Issue No. 209

The Orbital Index

Issue No. 209 | Mar 8, 2023

🚀 🌍 🛰

Remember… space is still hard.

  • H3 doesn’t make it. After a decade in development, JAXA & Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ medium-lift H3 rocket, an upgraded and lower cost (around $50M vs $90M per launch) version of their H2-A launch vehicle, finally took off (video). Unfortunately, second-stage ignition failed and flight controllers were forced to terminate the mission. The self-destruct sequence took JAXA’s ALOS-3 along with it—a high-resolution optical EO satellite which would have had a ground resolution of 0.8 m.
  • 6 months and no results. Blue Origin is still investigating why its New Shepard NS-23 mission failed (although it did end up being a successful test of their crew capsule abort system 🤷).
  • Rocket 3.3 melted its guts. Astra shared their analysis of the Rocket 3.3 vehicle failure last June—a combustion chamber wall burn-through led to excessive consumption of fuel, which ran out before the rocket’s oxidizer, causing the rocket to fail to exceed 80% of orbital velocity.
  • Vega-C needs a new nozzle. Vega-C failed on its second flight in December, leading to the demise of two Pléiades Neo satellites onboard. ESA recently announced the results of its investigation into the failure, citing an eroded engine nozzle on the Zefiro-40 solid-fueled second stage—its carbon-carbon throat insert material did not perform to specifications and acceptance criteria failed to assess the material’s strength. The insert supplier, a Ukrainian company, must now be replaced with a new supplier, meaning Vega-C won’t return to flight until late this year (which feels slightly optimistic). The Ukrainian Space Agency has contested these findings. Regardless, this leaves Europe completely devoid of launch capabilities after Ariane 5 launches JUICE next month in the venerable rocket's last mission—Ariane 6 won’t fly until about the same time as Vega-C, Virgin Galactic failed their first UK flight, and the various EU-based new launch startups are still yet to fly.

A solid rocket’s nozzle throat insert is tasked with compressing and containing the combustion gasses and is the single highest stress component in this type of engine.

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More DART results are in. With five new studies in Nature, NASA shared more data and declared the DART mission a success. DART’s 6 km/s impact ejected at least one million kilograms of rock from Dimorphos, creating a tail tens of thousands of kilometers long, and changing its orbital period around its host asteroid, Didymos, by 33 minutes—here’s a video taken by Hubble. Multiple factors resulted in such a significant effect (>3x pre-impact predictions), including striking within 25 meters of the moonlet’s center and the quantity of rubble which was thrown out from the blast, carrying away momentum and exaggerating the change in orbit—it’s estimated that the dislodged debris had a momentum effect 2-5x that imparted by DART alone. With this success, in which humanity changed the orbit of a planetary object for the first time, our confidence is growing that we could use a DART-like kinetic impactor to deflect an incoming asteroid (given several years of warning, and especially if it's a celestial rubble pile). In late 2026, ESA’s Hera will arrive to survey the altered asteroid system further. 

DART’s collision with Dimorphos, captured by the trailing LICIACube.

News in brief. Relativity Space’s Terran 1 is scheduled for an inaugural flight today (live stream)South Korean INNOSPACE is scheduled to do a suborbital test launch of their HANBIT-TLV two-stage, hybrid small satellite vehicle from Brazil this weekULA is apparently up for saleVector is apparently not dead and has signed a new agreement to use Ursa Major’s Hadley engine for propulsion on the resurrected Vector-R rocket Crew-6 successfully made it to the ISS despite two (related) minor hiccups along the way A new passage was discovered in the Great Pyramid using muon detection technology Starlink crossed the 4,000 satellite mark with their most recent launch (51 v1.5 satellites this time)—so far this year, SpaceX has delivered 169 tons to orbit and is averaging a launch every 4 days China shared plans to expand the China Space Station, initially adding a multi-functional module with 6 docking ports and reconfiguring the layout of existing modules.



It is worth watching this video from Solar Orbiter of Mercury transiting in front of towering structures on our friendly star.

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