Issue No. 200

Not only is this our first issue of 2023, it’s also our 200th issue! In celebration of the New Year, this special issue will be looking retrograde and prograde—at what happened last year and what’s in store for this one.

The Orbital Index

Issue No. 200 | Jan 4, 2023

🚀 🥂 🛰

2022 in space science.

Last month, NASA announced that they had lost contact with InSight—ending its four-year mission on Mars—with a melancholy tweet and a final dusty image. Here’s an obituary. 😢

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2022 in space technology.

On deck for 2023.

  • Starliner is scheduled to conduct its first crewed flight test in April. Meanwhile, SpaceX will continue its Spring/Fall ISS mission schedule with Crew-6 & 7. Polaris Dawn will mark the first private EVA, currently scheduled NET March. Axiom-2 & 3 are planned to send commercial crews to the ISS in Q2 and Q4 (we’d be unsurprised to see the latter slipping to Q1 2024).
  • The first movie filmed on the ISS, “The Challenge” will be released in Russia in April (new trailer).
  • So many missions are headed to the Moon: ispace’s HAKUTO-R (already en route), Intuitive Machines’s IM-1 CLPS lander (and maybe even their IM-2 lander, although it seems likely to slip to 2024), Astrobotic’s Peregrine CLPS lander (whenever Vulcan is ready), Russia’s Luna 25 (July), JAXA’s SLIM lander (more below), and ISRO’s Chandrayaan-3 (a repeat of the failed Chandrayaan-2 moon lander, shooting for June).
  • ESA’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) mission will launch in April on the very last Ariane 5.
  • Psyche, delayed a year due to incomplete flight software, will now launch toward its eponymous metal asteroid in October on a Falcon Heavy (although tag-a-long Janus will need to find another ride).
  • Samples of Bennu will arrive in late September, completing OSIRIS-REx’s primary seven-year mission. (Its new extended mission to visit 99942 Apophis in 2029 during the object’s close approach to Earth will go by the name OSIRIS-APEX.) 
  • ESA’s Euclid space telescope, observing in visible to near-IR, will launch on a Falcon 9 (replacing its  original Soyuz launch vehicle) in Q3.
  • China continues an ambitious space development program, likely wrapping up the year by launching Xuntian, their 2-meter space station co-orbiting telescope on an LM-5B. CMSA may also make an official announcement of additional modules planned for Tiangong.
  • After multiple delays, JAXA’s X-ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission, built to observe galactic plasma winds, will launch along with their first lunar surface mission, the SLIM lunar lander.
  • The three-billion-pixel Vera C. Rubin Observatory (fka LSST) in Chile is scheduled to start observations in July (camera unboxing video).
  • 2023 will also be a busy year of (potential) first launches: SpaceX’s Starship, ULA’s Vulcan Centaur, Arianespace’s Ariane 6, JAXA’s H3, Relativity’s Terran 1, ABL’s RS1, Rocket Factory Augsburg’s One, Orbex’s Prime, Isar’s Spectrum, Gilmour Space’s Eris, Skyrora’s Skyrora XL, and Skyroot’s Vikram 1.
  • Unlikely, but just maybe: New Glenn’s first flight, an on-orbit Starship fuel transfer test, Astra’s Rocket 4, Interstellar Technologies’ LNG-fueled Zero launcher, i-space’s Hyperbola-2, and Tom Cruise filming his ISS movie (planned to include a first commercial ISS EVA).
  • All the challenges encountered in space in 2022 will continue and expand, including  increasing quantities of space debris (see the recent Soyuz radiator leak, likely resulting from a space debris strike and another recent ISS debris dodge operation), the effects of satellite light pollution on astronomy, the militarization of space, and many other issues as humanity continues to grow beyond Earth.
The absolutely massive Large Synoptic Survey Telescope at the Vera C. Rubin observatory. 
News in brief. Vega-C's second flight, launched on Dec. 20, failed to reach orbit due to a second-stage malfunction, resulting in the loss of two Pléiades Neo EO satsTransporter-6 launched successfully yesterday with 114 payloads on boardESA awarded a €117.5M contract to OHB Italia for their ambitious Comet Interceptor missionChina’s 64th (62nd successful) and final launch of 2022 sent a Long March-3B into orbit carrying a classified satelliteRussia proposed continued involvement in the ISS until 2028Perseverance dropped its first sample on the Martian surface, awaiting future retrieval (below).
Meanwhile, back on Earth…

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