Issue No. 157

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The Orbital Index

Issue No. 157 | Feb 23, 2022

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The First Rocket from Mars. Two weeks ago, Lockheed Martin won a $194M contract to build the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) for the upcoming joint NASA-ESA Mars sample return campaign. The cost-plus contract covers the development and manufacture of 10 test and flight-ready MAVs over the next six years culminating in what will likely be, barring other unforeseen entrants, the first rocket launched on another planet (as opposed to a moon, comet, or asteroid). Lockheed will be supported by Northrop Grumman, who will build the MAV’s solid propulsion motors—updated STAR 15 & 20 solid rocket motors, originally developed in the early 70s, which will need to survive a multi-year cold soak along with their propellant. To keep propellant grains above -40° C, the 2.8-meter long MAV will be housed in “the igloo,” an insulated dome blanketed with CO2, which will be heated by solar-powered electric heaters in 16 separately-instrumented heating zones (paper). The igloo will have to open for samples to be loaded into the MAV, but must also stay above minimum temperature levels, so loading may take multiple operations by the mission’s Sample Retrieval Rover. Along with the thirty-odd Martian sample tubes collected by (and optionally delivered by) Percy, the canister will include 5 pre-sealed blanks to help scientists determine which molecules are from Mars and which are originally from Earth. Once loaded, the MAV—with a total weight of around 400 kg—will carry 16 kg of payload, including ~470 grams of actual samples, into Martian orbit for the ESA-led hybrid chemical/solar-electric Earth Return Orbiter to snag and carry home. In order to survive the MAV’s ignition, the Sample Retrieval Lander will yeet the rocket into the air with a spring just before it ignites. (Due to the lower Martian gravity, the MAV will get significantly more hang time than it would on Earth.) All this is scheduled to kick off with the lander/rover/MAV combo launching NET 2026. Sample retrieval and launch to Martian orbit could take around 13 months after arrival, but samples won’t actually make it back to Earth until sometime in the first half of the 30s.

The two-stage, solid-fueled MAV.

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(Short) Papers.

A year on Mars. Ever since their stunning skycrane landing (which you should watch again), Perseverance and Ingenuity have spent a year on Mars, traversing record distances, flying nineteen times, generating oxygen from CO2, collecting samples for the aforementioned future sample return mission, confirming that Jezero crater was once a lake, and returning over 200,000 images. Nature has a summary: A year on Mars: How NASA's Perseverance hit a geological jackpot.

XKCD #2517

News in brief. NASA selected two new Sun & space environment science missions for development: the Multi-slit Solar Explorer (MUSE) to study the Sun’s corona, and HelioSwarm, a constellation of nine spacecraft that will work together to measure magnetic and inertial fluctuations in the solar wind The EU is planning their own €6 billion internet satellite mega-constellation ESA is also investigating starting their own human space exploration program Vaya Space, a company developing a 1,000 kg-to-LEO rocket powered by a hybrid engine that utilizes recycled-thermoplastic in its 3D-printed solid propellant, successfully conducted their first suborbital test flight (video)—they’re targeting an orbital launch in 2023 A Northrop Grumman Cygnus resupply vehicle headed to the ISS on an Antares rocket SpaceX launched a batch of Starlink satellites into a higher orbit than their last one (which lost most of its batch due to anomalous space-weather-induced atmospheric drag).



Also volcanos: Ash from the Hunga Tonga eruption reached 58 km, into the mesosphere, and over halfway to space. Data from GOES and Himawari were combined to generate a parallax analysis

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