Issue No. 176

The Orbital Index

Issue No. 176 | Jul 13, 2022

🚀 🌍 🛰

Webb’s first images. NASA, CSA, and ESA released the first images from JWST, showing stunning views of our Universe that clearly display the telescope’s scientific potential. The first images detail Stephen’s Quintet (four neighboring galaxies that are actively interacting—the fifth is just photobombing them), the Southern Ring Nebula (a binary system in the throes of mass ejection from a white dwarf), the Carina Nebula (see below, a cavity carved out in the nebula by young stars’ intense ultraviolet emissions), and a deep field of SMACS 0723, captured in just 12.5 hours, that looks back to a galaxy 4.6 billion years ago. The deep field represents a portion of the sky the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length—for comparison, Hubble’s deep field images took multiple weeks to capture (here’s a tool to compare available WWT imagery to JWST’s first images). The JWST team also released spectra for exoplanet WASP-96b, showing a signature of previously undetected water in its atmosphere. The future looks bright for the long-awaited successor to the great observatories! Related: How JWST downloads 25x more data than Hubble while 3,000x farther away.

The Carina Nebula stuns in infrared, allowing Webb to look through obscuring dust at newly formed stars.

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NASA’s Starlings. NASA’s aptly named Starling satellite “swarm” mission consists of four 6U CubeSats which will practice formation flying, autonomous control, ad hoc inter-satellite networking, and autonomous collaboration by measuring the Earth’s ionosphere using GPS signals. The Starlings will launch on Firefly Aerospace’s first commercial launch, hopefully, this fall. NASA envisions future swarms of autonomously-operating CubeSats in deep space working together to collect distributed science data and perform observations. An example is the upcoming HelioSwarm, a 9-satellite, $250m mission planned for 2028 to study solar wind turbulence. HelioSwarm’s hub, built by Northrop Grumman, would coordinate with eight smallsats from Blue Canyon Technologies to provide simultaneous, multiscale observations of the solar wind.

PSLV’s POEM. Late last month, ISRO conducted the launch of their 55th Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) with the C-53 mission, carrying three satellites for Singaporean customers. In addition to its regular payloads, this PSLV carried a modified 4th stage outfitted with solar panels, a set of helium-fed thrusters, comms, and GNC equipment, making a quite capable on-orbit testbed. This version of the PSLV’s 4th stage, called POEM, is a significant step up from its forebearers which immediately became space debris. POEM allows multiple payloads to obtain flight heritage without requiring a full spacecraft build, further reducing the cost of access to orbit. POEM hosted multiple payloads, including two for Indian NewSpace startups. Digantara, whose space weather monitor is flying on POEM, is claiming to be the world's first commercial source of on-orbit space weather—the startup is just one year old. The other startup, Dhruva Space, is India’s first space startup and offers satellite deployment (its deployer was qualified on this flight), as well as its own satellite manufacturing business and ground station support.

PSLV C-53 on the pad just prior to launch.

News in brief. CAPSTONE is back in touch, performed a trajectory correction maneuver, and is doing fine, the communications glitch was due to an improperly formatted command from the groundRussia launched a fourth GLONASS-K satellite, upgrading their GNSS constellationSpaceX launched its 50th Starlink mission with 53 satellites on boardA solid-fueled Minotaur II+ rocket with an ICBM development payload exploded 11s after launch from Vandenberg, fortunately with no injuries China de-orbited a Long March-2D Y64 carrier rocket stage using a 25-square-meter drag sail A bag of trash was thrown out of the Nanoracks’ Bishop Airlock on the ISS to be eventually incinerated in the atmosphereRocket Lab launched a responsive payload for the NRO early this morning and will launch a second mission for the agency  in <10 days Virgin Galactic hired Boeing subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences to build two new carrier “motherships” for their air-launched suborbital tourism vehicle ​​Not to be outdone by Blue Origin’s BE-4 images, SpaceX shared a photo of 33 Raptor 2 engines installed on Booster 7 (see below) — each one of those beasts has similar thrust to a single Space Shuttle Main Engine Unfortunately, that Booster later experienced an unexpected pad anomaly during its 33-Raptor impeller spin test (video)... possibly getting just a bit too excited about the release of JWST’s first images—it remains to be seen if there is any significant damage to the booster or ground support equipment (aftermath image).
Two JWST shots of the Southern Ring Nebula show the white dwarf that created the mass ejections just to the bottom left of the bright star in the center of the nebula (partially occluded in the leftmost picture by a diffraction spike). The image on the left was captured in near-infrared, with the image on the right showing different structures within the nebula visible at mid-infrared wavelengths.

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