A diplomatic row entirely up in the air

F-22 fighters screaming after Chinese spy gizmos is the stuff of James Bond movies – yet it happened over Montana this week. Canada and the US are complaining about a monitoring balloon the Middle Kingdom recently floated over North America, prompting public concern as it was spotted by skywatchers and storm chasers in western Canada, then across the central US from Montana to Missouri and on to points southeast.

As Chinese observation platforms are not totally unprecedented in American skies, this is not a Sputnik moment by itself, though it’s ill-timed at best. Tensions with China have been raised recently over a range of issues, and just last week, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists edged The Doomsday Clock 10 seconds closer to Midnight.

The device appears to be solar powered, with a significant amount of line control and levelling equipment to stabilize the observation platform. Save for the giant balloon hoisting it up, it looks somewhat like a scale model of the International Space Station – or, more aptly, like a Google Loon. Loon made huge strides in stationkeeping free-flying balloons in hopes they could replace cell towers, but their position could only be reliable for hours, maybe days, at best. The number of natural disasters where the tech was really useful were too uncommon to keep the system in commercial use.

Stratospheric balloons are also commonly used in weather research. However, there’s two main organizations that use these balloons – weather offices that have a budget, and universities that don’t. In the latter case, they want to get their equipment back so badly, there is always a chase afoot for the balloon on the ground, tracking APRS feeds and mapping its location in real time, right up to landing.

See also: Wyoming balloon reaches 28 km

Though spies in the sky might be worrisome, there is some precedent for adversarial overflight. In 2020 and 2021 the US and Russia withdrew (China never participated) from the Treaty on Open Skies, which was one of the hallmark agreements for post-Cold War de-escalation. The agreement promoted security stability by allowing member states to observe each others’ defence capabilities. The idea was that by keeping more military details in plain sight, there would be less need for all parties to overspend and overdeploy military equipment against unknown threats.

On the other hand, the balloon does pose a more mundane risk: it’s a hazard to navigation. Though since the demise of Concorde, commercial jets aren’t typically seen above FL450, for safety’s sake, Class A controlled airspace still extends to FL600, which is about the altitude where the Chinese balloon has been spotted. Flying in Class A airspace without ATC clearance, a radar transponder, and/or ADSB is an easy way to lose your pilot’s licence.

Coronavirus information

FiveThirtyEight has published an excellent summary of what every person needs to know about COVID-19, which is updated frequently.

Vaccines are widely available in the US and Canada for walk-in service at medical providers and pharmacies. Many areas are still operating dedicated immunization clinics. Vaccines are safe and effective, including against the omicron variant of concern. Vaccines are now available for all age groups.

As of June 2022, travel restrictions have largely ended for travellers with up-to-date vaccinations. Be ready to show proof of vaccination when crossing national borders. Canada also requires use of the ArriveCAN app or website.

Continue reading “Coronavirus information”

Morning lunar eclipse

The Total Lunar Eclipse of 26 May 2021; lighter areas saw more of the eclipse. (NASA GSFC)

A lunar eclipse greeted early risers on 26 May 2021. Earth’s shadow totally covered the moon for a few minutes at about 1119 UT. This was about the time the moon was setting over North America, and was after sunrise in the far north of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Goddard Spaceflight Center’s eclipse page is always an excellent resource to plan future eclipse viewing.

August 2020 aviation safety roundup

Here is a list of recent aviation safety incidents in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and northwest Ontario that were reported to the Transportation Safety Board through 15 August 2020:

17 Jul 2020 – C-FHBS gear up landing at Olds-Didsbury AB
17 Jul 2020 – C-GDUK load jettison near Slave Lake AB
18 Jul 2020 – C-GUSD emergency landing near Winnipeg-St.Andrews
21 Jul 2020 – C-FFVS load jettison north of Red Lake ON
21 Jul 2020 – C-FVIY landing gear issue at Lethbridge
21 Jul 2020 – C-GQNS wire strike at Medstead SK
23 Jul 2020 – C-GRGO equipment failure near Calgary
24 Jul 2020 – C-FBRG damaged on landing at Chapleau ON
27 Jul 2020 – C-GEDF damaged on takeoff near Calmar AB
28 Jul 2020 – N370JA, N53134 loss of separation at Fort McMurray
29 Jul 2020 – AMT200 gear up landing at Regina
30 Jul 2020 – Learjet bird strike on takeoff at Thunder Bay
31 Jul 2020 – C-GKGA cowling separation incident at Regina
01 Aug 2020 – C-FSCT damaged on landing near Sault Ste. Marie ON
04 Aug 2020 – C-FCJZ icing incident at Regina
04 Aug 2020 – C-FHZB damaged on landing at Springbank AB
04 Aug 2020 – C-FSPN control issues at Leaf Rapids ON
04 Aug 2020 – C-GKIB damaged on landing at CFR7 (AB)
08 Aug 2020 – C-GQIF fuel spill at Estevan
11 Aug 2020 – C-FAJR hit by drone at Winnipeg-St.Andrews

Here is a list of recent aviation safety incidents in the Dakotas, Iowa, upper and western Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, as reported to the Federal Aviation Administration through 14 August 2020:

17 Jul 2020 – N1962N damaged on landing at Osceola WI
20 Jul 2020 – N47T gear up landing at Burlington WI
20 Jul 2020 – N570WH wire strike near Dickeyville WI
21 Jul 2020 – N208MP damaged on landing at Thompson Falls MT
21 Jul 2020 – N2943C damaged on landing at Cambridge MN
25 Jul 2020 – N327WB crashed near Imperial NE
25 Jul 2020 – N502KJ fatal crash near Grant NE
27 Jul 2020 – N9278G emergency landing at Hartington NE
27 Jul 2020 – N53163 fatal crash near Corsica SD
27 Jul 2020 – N570WH collision on landing at Dakota WI
27 Jul 2020 – N771GB emergency landing at Hebron NE
29 Jul 2020 – N22709 emergency landing near Watertown SD
30 Jul 2020 – N4388T emergency landing near Powell WY
30 Jul 2020 – N337V fatal crash in Madison County MT
31 Jul 2020 – N16810 wire strike at Hubbard NE
01 Aug 2020 – N58B emergency landing near Helena
03 Aug 2020 – N45303 downdraft crash near Jackson Hole
03 Aug 2020 – N185GK runway excursion on landing at Kalispell
03 Aug 2020 – N67CD gear up landing at Sioux City
08 Aug 2020 – N5580W runway excursion on landing at Sparta WI
09 Aug 2020 – N89LA crashed near Logan IA
09 Aug 2020 – N6849B crashed in residential area near Burlington WI
10 Aug 2020 – N298WY crashed near Grover WY
12 Aug 2020 – N6299R emergency landing at Mosinee WI

Minotaur IV launch from Wallops

In a relatively peaceful use for a decommissioned ballistic missile, a Minotaur IV rocket carried the US National Reconnaissance Office L-129 mission from Wallops Island 15 July 2020 1346 UT. The mission included four discrete satellites. The carrier rocket, the four-stage version of Minotaur, is based on an old Peacekeeper missile, a type previously deployed in Wyoming, topped with an Orion solid upper stage similar to the one used for Antares rockets.

GPS flies and Beidou goes global last fortnight

The Long March 3B launch from Xichang on 23 Jun 2020 0143 UT, was covered live on television, unusual for a launch in China. The flight completed the Beidou-3 global satellite navigation constellation. (Xinhua)

Orbital news
23 Jun 2020 0143 UT – Xichang CZ-3B Beidou Navigation

Continue reading “GPS flies and Beidou goes global last fortnight”

Oceanography satellite launched this week

Long March 2C carries Haiyang-2D to orbit from Taiyuan, 10 Jun 2020 1831 UT. (Weibo)

Orbital news
10 Jun 2020 1831 UT – Taiyuan CZ-2C Haiyang-1D ocean EOS

Regional news
05 Jun 2020 – Alec Habig (U Minnesota Duluth) featured by Minnesota Space Grant
05 Jun 2020 – CBP doesn’t say who asked for drone over Minneapolis
05 Jun 2020 – Tom Pringle (North Dakota SU) part of team that built quantum dots with ordinary silicon
06 Jun 2020 – Alec Lovlein (U Utah) featured by Minnesota Space Grant
07 Jun 2020 – N44MX fatal crash at Sioux Falls Airport
07 Jun 2020 – N595KF fatal crash at Frye Lake WY
07 Jun 2020 – N827WS lands in cornfield near Marshall MI
08 Jun 2020 – Demoz Gebre-Egziabher (U Minnesota) updated by Minnesota Space Grant
08 Jun 2020 – N88ZT lands near campground in Bristol WI
09 Jun 2020 – 4.0 earthquake near High Prairie AB
09 Jun 2020 – Aerial photos of Twin Cities damage
09 Jun 2020 – Disease suspected in Lake Winnipeg fish kill
09 Jun 2020 – N2681D gear damage at Aitkin MN airport
09 Jun 2020 – Ravi Tutika (Iowa SU) embeds liquid metal into stretchy composites
09 Jun 2020 – Reminder about space weather risks to power grid
10 Jun 2020 – Feature on Lucean Arthur Headen, Chicago aviator and engineer
10 Jun 2020 – Iowa SU ag-bio lab builds plastic shields for classroom desks
10 Jun 2020 – UW MadScience blog joins 10 June 2020 day of action
11 Jun 2020 – Bell Canada deploys 5G network in Calgary and Edmonton

Further news
05 Jun 2020 – Interactive: ESA dashboard shows environmental changes from COVID
05 Jun 2020 – 2500 out at Bombardier, days after CRJ program sold off
05 Jun 2020 – AAC Clyde Space will bring solar power to all-UK launches
05 Jun 2020 – Canadian moon rover on the drawing board
05 Jun 2020 – China newspace firms test engines
05 Jun 2020 – JAXA will support tests of ALE J-SPARC electrodynamic deorbit system
05 Jun 2020 – Martian mole back underground
05 Jun 2020 – Northrop Grumman to make Lunar Gateway Crew Cabin
05 Jun 2020 – SpaceX progress swift on new test stand, SN5 prototype
07 Jun 2020 – Parker Solar Probe passes fifth perihelion
08 Jun 2020 – Black Lives Matter statement seen by earth-imaging satellite
08 Jun 2020 – Feature: How to stock the medicine cabinet for Mars
08 Jun 2020 – Kathy Sullivan first woman to explore Challenger Deep
08 Jun 2020 – Minnesota’s Northwest Angle cut off by COVID
08 Jun 2020 – NASA astronaut Victor Glover speaks mind on recent issues
08 Jun 2020 – ULA Vulcan rocket first flight sets lunar trajectory
09 Jun 2020 – Cosmonauts play to draw with chessmaster Sergei Karyakin
09 Jun 2020 – DM-2 crew expected back on Earth in August
09 Jun 2020 – SpaceX abandons plan for 3rd Starship plant in Los Angeles
09 Jun 2020 – Spain-built iSIM-170 EOS camera celebrated with royal call to ISS
10 Jun 2020 – Blood clot scans now standard for ISS crew
10 Jun 2020 – Canada weighs Artemis treaty
10 Jun 2020 – ESA featured image is Irish Cubesat
10 Jun 2020 – FCC will allow LEO constellations to bid for rural broadband funds
10 Jun 2020 – JWST delayed past March 2021
10 Jun 2020 – Mahia Electron weather scrub
11 Jun 2020 – Algoma U will keep campus closed for Fall semester
11 Jun 2020 – Astrobotic selected to deliver VIPER lunar rover
11 Jun 2020 – DHS seeks public comment on drone uses
11 Jun 2020 – Feature on NASA extern program for NFL players
11 Jun 2020 – ISS crew isolates airflow to find benzene leak
11 Jun 2020 – Perseverance rover will launch three days late

COVID-19 matters
05 Jun 2020 – Duluth hospitals mark one week COVID free
05 Jun 2020 – SaskTel, SaskPower to reopen offices soon
05 Jun 2020 – SK labs put COVID test kits on trial, to find most useful immunity measure
05 Jun 2020 – U Minnesota will resume onsite classes this fall
06 Jun 2020 – Ontario extends COVID emergency through 19 Jun
06 Jun 2020 – Outbreak in Austin MN; 200 food workers test positive
07 Jun 2020 – Brazil drops key COVID statistic
07 Jun 2020 – Marny Xiong, St. Paul school board, dead at 31 from COVID
08 Jun 2020 – New Zealand declares victory over virus
08 Jun 2020 – Recent flights to Saskatoon carried COVID
08 Jun 2020 – Saskatchewan allows indoor service at restaurants
08 Jun 2020 – Travel allowed to northern SK as COVID recedes
09 Jun 2020 – You can still catch COVID from someone without symptoms
10 Jun 2020 – Canada-U.S. border closure will be extended again
10 Jun 2020 – Effort to reopen Minnesota courts leads to new COVID cases
10 Jun 2020 – Mall of America opens about 1/3 of stores
10 Jun 2020 – Minnesota Governor, Lt. Governor, get new COVID tests
10 Jun 2020 – Minnesota reopens restaurants
10 Jun 2020 – Ontario Premier, Deputy, Education Minister exposed to COVID
10 Jun 2020 – Sudbury Airport exec talks about travel safety
10 Jun 2020 – Thunder Bay hospital looking at one-year backlog
10 Jun 2020 – United Airlines adds COVID questions to check-in process
11 Jun 2020 – Continued concerns in meat supply chain
11 Jun 2020 – Delta continues staff cuts, rolls out COVID tests at MSP
11 Jun 2020 – SAIT lab makes and donates face shields

CNSA flight tests two next-gen spacecraft this week

A Long March 5B rocket carries the Next Generation Crew Vehicle from Wenchang, 5 May 2020. (Weibo)

Orbital news
20200505 1000 UT – Wenchang CZ-5B NextGen Crew Test Flight
20200507 – CNSA ‘umbrella’ cargo reentry test failed; crew capsule healthy

Regional news
04 May 2020 – Laser strikes Saskatoon plane
04 May 2020 – WY firm Frontier Astronautics gets NASA funds for hybrid rocket pump
07 May 2020 – U Colorado-Boulder gets funds for GLEE LunaSat

Further news
01 May 2020 – Telesat LEO schedule slips, satellite supplier not even settled
01 May 2020 – Astronauts ready to fly Crew Dragon DM-2
03 May 2020 – Crew Dragon succeeds at final parachute test
05 May 2020 – Tom Cruise, SpaceX plan a film on the ISS
05 May 2020 – Virgin Galactic deal will study suborbital passenger flights
05 May 2020 – NASA, Space Force to take asteroid defence measures
06 May 2020 – Failed LAN firewall on ISS replaced
06 May 2020 – Starship SN4 fires engine at Boca China test stand

COVID-19 matters
01 May 2020 – Outbreak at Calgary Amazon warehouse
01 May 2020 – Manitoba Museum lays off 40, closes
01 May 2020 – NIH slashes COVID research funding
02 May 2020 – U Minnesota epidemiologist says pandemic COVID may last 2 years
04 May 2020 – Canadian provinces relax COVID restrictions
04 May 2020 – Meat plants partially reopen
04 May 2020 – ND fab plants enhance COVID measures after LM outbreak
04 May 2020 – U Manitoba researcher talks hospital website privacy risks
05 May 2020 – Alberta meat inspectors demand another plant close
05 May 2020 – U Manitoba med student makes soft, reusable silicone facemasks
06 May 2020 – Massive compost effort in Worthington as food waste piles up
06 May 2020 – North Dakota SU students process COVID tests
06 May 2020 – Outbreak at Saskatoon milk plant
06 May 2020 – Outbreak at Calgary grocery store
07 May 2020 – COVID closes La Loche SK grocer
07 May 2020 – Buried CDC reopen guide sees light of day

Earthquake disrupts Salt Lake City airport

On 18 March 2020 at 13:09:31 UT, an earthquake damaged Salt Lake City International Airport, and threw air traffic in the Mountain States into further disarray. The 5.7 magnitude wobbler and its aftershocks made the Delta Airlines hub temporarily unusable, though the airport resumed limited operations after several hours.

Most airports in South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming that rely on the Salt Lake City hub still have a flight to another Delta hub. Casper and Cody don’t, but are also served by United out of Denver. Butte’s only scheduled passenger flights are to Salt Lake City.