Archive for the ‘ramblings’ Category


SpaceX Flying Model Falcon 9

February 21, 2019

This is a somewhat modified version of the SpaceX Falcon 9 with Payload Fairing kit that is sold on the SpaceX web site. It is built to depict the Iridium 8 launch of January 11, 2019. The original kit was about a block 2 version, with all the detail printed on the glossy paper wrap on the body tube. I added the grid fins and landing legs, which were 3D printed by Boyce Aerospace Hobbies. I also covered the printed piping raceway that was white on the previous versions with black cardboard – you can barely see it on the left side of the model, running all the way up the side of the tube. I also painted the interstage flat black. These changes mostly update it, at least superficially, to a block 5 airframe. I also created a wrap for the payload fairing from the AXM Paper Space Scale Models web site, upscaling it and printing it on heavy glossy paper. There were many other things I could do to increase the level of detail, but it’s supposed to be a flying model, using D and E engines. Most small details would either be torn off in flight or on landing. I just hope I can keep it out of the trees!

It’s a heavy model, with a heavier-than usual body tube for its size. I figure the designers thought a heavy model would look more authentic taking off from the pad. We will see!

Boyce Aerospace Hobbies:

ASM Paper Space Scale Models:

SpaceX store:


It’s been a long time; and twice a BAR

January 24, 2019

It’s been a long time since I’ve been here. What’s happened in the interim?

  • My granddaughters grew up – a lot – and spending time doing things with them is the best!
  • My part-time retirement job, Assistant Director of the Central States Judges Association, has grown to be almost full-time during certain times of the year.
  • My Dad had Parkinson’s, and his health gradually deteriorated. I spent a lot of time for a few years going back and forth to Ohio to see him. He passed away in September of 2017.
  • Our son and daughter-in-law moved to the Orlando area – he works for Electronic Arts, the game company. That was last May. Before that they were in the San Francisco Bay Area for about two years while he worked for another game company. This means a bit of travel to see them from time to time!
  • We had a couple of big-time renovation projects going on here. That takes time even if you’re not doing the actual work.
  • I finished the second edition of my Marching Band Arranging book and it has been for sale for over a year on Amazon.

Modeling, which was one of the things I discussed on this blog, has taken a back seat. Our two older cats passed away a couple of years ago and we got two new kittens. They want to help do everything in the utility room so glue, sharp objects and paint are a problem. They are now a bit more mature and, after some renovation to the utility room, I’m slowly getting back into modeling.

The granddaughters, my wife and I went to Space Camp at KSC last summer. (Highly recommended, by the way! One 10-year-old, one was just 13, and two over-60 grandparents, and all of us had a great time!) ) Once we got home we built some beginner-level model rockets and flew them. (I recommend Apogee Components for all your model rocketry needs!) This makes me a second-time BAR (Born Again Rocketeer) – first when my kids were young, now the grandkids 25 years later!

Now we are gearing up to fly the SpaceX Falcon 9 model sold by SpaceX. It will have improved, 3D printed landing leg shrouds and grid fins from Boyce Aerospace Hobbies. I’m updating it to the recent final Iridium-8 mission.

Boyce makes a similar set to expand the SpaceX kit to a full Falcon Heavy model. That will probably be next, with either a generic Block 5 center core (likely the one to b e used for upcoming commercial missions) or model the whole thing as the Falcon 9 Demo mission. I’ll either built that one next or the much smaller Dr. Zooch Falcon Heavy model.

Since the last time I built model rockets, a few things have changed a lot. First, 3D printing is becoming a significant force in modeling in general. Most of the resin garage kit models I’ve bought lately (more about those in another post) were created from 3D printed masters. As I mentioned, the parts to upgrade the SpaceX Falcon to the Heavy are all ABS plastic 3D printed parts – truss, engine section, nose cones, landing legs, and grid fins.

Second, there are now composite (as opposed to black powder) low-power rocket motors! Can’t wait to try them out in the spring! The thrust profiles are much different from the black powder motors. Composite propellants have been used on high-power rocket motors for years, but now Quest has started to build them in smaller sizes.

Third, finding a flying field in the suburbs is really hard. Why? Drones. Some of the towns around here have specific statutes prohibiting flying things in their parks, because of the danger of foolhardy drone operators. Grrrrr.

Fourth – and counter to the last point – rockets have gotten bigger. We flew little rockets on A and B motors, maybe a C if we were really lucky and had a dead-calm day. Rockets were a foot to maybe 18 inches long, tops.  Now, D and E motors are much more common, rockets can be two to three feet long, and easily reach 500 feet. That means bigger flying fields are required, and those are hard to find close by. The SpaceX Falcon 9 is a big, heavy model that is supposed to fly on D motors. I think they did it deliberately so the takeoff will be slower and more authentic-looking. But that body tube is about twice the thickness of a typical spiral-wound body tube. It should be pretty durable, except for the clear plastic fins. Those look pretty fragile.

What hasn’t changed? Most rocket designs are still four fins and a nose cone. There are some odd-looking things that sort of fly, but mainly, aerodynamics haven’t changed and that dictates what flies best. Lots of scale or semi-scale models of missiles are available now. Quite a few of the old designs from the 1960s are back, up-scaled to use bigger motors. I think we have bigger rockets because in the 1960s rockets were bought by kids, and today they are bought by the same people, 50+ years older. My first Estes order when   I was in grade school was less than $15, and that was a big outlay of cash for me. By the time I get done the Falcon Heavy upgrade will cost about $100. The upscaled older designs play to the BAR nostalgia pretty hard…

Here’s the old Estes Mars Snooper, a fun kit from the 1960s and 1970s. It’s now available from Apogee Components. It’s built by Semroc, which has recently been sold to eRockets.


It’s about 22 inches long, and uses an 18 mm (diameter) low-power motor. It weighs (without motor) about 3 ounces. Here’s a scratch-built upscale version, built by Douglas Gerrard:


Here’s his article about how he built it. Twenty-five pounds of rocket!

I’m not ready for that! Price, complexity, and not having a place a fly it all tell me I should stick to the smaller stuff. But it is very tempting…

So, what else? The Princess Cecile, from the David Drake books, is still on hold. All the components are in a plastic box, waiting for me to start again. I got stuck on how to make High Drive motors that would be cool looking. Drake describes them almost not at all. The rest of the ship is a cylinder with rounded ends, with cylindrical outriggers (it almost always lands on water). The fusion drive motors are under the ship, so there’s not much to see. But the High Drive motors are on the outriggers. One book places them as focusing somehow from a central point, but that’s the only place. I assume Drake forgot where he placed ’em. Most of the time he talks about them operating, but not much about how. Several times he talks about them being replaced, either in a dockyard or in the field, and once refers to some that were abandoned as “lumps.” Not much help there.

The younger granddaughter really got into Andy Weir’s book “The Martian” last year. She’s too young for the movies language – and the book version she had was one edited for school kids. But I bought the Fantastic Plastic MAV kit from the movie. No time to build it yet!


I have about 20 more kits that I want to build, but it will be slow going. I have the 1:350 TOS Enterprise that I bought as soon as Polar Lights put it on the market. It’s still waiting. At least we have a better idea of the original colors of the filming miniature after the restoration at the Smithsonian two years ago.

Oh, and I’m still writing for marching bands. Gotta get started on the first show for next year sometime next week!

Maybe there will be a new post in less that 4 years this time…one can hope!


Audiobook recommendation: “Solaris,” by Stanislaw Lem

September 15, 2014

I’ve been away from this blog for over a month and a half, because life has a habit of intervening. We had new windows put in the house and a host of smaller projects, some which we did and some which we hired out. In any case I had to be around a lot of the time and my time was not always my own. Oh, and I set up a couple of web sites for organizations. Maybe more on that in another post.

What compelled me to write tonight, though, is that I tend to listen to audiobooks when traveling alone, or working in the yard or garage. I’m at the beginning of marching band contest season, so I will be spending some time on the road in the car. Music doesn’t keep me as alert when I’m driving through the fields of Indiana as audiobooks do.

Some months ago I set up a Platinum account at I have six credits built up that I haven’t used to select books yet, and I’m behind in my listening, so I may have to downgrade that subscription in a few months.

Sort of on a whim I bought the audiobook of “Solaris,” by Stanislaw Lem, a Polish science fiction author who wrote the book in 1961. It was translated into English in 1970, but Lem himself didn’t care for the translation. (That translation was actually taken from a Polish-to-French translation, with results you might expect. Maybe 80,000 words or so of the telephone game.)

For the 50th anniversary of the publishing of the book a new direct-to-English translation was finally commissioned by Audible, and made by Bill Johnson, with the cooperation of the Lem Estate. It was read by Alessandro Juliani, who I know best as Felix Gaeta in the reimagined Battlestar Galactica. The book is written in the first person, and Juliani reads it as if he is telling you the story himself, in a generally quiet, intimate voice. It seems very appropriate to the tone of the book.

Short synopsis, without spoilers: Psychologist Kris Kelvin is called to the human research station hovering just above the planet Solaris, a very unusual planet in a stable orbit about two stars, one red and one blue-white. The planet has been studied off and on for almost a hundred years, and the research team on the station is now reduced to only three. One of these researchers has asked for Kelvin’s help, but does not disclose why.

The planet is almost completely covered by an ocean of a gelatinous substance. It has been theorized over the years that the ocean is somehow sentient, since it builds huge structures within itself and then destroys them, but no means of communication can be found. The ocean is sometimes responsive to human stimuli and sometimes not, and eventually the teams of researchers lost interest in the planet out of frustration. Various theories about what Solaris is and what it is not have been proposed, but nothing definitive has been determined in decades.

Kelvin finds the two surviving members of the station’s crew to be furtive in answering his questions. Both seem distracted, almost haunted, but are unwilling to say what is bothering them. The third member, the one who called Kelvin in the first place, is dead, apparently at his own hand.

I won’t spoil the story for you. If I say any more, it will spoil it, at least a little. Let it suffice to say that Lem created an amazing world, one that even today, with our supposed advanced technologies, seems fresh and new – and presented problems for humans to deal with on a very personal level as well.

There have been two film versions of the book. One was made in 1972 and was Russian; the other is a 2002 version starring George Clooney and directed by Steven Soderbergh. Both focus on the personal issues of the characters and give very little time to the awesomeness of the planet’s intelligent ocean itself. I’m not terribly interested in seeing either; this happens with movies very often – we must make movies that are “character-driven,” even if we have to distort the science terribly to do so.

I’ve not finished the audiobook yet, but I think it is so good that I recommend it even before finishing it. I don’t know how the story ends, myself, at least not yet. I’ve toyed with ideas of how humans might deal with extraterrestrial intelligence that is completely impossible to understand myself. Most aliens are people in rubber masks, even in “hard” science fiction books. What happens if what we find is so alien as to be impossible to communicate with?


Few posts over the next few weeks

February 28, 2013

Sorry, campers, I know you hang onto my every word. Family medical issues will keep me away most of the time until about May 1. I know you can hang on that long without my observations!

I really recommend that you check out Jerry Pournelle, at I think he’s the original blogger, and his commentary and that of his readers covers science, science fiction, politics, music, health care, education…a very wide range of topics. He is a very wise man and a kickass hard science fiction writer. In fact, he and Larry Niven owned most of the hard science fiction real estate for about 20 years, and both are still writing, together and separately!

See you around the intertubes. Keep your heads down.


Avengers – Ensemble!

February 1, 2013

Avengers ENsembleToo good to not post…Thanks to Ren for passing it on. Are those cats or something in the cello section? And…HULK PLAY BASS!



I don’t usually…

November 2, 2012



Chinese Heavy-Lift Moon Rocket Designs

July 18, 2012



According to this article at, the Chinese are considering two possible super-heavy launch vehicles. Both are considered to have first stages in the 11 million pound thrust class, considerably higher than the 7.5 million pounds of thrust of the Saturn V. They are in the same size class as the ill-fated Soviet N-1 moon rocket, which suffered four spectacular failures – the last destroying not just the rocket but the launch pad as well – before the Soviets abandoned their quest for the moon in 1972.

“Option A” uses LOX/kerosene engines in the first stage, with liquid-fueled strap on boosters. “Option B” uses LOX/liquid hydrogen to power the first stage, but with solid rocket strap on boosters. China has very little experience with man-rated solid boosters, unlike the US, which has used them for decades.

While the thrust of the first stage is higher than the planned US SLS, the payload is not that much greater. The US rocket will burn LOX/hydrogen, with solid or possibly liquid-fueled boosters.

What I don’t get about both the US and Chinese designs is that Russia has shown us that mass production produces increased reliability, and probably, reduced cost. (Why do we need a demonstration of what should be basic American manufacturing principles, anyway?) Is it really worth the huge development cost to build monster rockets when we could accomplish the same goals with multiple launches of smaller rockets?

This was the fundamental flaw with the Apollo program. It was designed to be a dash to the moon, not a foundation upon which long-term space exploration infrastructure could be built. We’ve spent many billions of dollars and man-hours building the ISS, and we now even have reliable software and hardware that makes autonomous rendezvous and docking possible. Since the 1940s there have been designs – hundreds, probably – that showed how to build a moon mission from components in space. Granted, launching larger pieces of hardware translates into fewer launches, but we don’t ship auto parts across the country using behemoth car carriers…we put ’em in boxes and crates and ship ’em by rail or truck.

ImageGranted, it would be messier than the way it was depicted in Colliers Magazine or the Disney “Man in Space” specials in the 1950s, but we have thousands of man-hours of assembly and work outside of a spaceship now. We didn’t have that experience in the 1960s, and to meet the Kennedy deadline, von Braun and NASA chose the “fast track” moon mission. Today, we could build real moon ships – that could travel from low Earth orbit to the lunar surface, multiple times, and dock at the ISS or a facility nearby. In fact, we could use a Bigelow habitat for the LEO staging area, and maybe even one in lunar orbit and multiples on the lunar surface.



Well, we can dream. can’t we? (Oh, wait, there is that agreement between Bigelow and SpaceX…hmm. Elon Musk wants to go to Mars, eventually. He’s building an entire launch infrastructure so he can do just that.) 



Aaron Sorkin’s new show on HBO, “The Newsroom”

April 3, 2012

Trailer is here.The following is expanded from an email I sent Bogus after he tipped me off to this:

Heh. It’s soooo Sorkin! So…the character’s a Republican, sort of?

Sam Waterson and Jane Fonda! He’s identified with TV viewers as a big lib from “Law and Order” – i have no idea what his real politics are. He does TV commercials for that Evil Wall Street, after all.

Jane Fonda – probably nobody has stronger nutcase-liberal street cred this side of Bill Ayers. Of course, her former husband Ted Turner probably gives her a little insight into how a network president would behave. Especially if he is cutthroat and a bit nuts.

And around it, the classic Sorkin “below decks” young staff people. It’s a formula of his since “Sports Night,” but it works. I swear that show was one of the best ever on TV. And “The West Wing” was darned close, until the suits threw Sorkin under the bus.

I’m going to have to watch it, I guess. And Sorkin has apparently learned what JMS  learned while writing “Babylon 5”: “Hey, we’re on cable! We can use swears!”


Lake Erie from space

March 26, 2012

This image is from the Terra satellite using the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer. It’s supposed to show the amount of sediment in the lakes. You can go to a higher-resolution image here.

Now, Lake Erie has taken a bad rap since the early 1970s. The reason that lake, of all the Great Lakes, looks different and has been more sensitive to pollutants is because it is much shallower than the others.

Lake Superior has an average depth of 483 feet. Lake Michigan, 279 feet. Huron, 195. Ontario, 283 feet. Lake Erie…only 62 feet. Its deepest point is only 210 feet, only 15 feet deeper than the average depth of Lake Huron. Its volume is less than a third that of its closest neighbor, Lake Ontario. (Source of the data.)

This makes it far more sensitive to what runs into it from the surrounding cities, towns, fields and rivers. It drains over 30,000 square miles, and Lake Ontario drains just under 25,000. The largest of the lakes, by volume, is Lake Superior; it only drains about 2/3 more area than Lake Erie.

It’s also the lake with the second largest surrounding population, after Lake Michigan, which has over twice Erie’s shoreline – and it’s second by less than 0.1 percent. It has had more industrialization and more farming in its drainage area than any of the other lakes.

The good thing is that it has a retention time (how long water remains in it before moving to Lake Ontario) that is half that of Lake Ontario, at 2.6 years. Lake Superior has a retention time of…191 years!

So don’t look at this image and say to yourself that it shows a lake in trouble. It’s not – it shows a shallow lake with a lot of movement. It can hardly be compared chemically to the other Great Lakes at all. That gives it unique advantages and unique problems. You have to be very careful what you put into it – you can’t hope it will be diluted and forgotten. That seems to me to be a pretty mature attitude. I know at one time it wasn’t taken care of very well, but today it’s much better.

What you won’t find there is that deep, clear, blue water you can find in Lake Superior or Lake Michigan. It’s just too roiled up for that. It’s most likely always going to look a little green and muddy…on the other hand, in the summer it actually gets warm enough to swim in!


Bits of stuff…

March 21, 2012

Okay, I’m not a very football-oriented guy…what’s the deal with Peyton Manning being hired by the Denver Broncos? Wasn’t there some kid named Tebow playing there?

This morning (Tuesday) the weather guy from “Good Morning America” was on WLS radio. He said that meteorologists don’t know what’s going on with the unusually warm weather and can’t predict what’s going to happen next. How is this different from their usual long-range predictions? He said they are very confident about short-term – 3 or 4 days out – but farther than that? I never really thought they could do very well with long-term anyway. Too chaotic a system. About the only things I can think of that might be predictors are solar output and cosmic rays. But that’s really long-term, like years, not six months.

Looks like Mitt Romney has won the Illinois primary. That’s the last time Illinois will have any effect on Republicans at the national level for years and years, I’m afraid. I expect the state to go to Obama in the general no matter what we do here. It was only important this time because neither Gingrich nor Santorum would drop out. I went to vote and couldn’t find “none of the above.” Too bad. I had to choose another one.

Still convinced the recent flap about Rush Limbaugh was just regular folks who had had enough? This local advertiser in New York went on Fox Business to tell the truth. Yes, it just fuels the conspiracy-theory fires. But sometimes it’s not paranoia, it’s somebody really out to get you. (Careful! The link takes you to – ooooh noooo!!! – a page on the Rush Limbaugh site.)

I haven’t seen Episode 7 of “Smash” yet, so I’ll have to post on that another day.

I didn’t watch it, but apparently Elon Musk, CEO and Chief Bankroller of SpaceX, was interviewed on CBS’ “60 Minutes” last Sunday and took exception to statements previously made by Apollo Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan. They seem to believe that commercial space is not the direction to go; and Musk presented himself as not only an entrepreneur but also as a full-bore space exploration enthusiast who believes we need to explore space and is willing to put his considerable fortune where his mouth is.

(Let it be known that Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon – but he’s a bit touchy about that – is very pro-commercial space, and has been promoting it for decades.)

Now, I’m going to make a distinction here: remember, the Federal Government doesn’t create anything but red tape. When they need something, from bombers to buckets, they have to buy them from a regular commercial company. So, we can say that NASA built the moon rockets in the Apollo program, but while they did have designers and researchers, the hardware was designed and built by good old USA corporations. Some of you may remember my rant about how the Saturn V was built by Chrysler.)

SpaceX has a significant number of satellite customers already lined up for Falcon 9 launches once testing is complete. These are not generally government entities. They also have a development contract with NASA called COTS in which they receive some funding to help spur development of the Dragon capsule that will supply the ISS, and the manned version that will ultimately take crew there and eliminate our need for buying seats on Russian 1960s-technology hardware. Several companies are participating in COTS and are competing for the ISS and other manned space work.

If Armstrong and Cernan want to, they could promote Boeing’s manned space capsule, which seems to have an inside track with NASA because of the previous association the company has had with the agency, or NASA’s own Orion project, being built by Lockheed Martin. These companies are still corporations, not arms of the government, even though their connections with the government – defense, especially – are very strong.

SpaceX is a little upstart company that is basically funded by Musk’s own personal fortune, much as Virgin Galactic is being funded by Richard Branson. While they are receiving government funds, they primarily are going to live or die on building a successful booster and getting satellites into orbit for clients. How is this a bad thing? Let’s say they can’t get a manned vehicle to fly successfully by, say 2020. They will most likely go out of business or just drop back into the satellite-only market, which, frankly, is a bit saturated at the moment globally. No harm, no foul, and not nearly as many taxpayer dollars are wasted as would be if the development of the vehicle was completely funded by NASA.

So I don’t understand the reluctance of Armstrong and Cernan to embrace such endeavors. It seems like a win-win for America’s space exploration efforts, and minimal expense by the taxpayer for maximum reward. I’m much more concerned about the relationship between NASA and LockMart and Boeing, to be honest. I really get the feeling that “the fix is in” for those companies to be successful in getting more of NASA’s business not because they have superior hardware, but because of their track record with the Federal Government.

We’ll see. I read Musk’s remarks and I tend to agree with him.