Happy New Year’s Eve!
2019 was a huge year for space exploration. Highlights included the first image of a black hole, the US’s politically-motivated return to the Moon, the Commercial Crew Program nearing fruition, India’s unfortunate test of an ASAT missile, Chang’e 4 exploring the far side of the Moon, SpaceX starting to launch their Starlink constellation and presenting their first Starship prototype, Hayabusa2 dropping a kitchen sink’s worth of hardware on Ryugu, arrival of the interstellar comet 2I/Borisov, Vikram and Beresheet crashing on the Moon, approval of the Comet Interceptor, Europa Clipper. NEO Surveillance, and Dragonfly missions, LightSail 2, and the (clearly equally important) launch 45 weeks ago of The Orbital Index. We think 2020 is going to be an even bigger year for the space industry, and we can’t wait to share it with all of you.
¶Our predictions for 2020. A few of the many space-related events that will likely happen this coming year:
- Starliner and Crew Dragon will both take people to the ISS. (The SpaceX Crew Dragon in-flight abort test is now scheduled for NET Jan 11th. TBD on the Starliner Crewed Flight Test.)
- Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne and Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha will launch and hopefully achieve orbit. Rocket Lab will attempt (and maybe achieve) vehicle recovery. And we’re bullish on seeing launches from other small launch vehicle startups as well.
- Other national maiden flights will include India's Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV), Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ H3, Arianespace's Ariane 6, and maybe (but really, probably not) NASA’s SLS with the Artemis 1 mission (carrying the Near-Earth Asteroid Scout, Lunar Flashlight, BioSentinel, Lunar IceCube, and others).
- Blue Origin’s New Shepard will probably carry people to the edge of space (but nowhere near orbit), and Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo will likely begin carrying tourists.
- SpaceX will perform as many as two Starlink launches per month (and start offering limited Internet service to North America) as well as a bunch of SmallSat Rideshare Missions, and maybe even a Starship orbital test—Elon has been tweeting about Starship SN1 recently.
- In addition to Starlink, other constellations will also grow in orbit, including OneWeb, Planet, Capella Space, and a whole bunch of newcomers. 2020 is going to be the year of satellite constellations.
- China will continue to dominate in the number of national launches (surpassed only by private Starlink launches). They will test a next-generation crewed spacecraft and, in late 2020, use their upgraded Long March 5 vehicle to launch the Chang’e 5 lunar sample return mission and maybe even start launching their space station.
- Four missions are aiming for Mars, including the Mars 2020 Rover (with its helicopter!), ExoMars with the Kazachok lander and Rosalind Franklin rover, China’s HX-1 orbiter plus rover, and UAE’s Hope Mars Mission (flying on a Japanese rocket).
- Interstellar comet 2I/Borisov (which just swung by the Sun) will pass Jupiter on its hyperbolic trajectory back out of the solar system.
- OSIRIS-REx will sample Bennu, Hayabusa2 will return samples from Ryugu, and NASA and ESA will launch their Solar Orbiter to explore the Sun’s poles.
- Space debris and satellite constellations’ effects on space flight and astronomy will remain key topics, as well as the militarization of space.
- Maybe the world will stop ignoring the climate emergency?
¶The return of the Long March 5. China performed a successful launch of their redesigned Long March 5 heavy-lift vehicle, paving the way for their upcoming crewed space station and missions to the Moon and Mars (cf. Issue 43). This is the third launch of the Long March 5, which has been on hold for redesigns since a turbopump failure in 2017. The 57 m tall vehicle has almost twice the payload capacity of the second most powerful Chinese vehicle and uses liquid hydrogen and oxygen for propellant instead of the exceptionally toxic hydrazine.
¶News in brief. SpaceX completed its 10th successful Crew Dragon parachute test; Christina Koch broke the record for longest female spaceflight; TSUBAME, JAXA’s super low altitude test satellite became the lowest earth-orbiting observation satellite at just 167.4 km (a measly 48.6 km higher than New Shepard’s highest apogee); and, Betelgeuse is rapidly dimming (but as a historically variable star, it probably won’t supernova any time soon).
- Your requisite list of decadal best-of lists: the most important US space policy events of the 2010s, the 15 most awe-inspiring space images of the decade, and a breakdown of 10 years of steady gains for AI and robotics.
- A new class of low density “cotton candy” planets have been discovered by Hubble. They have masses a few times that of Earth, but their atmospheres extend nearly to the size of Jupiter, giving them densities around 1% of Jupiter. They may be composed of clouds of salt crystals or Titan-like photochemical hazes.
- A short piece about debugging a live Saturn V, and a detailed video about the Saturn V’s Launch Vehicle Digital Computer and its 112 KB of dual-redundant hand-woven magnetic core memory.
- For the 8th year in a row, NASA is the best US government agency to work for in a survey of federal employees—the next closest, but more than 10 points behind, was the Department of Health and Human Services.
- The Moon has been overrun with cane toads.
- Quantum fluctuations in space itself can allow heat to travel hundreds of nanometers through a vacuum. This heat transfer happens via the Casimir effect—basically, in quantum mechanics, there is no such thing as truly empty space. This startling result could impact the design of electronics where heat dissipation over very small distances is critical (Nature paper).
- Happy New Year!