Issue No. 208

It’s our fourth-anniversary issue! We find it a bit hard to believe that we’ve been doing this for 208 weeks, but here we are. All we ask for our birthday is that you take a moment to share this free space newsletter with a friend or coworker.
❤️ Andrew & Ben 🚀

The Orbital Index

Issue No. 208 | Mar 1, 2023

🚀 🎂 🛰

Hall thrusters go argon with Starlink V2 mini. Sunday, SpaceX shared photos of a stack of ~790 kg Starlink V2 “minis”. Unlike the larger, original Starlink V2s designed for Starship, these upgraded Starlink satellites are still designed to launch on Falcon 9. The company then proceeded to launch its first batch of 21 to LEO on Monday evening (check out a cool new camera angle captured from their upgraded stack deployment tension rods). Standout features on the new satellites include “more powerful phased array antennas and the use of E-band for backhaul—which will allow Starlink to provide ~4x more capacity per satellite than earlier iterations” and in-house argon Hall thrusters with 2.4x the thrust and 1.5x the Isp of their first generation thrusters (they’ve now hit 1 kW/kg, likely excluding its PPU). These Hall thrusters will be the first to fly in space using argon as the propellant—long deemed too low-efficiency to be appealing as a propellant, argon’s exceptionally low cost makes it attractive for large constellation use (the previous-gen thruster’s krypton costs ~100x, while industry standard xenon is ~1,000x, and both are produced in war-torn Ukraine). SpaceX (and the recently-acquired Swarm team who worked on the thruster) have managed to hit 2,500s Isp and 50% efficiency with these new thrusters using a center cathode design along with other unrevealed optimizations. Here is an exceptionally detailed thread about them. (Semi-related: If you’ve ever wondered what would happen if you stuck your hand in the plume of a Hall thruster, well, you’re reading the right newsletter. Just go here.) SpaceX also released details of astronomy-impact (ultra-black space-rated paint, dielectric mirror film, panels capable of being angled) and space debris mitigations that are included with V2 mini.

A stack of Starlink V2 minis pre-launch.

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(Short) Papers
Space-time is like some simple and familiar system which is both intuitively understandable and precisely analogous, and if I were Richard Feynman I'd be able to come up with it.” XKCD #895
News in brief. NASA is partnering with Israel to launch the country’s first space telescope—the Ultraviolet Transient Astronomy Satellite focusing on short-duration events like supernovae and neutron star mergers—in 2026Tyvak (a subsidiary of Terran Orbital) won a $2.4 billion contract to build 300 LEO communication sats for Rivada Networks with deployment planned to start in 2025China launched a comms sat on a Long March 3B and Horus-1, an Egyptian EO sat, on a Long March 2CMalawi-based Galamad Aerospace raised $1M to work on a new CubeSat platformMRO photos of China’s Zhurong rover show it unmoved since September 2022 (it went dormant during the Martian winter and is rumored to have failed to re-establish communications early this year)Crew-6 was called off with two minutes on the clock due to a ground system issue involving the Falcon 9’s TEA-TEB engine ignition fluidSpaceX sent Inmarsat-6 F2 toward GEOSatellite servicing and hopeful debris-removal company Astroscale closed a $76M Series G roundThe uncrewed Soyuz MS-23 headed to the ISS as an emergency replacement for the leaking Soyuz MS-22, it also brought up 429 kg of equipment and suppliesTexas Governor Greg Abbott requested $350M from the state legislature to form a Texas Space Commission (pdf)Momentus announced that its Vigoride space tug which launched on T6 is doing well and that two more launches are planned for this year, along with a $10M raise, a $10M share repurchase, and a $8.5M class action suit settlement, which should remove some baggage the company has been struggling to overcome ● ULA announced a NET May the 4th launch date for Vulcan—carrying Astrobotic’s CLPS Peregrine lander (originally planned for launch in June 2021)—along with plans to ramp launch cadence up to twice per month.

ULA’s first Vulcan Centaur in the midst of being stacked at the company’s vertical integration facility in Florida.

Curiosity found rippled rocks on Mars—clear evidence of sediment solidified billions of years ago on the bottom of a shallow lake.

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