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Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Greatest Show on Earth (and Space) is in the Southern California Sky WHENEVER it Finally Happens -- maybe Jan 6, 2019

Latest UPDATE:  FRIDAY, January 18, 2019, 12:03 pm:


At 11:05 am Saturday, January 19, from Vandenberg's Space Launch Complex (SLC) 6, the many failed attempts to get this thing off the ground are finally supposed to produce a launch of the BIGGEST rocket capable of being launched from the West Coast, and the third largest rocket in the world.

As it rides an enormous plume of flame into space, the "Delta IV Heavy" rocket may briefly be visible to the west from the Los Angeles area, paralleling the coast as it tracks southward. It should easily be seen from The Ventura-Santa Barbara coast, and even inland to the northern High Desert, unless clouds hose us. It is taking the Supersecret NROL-71 spy mission into a polar orbit. The satellite -- whatever it is -- is the size of the Hubble space telescope,  or put another way, the size of a city bus.

Now, if it leaves the ground on time at 11:05 am, it may be a minute and a half or so before the curvature of the Earth let's you see it. So be patient. And keep reading for the live video feed you can watch on your phone or tablet.

We covered the Space X launch of the Iridium-8 Mission aboard a Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket for you on a recent Friday. That one was quite exciting, launching the final 10 Iridium satellites into polar orbit and deploying them one-at-a-time, on camera, to complete the 75-satellite constellation. Those satellites provide L- band voice and data coverage to satellite phones, pagers, and integrated transceivers over the entire surface of the Earth. This one is all cloak and dagger, except for the LAUNCH. They have no choice but to go-public, lest millions will see the spectacle and flood the 9-1-1 switchboards reporting an alien invasion.

We've been TRYING to get you outside at the correct moment to see this GIANT rocket since back when Lassie was a little bitty puppy dog. But they keep finding reasons not to launch it. This time marks the longest delay between attempts. So they should have fixed everything by now. And replaced all the secret batteries that died sitting on the not-so-secret launch pad.

Whether or not you can go outside, here's a link that goes live at 10:45 am Saturday morning PST, a few minutes before the launch:


Last previous update was Sunday, January 6, 2019, 1:48 pm:

Now well over a MONTH LATER than the first attempt to launch, the latest rescheduled launch date is JANUARY 11th, time tba.

Here's a direct link to ULA - The United Launch Alliance -- the ones still trying to get this thing off the ground:

When we posted our update on Dec 28, 2018, 9:12 am PST, we reported, "SCHEDULED LAUNCH IS NOW SET FOR JANUARY 6, 2019, time tba (uhh, MAYBE)" -- being careful to include the "maybe." We came back on Jan 4 to tell you it was set to launch Jan 10th. But writhin 30 or so hours, that was re-set for Jan 11.

We've also done a return engagement here to editorialize what's just below. If you scroll on down, our original story is still quite informative about the massive launch vehicle and the huge and hugely-super-secret spy satellite mounted atop it.

First, from Dec 28...

If it's "Space or Bust," then it's certainly been a bust

Early pioneers are supposed to have emblazoned their Conestoga wagons with slogans like "California or Bust!"

Maybe the rocketeers should try that. At least the ones with ULA who can't seem to get the gigantic "Delta IV Heavy" with its Greyhound-bus-sized spy satellite off the ground from Vandenberg.

It was supposed to go-up Dec 30, and then, for a brief time, on Dec 29. Nope to boaf.

Latest, just announced:

ULA Delta IV Heavy NROL-71 will Launch NET Jan. 6, 2019

(Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., Dec. 28, 2018) -- The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy carrying the NROL-71 mission will launch no earlier than Sunday, January 6, 2019. The mission will launch from Space Launch Complex-6 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Geez, that marks the 7th and 8th cancellations. If the third time wasn't a charm, will the 9th time be?

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I watched the Russkies launch one a couple days ago, live on the web. Exciting as hell. Trouble-free.

Not exactly an auspicious week for marking the 50th anniversary of Apollo 8's first journey of humans around the Moon, which came as the only positive event of the nightmare year of 1968.

And speaking of lost glories in space, I am reconciling myself that we will not get people to Mars in our lifetimes -- unless it's a non-science, for-profit lark for bored billionaires who want to go to plant their corporate-logo flags for bragging rights.

If the voyage of Columbus were today, the sails of his ships would be plastered with gigantic Wal-Mart and Google and Amazon logos. There wouldn't be any leg room, and the crew would be charged outrageous carry-on fees to take their sea bags and toothbrushes. And one of the hulls would be taped-together after that loudmouth guy "Sawed this BOAT in half!" on live TV.

And by the end of the coming year, you'll probably need to delete layers of popup ads to read this email.

We're becoming evermore technodependent, and far less able to actually do something. California High Speed Rail is billions over budget, still hasn't turned a wheel, and will require at least another fifty billion to become partially operational. By contrast, Hoover Dam was finished in the 1930s, months before deadline and millions under budget -- back when even one million was real money. And all of our Apollo missions used spacecraft designed with slide rules, and computers with less capability than a smart phone. All before we became so over technodependent, and so much less able to actually do something.

Such are the times in which we live.


OUR PREVIOUS REPORTS on this story appear in reverse chronological order, from most recent up-top, back to the earliest coverage.

STILL GROUNDED, awaiting try # 6...

December 30th -- at the earliest -- is when this is loosely-scheduled to happen, time tba.

While they -- United Launch Alliance and the National Reconnaissance Office -- were less forthcoming this time about why they didn't launch as re-re-re-re-rescheduled for December 20th, the fact is, the behemoth of a rocket with its secret, Hubble-Telescope-sized payload, is still on the ground on the California coast.

Why so long before they try again? Are they keeping the sky clear for Santa Claus or something? No, and it's not likely they're taking time off for Christmas with families, either.

We know, based on covering past space flights, that rocket/payload "stacks" have a short shelf life. From electrical charges that energize capacitors to fire explosive bolts needed to separate things in flight, to all manner of electromechanical apparati at-risk when they sit cramped and folded inside their fairings, the odds escalate steeply that one-or-more "somethings" won't work properly if they just sit.

Think of it like your cell phone battery needing a charge if it sits too long, and multiply that times thousands of sophisticated or simple-but-critical systems.

Sure, "Sometimes you sits an' thinks, an' sometimes you just sits."

And sometimes you must wait for days for the proper launch window to realign in conjunction with whatever else is already up there. Being this-whatever-it-is satellite -- or whatever -- is supersecret, all we can offer is that informed speculation.

MOST LIKELY, all the technogeeks involved with this launch will be spending Christmas opening covers and hatches and testing and checking a myriad of things that were not designed to be idle this long. AND THAT takes time, adding whole fresh layers of delay.


All this was most recently republished for THURSDAY at 5:31 PM, because...

We wrote it about Wednesday, but it was SCRUBBED Wednesday, which is rocketspeak for "Sumpin' happened, not gonna do it." It got all the way into the final built-in "hold" at T-minus four minutes. Then... a hydrogen fuel leak in the leftmost of the three grouped stage-one rocket cylinders caused cancellation.

If at first -- and second, and third, and fourth -- you don't succeed... try it for the fifth time.

SOOO... EVERYTHING BELOW (especially since we UPDATED the time & date, not just the title) is still useful! The schedule is already set for a 5:31 pm PST LAUNCH on THURSDAY, DECEMBER 20th.


Purt near everything as originally published is still here, with edits and updates: THE LAUNCH TIME AND DATE ARE UPDATED FOR THURSDAY, and a few additional bits of information and perspective have been added:

Forgive us if that title seems unforgiveably exaggerated. You should know by now we're all space geeks around here. And, well, yes: Tonight IS the biggest show in town, and it's right outside in your very local sky, for a few short minutes starting at 5:31 pm.

You won't see it right away. Big rockets start off slowly and take a short while to gain speed and altitude before they get high enough for you to spot them over surface topography, L.A.'s usual low inversion, and the curvature of the Earth. Depending on where you are, it'll be about 150 seconds into the flight before you'll spot it up there, heading southeast parallel to the coast, out past Catalina. (If you're on Catalina, it'll arc all the way over you.)

LIVE Launch Webcast commentary begins at 5:11 pm PST and continues as the rocket goes into space.

The webcast is useful, but don't let it derail you. For starters, don't forget to look up and -- wonder of wonders in this virtual-everything-age -- experience actual reality! And don't let a cursory look at the little screen throw you off, as when you halfway hear the built-in countdown "hold" is occuring and the clock briefly stops, as it's supposed to, at T-minus 4 minutes.

Still, even as you watch the sky, do take your mobile device to know the launch has actually happened and to see the webcast as the thing leaves the ground.

It'll ALL be LIVE at:

If that link is overloaded, here's another way to watch:

(Both url's are "copy-and-paste" -- we can enable more people to watch live, when the stampede arrives, by not making them live links here that consume bandwidth.)

MEANTIME... Watch a preview video of what to expect during liftoff of the Delta IV Heavy rocket on NROL-71 tonight.

Photo of the Delta IV Heavy rocket taken by United Launch Alliance during rollback of the Mobile Service Tower during Wednesday's attempt.
Photo by United Launch Alliance
This one has been hard to get off the ground. We waited to publish this (Wednesday) until we were as sure as we could be that it really would happen this time -- uh, that time. Because THIS time is now Thursday. The scheduled launch today -- THURSDAY -- from Vandenberg is proceeding, and it really should leave the ground at 5:31 pm. (The "launch window" goes until 9:31 pm, if anything delays it, like the surface winds that kept it from launching Tuesday.)

If you're jaded because it's been repeatedly cancelled on the launch pad -- once with just FOUR SECONDS to go -- get over that, quick. You really do need to be outside, looking up to see this when it finally happens.

"This" is a really big show.

This rocket is enormous. And what it's launching is the size of the Hubble space telescope, or a city bus.

Launching something that big requires the biggest rocket now out there, at least the biggest one launching on the West Coast. It's one of the two biggest in the world. It's the Delta IV Heavy.

There won't be another one of these rockets going up on the left coast until 2020. Only one more is scheduled here after that, in 2023. Other'n that, the only pad big enough is booked with smaller rockets. Oh, and if you want to see the only rocket that's bigger, you'll need to go to Florida.

This particular launch isn't just a massively huge rocket that disappears over a distant horizon as a point of light. The trajectory is taking a somewhat puzzling south-southeast course, parallel to much of the Southern California coast. That enables it to put a payload into polar orbit, by heading for the sky over Antarctica. Polar orbits are normal for spies in the sky, though this is still an odd course if the big orbiting beastie is what most informed speculators think it is.

The supersecret "NROL-71" mission is in every aspect, including rocket thrust of over 2 million pounds of thrust and attendant fiery plume, physically 'uge.

Exactly what kind of spy satellite this is, no one is saying. Those who know, can't. There is good informed speculation in an article that profiles the rocket and the National Reconnaissance Office (and the launches that account for the "L" in NROL), along with a James-Bondesque discussion of the satellites it might be and why it might not be what other sources say it probably is; and the proverbial "more," at:

Your tax dollars are being spent in a show you don't often get to see, so you should watch. Besides, watching this is as close as we're likely to come to the kind of big launch needed for a Mars mission, because there's not a lot of reason to believe we will ever see that happen. Given austerity, tax cuts for the rich, border walls to protect the Empire, endless wars to project the Empire, and countless subsidization of corporate profits that are bankrupting us. Which is all compounded against the backdrop of ignoring needs that won't go away to restore lost funding for infrastructure that's crumbling, rediscover that free education is essential, that the arts are vital for any claim that we have a viable culture, that nuts with guns trump every other terrorist threat, and that global climate change makes a house of cards of everything else this society routinely neglects, and the impending collapse of viable agriculture causes anything else to be, well, moot.

Still, watching this moment of demonstration of what we CAN accomplish -- it can inspire you to argue for funding for science and exploration in space and a transfer of funds away from militarized Space Forces and the black-hole of weaponization. That money can go to science-based aerospace jobs, peaceful research, and exploration space vehicles.

5:31 pm. Look in the direction of Santa Barbara if you're north (which, by the reckoning of the 101, is really west) of L.A. And if clouds block your view or you're farther down the coast or more inland, track it as it races southeast.

About the "Heavy" Launch Vehicle

In addition to being the vehicle that orbits all the Hubble-sized spy satellites, this giant rocket also launched NASA’s Orion capsule on its first test flight, a wide ellipse that deliberately brought it back into the atmosphere steeper, faster, and hotter than any spacecraft ever intended to carry humans. Though that flight was an unmanned test, Orion is intended as the crew capsule for NASA's first manned mission to Mars. Since that flight, the rocket recently sent the Parker Solar Probe on its journey to become the fastest robot in history, surfing through the sun’s atmosphere.

The Delta IV Heavy was built in Alabama and its engines come from California and Florida. The vehicle stands 233 feet tall and 53 feet wide, weighs 1.6 million pounds fully fueled, and launches atop a fiery plume of 2.1 million pounds of thrust.

At liftoff, Delta IV Heavy's RS-68A main engines will gulp 6,000 pounds of fuel per second.

The rocket features eight fuel tanks, four engines and a 63-foot-long composite payload fairing. They're assembled into  three hydrogen-fueled common booster cores, strapped side-by-side in a row of huge cylinders, with the center one topped by a Delta Cryogenic Second Stage. The payload sits atop that, protected -- from atmospheric heating, the force of slamming through the atmosphere at supersonic speeds, and prying eyes -- during ascent, by a payload fairing made of composite materials.

Key Specs

Height: 233 feet
Weight: 1.6 million pounds
Thrust: 2.1 million pounds
Fuel: 465,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen

About the Launch Itself

The countdown is being orchestrated from the Remote Launch Control Center, located about 11 miles from the pad, where United Launch Alliance (ULA) Launch Conductor Dillon Rice and his team execute the countdown sequence for the Delta IV Heavy rocket.

Down the hall in the Mission Director’s Center, senior managers, including ULA Launch Director Lou Mangieri and NRO Mission Director Col. Matthew Skeen, provide guidance to the team throughout today’s operation.

Action at Space Launch Complex 6

The Mobile Service Tower (MST) is the height of a 32-storey building. Its structure, alone, weighs 13 million pounds.

Here are events from yesterday's timeline. Thursday will follow the same protocols at slightly different times.

The MST gantry began rolling away at 9:04 am, and reached its "park" position at 9:58 am. That's the minimum safe distance away, where rocket flames and shock waves won't destroy it -- though no living thing could survive on the ground at that proximity.

As on each previous occasion when the scheduled launch was cancelled, the MST rollback revealed the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket with its secret NROL-71 payload behind cylindrical and conical shrouds atop the rocket's upper stage.

The retractable structure is a critical part of the launch complex. Its various internal balconies and work platforms built into the structure provide the primary access and weather protection to the rocket during its stay on the launch pad. In addition, MST's overhead crane system enables "vertical integration" -- upright assembly of the "stack" of rocket stages, interstages and payloads -- into a Delta IV rocket.

Lots of things must happen according to a critically tight schedule to get one of these things off the ground, and into the proper moment of space-time for it to do what's intended.

Lots of it is deeply wonky, like this lil' tidbit: At 11:05 am PST, the initiation of gaseous nitrogen flow to the launch vehicle began. That changes the launch vehicle's environmental control systems to supply conditioned nitrogen gas rather than air to the internal compartments of the Delta IV Heavy rocket and the payload fairing in preparation for the transfer of cryogenic (super-cold) propellants and in-flight environments.

Much of it is very human and a matter of life and death for those at the launch pad and potentially for millions more downrange from anything big that's hurled into the sky.

For example, at 12:14 pm, the launch pad crew had completed its hands-on work to ready Space Launch Complex 6 for today’s mission, and the launch conductor gave the instruction for all personnel to depart the site in advance of potentially explosive fueling operations.

At 12:34 pm, "Holdfire" checks were completed successfully, verifying the circuitry to immediately stop the countdown if the need arises. That's esoteric but especially important, since one of these holdfires automatically stopped the launch last week with just 4 seconds to go.

About United Launch Alliance

This is the 132nd mission for ULA, which also managed the final few years of Space Shuttle launches from Cape Canaveral. This is their second Delta IV Heavy launch in less than four months. It is the 382nd launch of Delta rockets of all kinds since 1960, when the first ones to bear the name were tiny by today's standards. Specific to modern Deltas, it's the 38th launch of a Delta IV rocket since 2002 and the 11th launch of a Delta IV Heavy, counting all launches from Florida and Vandenburgh.

About the ULA Relationship to the Supersecret Spy Agency

Today’s launch is being conducted by aerospace corporate consortium United Launch Alliance (ULA) for the National Reconnaissance Office. The official statement says, "The NRO is a joint Department of Defense-Intelligence Community organization responsible for developing, launching and operating America’s intelligence satellites to meet the national security needs of the United States. ULA and the NRO have enjoyed a lasting partnership, conducting 27 successful launches together over the past dozen years. Our very first launch after the company was formed was an NRO mission in December 2006."

Just how many spy satellites are up there? The ULA-NRO partnership alone has produced 27 successful launches over the past dozen years.

Download the NRO brochure from the agency’s website for more information.

The forecast for launch time calls for an 80 percent chance of allowable liftoff conditions, with just a few high cirrus clouds, good visibility, northerly winds of 10-15 knots and a temperature in the mid 60s F.

The only concern is the wind. And that's what kept it from going up Tuesday.


That's all for this edition. Stay tuneful!


We'll be back again soon with music news and more "News of the Non-Trumpcentric Universe." (c)



Boilerplate? Where's the main pressure gauge? And the firebox?

What "boilerplate"? Who came up with that goofy term for the basic essential informational stuff...


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♪ The ACOUSTIC AMERICANA MUSIC GUIDE endeavors to bring you NEWS – and views of interest to artists everywhere – more specifically to musicians and the creative community and music makers and fans of acoustic and Folk-Americana music. That includes both traditional and innovative forms. From the deepest roots to today’s acoustic renaissance, that’s our beat. We provide a wealth of resources, including a HUGE catalog of acoustic-friendly venues (now undergoing a major update), and inside info on FESTIVALS and select performances in Southern California in venues from the monumentally large to the intimately small and cozy. We cover workshops, conferences, and other events for artists and folks in the music industry, and all kinds o’ things in the world of acoustic and Americana and accessible classical music. From washtub bass to musical spoons to oboe to viola to banjo to squeezebox, from Djangostyle to new-fangled-old-time string band music, from sweet Cajun fiddle to bluegrass and pre-bluegrass Appalachian mountain music to all the swamp water roots of the blues and the bright lights of where the music is headed now.
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