Issue No. 156

The Orbital Index

Issue No. 156 | Feb 16, 2022

🚀 🌍 🛰

Starship update. Standing in front of the immense, 120m tall, robotically-stacked(!) Ship 20 and Booster 4, Musk delivered a presentation that lacked many new details. However, SpaceX’s quest to build a fully reusable, 100 ton-to-orbit launch system appears to be approaching reality. Musk reiterated his claim that Starship will cost <$10M/launch in a few years—bringing the Falcon 9’s ~$2,800/kg to LEO down to <$100/kg. To illustrate this monumental change in capacity, Musk pointed out that in a single year, a Starship launching three times per week could put as much mass into orbit as has been launched by the entire world to date (~15,500 tons). Raptor 2 (pictured below) was also a focus, with the engine's cost and complexity now at roughly half of Raptor 1’s. If the team at SpaceX can get the engine’s 330 bar, gigawatt-producing combustion chamber to stop melting itself, the new version of the engine will deliver 230 t of thrust (+45 t from v1) and should be sufficiently heat hardened to fly without thermal shielding during re-entry. They are targeting production of one Raptor 2 per day in the coming months, which would allow SpaceX to pump out a full launch stack every 42 days—Booster’s engine count has increased to 33 and Ship is gaining 3 additional vacuum engines. While the S20B4 stack may not be the hardware that will conduct an orbital flight test, Musk did suggest that hardware would be flight ready around March, when he thinks that the FAA will issue findings on its environmental impact assessment (cf. Issue No. 139). If the FAA’s assessment is not favorable, Starship production and testing could transition to Kennedy Space Center, which is already planned to host most future Starship launches. (Related: Jared Isaacman, of Inspiration4, is booking three SpaceX crewed flights in what he’s calling his Polaris program. The first, Polaris Dawn, is scheduled to launch before the end of this year on Crew Dragon and will feature SpaceX’s first EVA through a terrifying-sounding depressurization and then repressurization of the capsule. Isaacman’s program will culminate with the first crewed Starship flight.)

Raptor 2 side by side with Raptor 1 during Musk’s Starship update. 

Credit: Jack Beyer /

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Guest Contribution

The upcoming bevy of lunar rovers. Over the next five years, a bevy of diverse mobile explorers from many countries will head for the Moon.

Contributed by Jatan Mehta, an independent space writer.

A concept for the Northrop Grumman-led crewed and cargo lunar rovers for NASA’s Artemis astronauts. Credit: Northrop Grumman

Can 100,000 satellites be sustainable? Greg Wyler, founder of satellite telecom O3B and later OneWeb, has announced E-Space, a company dedicated to the “sustainable” use of LEO by, paradoxically, launching 100,000 satellites. The company starts with a massive $50M “seed” investment from Prime Movers Lab. The claim is that their proposed constellation of “secure communication satellites” will be multipurpose, reducing the need for other constellations, and that its spacecraft will have small cross sections and will be designed to absorb impact without fragmentation to reduce the risk of a cascading Kessler syndrome. E-Space is behind the September filing by ​​Rwanda for a constellation of 300,000 satellites, in what feels like a rush to acquire orbital slots before sane regulations for the actually sustainable use of orbit are put into place. (This announcement comes even as NASA is pressuring the FCC to question SpaceX’s second-generation 30,000 Starlink satellite constellation proposal.)

News in brief. Astra’s first launch from Florida unfortunately didn’t go as planned—some sort of staging issue resulted in fairings that didn’t deploy which led to the loss of the second stage and the four CubeSats onboard (University of Alabama’s BAMA-1, New Mexico State University’s INCA, UC Berkeley’s QubeSat, and NASA JSC’s R5-S1) Laurie Leshin is the first female director of JPL After a long break due to weather, Ingenuity flew for a 19th time on Mars A Soyuz launched the classified Neitron payload in the first Russian launch of 2022, followed up a few days later by a second Soyuz launch which delivered 34 OneWeb satellites to orbit India’s ISRO returned to flight (their last launch was in August) with the launch of PSLV-C52 carrying the agricultural radar-imaging EOS-04 and two ride-sharing sats The final tally of Starlink satellites lost due to atmospheric drag from the unexpected solar flare is 38 Oh, and that rocket stage that’s going to hit the Moon in March is probably from the 2014 Chinese Chang'e 5-T1 launch, not a SpaceX Falcon 9 The first initial calibration photos from JWST have arrived... but IXPE’s first photo is way cooler, see below.




Starship being robotically de-stacked after the update/photoshoot.

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