Issue No. 189

The Orbital Index

Issue No. 189 | Oct 12, 2022

🚀 🌍 🛰

Make that a partial 100% success. While Firefly declared its recent orbital launch a “100% mission success,” independent observations put its payload satellites at an orbital altitude of ~200 km, while 300 km was intended. We’ve heard that this may have been related to an issue with the upper stage’s second burn which circularized the orbit and should have increased its altitude. This lower altitude dramatically shortened the useful life of the experimental satellites —all of the payloads have now reentered, including the upper stage itself. While the launch definitely demonstrated orbital capabilities for Firefly, it’s no longer fair to call it a complete success. Related: Firefly’s stage separation was also a bit of a nail-biter, with the first stage pivoting during separation and causing the interstage to come exceptionally close to impacting the upper stage’s engine bell—this reminds us of SpaceX's early difficulties with Falcon 1’s stage separation (video).

Firefly Alpha’s upper-stage deploying one of its test payloads.

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China’s first dedicated solar observatory. The Advanced Space-based Solar Observatory (ASO-S) launched on October 9th on a Long March-2D. First proposed all the way back in the 1970s, ASO-S is also known as Kuafu-1, borrowing the name of a mythological giant who sought to catch the Sun. The spacecraft has three instruments and will spend four years—through the 2024-25 solar maximum—observing our star in multiple wavelengths (X-ray, UV, and visible) to study the magnetic origin of coronal mass ejections. ASO-S will also study the “middle corona”, which is the source of solar storms and has never been fully imaged in UV.



Impact craters on Mars detected seismically and acoustically by Mars InSight and visually confirmed by MRO. The blue area is digitally color-enhanced disturbed dust and soil.

News in brief. ULA’s Atlas V launched from Cape Canaveral (for the last time in its three solid rocket booster configuration) with SES-20 & SES-21—if SES can launch two more replacement satellites by the end of the year they will have freed up spectrum worth $4B The UK and South Korea have joined the US commitment to prohibit testing direct-ascent ASAT weapons SpaceX’s Crew-5 sent four astronauts to the ISS, including cosmonaut Anna Kikina on her first spaceflight, the first Russian to launch from US soil in 20 years, and astronaut Nicole Mann, the first Native American woman to go to space and SpaceX’s first female mission commander A Starlink mission launched about 7 hours later CAPSTONE has been recovered—the cause was identified as a valve stuck partially open “result[ing] in thrust from the associated thruster whenever the propulsion system was pressurized A Soyuz launched a GLONASS GNSS sat Rocket Lab launched a wildlife and ocean buoy tracking payload for General Atomics A dramatically sea-launched Long March 11 lofted two GNSS satellites into orbit (super nice video) South Korea’s first lunar orbiter, Danuri, performed its trajectory correction maneuver at L1—it should enter lunar orbit in mid December Dimorphos now has a 10,000 km long debris tail, and we’ve confirmed that DART changed its orbital period around Didymos by 32 minutes (3x as much as was anticipated!), marking the first time humanity has purposely changing the motion of a celestial object—this one's for the dinosaurs!

The debris from Dimorphos dislodged by DART has now extended into a 10,000 km long tail behind the asteroid as seen by the Southern Astrophysical Research Telescope. In addition to moving our first celestial object, humanity just made our first comet.


GHGSat’s ~25m resolution sensor clearly detects the massive methane leak from the (possibly sabotaged) Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.

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