Issue No. 220

The Orbital Index

Issue No. 220 | May 31, 2023

🚀 🌍 🛰

A Cliff was the Culprit. ispace released an analysis of their failed HAKUTO-R Moon landing, once again showing that space is hard: “the lander fully completed the entire planned deceleration process, slowing to the target speed of less than 1 m/s in a vertical position”, but it did so “at an altitude of approximately 5 kms above the lunar surface” and slowly descended from there until it ran out of fuel. The team believes this was due to the lander passing over a cliff at the rim of Atlas crater, causing its laser rangefinder to read a sudden increase in altitude, and resulting in software designed to detect and disable broken sensors spuriously marking the altitude sensor as broken and ignoring its output from then on. This situation wasn’t detected during testing because the mission’s landing site was changed in 2020 and the software, which had been tested extensively for the old site, was never tested on the altitude map for the new location. ispace’s next attempt is scheduled for 2024.

Before and after images of HAKUTO-R’s impact site, as recently seen by LRO, less than 7 km from its target landing site. 😢

The Orbital Index is made possible through generous sponsorship by:


ISAM update. There have been a bunch of in-space servicing, assembly, and manufacturing (ISAM) updates recently.

A rendering of Space Forge’s deployable non-ablative heat shield during descent.

SpaceX continues to push at Starbase. A month after Starship’s first integrated flight test (new official launch video edit), SpaceX is firmly targeting another launch before the end of summer. Work on the launch site has included a water-cooled steel flame plate, repairs needed to fill in the DIY flame trench/crater dug by Booster 7’s launch, and upgrades to the orbital launch mount and propellant tanks. The company recently confirmed that Booster 9 and Ship 25 are the test articles intended for the next launch and that the launch will take place after another month of pad repairs and upgrades, followed by a month of more cryo proofing, spin-prime tests, and static fires. All of this is pending launch approval, which hangs a bit in the balance with a number of environmental groups suing the FAA for what they (somewhat reasonably) claim was a cursory environmental review of the launch site’s impact on the surrounding wildlife areas. SpaceX has joined the case as a defendant since it (somewhat reasonably) feels that the impact on Starship’s development timeline will hugely affect the company’s financial future, as well as its ability to complete Starship development in a timely manner for NASA contracts (among other customers), given a potential multi-year delay if the FAA is forced to go back and reassess the environmental impact of the launch site.

News in brief. Virgin Orbit sold its assets at bankruptcy auction and shut down—Rocket Lab bought the company’s Long Beach headquarters ($16.1M), Stratolaunch bought their modified 747 ($17M), and Launcher (now owned by Vast) bought a Mojave facility along with sundry equipment ($2.7M)—it may never have made economic sense, but we’re sorry to see Virgin Orbit go 😔Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic flew for the first time in two years, with VSS Unity reaching a height of 87.2 km, and is targeting June for a first commercial flightAn Electron rocket took NASA’s final two TROPICS CubeSats to orbitIndia launched its first next-gen navigation satellite NVS-01 on a GSLV vehicle to augment the existing IRNSS regional positioning service constellationChina launched three crew to Tiangong South Korea’s Nuri rocket—aka KSLV-2— completed its third launch, and its first with commercial payloads (eight satellites were onboard), bringing South Korea into the commercial launch industryAustralian company Fleet closed a $33M Series C for their resource exploration IoT constellation (interestingly, they focus on connecting networks of real-time ambient seismic noise tomography sensors to map underground deposits)More financing: Satellite Vu (UK) raised $16M for thermal imaging, GITAI (Japan) raised $29M for lunar rover and other robotic development, SkyFi raised $7M for a EO data marketplace, and TRL11 (🙄) raised $3M for low latency video streaming from spaceAstranis’s first satellite, Arcturus, has successfully deployed in GEOThe LIGO gravitational wave observatory is back online, now with upgraded sensitivity—meanwhile, India approved construction of its own LIGO installation last month, which will join the global network and improve source detection for gravitational waves.
LIGO is made up of two large laser interferometry facilities that are widely separated (Washington and Louisiana), but operated in unison, to detect small ripples in space-time. It collaborates with Virgo in Italy, KAGRA in Japan, and soon LIGO-India.
The ISS (and Space Shuttles before it) had an Epson Stylus Color 800 inkjet printer on board. In 2018, NASA launched a custom replacement built by HP. There was even a mission patch, below.

© 2023 The Orbital Index. All rights reserved.

Powered by Hydejack v8.4.0