Today Tidbits: December 21, 2017

Today Tidbits: December 21, 2017

Here are our tidbits for December 21, 2017:  New York Times reports that Rep. Culberson’s congressional seat may be in jeopardy;  Musk debuts Falcon Heavy.  Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter for more news and live tweeting of events.

Rep. Culberson’s Seat in Jeopardy?

The New York Times writes that “Rebelling Republican Suburbs Offer Democrats Path to House Control.” []  One of the Republican seats that may be in jeopardy according to the Times belongs to Rep. John Culberson, chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) that funds NASA and NOAA.

Culberson’s Houston district is close to NASA’s Johnson Space Center and he is a NASA enthusiast, especially when it comes to the possibility of discovering life elsewhere in the solar system and beyond.  Using the power of his chairmanship, he has compelled NASA to build and launch a probe to Jupiter’s moon Europa because he is convinced life exists in the ocean that some scientists believe exists under its icy shell.  He wrote into law that NASA must launch an orbiter in 2022 and a lander in 2024 and proudly says that it would be illegal for NASA not to do so.  His sights are set much further than Europa, though.  Last year he also directed NASA to submit an interstellar propulsion technology assessment report and a conceptual roadmap for sending a spacecraft to Alpha Centauri in 2069, the 100th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon, achieving a cruise velocity of one tenth the speed of light.

Culberson is finishing the third year of a possible 6-year term as subcommittee chairman (such positions have a 6-year term limit imposed by House rules), but if he were to lose his congressional seat, it could be just 4 years.  Citing the fact that he has not yet hired a campaign manager and has much less money in the bank compared to several Democratic challengers, the Times reports that supporters worry that he does not grasp how much his district has changed since his last race.  He won that one by 56 percent.  The Times concludes: “the ingredients seem right for an upset.”

Congressional Quarterly (CQ) agrees, rating the chances of his winning a “toss up.”

Musk Debuts Falcon Heavy

Over the past several days, SpaceX founder Elon Musk has tweeted photographs of the Falcon Heavy rocket that will make its maiden flight next month from Launch Complex-39A at Kennedy Space Center. SpaceX leases the pad from NASA.  The exact date for the long awaited launch has not been announced other than that it will be in January.

Each of the three booster cores has 9 Merlin engines, like the Falcon 9, and also like Falcon 9, the three cores are recoverable. Musk said the center one will land on one of the SpaceX autonomous drone ships at sea while the two on the sides will return to Cape Canaveral.

The Falcon Heavy’s maximum thrust at liftoff is 5.1 million pounds or 2,300 metric tons, Musk said.  The SpaceX website lists the payload capability of the rocket as 63,800 kilograms (140,600 pounds) to low Earth orbit (LEO); 26,700 kg (58,860 lbs) to geostationary transfer orbit; 16,800 kg (37,040 lb) to Mars; or 3,500 kg (7, 720 lb) to Pluto.

The SpaceX Falcon Heavy website has this graphic comparing Falcon Heavy to other current and past launch vehicles from around the world to demonstrate its contention that it will be the “world’s most powerful rocket.”  The graphic excludes NASA’s Saturn V, and SpaceX notes in the text that Saturn V is the only rocket that was larger than Falcon Heavy.  It omits other rockets, like China’s Long March 5 (25,000 kg to LEO), that has flown once successfully; Russia’s Angara V (24,500 kg to LEO), which has flown once successfully; and misstates the capability of the Delta IV Heavy (which is 28,370 kg rather than 22,560 kg).  It also makes no mention of other large rockets in development such as NASA’s Space Launch System or Blue Origin’s New Glenn.  Nonetheless, it is an interesting comparison.

SpaceX Comparison of Launch Vehicle Payload Capability to Low Earth Orbit. Credit: SpaceX website.

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