All posts by John C. Menzies

Ossiris-REx begins preliminary survey phase ahead of orbital insertion

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft after a 2 billion km journey, has reached and is now in orbit around asteroid Bennu.   See previous post.

Below is a series of images taken by OSIRIS-REx at a distance of about 80 km (50 mi.) The images constitute one full revolution of the asteroid.

The spacecraft is now in the Preliminary Survey Phase which began on December 3, 2018, and marks the first time that the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will operate around the asteroid. The spacecraft will make a total of five passes over the north pole, equator, and south pole at a range of 4.3 miles (7 km). The primary science goals of Preliminary Survey are to estimate Bennu’s mass, refine the asteroid’s spin state model, and generate a global shape model at a resolution of 75-cm.  With this information orbital insertion can be planned and detailed (and close) survey of the asteroid can begin.


This doth remind me

Credit: Origin Unknown. Arc de Triomph, Paris

“HARK! Hark! on yonder distant shore,
The noisy din of war I hear;
The sword’s unsheath’d—the cannons roar,
And Gallia’s sons in arms appear,
‘Tis France, ’tis France, the people cry,
Fighting for sacred Liberty.”    Thomas Spence, 1794

A truly remarkable image of the Arc De Triomph with a  vast crowd of angry French Yellow Jackets.

Notables on Macron 2017:

  • Osborne: “The leadership that France needs.”
  • D. Miliband: “[The] tribune for modernisation in…Europe.”
  • Freeman: “A French JFK.”
  • Cable: “I can offer the same formula.”
  • Lineker: “Boy we could do with a Macron.”

Oh indeed to be so very wrong, in short a time.

Our Star’s sibling – looks like a good candidate

Its 4.5 billion years since our solar system formed in a  gaseous nebula.  These nebula formed from the explosive collapse of stars, larger than Sol, when they have exhausted much of their hydrogen.  These Supernova cast much of their mass into space forming  a gaseous nebula.  These nebula are however large –  much larger than our solar system and are incubators of star formation, sometimes hundreds of stars, much like the glowing nebula in the image below.

NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team –
Composed of gas and dust, the pictured pillar resides in a tempestuous stellar nursery called the Carina Nebula, located 7500 light-years away in the southern constellation of Carina. Taken in visible light, the image shows the tip of the three-light-year-long pillar, bathed in the glow of light from hot, massive stars off the top of the image. Scorching radiation and fast winds (streams of charged particles) from these stars are sculpting the pillar and causing new stars to form within it. Streamers of gas and dust can be seen flowing off the top of the structure. Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 observed the Carina Nebula on 24-30 July 2009. The composite image was made from filters that isolate emission from iron, magnesium, oxygen, hydrogen and sulphur.

Overtime, the varied gravitational environment in the galaxy results in stars formed from the same nebula drifting apart, however they will retain the same composition and have similar spectral characteristics and maybe even be of comparable in size.  Finding these siblings would require a massive star survey.  We would have to know the distance from Earth, the relative speed and direction and the composition.  Given that there are a vast number of stars in our immediate neighborhood –  this is a daunting task.

The Gaia spacecraft is performing just such a  survey of the Milky Way.  Gaia is measuring the distance, velocity and spectral characteristics for a billion stars in our galaxy has now spotted what appears to be a twin (HD186302) of Sol and it has near identical spectral characteristics.  Of the 200,000 stars in the spectral Gaia catalog only one star, HD186302, has near-identical chemistry to Sol.

HD186302 is a G3-Type main sequence star with about same surface temperature as Sol and is about the same age, 4.5 BY.  HD186302 is located 184 light years from Earth,   which sounds like it’s very distant.  However, to achieve this separation if Sol and HB186302 were original 1-2 light-years apart within the nebula it would only require a relative velocity between Sol and HD186302 of 65,000 km/hr since formation to have achieved the current separation.  In galactic terms this is a very realistic relative speed.


Novel diamond composite drill bit to improve steerability

Schlumberger introduces new and novel diamond composite drill-bit which allows for deeper cutting –  which will improve steerability on the curve.

The  distinctive geometry of Hyper* hyperbolic diamond cutting elements that cut 20% deeper into rock compared with conventional polycrystalline diamond compact (PDC) cutters. A thicker, precision-molded diamond table makes the Hyper element tougher and more durable for drilling soft and plastic rock formations, while armored cutting edges withstand high-impact transitions.

Additionally, bit balling is mitigated by the chip-breaking profile at the center of the element, which improves cuttings removal during drilling. With the combination of these features, the HyperBlade bit maintains steerability and directional tracking, and increases average ROP by more than 20% compared with conventional PDC cutters.

The HyperBlade bit has undergone extensive field testing in North America, specifically in the Denver-Julesburg and Appalachian Basins. In the Marcellus Formation in northern Pennsylvania, the HyperBlade bit drilled an 8 ½-in section with a measured depth of 6,891 ft in 16.6 drilling hours. The operator achieved an on-bottom ROP of 415 ft/h, resulting in a 62% improvement compared with offset runs using conventional PDC bits.

Coal Boom in Australia

Australia is on the brink of opening up a massive, untapped coal province after Adani committed to begin construction of its ­controversial Carmichael mine project in central Queensland befor­e Christmas and the approval by the Queensland Government of the Mac-Mines coal mine

After almost a decade of ­delays, legal challenges and protest­s, the Indian conglomerate is planning to begin exporting high-quality thermal coal from the Galilee Basin, west of Mackay, by the end of 2020.

Adani’s decision to self-fund a scaled-down version of its original mine-rail proposal — involving what would have been Australia’s biggest-ever coalmine — could pave the way for five other propos­ed mines in the basin. Its planned rail link to the Abbot Point port will be opened for use to Adani’s rivals, with an initial coal-hauling capacity of 40 million tonnes a year that could be doubled within a few years.

Last week, Queensland’s Co-ordinator-General approved the proposed $6.7 billion Chinese-backed MacMines coalmine in the Galilee Basin.  Read the Mac Mines EIS here.




Coal Boom – The Australian

Osiris meets NEO asteroid bennu on Monday – live stream

After the excitement of the Insight landing on Mars earlier in the week  – there is more space adventure in store next week.  OSIRIS-REx arrives at near-Earth asteroid 101955 Bennu, on Monday.

NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) will make contact with Bennu at 1200 EST or 1700 Zulu.

The first image was obtained using one of the three cameras on-board the spacecraft (PolyCam) from a distance of 330 kilometers. Multiple exposures allow for estimation of rotation speed. The scientific team used a super-resolution algorithm to combine eight images and produce a higher resolution view of the asteroid. Although Bennu occupies barely 100 pixels in the detector, it is possible to identify some features on its surface, like large boulders.

There will be a live stream of the event at Nasa Live.

On Dec. 3, OSIRIS-REx will begin operations around the asteroid, passing over its north pole, south pole and equator at an altitude of only 6 km. This will allow the spacecraft to determine its mass, how fast it’s spinning and generate a model of the asteroid prior to retrieving a surface sample and returing it to planet Earth in 2023.

The journey for the asteroid-chasing OSIRIS-REx began back in September 2016 and three years later it’s finally close enough to tag the space rock. The spacecraft is equipped with five instruments and will survey the asteroid for a year, before selecting a site to retrieve a sample. OSIRIS-REx won’t touch down on the asteroid, like Japan’s Hayabusa 2 did earlier this year, instead opting to drop a lower pressure blower on an retractable arm (TAGSAM) onto the surface to suck up a sample for Earth return.


The OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA) will provide a 3-D map of asteroid Bennu’s shape, which will allow scientists to understand the context of the asteroid’s geography and the sample location. OLA is provided by the Canadian Space Agency in exchange for Canadian ownership of a portion of the returned asteroid sample. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will travel to the near-Earth asteroid Bennu and bring at least a 60-gram (2.1-ounce) sample back to Earth for study.

The OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES) will conduct surveys to map mineral and chemical abundances and to take the asteroid Bennu’s temperature. OTES is the first such instrument built entirely on the Arizona State University (ASU), Tempe campus.

The OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer (OVIRS) will measure visible and near infrared light from the asteroid Bennu. The instrument’s observations could be used to identify water and organic materials.

The Regolith X-Ray Imaging Spectrometer (REXIS) instrument designed to image X-ray emission from Bennu in order to provide an elemental abundance map of the asteroid’s surface.

The TAGSAM arm will be responsible for collecting a sample from Bennu’s surface.



Science supports hydraulic fracturing, moratorium lifted on existing projects

After much lobbying APPEA has announced the Western Australian Government’s decision to lift the hydraulic fracturing moratorium on existing onshore gas projects.

How many studies need to be done to confirm that fracking kilometres beneath the surface of the planet has no material impact on the surface or the near surface waters?  We all know this has nothing to do with actual environmental impact and everything to do with a  small subset of the left that detests Capitalism  – the one “ism” that has made the world a better place as distinct from the others that have merely killed tens of millions.

Buru Energy fracking operation on the Valhalla North well-site in the Kimberley region of Western Australia

“The independent scientific inquiry has confirmed that properly regulated, hydraulic fracturing is a safe practice.  Hydraulic fracturing has been used safely in Western Australia since 1958,” said APPEA Chief Executive Dr Malcolm Roberts.

“The inquiry shows there is no environmental or public health justification for maintaining the moratorium.  The inquiry also rejects claims that onshore projects will mean a significant increase in emissions.

“While the industry would have preferred the removal of the moratorium across the state, this decision will give communities in regional WA the choice to support local projects and jobs.

“More than any other state, WA relies on investment in resource projects to sustain jobs and economic growth.  The government has made the right decision to respect the substantial investments already made by projects in the Kimberley region and the Perth basin.

Dr Roberts said prohibiting hydraulic fracturing would have crushed the viability of some of these projects, damaging WA’s reputation as a safe place for investment.

“The government has added a new regulatory requirement which will only allow these projects to use hydraulic fracturing for producing gas with the approval of the landowner,” Dr Roberts said.

“The industry respects that we operate on someone else’s land to develop a natural resource owned by the community.

“WA producers have close working relationships with traditional owners and pastoralists.

“During the inquiry, many regional communities expressed strong support for local gas projects.  The right of these communities to make their own decisions must be respected, including by anti-gas activists.”

Totally Awesome – A massive game changer

On December 1st, Spaceflight will launch its SSO-A satellite ride share on a Falcon 9 B1046 booster from Vandenberg on the west coast of the USA.  SSO-A integrates 63 satellites into a  single stack –  in a single launch.  

The ability to deploy this many satellites into low earth orbit makes launching small satellites increasing economic.  With costs as low as $295,000 for a 5kg cube-sat –  its simply changes the game.  The pricing ranges from a high of $59k/kg for the smallest form-factor cube-sat of 34cm x 10cm x 10cm to $28k/kg for a 1000 kg 350cm x 200cm satellite.

The multi-satellite payload includes 49 CubeSats and 15 larger micro-satellites. They will be launched into sun-synchronous low-earth orbits.

The satellites belong to 34 government and commercial organizations from 17 countries — including the United States, Australia, India, Thailand, South Korea, Canada, Jordan, Kazakhstan, and nine European states (Italy, Netherlands, Finland, Spain, Switzerland, UK, Germany, Poland, and Brazil).

Will the Climate crash the economy?

Headlines warned of economic doom after the U.S.  government released its 4th National Climate Assessment (“NCA”).  Steven Koonin takes a close look at the numbers and their impacts and concludes that the overall economic impact of human-caused climate change is anticipated to be very small indeed.  We incorporate some of his comments in the commentary below.  See end of this article for relevant NCA downloads.

Steven E. Koonin is a theoretical physicist and Director of the Center for Urban Science and Progress at New York University. He is also a professor in the Department of Civil and Urban Engineering at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering.  He was Under-Secretary of energy, during the Obama Administration.

As has been seen, particularly in the last 20 year, predicting the impact of human-caused carbon emissions on global climate has proved to be exceedingly challenging with estimates for surface temperature increases being uncertain by a factor of three.  Further estimating the economic impacts of postulated temperature changes decades into the future, simply compounds the uncertainty and takes no account of our ingenuity in mitigating the impacts.

Koonin reports that on careful examination the report’s actual numbers as distinct from the hyperbole, turn out to be far less alarming.  “The final figure of the final chapter shows that an increase in global temperatures of 9 F° (beyond the 1.4 F° rise recorded since 1880) would directly reduce the U.S. gross domestic product in 2090, by 4%, plus or minus 2% – that is the GDP would be 4% less than it would have been absent human influences on climate”.

This projection is a worst-case scenario assuming the largest plausible temperature increase.  It takes no account of mitigation.

  • If it is conservatively assumed that the U.S. GDP grows at a sluggish 2% through 2100 (note that it has averaged 3.2% since 1935 and is currently growing at 4.2%);
  • That would result in an economy in 2090, 400% larger than that of today;
  • A 4% climate impact in 2090 would reduce that multiple to 380%. This correction is much smaller than the error in the temperature or economic projections offered in the NCA report;
  • This equates to an annual decrease in GDP growth of a mere 0.05%. If the impact were real then without the estimated effect of said temperature increase, the last U.S. 4th quarter GDP figure would have been 4.25% rather than 4.2%, an un-measurable difference within the limits of error;
  • The U.S economy because of the postulated economic impact would be a mere 2 years behind in 2090, absent the impact of man-made climate change;

If we assume that the conclusion in the NCA report are correct, then it becomes obvious that the economic impact of any plausible temperature increase on the U.S or the global economy would be minimal.  Indeed, any number of other impactors could have a far greater effect.  For example, changes in regulations, trade, taxation, technology or external or internal conflicts could and have in the past had a far higher annual impact than the 0.05% reduction in GDP proposed by the NCA report.  Further, a more likely scenario would be for a significantly lower temperature increase and the impact on GDP growth would be increasingly, un-measurable.

It is worth recalling the widely discredited claims made in 2006, by Nicholas Stern (the economic consultant for the British Prime Minister) when he published The Economics of Climate Change: The Stern Review, in which he wrote that if no timely actions were taken in the following decades, climate change would result in the loss of 5%–20% of global GDP.  More than 10 years on and there is no evidence of his exaggerated GDP impacts.  The IPCC 2014 report concluded that a 5 F° rise in temperature would have a 3% impact on global GDP by 2100 – which would diminish the growth in global GDP to 385% from 400%.  Even the IPCC knows that the impact of any plausible global temperature increase is minimal at best.

The media and not surprisingly the political commentary on the NCA conclusions is little more than alarmist and even based upon the author’s own conclusions, the economic impact of postulated human-induced global temperature change is likely to be un-measurable over the short and probably the long term.  The global economy has little to fear from human climate impacts.

Report in Brief
Chapter 28:  Reducing Risks through Adaption  Actions
Chapter 29: Reducing Risks through Mitigation

Seismic Terror – Russian Propaganda?

BBC Radio 4. Credit: BBC Radio 4The Times, Matt Ridley

Last Saturday, BBC Radio 4 ran throughout the day with headline news about the shale-gas company Cuadrilla causing “micro-earthquakes” in Lancashire, as if the ground was trembling. It wasn’t. The tremors from fracturing gas-soaked shale rock more than a mile below the surface, picked up by ultrasensitive sensors, were far too weak to be felt at the surface. They were never going to threaten the integrity of the steel and concrete casing of the gas well itself, as some activists have since claimed.

The vibrations were tens of thousands of times less powerful than the kind of tiny earthquake that, according to the official Richter scale, “almost never cause damage”. They were smaller than the vibrations that can be routinely caused by quarrying, artillery training, mining, tunnelling, passing lorries, underground trains, geothermal wells, pile driving and building works. (Even thunder can cause seismic waves.)

There was a 3.1 magnitude natural earthquake on September 15 at 6.39pm near Newton Aycliffe in Durham. That’s several thousand times as powerful as anything caused by the recent fracking. Nobody reported feeling it, according to the British Geological Survey.

British regulations say that anything over 0.5ML (local magnitude) triggers a “red traffic light”. This has been interpreted as meaning that fracking must stop for good. Not so. As the geophysicist James Verdon from Bristol University explains, when the traffic light goes red, you don’t scrap your car, you stop for a short period till the light changes, then drive on. That’s exactly how the shale-gas traffic light is designed: if there is a tremor, then the company fracking the well must pause for some hours to let further vibrations settle, before resuming work.

Britain’s threshold of 0.5 is far more sensitive than that used in other countries, such as Canada. As Francis Egan, the chief executive of Cuadrilla, points out, if any other industry had to stop work when it triggered 0.5ML vibrations, then “you’d never get a wind farm built, you’d never get Crossrail built” and many HGVs would be off the roads.

The Russians are spreading anti-shale propaganda to protect their exports. Yet because a few fanatics have decided to campaign furiously against fracking, are we to turn our backs on this vital industry?