Issue No. 212

The Orbital Index

Issue No. 212 | Mar 29, 2023

🚀 🌍 🛰

Terran 1 launches. After initially being scrubbed yet another time, LA-based Relativity Space’s first launch of their experimental Terran 1 vehicle got through ignition, a spectacular liftoff, Max-Q, and stage separation, before the vehicle’s second stage failed to remain lit and didn’t reach orbit. No privately built rocket has reached orbit on its first try, and this partially-successful launch demonstrated the integrity of Relativity’s 85% 3D printed rocket at the highest stress point of flight, as well as their launch systems, staging systems, and first-stage methalox engines. This mission, dubbed Good Luck, Have Fun, carried no customer payload, instead carrying the company’s first 3D metal print, a 1.49 kg aluminum alloy ring. The company’s next-generation vehicle, the Terran R, is shooting for a (probably unlikely) 2024 launch and is much more ambitious, with planned full reusability of its first stage, second stage, and payload fairings, and a mass-to-orbit capacity of over 20,000 kg.

Terran 1’s nine Aeon engines produce some gorgeous methalox exhaust and mach diamonds.

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Climate and Earth Observation. Much of climate science has been based on Earth Observation data since the dawn of the satellite era. In the current “constellation”-era this has only become more true. Among other applications, EO sats generate source data on sea level rise, surface temperatures, land use, wildfires, floods, forest health, and weather patterns. Here’s a quick round-up of some recent EO/climate news and papers:

Bear Glacier in Alaska, 2010-2022. Credit: RapidEye & PlanetScope

News in brief. Blue Origin finally completed its investigation into the NS-23 launch failure, attributing the issue to a BE-3PM engine nozzle structural failure which caused thrust misalignment and triggered the abort motorAfter taking a long looping trajectory, ispace’s HAKUTO-R entered lunar orbit and will attempt a landing by the end of April—ispace is now only the second private company in history to orbit the Moon, after SpaceIL with their Beresheet lander which successfully orbited, then crashed on landingMore Moon: The Australian Space Agency awarded $8M for the initial design of a lunar rover, Estonia is evaluating one, and UAE’s rover on Chang’e 7 is reportedly hamstrung by ITAR restrictionsFrontier Aerospace raised a $10M Series A for the development of their in-space liquid rocket enginesArtemis II’s core stage has been integrated at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New OrleansRocket Lab launched their 35th Electron mission,’The Beat Goes On’, delivering two BlackSky EO sats to orbit and easily setting a new turnaround record for the company, enabled by their second active launch facilitySpaceX’s Starlink V2 Mini sats, launched recently, are having issues, with some number being deorbited—the company will continue to launch V1.5 sats on upcoming Falcon 9 flightsABL Space got $60M from the USSF & STRATFI to support their “responsive launch” needsSpaceX is reportedly raising yet more money, this time from Saudi and UAE investorsSingapore-based Equatorial Space Systems raised $1.5M for their Dorado rocket, a small hybrid launch vehicle powered by solid fuel plus chilled nitrous oxideVirgin Orbit was close to receiving a $200M rescue investment from VC Matthew Brown, but the deal may have fallen throughAn Indian GSLV Mk III deployed 36 OneWeb satellites, completing OneWeb’s 72 satellite launch contract with the country and bringing the company within one launch of completing its constellationKathy Lueders, head of NASA’s human spaceflight program, is retiring at the end of April (we think she’d be a good option for NASA Administrator when the position becomes vacant at some point…)China launched four meteorological sats on a Kuaizhou-1AIsrael performed one of its rare orbital launches, lofting the Ofeq-13 spy satellite to retrograde LEO.

On March 9th, Perseverance filmed the 47th flight of Ingenuity on Mars as it hovered and then flew 440 meters. Watch the lower right of the image for the dramatic takeoff. NASA continues to casually fly a helicopter on Mars.

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