Issue No. 1

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The Orbital Index

Beta Issue No. 1 | Feb 26, 2019

🚀 🌍 🛰️

Hayabusa2 collected two samples from asteroid Ryugu last week. Hayabusa2 is a veritable space Swiss Army Knife, carrying 5-gram tantalum bullets for explosively extracting surface samples, deployable free-floating cameras, four small rovers that hop around the asteroid in low-G, and a microsatellite that features a 1.5kg kinetic impactor for accessing deep subsurface samples. Hayabusa2 is JAXA’s second asteroid sample return mission and has an impressive, if slightly cryptic, real-time dashboard. We think Japan is making a smart choice focusing on asteroids; they are potentially threatening to the Earth, are affordable mission targets due to their weak gravity wells, and have huge potential future value in their resources.

Nearly 100 metric tons of cosmic dust settle onto the Earth every day. The Verge produced an interesting video piece about searching for these micrometeorites using methods developed by Norwegian Jon Larsen. Jon shares stunning photos of his micrometeorite finds on Facebook, many of which are from flat rooftops in cities.

The RemoveDEBRIS mission shot some simulated debris with a harpoon to study space debris removal. RemoveDEBRIS also fired a net to catch a cubesat back in September. Space debris continues to proliferate with the ESA estimating there are now over 900,000 objects larger than 1cm in Earth’s orbit. If you want to visualize that, here’s a mesmerizing WebGL simulation of a public dataset (note: it works best on Firefox or Safari—Chrome doesn’t display the point cloud on some platforms). While rare, collisions do happen. The most significant of which was between Iridium-33 and the defunct Russian Kosmos-2251 in 2009. (It looks like RemoveDEBRIS's harpoon target was extended on a compact deployable boom system called a STEM. Here’s a rocking video showing how these delightfully simple devices work.)

The Opportunity rover was finally, officially declared dead by JPL 😢. The mission highlight for us, beyond engineering that led Oppy to survive 55 times its designed mission length, was its discovery in 2004 of hematite concretions that form when water soaks through underground deposits, providing strong evidence for historical water on Mars. Scott Manley, as usual, has an excellent video review of the historic mission.

Ever wanted to build your own open-source satellite ground station? For a few hundred bucks and a bunch of DIY, you can join a global network of amateur ground stations, allowing your station to support existing space missions. Check out SatNOGS.


Martian dust devils uncover different soil types creating surface art

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