Friday, November 22, 2013

Windows 8 Sucks

(see also updates below,  in chronological order)

A warning for you all:  do not (I repeat DO NOT) buy any sort of PC equipment with a Windows 8 operating system!

Update 6-22-16:  Windows 10 is just as bad if not actually worse.  See below.

Windows 8 is absolutely the worst version of Windows I have ever seen,  and I have seen them all since the very first one.   The 8.1 update does not (I repeat DOES NOT) fix this.

Their fundamental mistake is so egregious that I have difficulty expressing myself precisely without profanity. They wanted non-touch screen devices to look like touch screen devices,  even though that concept is completely pointless.

The operating system bogs down a stop,  with all the useless touch screen stuff running in the background. Internet things quit loading completely,  even though an older machine does fine,  in a side by side test on the same local area network.

Please,  all of you,  boycott Microsoft until they withdraw this worthless product,  and tell them why you are doing it.  It is THAT bad!


PS -- update 12-19-2013:

The Windows 8 operating system sacrifices usability for style.  It looks like the Apple-based smart phone and game devices they are trying to compete with.  But,  it sacrifices utility and access to do that.

Microsoft completely forgot about its real customer base coming up with this abortion:  the working stiffs like me who really have to accomplish nontrivial tasks in word processing,  data handling and calculation,  and results presentation.

The Apple-type devices are simply inadequate to nontrivial tasks like that.  For one thing,  their keyboards (if they even have one) are very clumsy transitioning from alphabetic characters to numeric characters,  and back.  That's just one reason why we working stiffs buy PC-type equipment instead of Apple-type equipment.

Now Microsoft has screwed-up their advantage with Windows 8.  It takes more keystrokes to access what you need to do your job,  and the stuff you want to use is hidden in more arcane places (way harder to find).  Doing that to an otherwise loyal customer base,  just to add a few more customers from a different market,  is the very height of management idiocy.   The two product lines should have been kept separate,  the new dual-mode tablet/laptops notwithstanding.

Recent Microsoft executives are thus demonstrably (by their new product decisions) far less competent than we customers have every right to expect from a company that big and established,  especially one in such a near-monopoly position.

Shame on you,  Microsoft.  The Bill Gates that I knew of (from the old stable DOS days) would not (and should not) be proud of you.  I wish he would come back and set things to rights again.

Update 1-3-2014:

I have figured out how to turn off most of the Apple-like “app” crap that I don’t use.  I had to figure it out for myself,  there was no effective help from the store where I bought it,  in spite of the service agreement that I bought.  Turning off many resident programs did greatly improve my internet connectivity,  but didn’t wholly “fix” the problems. 

Turning off unneeded programs reduced the resources being used in the computer,  but more importantly,  reduced the in-the-background internet update activity.  This freed up internet data transfer capacity enough where I could actually function on the internet.  Out here in the country,  my internet comes over a cell phone tower.  It’s way better than dial-up,  but way slower than the high-speed stuff available in the cities.  That somewhat-slower internet service is why the unneeded programs using internet were so intolerably vexing to me,  specifically.

By the way,  the store where I bought this laptop lied to me about that issue.  They told me none of these resident programs used internet.  But I could see the images and data in the icons on the screen updating (which requires internet),  and turning these things off did actually make a substantial difference.  I really don’t like being lied-to by store tech geeks.  So I probably won’t ever buy anything from that particular store again.

Turning unnecessary crap off helped a lot,  but did not “fix” everything.  I still have erratic connectivity problems far too often.  These take the form of incomplete page loads that require 1,  2,  even 3 refreshes before getting a complete load.  Sometimes I get the little spinning-circle “busy” signal,  sometimes not.  Photos failing to load on web pages or in emails is the most reliable indicator,  and it still happens about half the time.  That’s way,  way too often.

Internet connectivity still fails completely,  however,  about every 2 to 3 days.  It shows up as getting the “busy” circle “forever” instead of getting even a partial page load.  By “forever” I mean as many minutes (minutes not seconds !!! ) as I have the patience to endure.   I do not have the patience to see if it goes on like that for an hour or more.   And,  when this begins to happen on the internet,  I also start to see spinning-circle “busy” signal delays just opening programs while NOT on the internet.  That has to be the Windows operating system corrupting itself,  and maybe the effects of more in-the-background Apple-like “apps” that I haven’t yet found and turned off. 

When this problem happens,  the only “cure” I have found is a complete cold shutdown and restart.  If locked-up this way while on the internet,  quite often there is no way out except to push the power button to kill the computer.  Nothing else works!  And unlike all previous machines and versions of Windows that I have had,  sometimes the little lights indicating internal activity won’t go out,  even when you kill it with the power buttonMeaning,  it didn’t really shut down,  it just wants you to think it did.  And THAT just doesn't fix the corrupted-Windows operating system problem.

I get a more reliable power-button “kill” if it is unplugged from the charger – why that should be,  I absolutely cannot understand,  unless it is using something none of us know about,  coming in over the electric power grid (I know,  that sounds like a conspiracy theory).  But,  getting a more reliable “kill” when off the charger is empirically true (I dare anyone to explain THAT).  If the lights persist “on” after I go for cold shutdown,  the only option available is to “kill” it again with the power button,  however many times it takes,  until all the lights stay off.  And that is quite exceedingly ridiculous!

These problems that I fix by cold shutdowns have to be something traceable to the Windows operating system,  precisely because it is a fresh copy of Windows that is drawn from memory upon restart.  Everything else depends on the operating system.  I’ve seen this before,  with other versions of Windows,  but the time scale between restarts was several days with versions like 98,  even weeks with very early versions like 3.1,  not two lousy days with 8/8.1!  Windows 8/8.1 is quite apparently an unstable disaster,  because of how very quickly it corrupts itself.   And THAT is atrociously ridiculous!

The tech geeks at the store where I bought this laptop also lied to me about installing Windows 7 versus Windows 8.  They said Windows 7 could NOT be installed on this model,  and repeated that assertion when I questioned it.  So I called the actual maker of the laptop:  there are 3 (and only 3) different drivers required to use Windows 7 instead,  all available for free download from the maker’s website.  As best I can tell,  this model laptop came with Windows 7,  before Microsoft released Windows 8 and then bullied everybody into only offering computers with Windows 8 on them.

Windows 8 is a very flawed product,  and absolutely the wrong product to be on any non-touch screen device.  Shame on you Microsoft for abusing your non-touch screen customer base this way!  If there were a viable alternative,  I would never buy another Windows product,  but Microsoft is a de-facto monopoly,  and certainly behaves like it. 

I see by the statistics that a huge number of people have seen this posting.  Bill Gates,  are you listening?

Update 1-7-14:

These slow/incomplete page-load problems are compounded by out-and-out lies the operating system tells me.  Quite often it tells me that it "can't display this page" when an older machine on the same wireless network and internet service is having no troubles at all,  or at worst shows that Google is just running a little slower than usual.

When it starts behaving like this,  the Windows 8 machine does not spontaneously improve,  no matter how long you wait.  The older machine running side-by-side has no such similar problems.   The only "cure" is a cold shutdown and reboot,  and it doesn't last very long (maybe 2-3 days).  The biggest trouble with restarting is that the Windows 8 machine will actually fail to fully shut down,  even with a power-button "kill",  and actually tries to hide that fact!

I have,  on more than one occasion,  found it running "live",  after I thought I had turned it completely off!

Since the menu shutdown option and the power button "kill" are quite evidently not reliable ways to shut down and restart a misbehaving Windows 8 machine,  I have taken to physically removing the battery to "kill" the thing.  I unplug the charger,  and then pull out the battery.  That "kills" it,  and forces a proper reboot.  So far,  it has worked,  but I don't know (1) how long this will continue to be effective, or (2) what damage this may be doing.

It is absolutely unconscionable of Microsoft to force us to use a product this flawed with their near-monopoly market position.  Windows 8 is more evil malware or virus than it is any kind of an operating system on a non-touch screen device.

If Bill Gates will not come back long enough to clean up the mess Microsoft has made of its Windows business,  then I wish the government would bust them up with the antitrust laws.  One way or another,  the current situation is completely intolerable.

Update 1-9-14:

Functionality interval between shutdowns is now down to 12 hours.  Side-by-side comparison still shows slightly-slow Google on the older machine when this one says the web page is unavailable.  Lies!  Lies!  Lies!

It is time to take this POS back to the store and demand that they make good on it.

Update 1-17-14:

Boots with internet light showing are largely unsatisfactory.  Cure seems to be pulling battery pack until it boots without showing internet light.  Then it seems to get better results,  by-and-large.  Today it took 5 battery pack-pull "kills" during reboot,  before it behaved acceptably.  I started with a normal menu shutdown,  but it did not work right:  told me things I knew were lies.

I am getting the most bizarre "hot key" effects that I did not ask for,  as I type at more-than-minimal speeds.  That's one of the things I really hate about both this operating system,  and this keyboard (which has keys too small for my old,  fat fingers,  and which has a reduced spacebar length,  for no purpose I can understand).

Microsoft,  you should have found this posting by now.  I have seen nothing acceptable from you in the last decade.  Nothing since Windows 98 has been in the least acceptable in terms of usability,  and no version of Windows since the beginning has been stable.  

Toshiba,  I hope you are aware of this post by now.  I have alerted you to it,  in the on-line customer feedback to you.  Fix your damned keyboards.

I would rather go back to DOS than use this f***ing Windows 8.  I hope you lose immense amounts of money on this,  Microsoft.  It would serve you right.

Update 1-25-14:

This has to be the very most unstable version of Windows that Microsoft has ever produced.  Absolutely the worst.  None of them since the beginning have been stable,  but this version makes even the infamous "millennium" version look good.

Basically,  to keep it from bogging down on the simplest task,  I have to restart the computer from a cold shutdown every single day.  Note:  this intolerable trouble isn't malware or virus effects,  I run my anti-malware and "crap-cleaner" software every time I restart.

Otherwise,  without a from-cold restart,  it runs very slowly (interminable spinning-circle "busy  signal") and repeatably fails to load even the simplest internet pages fully.

That last requires multiple refreshes to get a page to load,  not just one refresh.  And,  when it gets like that,  it's past time for a shutdown.  I have learned that.

Problem is,  if you don't recognize this BS in time,  you cannot get it to respond to the keys or mouse for a normal shutdown.  Once that happens,  the battery-pull shutdown is the most reliable method,  not the power button.

It sometimes keeps running and tries to hide that fact from me if I just use the power button.  Because of that weird behavior,  to me,  this operating system resembles a virus more than it does a real operating system.

If anybody out there knows a real human contact at Microsoft,  make that person aware of this customer's extreme dissatisfaction,  would you please?  They do a really good job insulating themselves from their customers.

They no longer do even a creditable job developing useful software.

Update 1-31-14:

One thing I have noticed,  doing side-by-side comparisons between my Windows 8 laptop and my wife's earlier-Windows laptop,  is an unwarranted sensitivity to internet slowness.  Out here in the country,  we have internet service via radio link from a cell phone tower.  Inside the house,  we have a local wireless network.

The wireless network inside the house is just not a problem.  Sometimes the cell phone tower internet bogs down to slow speeds,  and I have complained to the provider about this.  But the point is,  the two computers respond differently to it in the side-by-side comparison,  running the same browsers to the same sites.

I can see this internet slowdown as slower-to-load pages on my wife's machine.  On my Windows 8 machine,  I get very erratic performance,  ranging from "page cannot be found" to "host refused connection" to loading text but not images.  None of these 3 outcomes provide any useful service,  of course.

Images that fail to load usually will not load with a refresh,  either.  And if you keep trying to force the image load with refresh,  the software will lock-up,  requiring a shutdown and reboot.  Odd that the older,  supposedly less-capable machine has far less trouble,  isn't it?

I must therefore conclude:  it ain't the chip in the machine (all of those are pretty fast now),  it's the operating system.  Windows 8 just does not work as well as earlier versions.  Given the size and resources of Microsoft,  and the longevity of the basic Windows operating system concept,  there is absolutely no excuse for the problems I am experiencing with "unusable internet",  when older machines still function.

And that is what I am complaining about.  That is what I object to most of all.  That is why I say that Windows 8 sucks!

Update 2-3-14:

The most effective,  least risky procedure I have so far discovered is cold shutdown after no more than 24 hours of continuous operation.  I do this from the normal menu with the charger unplugged,  but,  after it shuts down,  I pull the battery pack to make sure it really stays shut down reliably.  I leave it cold like that for several minutes to several hours,  just to make sure everything internal has fully discharged.

This procedure seems to work reasonably reliably,  although on occasion I have to do it twice before I get a "good" boot-up.  A "bad" boot-up shows up most distinctly as very erratic operation of the browser,  before one even tries to open pages on the internet.  That's very definitely a software problem inside the machine,  not anything to do with internet service connectivity.

If Microsoft had done their job properly developing and de-bugging this Windows 8 operating system,  I would not be experiencing these problems.  I would just merely be pissed off at useless and unfamiliar screens trying to make my laptop look like a touch-screen Apple device.  If I had wanted a touch-screen Apple-like device,  I would have bought one from Apple.

Microsoft has been a de-facto monopoly in non-Apple operating systems for a long time now.  They certainly act like it,  too.  Does anyone else wish Uncle Sam had broken them up?

Update 2-5-14:

So far so good with the procedures adopted per my 2-3-14 update just above,  except:  sometimes Google Chrome very most definitely fails to load in a working condition,  upon reboot.  It takes another cold shutdown to correct this!

That has to be fundamental software incompatibilities between Windows 8 and the Google Chrome browser.


Microsoft's forte was always supposed to be its connections to the internet,  its ability to make browsing easy.  This is especially supposed to be true with the new tablet/desktop hardware and Windows-8 operating system that is supposed to compete with Apple.

Looks to me like it's actually a failure.  At least,  for ordinary non-touchscreen laptops like mine.

Update 5-7-14:

If there's anything I hate worse than Windows 8 (and the above text indicates the EXTREME depth of that hate!!!!),  it's my internet service provider of the last few years: Skybeam.  They had a monopoly out here in central Texas,  and they certainly have acted like it.  I have NOT received the service I have PAID FOR,  for the last several months,  at least.  

That's theft!

These bastards have been a monopoly out here in the boonies of central Texas,  until recently,  and they have certainly acted like it.  I am firing them in favor of the ONLY other provider who has showed up in the last several months,  a provider who guarantees connectivity without "data capping".  

If anybody else has had any sort of experiences with Skybeam,  I really encourage you to comment on this article! An awful lot of people visit this site!  It WILL be seen!

My experiences with Skybeam,  since about a year or so ago,  have been uniformly,  and very egregiously,  bad! Dial-up is faster and more reliable than Skybeam!  If you are served by these charlatans,  I recommend firing them!  As soon as you possibly can!

The more folks fire these bastards,  the sooner they will get the message to transform into a customer-oriented business.  They are so very clearly NOT that kind of business right now.  Money talks.  PLEASE fire them!

All else I can say is this:  if you can possibly avoid doing business with Skybeam,  then avoid it!  DO NOT DO BUSINESS WITH SKYBEAM!  You will be sorry,  if you ever do.

Skybeam sucks!  Worse than Windows 8 sucks! 


Update 5-15-14:

We fired Skybeam yesterday,  and hired Air Net as our new service.  Their service is far better,  for only a little more price.  It's nice to have a choice.  Monopolies are bad.  


Update 6-22-2016:  

The new internet provider Air Net has given us far better service than Skybeam ever did.  Sometimes it fails in a storm,  but service is usually restored within minutes to hours.  And it's always much faster.  

My Toshiba laptop died of old age mechanically.  The hinge connections failed.  Plus,  the labeling wore off all the keys.  It's hard to type when you cannot see what key it is you are striking.  I had just replaced its battery pack when this unfixable crap with the hinge occurred.  That pretty much settled it.  

I replaced it with an ASUS laptop originally intended for my wife.  The new laptop works OK,  except that it cannot in any way tell me when the caps lock key has been hit.  No light,  no indication on the screen,  nothing.  It is a very irritating problem.  

What this new laptop lacks is a way to pull the battery to get a certain "kill".  I REALLY do not like that!  The battery is utterly buried within somewhere.  So far,  the power switch "kill" has worked when I need it,  but I would really and seriously prefer to have a battery-pack "kill",  as I fully expect this thing to learn how to ignore a power-switch "kill" the same way the old Toshiba did.  It already ignores me if the charger is plugged in,  just like the Toshiba.  

This thing came from the factory criminally mislabeled:  its label says it's a Windows 8 machine,  but after considerable looking around,  I was able to confirm it is really a Windows 10 machine.  Microsoft really hid the descriptions that tell you what your OS is.  I hate them for that,  forever!

Bottom line:  Windows 10 sucks even worse than Windows 8!!!

There is nothing about it that is in the remotest-sense stable,  and it is even less compatible with other Microsoft products than was Windows 8.  It will not even boot-up correctly about half the time!  And I am clogged and bogged-down with touch-screen crap that I cannot use!  Almost useless.  DOS was far better,  as hard as that was to use.  

This thing randomly bogs down and refuses to "see" keystrokes or mouse clicks,  unless I hit the devices really hard,  which greatly shortens their lives.  I have the worst problems with Microsoft Office 2007 (which is what I had available to load),  but I have seen it do the same idiocy in non-Microsoft software.  Just not as often.  

My typing speed is reduced to 1 single character every second or two when this occurs.  I have to hold the key down for most of that time,  for the keystroke to "take".  Whatever is going on,  there's no indications on the screen or anywhere else.  This is just totally unacceptable.  

Microsoft:  incompatibilities like that are unconscionable and proof of criminally-negligent incompetence.  I wish someone would "nuke" you.  

I will never,  ever buy another IBM-clone PC that runs on Windows.  

I don't know anything about Apple.  Makes no sense to me at all,  never did.  Maybe Unix?


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Rocks From Space

The recent space object that exploded over Chelyabinsk caused a lot of damage and injuries,  and it could easily have been a lot worse.  This provided a loud warning that got some public attention. 

Since then,  back-page stories have documented several close passes of “extinction-event” and “city-buster” sized objects.  Some of these were seen coming,  some were not. 

Update 4-6-14:  Detection of 1+ kiloton explosions by the nuclear test detection network is attributed to asteroid explosions in the air (bolides),  similar to the Chelyabinsk object.  The frequency of these detections suggests that asteroid impacts upon the Earth are 3 to 10 times more frequent than previously thought.  The vast majority are not detected during approach.  This has serious implications:  these "city busters" are not busting cities merely due to blind luck (not exploding over a city).  

Another story that barely made the evening news was a re-estimate by the experts that the risk of “city-buster” objects was very likely some 7 times higher than previously thought.  Chelyabinsk-like incidents seem likely about every 2-3 decades,  not every century,  just not always over cities.

The clear conclusion:  it is indeed prudent for mankind to address this threat,  now that we are both aware of it,  and technologically capable. 

For the last several years,  there has been an ongoing ground-based sky survey that has found about 90% of the threatening objects of “extinction event” size.  The idea is find them years ahead of any risk they might pose,  so as to enable intervention by some sort of deflection technology.

This kind of ground-based telescopic survey simply cannot see the smaller “city buster” objects until they are very close,  if at all,  for a variety of technical reasons.  There are hours of warning at best,  and for the Chelyabinsk object,  no warning at all because it came at us “out of the sun’s glare”. 

The B612 Foundation has as its mission protection from asteroid strikes.  They have proposed a satellite (or better,  several satellites) located near Venus,  to look outward from the sun for “city busters”.   

This kind of space-based sky survey is technologically feasible.  It would enable years of warning for objects this size. 

Problem:  there are no such satellites,  and nothing is funded to build and launch any.

The objects smaller than “city busters” are thought to be vastly more numerous.  With the kind of technologies we have,  these are unlikely ever to be seen,  except at really short “duck-and-cover”-type warning times,  even with satellites in space looking. 

Update 4-6-14:  B612's Sentinel detector satellite is still unfunded by NASA,  relying entirely on private contributions.  It is thought to have a cost near $400 million.  This is to be an infrared detector looking outward from the orbit of Venus,  and should be far more capable at detecting small asteroids,  even those closer to the sun than Earth,  than any optical telescope survey from Earth (which is blind in all directions except outward away from the sun).  

Problem:  there is no organized way to get a timely warning out,  even within national borders,  much less internationally.

What is needed immediately:  satellites for the “city buster” search,  and an organized international “duck-and-cover” warning system. 

What is needed longer term:  what do you do with your years-of-warning?  How do you deflect threats?

There is no real agreement among the experts on the internal nature of such objects.  History says it is likely that what they do think,  is incorrect.  And,  it is extremely unlikely that remote observation will ever resolve the internal structure question. 

The internal structure and properties of these objects fundamentally controls their response to proposed interventions.  What we do know says the movies are wrong:  you don’t blow them up,  you have to push them aside.  Blowing them up,  especially at the last minute,  would actually make the damage worse (shotgun blast versus a single bullet strike). 

Problem:  we already know they are not all the same in their internal properties. 

We know that the few monolithic rocks survive atmospheric entry to hit the surface,  if larger than a green pea.  Baseball size,  they hit with a really damaging whack.  Basketball-sized,  they start blowing big craters like bombs. 

Most of these objects seem to be internally fractured,  or even just rubble piles very loosely bound together.  These are the “bolides” that explode during entry,  the bigger ones with the force of very large nuclear weapons,  like Chelyabinsk.  Bigger also generally penetrates lower down before exploding,  depending upon how tightly the chunks are bound together.   

So,  how do you push on something that might fly apart at a touch?  In our best guesses,  most of the time,  that’s what you are faced with.

What Do We Need to Do?

Developing deflection schemes will fundamentally require in-situ investigation,  to include looking deep inside these objects to find out how,  and how tightly,  they are bound together.  This can be done with robotics to a point,  but men will have to go eventually.

We will need experimental trials of different deflection techniques.  Again,  this can be done with robotics to a point,  but men will have to go eventually.

Fact:  this ain’t like going to the moon.  This is months-to-years in space (like Mars),  not days.

So,  what about NASA’s latest plan for capturing a small one for return to near-lunar space where we actually can send men?  Two problems:  (1) the single captured object is unlikely to be representative,  and (2) this does not address the technology we need for long-distance manned travel. 

If instead you develop long-distance manned travel,  you kill two birds with one stone.  First,  you enable the necessary manned missions to many different asteroids.  Second,  if only you add a lander,  you can also go to Mars.

So,  what is the smarter space program to have?

Satellites inside Venus to look for city busters.

Set up the warning system for the small duck-and-cover objects.

Work intensely on the fundamental requirements for long distance manned travel;  these are (1) better propulsion,  (2) protection from radiation, (3) sufficient living space properly distributed,  (4) artificial gravity by spin to prevent microgravity diseases,  and (5) adequate long-term food preservation.  Update 11-21-13:  see "Details" below for a description of these 5 enabling items for long-distance manned travel.  

And what are we doing?

A giant rocket we may not even need,  which is based on legacy technology,  the manufacture of which is sited in powerful congressional districts,  and the need for which is mandated entirely by congress.

A capsule capable of days-to-weeks of manned travel to and near the moon,  but completely inadequate for months-to-years in deep space,  with extremely-limited radiation protection capability. 

A space station without a medical centrifuge for finding out “how much artificial gee is enough?”,  but which did teach us (1) how to build things from smaller payloads launched by multiple smaller rockets,  and (2) microgravity diseases will prevent manned travel longer than a year or so,  if we go without artificial gravity.

Some support for three commercial ventures aimed at manned launch to orbit.

None of the other critical enabling items for long-distance manned travel are supported.

None of the enabling satellites for city-buster warning are funded in any way.

No duck-and-cover warning system is being funded,  much less actually organized. 


Write your congressmen and senators about this.  Write the NASA administrator about this.  I do,  but I am just one voice. 

Footnote added 11-24-13:  

A version of this article appeared in the Sunday "Waco Tribune-Herald" newspaper.


There are other articles related to asteroid defense that I have written and posted on this site.  If you click the keyword "asteroid defense",  you will see only those articles.  Otherwise,  use the by-date/by-title navigation tool to quickly find them.  My exact recommendations about what to do have evolved a little over time,  you can see that in the various articles.  They are as follows:

11-17-13  Rocks From Space  (this article)
 2-15-13   On the Two Dangers From Space
10-31-09  The Future of NASA Manned Space
7-22-09    On the Future of the US Manned Space Program
4-21-09    On Asteroid Defense and a Good Reason for Having National Space Programs (***)

(***) In point of fact,  I did attend the first IAA international conference on asteroid defense in Granada,  Spain,  April 26-30,  2009,  and I presented a paper there,  shortly after writing this article.  My paper was on electrostatic attraction as an upgrade to the basic gravity tractor asteroid deflection concept.

I got to spend some time with many folks at that meeting,  including ex-astronaut Rusty Schweikart,  and ex-cosmonaut Dumitru Prunariu.  Schweikart was on Apollo 9 and was until recently head of B612 Foundation.  Prunariu was (at least as of 2009) head of the Romanian space program,  supplying cosmonauts (and more) to the Russians.  He flew on Salyut 6,  if memory serves.  I also spent some time with Mark Boslough of Sandia Labs,  who is the bolide explosion expert that most folks call upon.

Update 11-21-13:  Details of the 5 Enabling Items for Long-Distance Manned Travel

(1) better propulsion:  we need higher specific impulse,  but we need it at high thrust levels,  enough not to incur long burn time gravity losses (as with all ion and plasma thrusters today).  It would be nice to have a long-term storable version of liquid hydrogen technology.  We need a megawatt-level flightweight electrical power supply for ion and plasma rockets (such as VASIMR).  I would definitely resurrect and improve the solid core nuclear thermal rocket technology,  that almost flew 4 decades ago.  I would work really hard on bringing gas core nuclear thermal rockets to testable forms.  I would resurrect and improve the old nuclear pulse (explosion) propulsion technology that we know would have worked,  but which we never developed. We also need much less expensive launch to Earth orbit,  at the largest payloads that have commercial need. 

(2) protection from radiation:  there should be a unified standard on how much of what types of radiation are allowable.  This is needed for exploration astronauts,  and for long-term settlers,  and their children.  There should be some experiments done very soon in very-high Earth orbit,  to test and develop water/wastewater tankage as a shielding concept that we could implement in the design of any manned interplanetary vehicle.  These standards will always be empirical best guesses;  we need to recognize that,  and "just get on with it".

(3) sufficient living space properly distributed:  this is an under-represented / too-often-ignored issue,  in too many of the mission designs I have seen.  It is a critical issue,  ask anyone who has ever served time in solitary confinement.  The volume / person ratio is NOT the only thing to consider,  but that number should be minimum around the ISS value,  and should more properly look about like what we flew in the old Skylab station.  The distribution and use of that volume is also critically important.  People need more than just their sense of personal space.  They need both a place to congregate,  and a place to be alone.  That second factor is actually the more neglected of the two.  

(4) artificial gravity by spin to prevent microgravity diseases:  for missions over about 1 year,  this is simply required,  and we might as well face it.  The only physical principle we have for artificial gravity is centrifugal force.  There are two issues with that:  (1) how fast a spin is tolerable to the balance organs,  and (2) how much artificial gravity is enough?  The answer to spin rate is a fuzzy empirical value in the neighborhood of 4 rpm for ordinary folks.  We have never run the experiments to find out the answer to "how much gee is enough?",  and we did not equip our ISS to find out.  

So,  since we evolved at 1 gee here on Earth,  that's the design value,  until and unless someone runs the necessary experiments to find out the therapeutic value we really need.  And bed rest experiments won't find it,  they are a poor analog at best.  For 1 gee at 4 rpm,  you need a 56 meter spin radius.  You do NOT need to build a gigantic and super-expensive ship for that.  You do NOT need a Rube Goldberg contraption of cable-connected modules for that (an accident waiting to happen).  

Build your vessel of modules docked in orbit,  to form a slender baton shape.  Put your astronaut habitat at one end,  and something heavy (the engines) at the other.  Spin it end-over-end.  It's perfectly stable,  as seen in Friday night football games all over America.  You'll find you have no need of a gigantic launch rocket to send them up individually.  It's exactly how we built the ISS.  

Artificial gravity simplifies all sorts of life support issues back to things we already know how to do.  Water and wastewater treatment,  toilet design,  cooking,  bathing,  and proper / effective exercise all depend fundamentally upon gravity in one way or another.  So also (most likely) does successful completion of a pregnancy.  

(5) adequate long-term food preservation:  astronaut "space foods" are the plastic-bag analog to the same canned goods we use down here.  Trouble is,  they don't last as long as the canned goods we are used to.  About 12 to 18 months is their maximum lifetime.  A trip to Mars is 2.5 years in space,  so there's a real problem with food.  

Down here,  we have long solved that problem with real canned goods and frozen foods.  These store for decades,  if not centuries,  but often require meal assembly and cooking processes involving free-surface liquids to produce things that are palatable.  Those cooking processes require gravity,  but we need that anyway!  

Until and unless we find something better,  we will have to use the heavier frozen and canned-good foods.  Fresh foods will require a garden,  and most of what we know how to do in that topic also requires artificial gravity.  

Update 3-12-14:

More Space Rocks --

There were three close asteroid fly-bys in just two days recently.  We get several of these each year,  that is normal.  But 3 in 2 days really is a little unusual.  The warning time with all of these was days or less.  This is a strong hint of a real risk,  one so far mostly unaddressed by humanity.  

The data are tabulated just below.  For reference,  the Earth-moon center-to-center distance is 385,000 km, and the Chelyabinsk object was about 15 meters in size.    

8-meter 2014 EC,  Thursday 3-6-14,   61,600 km miss distance             
30-meter 2014 DX110,  Wednesday 3-5-14,  350,000 km miss distance
10-meter 2014 EF,  Wednesday 3-5-14    about 120,000 km miss distance

Two More "Enabling Items" --

In addition to the 5 "enabling items" listed above to enable long-distance manned space travel,  we also need a supple space suit,  and a way to build in orbit things too large to fit the payload shrouds of our launch rockets.  Both of those get addressed in "On-Orbit Repair and Assembly Facility",  dated 2-14-14.  That includes some good photos of two very good spacesuit prototypes.  

A Place to Safely Test Nuclear Propulsion -- 

We could also use a good,  safe place to test nuclear space propulsion.  That place should provide an easy way to avoid air and water pollution,  and a way to avoid annoying neighbors.  This is especially important with nuclear stuff,  since both routine operations and the inevitable testing mishaps will involve radiation.  

I suggest the moon.  There is no better reason to go back.  

Payload Comparisons

Partly to determine how realistic my ballpark launch studies really are,  I looked at a payload fraction comparison among my two ramjet-assisted reusable systems,  the retired space shuttle,  and today’s commercial launchers as typified by Spacex’s expendable Falcon-9.  There are no data available yet for the reusable form of Falcon-9,  although I have left a place in the table for it,  when it becomes available. 

Payload Definitions

The payload fraction you calculate depends upon what you define to be the payload.  One-way deliveries of satellites require only the satellite plus a rather lightweight ascent shroud to be atop the rocket.  With men,  there must be a vehicle for them to ride.  As distinct from the satellite case,  with men there is “delivered payload”,  and there is “ultimate payload”.

“Ultimate payload” is the men,  suited,  and with life support supplies for the duration of the ride,  plus a safety margin in supplies.  Assuming conventional pressure suits,  good enough for an emergency walk in space,  I typically allow 400 pounds per man.  That’s just under 200 pounds for the man,  about 200 pounds for the suit,  and the rest some oxygen and drinking water.  If there is any luggage or cargo,  it goes into this definition.

“Delivered payload” is the ultimate payload plus the vehicle as it is delivered on-orbit.  This could be a capsule plus its service module (if any),  or it could be a spaceplane or lifting body vehicle. 

HTO/HL Study

In this article,  “HTO/HL” refers to the on-orbit delivery of a winged spaceplane with three people aboard,  using a ramjet-assisted horizontal takeoff system,  and horizontal landing with the returning spaceplane.  That is the recent article “HTO/HL Launch with Ramjet Assist” dated 11-6-13. 

Every booster item in that study (and there are multiple items) are intended to be fully reusable,  and with very long service lives.  In effect,  I traded the far-higher specific impulse of the airbreathing components for the larger inert mass fractions that can support long-life reusability.  Both structural beef and unpowered recovery items are included. 


“ZLL-IRR” refers to the on-orbit delivery of a small capsule with two astronauts aboard,  plus a small service module,  again using a ramjet-assisted launch system.  That study is “Manned Launch to LEO Using Ramjet Missile Technology”,  dated 10-27-13. 

This one is not vertical or horizontal launch,  but zero-length launch (ZLL) at a launcher angle,  like many surface-to-air missile systems.  The ramjet assist packages the initial rocket boosters within the ramjet engines themselves,  something called the integral rocket ramjet (IRR).  This is an operational missile technology,  available since approximately 1970.  Again,  the components are intend to be reusable with very long service lives,  with the exception of the service module,  and the replaceable heat shield and parachute systems on the capsule. 

Space Shuttle

I used data off the internet for this.  The launch weight was listed as 4,470,000 pounds.  The orbiter weight as delivered on orbit was 240,000 pounds.  Maximum crew was 7,  and the LEO cargo bay payload weight was listed as 53,600 pounds.  Just for a number,  I used the same 400 pound suit plus astronaut allowance,  in spite of knowing that shuttle EVA suits were closer to 300 pounds than 200.  7 astronauts at 400 pounds each added to the cargo for an ultimate payload of 56,400 pounds to LEO  in my comparison. 


I used data directly from Spacex’s web site for this.  LEO payload is listed as 13,150 kg,  and launch weight as 505,846 kg.  This would be for a  maximum satellite within a fairly lightweight shroud,  which shroud I ignored for this comparison.  I simply assumed a manned version of the Dragon capsule would gross out pretty close to the payload capacity of the Falcon-9 booster system.  It is listed as capable of crew sizes up to 7.  I used my same 400-pound allowance-per-crew for my estimates.  That makes delivered payload pretty close to 13,150 kg,  and ultimate payload pretty close to 1270 kg. 

Re-Usable Falcon

No data are yet available.  The concept calls for reduced payload to allow propellant residuals for powered landing of the first stage.  Experiments are currently underway to make that happen.  Whether the second stage can be recovered and re-used is an open question.    

Data Comparison

Ultimate payload fraction is simply ultimate payload divided by launch weight,  expressed here as a percentage.  Delivered payload fraction is delivered payload divided by launch weight,  also expressed as a percentage.  In the data table,  I have included notes about the propellant systems.  Hydrogen systems are well-known to reduce booster weights for a given payload.  LCH4 is liquid methane,  LH2 is liquid hydrogen,  and LOX is liquid oxygen. 

Reuse F9
ult frac
del frac

Concluding Remarks

If you look at what I define as ultimate payload,  all of the systems have fractional-percent ultimate payload fractions,  excepting the hydrogen-powered shuttle,  which is barely above one full percent.  I have to conclude that my ramjet-assisted system rough-outs are not too bad,  especially since I deliberately traded-off airbreather impulse gains for the larger weight allowances necessary for long-life reusability.  My systems appear to be competitive in terms of ultimate payload fraction with both the historical reusable shuttle,  and with modern low-cost expendable launchers as typified by Falcon-9. 

If you look at delivered payload fractions,  you get the same story,  just different numbers,  which will look more familiar to those who work with satellite launch scenarios.  All of the non-hydrogen systems fall in the 3% range,  excepting the hydrogen-powered shuttle,  which is closer to 5%.  Once again,  my ramjet-assisted reusable design studies look pretty reasonable,  and competitive. 

If I had designed for one-shot / throwaway systems,  my payload fractions (either definition) could have been much higher,  because I could have taken direct advantage of the higher airbreather impulse figures.  That’s not what I did,  I chose to design for reusability with ample weight allowances to support it,  and used the airbreather-conferred impulse increment to support that. 

It’s only an opinion,  but I think that may be the “best” way to add airbreather-assist,  at least for non-vertical launch scenarios.  The fundamental idea is to reduce launch costs with both reusability of the hardware,  and a far-smaller logistical tail drawing salaries. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

HTO/HL Launch with Ramjet Assist

This article documents the results of a back-of-the-envelope sizing study similar to that of reference 1.  The differences are (1) horizontal takeoff,  and (2) the orbital vehicle is a small rocket spaceplane instead of a minimal space capsule.  For this study,  the ultimate payload of the spaceplane is a pilot and two passengers,  all spacesuited with about a day’s life support supplies,  plus about 100 pounds (each) of luggage for the two passengers.

For purposes of quickly locating reference 1,  see "Manned Launch to LEO Using Ramjet Missile Technology",  dated 10-27-13.  

The study in reference 1 emphasized the necessity of strict frontal area proportioning to enable hypersonic flight with ramjet propulsion in a cluster vehicle.  For this study I assumed ramjet takeover to be Mach 1.5,  and the staging speed to be Mach 5,  again at 60,000 feet (18.3 km).  All rocket propulsion was assumed to be LOX-liquid methane (LCH4),  and I used some ramjet performance data calculated for RJ-5 synthetic (kerosene-like) fuel,  although the design intent here is that the ramjet use LCH4 as its fuel. 

Past attempts at a design like this proved too difficult to believe success was possible,  based on a simple two-stage airplane concept.  In that concept,  the second stage was rocket-only,  and the first stage was assumed to be rocket plus ramjet in a convenient parallel-burn configuration.  The wing and rocket takeoff hardware always proved too draggy and too heavy.  Even with a staging velocity of M6 at 60,000 feet,  the velocity increment to orbit was too demanding for anything but LOX-LH2 propulsion in the second stage.  By changing those basic concepts,  to something seemingly a little more complicated,  I was able to use LOX-LCH4 in all items,  with very conservative inert fractions that support reusability. 

Trajectory,  Flight Phases,  and Configuration

I reduced the mass ratio required of the spaceplane by raising the energy of its stage point to 4.08 km/s at about 150 km.  The rocket flight from there to orbit is thus all-exoatmospheric,  but still subject to gravity losses.  That made LOX-LCH4 rocket propulsion feasible in the spaceplane at inert mass fractions that could be credibly reusable.  This is the final ascent “burn” shown in figure 1.  Weights are given in figure 2.  The details of the spaceplane rough-out design are given in figure 3. 

That approach then required a rocket booster stage to take the spaceplane from ramjet staging conditions to the spaceplane engine ignition point.  Because this combination starts off in hypersonic atmospheric flight,  I chose a serial stage integration with the same body diameter as the spaceplane.  That keeps the stack’s hypersonic drag to a minimum,  making it very more likely that the ramjet propulsion strap-ons can push this “payload” to at least Mach 5.  That stage point is shown in figure 1 as Mach 5 at 60,000 feet (1.48 km/s at 18.3 km).  Weights are given in figure 2. 

Details of the booster stage are given in figure 4.  This item includes a guidance and control package and an ablative entry heat shield up forward,  and a recovery chute package aft,  for ocean splashdown recovery,  as indicated in figures 1 and 4. 

Both the booster stage and the spaceplane are presumed to be propelled with 1000 psia chamber LOX-LCH4 engines with exit bells sized for perfect expansion at the backpressure extant at 60,000 feet.  I used a standard chart to determine expansion ratio and optimum thrust coefficient,  assuming the gas specific heat ratio was 1.2,  and which chart includes the nozzle kinetic energy efficiency associated with an average 15-degree half angle in the bell.  Reference 2 suggests a chamber c*=6120 ft/s for 1000 psia with LOX-LCH4.

Both of these phases were analyzed with the simple rocket equation,  with the actual velocity change ratioed-up by factor 1.10 to “account” empirically for gravity and drag losses.  The spaceplane is a hypersonic glider for re-entry,  with a heat shield that is part refractory,  part ablative,  and lands as a dead-stick glider.  I sized its wing for a 90 KCAS (knots calibrated air speed) landing speed without high-lift devices,  factor 1.2 away from it estimated stall speed (as in aircraft design practice).    This is crude,  but “ballpark correct”.

To reach the ramjet staging point from ramjet takeover (see again figure 1),  I decided to use ramjet strap-on pods similar to those in reference 1,  and shown here in figure 5.  The RJ-5 performance figures I used would be conservative representations of performance fueled by LCH4,  by a few-to-several percent.  I averaged ramjet Isp (predicted from RJ-5) and did a rocket-equation estimate,  where the velocity increment was factored up by (I hope) a conservative value of 1.5.  This is a very rough estimate at best,  but it produced similar values to those I got for the rather similar pod design in reference 1.  So,  it should be “in the ballpark”.  Weights are in figure 2.  By themselves,  the pods are 50% fuel and 50% inerts.  There is plenty of inert margin to cover the recovery gear,  and the robustness for reusability. 

I used LCH4 density to size out the required ramjet fuel tank volume,  annular to the inlet duct as shown in figure 5.  This pod has the same translating-spike supersonic inlet that maintains shock-on-lip from Mach 1.5 takeover to staging at Mach 5.  These pods are mounted on each side of the payload core for supersonic body lift,  and sized for a tiny thrust margin over cluster drag at Mach 5.  I used the same circumferential fin stowage idea as in reference 1.   

The cluster configuration with the ramjet pods must fly hypersonically,  the same situation as in the reference 1 study.  Exposed fins have been minimized to reduce drag so that the ramjets can reach the desired speed.  The real problem is hypersonic aeroheating,  most especially the extreme localized heating from shock wave impingement upon adjacent structures,  which is inherent in cluster vehicle designs.  The choice of Mach 5 or 6 makes little difference,  both are extreme conditions.  There will need to be tough ablative replaceable panels located in the impingement zones,  to act as sacrificial protection against the damage the shock waves will do otherwise.

I also used the same biplane swivel-stowed wing idea as in reference 1,  so that these pods can return to launch site and land,  as indicated in figure 1.    Pods like this have very little power-on drag,  that being only skin friction plus some cowl lip pressure drag.  That is how a cluster vehicle can be pushed to Mach 5 or 6,  even in the thinner air at 60,000 feet.  The key is cutting payload core drag to a minimum,  and then sizing ramjet pod diameters large enough to push it to the speed needed.  Pod landing speed is under 100 KCAS,  without any high-lift devices.   

These strap-on ramjet pods have ejectable booster nozzles,  but no solid-propellant integral boosters,  unlike those in reference 1,  otherwise the basic design approach is identical.  The idea here was to use the ramjet chambers as the takeoff liquid-propellant rocket booster engines,  on the theory that the ejectable nozzles at a (guessed) 100 lb each would be lighter than yet another set of rocket engines of rather large thrust for fast takeoff and climb acceleration. 

Thus,  the takeoff "rocket" booster need only be a large wing and propellant tankage,  plus landing gear and a small fanjet engine to help it return to launch site for landing.  This is the very first flight segment shown in figure 1.  The takeoff booster package is shown in figure 6.  It has a delta wing big enough for under-100 KCAS landing without high-lift devices,  yet with a leading edge sweep for min drag at Mach 1.5,  even with a subsonic wing airfoil section. 

This configuration has a practical takeoff speed at full gross weight of about 200 KCAS (which sized the wing area),  similar to a very high-performance fighter.  But,  it would be way too draggy to fly under anything but massive rocket thrust,  at speeds above Mach 1.5.  That’s why I staged-off both the wing and the boost propellant at ramjet takeover,  and then made them into a single component for easier recovery. 

This takeoff booster is positioned underneath the rocket core and ramjet strap-ons,  as indicated in figure 2,  such that centers of gravity and pressure match up longitudinally.  The wing is high-mounted,  with a low-mounted horizontal tail that has twin vertical fins.    The takeoff booster propellant is in the fuselage,  and is pumped up to the ramjet strap-on pods,  where it is burned at high thrust.  Ejectable nozzles are sized for optimal sea-level expansion from 1000 psia.  Note from figure 6 the lower Isp than that for the near-vacuum engines in the spaceplane (figure 3) and booster rocket stage (figure 4). 

This takeoff booster turns after staging off,  decelerating subsonic,  and travels back to landing at the launch point by means of a small fanjet inside the tail cone,  “with a big flush inlet” not sized here.  That fanjet could burn LCH4 residuals,  but it is probably just as easy to include some jet fuel for this. 

The takeoff cluster is rather draggy,  so I used factor 1.5 as a (hopefully) conservative way to address the velocity increment indicated from the trajectory.  This went into a simple rocket equation estimate for mass ratio.  Weights are in figure 2.  The takeoff booster by itself is 60% propellants and 40% inerts,  not too unlike transport and bomber aircraft. 

Concluding Remarks

These are “ballpark” results only,  and provide only a “realistic” startpoint for more traceable back-of-the-envelope estimating methods,  which would in turn be the startpoint for trajectory-code models. 

Payload fractions for the delivered persons and luggage,  and for the dry-tank spaceplane,  are also shown in figure 2.  These are remarkably good,  considering that every component is intended to be high-lifetime reusable. 

Ramjet assist evidently “bought” the weight allowances necessary for reusability,  at no increase in launch weight,  looking at the spaceplane-as-payload 3.72% of launch weight case. 

I did not adjust the weight statements for the ejecta lost as ramjet takeover obtains (maybe 500-600 lb covering eject nozzles and frangible-glass port covers).  At this level of analysis,  those are “lost in the uncertainty”. 

I did not include any propellant allowance for deorbiting the spaceplane.  That actually could be done with attitude thrusters or a small solid propellant cartridge.  The size of those items is “lost in the uncertainty” at this level of analysis. 

I did not include any means in the spaceplane for go-around at landing,  or cross-range maneuvering during descent.  That is a serious safety and practicality lack,  and is probably a small but significant item at this level of analysis. 

These components are actually too slender,  an artifact of the assumed minimal credible diameter of 5 feet assumed for the spaceplane fuselage.  That diameter is consistent with serial seating of the 3 occupants.  Making that diameter larger would result in more realistic length/diameter ratios for all of the components. 


1 G. W. Johnson,  “Manned Launch to LEO Using Ramjet Missile Technology”,  article posted 11-3-2013,  on

2 Pratt and Whitney,  “Aeronautical Vest-Pocket Handbook”,  12th edition 21st printing,  December 1969.

Figure 1 – Basic Trajectory and Phases of Flight

Figure 2 – Configuration and Weight Statements

Figure 3 – Upper-Stage Spaceplane

Figure 4 – Rocket Booster Stage

Figure 5 – Ramjet Strap-On Pods

Figure 6 – Take-Off “Booster” (Wing and Propellant)