Tuesday, May 4, 2021

China's rocket in bad orbit, could reenter soon

HELSINKI — China launched the first module for its space station into orbit late Wednesday, but the mission launcher also reached orbit and is slowly and unpredictably heading back to Earth.

The Long March 5B, a variant of China’s largest rocket, successfully launched the 22.5-metric-ton Tianhe module from Wenchang Thursday local time. Tianhe separated from the core stage of the launcher after 492 seconds of flight, directly entering its planned initial orbit.

Designed specifically to launch space station modules into low Earth orbit, the Long March 5B uniquely uses a core stage and four side boosters to place its payload directly into low Earth orbit.

However this core stage is now also in orbit and is likely to make an uncontrolled reentry over the next days or week as growing interaction with the atmosphere drags it to Earth. If so, it will be one of the largest instances of uncontrolled reentry of a spacecraft and could potentially land on an inhabited area.

Most expendable rocket first stages do not reach orbital velocity and reenter the atmosphere and land in a pre-defined reentry zone. Some other larger, second stages perform deorbit burns to lower altitude to reduce time in orbit and lower chances of collisions with other spacecraft or to immediately reenter the atmosphere.

There had been speculation that the Long March 5B core would perform an active maneuver to deorbit itself, but that appears not to have happened. At a Wenchang press conference Thursday, Wang Jue, Commander-in-Chief of Long March 5B launch vehicle, stated (Chinese) that this second Long March 5B had seen improvements over the first launch, but a possible deorbit maneuver was not stated.

Ground based radars used by the U.S. military to track spacecraft and other objects in space have detected an object and catalogued it as the Long March 5B rocket body. Now designated 2021-035B, the roughly 30-meter-long, five-meter-wide Long March 5 core stage is in a 170 by 372-kilometer altitude orbit traveling at more than seven kilometers per second.

A possible amateur ground observation of the rocket core showing regular flashes suggests that it is tumbling and thus not under control.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

US denies prisoners swap.

 DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The United States on Sunday immediately denied a report by Irans state-run television broadcaster that deals had been reached between the Islamic Republic, Washington and the United Kingdom that would see prisoners swapped and Tehran receive billions of dollars.

The announcement by state television, relying on an unnamed source, comes amid a wider power struggle between hard-liners and the relatively moderate government of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. That conflict only has grown sharper as Iran approaches its June 18 presidential election.

The broadcaster long controlled by hard-liners has aired similarly anonymously sourced reports contradicting diplomats in Vienna trying to negotiate a return to its nuclear deal with world powers. 

It wasnt immediately clear if Sundays report represented another means to disrupt negotiations by Rouhani officials or sabotage any potential negotiations with the West over frozen funds and prisoner exchanges. 

The official quoted by Iranian state TV said a deal made between the U.S. and Tehran involved a prisoner swap in exchange for the release of $7 billion in frozen Iranian funds. 

“The Americans accepted to pay $7 billion and swap four Iranians who were active in bypassing sanctions for four American spies who have served part of their sentences,” state TV said, quoting the official in an on-screen crawl. It did not name the Iranians that Tehran sought to be freed.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price immediately denied the Iranian state TV report. 

“Reports that a prisoner swap deal has been reached are not true, Price said. As we have said, we always raise the cases of Americans detained or missing in Iran. We will not stop until we are able to reunite them with their families.”

Price did not elaborate. But Biden’s chief of staff Ron Klain told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that “unfortunately that report is untrue. There is no agreement to release these four Americans.”

“We’re working very hard to get them released,” Klain said. We raise this with Iran and our interlocutors all the time but so far there’s no agreement.”

Tehran holds four known Americans now in prison. They include Baquer and Siamak Namazi, environmentalist Morad Tahbaz and Iranian-American businessman Emad Shargi. 

State TV also quoted the official as saying a deal had been reached for the United Kingdom to pay 400 million pounds to see the release of British-Iranian woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. 

British officials downplayed the report. The Foreign Office said that the country continues “to explore options to resolve this 40-year old case and we will not comment further as legal discussions are ongoing.’’

Last week, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced to an additional year in prison, her lawyer said, on charges of spreading “propaganda against the system” for participating in a protest in front of the Iranian Embassy in London in 2009.

That came after she completed a five-year prison sentence in the Islamic Republic after being convicted of plotting the overthrow of Iran’s government, a charge that she, her supporters and rights groups deny. 

While employed at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency, she was taken into custody at the Tehran airport in April 2016 as she was returning home to Britain after visiting family.

Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of Zaghari-Ratcliffe, told The Associated Press he was not aware of any swap in the works.

We haven’t heard anything, he said. “Of course we probably wouldn’t, but my instinct is to be skeptical at present.”

Earlier Sunday, U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the BBC that he believed Zaghari-Ratcliffe was being held “unlawfully” by Iran.

“I think she’s been treated in the most abusive, tortuous way,” Raab said. “I think it amounts to torture the way she’s been treated and there is a very clear, unequivocal obligation on the Iranians to release her and all of those who are being held as leverage immediately and without condition.”

Last week, Cabinet spokesman Ali Rabiei hinted that a prisoner swap between Iran and the U.S. may be in the works, saying the idea “has always been on the agenda” and noting the judiciary has confirmed its “readiness.” His remarks followed that of the Foreign Ministry spokesman who suggested Tehran hopes to swing a major prisoner swap as part of ongoing negotiations in Vienna. A similar swap accompanied the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers

Tehran is now negotiating with world powers over both it and the U.S. returning to its 2015 nuclear deal, which saw it limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. 

As the negotiations continue, Iranian negotiators there have offered encouraging comments, while state TV quoted anonymous sources striking maximalist positions. That even saw Abbas Araghchi, the Iranian deputy foreign minister leading the talks, offer a rebuke on Twitter last week to Iranian state televisions English-language arm, Press TV.

“I don’t know who the ‘informed source’ of Press TV in Vienna is, but s/he is certainly not ‘informed,” Araghchi wrote.


Associated Press writers Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran; Danika Kirka in London and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Hypersonic AGM 183A fails to launch

WASHINGTON — The first rocket booster test of the U.S. Air Force’s hypersonic AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon failed when the vehicle did not launch during an April 5 flight.

During tests over Point Mugu Sea Range off the coast of California, a B-52 Stratofortress bomber attempted to launch the ARRW booster vehicle. However, “the test missile was not able to complete its launch sequence” and the bomber returned to Edwards Air Force Base, California, with the test vehicle, the Air Force said in a statement.

The service plans to study the missile to understand why it didn’t launch, then make alterations and attempt to fire it in a future test, the service said.

“The ARRW program has been pushing boundaries since its inception and taking calculated risks to move this important capability forward,” said Brig. Gen. Heath Collins, the Air Force’s program executive officer for its armaments directorate. “While not launching was disappointing, the recent test provided invaluable information to learn from and continue ahead. This is why we test.”

Aside from demonstrating the safe separation of the ARRW booster from the B-52 during the April 5 test, the Air Force had intended to evaluate the performance of the missile at operational speeds through ignition and the boost phase, as well as simulate the separation of the booster from the glide vehicle.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Virgin Galactic unveils 'Spaceship III'


Virgin Galactic, the space tourism firm that hopes to send its first customers to space next year, unveiled a new spacecraft design on Tuesday. The sleek new space plane has a reflective coating that the company calls "mirror-like," and says will add to space tourists' experience.

light tests of the new vehicle are expected to begin this summer, the company said in a press release.
    Visually, the SpaceShip III closely resembles SpaceShipTwo, the vehicle that Virgin Galactic (SPCE) has been testing for more than a decade. But the updated space plane is designed to be more easily manufactured, and to be durable enough to help the company achieve its goal of flying 400 trips to suborbital space each year.
    The company is, however, also still continuing to test its SpaceShipTwo vehicle, called VSS Unity. The next trial run for it is slated for May, and it will follow up two prior test flights that were successful and one that was prematurely scrapped in December.

    December's planned test flight was halted when VSS Unity's onboard rocket motor computer lost connection, the company said. And last month the Washington Post, citing an upcoming book from New Yorker staff writer Nicholas Schmidle, revealed that in Virgin Galactic encountered a potentially serious safety hazard during a test flight in 2019. A safety probe was ordered to investigate why a seal on its space plane's wing had come undone, risking loss of the vehicle and the lives of the three crew members on board, according to the Post. No one was harmed in the test flight, which was publicly deemed a success.
      Virgin Galactic moved into the New Mexico facility in May 2019. The company refurbished the building to include a lounge and other amenities that ticket holders — who so far have forked over between $200,000 to $250,000 each to reserve seats — will be able to use before their brief journey to the edge of space.

      Thursday, February 25, 2021

      Corporate Pilot Describes Close Encounter in 2018 Over Northwest Texas.


      Since the  publishing of  Intercept: American Airlines Flight 2292 reports close encounter with unknown flying object, this journalist has been besieged with non-stop calls and emails mostly from media outlets wanting interviews. 

      It didn't take any time for the post to go global, especially with the help of Tyler Rogoway and The War Zone.  

      Tyler gets the credit with doing the leg work, taking the raw data and  leaning on American Airlines and the FAA to give up some information with the thing being that the issue here is not if it's a UFO but that it must be considered a threat to safe navigation of civilian and commercial aircraft. 

      At first American Airlines tried to deflect the incident saying as much and that they didn't know who made the radio report to Albuquerque Center but eventually being forced to acknowledge it was in their best interest to admit the incident took place and there is now an active investigation into what the flight officers on AA2292 saw last Sunday ripping across the skies of northwestern New Mexico.

      Speculation on what it it was are being bounced around on chat boards and social media platforms, from posters running the gamut from rabid UFO true believers to more scientific and data based aeronautical experts, amateur plane spotters and internet space and aviation junkies (some self-proclaimed insiders who claim they know but would have to kill us if they told us ) but in spite of all that we don't have any concrete answers. 

      That said FOIAs have been filled, phone calls to all the military commands in the area, all denying they had anything flying that afternoon and as a result we are no closer to the truth. 

      In the middle of this flying circus one person persisted in getting in contact with me. He tried first through my employer, who gave him my cell phone number and email address, tried calling me  (which I bounced because they were from unknown callers) before  he finally catching up me at a rare down moment at my desk (at lunch time) one of the few quiet minutes I have had since this all began. 

      He then identified himself and told me his story of his encounter that was remarkably similar to the encounter AA Flight 2292 experienced but with lots more detail. He also told me he felt compelled to talk to me that since his encounter he's had to endure some skepticism from an industry where just talking about "UFOs" can get you labeled as half a bubble off plumb.  

      He also added that in aviation circles, when pilots are off work kicking back having a few beers and dropping their guard and talk, they trade very similar stories of encounters with flying wedge type objects crossing their flight paths and they are much more common than one would like to think. He said, "over the last few years something definitely odd is going on in our crowded skies and no one seems to want to acknowledge it."

      "Carl" as I will call him  ( I chose to protect his anonymity not him) told me his story. 

      He was a corporate pilot flying above 50,000 feet over NW Texas on his way to North Carolina on a sunny day in Feb of 2018.  

      Unfortunately at the time of his encounter his co-pilot was "hitting the head" military talk for using the bathroom and as fate would have it that's when a wedge-shaped-object flew by the aircraft at high speed a few thousand feet above his aircraft. Carl got a good look at it. He described it as a highly swept triangular wedge with two winglets either side - more like wing tip canards. The shape was surrounded by a bright yellow halo-plasma like envelope so bright it stood out even in broad daylight. 

      His co-pilot returned and couldn't help but notice the look on "Carl's" face, white as if he had seen his life flash before his eyes. He told his copilot what he had seen and asked if he should report it to air traffic control. Worried about the safety of other aircraft on the same route they decided they had to. ATC asked for a description and heading and if they wanted to file a report. He said yes. 

      Right after his report he radioed to see if any other aircraft in the area had also seen the object, none had with some even jokingly ridiculing the sighting as "swamp gas - did you see little green men" etc.  

      Note here, pilots often use discrete frequencies to talk to each other most notably 123.450 MHz - an easy frequency to remember since it's unassigned and all one just has to dial in is: 12345.  

      Military pilots have similar channels like "WINCHESTER" MAGNUM, SHOTGUN" etc. - with them being 303.00 MHz (30/30) 351.700MHz (like the handgun 357 magnum) and 300.600 (SHOTGUN) thirty-ought-six.

      To make my point and a long story short, as the War Zone has pointed out and as more pilots are seeing the media buzz that continues to grow around the encounter "Carl" encourages pilots to come forward. He says "Among pilots it's considered a dirty little secret we don't talk about officially but we do to each other."

      Carl worries that some day there will be a mid-air collision with one of these objects and no one will literally know what hit them.

      -Steve Douglass 


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