Issue No. 177

A very hearty welcome to Spire as our latest sponsor. The multinational, environmentally-minded company operates 100+ satellites to provide AIS-based ship tracking, ADS-B for aviation tracking, GPS radio occultation for weather observation, space services, hosted payloads, and more. We’re thrilled to have them! Oh, and Spire is hiring. 💗

The Orbital Index

Issue No. 177 | Jul 20, 2022

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More JWST. A roundup of more JWST news and reactions from the week.

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So long, Dmitry. In an unanticipated move, Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin was dismissed on July 15th. No reasons were given for the dismissal, and it is even unclear whether it is a reprimand or a commendation—with rumors also swirling about a possible new appointment for Rogozin. The ever-outspoken leader of the agency since 2018 became particularly bombastic in his nationalistic threats and grandstanding after the invasion of Ukraine (his actions encompassed ambitions for deorbiting the ISS, suggesting American rockets are no better than broomsticks, hacking the German X-ray telescope for Russian use, having cosmonauts display flags from occupied regions of Ukraine, recently ordering cosmonauts to stop using the ESA robotic arm on the ISS, and more). This strained relations with ESA and NASA above and beyond the diplomatic tensions already caused by the unprovoked invasion—we wonder if this mostly-Twitter-based bravado was too much even for Putin. On the same day as his dismissal, Roscosmos and NASA signed a long-anticipated seat exchange agreement to fly ‘integrated crews’ to the ISS aboard Crew Dragon and Soyuz. First flights including members of the opposite agency will be this fall with Crew-5 and Soyuz MS-22. Rogozin’s replacement is Yuri Borisov, a long-time figure in Russian defense and politics.


  • Large Igneous Provinces (LIPs) are massive accumulations of volcanic rock created by lava floods and igneous intrusive formations forming over large areas for a few million years, such as the Deccan Traps in India and the Columbia River Basalt Group in Washington and Oregon. LIP formations in Earth’s past are tied to major climate shifts and mass extinctions, due in part to LIP events releasing large quantities of greenhouse gasses. According to a new paper, occurrences of LIPs appear to be random in Earth’s history and some have overlapped. The authors propose that, if too many LIP formation events overlap (purely by random chance), it could trigger a runaway and irreversible greenhouse effect. Earth may have dodged this fate only by chance, and this could be what happened to Venus.
  • Earth’s magnetic field reverses polarity roughly every 200,000 years. The growth of the satellite-irradiating South Atlantic Anomaly (SAA) and the weakening of the Earth’s magnetic field by about 10 percent over the past 180 years have led some to suggest that the next field reversal is imminent. However, a new study that built a 9,000-year historical record of the Earth’s magnetic field by measuring remnant magnetization of burnt archaeological artifacts, volcanic samples, and sediment drill cores found that anomalies like the SAA are probably recurring phenomena. This model predicts that the current anomaly will “probably disappear within the next 300 years, and that Earth is not heading towards a[n imminent] polarity reversal.
  • An Implosion-Driven Launcher (IDL) uses shock-compressed helium to accelerate 0.3 g magnesium projectiles to simulate impacts of space debris (paper). Previous light gas guns work in the 8 km/s range, while this new technique uses disposable launchers surrounded with high-explosives to compress the propellant gas to a very high temperature (30,000° C) and pressure (five gigapascals) and expel projectiles at 10 km/s. (Tangentially, this reminds us of explosively pumped flux compression generators which use high-explosives to produce magnetic fields of 1,000 teslas and/or currents of hundreds of millions of amperes.)

The IDL projectile impacting a surface.

News in brief. Masten Space appears to be struggling to stay solvent, with all remaining employees now on furlough—Masten is contracted to deliver one of NASA’s CLPS missions to the Moon, and is developing the FAST self-sintering landing pad, among other technologies The first Vega C launched successfully from French Guiana on July 13th with the LARES2 passive laser retroreflector satellite (used for studying the Earth’s gravity field and gravitomagnetic frame-dragging effects of general relativity) and six smallsats—we covered Vega C in Issue #175 ABL static fired the first stage of their RS1 rocket, with stage mating, a wet dress rehearsal, and finally a first orbital launch attempt from Kodiak Island in Alaska coming up soon—the RS1 upper stage, now repaired, was damaged during a test in January The UAE is setting up an $820 million space development program, including SAR satellites and a Venus and asteroid observation mission Saudi Arabia is the 21st nation to sign the Artemis Accords Rocket Factory Augsburg (RFA) also completed an engine test campaign of their Helix rocket engine for the upcoming RFA One rocket launch vehicle SpaceX's CRS-25 ISS resupply mission launched from Pad 39-A, delivering 2,630 kg of supplies, equipment, and cubesats to the ISS, including EMIT, an externally-mounted spectrograph to measure desert minerals and global dust SpaceX also sent 53 more Starlink sats to orbit (2,858 have now been launched) in what was their fourth launch in 10 days—the launch also brought this year’s F9 launch count to 31, already level with last year’s tally China launched a Tianlian 2 geostationary comms relay satellite on a Long March 3B rocket in support of the Tiangong space station  KPLO, South Korea’s first planetary mission, arrived at the Cape for an August 2nd Falcon 9 launch toward the Moon Perseverance collected its ninth core sample, for possible eventual sample return (from as flat a spot as possible), while Ingenuity is taking a few more weeks off to wait out winter dust.



Curiosity has been slowly climbing out of the foothills of Mars’s Mount Sharp since 2014. Now ascending through a transition zone away from an ancient lake and into regions of streams and dunes, the rover is detecting less clay and more sulfate. This striking image is of a sulfate-rich region, taken on May 2nd. “Dark boulders seen near the center are thought to have formed from sand deposited in ancient streams or ponds.” On August 5th, Curiosity will hit a decade of exploring Mars. 🎉

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