Issue No. 141

The Orbital Index

Issue No. 141 | Nov 3, 2021

🚀 🌍 🛰

Where will we point the largest space telescope ever built? The launch of the (questionably named) James Webb Space Telescope is getting closer—the telescope arrived after its slightly covert trip to French Guiana last month, was cleared for final launch after an Ariane 5 successfully launched two geostationary telecom satellites this past week, and is now being integrated with its own Ariane 5 vehicle. Integration is running ahead of schedule, leaving 11 days of margin for its December 18th launch date (this may be a first for the massive telescope—it’s 14 years past its initially-planned launch date). When it does launch, JWST will likely be the most expensive scientific instrument of all time. We’ve discussed the telescope and its potential science applications in the past, but here is a quick list of a few of its very first targets (and here’s a python tool for testing your own target for visibility):

Much of the first wave of science and data from the telescope will follow a 6-month commissioning period and come from 13 approved early release science proposals (other Cycle 1 targets come from the General Observer and the Guaranteed Time Observations programs).

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  • The Chopsticks move. This past week saw the first articulation of the Super Heavy-catching “chopsticks” which have been being installed on SpaceX’s Boca Chica launch tower (video). The heavy-duty pincers will initially help stack Booster 4 and Ship 20 (which now has its full complement of Raptors installed) onto the orbital launch mount. In the future, the company is hoping to use the massive arms to catch returning Boosters (animation) and perhaps landing Starships (animation; although Starship has already demonstrated its unique belly flop, flip, and propulsively landing maneuver, making a catch perhaps too much additional risk). Meanwhile, the Quick Disconnect (QD) arm, mounted higher up the tower, has been seen swinging back from its normal outstretched position as it begins to practice launch procedures. Ground systems appear to be nearing completion all around, with eight new Starship-welded-stainless-style liquid methane and oxygen tanks and initial oxygen deliveries (perhaps due to the long lead time needed for LOx given the health system's increased COVID usage). No timeline for the first orbital launch has been announced, despite Musk’s refrain of “next month”—likely due to the ongoing environmental impact public process being conducted by the FAA (discussed in Issue 139). It seems that an orbital launch will not happen before the new year. (Related: Raptor 2, the simplified and improved version of Starship’s full-flow staged-combustion methalox engine, recently hit 321 Bar on the stand before ending the test ‘explosively’.)
Spaceship catching chopsticks in their natural habitat. Image Credit: StarshipGazer
News in brief. Crew-3 was postponed initially until today for weather and now is scheduled NET Saturday due to a ‘minor medical issue’ for one of the team members China set a new record for the country with 40 orbital launch attempts this year (the US is at 39 attempts, Russia is at 17, and the EU is at 4) Verizon announced their intent to use Amazon’s Project Kuiper for backhaul services and Amazon announced plans to launch two prototype Project Kuiper satellites in late 2022 on an ABL rocket from Cape Canaveral Terran Orbital, a vertically integrated satellite manufacturer, is going public via SPAC Firefly completed Blue Ghost’s NASA Critical Design Review ahead of a 2023 CLPS Moon landing with 10 instruments onboard Hubble has gone into safe mode, again 😬 GITAI demoed their robotic arm on the ISS, practicing in-space assembly Astronauts aboard the ISS harvested and ate the first chile peppers grown in space (subsequently making them into tacos, natch). 🌮🌶

The first hatch chiles grown in microgravity. These represent the most ambitious space produce cultivation experiment to date.

This image was taken by the UAE Hope Mars orbiter in July when Mars was approaching its maximum orbital distance from the Sun, resulting in colder temperatures and clouds around the Red planet.

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