Issue No. 207

The Orbital Index

Issue No. 207 | Feb 22, 2023

🚀 🌍 🛰

Black holes are dark energy? This is big if true (but Ethan Siegel and others are highly skeptical): tantalizing evidence has emerged that dark energy, the theorized source of the Universe’s observed accelerating expansion, is tied to black holes. Seventeen researchers in nine countries released a paper with data showing that ancient Super Massive Black Holes (SMBHs) are increasing in mass faster than would be expected due to normal mass accretion. The amount of energy required to avoid an SMBH having a mathematics-breaking singularity at its core appears to be equal to the amount of dark energy needed to explain the Universe’s expansion. “The new result shows that black holes gain mass in a way consistent with them containing vacuum energy, providing a source of dark energy and removing the need for singularities to form at their center.” Co-author Dr. Dave Cl​ements, from Imperial College London, said, “This is a really surprising result. We started off looking at how black holes grow over time, and may have found the answer to one of the biggest problems in cosmology.” Here’s an explainer video from the team. Perhaps the Universe abhors a singularity so much that 68% of our Universe is currently dedicated to avoiding them. (Or, maybe this SMBH growth finding is all a methodology or measurement error—it seems to us that, in cosmology, it’s always possible it’s actually just dust.)

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EU Parliament agrees to IRIS2. Last week, the EU Parliament funded the development of a new communications constellation, the Infrastructure for Resilience, Interconnection & Security by Satellites (IRIS2 or sometimes IRISS), which will operate alongside its existing Galileo (GNSS), EGNOS (GNSS overlay), and Copernicus (EO) constellations (intro video). The new constellation will consist of up to 170 satellites deployed to LEO, MEO, and GEO and will integrate with existing communications assets. IRIS2 will provide high-security, high-reliability communications based on the EU’s nascent GOVSATCOM and EuroQCI quantum communications initiatives. While the constellation will have some amount of worldwide coverage, it will prioritize complete coverage of all of Europe and Africa with high-speed broadband—this coverage is touted as helping to combat the digital divide, but the only end users listed are government, defense, and commercial business. The EU will initially fund €2.4B for the program, with ESA adding €685M from its own budget. The balance of the €6.4B plan is supposed to be funded by the private sector, with European new space startups being allocated 30% of the constellation’s contract value. IRIS2 is unabashedly a play to combat the growing dominance of Starlink and to provide European sovereign communications infrastructure. The stated timeline of initial service in 2025 (with full rollout by 2027) seems optimistic, given that large constellations to date have taken significantly longer from announcement to initial service, and the preferred Ariane 6 launch vehicle is behind schedule and nearly fully booked with Kuiper launches.

Launcher. Launcher Space was in the news this week. First, Launcher’s inaugural Orbiter SN1 space tug/satellite deployer was announced lost with all customer-hosted payloads and satellites still on board. The satellite lost power when its solar panels couldn’t see the Sun due to an orientation control issue. SN1 had launched on Transporter-6 in early January. Then, in an unrelated acquisition which has been in the works for months, Launcher was acquired by Vast (Andrew’s old employer), a startup working to build the first space station with artificial gravity. The combined company, with Launcher’s Max Haot as President, will continue development of Launcher’s E-2 engines and Orbiter space tug, using it for Vast’s hardware testing and customer deployments, but will drop development of Launcher's Light small launch vehicle.

News in brief. Russia’s Soyuz ‘rescue’ mission is now scheduled to launch on February 23rd after their leaking Progress cargo craft safely departed the ISS—meanwhile crew arrived at Cape Canaveral in anticipation of Crew-6’s February 26th departureSpaceX launched two Falcon 9s in under 9 hours, one carrying Inmarsat’s I-6 F2 to GTO and the other with 51 Starlink satsOn the Starship side, SpaceX has dropped plans to convert two oil rigs, now sold, into launch platformsThe debut launch of JAXA and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ medium-lift H3 rocket was aborted moments after ignition of the main liquid-fueled engineChinese company Space Pioneer announced strategic funding and is preparing for a first launch of its Tianlong-2 kerolox rocket capable of 2 tons to LEO—the company has raised an impressive $438M since 2018 (this is >4x the ‘$100 million to reach orbit’ rule of thumb, which may be becoming outdated) and is working on a larger Tianlong-3 vehicle with a reusable first stage Japanese startup Iwaya Giken announced plans for suborbital tourism balloon flightsVirgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo flew for the first time in a year and a half, starting the process of returning VSS Unity spacecraft to flightThe Chinese Daqi-1/AEMS satellite’s Aerosol and Carbon Detection Lidar instrument was likely the source of green lasers seen on a cloudy night from Mauna Kea in Hawaii, pictured below.



This 360-degree panoramic image of the Milky Way’s galactic plane comes from a new dataset containing 3.32 billion stars based on the second release of the optical and near-infrared Dark Energy Camera Plane Survey (paper). Check out this interactive viewer.

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