The Planetary Society’s crowdfunded LightSail 2 deploys its solar sail in orbit

Crowdfunded spacecraft LightSail 2 is making good on its name, after successfully unfurling its solar sail in orbit so that it can begin propelling itself using the force of light alone. The sail’s Mylar surface reflects photons from the Sun, accumulating velocity gradually thanks to the additive effect of countless sub-atomic impacts. The team confirmed sail deployment initiated at 11:47 AM PT (2:47 PM ET), and full sail deployment completed at 11:50 AM PT (2:50 PM ET).

LightSail 2 got its ride to space with the Falcon Heavy launch on June 25, sharing a ride with a variety of payloads, including NASA and Air Force experiments. The spacecraft is the product of The Planetary Society, a nonprofit organization devoted to the advancement of space exploration that’s led by Bill Nye . Its goal is to study solar sailing in practice — a technology whose conception goes back centuries, but whose actual field use is extremely limited, with only a few examples existing previously, including JAXA’s IKAROS mission from 2010.

The sail’s total propulsion power is astonishingly small, despite its size (it’s about the size of a boxing ring) — it provides about as much power as a housefly landing on your hand. But it also will never theoretically run out of fuel, and can gradually increase its speed over time to very high velocities thanks to the friction-free environment of the vacuum of space.

“Things are great, things are nominal,” explained The Planetary Society’s chief scientist, Bruce Betts, on a live stream of the sail’s deployment, indicating that everything is to plan so far. The Planetary Society will attempt to get back images from the deployment the next time the craft is within range of a ground station, and we’ll update when those become available.

Read More

Crowdfunded spacecraft LightSail 2 snaps amazing photos ahead of solar sail deployment

LightSail 2 may still have at least a few days to go before it begins its primary purpose, by unfurling the solar sail it has on board and finding out more about propelling a spacecraft using only the force of photons, but it’s not wasting any time on its orbital voyage. New photos from the crowdfunded spacecraft, which is operated by The Planetary Society, provide a stunning high-resolution look at the Earth from its unique vantage point.

The spacecraft just got a firmware update that corrected some issues with its orientation control after a test of its solar sailing mode, absent the actual use of the sail itself. The patch was uploaded successfully, according to The Planetary Society, and the spacecraft overall is “healthy and stable” as it stands. The earliest possible date for solar sail deployment is July 21, which is this Sunday, but that’ll depend on the mission team’s confidence in it actually being ready to unfurl and use successfully.

20190717 ls 2 mexico

LightSail 2’s development was funded in part via a successful crowdfunding campaign run by the Bill Nye-led Planetary Society, and continues to seek on CrowdRise funding for its ongoing operation. Its goal is to test a spacecraft’s ability to fly powered only by the force of photons from the Sun striking a solar sail constructed of Mylar. This method of space-based transportation is extremely slow to get started, but thanks to the inertia-free medium of outer space, it could be an extremely energy-efficient way for research craft to travel long distances.

It launched on June 25 as part of the shared payload of SpaceX’s most recent Falcon Heavy launch.

Read More

South Korea to send naval unit to Strait of Hormuz: newspaper

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea plans to join a U.S.-led maritime force in the Middle East by sending a naval unit, which includes a destroyer, to help guard oil tankers sailing through the Strait of Hormuz, a South Korean newspaper reported on Monday.

Tensions between Iran and the United States have increased since Washington pulled out of the Iranian nuclear deal last year and reimposed sanctions on Tehran.

Attacks on oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz off the coast of Iran in recent months further soured ties, prompting U.S. officials to call for allies to join a planned maritime security mission.

The Maekyung business newspaper, citing an unidentified senior government official, said South Korea had decided to send the anti-piracy Cheonghae unit operating in waters off Somalia, possibly along with helicopters.

Seoul’s defense ministry said the government was exploring measures to protect its ships in the area but no decision had been made.

“It is obvious that we have to protect our ships passing through the Strait of Hormuz, isn’t it? So we’re considering various possibilities,” deputy ministry spokesman Ro Jae-cheon told a regular news briefing on Monday.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week Washington had asked South Korea, Japan, France, Germany, Australia and others to take part.

U.S. national security adviser John Bolton visited Seoul last week and discussed the issue with senior officials, including the defense minister, but Ro said there was no official request made during that meeting.

The Cheonghae unit has been stationed in the Gulf of Aden since 2009, working to tackle piracy in partnership with African countries as well as the United States and the European Union.

The 302-strong unit operates a 4,500-ton destroyer, a Lynx anti-submarine helicopter and three speed boats, according to South Korea’s 2018 defense white paper.

Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Paul Tait

Read More

LightSail 2, Pushed by Sunlight, Raises Its Orbit by 10,500 Feet in Just Two Weeks

LightSail 2 over Baja, California.

LightSail 2 over Baja, California.
Image: Planetary Society

Two weeks after entering solar sailing mode, the Planetary Society’s LightSail 2 spacecraft has managed to raise its orbit by nearly 2 miles, in an important test of this promising new means of propulsion.

LightSail 2 unfurled its 32-square-meter (344-square-foot) solar sail on July 23, around one month after it was deposited into low Earth orbit by a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. At the time, the spacecraft’s apogee, or high point of its orbit, was just shy of 726 kilometers (451 miles). But now, a mere two weeks after entering into solar sailing mode, LightSail 2’s apogee is now at 729 kilometers (453 miles), a gain of nearly 3.2 kilometers (2 miles), according to the Planetary Society.

It’s still early days, but things are going smoothly.

“Mission operations is proceeding very well,” Dave Spencer, LightSail 2 project manager, told Gizmodo earlier today. “The spacecraft is healthy, and we are communicating with the spacecraft several times each day.”

The point of this mission is to test the viability of solar sailing, in which photons from the Sun bounce off a large solar sail, giving the spacecraft a small but continuous boost. Eventually, this form of propulsion could be used to move small satellites in orbit, or even enable interstellar travel.

To maintain optimal performance, mission controllers need to orient the position of the sail relative to the Sun. To that end, the spacecraft performs two 90-degree turns each Earth orbit, which it does with a momentum wheel—basically a flywheel that moves along a single axis. When in solar sailing mode, the sails are positioned to be broadside, or perpendicular, to the Sun to maximize the number of photons hitting the sail. To prevent LightSail 2 from tumbling, and thus losing control of the sail orientation, the sail is oriented to move edge-on relative to the incoming solar photons. It takes about 90 minutes for LightSail 2 to make a complete orbit of Earth.

“For the first 10 days after sail deployment, we were in solar sailing mode about two-thirds of the time,” explained Spencer. “The momentum wheel was reaching its saturation limit—its maximum rotation rate—a couple of times per day, at which point we would slow down the wheel and use magnetic torque rods to remove angular velocity from the system. This is called ‘detumble’ mode, and it’s used to reduce the angular rates about each axis of the spacecraft. Early on, we were in detumble mode about one-third of the time, including time during the sunlit part of the orbit.”

On August 3, the Planetary Society team uploaded a software patch that enables the spacecraft to autonomously switch into its detumble configuration when it’s inside Earth’s shadow. The means LightSail 2 can now stay in solar sailing mode throughout the sunlit portion of each orbit to “maximize the time spent solar sailing,” explained Spencer.

“We also did some fine-tuning of the sail control algorithm to refine the turn rate of the spacecraft, and reduce the tendency of the spacecraft to overshoot the targeted orientation at the end of a turn,” said Spencer.

Indeed, a graph compiled by Justin Mansell, a Ph.D. student at the University of Purdue who’s involved with the LightSail 2 mission, illustrates this issue rather nicely.

Sail orientation of LightSail 2 during 3 orbits on July 28, 2019.

Sail orientation of LightSail 2 during 3 orbits on July 28, 2019.
Image: Planetary Society

Looking the graph, the red lines represent the commanded sail orientation (i.e. the idealized sail configuration), in which 0 degrees represents a perfectly perpendicular orientation to the Sun, while 90 degrees represents the parallel, edge-on orientation. The plot lines are actual data taken on July 28 during three orbits, and show the sail orientation overshooting its target when approaching 90 degrees. LightSail 2 is currently working with a margin of error around 30 degrees, which is okay, but it could be better—hence the updated algorithm, uploaded to LightSail 2 on August 5.

“Both of these updates have been effective in improving the sail control performance,” Spencer told Gizmodo. “Based upon spacecraft telemetry, over the past two days our 90-degree turns have been much more crisply done, and the momentum wheel has not reached its saturation limit. We look forward to seeing the result of this improved sail control in the orbit evolution over the coming days,” he said.

A video produced by Mansell shows LightSail 2’s orientation with respect to the Sun during a single orbit on July 28, 2019, which happened prior to the recent software updates. The red line shows the direction of the Sun, while the blue line shows the direction of the local magnetic field. Jason Davis from the Planetary Society describes the video:

In the first half of the video, LightSail 2 attempts to fly edge-on into the solar photons, maintaining a 90-degree angle with the Sun, as indicated by “feather” mode. The gaps between data points are not interpolated so as to not misrepresent the data, which makes it look like the sail is jumping around more than it actually is. In the second half of the video, LightSail 2 is in “thrust” mode, trying to keep its long axis to the Sun at about zero so the sail can get a push from sunlight.

As the video shows, there are times where the sail behaves beautifully. And when that happens, the mission team sees excellent orbital performance. On LightSail 2’s best day so far, the spacecraft raised its apogee by about 900 meters, showing the promise of flight by light for small spacecraft—the main goal of the program.

Interestingly, the Planetary Society team also conducted simulations to see how the performance of a randomly tumbling spacecraft would compare to actual recorded flight data. Not surprisingly, the controlled orientations resulted in faster rates of lift compared to a tumbling spacecraft.

Spencer told Gizmodo that all LightSail 2 mission performance, including the orientation control, will eventually be documented in conference papers and journal articles compiled by the Planetary Society mission team. A primary goal of the mission, he said, will be to provide this data to the solar sailing community, which includes NASA’s Near Earth Asteroid Scout (NEA Scout) mission—a proposed solar sail mission to an asteroid.

Read More

Greta Thunberg Is Sailing Carbon-Free to the UN Climate Summit, But What About Youth Activists of Color?

Illustration for article titled Greta Thunberg Is Sailing Carbon-Free to the UN Climate Summit, But What About Youth Activists of Color?

Photo: Anders Hellberg

Youth activist Greta Thunberg is hopping on a carbon-free racing boat to make the United Nations Climate Summit in New York on September 23. The Swedish founder of Fridays for Future—a now-global effort where youth skip school on Fridays to protest in the name of climate change and their future—figured out how to make it to the United States without destroying the planet.

She’s headed to New York, which is cool. But what about other youth activists, especially those in the Global South? Thunberg’s success—while rightly deserved—is also a reminder of how our efforts to stop climate change continue to ignore the voices of those most affected by the crisis while uplifting more privileged, white voices.

Thunberg has sworn off flying because of its impact on the climate. And look, flying is bad for the climate. Air travel accounts for 3 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and 2 percent of emissions globally. And carbon emissions tied to air travel could triple over the next three decades. A simple way individuals can reduce their carbon footprint is by reducing—or cutting off altogether—their air travel.

So major kudos to Thunberg for finding an alternative, though it’s one that’d be tough for others to score. The ship she plans to hop on is the Malizia II, a four-year-old racing sailboat pimped out with solar panels and underwater turbines to power the ship according to the ship’s owners. Boris Herrmann, the ship’s skipper, and Malizia team founder Pierre Casiraghi will be donating their time and resources to captain the ship during the two-week journey in mid-August.

Thunberg’s activism has been inspiring to millions around the world, spurring students to take to the streets. The challenges climate change poses for young people has become more evident under her leadership and adults in power have taken greater notice. So I welcome Thunberg to my city. She’s a G, for real, for real.

“Greta is a true leader of a generation,” said Leah Namugerwa, a 14-year-old climate activist in Uganda, to Earther in a Twitter message. “Many people are preaching what they don’t do. She is not that kind. Her decision to sail to the U.S. reaffirms her commitment to save the only planet we call home. She’s reducing carbon footprint in all possible ways. Many people get excited to fly, but Greta gets excited to cut carbon emissions. I applaud her for that.”

However, part of me can’t help but wonder how many other 16-year-old climate activists have been invited to speak at the United Nations and can commandeer a free ride across an entire ocean. I imagine that if most other kids her age—especially any in the developing world—refused to fly to such a summit, they simply wouldn’t be able to go. Namugerwa, for instance, told Earther she’s never been to the U.S. and would “surely” want to be here, especially on a sailboat “if it’s for the good of my planet.”

This isn’t to shit on Thunberg; this isn’t her doing. She’s a single person in a space that undervalues the voices of people of color. The movement has—for far too long—failed to put underrepresented voices at its center and offer them the same level of opportunity that has come Thunberg’s way.

To be fair, the United Nations (UN) knows this and it’s taking action to start to address historic injustices. It’s bringing more than 100 climate activists from the Global South to the climate summit through “Green Tickets,” which will cover air travel for those are chosen. What’s more, the UN is calling the travel “carbon neutral” though it offers no clarification on what that means—but it definitely isn’t enough for Thunberg. However, they’ll be attending the Youth Climate Summit, a related but separate event from the greater UN Climate Summit.

The UN is keeping the details of the Youth Climate Summit under wraps, and Earther has reached out for clarity on what role the youth summit will play and if other young adults have been invited to speak before the main climate summit as Thunberg is.

When it comes to issues around the environment, institutions are getting better at being more inclusive, especially of people in the Global South who are feeling climate change’s wrath more dramatically. But there’s still a long way to go.

We need to shine the spotlight on the people with Thunberg’s passion, but who don’t necessarily look like her. The youth of Uganda who have been striking from school in the name of the planet deserve to see their names in headlines, too. Colombian youth who took their country to court over the Amazon deserve to tell their story directly to world leaders. They and many other faces of varying shades share Thunberg’s desire for a habitable future. Where’s their free sailboat to the UN Climate Summit?

Read More

See Bill Nye’s super shiny LightSail 2 solar sail stretch out in space

This image shows the LightSail 2 with its sail deployed.

The Planetary Society

Space ahoy! The LightSail 2 space propulsion test project passed a major milestone by deploying a shiny Mylar solar sail on Tuesday. Images released on Wednesday show the sail during and after its glorious unfurling process.

Solar sailing is both futuristic and old-fashioned. Instead of relying on wind like a sailboat, LightSail is pushed by photon particles from the sun bouncing off the large reflective surface of the sail.

The Planetary Society, which is headed up by CEO and science celeb Bill Nye, is running the LightSail 2 project. “All indications are that LightSail 2 has successfully deployed its solar sail,” the group tweeted on Tuesday. 

The society followed up with a final confirmation of success.

Lightsail 2 hitched a ride to space on board a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket in June. Science stars Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson spearheaded a Kickstarter campaign in 2015 to help fund the mission. It raised over $1.2 million.

The Planetary Society says LightSail 2 “aims to become the first spacecraft in Earth orbit propelled solely by sunlight.” The group wants to demonstrate that solar sailing could be used to as a means of propulsion for CubeSats, tiny, inexpensive satellites that explore and conduct science in space.

If LightSail 2 is a success, it could open the path for more ambitious solar sail missions beyond Earth orbit, all the way to other planets and even other star systems.

Now we just need Katrina & The Waves to rerecord their ’80s hit song as Sailing on Sunshine instead.

Originally published July 23. 

Update, July 24, 4:26 p.m. PT: Adds image of Lightsail 2 with its sail deployed. 

Read More

LightSail 2 successfully demonstrates solar sailing

After the month has passed, the craft will spend another year gradually deorbiting.

It’s a rare achievement in spaceflight, and notable when LightSail relied partly on crowdfunding to make their project a reality. What’s important, though, is what comes next. The Society intends to share data with others so they can implement or refine plans for solar sailing in their own vehicles, such as NASA’s asteroid-bound NEA Scout cubesat. You could see a wave of mini satellites that only need solar nudges to adjust their positions, and possibly larger spacecraft beyond that.

Read More

How To Undo and Prevent Windows Updates

Illustration for article titled How To Undo and Prevent Windows Updates

Major Windows 10 updates aren’t always smooth sailing. And if you own Microsoft’s Surface Book 2, you’ll probably be a bit annoyed to know that you can’t update to Windows 10 version 1903, the latest iteration of Microsoft’s operating system, thanks to a bug with Nvidia GPUs.

To be fair, errors like this are bound to crop up when a company pushes updates for an operating system installed on PCs with wildly varying hardware configurations and capabilities. Microsoft is usually quick with patches to fix some of these issues, but sometimes you need an immediate fix if you pulled the trigger and borked your system.

How to roll back a Windows update

If you act fast, you can fully undo major Windows updates. You only get a 10-day windows after installing the latest version of Windows, so act quickly if your system starts having major issues..

  1. Open the Windows 10 Settings Menu by clicking the gear icon in the Windows Start menu, or by pressing “Windows+I” keys.
  2. Click “Update & security”
  3. Click the “Recovery” tab on the sidebar
  4. Under “Go back to the previous version of Windows 10,” click “Get started.”

  5. Follow the remaining on-screen instructions to complete the rollback.

While Windows 10 notes that you probably won’t have to back up your files before initiating a rollback, it never hurts.

How to uninstall minor Windows updates

You’re also able to uninstall all Windows updates that have been applied since the most recent build. Use this only if you know which update(s) caused the issue, as overzealous deleting could lead to even more problems.

Illustration for article titled How To Undo and Prevent Windows Updates

Screenshot: Brendan Hesse
  1. Open the Windows 10 Settings menu by clicking the gear icon from the Windows Start menu, or by pressing “Windows key+I”.
  2. Click “Update & security”
  3. Open the “Windows Update” tab
  4. Click “Update history,” and then click “Uninstall updates”
  5. In the new screen that appears, find the update you wish to remove from the list (under “Microsoft Windows”) and click “Uninstall”

Last resort: Reinstall Windows

If neither of the above options work, the last-ditch options are to either “reset” or reinstall Windows, which we have a guide for here. Resetting Windows will keep your files and apps, while a clean installation reverts to a pure version of Windows 10, deletes your files/apps, and resets all your hardware drivers and system settings to their factory defaults. A clean install will likely solve software issues you’re having, but it’s a tedious process, and should be your last resort.

Prevent automatic updates

Once you’ve rolled back to a safe version of Windows or uninstalled problematic Windows updates. you may want to prevent Windows from automatically re-downloading and installing them. As long as you’re running the April 2019 version of Windows or later, you can do this within the Home version of the operating system. (This feature is automatically built into Windows 10 Pro.)

To pause updates, head back to the Windows Update screen and look for the option; you can’t miss it:

Illustration for article titled How To Undo and Prevent Windows Updates

Screenshot: David Murphy

Read More

Caught Up in the College Admissions Scandal: Stanford’s Boathouse

A sailing coach pleaded guilty to federal charges related to the cheating and bribery scheme. A rowing coach was fired, but the university won’t say why.


CreditCreditJim Wilson/The New York Times

Billy WitzDavid W. Chen

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. — A Stanford sailor arrived at the university’s gleaming boathouse to clean out her locker at the end of the school year. The doors would not open.

“Did they change the locks again?” she said with an air of exasperation.

It was a reasonable question. In March, when the sailing coach John Vandemoer was fired after being snared in a nationwide admissions scandal, the locks were changed at the Arrillaga Family Rowing and Sailing Center. In April, they were changed again, after the men’s rowing coach Craig Amerkhanian was mysteriously fired — late in the season, weeks before his planned retirement.

Stanford’s boating troubles stem from the work of William Singer, the private college consultant who collected millions of dollars in payments from wealthy parents and paid college coaches and athletic administrators to designate non-athletes as recruits for admissions purposes at elite universities. In some cases, the college coaches pocketed the money. In others, Singer, who goes by Rick, made donations to the athletic programs.

Stanford is investigating the scope of the wrongdoing. It has hired the law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett to review how its athletes are recruited and how athletics-related gifts are accepted.

The university has reviewed email accounts, phone records and computers of coaches and athletic department staff. It has acknowledged that Singer contacted other coaches at Stanford — Amerkhanian among them. At least one parent indicted in the scandal, a Canadian businessman, also contacted Amerkhanian to discuss a recruiting spot for his son. Stanford maintains it has not unearthed any other cases of admissions fraud, however.

“Stanford is strengthening its internal controls and processes in an effort to prevent something like this from happening again,” E.J. Miranda, a university spokesman, said in a statement.


CreditKatherine Taylor for The New York Times

That Stanford is in this position is startling. It has a $26.5 billion endowment and prides itself on achieving athletic excellence without sacrificing integrity. But the turmoil in these two modestly financed athletic programs, along with another pair of dismissals, has resulted in what has long been seen as the ultimate sin at Stanford — sullying the university’s reputation.

“You didn’t do anything that could tarnish Stanford’s name,” Jay Kehoe, a former head sailing coach, said. “That was definitely the culture.”

When Vandemoer, wearing a navy suit and holding his wife’s hand, walked into a Boston courthouse for a sentencing hearing last month, the lawyers on both sides sparred over the extent of the damage done to Stanford’s reputation.

Since the scheme was revealed in March, federal prosecutors have brought criminal charges against more than 50 people, including coaches, Hollywood actresses and prominent figures from the worlds of law and finance.

Vandemoer, who pleaded to conspiracy to commit racketeering, was the first to be sentenced: six months of home confinement for receiving more than $600,000 from Singer in exchange for designating applicants as sailing recruits. The best-known case involved a student from China whose parents paid Singer $6.5 million.

Vandemoer, who put the money from Singer into a fund that supports Stanford’s sailing program, lost his job and his Stanford housing. He now lives at the vacation home of a Stanford benefactor and coaches privately, at a club run by his wife, just a few hundred yards from the Stanford boathouse.

“Stanford is a place that I love,” Vandemoer told reporters last month in front of the courthouse. “I have brought a cloud over Stanford, and for that I’m deeply ashamed.”


CreditKatherine Taylor for The New York Times

The sentencing capped a turbulent few months at Stanford. In March, a week before the admissions scandal broke, James Shirvell, an admissions officer, was fired after the police charged him with the attempted murder of his girlfriend while under the influence of LSD. Stanford’s president, Marc Tessier-Lavigne, and provost, Persis Drell, vowed to review the applications Shirvell judged “to assure his assessments were sound.”

Then, in April, Stanford abruptly fired two longtime coaches: Shannon Turley, who oversaw strength and conditioning for all varsity sports, and Amerkhanian, who had planned to retire in August, after his 19th season.

In an interview, Turley, who had been praised for reducing injuries, especially among football players, declined to comment on his firing. But he said that “for any errors of judgment that I may have made at Stanford, I can sleep well at night knowing that I did everything in the best interest of the student-athletes.”

Stanford takes great pride in its athletics program, which for the 25th consecutive year won the N.C.A.A.’s Directors’ Cup, the award for overall excellence. The university is also notoriously tight-lipped about personnel matters. Few people were aware of why any of the coaches was dismissed.

“Stanford athletics is a really cold, calculating, bureaucratic organization,” said the Olympian Silas Stafford, a rower who graduated in 2008. Noting how Amerkhanian’s firing was publicly described as a retirement, Stafford said: “I would call it cowardice. If there’s really dirt, let it see the sunlight. If there’s not, let him go out in style.”

When Stanford was informed last week that multiple people had told The New York Times that Amerkhanian had been dismissed, it acknowledged he was given a choice — retire or be fired — for violating employee behavior policies. Stanford said the violations came to light this year, but refused to specify if they were spurred by the federal investigation or if they were gleaned from the scrubbing of computers and phones.

Amerkhanian, 62, declined to comment.


CreditJim Wilson/The New York Times

Tall, lean and boisterous, Amerkhanian often used an air horn to get his rowers’ attention and leaned on Springsteen lyrics and historical references for inspiration, like commemorating the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Selma to Montgomery march with a 54-mile row.

His firing, on April 18, stunned the Stanford rowing community, which had been planning to honor him at a retirement barbecue at the boathouse nine days later, to coincide with the annual Big Row against the University of California, Berkeley. Organizers scrambled to find another venue, but attendees described the event as awkward, with Amerkhanian complaining that he was a victim of Stanford’s post-scandal vigilance.

For years, Amerkhanian and Vandemoer operated out of a contemporary boathouse on the edge of San Francisco Bay named for the developer John Arrillaga Sr., a former Stanford basketball player and one of the university’s largest benefactors. His children, John Jr. and Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, attended college and graduate school at Stanford.

Inside the two-story, 16,500-foot facility, sculls are stacked in four bays on the ground floor, while a fifth is set aside for sailing. Upstairs, along with million-dollar views of the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Bair Island Ecological Reserve and the bay, are rowing machines, stationary bikes and weights, along with a kitchen, laundry room and offices.

If sailing requires mental and physical dexterity, reading the wind and the opponent, and moving decisively on a small boat, then Vandemoer, 41, was a fitting avatar: short, serious, hardworking and quiet, with dark sunglasses and a Red Sox cap typically pulled tight over his brow out on the water.

Conversely, rowing requires long levers, brute strength and fierce determination to push through searing pain on the water. If experience is crucial in a sailboat, rowers can be made — and over the last 15 years, few have cranked out Olympians like Amerkhanian.


CreditJordan Wallach/The Stanford Daily

But some former rowers and Stanford coaches said Amerkhanian could also be territorial, abrasive and a bully.

Stanford suspended him for three months and stripped him of his title as director of rowing during the 2010-11 school year, after a joint Pac-10 and Stanford investigation found violations of school policies, conference rules and abuse of authority, according to what the then-athletic director Bob Bowlsby told rowers at the time. Bowlsby, now the commissioner of the Big 12 Conference, declined to comment other than to say the discipline wasn’t connected to admissions.

“He was always a square peg in a round hole in the bureaucracy of Stanford,” said Stafford, who credited Amerkhanian with molding him into an Olympian.

A problem Amerkhanian and Vandemoer had in common was the cost of competing against colleges in the Northeast. In the 2018-19 school year, the sailing team made 15 trips east of the Mississippi River.

According to Department of Education data on operating expenses, Stanford spent $182,000 on its sailing program in 2017 — more than any school other than Boston College, and nearly double what Yale and Georgetown spent. But Vandemoer said in an interview before his sentencing that his budget did not include equipment; his biggest fund-raising need was to replace a fleet of 18 sailboats — at a cost of about $120,000 — every five to eight years.

The rowing teams don’t travel as frequently — or as far — but they have a major expense that the sailors do not. They must transport their boats, which can run up to $80,000 for a carbon fiber shell, to races.

Stanford spent about $386,000 on its rowing programs in 2017 — down from a peak of $557,000. Other top rowing programs like Yale and Cal each spent around $675,000 in 2017, and the University of Washington spent $1.25 million.

Though Stanford said its coaches do not have fund-raising benchmarks, the external pressures to finance these programs were touched on in letters supporting Vandemoer to the judge who sentenced him. A parent of two Stanford sailors noted that the team stayed at his house in Annapolis, Md., to save money.


CreditJim Wilson/The New York Times

In addition, Joseph W. McCoy, a Stanford alumnus and avid sailor, wrote: “I am not at all surprised with how such low-profile and poorly funded sports like sailing, soccer, rowing, etc., became such easy targets in this rather ingenious criminal operation that created this mess.”

Singer, who was known among Silicon Valley’s rich and well-connected parents, sought coaches at Stanford and the University of Southern California to join his scheme. If he had more success at U.S.C., it was not for his lack of trying at Stanford, which acknowledged that Singer had contacted “several” coaches. Singer met Vandemoer in 2016, but several years before that he had asked Amerkhanian what he needed. The coach replied: Six-foot-five, 1,500 SAT and 4.0 G.P.A.

One parent who approached the coach was David Sidoo, a Vancouver businessman. He has pleaded not guilty to paying Singer at least $200,000 between 2011 and 2013 to hire a test administrator to take the SAT in place of each of his two sons and a Canadian high school graduation exam in place of his older son.

Sidoo discussed the possibility that at least one son, Jordan, a coxswain in high school, be recruited to Stanford. Amerkhanian mentioned the student to admissions, according to people who have talked to the former coach.

Jordan went to Cal, and was on the rowing roster for at least one season before graduating in 2018. But Cal is now investigating, and has noted that evidence of fraud may lead to diplomas being revoked.

A lawyer for Sidoo, Martin G. Weinberg, described his client’s interactions with Amerkhanian and Stanford as “nothing outside of what parents of students do.”

Billy Witz reported from Redwood City, Calif., and David W. Chen from Boston. Kate Taylor contributed reporting, and Susan C. Beachy contributed research.

David W. Chen is an investigative reporter on the Sports Desk. He was previously an investigative reporter on the Metro desk, the City Hall bureau chief, and worked in Taiwan, Hong Kong and the San Francisco Bay Area before joining The Times in 1995. @davidwchen

A version of this article appears in print on

, Section


, Page


of the New York edition

with the headline:

College Admissions Scandal Roils the Waters at Stanford. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

Read More