¶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:
- The Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 (OCO-2), launched in 2014, is still generating important data. NASA recently released per-country CO2 emissions visualizations over the life of the mission.
- In 2022, Kayrros identified more than 1,000 methane “super emitter” events (>1 ton/hr). “The biggest event was a leak of 427 tonnes an hour in August, near Turkmenistan’s Caspian coast and a major pipeline. That single leak was equivalent to the rate of emissions from 67m cars, or the hourly national emissions of France.” And, these detections are increasing in quantity and accuracy—a recent paper explores this using Landsat and GHGsat data. GHGsat, in particular, is impressive and “quantified a 0.20 ton/hr emission to within 13%.” More large point-source methane emitters are set to be revealed to the public on a rolling basis, once the responsible entity has been notified of the emission. 💨
- On the topic of accuracy, EO applications are improving across a broad spectrum of data. Example: Hydrosat was able to predict 2022 US crop yields for corn and soybeans within ~1% which can help reduce agricultural waste, and researchers have been combining SAR data with visible spectrum observations to improve wildfire simulations (paper).
- Planet has a weekly newsletter called Planet Snapshots replete with beautiful EO images. Recent issues have covered topics including long-scale time lapses (10+ years), terrestrial carbon, climate migrations, and terrestrial analogs for space environments. While we’re on the topic of newsletters, we can’t miss the opportunity to plug Aravind's TerraWatch Space Insights, a solid dive into EO satellites, data, and end-user applications.
- Using satellite data dating all the way back to the 80s, researchers have been able to conduct a pan-tropical study on reforestation, classifying its potential as a carbon sink. They found that reforestation absorbs 26% of the emissions released by the destruction of the original forest, making it a vital decarbonization vector, but also throwing the historic loss of forests into stark relief and demonstrating how critical preservation of mature forests remains. (Related: NICFI announced the continuation of their publicly available EO data on global rainforests, citing its popularity and impact during the program’s 2.5-year existence.)
- The oceans rose an average of 9.1 centimeters since 1993 and are now rising at an average of 0.44 cm annually. 🌊
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 motor ● After 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 landing ● More 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 restrictions ● Frontier Aerospace raised a $10M Series A for the development of their in-space liquid rocket engines ● Artemis II’s core stage has been integrated at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans ● Rocket 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 facility ● SpaceX’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 flights ● ABL Space got $60M from the USSF & STRATFI to support their “responsive launch” needs ● SpaceX is reportedly raising yet more money, this time from Saudi and UAE investors ● Singapore-based Equatorial Space Systems raised $1.5M for their Dorado rocket, a small hybrid launch vehicle powered by solid fuel plus chilled nitrous oxide ● Virgin Orbit was close to receiving a $200M rescue investment from VC Matthew Brown, but the deal may have fallen through ● An 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 constellation ● Kathy 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-1A ● Israel performed one of its rare orbital launches, lofting the Ofeq-13 spy satellite to retrograde LEO.|
- An interesting visualization of the locations of US space tracking radars inferred from updates to TLEs.
- The NRO awarded six companies (BlackSky Technology, HyperSat, Orbital Sidekick, Pixxel, Planet, and Xplore) small contracts to study hyperspectral imaging for the agency’s use.
- German Isar Aerospace shared an update on their engine testing and then announced a €155M Series C, making them the best-funded European launch startup by quite a bit. Meanwhile, the other major German NewSpace launch company (along with HyImpulse Technologies), Rocket Factory Augsburg, may have trouble raising money as they head toward the first launch of their RFA One vehicle, as OHB, their lead investor, said it no longer wants to hold a majority stake in the company.
- The Chinese space industry tends to refer to EO as “remote-sensing” (perhaps because many of their missions are sensing “other” activity as well). The country has an existing fleet of these sats, and also intends to add a large constellation of ultra-low Earth orbit (ULEO) smallsats to its arsenal—we hope that some of the data from these sats are made public, but history doesn’t make us bullish. Data that has been shared historically is hard to access, but if interested, you can start here.
- Suggestions that the ISS, which cost well north of $100 billion, be sold for parts or recycled in some way instead of being deorbited seem like common sense to us.
- Beautiful colors created by the BROR rocket launched at Esrange Space Center in Sweden.