Issue No. 74

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The Orbital Index

Issue No. 74 | Jul 22, 2020

🚀 🌍 🛰

The Al Amal is leading the caravan to Mars. 🚀🚀🚀 Al Amal—Arabic for “Hope”—will study the Martian atmosphere. It will look at the interaction of the upper and lower atmosphere, characterize and map weather on the planet, and study how oxygen and hydrogen interact in the upper atmosphere and escape into space (mission overview video). This week, the hexagonal, 1,350 kg probe lifted off (launch video) from Tanegashima​ Space Centre​, Japan, aboard a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries H-IIA rocket to become the Arab world’s first deep space mission—targeting arrival in time for the UAE’s 50th anniversary. The UAE space agency will become just the fifth agency to (hopefully) successfully send a spacecraft to Mars where it will join the ESA/Russian ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, ESA’s Mars Express, the Indian Mangalyaan, and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Odyssey, and MAVEN orbiters. Hope will fly in an elliptical orbit, observing the red planet’s atmosphere using its three science instruments for a full Martian year (687 Earth days), with the possibility of a second Martian year mission extension. Al Amal also carries a high resolution imager, capable of 12 megapixel monochrome images (with discrete RGB filters) at 180 fps, creating an opportunity for the first 4K video from another planet—just not in anywhere near real-time since the probe sports 250 kbps - 1.6 Mbps of bandwidth depending on distance to Earth. Hopefully, this month will also see the launch of NASA’s Perseverance (now attached to its Atlas V) and China’s Tianwen-1 Mars mission (it’s Long March 5 just rolled out for launch on the 23rd).

JUICE. The poorly-acronymed Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer (JUICE) ESA mission to the Jovian system has entered final integration for a 2022 launch and 2029 arrival. Jupiter, a planet so large that it almost got to be a star, has a complex moon system, with Ganymede, Europa, and Callisto likely harboring internal oceans. JUICE will characterize these potentially habitable icy worlds by mapping their surfaces, magnetic fields, and any subsurface water. JUICE will also study Jupiter as an archetypical gas giant as comparison to the many exoplanets we’ve discovered. Related: re-analysis of a Galileo flyby of Europa suggests evidence of water leaking into space from its subsurface ocean.


News in brief. Spaceflight debuted Sherpa-FX, their next-gen orbital transfer vehicle to deliver rideshare customers to their final orbits—akin to Rocket Lab’s Photon; the Falcon 9 rocket that will carry Crew-1, the next crewed launch NET late September, has arrived in Florida (meanwhile Demo-1 is scheduled to depart the ISS on August 1); a Minotaur 4 successfully launched four NRO spy satellites last week using solid-fueled rocket engines that were extracted from decommissioned Peacekeeper nuclear missiles—their solid fuel maintained stability for 30 years (!), much of that time in a silo; JWST has completed its final comprehensive systems test, even as it is delayed another 7 months, to Oct 2021; SpaceX launched the Korean ANASIS-II satellite on the ‘flight-proven’ Demo-2 booster (setting a new 51-day booster turnaround record), stuck the landing, and caught both fairing halves (video) for the very first time; and, Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights movement icon and sometime space station savior, passed away.


This 503-day exposure of the core of the Sun was taken through the Earth using neutrinos. Solar neutrinos also recently confirmed the physics of how hydrogen is fused into helium in the Sun. (In other news, “a neutrino sail is not a practical method of propulsion.” 😂)

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