Issue No. 103


The Orbital Index

Issue No. 103 | Feb 10, 2021

🚀 🌍 🛰

The fleet arrives at Mars. Yesterday, U.A.E’s Hope (Al Amal) orbiter arrived at Mars, firing its thrusters for 27 minutes to successfully enter Martian orbit. The U.A.E. is the first Arab country, and the fifth overall, to reach the planet. Later this year Al Amal will lower its orbit and start to study the Martian atmosphere with a focus on understanding the process through which gasses (such as water) escape into space, leaving the planet frozen and dry. Meanwhile, China's Tianwen-1 should have entered Martian orbit early this morning for a period of checkout before a planned release of its instrument-laden lander and rover sometime in May. And next week, on Thursday, February 18th, NASA's Perseverance rover will steal the spotlight as it slams into Mars’ atmosphere at hypersonic velocities and eventually finds itself sitting alone on the surface seven minutes later (hopefully all in one piece).


Tianwen-1’s first photo of Mars, taken last week, from 2.2 million kilometers away.


The region where Apollo 15 landed on the Moon in 1971, imaged by the radar array at the Green Banks Observatory. The snake-like Hadley Rille is probably a collapsed lava tube.

News in brief. Firefly Aerospace won a NASA CLPS contract to deliver 10 payloads to the Moon in 2023 on a custom-built lander that will be launched on some other company’s vehicle (there are now 6 planned CLPS missions to the Moon in the next 3 years); another batch of 60 Starlink satellites are in LEO—the mission’s Falcon 9 vehicle flew twice in 27 days (25% better than the previous 37-day record, set last month by Transporter-1)—the second Starlink launch scheduled for the same day was scrubbed and is now targeted to launch later this week; Iran completed testing of their new Zuljanah satellite-carrying rocket with an initial launch from an unknown location; the Psyche mission to the metal asteroid of the same name entered its final phase of development ahead of an August 2022 launch; to begin Roscosmos’ 2021 launch campaign, a Soyuz rocket launched a military (probably) spy satellite; China launched the geostationary TJSW-6 communication technology experiment satellite; Bruce Blackburn, the designer of the NASA ‘worm logo’, passed away, as did Shuttle-era astronaut Millie Hughes-Fulford; NASA awarded the launch contract for the first two Lunar Gateway modules to SpaceX—the modules will launch together on a Falcon Heavy NET 2024; and, the Biden administration expressed support for Artemis, “Through the Artemis program, the United States government will work with industry and international partners to send astronauts to the surface of the Moon” (but didn’t commit to a timeline).

Three overlapping craters on Mars, spotted by Mars Express, likely caused by an impactor that broke into three pieces before hitting the ground.


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