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Comment: Re:Not sure about the recovery test (Score 1) 121

by Teancum (#46795921) Attached to: SpaceX Launches Load to ISS, Successfully Tests Falcon 9 Over Water

"Recover" as in "fetch the debris from the sea", or "recover" as in "have it land nicely"?

That is "recover" as in "having it land in once piece so we can perform engineering analysis on what worked and didn't work in our engines" (from the perspective of SpaceX).

The earlier recovery systems that SpaceX tried to put into place were some parachutes into the upper parts of the 1st stages. SpaceX doesn't talk all that much about their failures, but apparently the parachute recovery systems were an utter and miserable failure for SpaceX, which is one reason why they have gone to the active thrust recovery system that was tested yesterday. Gwynne Shotwell talked briefly about the parachute system in her interview with David Livingston on the Space Show, when trying to explain why SpaceX is using this particular approach.

The earlier approach would have been more like the Shuttle SRB recovery approach, where some salt and seawater would be flushed out of the system after an at-sea recovery. They really did try to do this, but the dynamic loads on the parachutes were simply too much and even a multiple drogue chute system wouldn't work... at least in terms of being able to fit within the rocket equation at the same time and being able to deliver a usable payload.

Comment: Re:Test and launch are the same, it is GREAT! (Score 1) 121

by Teancum (#46795859) Attached to: SpaceX Launches Load to ISS, Successfully Tests Falcon 9 Over Water

Note they weren't (and still aren't) lining up to go to the Arctic... which is a hell of a lot more accommodating than space is.

Just a bunch of oil companies who want to make claims all over the Arctic Ocean. Are you sure that nobody wants to fight over ANWR? Ever hear about Prudhoe Bay?

Yeah, nobody wants to go into the Arctic as obviously there is nothing to find there.

Don't even get me started about Antarctica. Oil and mining companies would have boom towns of over a million people crawling all over that continent if it wasn't for the current international ambiguity over property rights in that part of the world... an ambiguity that everybody involved is putting off in the hopes it doesn't trigger World War III so they try to give it a nice face by saying it is exclusively for scientific research. I don't mind the current state of affairs in Antarctica and I think all of the natural resources which can be found there are better found in some asteroid instead from an ecological viewpoint, but using the argument that we should settle Antarctica first before going to the Moon or Mars is a false argument to make because doing so is currently illegal and the governments of the world are active in preventing people from doing so.

Comment: Re:And again in English please? (Score 1) 121

by Teancum (#46795777) Attached to: SpaceX Launches Load to ISS, Successfully Tests Falcon 9 Over Water

Worse, the editors at Slashdot thought it was a separate flight rather than the same thing. That this 1st stage also performed a landing attempt is what makes this news. The "also" of what SpaceX did last week was to take yet another Falcon 9 launch core and do a point to point hop at their test facility in McGregor, Texas.

The engineers at SpaceX have been very busy this week, and I doubt any of them are on vacation except for family emergencies or because they are in the hospital for an illness themselves.

Comment: Re:Test and launch are the same, it is GREAT! (Score 1) 121

by Teancum (#46795727) Attached to: SpaceX Launches Load to ISS, Successfully Tests Falcon 9 Over Water

Yeah, except that there is a shitload of natural resources in America, which the USA is profiting from to this day. Unless you expect something like asteroid mining, there is no profit in space travel whatsoever. It's just some billionaires paying another billionaire, but that's a zero-sum game.

Right, telecom satellites are totally useless and not needed, so the several billion dollars each year those companies make from those satellites are just imaginary. Ditto for things like Google Maps and other surveying satellites.

BTW, there is a company who is setting itself up for asteroid prospecting too, by the name of Planetary Resources The interesting thing is that they have a business plan that essentially makes them a profitable business just from other space-based activity for equipment they plan on using for their prospecting.

I could name a dozen other space-based activities that make LEO profitable... indeed it is already profitable for quite a few companies. That you seem to be ignorant of commercial activity in space right now, you can continue to have your luddite dreams.

Comment: Re:And a Russian 'tug' was there (Score 1) 121

by Teancum (#46795695) Attached to: SpaceX Launches Load to ISS, Successfully Tests Falcon 9 Over Water

If SpaceX gets their spacecraft to become reusable, they have announced formally that their price will ultimately be $7 million per launch of the Falcon 9... with an assurance that the payload to orbit will remain the same. BTW, that is 10 metric tons of stuff to LEO and about 5 metric tons to GEO. If all they get going is just the reuse of the 1st stage, it will still be about $40 million.

Russia can't be cheaper through reduced labor costs or economies of scale through mass production to get to these figures. You have the rocket equation that really stops you from doing much in terms of a substantially cheaper piece of unobtainium from which you could construct the rocket and real world physics starts to push back at any significant weight reduction that they haven't already done. At that $7 million per launch, it is starting to strain the raw material prices, which implies they could only compete if the launches were heavily subsidized as a national policy. I could see Russia trying to do that simply to maintain control of the launch market, but that isn't a realistic long term prospect if the launch industry really takes off due to these much lower prices to orbit.

The only thing they can do is once SpaceX gets a viable reusable rocket system going, RKK Energia is by necessity going to start their own reusable rocket program and try to duplicate the efforts that SpaceX has done so far. Arianespace and the Chinese Space Agency is also going to need to do this as well simply to stay in the commercial launch market... or give up that market completely to SpaceX and perhaps other American companies.

Comment: Re:mod parent up (Score 1) 121

by Teancum (#46795525) Attached to: SpaceX Launches Load to ISS, Successfully Tests Falcon 9 Over Water

They are returning to the launch site, not an oil rig. The only point of a barge would simply be for logistics of moving the stage from one launch site to another or from the factory in the first place.

The odd proposal I've heard is for SpaceX to fly the stage from the factory in Los Angeles to the launch sites prior to full integration. It would save them the hassle of trying to get wide load permits and limits due to the size of an overpass... something that currently limits the maximum diameter of the cores. This has been suggested for the MCT 1st stage, which is going to be one huge beast of a vehicle and likely won't even make the trip through the Panama Canal if put on a barge. The MCT 1st stage is also supposed to be eventually a recoverable/reusable stage.

Comment: Re:Not sure about the recovery test (Score 1) 121

by Teancum (#46795451) Attached to: SpaceX Launches Load to ISS, Successfully Tests Falcon 9 Over Water

The current plan is to return the rocket to a place near the launch pad where it left (depending on the launch site, there will be some designated landing zone which will be built... might even be under construction right now at all SpaceX launch locations).

The speculation about the oil rig centered on the fact that SpaceX will soon be launching from southern Texas (assuming that they have made up their mind about that location in spite of already spending nearly $100 million on real estate and infrastructure at that location). Since the path going eastward from Texas is over the Gulf of Mexico, there are literally thousands of oil rigs that can be used for this purpose if they decided to use one of those spots instead of going all of the way back to Brownsville.

An advantage of going that route is simply no extra delta-v is needed to reverse course and cancel the horizontal momentum that was earlier used to send the rest of the spaceship into orbit. Such a recovery system doesn't help with launches from KSC, so it makes no sense to build a special rocket that can be used in Texas and another one that is needed for Florida.

Comment: Re:Not sure about the recovery test (Score 1) 121

by Teancum (#46795407) Attached to: SpaceX Launches Load to ISS, Successfully Tests Falcon 9 Over Water

SpaceX has a series of tests going on in New Mexico at Spaceport America (they've already built the launch/landing pads at this spaceport) that will do gradually higher flights until they anticipate going to 300k feet (technically the Kármán line). These are sub-orbital (mostly just up and back), but they will test the flight procedures and give confidence to regulators that flying the Falcon 9R (for recoverable or reusable) back to Florida won't end up in Miami and sit on somebody's breakfast nook. This is a part of the Grasshopper series of tests, but they have a fully functioning Falcon 9 core that they are testing right now rather than the somewhat smaller Grasshopper that was shown earlier. A video of a test performed last week by SpaceX can be found here:

I agree that the engineering data that can be recovered from one of these stages is more than worth the effort from a pure R&D perspective alone. It took decades before Jeff Bezos recovered the F1 engines used on the Apollo missions, and those were in pretty sad shape when they were recovered (having hit the ocean at terminal velocity... likely bell end first). SpaceX has been trying to recover the 1st stage of their rockets since the first Falcon 1 launch many years ago, and this particular launch is the closest that they've been able to get in terms of one that has soft landed.

Comment: Re:Over 18 (Score 1) 630

by Teancum (#46762379) Attached to: IRS Can Now Seize Your Tax Refund To Pay a Relative's Debt

If a business fails to show profits for more than five consecutive years, it is classified by the IRS as a hobby. In other words, you are indulging in this particular activity even if money is being collected. There are of course exceptions to every rule and of course piles of common law precedence to consider as well.

Comment: Re:Over 18 (Score 2) 630

by Teancum (#46754201) Attached to: IRS Can Now Seize Your Tax Refund To Pay a Relative's Debt

1. Ex post facto limitations apply to criminal cases, not civil cases.

While I appreciate the sentiment, I have known legislators who specifically write in "grandfather clauses" even for purely civil legislation because of the principle of ex post facto concepts applying to civil law. It may have more applicability to state laws, and especially legislatures controlled by the opposite party from the party which appointed the judge or currently runs the Department of Justice. This separate clause (independent from the congressional ex post facto clause) might also apply:

No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation; grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal; coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts; pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, or grant any Title of Nobility. -- Article I Section 10

This clause suggests perhaps it applies in a greater measure explicitly to state governments. I have no idea if it has ever been interpreted as such by the U.S. Supreme Court though. There is of course the situation with the RS 2477 roadways based upon the concept of ex post facto legislation where current law doesn't permit establishment of roads through wilderness areas, but previously established roadways that can be documented on survey maps or other historical documents have been used as rationale to not only maintain but even upgrade those roadways.... even if all they were previously was just a horse trail or something an oxen wagon settler company used a century ago. That certainly is not criminal legislation.

As a matter of public policy, it is a really stupid idea to enact legislation that varies significantly from what the law was like in the past and expecting citizens to have complied with such legislation in the past as well.

BTW, does the bill of attainder clause also apply to situations where only a specific company, group, or organization can get a benefit or in cases that I claim are pure corruption where a request for proposals can only be submitted by a single person or entity due to the restrictions intentionally placed in the legislation? A good example of that is the Senate Launch System legislation, but there are other excellent examples of this routinely happening too.

Comment: Re:Over 18 (Score 1) 630

by Teancum (#46754111) Attached to: IRS Can Now Seize Your Tax Refund To Pay a Relative's Debt

Hmmm. Is TurboTax tax deductable?

Possibly, if you can count it as a business expense. Just make sure that your "business" is profitable so it doesn't become a hobby (thus business expenses can't be counted). Sole proprietorships are reported on the standard 1040 form, although all of the reporting you need to do can be rather complicated if you want to take business expenses and tax credits too.

It can get even more complicated than that, as purchasing software like TurboTax may only be partially deductible if you are also using the software for both business and personal usage (aka if you have a salary from some other business where you are merely an employee) and other subtle things like that too.

Comment: Re:Snowden, that's why it's relevant to /.ers. (Score 4, Interesting) 193

by Teancum (#46721879) Attached to: Stephen Colbert To Be Letterman's Successor

Steven Colbert's entire schtick is about double standards and how absurd some people can get. I seriously doubt you are getting the humor of his persona (and that is all that it is) of his Colbert Report.

The interesting thing is to see how much of that persona is going to carry on with the Late Show or if he will be more himself.

Comment: Re:Panasonic (Score 1) 151

by Teancum (#46691353) Attached to: Tesla: A Carmaker Or Grid-Storage Company?

Where it becomes flat out obvious to use a combination of a small wind far + solar power + some sort of power storage (a water tower works surprisingly well if you don't want to mess with different battery types and hydro-electric power plants are incredibly efficient) is in a rural area where you need to pay the power company to string miles of aluminum wire + power poles (and maintenance of all of those poles from hazards of nature & people) from the nearest distribution point. Going off the grid definitely makes sense when you aren't even on the grid in the first place. Just ask the folks at Black Rock City, Nevada.

As a supplement to power generation, home solar panels on a limited basis really do make sense though. You might want to check on the price of solar panels, as they've gone down in price in terms of $$$/watt so it might make sense to start building some on your roof to cut costs. Quite a bit of power consumption in a typical city happens during the day, which is precisely when solar panels are at their peak power production as well. The problem comes when you cross the threshold and are running the power meter backward, thus selling power back to the utility company.

Lead-acid batteries are used for automobiles for two huge reasons: 1) They are incredibly cheap 2) the long-term power storage requirements of an automobile aren't particularly high anyway. An automobile only needs a bunch of amps for power when the starter motor needs to crank the rest of the engine, then the generator takes over (which is when you would typically run the rest of the accessories). It is a completely different situation for a home power system, where you could certainly use other forms of power storage. This could include flywheels (something horrible to use on an automobile even though most internal combustion engines still have some smallish flywheel simply to operate) or some other kinetic energy storage system in addition to something like a battery pack.

At least we aren't using Leyden Jars for energy storage any more. There definitely have been some advances in electrical storage technologies over the years.

Comment: Re:So if they (GM/whomever) wanted to buy the comp (Score 1) 151

by Teancum (#46691267) Attached to: Tesla: A Carmaker Or Grid-Storage Company?

I think the GP poster was pretty spot on, and it was sort of tongue in cheek in terms of the idea of buying Microsoft.

Of course nobody in "the real world" would bother to loan some random homeless dude off the street and give them a few billion dollars to make a leveraged buyout of Microsoft. That is because no average person has the talent nor the ability to operate a company like Microsoft and have it continue to earn money for its investors (which in this case would be the bank). Besides, if the bank had that kind of money burning a hole it its pocket where a random dude could be put in charge of the company and run it, that bank would have purchased the company a long time ago and would have cut you out of the deal a long time ago.

Also, most banks like loans for investment purposes to also have the person involved having some "skin in the game". In other words, even if you are using a bank to assist in a major financial purchase, you also need to have a substantial fraction of the company (at the bare minimum 10% of the investment capital... likely in this case more like 50%-80% for Microsoft). It isn't strictly required (sort of what you are suggesting), but it depends on how much risk the bank is willing to take with such an investment.

On the other hand, if you were able to convince them that a leveraged buy-out of Microsoft could get you running the company and allow them to repay the loans with substantial interest + extra profits, there is no doubt that a reasonable bank would jump on the chance. The trick is convincing the loan officer (and for that kind of money, the board of directors for the bank and likely the local Federal Reserve Bank board too) that you really are the kind of person who could get the company producing profits like when Bill Gates was running the company. That has the proverbial chance of a snowball surviving inside of the Sun's photosphere for any length of time.

Getting back onto topic, the question is if one of the other major automobile companies could do a better job of running an electric automobile manufacturing company? It should be apparent that there are some very experienced and capable people at Toyota, GM, Daimler, and Ford that could in theory run Tesla, possibly even better than Elon Musk seems to be doing so at the moment. The question then becomes one of cash flow for these major companies and if they can leverage the money needed for the purchase.

Tesla stock prices are high enough that a hostile take-over is now simply out of the question. If Toyota was to advertise that they were willing to pay $200 per share for the company (this does happen... usually in the New York Times or Wall Street Journal when it is so blatant), odds are likely that the exchange prices will soar to $250 or more. By the time the chase is over, it is likely that Tesla would buy out Toyota instead. Sort of like what happened when Pixar bought out Disney.

Comment: Re:There is already a Tesla home battery pack (Score 1) 151

by Teancum (#46691167) Attached to: Tesla: A Carmaker Or Grid-Storage Company?

I wouldn't call it a scam, but most of the electricity infrastructure is based on the model that you have a massive central power plant and a series of ever decreasing stages for smaller consumption purposes that ultimately terminate with a consumer electronic device or a light bulb (still a major consumer of electrical power). What this kind of arrangement requires is for the infrastructure to be able to feed power within that small sub-grid from one producer to one consumer, or better yet feed the power back upstream to other users. This is where the real problem lies.

There is also the problem of power companies selling power at retail prices (which accounts for all of that infrastructure... some of which isn't needed for major industries who legitimately get a price break by consuming large quantities of electrical power at wholesale prices as that industrial plant deals with the infrastructure needed to run the lights or other individual appliances), and then having those same companies expected to buy back power at the same retail price level. It is possible that simply to be connected to a power grid there might be a monthly fee dedicated to paying for the distribution infrastructure, and that different tiers of payment for power generated could be established for residential power generation vs. large plants (including solar & wind farms).

Legitimately there are many neighborhoods in California that the neighborhood as a whole is a net electricity producer, so that whole centralized distribution also needs to deal with what happens when too much power is being generated. It is entirely possible that a power company may have to shut down every power plant in their distribution system and then still need to dump the power generated somewhere.... usually into some massive resistors that simply generate a whole bunch of excess heat that does nothing useful. While not entirely a brand new problem (some very long distance distribution lines can also generate electricity simply by having the Earth spin on its axis during a solar storm, pick up the power from the high power long distance lines), this is something that definitely needs a different kind of infrastructure in place.

The battery packs can help in this situation too, or some other power storage system. A utility company near where I live wants to pump water from a large lake into a reservoir as a form of energy storage, and then use hydro-electric power generation to retrieve the power when needed. It is meeting some huge resistance from local residents mainly because the power storage isn't being used locally not to mention that it will do some massive environmental damage, but the idea is being floated around as an alternative to the Li-ion cells. That also is a kind of infrastructure cost that needs to be considered, where you might be able to have a centralized power storage system instead.

There are no simple answers to any of the problems being offered, and I think it is disingenuous to suggest that it is a scam. Even companies like Solar City or others that offer home solar power aren't scams, but there definitely are some political considerations to be made.... including some concessions by the major utility companies that their distribution model is not needed any more and instead something different needs to be developed at the same time the existing grid is maintained.

This really is more like the transition from horse-drawn vehicles and massive canal works to something more like paved roads leading to the Autobahn or Interstate Highways. The basic infrastructure how it was used in the past can still be used that way but new things are now connecting to the power grid in ways that it wasn't intended when it was built... and the infrastructure needs to cope with the changes. That takes some effort on the part of the public, legislators, utility companies, and a legitimate need to address the very real problems that are happening so buck passing on the problems doesn't keep going on.

Behind every great computer sits a skinny little geek.