Issue No. 57

In surveying readers, there seemed to be a slight preference for earlier in the week. While this is a bit harder for us to pull off, we’re going to give it another shot. Hello Tuesday, nice to see you again!

The Orbital Index

Issue No. 57 | Mar 24, 2020

🚀 🌍 🛰

Coronavirus and Space. You all probably know way more than you want to about COVID-19, so we won’t rehash here. While large players in the space industry will likely be okay, smaller players have a lot to worry about. Here’s a quick summary of some of the ongoing and expanding effects of COVID-19 on the space industry.

The Rotating Detonation Engine. A type of rocket engine using explosive waves of propellant confined between concentric cylinders, called the Rotating Detonation Engine, is lighter and more fuel-efficient than traditional engine designs but is currently too unpredictable for use. Engineers at UW recently published a paper with high-speed photography of a test engine, as well as methods for increased stability. Here’s a video of the pulses circling the experimental engine.

An experimental Rotating Detonation Engine at the University of Washington.

Apollo 15 astronaut Al Worden has passed away. NASA has a video in remembrance. Worden orbited the Moon alone for 3 days while his teammates were on the surface. He was the first human to perform a deep space spacewalk. Back on Earth, he worked at Ames and made several appearances on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”. He wrote of his mission, “Now I know why I'm here. Not for a closer look at the Moon, but to look back at our home, the Earth.”

News in brief. “DarkSat” is 55% dimmer (pdf) than other Starlink satellites (images), but astronomers want to see more improvement—SpaceX is apparently considering a deployable sunshade, kind of like a patio umbrella, to test on a future launch; findings from Hayabusa2 smashing its copper impactor into Ryugu have been released (paper); Bigelow Aerospace laid off all of its employees as least in part due to the developing pandemic; NASA selected four finalists for their next small astrophysics mission—two may get selected for launch by 2025; some good news from Mars: stepping on the mole seems to be helping; OneWeb launched 34 more satellites for their upcoming Internet service constellation—however, the future of OneWeb is quite uncertain, with bankruptcy likely.

A short article about the 1,029 known good caves candidates on Mars, and how people could one day inhabit them. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captures a sinkhole that exposes one such cave system from above.

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