Issue No. 68

The Orbital Index

Issue No. 68 | Jun 10, 2020

🚀 🌍 🛰

The state of SpaceX after 10 years of Falcon 9. Last week, SpaceX launched its 85th successful mission on the active American rocket with the most flights, the Falcon 9. If you track launches in UTC as SpaceX does, it launched—to the day—10 years after the first Falcon 9 launched (launch video & launch coverage) with an early Dragon test article. The 10-year transformation of SpaceX from a tenuously poised newcomer to an industry leader, while moving at the pace of a tech company, has been remarkable. As someone said, “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” Here are some recent highlights:

BLM in Space. In 1992, NASA astronaut Mae Jemison became the first black woman to fly in space. In 1996, she filed a police brutality complaint against a police officer for twisting her arm and throwing her down on the pavement while arresting her during a traffic stop. The first black astronaut was the lesser-known Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez, a Cuban of African descent. Tamayo launched aboard a Soyuz to the Salyut 6 space station in 1980 as part of the Soviet Intercosmos program. Here in the US, just 15 out of NASA’s 339 astronauts have been African AmericanGuion S. Bluford became the first to reach space when he flew on the space shuttle Challenger in 1983. (Related: the recently renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza is easily visible from space.)

HALO moves forward. NASA awarded Orbital ATK, a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman, the contract to finish preliminary development of the Gateway’s crew Habitation And Logistics Outpost module (HALO). It will be based on Orbital’s autonomous Cygnus 3m-diameter pressurized cargo spacecraft which has completed 13 commercial resupply missions to the ISS. Cygnus itself is based on a pressure module from Thales, who is responsible for building over half of the ISS pressurized volume. HALO will support up to 4 crew for 30-60 days in cislunar orbit. Future upgrades to Gateway include ESA’s ESPRIT module and up to six more modules. The $187M contract will fund final planning, long lead-time component acquisition, and final design review before manufacturing and integration in 2021. HALO will now be integrated preflight instead of on-orbit with the Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) from Maxar and is targeting a 2023 launch.


Saturn as viewed through Titan’s thick atmosphere by Cassini in March 2005.

News in brief. InSight’s mole might finally be underground; Astroscale has acquired much of Effective Space Solutions and plans to start developing GEO satellite life extension services; things are slowly reopening at NASA: SOFIA flights will resume and work is restarting on the JWST; Bob and Doug have settled into the ISS and are now helping to unload the HTV cargo vehicle (and may spacewalk in coming weeks); JPL’s ASTERIA CubeSat is the smallest satellite to detect an exoplanet, with sufficient fine pointing control to spot 55 Cancri e through the transit method; and, US lawmakers unveiled a $100 billion plan to remake the National Science Foundation.



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