Issue No. 144

The Orbital Index

Issue No. 144 | Nov 24, 2021

🚀 🌍 🛰

DART. NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) experimental planetary defense mission was scheduled to launch last night on a Falcon 9 (at the time of writing). When it slams into the 170-meter wide Dimorphos asteroid (aka Didymoon) in the Didymos binary system at 6.6 km/s, the 650 kg DART will hopefully become the first kinetic impactor to change the motion of an asteroid. While the impact in 2022 will only change Didymoon’s velocity by about half a millimeter per second, it will change the orbital period by ~10 minutes—enough to be measured from Earth. This measurable change will start to answer questions about how a much larger version of the technology could be used to redirect an asteroid. Before its demise, DART will also demonstrate Roll Out Solar Arrays (ROSA) and an upgraded ion engine based on the one used by Dawn. It will be accompanied by LICIACube from the Italian Space Agency which will attempt to capture images of its final moments. DART will be followed by ESA’s Hera mission, arriving at Didymos about four years after DART’s impact. Hera and its two CubeSats—APEX and Juventas—will study the pair of asteroids and the aftermath of the impact. Hera will test autonomous navigation, coming within 200 m of the surface of Didymoon and taking pictures with a resolution down to 2 cm/pixel. Juventas meanwhile will map the interior structure of Didymoon with radar and end its mission by attempting to land on the moon (in a sort of slow-motion crash and bounce maneuver at a few cm/s).

DART and ASI’s LICIACube at the Didymos system. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben

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Lucky Number Seven. Last weekend, Astra’s seventh “Rocket 3” launch vehicle (LV0007) successfully reached orbit (video) making the company one of very few to do so with a privately developed rocket. The 13-meter tall rocket—stretched 1.5 m to include larger tanks after LV0005 ran out of gas just shy of orbit—can carry up to 150 kg into SSO using its five 3D-printed Delphin engines. These 29 kN engines are electric pump-fed, similar to Rocket Lab’s 25 kN Rutherford engines. Meanwhile, the upper stage is powered by a single pressure-fed, vacuum-optimized Aether engine. (News broke recently that Astra secretly purchased rights to Firefly’s engine technology, although their eventual application is still unclear.) This launch, from the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Kodiak, Alaska, carried a mass simulator payload for the US Space Force, but the company hopes to begin launches of live payloads for paying customers in early 2022—launch vehicles eight through ten are in production and will start to roll off the production line monthly. (Related: The company also recently filed an application with the FCC for a 13,000 satellite internet service mega constellation, but would like us all to stay focused on the launch for right now.)

T-0 as Astra’s LV0007 takes off, destined for orbit. Photo Credit: Brady Kenniston/Astra


News in brief. JWST’s launch was pushed back by a few days to NET December 22nd to allow for additional testing after a clamp released unexpectedly while attaching the telescope to its launch vehicle adapter and “caused a vibration throughout the observatory”  😬 Rocket Lab’s Love at First Insight launched two BlackSky sats (video) The US Space Force is buying three more GPS IIIF satellites from Lockheed Martin NASA awarded Intuitive Machines a CLPS contract for a 2024 lunar landing of their Nova-C lander carrying 92 kg in four payloads, including the Lunar Vertex suite and its rover, and the four CADRE rovers that are ‘programmed to work as an autonomous team’ to explore the Reiner Gamma swirl on the lunar surface Sierra Space raised a $1.4B “Series A”—about 2⁄3 for continued development of their Dream Chaser Spaceplane and 1⁄3 for their inflatable LIFE habitat as part of Orbital Reef, their proposed commercial space station project with Blue Origin (spinning off a 1,100 person company and then calling its billion+ mega-round a Series A feels like a stretch 🤷) ThrustMe demonstrated an iodine-fuelled electric propulsion module in space—iodine is cheaper than xenon, easier to ionize, and can be stored as a solid, leading to miniaturization and ~50% better efficiency, but it’s corrosive, so surfaces it touches were ceramic coated South Korea announced that their next rocket to be developed will be reusable Blue Origin announced the riders on their next New Shephard mission Axiom Space teased a new spacesuit design China launched yet another new remote-sensing satellite (its record 42nd launch of the year) Inversion, an LA startup, raised $10 million to develop orbital cargo return capsules.


On the other hand, who needs orbital cargo return when you can have orbital people return? MOOSE, the Man Out of Space Easiest, was proposed by General Electric in the 1960s. 😂


GENERAL JAN DODONNA: An analysis of the plans provided by Princess Leia has reinvigorated the arguments of the 'artificial moonlet' and 'rogue planet-station' camps. I fear this question is fracturing the Rebellion.’ (XKCD 1458)

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