Issue No. 215

We're (probably) off next week. We’ll definitely be back on May 3rd, hopefully with a bunch of old news about a successful Starship launch and an ispace Moon landing!

The Orbital Index

Issue No. 215 | Apr 19, 2023

🚀 🌍 🛰

JUICE. ESA’s ill-acronymed Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer mission launched last week on an Ariane 5 from French Guiana. After an eight-year cruise and four gravity assist maneuvers, ESA’s first outer planet mission will focus on the potential icy ocean worlds of Ganymede, Europa, and Callisto. Weighing in at 6,000 kg, half of which is fuel, the solar-powered explorer has 85 square meters of solar panels, which should produce about 850 watts at Jupiter (where the Sun's intensity is 3% what it is at Earth). Onboard are 10 instruments, including a high-resolution telescope, IR and UV imagers, spectrometers (including a novel sub-millimeter wave spectrometer to analyze Jovian atmospheres, isotopic ratios, icy surfaces, and cryovolcanic plumes), a laser ranging system, ice-penetrating radar (reaching up to 9 km in depth!), and the requisite magnetometer, plasma, and particle sensors to analyze the harsh Jovian environment and how the moons interact with it. As with many planetary missions, the craft will also use its communication system along with radio telescopes on Earth to map gravitational fields via precise spacecraft position and velocity measurements. After the first phase of the mission, from 2031 to 2034, in which JUICE will fly by the moons, sometimes within 200 km of their surfaces, the mission will transition to its second phase, where the spacecraft will orbit Ganymede and study it for at least nine months. This will be the first time a spacecraft has orbited any moon beyond Earth. We’re thrilled that ESA is heading to the outer planets for the first time and look forward to lots of juicy science. Related: there’s so much we don’t know about icy moons—for example, their mysterious smooth areas might be created by moonquakes.

XKCD #2683

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Scrub #1. The FAA issued a launch license for the most powerful rocket in history last Friday, allowing SpaceX to attempt a Monday morning launch of Starship’s first fully integrated flight test. As with all first launches, scrubs are expected, and Starship—having the most lift, most simultaneous engine firings, tallest launch tower, and being the first fully reusable vertically-landing rocket in history—is an exceptionally complex first launch. Accordingly, a scrub was called shortly before a slightly delayed T-0 due to a frozen pressurant valve, a typical reason for a scrub. A next near-orbital launch attempt is planned for Thursday (4/20) after a minimum 48-hour recycle, which was extended for undisclosed reasons (which may or may not involve someone’s attachment to a particular date). We’re fully expecting a Starship launch attempt in the next week or so, but wouldn’t be surprised to see another scrub on Thursday.

Relativity switching to Terran R. Relativity Space announced that they’re dropping the Terran 1 and focusing exclusively on the Terran R. The company said that they learned enough from their initial 3D-printed Terran 1 launch (which demonstrated structural integrity and first stage performance but failed to fully ignite its second stage) to switch focus to Terran R, their upcoming, larger, reusable launch vehicle. They also shared changes to their Terran R plans, including significantly increased size and payload capacity (23,500 kg to LEO reusable, 33,500 kg expendable) and the decision to switch from an entirely 3D-printed rocket body (which always seemed a bit silly to us) to one using a combination of 3D printing and traditionally manufactured aluminum alloy sections. Terran R plans unfortunately now also call for only the first stage to be reused (landing on a ship), instead of the full reusability originally proposed. We hope a reusable second stage ends up being a future addition.

News in brief. Transporter-7 went to orbit with 51 customer payloads, including satellites, hosted payloads, and Orbital Transfer Vehicles loaded with optical EO, climate monitoring, RF triangulation and monitoring, SAR, weather, LEO space situational awareness, IoT communications, tech demo, and science payloadsOrbit Fab raised $28.5M for in-space satellite refueling servicesChina launched a weather satellite on a Long March 4BThe FCC opened their new Space Bureau officeKepler Communications raised a $92M Series C for their optical data relay constellation launching next yearArgo Space Corporation, founded by three brothers who worked at SpaceX, raised $2M to mine the Moon for water-based fuelAhead of a lunar landing attempt next week, ispace’s Japanese public market offering seems to have debuted wellNorthrop Grumman has been hired to attach one of their first 3 MEP fuel pods to another Intelsat GEO satellite with their MRV robotic mission extension craft Ingenuity took its 50th flight on Mars.  🚁🎉

Just a 4K photo of a helicopter sitting on Mars having flown around 15x as many times as originally planned. NBD. 

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/Paul Byrne



JWST recently delivered an exceptional visual example of gravitational lensing in this image of galaxy cluster SDSS J1226+2149 (lower right). The cluster is lensing an ancient galaxy called the Cosmic Seahorse (video zooming in on the capture), warping it into a long bright red arc visible to the lower left of the cluster.

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