Updates from the week ending Sunday, November 21st
This summary is generally published every Monday, and is a list of SL viewer / client releases (official and TPV) made during the previous week. When reading it, please note:
It is based on my Current Viewer Releases Page, a list of all Second Life viewers and clients that are in popular use (and of which I am aware), and which are recognised as adhering to the TPV Policy. This page includes comprehensive links to download pages, blog notes, release notes, etc., as well as links to any / all reviews of specific viewers / clients made within this blog.
By its nature, this summary presented here will always be in arrears, please refer to the Current Viewer Release Page for more up-to-date information.
Note that for purposes of length, TPV test viewers, preview / beta viewers / nightly builds are generally not recorded in these summaries.
Official LL Viewers
Release viewer: version version 22.214.171.1245607, formerly the Maintenance RC and dated November 10, promoted November 15 – this viewer now contains a fix for the media issues caused by the Apple Notarisation viewer.
Not long after the start of the year, I dropped in to Skrunda-2, the recreation of a Soviet-era town called “Skrunda-1” in Latvia. Designed by Titus Palmira, Sofie Janic and Megan Prumier, the region was a visit I very much enjoyed, so when Lien (Lien Lowe) dropped me the LM for the second iteration of the build – called Skrunda-3 -, I knew I’d have to drop back in and have a look around.
For those who have not visited previously, allow me to provide a little history to help frame this build: in the 1960s Russia established a radar facility some 5 kilometres from the Latvian regional centre of Skrunda as the home of two Hen House (Russian system name Destnr) first generation space surveillance / early warning radar systems. Its position within the Baltic state meant it was of major strategic importance to the Soviet military, having an uninterrupted view of airspace over the Western Hemisphere so it could “see” NATO / US space-based activities like missile launches. In fact, it was one of only two such facilities Russia constructed for this purpose in the 1960s, the other being near Murmansk, provide a view over the Arctic and north pole towards the United States.
Such was this strategic importance, that the radar station grew an entire town around it, supporting some 5,000 personnel and their families at its peak, offering them all the amenities they might expect: swimming pool, theatre, a school, and so on, and well as “Soviet typical” apartment blocks and more – including dedicated electrical power generation and water supply system, enabling it (again, in typical Soviet style) to be entirely self-contained.
As a military installation, Skrunda-1 served its purpose through to the 1980s, with the radar systems being upgraded over time, until the decision was made to use the site as the location for three state-of-the-art radar systems that would have been ready to start operations in the 1990s, however, the collapse of the Soviet Union meant that the new facilities were never completed. Instead, in the post-Soviet era, Russia reached an agreement with the Latvian authorities to continue to run the Destnr radars through until 1998, after which they had to dismantle them and withdraw from Lativa before the end of 1999 – which they did.
What was left behind became a ghost town, most of the buildings stripped bare but left standing, roads all in place – and something for the Latvian authorities to deal with. During the next 15 years, the town was left to nature’s ways, despite attempts to sell the land for redevelopment, around half of the land eventually being converted into a training ground for the Latvian national armed forces, although much of the deserted town still remains.
It is in this deserted, overgrown state that Skrunda-3 is offered – as was the case with Skrunda-2. However, whilst that version placed us fairly squarely within the residential parts of the town, this iteration offers more the the “business end” of the town and an iteration perhaps more rooted in the imagination of the builders. I say this because as far as I’m aware (and based on admittedly minimal research), Skrunda-1 was built far enough inland it does not have any form of deep water port, however, Skrunda-3 features an significant dockland area. expanding on a waterfront area found within Skrunda-2.
This is something that gives the region a unique flavour unto itself, and presents a feature that makes up from the absence of any radar facilities the Russians took with them when they left and in all likelihood, a more interesting environment to explore than a load of military blockhouses. To further offer a sense of continuation from Skrunda-2, this build also has some of the apartment blocks tucked to one side, suggesting that were we to walk beyond them, we’d find ourselves within the previous iteration of the design.
As with Shrunda-2, there is a lot of small details to be found within this build that make it something of a work of art in itself, from the graffiti on walls to the placement of the abandoned vehicles to the suggestions that either the town was deserted in a manner that saw possessions left behind, or that it has at times been used as a home by the dispossessed.
Where the former is concerned, there is a sense of family and abandonment within buildings and rooms; with the latter, there is a sense of loneliness and a feeling that despite those hidden souls who may have been forced to live among the deserted buildings have formed a community: within an open space, a stage for live music has been put together, completed with a battered – but presumably still tuneful – upright piano. A short distance away, a warehouse building has been converted into an art gallery, displaying images captured from within Skrunda-2. And over all of this, someone has even managed to restore electrical power, adding a further twist to the idea that whilst abandoned, the town enjoys a secret life.
Payment of L$150 brings visitors rezzing rights, allowing for photographic props and poses to be used, adding to the photogenic nature for the setting, while the supplied sound scape helps to give further depth to explorations.
Standing with echoes of Skrunda-2, and sharing a common historical heritage, Skrunda-3 is nevertheless entirely unique in its presentation and design, making it a further ideal visitor for the Second Life traveller.
Anyone who follows news on space activities will be aware that on November 15th, Russia carried out the test of an anti-satellite(ASAT) missile system that resulted in the destruction of a defunct Soviet-era electronic signals intelligence (ELINT) satellite – and required the crew of the International Space Station (ISS) to move to their respective Earth return vehicles (Soyuz MS-19 and Crew Dragon Endurance) due to risk of being hit by the debris.
To be clear, ASAT systems are not new. The United States and Russia (/the Soviet Union) have between them spent decades developing and testing such systems (the last successful US test was in 2006, with both the USAF and USN having significant ASAT capabilities), and China and India have also demonstrated ASAT systems as deliberate demonstrations of force.
However, the November 15th test by Russia was somewhat different. Occupying a polar orbit at an average altitude of around 470 km, the 2.2 tonne Kosmos 1408 as both a substantial target risking a massive debris cloud, and routinely “passed over” the orbit of the ISS (ave 420 km), putting it at clear risk. Nor did Russia give any forewarning of the test.
Instead, the US Space Command only became aware of what had happened after they tracked the missile launch all the way to impact – and then started tracking the cloud of debris. This presented no danger to the ISS in its first orbit, but tracking showed it was a very define threat to the station on its 2nd and 3rd orbits, prompting mission controllers to order the ISS crew to start shutting down non-essential operations and sealing-off hatches between the various science modules.
Some 15 minutes before the second pass of the debris field across the station’s orbit, controllers called the station to order the US / European astronauts in the “US section” of the station to secure all remaining hatches to minimise the risk of explosive decompression in the event of a hit, and evacuate to Crew Dragon Endurance both in case an emergency undock was required, and because it presented a significantly smaller target for any stray debris travelling at 28,000 km. The controllers also noted the Russia cosmonauts on the station were engaged in similar actions, and would be retiring to their Soyuz MS-19 vehicle.
In all, the crews were restricted to their Earth return vehicles for somewhere in the region of 3-3.5 hours before it was considered the most significant risk of and impacts had for the most part passed. Even so, it was not until November 17th that all hatches on the ISS were unsealed to allow normal operations to resume throughout all modules. Currently, NASA is still monitoring the situation and may postpone a spacewalk planned for November 30th as a result of the debris risk.
Ironically, on November 11th, the ISS had to raise its orbit somewhat using the thrust from a docked Progress re-supply vehicle in order to completely remove the risk of debris from 2007 Chinese ASAT weapon test striking it, 14 years after the test.
Following the test, Russia attempted to play down the risk, stating it posed “no threat” to other orbital vehicle, crewed or uncrewed – a less than accurate statement. Analysis of the debris cloud by both US Space Command and civilian debris tracking organisations reveals much of the cloud will remain a threat for the next several years – if not decades – as the convoluted nature of orbital mechanics and impact velocity gradually increases the cloud’s orbital altitude for a time as it continues to disperse, putting satellites in higher orbits at risk – particularly the likes of the SpaceX Starlink and the OneWeb constellations.
Russia has demonstrated a deliberate disregard for the security, safety, stability, and long-term sustainability of the space domain for all nations. The debris created by Russia’s DA-ASAT will continue to pose a threat to activities in outer space for years to come, putting satellites and space missions at risk, as well as forcing more collision avoidance manoeuvres.
– U.S. Army General James Dickinson, Space Command.
Some 1500 individual pieces of debris from the test are of a trackable size, with potentially tens of thousands more that are too small to be identified. Tim Flohrer, head of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Space Debris Office noted that the test means that debris avoidance manoeuvres made by satellites in the 400-500 km orbit range may increase by as much as 100% for the next couple of years before the threat is sufficiently dissipated. One of the biggest risks posed by this kind of action is the Kessler Effect (or Kessler Syndrome), wherein debris from one impact causes a second impact, generating more debris, and so setting off a chain reaction.
Given its size and orbit, there is simply no way Russia was unaware of the threat posed by Kosmos 1408 to low-orbit vehicles – particularly crewed vehicles and facilities – if the test was successful. As such, some have seen it as irresponsible due to the impact it could have on general orbital space operations, while others see it as a sign of aggressive intent on Vladimir Putin’s part.
Currently, Russia has not indicated as to whether this was a one-off incident (a previous test in 2020 missed its target), as has been the case in the US, Chinese and Indian tests, or if it could be a part of a wide series of tests. If the latter, then international relationships are liable to be further strained.
NASA OIG: No Moon Landing Before 2026
Following NASA’s indication that the first Artemis lunar laying won’t come “earlier” that 2025, the agency’s own Office of Inspector General (OIG) has thrown a bucket of realism over the entire project, pretty much confirming comments made in this blog concerning vehicle development timelines, whilst also questioning the sustainability of the programme.
Having carried out an extensive audit of the programme, OIG has issued a 73-page report which critiques the current Artemis programme and time frames, although it can only offer suggestions on what might be done, not instigated changes.
It terms of the development of the Human Landing System (HLS), required to get crews to / from the surface of the Moon, the report follows what has been noted in Space Sunday: the 4-year development time frame is simply unrealistic. In particular, the report notes that even in partnerships such as the Commercial Crew Programme, NASA tends to require around 8.5 years to develop a new spaceflight capability – more than double that allocated for HLS (in fact, NASA / SpaceX believed Crew Dragon could be developed and ready for operation in 6 years – it took 10). It also indicates that while a reliance on a single vehicle design / contractors (currently SpaceX) reduces costs, it also places further risk on the entire programme time fame and operations.
Further, the OIG report states that realistically, the first flight of the first Space Launch System (SLS) rocket is unlikely to take place until mid-2022; somewhat later than NASA is still projecting (early 2022). It goes on to point of that given the delays on Artemis 1, it is unlikely that the Artemis 2 mission scheduled for 2023 and which will fly a crew around the Moon and back to Earth in a manner akin to Apollo 8 is unlikely to be ready until mid-2024, simply because NASA plan to re-use elements from the Artemis 1 Orion vehicle in the Artemis 2 Orion, and these will need a comprehensive post-flight examination and refurbishment.
Beyond this, the report also raises concerns whether the space suit required for lunar operations – the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU) – will actually be ready for operations in 2025, issues in technical development, and in NASA flip-flopping between in-house and commercial contract development of the suit being pointed to as reasons for the delays.
The biggest critique in the report, however, is related to costs. The OIG report notes that at current levels of expenditure, Artemis will cost US $93 billion by 2025/26, with the first four Artemis SLS / Orion launches (Artemis 1 through 4) alone costing US $4.1 each – and this estimate does not include the development of the actual HLS system or the costs to launch / operate it.
To reduce these costs, OIG suggests looking to alternate launch vehicles to deliver crews to lunar orbit, but NASA management has already rejected such ideas and had refuted OIG’s cost analysis and call for most closely accounting for expenditure. However, it has accepted the report’s other concerns; although it will take time to see if this translates into any form of re-assessment of the programme as a whole.