Issue No. 234

The Orbital Index

Issue No. 234 | Sep 6, 2023

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Otter Pup is so back. Starfish Space launched their ambitious rendezvous, proximity operations, and docking (RPOD) Otter Pup demonstration mission on Transporter-8, attached to the Launcher (now owned by Vast) Orbiter SN3 space tug, which Starfish Space also planned to use as its rendezvous test target. After separation from the Falcon 9 upper stage, an anomaly occurred on SN3 creating an increasing rate of spin. Quick decision-making on the part of Launcher resulted in customer payloads being deployed immediately. Along with this deployment, Otter Pup inherited a high rate of spin, 330°/sec (most craft are only able to handle <5°/sec), leading to a depressing outlook for the mission. However, last week the Starfish team announced that they had successfully detumbled the craft using its magnetorquers and a custom-developed algorithm. That algorithm wasn’t shared in detail, but it presumably pulsed power on the magnetorquers when their moment was orthogonal to the Earth’s magnetic field as measured by an onboard magnetometer since pulse timing would change as the spin rate decreased—see this algorithm for the basics. After developing and testing their detumble algorithm, they were able to deploy it to Otter Pup, complete an initial test, and then perform the full de-spin operation (which took less than 24 hours of runtime!) to reduce the craft’s spin to zero. This heartening tale of on-the-fly engineering flies in the face of so many unrecoverable in-space failures over the decades. Now, Starfish is in search of a new craft that Otter Pup could partner with to perform the autonomous rendezvous portions of its mission… let them know if you have one hanging around that could be of use.

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ADITYA-L1. Not resting on its laurels, ISRO launched its ADITYA-L1 mission on a PSLV rocket toward the Earth-Sun L1 on Saturday. It will join missions like SOHO and DSCOVR at L1, an excellent vantage point for observing our friendly star. ADITYA-L1 carries the Solar Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope (paper), developed by the Inter-University Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) in Pune, and is ISRO’s first space telescope dedicated to studying the Sun. The mission will observe our star in near-ultraviolet wavelengths (200-400 nm), mapping the Sun’s photosphere and chromosphere to understand how mass and energy move between its layers. It will also study the solar wind and the Sun’s magnetic field.

Clearspace-1 space debris target hit by… space debris. A 113 kg VESPA payload adapter, left over from a 2013 Vega launch, is the planned target of Swiss startup ClearSpace’s upcoming ESA-funded ClearSpace-1 active space debris removal (ADR) mission. If successful, this mission will be the first time an existing piece of space debris is captured and deorbited. However, it appears that VESPA was struck last week by a small piece of space debris. This hypervelocity impact resulted in fragmentation, with new, (fortunately) low-velocity objects now showing up on radar near VESPA, which appears mostly intact. LEO is a dynamic environment and quickly growing crowded. ClearSpace-1 is still planned to target VESPA, assuming nothing else runs into it first. Relatedly: A better plan, in general, than after-the-fact debris removal is to equip satellites and rocket stages with technology to accelerate deorbit after mission completion; for example, thrusters or drag sails, like the one recently tested by a Brown University student cubesat.

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News in brief. Ingenuity took its 56th flight to reposition itself after its recent anomaly Japanese startup GITAI raised $15M for US expansion and lunar robot development ● Helsinki-based flight and data software company ReOrbit raised a $7.4M SeedLRO spotted Luna 25’s likely impact creater on the Moon ESA postponed an Ariane 6 hot fire test due to a technical issue with the ground control system However, the agency did manage to conduct a hot fire test of the full upper stage China launched 3 military reconnaissance satellites Intuitive Machines raised $20M An Amazon institutional investor started a lawsuit over Project Kuiper’s launch contracts, Amazon’s second largest capital expense, that were awarded in “bad faith” to Arianespace, Blue Origin, and ULA, without considering SpaceX SatSure, an EO data and analytics startup based in India, raised a $15M Series A to expand from analytics to operating their own EO sats TransAstra won a NASA contract to continue development of their space debris capture bag (deployment video) Crew-6 returned to Earth ESA, who is supporting Chandrayaan-3 with their deep space antennas, contacted the lander module from their Norcia station in Western Australia during the super blue moon.

The location of the Blue supermoon aligned perfectly for 3.5 hours of tracking contact between ESA’s Norcia station antenna and the Chandrayaan-3 Lander, and its unusual brightness led to a cool video.


Pragyan and Vikram are expected to only function on the Moon until the end of their first lunar day, which ended Monday. Below is a photo that Pragyan took of Vikram, and here’s a video of the rover in action. It is now in hibernation after traversing over 100 m, with charged batteries and receiver on, in the hopes of surviving the lunar night. Oh, and Vikram performed a surprise 30-40 cm rocket-powered hop test, with full instrument stowing and redeployment!

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