Issue No. 97

Happy (almost) New Year! 2020, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.


The Orbital Index

Issue No. 97 | Dec 30, 2020

🚀 🎆 🛰

2020 hindsight. Even with the chaos and loss of the pandemic, including a pause or delay to many missions, 2020 was quite the year for space. Here are some highlights with links to our coverage during the year.


An image that sums up 2020 in space: Comet NEOWISE over a SpaceX Falcon 9 ready for launch at SLC-40.


And in 2021? Next year is looking to be at least as big a space year as 2020. To name just a few highlights: three missions (and a helicopter!) arrive at Mars (Tianwen-1, Hope Probe, Perseverance), the James Webb Space Telescope launches in October (it just completed final sunshield testing), NASA’s DART, Lucy, and CLPS landers start launching, the Vera Rubin Observatory should see first light, Starliner OPT-2 will hopefully go smoothly, and China’s space station starts assembly. We also expect to see a number of firsts throughout the industry: first orbital flights for Astra, Virgin Orbit, Firefly, and maaaaybe Starship, New Glenn, and Artemis I; first orbital booster reuse from a non-SpaceX commercial space company (Rocket Lab); the first fully private crewed mission to the ISS, launched by SpaceX and Axiom; and, the first two movies filmed in space, both to begin shooting on the ISS in the fall.

JWST at the Sun-Earth L2 point.

Gateway’s appendages. Continuing on Canada’s robotic tradition of contributions to the Space Shuttle and ISS, NASA signed a partnership with the Canadian Space Agency to provide the next version of their Canadarm2 for Gateway: Canadarm3. Canadarm3 will consist of two robotic arms, the larger of which is 8.5m long, and the two arms will work together and be able to crawl end-over-end like a slinky around Gateway 📺. This is similar to how Canadarm2 crawls around the ISS by flipping end-over-end between anchor points— it was surprisingly hard to find a good animation of this, let us know if you’ve seen one. The planned launch for Canadarm3 is 2026.

Canadarm3’s larger arm, as visualized on Gateway.

News in brief. NanoRacks was acquired by Voyager Space, the same week that their Bishop airlock was installed on the ISS; the Boeing-built SLS Exploration Upper Stage passed its Critical Design Review; NASA’s fiscal year 2021 budget was passed by Congress—it grew by 3%, but didn’t fund close to the amount NASA says they need for a 2024 Artemis landing; and, Victor Glover (who was recently named to the “Artemis Team”) broke the record for the longest time in space by an African American astronaut.

A gem from Aaron Stines.

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