Tons of Chinese Rocket Debris Have Crashed into the Indian Ocean

The 25-ton core stage of a Long March 5B rocket “reentered Earth’s atmosphere over the Indian Ocean this afternoon,” reports Space.com, citing an announcement on Twitter from the U.S. Space Command.

Mission managers didn’t screw anything up; this end-of-life scenario is built into the Long March 5B’s design, to the consternation of exploration advocates and much of the broader spaceflight community. This disposal strategy is reckless, critics say, given that the big rocket doesn’t burn up completely upon reentry.

Indeed, 5.5 tons to 9.9 tons (5 to 9 metric tons) of the Long March 5B likely survived all the way to the ground today, experts with The Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Orbital Reentry and Debris Studies have estimated. And it’s possible that falling rocket chunks caused some injuries or infrastructure damage today, given where the Long March 5B reentered. One observer appeared to capture the rocket’s breakup from Kuching, in the Malaysian state of Sarawak, for example, posting video of the dramatic event on Twitter. “The video from Kuching implies it was high in the atmosphere at that time — any debris would land hundreds of km further along track, near Sibu, Bintulu or even Brunei,” astrophysicist and satellite tracker Jonathan McDowell, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said via Twitter today. It’s “unlikely but not impossible” that one or more chunks hit a population center, he added in another tweet….

“What really should have happened is, there should have been some fuel left on board for this to be a controlled reentry,” Darren McKnight, a senior technical fellow at the California-based tracking company LeoLabs, said Thursday (July 28) during a Long March 5B reentry discussion that The Aerospace Corporation livestreamed on Twitter. “That would be the responsible thing to do….”

This was the third uncontrolled fall for a Long March 5B core stage to date.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson also released a critical statement today pointing out that China “did not share specific trajectory information as their Long March 5B rocket fell back to Earth.”

All spacefaring nations should follow established best practices, and do their part to share this type of information in advance to allow reliable predictions of potential debris impact risk, especially for heavy-lift vehicles, like the Long March 5B, which carry a significant risk of loss of life and property.

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Boosters of US Climate Bill Included Clean Energy Companies, Nuclear Developers – and Bill Gates

A proposed $369 billion bill would have far-reaching impacts on America’s energy landscape — and in a wide variety of ways.
The Washington Post took a close look at its tightly targetted energy-industry tax subisidies. “The goal? To make new green energy production cheaper for utilities to build than fossil fuel plants are.” But others benefit too:

The bill contains numerous smaller measures aimed at specific parts of the economy with high emissions: $20 billion for agriculture subsidies to help farmers reduce emissions, $6 billion to reduce emissions in chemical, steel and cement plants, and $3 billion to reduce air pollution at ports.

Yet how do you convince a congressman from a coal-producing state? Politico explores what changed the mind of one of the legislation’s last hold-out votes and convinced West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin that “The next generation of clean tech needed Washington’s backing to take off.”

Brandon Dennison, CEO of the economic development organization Coalfield Development, said he’d argued that the legislation offered a way for the coal-producing region to “stay an energy state…. If we want to benefit from the investments and the jobs that are going to come with that transition, we need to be part of the proactive solutions and policies rather than constantly playing on defense.”

Jason Walsh, executive director of the BlueGreen Alliance, a coalition of labor and environmental groups, said several West Virginia companies pushed Manchin to back the credits as well — even suggesting failure to pass the bill imperiled their plans to invest in new operations. “There were folks who I can’t talk about who are directly involved in potentially developing clean energy manufacturing in the state of West Virginia where site visits had happened where all they needed was a set of investments,” Walsh said. “And that communication happened as well.”

A senior executive with a utility operating in Appalachia said that his company communicated with Manchin how aspects of the bill such as tax credits to build clean energy manufacturing plants at former coal sites and incentives for developing small nuclear reactors and hydrogen would help West Virginia’s economy.
“We know coal plants are ultimately going to close,” the executive said. “What is going to replace them? What are the jobs? What are we transitioning to? In this case, we are going to explore hydrogen, new nuclear and get manufacturing in the state.”

Form Energy, a battery storage startup backed by Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures and which has plans for a West Virginia manufacturing hub, walked Manchin’s staff through its growth trajectories with and without the proposed suite of legislative incentives, a person directly familiar with the interaction said. That person said Form Energy officials showed the differences on a graph. Its investors — including Gates — also called to assuage Manchin’s concerns over disbursing the tax credits to companies through a direct pay system rather than using tax equity markets.

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America’s ‘Transformative’ Climate Bill Would Fund EV Purchases – While Penalizing China

This week U.S. lawmakers drew closer to passing a $369 billion bill with wide-ranging climate provisions.

It helps U.S consumers buy electric vehicle chargers, rooftop solar panels, and fuel-efficient heat pumps. It extends energy-industry tax credits for wind, solar and other renewable energy sources — and for carbon capture technology. In fact, most of its impact is accomplished through tax credits, reports the New York Times, “viewed as one of the least expensive ways to reduce carbon emissions.

“The benefits are worth four times their cost, according to calculations by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago.” One example is ending an eligibility cap on the $7,500 tax credit for consumers buying electric vehicles:

Currently, the credits are phased out after a manufacturer has sold 200,000 electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles. Restoring the credits would be huge for Tesla and General Motors, which have used up their quotas, as well as companies like Ford Motor and Toyota that will soon lose access to the credits. The new tax credit, available through 2032, would make vehicles from those companies more affordable and address criticism that only rich people can afford electric cars…

As it exists, the 200,000-vehicle cap on tax credits would provide a competitive advantage to market newcomers like BYD of China that are expected to use electric vehicles to enter the U.S. market. They could have benefited from the credit while Tesla, the Texas-based company, could not. The Democratic climate legislation would flip that. As written, the bill appears to disqualify cars not made in North America from the credit. Cars made in North America by foreign companies like Mercedes-Benz, Toyota or Volvo would qualify, but imported models would not.

In fact, the 725-page legislation also includes “a strong dose of industrial policy,” with several provisions that “appear designed to undermine China’s hold over the electric vehicle supply chain… It favors companies that get their components and raw materials from the United States or its allies, while effectively excluding China.”

“I think it is absolutely a transformative bill,” said Leah Stokes, an associate professor of political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who specializes in energy and climate change…

Cars would qualify for the full credit only if their batteries were made with materials and components from the United States and countries with which it has trade agreements. The percentage of components that have to meet those restrictions to qualify for the credit would increase over time, under the bill. That provision is aimed at encouraging domestic development of businesses like lithium mining and refining.

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Study Finds Wikipedia Influences Judicial Behavior

A new study attempts to measure how knowledge gleaned from Wikipedia may play out in one specific realm: the courts. MIT News reports: A team of researchers led by Neil Thompson, a research scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), recently came up with a friendly experiment: creating new legal Wikipedia articles to examine how they affect the legal decisions of judges. They set off by developing over 150 new Wikipedia articles on Irish Supreme Court decisions, written by law students. Half of these were randomly chosen to be uploaded online, where they could be used by judges, clerks, lawyers, and so on — the “treatment” group. The other half were kept offline, and this second group of cases provided the counterfactual basis of what would happen to a case absent a Wikipedia article about it (the “control”). They then looked at two measures: whether the cases were more likely to be cited as precedents by subsequent judicial decisions, and whether the argumentation in court judgments echoed the linguistic content of the new Wikipedia pages.

It turned out the published articles tipped the scales: Getting a public Wikipedia article increased a case’s citations by more than 20 percent. The increase was statistically significant, and the effect was particularly strong for cases that supported the argument the citing judge was making in their decision (but not the converse). Unsurprisingly, the increase was bigger for citations by lower courts — the High Court — and mostly absent for citations by appellate courts — the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal. The researchers suspect this is showing that Wikipedia is used more by judges or clerks who have a heavier workload, for whom the convenience of Wikipedia offers a greater attraction.
“To our knowledge, this is the first randomized field experiment that investigates the influence of legal sources on judicial behavior. And because randomized experiments are the gold standard for this type of research, we know the effect we are seeing is causation, not just correlation,” says Thompson, the lead author of the study. “The fact that we wrote up all these cases, but the only ones that ended up on Wikipedia were those that won the proverbial ‘coin flip,’ allows us to show that Wikipedia is influencing both what judges cite and how they write up their decisions.”

“Our results also highlight an important public policy issue,” Thompson adds. “With a source that is as widely used as Wikipedia, we want to make sure we are building institutions to ensure that the information is of the highest quality. The finding that judges or their staffs are using Wikipedia is a much bigger worry if the information they find there isn’t reliable.”

The paper describing the study has been published in ” The Cambridge Handbook of Experimental Jurisprudence.”

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