Issue No. 140

The Orbital Index

Issue No. 140 | Oct 27, 2021

🚀 🌍 🛰

Starlab and Orbital Reef. Commercial contenders to eventually replace the ISS are flooding in. Nanoracks (owned by Voyager Space) and Lockheed Martin announced a partnership to develop Starlab, a commercial LEO space station to launch around 2027 and support up to 4 simultaneous astronauts or tourists as well as advanced microgravity manufacturing and research activities. Meanwhile, a consortium led by Blue Origin and Sierra Space (owned by Sierra Nevada Corp), including Boeing, Redwire, Genesis Engineering, and Arizona State University collectively announced Orbital Reef (press release), a “mixed-use business park” for research, tourism (up to 10 people), manufacturing, film making, and other purposes to launch late this decade. Their website highlights advancements like Sierra Space’s inflatable LIFE habitat, Genesis Engineering’s single-person spacecraft (allowing a person to fly around and use robotic arms to service a station without the 2-hour pre-breathe required by current spacesuits), and services from three vehicles that are not yet flight proven: the Dream Chaser spaceplane, the New Glenn rocket, and the Starliner capsule. If either of these stations make it to orbit, they may be competing with Axiom Space’s forthcoming station (possibly still attached to the ISS at the time), a station built by Vast , who is working on the first station with spin gravity (and is Andrew’s new employer!), or stations developed by any of the half-dozen or so other companies and startups who proposed stations to NASA as part of the Agency’s first Commercial LEO Destinations (CLD) CFP.

Orbital Reef, left, and Starlab, right, freeflying in LEO and ready for tenants.

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KPLO! South Korea’s first interplanetary mission, and the beginning of the country’s serious space ambitions, KPLO launches for the Moon in August 2022. The mission carries five instruments: a high-resolution imager, a wide-angle polarimetric camera which can determine surface materials based on the way light reflects and scatters, a gamma-ray spectrometer for determining elemental composition, a magnetometer, and ShadowCam, provided by NASA, which will peer inside permanently shadowed craters via scattered light using a sensor 200 times more sensitive than the camera on Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Also on board is a joint experiment with NASA to test resilient communication.

IAC Highlights. Some highlights from the world’s largest space conference—in progress in Dubai this week. (Ed., Jeff Foust has been doing a stellar job live tweeting conference highlights.)

News in brief. Space Perspective raised $40M for their stratospheric tourism balloons ABL Space Systems raised $200M to scale production of its RS1 launch vehicle The current appropriations bill provides NASA with $24.8B in funding for 2022, which isn’t enough funding to pay for a second HLS contract—just $100M extra was earmarked for that project, with the committee stating that they expect NASA to provide redundancy and offer a second HLS contract nonetheless 🤷 Crew-3 is scheduled to launch this weekend Orion has been stacked on the SLS for Artemis 1, with a launch now officially targeting February SpaceX test-fired a Raptor vacuum (Rvac) engine on Starship for the first time Airbus invested in ispace, a developer of commercial lunar landers targeting 2022 and 2023 landings NASA has selected the gamma-ray telescope Compton Spectrometer and Imager (COSI) as their next Astrophysics Explorers small telescope, to launch in 2025—COSI will study star lifecycles and the origin of chemical elements in the Milky Way The failed Russian spy satellite Kosmos-2551, launched September 9, tumbled back to Earth as a fireball over the US Midwest (video) China launched the Shijian-21 satellite on a Long March 3B to test “space debris mitigation technologies,” but given its classified nature, it may have a dual military use Japan launched a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries H-IIA rocket carrying a geosynchronous QZS positioning satellite that will increase the accuracy of GPS for Japanese city-dwellers Breakthrough Listen’s intriguing BLC1 signal was likely of human origin, not from Proxima Centauri 👽 South Korea launched their three-stage, liquid-fueled, entirely domestically-produced Nuri rocket for the first time, although due to an early third-stage shutdown, the test satellite didn't quite reach orbit.

Nuri, South Korea’s domestically produced rocket launches from the Naro Space Center in Goheung, South Korea.


The first picture ever taken from space was taken 75 years ago last Sunday. On Oct. 24, 1946, a V-2 missile carried a 35 mm film camera to an altitude of 104 km, crossing the Kármán line. A steel cassette protected the film during the ensuing crash landing.

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