| ¶Ukraine. This has been a hard week, watching Russia’s appalling invasion of Ukraine, the first full-scale invasion of a European country since World War II over 75 years ago. Having friends and co-workers who live in Ukraine or have family there has left us feeling helpless and distracted—everything else just seems less important. We really don’t want the focus to be on the aerospace impacts of the invasion when people are very literally displaced and dying, but since space is the topic of this newsletter and aerospace is unfortunately intimately tied to war, we’ll call out several news developments and possible future effects:|
- The transparency offered through commercial space-based imagery has been striking. This has included optical imagery from Planet and Maxar and SAR imagery from Capella. SAR especially has shown its power, peering through winter clouds and supporting the US’s claims of massive troop buildup ahead of the invasion.
- We anticipate continued degradation of Russia’s civilian space program since current sanctions do not have a carve-out for Roscosmos.
- There is an unknown future for the already two-year-delayed ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars mission, which will probably no longer launch this year. Russia is responsible for the mission’s Kazachok lander.
- Northrop Grumman’s Antares rockets use Russian-made NK-33 engines, and the first stage of the Antares is built in a Ukrainian factory that has likely been destroyed.
- Launcher has evacuated their Dnipro office while Skyrora’s Dnipro-based staff has continued remotely so far.
- Satellites manifested on Soyuz-ST from French Guiana, including the next Galileo positioning sats, may need to find new launch vehicles now that Europeanized Soyuz launches have been suspended. Remanifesting may prove difficult: ESA’s Vega C is not powerful enough for Galileo, Ariane 5 is already fully booked to its end-of-life, and Ariane 6 is not yet online.
- Electronic warfare likely took Viasat connectivity offline and may escalate.
- We worry about an increased chance of aggressive ASAT usage given Russia’s ASAT test in November.
- Starlink was enabled for Ukraine without a permitting process (but at the request of the country’s Minister of Digital Transformation) and ground terminals have been delivered to relieve poor connectivity after the invasion cut internet to parts of the country.
- As of now, NASA still plans to continue working with Russia on the ISS—they don’t have a lot of options with the station’s main propulsion on the Russian segment. (Attempting to operate or decommission the segment seems even less of a possibility.) However, NASA already had plans to test an orbit-raise with the recently launched Cygnus in April… but, Cygnus currently launches on the aforementioned Antares, of which only two more launch vehicles are completed and available. Perhaps Cygnus could be adapted for the Falcon 9?
- War is hell.
¶Plato. Taking a brief break from doomscrolling, let’s look ahead to an interesting mission planned for later this decade. ESA’s Plato mission, slated for launch near the end of 2026, is a next-generation terrestrial exoplanet hunter with 26 cameras. Its widefield cameras will carry out long (months to years), high-precision, uninterrupted photometric monitoring of 200,000+ bright stars. Monitoring observations will look for planetary transits (including by exoplanets in stars’ habitable zones) and perform asteroseismology to gauge stellar parameters and ages. Like JWST (and Roman Space Telescope), Plato will orbit at the Sun-Earth L2. The mission recently passed its Critical Milestone Review, with its next major milestone as a Critical Design Review in 2023.
| Plato’s 26 widefield cameras being integrated into their payload module.|
| ¶News in brief. For SpaceX’s eighth launch of 2022, the company delivered 50 more Starlink satellites to orbit ● An Electron rocket launched Japanese Synspective’s StriX-β SAR satellite from Rocket Lab’s newly completed second New Zealand launch pad● Rocket Lab is also continuing its move into satellite manufacturing, having just won a $143M contract to produce 17 Globalstar communications satellites ● Finally, Rocket Lab also announced that it will build and launch Neutron from a new complex located at the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, where it built an Electron launch pad in 2020 (launches have been delayed by AFTS certification) ● Virgin Galactic’s recent earnings report showed $1 billion in losses over the last two years 🤔 ● JWST’s alignment continues, bringing those test stars into focus ● An Atlas V launched NOAA’s GOES-T, the 3rd GOES-R geostationary satellite (cf. Issue No. 111) for imagery and atmospheric measurements, lightning mapping, and space weather observation over the US, Mexico, and Central America ● North Korea tested reconnaissance satellite hardware on a ballistic missile, unnecessarily adding tension to the world ● The US Space Development Agency announced $1.6B of contracts for their Transport Layer Tranche 1 resilient military communications satellite network—Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and York Space will each build 42 sats ● A Long March-8 Y2 carrier rocket launched 22 commercial satellites, a record for a single Chinese rocket ● Ingenuity flew for a twentieth time on Mars ● NASA bought three more crewed ISS flights from SpaceX.|
- With eyes on reuse, Relativity plans a rapid transition from nine Aeon-1 engines to a single large Aeon-R engine after just three flights of Terran 1. Seven Aeon-R engines will eventually power the much larger, reusable Terran R.
- Jeff Foust wrote an interesting and entertaining discussion of a panel at SmallSat Symposium with representatives from five launch vehicle developers, mostly discussing the pressure that SpaceX is putting on competitors.
- The Parker Solar Probe (accidentally) imaged the surface of Venus from orbit for the first time with its near-infrared camera. A faint infrared glow shows distinctive features like continental regions, plains, and plateaus. Check out the side-by-side infrared and Magellan radar images. NASA’s DAVINCI and VERITAS missions and ESA’s EnVision mission will image the planet at infrared wavelengths as well.
- Also Venus related: A deep dive into all of the Soviet images of Venus, which are the basis for much of our understanding of Earth’s closest sibling.
- Satellite data shows sea ice around Antarctica having reached a record low for the four decades of observations, even as the second part of the IPCC’s sixth assessment was released and does not look good (summary).
- Fortunately, Oxford University researchers are tackling the really hard problems, like: What if the entire Earth was instantaneously replaced with an equal volume of closely packed, but uncompressed blueberries? “So, to sum up, to a person standing on the surface of the Earth when it turns into blueberries, the first effect would be a drastic reduction of gravity. Standing on the blueberries might be possible in theory, except that almost immediately they begin to compress rapidly and air starts erupting everywhere. The effect is basically the worst earthquake ever, and it keeps on going until everything has fallen 715 km. While this is going on everything heats up drastically until the entire environment is boiling jam [sic] and steam. The end result is a world that has a steam atmosphere covering an ocean of jam on top of warm blueberry granita.” Just so we’re clear, jam would require the addition of sugar (otherwise the FDA would get involved). Glycolaldehyde could possibly be delivered by comets, but over a longer time-scale… so we’re really talking about more of a boiling fruit spread-type situation initially. 🫐