 2019, ran

The Royal Air Force is heading for new heights after selecting its first pilot to join a space programme.

Flight Lieutenant Mathew Stannard has been assigned to a new £30m Ministry of Defence project. He will swap the cockpit of a Typhoon jet to fly a modified 747-400 plane, called Cosmic Girl, to launch satellites into orbit from mid-air, marking a “significant step” for British space endeavours.

A partnership between the RAF and space company Virgin Orbit to develop space technology, a response to billions of dollars being spent by the US, China and India, was unveiled at the Air Space Power conference in July.

Flt Lt Stannard hailed the programme a “truly unique opportunity” adding: “This programme is pushing the boundaries of our understanding of space so it’s a real privilege to be part of it and I’m looking forward to bring the skills and knowledge I gain back to the RAF.”

Over three years, Flt Lt Stannard will join several test pilots to send satellites into space from 30,000ft using a launcher attached to the Boeing 747’s fuselage. Freed from the need to launch from the ground, hi-tech satellites, developed by Britain, weighing only 300kg and described by Flt Lt Stannard as “the size of a washing machine”, could be launched from anywhere worldwide.

The RAF already has a similar small satellite, Carbonite 2, in orbit and plans for a “constellation” of them to provide HD imaging, video and secure communications. 

The mission is design to ensure Britain is not target by foreign powers for lacking its own space capabilities. It comes as the UK is due to send eight military personnel to join Operation Olympic Defender, a US-led coalition to deter “hostile acts in space” over the next 12 months.

I’m another British satellite launcher is being developed, even if the plane is made by Boeing, an American company. I’m also glad that the RAF have supplied an officer, as previous efforts to get a Brit into space have been hampered by squabbling within the armed forces. Before Helen Sharman became the first British person to go into space with the Russians to Mir, Britain was offered the opportunity by the Americans of sending an astronaut to go aboard the space shuttle. The army, air force and navy all put their men forward, and the scheme failed because of the wrangling over which one should be chosen.

I am not, however, altogether optimistic about this project as it’s a space company owned by Beardie Branson. How long has his company, Virgin Galactic, been claiming that ‘next year’ they’ll send the first tourists into space? Since the 1990s! I can see this one similarly stretching on for years. I have far more confidence in Orbex and their spaceship and launch complex now being built in Scotland.

As for using an aircraft as the first stage to send spacecraft into orbit, this was extensively discussed by the aircraft designers David Ashcroft and Patrick Collins in their book Your Spaceflight Manual: How You Could Be A Tourist in Space Within Twenty Years (London: Headline 1990). After discussing some of the classic spaceplane concepts of the past, like the XIB rocket plane and the Dynosoar, they also describe the design by the French aerospace company, Dassault, of 1964-7. This would have consisted of a supersonic jet capable of reaching Mach 4 as the first stage. The second stage would have been a rocket which would have flown at Mach 8, and used fuel from the first stage launcher. The whole vehicle was designed to be reusable.

The two authors also proposed their own designs for composite, two-stage spaceplanes, Spacecab and SpaceBus. These would have consisted of a jet-propelled first stage, which would piggy-back a much smaller rocket-driven orbiter. They estimated that Spacebus’ cost per flight would be higher than that of a 747, but much, much less than the space shuttle. It would be an estimated $250,000 against the Shuttle’s $300 million. Space bus was designed to carry 50 passengers, at a cost to each of $5,000. The pair also estimated that it would need $2bn to fund the development of a prototype Spacecab, and believed that the total development cost would be $10bn, the same as the similar Sanger concept then being developed in Germany. Although expensive, this would have been less than the $20bn set aside for the construction of the Freedom Space Station.

It’s a pity Ashcrofts and Collins’ spaceplane was not developed, though hardly unsurprising. Space research is very expensive, and the British government has traditionally been very reluctant to spend anything on space research since the cancellation of Black Arrow in 1975. The pair were also writing at the end of the 1980s, when there was little interest in the private development of spaceflight. This changed with the X-Prize in the 1990s so that we now have several private space companies, such as Elon Musk’s and Jeff Bezos’ outfits, competing to develop launchers, as well as Orbex. Hopefully, sooner or later, someone will start taking paying passengers into space and developing space industry. But somehow I doubt it’ll be Branson.

The Tories and Blairites Cannot Be Trusted to Defend the NHS from Trump

June 11, 2019

Last week the orange generalissimo managed to cause massive offence and outrage on his state visit here. And it wasn’t just for merely being present, although that was certainly a major factor in the protests his visit provoked. No, Trump and his spokesman were touting for a trade deal with Britain after Brexit. And he demanded that ‘everything should be on the table’, including healthcare.

Which means the NHS.

MPs from all sides of the House immediately swung into action to condemn the Fascist cheeto’s demands that the NHS should be opened up to private American healthcare companies. There were a string of high profile Tory MPs, including former health secretary Andrew Lansley, loudly denouncing Trump’s demand, and stating that they weren’t going to include the NHS as part of the Brexit deal and were going to defend this most precious of British institutions. Lansley in particular was scathing about Trump’s opposition to the way the NHS controlled drug prices. He was afraid that if Trump has his way, this would be discarded to allow predatory American pharmaceutical companies to charge excessive and unaffordable prices for needed drugs.

He’s absolutely right.

One of the current scandals with the American private, insurance-driven healthcare system is that the drug companies can and do charge whatever they like for their products, which means that these are often beyond the ability of ordinary Americans to afford. I’ve blogged on here about a piece from The Young Turks about how Americans are hoarding drugs or buying those intended for animals from vets because they can’t afford them. And the worst example of a drug company actually raising prices is the case of Martin Shkreli. When he took over one company, he raised the price of an anti-AIDS drug to well over $300 a pill. He said he only wanted rich Americans to be able to use it, not poor Indians. He was rightly massively vilified for his gross racism and profiteering, but continued to defend himself, as he really couldn’t see that he had done anything wrong.

But while it’s heartening to see all these politicians stand up to defend the health service, I don’t believe them. With one exception, of course: Jeremy Corbyn. The Tories and the Blairites simply can’t be trusted to defend the NHS because they haven’t done it up to now. Indeed, they’ve done the exact opposite, all the while denying it.

Remember how Maggie Thatcher loudly declared that the NHS was ‘safe with us’, and she would keep her wretched claws off it. She even put it in her memoirs, denouncing the claims of the Labour party that she was planning to privatise the health service as lies. But she herself was lying. Cabinet minutes released a couple of years ago showed that she very much wanted to privatise the NHS. She was only stopped because of a massive cabinet revolt and the fact that her Personal Private Secretary, Patrick Jenkin, had visited the US and had seen personally what a travesty American private healthcare was.

So she satisfied herself with cutting its budget and trying to encourage Brits to take out private health insurance instead. She was aiming for about 11 per cent of the British population to take out such insurance.

She was followed by John Major, whose health secretary Peter Lilley was, I believe, one of the others who attacked Trump’s demand for a slice of NHS action. But Lilley was responsible for the Private Finance Initiative, under which private firms were to be allowed to bid for NHS contracts and building and running hospitals in partnership with the government. It was deliberately introduced with the intention of opening up the health service to private healthcare companies. And Lilley was advised in his health policies by John Lo Casio of the American private health insurance fraudster, Unum.

Well, the government changed with Labour’s 1997 electoral victory, but the Thatcherite privatisation of the NHS remained on course. Blair was an unashamed Thatcherite, and she had reciprocated his feelings by calling him and New Labour her greatest achievement. Blair also took over Lo Casio and Unum as his advisers on health policy, and continued the stealth privatisation of the NHS. The Community Care Groups of GPs he set up to contract in healthcare services were given the power to purchase it from the private sector and to raise funding privately themselves. The health centres and polyclinics he set up were to be run by private healthcare firms, like Circle Health, BUPA and Beardie Branson’s Virgin Health. NHS contracts, including out of hours services in many regions were privatised and the contracts awarded to private healthcare firms.

And yes, American healthcare firms were among them. Private Eye reported how Blair was surrounded by American public sector contractors, all lobbying for their share of British state business. Like the private American prison company, Wackenhut. And this included private healthcare companies. Blair was particularly impressed by the private American healthcare provider, Keyserpermanente, which he thought provided better value for money than the traditional NHS structure. It doesn’t, but that was ignored, and the American company provided the model for his NHS reforms. His health secretary, Alan Milburn, wanted the NHS to become nothing but a kitemark for services provided by private companies.

And this continued under David Cameron and Tweezer. Despite the loud shouts by Lansley and Jeremy Hunt that they ‘treasure’ the NHS, both of them preferred private healthcare and previously stated that they wanted the NHS effectively abolished and the lines blurred between state and private provision. There’s also a solid block of Tory politicians that would like the NHS sold off completely. Like the Devon Tory MEP, Daniel Hannan, dubbed by Guy Debord’s Cat ‘the Lyin’ King’ because of his gross mendacity. The majority of NHS contracts are being awarded to private healthcare firms, rather than kept in-house, and they have been angling to win the contracts for whole regions. Which brings the complete privatisation of the NHS even closer.

Andrew Lansley’s convoluted Health and Social Care Act of 2012 also enabled its privatisation by removing the obligation of the health secretary to provide healthcare to everyone in the UK, which had been a statutory requirement since the founding of the NHS in 1948. The Tories have also consistently voted to introduce charges for certain NHS services. Mike over at Vox Political has frequently given the voting record of some of the worst Tories, who have not only done this, but also supported other attacks on the poor like cutting welfare services, raising tuition fees and supporting the bedroom tax.

And I don’t trust the Lib Dems either. They went into coalition with the Tories and did absolutely nothing as their partners in government continued to attack the welfare state and the NHS. Indeed some of them, like the former MP for Taunton Dean, strongly supported it.

I have to say that I think that the outrage from the Tories at Trump’s demands is largely hypocritical. They’d very much like to make a deal with Trump, that includes the NHS along with other essential services that should only be run by the state. But, as with the cabinet revolt against Thatcher, they’re afraid that if they agree, they will be voted out in a devastating landslide, possibly never to get back into power.

The only person, who can be trusted to defend the NHS and keep it safe from Trump and the other privatisers, is Jeremy Corbyn.

Don’t trust the Tories. They still want to and  are privatising the NHS. Nor the Lib Dems or ‘Centrist’ Labour, who are exactly the same. The only real hope of defending and reviving the NHS is with Corbyn and the victory of a genuine, socialist Labour party at the next election. 

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos Plans to Take Us Back to the Moon

May 12, 2019

One of the other interesting pieces in yesterday’s I for 11th May 2019 was David Parsley’s article, ‘Amazon tycoons furthest delivery – putting people back on the Moon’. As the headline says, this is about the plans by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos for a crewed mission to the Moon within the next five years. The article runs

The man who made billions from sending parcels around Earth is taking one giant leap towards the Moon.

The world’s richest man and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos aims to send astronauts back to the Moon by 2024, 55 years after Neil Armstrong took his first small step.

Mr Bezos said his space company Blue Origin will initially land an unmanned robotic ship about the size of a small house, but would also help Nasa to meet its target to put humans back on the surface of Earth’s satellite in five years’ time.

“We can help meet that timeline but only because we started three years ago,” said Mr Bezos. “It’s time to back to the Moon, this time to stay.”

Known as Blue Moon, the reusable lunar lander is capable of carrying four rovers and uses a newly designed rocket engine powerful enough to carry up to 6.5 metric tons of cargo on the 238,000-mile journey.

Mr Bezos, who is worth £100bn, unveiled a model of one of Blue Moon’s proposed rovers, which was roughly the size of a golf cart, and presented a new rocket engine called BD-7 which can blast 10,000 lb of thrust.

“We have been given a gift – this nearby body called the Moon,” Mr Bezos added.

In March, US Vice President Mike Pence called on Nasa to build a space platform in lunar orbit and put American astronauts on the Moon’s south pole by 2024 “by any means necessary”, four years earlier than planned.

Blue Origin said the group would “share our vision of going to space to benefit Earth”. Based in Kent, Washington, the group is also developing the New Shepherd rocket for short space tourism trips and a heavy-lift launch rocket called New Glenn for commercial satellite launches. It is aiming to deliver the New Glenn rocket by 2021, while launching humans in a suborbital flight later this year aboard New Shepherd.

Elon Musk also develops plans to take humans to Mars with his company SpaceX. He previously set the first cargo-carrying Mars mission for 2022 and a crewed mission for 2024.

Meanwhile, Sir Richard Branson achieved Virgin Galactic’s first manned flight last year and plans to launch the first space tourism flights later this year. (p. 13).

This is very exciting, and I’m really looking forward to Bezos to take humanity back to the Moon, and Musk to send us to Mars. But I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for Branson to take tourists into space, as he’s been promising that ‘soon’ or ‘next year’ for decades.

However, I’d like Bezos to pay his Amazon workers a living wage first. From what I gather, the peeps working at his warehouses really are paid starvation wages. Which, I ‘spose, is how he get to be worth £100 billion. But he can afford to earn a little less, and workers a lot more. Sending people into space does not mean ignoring or exploiting the folks back on Earth. If he gives his workers a proper wage, then I’ll be behind him and his plans to take humanity to the planets 100 per cent.

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.

My JBIS Paper on Passenger-Rated Hobby Rockets

October 16, 2018

After the flight a few months ago of the American eccentric in his steam-powered rocket to see if the Earth really was flat, and Richard Branson’s announcement last week that he was only weeks away from sending his first tourists into space aboard his Virgin Galactic spaceplane, I thought it was time I put up a piece about a paper I had published in the Journal of British Interplanetary Society about other, passenger-carrying rockets. The paper, ‘Backyard Spaceships: Passenger-Rated Microlights for Hobby Rocketry’, argued that just as hang-gliders and microlight aircraft allowed people to enjoy the experience of flight simply for pure pleasure, so short-range passenger-carrying rockets could be developed to give people some of the experience of spaceflight. It’s quite a long and technical article, so I’ll simply quote the abstract. This runs

The FINDS and CATS prizes have introduced to contemporary astronautics the competitive spirit, which led to such spectacular advances in the fledgling aviation industry. This pioneering spirit is also shared by present day microlight aircraft enthusiasts. If the expected expansion of commercial passenger spaceflight with mass space tourism occurs, then it may create a demand for extreme short-range crewed rockets as a new form of leisure craft, Just as microlight aircraft recreate the experience of large aircraft flight on a smaller scale. If the technologies, materials and procedures used in microlight and balloon aviation are applied to those of high power solid propellant rocketry, then similar ‘microlight’ rockets able to reach altitudes of c.3,200 m, may be a possibility. Apart from the leisure and sporting opportunities offered by such craft, which would also encourage technological experimentation and progress, they would also great benefit astronautical education by adding the practical human experience of rocket flight to ground studies’ curricula. (p. 45).

The FINDS and CATS prizes were set up to encourage private organisations to develop rockets that could successfully fly into space and land again. They were deliberately established in emulation of the prizes that drove the early research into aviation and aircraft flight. These prizes were awarded in competitions for aircraft flying particular long distances, for example, and so encouraged and rewarded designers, engineers and pilots working on the designs of the planes and their engines.

A Danish organization, Copenhagen Sub-Orbitals, was also working on developing a human-carrying rocket, and have posted a few videos showing their vehicles’ test flights on YouTube. However, the last thing I read from them was that they were having difficulty making their rocket safe for humans, as the crash test dummy was always broken on landing. I don’t know whether anyone will actually go ahead and make such microlight hobby spacecraft, but the flight of the guy in his steam-powered spacecraft showed that such short-range, passenger hobby flights are possible.