Issue No. 186

The Orbital Index

Issue No. 186 | Sep 21, 2022

🚀 🌍 🛰

Ariane Talks Susie at IAC. ArianeGroup unveiled a multi-year design project for a new crew and cargo upper stage that it hopes will meet Europe’s appetite for space travel. Susie (Smart Upper Stage for Innovative Exploration) will launch on top of the nearly flight-ready Ariane 64 heavy-lift vehicle, carrying cargo and astronauts to LEO and, eventually, to deep space. Susie is designed for safety and reusability, providing abort capabilities for the entirety of the mission profile and landing vertically (like the DC-X and also the original vision for Dragon) after a Starship-esque belly flop reentry (however, its reorientation to vertical appears to come much sooner than Starship’s sweat-inducing last-minute version). The 12 m-long craft is significantly larger than Dragon, Starliner, or Orion—it features 40 cubic meters of payload space and a total mass of 25 tons. Susie is also designed to evolve over time, starting with cargo missions, then crew, and eventually launching on Ariane 6’s reusable successor, which will be built on technology developed by ESA’s Themis program and using the methalox Prometheus engine. (Ariane has a number of configurations for everything from a Vega replacement to a super-heavy lift vehicle using a small number of shared components across these projects.) Eventually, Susie could even move into deep space with the addition of a propulsion and life support module (it would seemingly rendezvous with this module in orbit). No timeline was announced, but we hope it garners ESA support and funding.

Susie, with its payload bay open and solar panels deployed.


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Lunar space suits. Last week, we mentioned that NASA awarded Axiom Space a $228M contract for “a moonwalking system” for the first crewed Artemis mission (III). This award passed over Collins Aerospace, the Apollo suit designer and the other winner of NASA’s recent xEVAS vendor contract. Both Collins and Axiom will still be eligible for future contracts for lunar and station suits through 2034, now that the Agency has stopped development on their own suits. With this win, Axiom’s ambitions are rapidly expanding—the company also brokers space tourism flights and is working on a commercial ISS module that will eventually bud off to become its own free-floating space station. If you’re looking for some light reading, here are the technical capabilities and requirements for the new suits. Axiom’s suits “must support at least six two-person Moonwalks, and release less than 100 grams of notorious lunar dust into the cabin post-moonwalks for safety” while letting astronauts survive inside frigid, permanently shadowed lunar craters for up to 2 hours.
Two classroom-chalk-sized rock cores inside Perseverance’s drill were extracted on “Wildcat Ridge” in Jezero Crater.
Booster 7 static fires 7. On Monday, SpaceX hit a new milestone by static firing seven Raptor 2 engines at once (another video) on Super Heavy Booster 7 (BN7). Prior to the test, a prime spin test was conducted, where turbopumps on the engines were spun up to operating speed, testing the rocket’s plumbing system, but gasses were not ignited (video). After the static fire, BN7 was depressed, detanked, and moved back to the High Bay, while BN8 was rolled out to the Orbital Launch Mount (OLM) for some testing of its own. Next up, the seven Raptors will be checked out and BN7 will get some upgrades. Then, back out to the OLM for a full stack wet dress rehearsal and eventually the long-awaited 33-engine static fire. We’re still wondering if the OLM can hold down 33 raptors worth of thrust (~7,590 tons of thrust minus the weight of BN7) when the monster isn’t fully fueled with SN24 sitting on top—the seven Raptors that fired on Monday roughly equaled the thrust of one of SLS’s five-segment SRBs.
News in brief. NASA technicians replaced two seals on SLS’s QD liquid hydrogen feed and fueled the rocket to test the fix, a launch attempt could happen next week (refer to this handy chart for available launch windows)Spaceflight signed a deal with Rocket Factory Augsberg for the upcoming RFA One rocket to carry their Sherpa space tug (this comes after SpaceX severed its long-term relationship with the company for unknown reasons earlier this year)Axiom will fly the first Turkish astronaut to space (which mission is TBD)A new bi-partisan US bill would promote the development of active debris removal systems in LEO (raw text of the bill)A UAE-built lunar rover will be onboard China’s Chang'e 7 lander NET 2024CAPSTONE continues to tumble, but the spacecraft’s communication situation has improved and its propulsion system is being warmed back up to operating temperaturesNASA is requesting proposals for a second crewed lander for Artemis missions in addition to Lunar StarshipSPACs are back—Intuitive Machines is planning an $815M-valued SPACMorpheus Space, a maker of miniature electric thrusters, raised a $28M Series ARocket Lab launched their 30th Electron mission with a Synspective SAR sat on board (and SpaceX launched their 60th mission this year)Lynk has received the first FCC license for direct-to-smartphone service, giving them a lead in the SpaceX/T-Mobile/Apple/AST SpaceMobile raceStarlink is now available on every continentGermany and Japan joined the US pledge to avoid kinetic ASAT tests ABL completed a wet dress rehearsal of its RS1 rocket and is now working with the FAA to finalize a launch window for its maiden flight from the Pacific Spaceport in AlaskaDART should slam into and measurably move Dimorphos on Monday the 26th.
An image of asteroid Didymos taken by DART’s optical navigation camera on July 27, 2022.
Chinese researchers discovered a new mineral inside samples returned by Chang'e 5. Dubbed Changesite-(Y), it is a phosphate mineral found in lunar basalt that is about a billion years younger than the material sampled at the Apollo landing sites. This is the sixth mineral discovered on the Moon, and China is now the third country (after the US and Soviet Union) to do so.

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