Issue No. 194

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The Orbital Index

Issue No. 194 | Nov 16, 2022

🚀 🌗 🛰

Go Artemis! At 1:47 am EST on November 16th, 2022, Artemis I, the first SLS rocket, took off from launch complex 39B and arched into the Florida sky (video). Artemis I completes a development process that was born out of the Shuttle program in 2004. Through Constellation and later the Obama-era SLS program, NASA has invested untold person-hours and 50 billion dollars to bring the Artemis program to this first test flight. Artemis I’s Orion capsule will now proceed to the moon, orbit in a distant retrograde orbit before it returns to Earth in four weeks (mission trajectory). Congrats to all the personnel that worked for years on this project, it is a huge achievement to launch the world’s most powerful rocket to return to the moon. 🚀🌗


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JPSS-2 is LOFTID. An Atlas V lifted off from Vandenberg on Nov. 10th with two payloads on board: NOAA and NASA’s Joint Polar Satellite System-2 (JPSS-2) and NASA’s succinctly-named Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator (LOFTID). JPSS-2, to be followed by JPSS-3 in ~2027 and JPSS-4 sometime after that, will help forecast extreme weather events and model the climate with a microwave sounder, ozone mapper, infrared sounder, and a visible and infrared radiometer. LOFTID, meanwhile, demonstrated the largest inflatable heat shield ever flown—6 meters in diameter—which could be used to land heavy payloads, such as crewed missions on Mars, Venus probes, returning upper stages, manufactured materials from orbit, or the Vulcan rocket’s two BE-4 engines (which is the initial plan). We’re pretty sure we’ve used one of these already in Kerbal Space Program or on a lazy river somewhere... and indeed, here’s a very Kerbal video of LOFTID separating from the Centaur upper stage, and videos of its real-life successful splashdown and recovery.

LOFTID after being lofted, but before its eventual fiery de-lofting.


Starfish unveils Otter Pup. Continuing their plan for marine domination of orbital space, Starfish Space announced their next mission, focused on orbital rendezvous. Otter Pup is a slightly scaled-down version of their future Otter satellite servicing craft (mission overview video). Otter Pup will launch on Transporter 8 next summer, attached to a Launcher Orbiter Transfer Vehicle (OTV). After separation, Otter Pup will move several kilometers away and then perform an autonomous rendezvous with the OTV (with plenty of windows for human intervention). Final docking with the OTV will use Nautilus, an electrostatic docking mechanism developed in partnership with Honeybee Robotics. Nautilus can adhere to many common spacecraft materials—no receiving adapter required, just a relatively smooth surface—with enough strength to maneuver the target craft. Starfish’s rendezvous software (Cephalopod) already has some flight heritage; it flew last year on Orbit Fab’s orbital refueling demonstration. After docking, Otter Pup will detach and depart from the OTV a second time to conduct additional testing. Starfish’s approach to rendezvous will be the first to use electric propulsion, which will hugely decrease the size of servicing vehicles and promises servicing costs of only ~5% of the cost of a large chemical propulsion mission like MEV-2 from Northrop Grumman.

Otter Pup’s Nautilus electrostatic end effector.

News in brief. The Cygnus cargo spacecraft, with 20 new science experiments on board, arrived safely at the ISS with only one of its two solar arrays deployed JWST’s malfunctioning MIRI instrument mode is back online Due to JPL staffing and process issues, brought to light by the delayed-but-now-launching-in-2023 Psyche mission, NASA is pushing back the VERITAS mission to Venus by three years Space Shuttle Challenger remnants were discovered underwater by a documentary crew China’s expendable super-heavy Long March 9 development plans appear to have been replaced with a reusable design A Long March 6A rocket body broke up in orbit, creating 50+ debris Astra is laying off 16% of their staff BlueWalker 3 deployed successfully in orbit, growing in brightness by 40x Australian rocket startup Gilmour Space Technologies completed testing of their hybrid engine (it uses a liquid oxidizer and a proprietary solid fuel), intentionally testing to destruction SpaceX performed a full duration 14 Raptor engine test on Booster 7 CAPSTONE completed an insertion burn and is now in lunar orbit—the lunar cubesat will perform several more burns to tune its orbit over the rest of this week ABL scrubbed the first launch opportunity for the maiden launch of their RS1 orbital rocket from Kodiak, Alaska—the company has daily launch windows available for the rest of the week The Space Force’s X-37B returned to Earth after 908 days in orbit, presumably with many long-duration space environment and tech demo tests ready for analysis on the ground.


The X-37B after 908 days in space.


[Astronomer peers into telescope] [Jaws theme begins playing]" XKCD #1377

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