Issue No. 110


The Orbital Index

Issue No. 110 | Mar 31, 2021

🚀 🌚 🛰

Guest contribution

Peregrine: set to fly in Q4. Astrobotic’s Peregrine Mission One (PM1), one of the first two missions under NASA’s CLPS program, is on track to head to the Moon later this year. Currently targeting December, PM1 will launch from pad 41 in Cape Canaveral on the maiden flight of ULA’s Vulcan Centaur in the “VC2S” configuration of the two-stage rocket. After separating from Centaur, PM1 will complete a highly elliptical Earth orbit, trans-lunar injection, then three distinct lunar orbits before a descent powered by TALOS thrusters. The lander will touch down at Lacus Mortis, a crater on the mid-latitude near side of the Moon, about 55 hours after lunar sunrise, allowing for an anticipated 192 hours of surface operations. A total of 25 payloads from seven countries, including 11 payloads from NASA, will occupy the 90 kg payload capacity across Peregrine’s three decks. NASA’s science objectives primarily focus on prospecting for resources like water-ice and observing disturbances to the lunar regolith caused by the retro-propulsive landing. In particular, a trio of spectrometers aim to study the history of the water cycle on the Moon, as proxied by the residue (water, carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons) that will be sprayed from the lander’s propulsion systems onto the surface; observing how these materials behave when released will provide insight into pathways that lead to water being trapped at the poles. Other payloads on PM1 include mementos from Earth aboard the DHL MoonBox 📦; the MoonArk art project; and multiple rovers, including the Yaoki single-axis rover from Dymon in Japan, the 1.3kg Asagumo walking rover from Spacebit in the UK, and the student-designed Iris rover from Carnegie Mellon. At 1.9m tall and 2.5m wide, Peregrine is the smaller of Astrobotic’s two landers. Their larger Griffin lander will deliver VIPER to the south pole of the Moon as part of CLPS in 2023. Astrobotic completed structural qualification testing of the lander in September 2020 and conducted simulated payload integration testing with NASA in January. The mission—originally slated for this summer—was pushed back to Q4 2021 due to development delays with Blue Origin’s BE-4s, the main engines powering Vulcan. It looks like it’ll be a race to the Moon, as Intuitive Machines is also targeting Q4 to launch their CLPS Nova-C lander on a SpaceX Falcon 9. Commercial lunar space is heating up—Astrobotic appears to be planning future missions already, with a base price per kilogram of $300K for lunar orbit delivery, $1.2M for lunar surface landing, and $4.5M for deployment on a rover! — this piece was contributed by Anna Fuller, startup founder by day and space enthusiast by night.


The large hexagon-shaped Lacus Mortis, with its well-defined Bürg crater in the center, will be Peregrine’s landing site later this year. Photo by Maximus Photography.


Lunar Radio Astronomy. The furthest (and therefore oldest) galaxy ever seen is GN-z11, imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2016, and, more recently, by Keck in Hawaii. Light that we see from GN-z11 was emitted in the ultraviolet range 13.4 billion years ago but is red-shifted by the expansion of the Universe to the point that it reaches us at infrared wavelengths. This galaxy formed only 400 million years after the Big Bang. Imaging much further back, into the Epoch of Reionization when the first energetic objects formed and ionized the neutral hydrogen floating throughout space, requires radio astronomy. Unfortunately, due to radio frequency interference, detection of signals from this period is difficult on Earth. There is a better place, though: on or over the far side of the Moon. To build futuristic lunar radio telescopes (such as the FarView NIAC proposal we covered last week), we need to understand the radio frequency environment created by lunar regolith. The ROLSES instrument will launch aboard Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C lander late this year and will study the surface radiofrequency environment on the Moon’s near side, followed shortly by LuSEE, another environment characterization instrument, and in 2024, DAPPER, a set of dipole antennas that will be deployed on the far side of the Moon to study the 21-cm line emitted by neutral hydrogen before Reionization. This article goes into more detail about lunar radio telescopes, including mentioning the FARSIDE project (and here’s an interview with Jack Burns, the PI of Lunar FARSIDE). One of last year’s NIAC awards, the Lunar Crater Radio Telescope, is even more ambitious, and there are proposals (paper) for lunar systems that could also detect radio emissions from Jupiter-sized exoplanets.


More Moon updates. With the SLS Green Run testing behind us, we wanted to do a quick status check on upcoming Moon missions and related technology readiness.

News in brief. Starship SN11 exploded during a testflight yesterday morning, scattering debris—it launched in heavy fog, suffered engine pressure issues, and experienced a RUD just prior to the landing attempt—SN15 rolls out in a few days with “hundreds” of improvements; Russia is apparently working on a spaceplane; Redwire, which recently acquired Made In Space and Oakman Aerospace, among others, is going public via yet another SPAC; SpaceX launched their 25th Starlink mission—with 1,320 satellites now in orbit (check out our coverage visualization), approximately of all operational satellites are now Starlink relays—also, this launch marked exactly 15 years since SpaceX attempted their first (albeit unsuccessful) launch of the Falcon 1; OneWeb launched an additional 36 Internet satellites on a Soyuz, bringing their own constellation to 146; NASA detailed their Commercial LEO Development (CLD) program which will fund $300-$400 million worth of initial designs for commercial orbital facilities (aka space stations) with the goal of replacing the ISS and transitioning NASA to just being a customer; ABL Space raised $170 million and is targeting a first launch of their 1,350-kilograms-to-LEO RS1 orbital rocket later this year; the Falcon 9 upper stage from the March 4th Starlink mission that failed to complete its scheduled deorbit burn recently had an unscheduled and fiery reentry; and, Ingenuity, which has now been fully unfolded and placed on the surface of Mars (first flight scheduled for NET April 8th), was announced to be it carrying a fragment of fabric from the Wright brother’s plane—120 years from the first powered flight on Earth to the first powered flight on another planet ain’t half bad. 🚁🤞

The Falcon 9 upper stage break up over Seattle and the Pacific Northwest generated a bunch of live reaction videos. Here’s a compilation (audio is, unsurprisingly, NSFW 🙊)


Two new studies (1, 2) analyzed the data from the Event Horizon Telescope’s historic 2019 VLBI image of the supermassive black hole at the center of galaxy M87, providing a visualization of the black hole’s intense magnetic fields via polarized synchrotron radiation.


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