Issue No. 182

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The Orbital Index

Issue No. 182 | Aug 24, 2022

🚀 🌍 🛰

Artemis I is back at the pad. After over a decade and somewhere between $20 and $30 billion, the first Space Launch System—the rocket for Artemis I—is now at pad 39B and ‘go’ for launch, potentially as soon as the 29th. Artemis I will send an uncrewed Orion capsule into lunar orbit (for about 40 days) and then back to Earth. The mission will shake down the full SLS ground support and launch system, the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage, and the Orion capsule, demonstrating the latter’s ability to survive 32,000 km/hr lunar re-entry velocities and its crew readiness for Artemis II. This is effectively following an accelerated version of the Apollo program where Apollo 4-10 proved out parts of the Saturn V/Lunar Module/Command and Service Module system and their flight profile. It also carries numerous space radiation environment sensors (some in the form of anatomically correct torsos) from multiple space agencies to evaluate the effects of radiation on future astronauts. Post Orion separation, the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage will deploy 10 small spacecraft, most of which we’ve written about before. These are really exciting solar sailing, lunar airbag flip-landing, ice probing, and bio-analyzing missions, and it’s a shame that NASA hasn’t allowed them to be re-charged after Artemis I’s delays, threatening their chances of survival… of course, they likely cost dramatically less than even one of SLS’s disposable $146M engines. It feels like we harp on SLS’s cost a lot, but at $4.1B per launch, we kind of have to (especially since SLS was in part envisioned as a more cost-effective launch vehicle than Shuttle, which ended up costing ~$1.64B/launch).


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Skyrora test fired the 2nd stage of their orbital rocket. Last week, the UK hosted its most significant integrated propulsion test since the Black Arrow and Blue Streak programs of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. This successful test puts Skyrora and their eponymous rocket on pace for a first orbital launch attempt sometime in 2023 from the SaxaVord Space Centre in northern Scotland—where they’ll be in a race with ABL Space Systems and Orbex for the first ground-based orbital launch from British soil. (Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl will likely air-launch a Welsh-built satellite near Spaceport Cornwall sooner.) The UK’s lack of a domestic space vehicle for the past 50 years has grown more painful since Brexit, highlighted by partially-state-owned OneWeb’s struggles to find launch providers. The Skyrora XL will compete in the small launch market, carrying 315 kg payloads to SSO. One of Skyrora’s unique features is that their 70 kN Skyforce engines can burn upcycled, plastic-derived ‘Ecosene’, reducing the carbon footprint of Skyrora’s rockets significantly (if you’re wondering what kind of climate impact rockets have, Tim Dodd has an explainer video). Skyrora is following the pattern of Astra and others with modular ground support equipment to allow responsive launch from multiple locations worldwide.

Skyrora test firing at Machrihanish Airbase in Scotland.

(Short) Papers
A timelapse photo of dust grains undergoing "electrostatic lofting" in a vacuum chamber, as may happen on the surface of small solar system bodies. (Credit: IMPACT Lab).
News in brief. Cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev’s spacewalk was cut short by a suit battery issue—with NASA’s suits grounded at the moment, the ISS is running out of EVA optionsSKY Perfect JSAT signed the first commercial launch contract for Starship for their upcoming Superbird-9 GEO commsat—the real question is how much they’re paying per kgAnother 53 Starlink satellites are in orbitESA is pushing for exploratory funding for space-based solar power (SSP), and potentially a heavy lift rocket to launch it—NASA also recently announced renewed interest in SSPBlue Origin is scrapping their never-used New Glenn recovery ship (“Jacklyn” after Bezos’s mother), likely moving toward drone ships like SpaceXThe CRS-25 Cargo Dragon returned from the ISS with cargo and experimentsChina launched their 4th batch of three Yaogan-35 classified remote sensing satellites on a Long March-2D carrier rocketFirefly will attempt their next Alpha rocket launch NET September 11Intelsat said that it lost control of Galaxy 15 in GEO after it was likely hit by a geomagnetic stormRelativity Space successfully conducted a full-duration 20-second hot fire test of Terran-1 and its nine Aeon-1 engines—its now in a race with Starship to become the first orbital methalox rocket. 🚀
A stripped-down VIPER chassis navigating fluffy lunar regolith simulant in the NASA Glenn Research Center SLOPE lab.

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