Issue No. 183

The Orbital Index

Issue No. 183 | Aug 31, 2022

🚀 🌍 🛰

SpaceX and T-Mobile will provide cell service with Starlink. Last week, the two companies made a surprise announcement that they are partnering to serve existing mobile hardware with coverage from Starlink V2 satellites. The service will mostly support messaging and some calls (as well as Tesla cars) providing just 2-4 Mb of bandwidth per cell zone (so texting, but little audio and no video). To support this feature, Starlink V2 satellites will have a 25-square-meter antenna, and a few of the next-generation satellites will be launched on Falcon 9 (potentially as few as 10) to build out coverage for the beta planned for the end of 2023. (Previously, V2 was only planned for Starship.) Coverage will initially be for the US and its territories as well as some international waters and will be included with all but the least expensive T-Mobile plans. Gaining regulatory approval for this plan is less than assured—the mid-band PCS spectra that T-Mobile would be handing over to SpaceX in exchange for this service are not currently approved for this use and, to date, only one experimental license (for just one satellite) has been issued for these spectra—to AST Space Mobile who is prepping their massive BlueWalker 3 test satellite for launch. T-Mobile is also interested in swapping roaming coverage with other international carriers that agree to give the same bands to SpaceX in their respective coverage areas. This press conference came just two weeks ahead of a rumored Apple announcement of satellite support for their products using the GlobalStar constellation (and possibly the funding of 17 additional sats), a feature that would run on top of unencumbered spectra and work as soon as new hardware is available. Meanwhile, Lynk Global has contracts with 14 mobile network operators, has already launched their own test satellite, and has successfully tested it with unmodified mobile phones.

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Europa Clipper. JPL has begun assembly of the Europa Clipper spacecraft, which is scheduled to launch in 2024. The 6,000 kg, SUV-sized spacecraft carries 9 instruments (interactive 3D visualization), including a magnetometer, multiple spectrometers, cameras, radar, and an IR imaging system, and also sports solar arrays roughly equivalent in area to a basketball court. (The spacecraft will launch on a Falcon Heavy, saving NASA $2 billion or more over the original congressional mandate for the use of SLS.) Europa is strongly suspected to house a massive salty ocean 20 km beneath its frozen surface containing twice as much water as Earth’s oceans combined. Radiation from Jupiter’s radiation belts strikes the moon’s ice, forming energetic molecules like hydrogen peroxide which could cycle through the ice and provide nutrients for hypothetical subsurface aquatic life. Europa Clipper will orbit Jupiter and fly by the icy moon 50+ times to check for water plumes, analyze its surface, and probe its interior with sub-surface radar and Doppler gravimetric measurements, measuring the ocean’s depth and salinity. Europa Clipper should start sciencing in 2031, if all goes according to plan.

Europa Clipper under assembly and visualized in flight.

JWST sees CO2 on its first exoplanet target. JWST has produced more impressive results with its first data released on an exoplanet from the Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIR Spec) instrument. NIR Spec observed WASP-39b as it transited in front of its very Sol-like star about 700 lightyears away. The exoplanet, a “hot Jupiter” with a zippy 4-day orbital period, was discovered in 2011 by the Wide-angle Search for Planets transiting exoplanets survey. WASP-39b was already known to have a significant amount of water in its atmosphere. JWST’s look at it yielded “the first detailed exoplanet spectrum covering this range of near-infrared colors” and “the first indisputable evidence for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of a planet orbiting a distant star,” confirming Spitzer’s ambiguous results from 2018. With these results in, the hope is now that JWST will be able to see similar signatures around smaller, rockier exoplanets in the near future.


“Each of the 95 data points (white circles) on this graph represents the amount of a specific wavelength of light that is blocked by the planet and absorbed by its atmosphere. Wavelengths that are preferentially absorbed by the atmosphere appear as peaks in the transmission spectrum. The peak centered around 4.3 microns represents the light absorbed by carbon dioxide.”

News in brief. The launch of Artemis I was scrubbed at T-40 min on Monday due to one engine being out of the acceptable temperature range for launch—the next launch attempt is scheduled for Friday, Sept 2nd, assuming the engine issues are resolved Ingenuity is back online and gearing up for its 30th flight NASA is soliciting proposals for ISS deorbit vehicles/systems Ground station and ground software provider ATLAS Space Operations raised a $26M Series B Startup Violet Labs closed a $4 million seed round for a cloud-based aerospace engineering software integration platform Blue Origin is scheduled to launch a dedicated payload-only flight of New Shepard today with 36 payloads/microgravity experiments on board China launched a VTHL suborbital spaceplane for the second time while their X-37B-like orbital spaceplane remains in orbit—the duo could be combined into a fully reusable launch system Starliner’s first crewed launch has now slipped to NET Feb 2023 Orbital Reef has passed its NASA system definition review, allowing it to move onto its next stage of design Voyager 1 is back to normal after an issue caused garbled telemetry data from the almost 45-year-old spacecraft.



A new JWST NIRCam composite IR image of Jupiter. Auroras are seen glowing above both the northern and southern poles. The Great Red Spot (reflecting more sunlight) is white in this IR-to-visible color mapping. Here’s an expanded view with some labeled moons, rings, and distant galaxies. Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, Jupiter ERS Team; image processing by Judy Schmidt.

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