Issue No. 56

The Orbital Index

Issue No. 56 | Mar 19, 2020

🚀 🌍 🛰

ExoMars delayed until late 2022. Due to a series of failed high-altitude drop tests on the 15 m supersonic and 35 m subsonic parachutes, issues with descent module electronics, and the spread of COVID-19, ESA and Roscosmos’s ExoMars mission has been delayed until 2022 when the next Mars launch window will open. JPL has been helping redesign the parachute release mechanisms (video), but tests were delayed until late this month (and presumably would now have been delayed further). ExoMars, carrying the Rosalind Franklin rover, focuses on searching for evidence of ancient life on Mars. The rover carries cameras, spectrometers, ground-penetrating radar, microscopes, a drill that can dig up to 2 m into the ground, and an instrument to look for organic molecules. While disappointing, we’d rather have a successful landing than a botched one, and spacing out Perseverance and the Rosalind Franklin rover may have some benefits as well.

$5.7 billion was invested in space startups in 2019. A new report from Bryce Space and Technology breaks down investments, finding a 63% increase over the $3.5 billion invested in 2018. While investment was spread across 135 startups, 68% went to just 4 companies: SpaceX, Blue Origin, OneWeb, and Virgin Galactic. There were 56 US startups (up from 53 in 2018) and 79 non-US startups (up from 47).

News in brief. Starlink’s sixth launch added 60 satellites to their constellation on Wednesday on a 5x flown booster (a first)—the launch was not without caveats, including a last-second abort, missed landing, and an engine shutdown during ascent; everyone at NASA is working from home now, just like you probably should be; NASA selected two space weather and radiation instruments to fly aboard Gateway— the initial Power and Propulsion Element module (pdf) launch is scheduled for 2022 (but Gateway may no longer be involved in the planned 2024 lunar landing); China launched the penultimate satellite in their Beidou GPS constellation; Lynk (previously called UbiquitiLink) sent a message to an unmodified Android phone from space; an unspecified failure occurred during a Chinese Long March 7A launch; and, Chang'e 4 completed its 15th lunar day on the far side of the Moon (with communications continuing to be relayed by the Queqiao relay satellite in its L2 halo orbit).


A gorgeous composite of our lunar neighbor from Connor Matherne and Andrew McCarthy.

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