Issue No. 161

The Orbital Index

Issue No. 161 | Mar 23, 2022

🚀 🌍 🛰

Artemis I rollout. Artemis I, the culmination of NASA’s roughly $30B, two-decade-long rocket development effort, is now scheduled for launch no earlier than June 6. This first version of the SLS, which photogenically rolled out to the pad for a fueling and countdown ‘wet dress rehearsal’ last week, is 98 m tall and will generate 4 million kg of thrust, 17% more than the Saturn V. It is based largely on Shuttle-era technology developed in the 60s & 70s—its marvelous RS-25 engines are literally scavenged from Shuttles (they were designed to be reusable, but the SLS throws four of them away with every launch) and its solid-fuel boosters are also based on those used by the Shuttle. For this first SLS test flight, no crew (beyond Moonikin the mannequin) will ride the Orion capsule around the far side of the Moon and back to Earth, but the mission will test all parts of the system for the crewed Artemis II (launching in ~2024). After ULA and Boeing’s Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage pushes Orion into a translunar injection, it will separate and later deploy 10 small spacecraft: NEA Scout (asteroid rendezvous using a solar sail; covered in Issue 126), Lunar IceCube (map lunar water from orbit; Issue 84), LunaH-Map (map hydrogen in high resolution on the Moon’s south pole), BioSentinel (study the effects of deep space radiation on yeast; Issue 14), LunIR (lunar spectroscopy and thermography for surface characterization), CuSP (space weather observation and early warning), Miles CubeSat (a citizen-science mission that will autonomously travel 96 million kilometers using plasma propulsion), EQUULEUS (JAXA; visiting Earth-Moon L2 to study the plasma environment and watch the Moon for meteor impact flashes), OMOTENASHI (JAXA; attempting a lunar landing with a 12 kg spacecraft; Issue 126), and ArgoMoon (Italian Space Agency; optical communications tests, documentation and situational awareness of the ICPS, and finally lunar flybys and imaging in a exceptionally ecliptic geocentric orbit). Three other payloads, including Lunar Flashlight, were not ready for integration and missed their rides. Related: those 4 RS-25s getting thrown away on every SLS launch cost a staggering $146 million each—here are some other things you could buy for roughly the cost of one SLS engine: two basic Atlas V launches, three Falcon 9 launches, or a fully expendable Falcon Heavy launch, with ⅔ the SLS’s lift capacity at 1/27th the cost. As we mentioned a few weeks ago, the first four Artemis missions are now estimated to cost $4.1 billion per launch. It’s a pretty rocket though.

It is not small.

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SpaceX Roundup. The launch leader has continued their breakneck pace through the first quarter of 2022 with 12 launches in 12 weeks.

News in brief. Dr. Eugene Parker, heliophysicist, namesake of the Parker Solar Probe, and predictor of solar wind, passed away at 94 Orbit Fab will receive $12M for an orbital refueling payload from the USSF Spire continues to expand into the satellites-as-a-service market, signing an agreement with NorthStar to build a space-situational awareness and debris monitoring constellation China launched another Yaogan reconnaissance satellite Three cosmonauts arrived at the ISS via Soyuz (wearing Ukrainian national colors, a claimed coincidence) CISA and the FBI warned satellite network providers against possible cyberattacks, as happened (and continues) with Viasat Barcelona-based Celestia Aerospace raised €100 million for both a nanosatellite production facility and continued development of their Sagittarius air-launched vehicle Aquarian Space raised a small seed round for lunar comms satellites (see also Plus Ultra and ESA’s Moonlight initiative) Space Capital closed their second fund, a $32M fund focused on early-stage investing at the intersection of tech and space Wernher von Braun the apolitical chief architect of the Saturn V was born today, 110 years ago The count of confirmed exoplanets just ticked past the 5,000 mark 🪐  Although months of checkout still remain before scientific uses commence, JWST has now completed its “fine phasing” optical alignment (explanatory video), reaching the physical diffraction limit for its aperture, and the team expects that it will meet or exceed its design parameters. 🎉


JWST’s clearest image yet, and the highest resolution infrared image ever taken from space (HiRes version). Here’s an explanation of why the bright star has spikes, but background galaxies don’t.


A 6.5 million light-year long shock front, more than 60 times larger than the entire Milky Way galaxy, created by the merger of two massive galaxy clusters to form Abell 3667.

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