Issue No. 129

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The Orbital Index

Issue No. 129 | Aug 11, 2021

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Artemis III is delayed to 2025, but for unexpected reasons. NASA’s Inspector General released a statement concluding that the in-development, next-generation xEMU spacesuits will not be complete in time for a 2024 crewed lunar mission. The development program has already had $420M invested in it and is slated for another $625M in the coming years, bringing the total cost of the new suits to over $1B. In typical Muskian fashion, the SpaceX CEO tweeted that “SpaceX could do it if need be.” NASA does have a demonstration of their new suits planned on the ISS for completion by next summer and “prior to the first crewed Artemis mission.”

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Super Heavy was stacked, then unstacked. Briefly, SpaceX assembled the tallest (120 m), highest-thrust (about double the Saturn V), and only fully reusable orbital rocket in history. Then, having completed a fit test and photo-op, they unstacked it and wheeled it back to the high bay for finishing touches (installation of additional heat shield tiles, engine testing and heat shielding for the Raptors, and completion of the orbital launch tower and tank farm). Super Heavy Booster 4 alone is already an incredible 69 m tall and 9 m in diameter. Then they put a 50 m tall Starship (Ship 20) on top of it (which requires using the second tallest crane on Earth, according to Everyday Astronaut’s second interview video with Musk). The first launch, whenever it is approved by the FAA, will use the orbital launch tower, but not the future upgraded robotic tower, lovingly named “Mecha-zilla”, which will catch returning Super Heavy boosters with moving arms and place them back on the pad for refueling and rapid relaunch—here’s an approximate, Musk-approved video. (The tower is a good example of Musk’s philosophy of removing parts: in this case landing legs, drone ships, ground transport equipment to move the rocket back to the stand, etc.) Enough talk, though. Pictures.


News in brief. Varda raised a $42M Series A for their in-space manufacturing dreams, targeting 2023 for the launch of their first spacecraft with standard satellite bus, attached manufacturing payload, and reentry capsule ● A Chinese Long March 3B rocket successfully launched a geostationary communication satelliteNetflix will be releasing a five-part documentary about the Inspiration4 orbital tourist mission launching next month—seems like that’s one more part than is strictly necessary ● Lucy has arrived at KSC in preparation for an Oct 16th Atlas 5 launch to fly by one Main Belt asteroid and seven Trojan asteroids (we’ll talk more about the mission next week!) ● Perseverance has started sample collection on Mars, but an as-yet-unknown glitch resulted in the sample tube being empty ● SpaceX is buying Swarm Technologies, builder of an eventually 150 satellite VHF picosatellite (0.25U) constellation for IoT—this is interesting since SpaceX doesn’t tend to make acquisitions, in fact, this may be their first one (it’s been suggested that SpaceX will just reserve .25U on future Starink satellites instead of launching separate picosats) ● An Antares rocket, named the “S.S. Ellison Onizuka” after one of the astronauts who died in the Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy, launched to the ISS with supplies and experiments, including one from Redwire (née Made in Space) which will 3D print using lunar regolith simulant ● ispace, inc. (the Japanese one) announced $46 million of funding for their Moon landing missionsPlanet signed a multi-year, multi-launch rideshare agreement with SpaceX, which is probably worrying news for the slew of upcoming small launch providers ● …such as Astra, who is targeting their first commercial launch on Aug 27th (recently completing a static fire of the rocket) and just announced that Space Force has awarded them the OSP-4 launch contract.



Speaking of moons, here's the first clear detection of a moon-forming disk around an exoplanet, an annulus of gas and dust with enough mass to form three of Earth’s moon, encircling a Jupiter-sized world (paper).

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