Issue No. 192

As we approach our 200th issue 🤯 and the end of another year, we’re reflecting on the newsletter and where it should go next. To do that, we need to understand you, our readers. So, we’re requesting that you fill out our new 2022 Reader Survey (we’ll be sending it out to some of our most avid readers via email as well). This anonymous survey will help us understand you, your interests, and what you most want to hear more about over the coming year. Thanks for making The Orbital Index better!

The Orbital Index

Issue No. 192 | Nov 2, 2022

🚀 🌍 🛰

A Heavy Week. With Ariane 5 (3 remaining flights) and Delta IV Heavy (2 more launches) both in the sunset phase of their careers, the heavy-lift market is somewhat underserved, with just two rockets currently in the ongoing active phase of their flight history. This week saw both of these rockets launch for just their fourth time. A Long March 5B carried the third and final space station module, Mengtian, to the Chinese Space Station (CSS). After successful docking on Monday, the CSS is now complete and ready for this final module to be commissioned and its crew expanded, short-term, to six. Mengtian is a carbon copy of the Wentian module, installed earlier this year. It will provide expanded lab space as well as additional power, life support, and crew volume (allowing crew mission overlaps like the ISS) for the station. The station should have an active life of at least 10 years, with mission extensions and more modules seeming probable. The final, final piece of the station is the exciting, co-orbiting Xuntian space telescope which should join the station in orbit next year. Unfortunately, yet again, the rocket-watching world will spend some time collectively holding its breath while waiting for the massive main stage of the LM-5B to make an uncontrolled reentry and hoping that debris won’t hit inhabitants somewhere along its ground track. Meanwhile, Tuesday brought us the launch of the always impressive Falcon Heavy (video), its first flight since mid-2019 and 50th this year for SpaceX. For this launch, Falcon Heavy—currently the world’s most powerful rocket—was flown in a partial-reuse configuration, with a center core starkly bereft of its normal grid fins and landing legs to gain the performance needed to place a 3.7-ton classified payload directly into geosynchronous orbit (vs requiring a long orbit raising period, exposing the payload to more radiation and requiring onboard propulsion). The upper stage was also slightly uncharacteristic in that its interstage received a special coat of sunlight-absorbing gray paint to help keep RP-1 temps above freezing during its extra-long first-stage burn. Both side boosters made a spectacular double landing after boosting back to the Florida coast bringing SpaceX’s booster recovery count to 151.

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InSight’s last selfie, taken in April, shows its panels covered in Sun-obscuring dust. The robotic arm which took this photo was soon after put into its final “retirement pose”. 😢

News in brief. SpaceX is now NASA’s second largest vendor, after Caltech (which runs JPL), surpassing Boeing An ISS resupply mission launched from Baikonur YASL of 53 Starlink sats Psyche, delayed about a year, is now scheduled for launch next October, arriving at its eponymous asteroid in 2029 Apex Space, a manufacturer of smallsat buses, announced $7.5M in funding; Array Labs, working on formation-flying radar satellites for 3D imagery, raised a $5M seed; and, Canadian startup Wyvern raised $7M (bringing them to $15M total) to build high resolution hyperspectral satellites with deployable optics Amazon announced plans for a 172,000-square-foot facility to manufacture Kuiper’s 3,236 satellites (it’ll be an uphill battle, though, with Starlink recently crossing 3,500 sats launched) Terran Orbital raised $100M from Lockheed Martin Optical comms startup SpaceLink is shutting down due to funding challenges It looks like Roscosmos will stay in the ISS until at least 2027 (color us unsurprised) Australia joined the growing ASAT test ban, becoming the eighth country to do so Edward Stone retired after 50 years as NASA’s Voyager Project Scientist—Stone took lead in 1972, five years before the duo launched, and has now retired when both of the spacecraft he helped shepherd are over 19 billion km away in interstellar space still doing science. Not bad.

The famous Pale Blue Dot photo, taken over 30 years ago, when Voyager 1 was already 6 billion kilometers from home, shows Earth in a beam of sunlight (reflecting off parts of the camera and its sunshade).



[One hill over, a competing astrophotographer does a backflip over a commercial airliner while throwing a tray of plastic space stations into the air, through which a falcon swoops to 'grab' the real one.]XKCD #2463

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