Issue No. 119

Andrew is going to be out for a few weeks on paternity leave! 

This means Ben is running the show solo, which may result in somewhat shorter issues and an errant typo or three.


The Orbital Index

Issue No. 119 | Jun 2, 2021

🚀 🌍 🛰

The varied landscape of rocket reuse. Just over four years ago, no first-stage orbital booster had ever been successfully reused. The Shuttle orbiter, which achieved substantial reuse, ultimately failed to realize its goal of reducing launch costs and tragically proved its unacceptably high risk of catastrophic failure. Last week, SpaceX (mostly) reached a milestone of high reliability while flying reused first-stage boosters, launching its 100th successful flight in a row. However, while the rest of the industry has yet to catch up, there have been many announcements of plans to follow suit. Here's the current lay of the land:

There are additional plans from additional companies and agencies, however, these are the ones we’re tracking with interest to see if they develop or dissipate. But, the very large elephant in the room is Starship, SpaceX’s potential realization of its long-term goal of a fully reusable launch system targeted at lowering launch costs by one to two orders of magnitude. The project has recently entered a quiet period with SN15 retired after its first successful landing. SN16 is now stacked and waiting in the wings, but it may be scrapped in favor of a full orbital test next using SN20 and Super Heavy BN2. Only time will tell whether others will be able to close the reuse gap, or whether Starship will successfully blow it wide open before others even join the party. However it all shakes out, we look forward to the prospects of a reusable future! ♻️ (Related: 20+ years before SpaceX reflew Booster 1021, McDonnell Douglas launched their DC-X testbed rocket 8 times, with its DC-XA successor setting the still-standing record of a 26-hr turnaround between two of its four flights.)
The DC-X was the first traditional VTVL rocket designed for reuse.

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A cavalcade of rovers. After decades of quiet, lunar exploration is heating up. And, it’s not only the crewed Artemis missions, a slew of robotic rovers are headed moonward in the next few years to join China’s Chang’e 3 and 4 rovers. JAXA just announced plans for a tiny (the size of a baseball!) spherical rover to be delivered by ispace in 2022. It will split into two hemispheres that act as its wheels to move around the lunar surface as it proves out technologies for a large pressurized crew rover being designed by JAXA and Toyota. The ispace lander will also carry the Rashid rover from the UAE. Canada is assisting with Rashid and developing its own small rover, with a request for proposals coming soon. And of course, there’s India’s Chandrayaan-3, NASA’s VIPER (which we’ve covered previously), Iris—a CubeRover built by Astrobotic and CMU, and Spacebit’s spider bot. Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin and General Motors just announced a partnership to build a semi-autonomous Moon buggy for crewed Artemis missions—a NASA RFP for crewed surface transport for the Artemis program is expected later this year. The more robotic explorers on the Moon, the merrier! 🤖🥳

JAXA’s transformable lunar rover.
News in brief. NASA announced that they are in the formulation phase of a new Earth System Observatory, a set of Earth-observation satellites focused on climate change, disaster mitigation, fighting forest fires, and improving real-time agricultural processes; SNC has now spun out Sierra Space to focus on the development of their space assets including Dream Chaser and LIFE habitats; NASA released their FY 2022 budget request to Congress which contains funding for the Starship Human Landing System (still possibly by 2024) and a 9% increase over last year for science programs; raised a $17.5M Series A for radiation tolerant, high-performance computing hardware; SpaceX launched 60 more Starlink sats, the last of their first orbital tranche—the launch made a visible shockwave as it went supersonic for their 100th consecutive successful launch; meanwhile, ViaSat has asked the FCC to halt SpaceX’s Starlink buildout until they complete an environmental review; Starlink’s most likely future competitor, OneWeb, launched 36 satellites of their own, bringing them to a total of 218 in orbit—but, Eutelsat may have to step away from its ESA work due to conflicts of interest created by their recent purchase of 24% of the company; Ingenuity suffered a software glitch during its 6th flight but landed safely; Astroscale will work with OneWeb to continue the development of ESLA-M for multi-target space debris removal—Astroscale recently launched ELSA-d (our coverage) to test many of the systems that ELSA-M would use for debris mitigation; and, tomorrow’s SpaceX ISS resupply mission will include baby squid and tardigrades. 🦑

The first Earth-rise photo. Taken in 1966 by the Apollo-era Lunar Orbiter 1. “A lot of the images they’re taking today, our imagery from 1966 and ‘67 has sometimes greater resolution and greater dynamic range because of the way the pictures were taken.”


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