¶Make that a partial 100% success. While Firefly declared its recent orbital launch a “100% mission success,” independent observations put its payload satellites at an orbital altitude of ~200 km, while 300 km was intended. We’ve heard that this may have been related to an issue with the upper stage’s second burn which circularized the orbit and should have increased its altitude. This lower altitude dramatically shortened the useful life of the experimental satellites —all of the payloads have now reentered, including the upper stage itself. While the launch definitely demonstrated orbital capabilities for Firefly, it’s no longer fair to call it a complete success. Related: Firefly’s stage separation was also a bit of a nail-biter, with the first stage pivoting during separation and causing the interstage to come exceptionally close to impacting the upper stage’s engine bell—this reminds us of SpaceX's early difficulties with Falcon 1’s stage separation (video).
Firefly Alpha’s upper-stage deploying one of its test payloads.
| ¶Epsilon3 is trusted by satellite operators around the world to optimize their constellations. Ditch your old documents, spreadsheets, and wikis -- modernize with Epsilon3 today.|
¶China’s first dedicated solar observatory. The Advanced Space-based Solar Observatory (ASO-S) launched on October 9th on a Long March-2D. First proposed all the way back in the 1970s, ASO-S is also known as Kuafu-1, borrowing the name of a mythological giant who sought to catch the Sun. The spacecraft has three instruments and will spend four years—through the 2024-25 solar maximum—observing our star in multiple wavelengths (X-ray, UV, and visible) to study the magnetic origin of coronal mass ejections. ASO-S will also study the “middle corona”, which is the source of solar storms and has never been fully imaged in UV.
- New research out of SLAC (paper) created nanodiamonds via laser compression of PET plastic, a rough analogue for the composition of icy planets, and found that oxygen allowed diamond formation at lower temperatures and pressures than previously seen. They predict that “diamonds on Neptune and Uranus would become much larger than the nanodiamonds produced in these experiments – maybe millions of carats in weight. Over thousands of years, the diamonds might slowly sink through the planets’ ice layers and assemble into a thick layer of bling around the solid planetary core.” 💎
- The massive Jan. 15 Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcanic eruption, which created a tsunami and globe-encircling sonic boom, turns out to have also lofted an unprecedented amount of water into the stratosphere—146 teragrams, 10% of the total baseline stratospheric water, and enough to fill more than 58,000 Olympic-size swimming pools (paper). The paradoxical result is, unlike the cooling caused by most volcanic eruptions, due to water vapor’s heat-trapping effects, this eruption may actually temporarily raise the Earth’s average global temperature. This data comes from the Microwave Limb Sounder instrument on NASA’s Aura satellite.
- Exoplanet TOI-1452 b is a rocky world slightly larger than Earth orbiting in its star’s habitable zone. It is perhaps the best candidate yet for an “ocean planet”: its radius and mass indicate a much lower density than Earth, suggesting large amounts of volatiles, such as water (paper).
- Mars InSight detected the seismic and acoustic waves from four meteorite strikes on Mars in 2020 and 2021, the first impacts ‘heard’ on Mars (paper). One of the events, on September 5, 2021, exploded as an airburst and resulted in three detectable collisions, audible in this audio file. (Related: Insight just made it through a continent-sized dust storm which dropped its solar power levels to just 275 Watt-hours/sol during the storm—down from its original 5,000 Wh/sol—leading the team to turn off its seismometer for two weeks in an effort to squeeze just a bit more life out of the craft. InSight is forecast to reach end-of-life by January.)
Impact craters on Mars detected seismically and acoustically by Mars InSight and visually confirmed by MRO. The blue area is digitally color-enhanced disturbed dust and soil.
¶News in brief. ULA’s Atlas V launched from Cape Canaveral (for the last time in its three solid rocket booster configuration) with SES-20 & SES-21—if SES can launch two more replacement satellites by the end of the year they will have freed up spectrum worth $4B ● The UK and South Korea have joined the US commitment to prohibit testing direct-ascent ASAT weapons ● SpaceX’s Crew-5 sent four astronauts to the ISS, including cosmonaut Anna Kikina on her first spaceflight, the first Russian to launch from US soil in 20 years, and astronaut Nicole Mann, the first Native American woman to go to space and SpaceX’s first female mission commander ● A Starlink mission launched about 7 hours later ● CAPSTONE has been recovered—the cause was identified as a valve stuck partially open “result[ing] in thrust from the associated thruster whenever the propulsion system was pressurized” ● A Soyuz launched a GLONASS GNSS sat ● Rocket Lab launched a wildlife and ocean buoy tracking payload for General Atomics ● A dramatically sea-launched Long March 11 lofted two GNSS satellites into orbit (super nice video) ● South Korea’s first lunar orbiter, Danuri, performed its trajectory correction maneuver at L1—it should enter lunar orbit in mid December ● Dimorphos now has a 10,000 km long debris tail, and we’ve confirmed that DART changed its orbital period around Didymos by 32 minutes (3x as much as was anticipated!), marking the first time humanity has purposely changing the motion of a celestial object—this one's for the dinosaurs!
- ABL Space, who are targeting a mid-Oct launch attempt for their RS1 rocket, released a classy video detailing the work that has gone into their vehicle development over the last five years.
- US-based startup Outpost is working on satellites that return from orbit for recovery of microgravity research / manufactured products / tested components. They recently tested an autonomous paraglider for the final phase of descent (probably much like those used by SpaceX for fairing recovery). Meanwhile, US-based Varda is working on satellites that perform zero-g manufacturing and then return products using a 90 kg reentry capsule (which they also just tested), and UK-based Space Forge is working on their own orbital manufacturing satellites with return capability.
- A beautiful clip of a Falcon 9 launch from Cape Canaveral, shot from the cockpit of a passing plane.
- The latest Bryce Briefing finds that in Q2 2022, SpaceX launched 158.7 tons, almost exactly twice the upmass of China's CASC (38.8 tons), Roscosmos (17.2 tons), ULA (13.0 tons), and Arianespace (9.8 tons) combined.
- SpaceX’s launch upmass has been predominantly Starlink satellites, which are now just about half of all operating satellites. Mike Puchol has a fascinatingly in-depth look at the potential capacity of the constellation in its current state. He’s also the author of the fittingly detailed Starlink Coverage Tracker.
- A fundraising effort to send telescopes to amateur astronomy clubs in Libya where years of conflict have left science resources nonexistent. They’re halfway to their $2,500 goal and the campaign ends tomorrow.
- Our friend Andris Slavinskis has a new blog post, this time about the challenges of interplanetary cubesat design. Previous entries have covered the development of ESTCube-1, ESTCube-2, and the design of a proposed E-sail-based smallsat mission that would visit multiple asteroids.
- Jatan Mehta recently reviewed Australia’s lunar plans based on a 10-year roadmap of exploration and robotics released by the Australian Space Agency.
- Some truly remarkable nature photography.
- And, the Planetary Society’s favorite JWST photos so far. 🔭