Update: Facebook will place React.js and several other programs under the straight BSD license.
[My apologies to the ReactOS project, which I named in the first version of this article. The software in question is React.js]
Recently the Apache project banned React.js, a Facebook project, from inclusion in Apache projects. The ban is over a patent license which Facebook issued for React.js. This license should be of concern to companies that could now be using React.js, perhaps without even knowing it.
Without this grant in explicit text, there would still be a patent grant which is implicit in the BSD license. This arises from an equitable doctrine in law, you can’t grant a license and then “trick” the recipient by suing them for doing exactly what you gave them permission to do.
The problem is that Facebook has replaced the implicit grant with an explicit one with a “strong” retaliation clause. If a company uses React.js, they essentially give Facebook a license to their ENTIRE patent portfolio, no matter how large. Actually, they agree to forego to sue for infringement, but it’s essentially the same thing. Most companies would find this unacceptable. This is called a “strong retaliation clause”.
Facebook has gone to a version 2 of their patent grant text, but there is still the same problem with the breadth of the patent grant. Version 1 implicitly banned counter-suit after Facebook sued you, Verison 2 explicitly permits counter-suit.
What we usually do in the Open Source world, and what we find acceptable in Open Source licenses, is to limit the termination to lawsuits regarding patents exercised in that specific Open Source software. So, if Facebook were to state that if you sue anyone regarding your patent grants that are exercised in the React.js software, your license terminates, that would be OK. Indeed, Apache uses similar text in their own licenses. This is called a “weak retaliation clause.”
Of course, we in the Open Source world would rather that software patents went away entirely. I am joined in this sentiment by many of my industrial customers who have been the target of non-practicing-entities and other software patent abuses.
It’s my strong opinion that your company should avoid the Grsecurity product sold at grsecurity.net because it presents a contributory infringement and breach of contract risk.
Grsecurity is a patch for the Linux kernel which, it is claimed, improves its security. It is a derivative work of the Linux kernel which touches the kernel internals in many different places. It is inseparable from Linux and can not work without it. it would fail a fair-use test (obviously, ask offline if you don’t understand). Because of its strongly derivative nature of the kernel, it must be under the GPL version 2 license, or a license compatible with the GPL and with terms no more restrictive than the GPL. Earlier versions were distributed under GPL version 2.
Currently, Grsecurity is a commercial product and is distributed only to paying customers. Under their Stable Patch Access Agreement, customers are warned that if they redistribute the Grsecurity patch, as would be their right under the GPL, that they will be assessed a penalty: they will no longer be allowed to be customers, and will not be granted access to any further versions of Grsecurity. GPL version 2 section 6 explicitly prohibits the addition of terms such as this redistribution prohibition.
By operating under their policy of terminating customer relations upon distribution of their GPL-licensed software, Open Source Security Inc., the owner of Grsecurity, creates an expectation that the customer’s business will be damaged by losing access to support and later versions of the product, if that customer exercises their re-distribution right under the GPL license. Grsecurity’s Stable Patch Access Agreement adds a term to the GPL prohibiting distribution or creating a penalty for distribution. GPL section 6 specifically prohibits any addition of terms. Thus, the GPL license, which allows Grsecurity to create its derivative work of the Linux kernel, terminates, and the copyright of the Linux Kernel is infringed. The GPL does not apply when Grsecurity first ships the work to the customer, and thus the customer has paid for an unlicensed infringing derivative work of the Linux kernel developers with all rights reserved. The contract from the Linux kernel developers to both Grsecurity and the customer which is inherent in the GPL is breached.
As a customer, it’s my opinion that you would be subject to both contributory infringement and breach of contract by employing this product in conjunction with the Linux kernel under the no-redistribution policy currently employed by Grsecurity.
I have previously endorsed a company that distributes enhanced versions of GPL software to paying customers, but that company operated differently (and in a way that I would recommend to Grsecurity). They did not make any threat to customers regarding redistribution. They publicly distributed their commercial version within 9 months to one year after its customer-only distribution.
This other company was essentially receiving payment from its customers for the work of making new GPL software available to the public after a relatively short delay, and thus they were doing a public benefit and were, IMO, in compliance with the letter of GPL though perhaps not the spirit. In contrast, Grsecurity does no redeeming public service, and does not allow any redistribution of their Linux derivative, in direct contravention to the GPL terms.
In the public interest, I am willing to discuss this issue with companies and their legal counsel, under NDA, without charge.
I am an intellectual property and technology specialist who advises attorneys, not an attorney. This is my opinion and is offered as advice to your attorney. Please show this to him or her. Under the law of most states, your attorney who is contracted to you is the only party who can provide you with legal advice.
SpaceX has made a tremendous achievement in recovering 11 first stages so far, and recovering one after re-use. However, the re-use of the Dragon capsule during the CRS-11 mission was over-stated. What was re-used was the pressure vessel. This means that the craft from the CRS-4 mission was stripped down to its hull and then rebuilt. It’s essentially a new spacecraft built upon an old shell.
SpaceX is not able to re-use the capsule after it lands in salt water without this complete rebuild. Someday they may be able to achieve full reuse, when they can land the capsule on solid ground.
Update: At the ISS R&D conference, Elon Musk stated that the first capsule re-use cost as much as, or more than, a new Dragon capsule. Water intrusion was listed as one of the causes. All of this confirms what I previously stated. However, SpaceX has expressed that they may be able to prevent water intrusion in later flights, leading to a capsule that is more readily reusable.
At the same conference, Musk announced that non-parachute landings for Dragon 2 were being abandoned, so apparently there will be no ground landings. Apparently the original propelled landing design used legs protruding from the heat shield, and these were deemed unworkable.
Amateur electricians can get away with some mistakes at home that can be lethal when made while wiring an RV. Why? A recreational vehicle has the hot, neutral, and protective ground connections just like your home. But unlike your home, the RV has no permanent ground connection. When plugged into a generator, the RV and generator will often be isolated from ground, affording no protection from shock hazards. A proper generator setup connects ground and neutral at the generator and bonds them to a ground rod or other low-resistance connection to a real earth ground. But we know that most generator users have never done anything like that.
At an RV park or anywhere you plug your RV into electrical service, you can lose your proper protective ground connection because the ground pin breaks off of your RV’s plug, or a mis-wiring in your RV or the park’s wiring breaks the ground connection. But the park’s electrical system still has neutral and ground connected, while your RV doesn’t. The problem with this comes if some failure in your RV then causes a connection between the hot wire and what should be your ground connection. Rather than immediately blowing the circuit breaker, as it would in your home or a correctly-grounded RV, this situation creates “hot skin”. The metal shell of your RV is connected to lethal electric power. A person who walks up to your RV and touches it can then become the path of all of that power to ground, and can be electrocuted simply by brushing against your RV. Several people have died or have been severely injured from such situations. Children are especialy vulnerable. Imagine a child standing barefoot in wet grass and touching your RV. In a hot-skin situation, that child might die.
There are a few things you can do to protect against this. First, fit your RV with GFI or dual-function (GFI+AFCI) circuit breakers on all of the branch circuits, if it presently has the old non-GFI breakers. Second, use a “Power Management” device that protects you from mis-wiring, like those sold by Progressive Industries (http://www.progressiveindustries.net/). The right device will be listed to provide “Reverse Polarity Protection” and
“Open Ground Protection”. Not just surge protection! A surge protector alone won’t in general protect from grounding problems.
You’ll spend a few hundred dollars adding GFI breakers and a power-management system to your RV. But their protection from situations that can otherwise kill an innocent person is priceless.
Power management systems are more picky about the power provided to them than your RV or circuit breakers would be without them. They’ll insist on an adapter plug that provides a neutral-to-ground connection at your generator before they allow its power on-board. But they will protect from most grounding mistakes. Once in a while, they’ll refuse to connect power from a trailer park source that is mis-wired. You’ll need to take that up with the park when that happens.
NEVER wire any device to the ground wire when it should be connected to the neutral wire. Yes, it will appear to work correctly, but it can create hot skin if your RV ever does not get a proper ground connection at the plug.
Amateur electricians are often confused by grounding. I had one argue that a bulb connected from hot to ground could not create “hot skin”. He tested it himself and when he disconnected the ground pin, the bulb just went out! He just could not conceive that a bulb that had gone out could still conduct electricity if someone completed the circuit from his trailer to ground with their body. There was no way I could convince him. This guy may kill some innocent person someday with his incorrect wiring. Don’t be like him.
There’s been a lot of confusion about the recent Artifex v. Hancom case, in which the court found that the GPL was an enforceable contract. I’m going to try to explain the whole thing in clear terms for the legal layman.
Artifex is the current owner of the Ghostscript software. Ghostscript is an interpreter of the Postscript language, it renders Postscript and PDF to print and images, and it translates Postscript and PDF to a plethora of other file formats. Ghostscript was created by L Peter Deutsch (“L” is his first name, not an initial) known online as “Ghost”. Peter created the software in 1984 to be dual-licensed, in other words to have both an Open Source license (originally the Open-source-like Aladdin Free Public License, later the GPL) and a commercial license. Thus, Peter made Ghostscript available without charge for people who were using it in Free systems and were willing to share their modifications to it with him and the world, and he made it available for a fee to companies that were putting Ghostscript in their printers or commercial software and weren’t interested in sharing their own code as Open Source.
Peter was the pioneer of dual-licensing, although MySQL usually gets credit for that. He closed the first commercial contract for Ghostscript years before MySQL existed. This was, however, using the Aladdin license, which, although inspired by the GPL, is just short of qualifying as Open Source or Free Software license because it prohibits sale or a fee for distribution. Peter also released each version of Ghostscript with the GPL after a one-year delay, since the code was evolving rapidly and his intent with the Aladdin license was only to prevent proprietary software products from having a “free ride” on code with immediate commercial value.
Peter retired from software development in 2002 to become a composer and musician and sold Ghostscript to Artifex. Artifex later stopped using the Aladdin license, and switched to releasing each version of Ghostscript under the GPL without delay, having concluded that the “free rider” problem was no longer commercially significant and that straightforward use of the GPL alone would simplify Artifex’s story to the world and improve relationships with the Open Source / Free Software community.
Artifex recently brought suit against Hancom, which Artifex alleges was using Ghostscript in one of its products, without either purchasing a commercial license or complying with the GPL. This case is still in progress. What’s made news recently is that the court found that the GPL was an enforceable contract, and is allowing the case to proceed as a complaint of breach of contract, not just copyright infringement (as most similar cases have).
The actual text of the Magistrate’s finding is:
Defendant contends that Plaintiff’s reliance on the unsigned GNU GPL fails to plausibly demonstrate mutual assent, that is, the existence of a contract. Not so. The GNU GPL, which is attached to the complaint, provides that the Ghostscript user agrees to its terms if the user does not obtain a commercial license. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant used Ghostscript, did not obtain a commercial license, and represented publicly that its use of Ghostscript was licensed under the GNL GPU. These allegations sufficiently plead the existence of a contract. See, e.g., MedioStream, Inc. v. Microsoft Corp., 749 F. Supp. 2d 507, 519 (E.D. Tex. 2010) (concluding that the software owner had adequately pled a claim for breach of a shrink-wrap license).
This finding confused a lot of people. Was the GPL not enforceable before this case? The FSF has claimed the GPL is a license, not a contract, so is the court contradicting the FSF?
The GPL was found to be an enforceable set of copyright terms (a license) in a previous case, Jacobsen v. Katzer. I had the privilege of being pro-bono (no fee, for the public good) expert witness on that case. What has changed now is that for the purposes of the court, the GPL is both a license, which can be enforced through a claim of copyright infringement, and a contract, which can be enforced through a claim of breach of contract. You can allege both in your court claim in a single case, and fall back on one if you can’t prove the other. Thus, the potential to enforce the GPL in court is somewhat stronger than before this finding, and you have a case to cite rather than spending time in court arguing whether the GPL is a contract or not. If you are in Federal Court in the Northern District of California, the court must consider this finding, other courts can consider it and in general will.
That the GPL is a contract hardly came as any surprise to people familiar with the law. Lawyers and judges view any collection of terms as a contract, and tear-open licenses are the norm these days. But the FSF had its own reasons to say it’s a license, reasons that might be more important to the philosophy of Free Software than the court.
Contracts require consent between two parties who join in the contract, if they are to be enforced. The GPL (and many other licenses that come with products) doesn’t have a signature page, so there is no explicit consent. If there is consent at all, it’s the implied consent that has become standard for “tear-open” licenses. Your acceptance of the license is indicated by some action, in this case integrating the code into your product.
The default under copyright law is all rights reserved, which means “you can’t do anything with this” with some minor exceptions that are called “fair use”. Thus, if you integrate the software into your product, distribute it, or perform some other action that is restricted by copyright, you must have accepted the license because your alternative would be all rights reserved. Thus, the FSF asserts that the GPL is a license because they feel consent isn’t really necessary, they don’t want to argue about consent in court, and they believe that they can do all of the enforcement they need using a complaint of copyright infringement. Also, tear-open licenses were a much more foggy issue in law when the GPL came about. And then there’s the philosophical matter:
The Free Software Foundation is all about Your Software Freedom. So, they wouldn’t want to take away your freedom in any way. Contracts are a means by which people trade some rights which they could otherwise exercise for some rights they don’t have – but which FSF feels they should have by default. FSF wants you to have the right to use, modify, and redistribute all software without restriction, and this means you should get the source code for all software. In the proprietary software world, you contract for the right to run one copy of the software while giving up your rights to examine, modify, or redistribute it, and often even the right to talk about it freely – for example the right to publish a critical review or a performance benchmark of the software. FSF doesn’t like the idea of people giving up their own rights. So, they very carefully constructed the GPL so that it does not ask you to give up any rights you already have, and only grants rights which you would not otherwise have. So, it’s “freedom positive”, it only gives freedom without taking any away. Thus, FSF feels that the GPL doesn’t need to be a contract. It only needs to be a license because it does not need the contract’s feature of having you make promises to give up some rights.
If the FSF philosophy seems unusual to you, sit down and consider how much software violates your privacy these days, how it can actually control you, and how you are at the mercy of criminals who understand the software better than you and send “viruses” to mess up your computer. My computer running the GNU and Linux software isn’t entirely virus-proof, but it’s immune to “Wannacry” and a lot of the garbage that most of you tolerate. I am in control of all of my software. Are you?
Does the FSF lose anything because the court said the GPL is a contract? I don’t see how. The court didn’t say it’s not a license.
Another interesting point in the case is that the court found Artifex’s claim of damages to be admissible because of their use of dual-licensing. An economic structure for remuneration of the developer by users who did not wish to comply with the GPL terms, and thus acquired a commercial license, was clearly present. In Jacobsen v. Katzer, the lower court found that Jacobsen had not adequately pleaded damages resulting from the breach by stating “by reason of the breach, Plaintiff has been harmed”, although my testimony to the Appeals court laid out Jacobsen’s damages in greater detail. This is further reason for developers to offer dual-licensing (which I generally recommend).
The case is not over, and one attorney I work with remains adamant that the GPL is still not a contract, while others are just as adamant that it is. It’s possible that the district court might not find for Artifex’s contract claim, or that we could see an appeals court rule again on whether the GPL is a contract or not.
This was taken in the blue conference room between North and South Korea which we see in the news so much. I am standing on the North Korean side, and the guards outside the window are North Korean. This is the only place you can safely (and legally) walk into North Korea and walk back out again. My thanks to the (South) Korean Copyright Commission, who provided me with such a nice trip there and paid for my hotel for 10 days, not just for the duration of their conference.
This marks 30 years of my continuous contributions to Open Source software. About 30 years ago, at Pixar, I contributed Electric Fence to the world. That’s so long ago that I made my contribution to a USENET group. Just a few days ago, I contributed i18n-edit.
If you are a Ruby on Rails developer, and you internationalize your web applications, my i18n-edit Ruby Gem will make your life much easier! Gone is the need to have two screens open and text-edit the internationalized text in a locale file. Gone is the need to know translation keys and to match up the internationalized text in your views to the text you are editing, and the text you are testing in your web browser.
Now, go to any page in your live, running Rails application, and click on any internationalized text. An editor cursor will appear, and you can edit the text directly from the browser. To edit HTML attributes like tooltips, rather than text, right-click on the HTML node to see a menu with all of that node’s internationalized attributes. Click on their text to edit them right in the menu. Right click on links and buttons that would respond to left-click, or if you want to see what the translation key is.
I can’t imagine how this could get much simpler. I used to hate dealing with locale files. Now, I hardly ever have to touch them directly.
The locale file is written when you change the focus in your browser or when you go to another page. So, there’s no need for an enter button. The locale file is written using the link-create-write-fsync-rename algorithm that knowledgeable systems programmers use to create files that are always valid, even across a system crash.
What’s not to like? If you have written comments in your locale files, they’ll disappear. The standard for YAML files actually says that you shouldn’t parse comments, so none of the available YAML software handles them.
Copyright (C) 2016 Legal Engineering. All Rights Reserved.
Polar orbiting satellites are launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, in Lompoc (pronounced “Lompoke”), California, near Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Pismo Beach, and Solvang. You can view them from public streets or an official viewing spot on the base.
Often, the Rocket Doesn’t Launch
Seeing a rocket launch is awesome, especially if you can get relatively close. Going to rocket launches, or attempting to view them can be tremendously frustrating and expensive. Often, the launch is scrubbed after you’ve traveled a long way and sacrificed one or more work days. Scrubbed launches can be scheduled for a week later, making it impractical for you to stay in the area until the launch. Attempts scheduled for the next day sometimes are rescheduled after you’ve made hotel arrangements for the evening, wasting your time and money. The weather doesn’t cooperate.
My record so far is about one successful viewing for every three attempts. If you are willing to invest that much inconvenience and time, here’s how you can view the next launch at Vandenberg.
How You Conduct Yourself Is Important
Vandenberg is a high-security area. Nuclear missile bases, spy satellites, missile defense radars and other classified things are there, there’s also a Federal prison next door. Vandenberg is the one polar-orbit space launch site for the whole country, and thus must stay operational for the security and defense of our country.
So, the concerns for the base are that you and the people around you are in danger from mundane risks as well as unusual ones, the security of the base could be violated, and the operational status of the base could be compromised. For example, wildfires at Vandenberg in 2016 brought down the country’s polar launch capability for two months.
In a situation like this, where there are real concerns and both the police and military will be present, the actions of one person can ruin things, permanently, for everyone else. We don’t want the police and the Air Force to close the streets we use as unofficial viewing spots, or stop opening their official viewing spots, and they’ll do just that if they feel that dangerous situations happened or even if they exceed their budgetfor managing people there.
At the last launch, there were just two police present to manage the roadblock at Ocean Avenue, and several hundred people parked their cars across the street from that point and viewed the launch on foot near their cars. We want those police to feel we’re no problem at all, just a bunch of nice science-oriented people behaving safely and having a great time. Similarly, soldiers dressed in camofluage (and big smiles) and civilian PR staff of the base showed up at the viewing point at Hawk’s Nest, where they generally host about 300 people with off-road parking and a porta potty. We want those folks to continue to operate that site for us.
So, please be on your best behavior:
Don’t try to sneak onto the base or any closed-off area. OK, that sounds like common sense, but these guys actually did it, and it’s claimed that they damaged a historical site. Don’t be like them.
Don’t bring alcohol and drugs. About marijuana: Federal police and military police are there and they aren’t required to follow the California marijuana laws. Yes, I know so many people smoke it on the street in California. But not on or adjacent to a military base. Possession and use are still a felony on their books, and they can send you to jail for a long time.
Bringing your pets is not advised. The base is home to lots of wildlife that pets like to chase. If your pet runs on to the base, there’s no going after it. And pets do lots of damage to crops in farm fields.
When you encounter police, military, or base personnel, say hello, listen to what they have to say, and cooperate. In general, they will be super-nice in return (this is a public-relations event for the base), but if demands are unreasonable or something rubs you wrong, please cooperate with them and keep your feelings bottled up until you’re off of the site.
Be nice to the folks around you and avoid arguments or fights. If you have to deal with the inevitable jerk, back off and give up your spot rather than standing your ground. Your rights aren’t worth spoiling things for everyone. Don’t give the cops a reason to work.
Park off of the street, leaving all lanes clear for traffic. Fire trucks and various odd base vehicles will be coming through in both directions, besides the regular civilian traffic, and all lanes must be kept accessable in case there’s an emergency or the people on the base need to evacuate. The base is a high-risk zone for fires, and a problem with the rocket will result in the release of very toxic chemicals. Non-essential personnel will be ordered to evacuate the base if there’s a problem, and will be going right past where you are.
Don’t stand in the street, and look carefully before you walk across it.
Be responsible for your kids. Besides keeping them out of the street, etc., never allow them to enter farm fields. Crop damage costs farmers so much.
Be nice to other people’s kids. We want them to be interested in space and rockets! Invite the parent present and the kids to look through your binoculars, etc. Parents are generally happier if you approach them, rather than the kids, first, but once the ice is broken the kids will be full of questions.
To keep up with the launch schedule, which can change at any time, subscribe to Brian Webb’s excellent Launch Alert Newsletter. Brian’s a volunteer, be nice to him. SpaceFlightNow’s Launch Schedule will have advance information of launches, not just at Vandenberg but all over the world.
Note that launches are rescheduled very often and can slip half a year or more from their original schedule. You might reserve a room for a launch weeks or months in advance, but remember to watch if it’s been rescheduled and cancel your room before there’s a penalty.
When a launch is listed as “NET” with a date, that means “No Earlier Than” and you should not count on the date given. We joke that it means “Never the Estimated Time”.
To get real-time launch information on your phone, subscribe to @SpaceFlightNow on twitter. Generally this streams so much information that you will only want to turn it on the day before a launch. Cellular internet will be very bad near Vandenberg during a launch, if it works at all. Before you arrive at the launch viewing site, set up your phone to receive the SpaceFlightNow tweets via SMS using this information from Twitter.
If you have a scanner or Amateur Radio, you can receive the launch countdown net on 386.3 MHz – I don’t know if it’s AM or FM modulated (aeronautical use is generally AM). The transmitter is generally turned on shortly before the launch, so expect it to be silent when you arrive.
Launch Viewing Sites
You can see some of the various pads and potential viewing sites on this Google Map annoted by Dan Dascalescu. As I write this, Dan hasn’t marked the SpaceX launch pad at SLC-4 which will be used for this flight, so you can see it here. SpaceX also has a landing pad at SLC-4, here, but it can only be used when the payload and orbit leave enough fuel to return to the landing site.
Viewing From Ocean Avenue
The closest spot you can get to SLC-4, the pad used by SpaceX, is on Ocean Avenue just Southeast of 13th Street and Arguello Boulevard, here. Ocean Avenue will have a police or military roadblock at this point, so you won’t be able to go to Surf Beach or get any closer to the pads until after the launch.
Although it’s the closest you can get to the pad, Ocean Avenue is often a really bad place to view a launch. During much of the year, especially in Summer, the coastal fog will cover this location, making it impossible to view the launch. I’ve stood on Ocean Avenue for a SpaceX launch which I heard quite clearly, but I couldn’t see a thing! I was, however, able to see a ULA launch in November 2016 clearly from the same spot. From this point on Ocean Avenue, the top of the SLC-3 building used by ULA may be visible above the crest of a hill, and if a ULA rocket is on the pad you can see the nose cone from just the right spot, but not the rest of the rocket until it’s launched. But the SpaceX rocket at SLC-4 won’t be visible at all until after it has launched.
If you wish to view from Ocean Avenue, arrive early. The best parking spots will be snapped up quickly, and you might find that it’s too foggy and decide to go to another viewing point. Program your GPS for “5014 West Ocean Avenue Lompoc, CA”.
The photo below shows the distance and angle from SLC-4 from the Ocean Avenue location. It’s 3.88 miles away, almost directly to your left as you face down the road toward the ocean. If you can see the top of the SLC-3 building, the Falcon will be visible just to the right of that once it launches.
Viewing From Hawk’s Nest
The base will probably open its official viewing location at Hawk’s Nest for the launch, and this will be announced on Launch Alert and other sources. The site is often equipped with a porta potty, and military and civilian base personnel are there to guide you. Hawk’s Nest is usually out of the fog when Ocean Avenue is socked in. The upper 2/3 of ULA rockets on SLC-3 are visible from this location. I’ve not yet been there for a SpaceX launch and don’t know what, if any, of SLC-4 is visible before the launch.
Hawk’s Nest is a former RV park for base personnel, now overgrown except for the parking lot and roads used for launch viewing. You can reach it on Highway One by programming your GPS for “Azalea Lane, Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA”, and here is a map photo.
Hawk’s nest is much farther away from the pad than Ocean Avenue, about 9.1 miles. The last time I was there (for a ULA launch that scrubbed) nobody but me brought a telescope or a tripod-mounted binoculars, and I spent a lot of time showing kids (and adults) the rocket through my equipment. This site is far enough from the pad that you should really bring at least a pair of binoculars.
A Caution Regarding Viewing From Farm Roads
Some people view the launch from dirt roads in Lompoc and other areas adjacent to farmer’s fields. Stay out of the farmer’s fields, and keep your kids and pets out of them! Those crops are a farmer’s whole livelyhood, and you can do significant financial damage to some farmer just by allowing your kids or pets to run around in the fields. Crop damage will get launch viewers a bad reputation in Lompoc, and will result in the police being called to disperse us or the roads being blocked for the launch.
Viewing from LA
If you are in LA for the launch and the weather is clear, try going to a beach with a northern view.
I’ve tried to view a launch from a street in LA. The result was that I missed all but one second of it due to obstructions, and afterward I could see that the contrail was across half of the sky! The rocket flies over water while it’s ascending, to prevent hazards to people on land. So the beach will be best.
Viewing Night Launches From A Distance
Some night launches can be seen from Lake Tahoe or even farther. The ULA launches which make use of solid rocket boosters are brightest. Brian’s viewing page has some information on that.
Viewing From On The Base
Nobody’s invited me to enter the base (despite the fact that I’d give them a great speech at their site in return☺), so I can’t speak from experience. But I’ve seen through my binoculars people who are admitted to the base climb up a hill near Ocean Avenue that gives them an unobstructed view. I’ve also heard that the causeway between North and South base is a good viewing spot.
Other Viewing Sites
There’s a spot on Santa Lucia Canyon Road which has a partial pad view of SLC-4 and a full view of SLC-3. It’s said that the view is partially obscured by hedges and that the spot is liable to crowd up early. It is also possible to view the launch from Harris Grade, a nearby ridge-top road. Some people have viewed from the tracking base on Firefighter Road, but this is not recommended because the radio frequency exposure in the area is above health limits. There are strobe lights to warn you not to linger in the area.
More Distant Sites
You can view from mountaintops all around the area, and all of the way to LA. Brian Webb has some information here. I’ve not yet viewed a launch from these sites.
Viewing From Offshore
The areas offshore of the base from Point Sal to Point Arguello, extending to three miles from shore, are designated as 9 separate Danger Zones. The marine charts marking the Danger Zones are Chart 18721 and Chart 18700.
Zone 4, the area between the mouth of the Santa Ynez River and Point Arguello, extending to three miles from shore, is offshore of the South Base where pads 3 and 4 are. Your vessel may not stop or loiter there at any time, not just during a launch. So, viewing from the ocean will have to be at least 3 miles offshore.
Before a launch, notices of prohibited zones should be listed in the weekly Local Notice to Mariners for Coast Guard District 11, but I couldn’t find any notice regarding the WorldView IV launch. They should also be broadcast on 2182 kHz, 2638 kHz, VHF channel 6 (156.30 MHz), VHF channel 12 (156.60 MHz), and VHF channel 16 (156.80 MHz). There should be notices on bulletin boards outside of Port Control Offices (Harbormasters) at Morro Bay, Port San Luis, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Channel Islands, and Port Hueneme Harbors, and “any established harbor of refuge between Santa Barbara and Morro Bay.” And there are supposed to be notices on loudspeakers from patrolling ships.
If you are admitted to the Point Pedernales and Point Arguello oil platforms, “Irene” should have a great view if there isn’t fog, and “Hildago”, “Harvest”, and “Hermosa” might as well.
If we ever get a return of the first stage to its landing site, the launch viewing sites at Ocean Avenue or Hawk’s Nest will be good to see it. Unfortunately, the rocket will go behind a hill from Ocean Avenue for the last seconds of descent. The rocket is going really fast on its way down and will in general not be visible until it lights off one of the descent burns. One or two descent burns could be visible, and only last a few seconds. Binoculars are called for, sharp eyes to acquire the rocket on its way down before aiming binoculars, and tons of luck.
The barge landing will happen close to directly south of Vandenberg and past San Diego (and the Mexican border) in international waters. From LA, this will be far past San Nicholas, San Clemente, or Catalina islands. Reddit /r/spacex user darga89 has this map of landing locations. You can get the approximate landing location from marine NAVAIDS issued before the flight to block certain areas from ship traffic, but they may close off a 100-mile-long patch of water..
There are folks who simulate the flight dynamics of the launch, and thus can forecast the landing site, I think you can find them at FlightClub. One such person is in the Reddit /r/spacex group as /u/TheVehicleDestroyer . Here is one of his videos.
SpaceX calls the barge an “Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship” (“ASDS”) and has named it Just Read the Instructions (“JRTI”) in a nod to the “Culture” novels of science fiction author Iain Banks.
Viewing the Return to Port After The Landing
After the launch, you can try to view the return of the First Stage to port in San Pedro, in the Los Angeles area, 2 or 3 hours drive from Lompoc. It will probably take the barge a whole day to get back to port, if not two days. You can use one of the marine vessel tracking sites to track two of the vessels accompanying the barge, NRC Quest and a hired tugboat, Pacific Warrior for the Iridium flight in January 2016, via their “AIS” radio transponders. For example, here is real-time tracking of NRC Quest on VesselFinder.
SpaceX uses the East Channel in San Pedro, across the street from the San Pedro marina, here. Don’t go to the Queen Mary, it’s on the opposite side of the harbor. The photo below shows the barge (Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship) Just Read the Instructions (“JRTI”) and the ship NRC Quest, both at anchor.
As you can see, the SpaceX area in the channel is fenced off with a public street and sidewalk on the other side, and the San Pedro Marina with its public parking is right there. Program your GPS for “210 Whalers Walk, San Pedro, CA” and then find somewhere else to park if the marina lot is already full.
It’s possible to peek over the fence, there’s a guard there who is assigned to keep you from taking photos. You can walk to the end of the dock and watch for JRTI to return. The first stage atop the barge is really something to see!
After the barge docks, there will be several days of processing the rocket at the dock, and it should be visible over the fence during this time. An anchoring fixture is attached to the top of the rocket by men on a very tall cherry-picker, and the rocket is lifted from the barge by a crane and set on the dock, still standing up. The crane hook or guy wires remain attached to the top of the rocket to keep it safe from wind while the rocket is “safed” for transport by removing liquids and gases, detonators or explosives, batteries, etc. and pressurizing the fuel tanks (probably with nitrogen) to give them structural integrity during transport. Finally, the rocket is set down on a special trailer. The trailer takes it to SpaceX in Hawthorne for servicing, and hopefully eventual reuse.
Viewing Military Launches
Launches of military payloads, such as the “NROL” missions of spy satellite launches for the National Reconnaissance Office, will not have the exact time of the launch announced. Less than a day before the expected launch, the base will announce a 6 hour window. If you are lucky, they launch in the first minute of the window, but there’s no telling. Don’t expect any of the usual public support activities to be operating for a military launch.
A low-magnification telescope or a binoculars is the best equipment for viewing a launch. High magnification will actually look worse. Even from Ocean Avenue, the limiting factor on viewing will be heat shimmer in the atmosphere.
I got good results using Orion Resolux 15×70 binoculars, mounted on the Orion Paragon-Plus Binocular Mount and Tripod, from the Orion Telescope store in Cupertino, California. This gets rid of binocular shake, makes it easy and comfortable to use the binoculars for an extended period. It makes it really easy to pass the binoculars to people of different heights, as the parallelogram will move to their height while keeping the binoculars pointed in the same direction. This is about a $600 kit, including taxes, at this writing.
If you aren’t up to buying that, any old binoculars will be better than nothing.
What To Bring
Besides your viewing equipment, bring sunblock, bug spray, water, a snack, a lawn chair, and a book to read. It’s better to set up early and have some book time. If you’re on Ocean Avenue, bushes on the other side of the street are going to be the best option should you need to relieve yourself. Some hand cleaner might be nice to have.
Where to Stay Near Lompoc
Since my family are generally at work and school during launches (and I own my company), I will come alone and won’t be looking for a fancy place to stay. The Motel 6 in Lompoc is usually about $50 when booked in advance, and you can generally find a 10%-off coupon online. I generally arrive in the evening the day before the launch. The cleaners really try hard and this inn has had a recent remodel, but Motel 6 is infamous for previous occupants leaving some hints of their presence. There’s also a derelict car in the parking lot that has been there for at least a year. There’s an extra charge for Internet service, and it doesn’t always work great even after you’ve paid for it.
Inn of Lompoc must have been nice once, but it’s a low-budget place now. IMO only stay there as a last resort. Read the reviews on the other budget places in Lompoc before you book, some of them get pretty bad notices. The nicer places are generally over $100.
If you want to be fancier, there are tons of places to stay in Solvang, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, etc. Lots of things to do, too. Just be cognizant of how far you are from Lompoc and the launch, and make allowances for commute traffic. There is generally a commute on Highway 1 to/from Santa Barbara.
Eating Near Lompoc
The local cuisine is Santa-Maria-Style Barbecue which is based on beef tri-tip, and you should have it once when you’re here. The Hitching Postin the tiny, isolated town of Casmalia is said to be where crews went to eat after launches, and has some space memorabilia on display. The Old San Luis BBQ Company had good food in a modest setting. I stopped in at the Far Western Tavern, and while Santa-Maria-Style Barbecue wasn’t on the bar/lunch menu, they made it for me anyway. There are lots of good restaurants, whatever you’re eating.
Driving to Lompoc
Lompoc is a 4-5 hour drive from the San Francisco Bay area, and 2.5 hours from LA without traffic. If you are used to going from SF to LA on I-5, 101 and 1 are going to seem much slower.
Lompoc Surf Amtrak Train Station
The Surf Amtrak Station is on the beach, about 15 miles from the town of Lompoc. There will be no taxis there, and I’ve never seen a bus.
The train will not run for some hours before a launch, and Surf Beach will be evacuated. Amtrak will run a bus bridge around Surf Station. Trains are allowed through soon after the launch.
It might be possible to view the launch by bringing your bicycle on the train and riding to the Ocean Avenue spot (which is a lot closer than central Lompoc), but you’d need to arrive several hours before the launch to avoid the train closure. Amtrak might be able to tell you the closing time.
The train, during the day, offers the best view of launch pads and other areas on the base that you can’t see any other way, although they will go by quickly.
Lompoc Surf Beach
Surf beach is often cold windy and foggy, but it’s a nice place to have a walk before your long drive home from Lompoc. Access it by taking Ocean Avenue to the Surf Amtrak station.
The beach will be evacuated during a launch.
There is a protected nesting area for endangered Snowy Plovers at Surf, Wall, and Minuteman beaches. Rangers will be there to ticket violators who walk into the nesting area, from March 1 through September 30 . Nesting birds are so endangered that as few as 10 violations per month will result in total closure of the adjacent beach. This web page counts the tickets and shows how close the limit is to a number that would require beach closure, and may show scheduled beach closures for launches.
Vandenberg Base Tour
There is a monthly tour to the Space Missile and Heritage Center on the base, on the third Thursday of the month. A maximum of 30 people will be admitted, and you have to send your ID information no less than 10 days in advance in order to be checked out for admission to the base. Information is here.
Web Sites for Launch Viewers
SpaceFlightNow is a credible news site, and their Launch Schedulepage is essential for launch viewing. It’s accurate and kept up to date. Their twitter feed @SpaceFlightNow is essential as a real-time source of launch information.
A good source of SpaceX information, but a site you must be careful with, is the Reddit /r/spacex group. Read the site if you wish, but I recommend that you refrain from posting to it. It often has great information, is frequented by people who actually understand the math and physics and some who are rocketry professionals, and you can learn a lot about rockets and SpaceX in general. Sounds great so far, but this is ruined for participants because the community take their fannishness of SpaceX and Elon Musk to the point of fatuousness and idolatry, and they tend to pile upon any poster of dissenting viewpoints in the worst tradition of the Internet. They are also really egregious copyright infringers, in that they paste articles into Reddit from behind paywalls and the moderators don’t delete them.
There is also a SpaceX group on Facebook, which I don’t have personal experience with.
Amateur Radio for Launch Fans
There used to be a ham repeater linked network for viewing launches, Brian has a 10-year-old page on it. Someone told me that the base had asked the hams to desist, but I have no confirmation and it sounds somewhat unlikely. In general the government and FCC encourage hams to put NASA launches on the air, there are even special FCC rules to permit it.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the white substance I see in satellite photos of the Lompoc area? I thought it was too warm to snow there?
The white substance is diatomaceous earth. It’s the fossilized remains of diatoms, a type of hard-shelled algae. The land where it is found was once sea bottom. It is mined in Lompoc, and made into toothpaste, scouring powder, water filters, and many other things.
Write To Me
Errors and suggestions? Pre-launch party? Write to bruce at perens dot com.