Issue No. 218

The Orbital Index

Issue No. 218 | May 17, 2023

🚀 🌍 🛰

Vast’s first space station. Vast has announced its first launch, a single-module space station. The LA-based startup was founded by billionaire entrepreneur Jed McCaleb to work on artificial gravity space stations and recently acquired space tug, rocket, and engine company Launcher. (Ed.: Andrew previously worked at Vast and still works closely with Jed.) Vast’s Haven-1 will launch NET August 2025 on a Falcon 9, followed shortly after by a Crew Dragon with four astronauts onboard (seats available!) for an up to 30-day stay. Additional crewed missions will follow, after which Haven-1 could be docked with additional modules to form a larger station. Vast’s vision, laid out in its roadmap, is to build progressively larger stations taking advantage of Starship’s launch capacity, with future iterations using artificial spin gravity to enable long-term human habitation in space. (Haven-1 itself may perform test spins up to a lunar gravitational equivalent.) The goal with Haven-1 is to quickly develop a minimum viable space station pressure module launchable on a current rocket. This task is simplified by the omission of requiring resupply (the station will launch carrying consumables for up to four missions) and by relying on the docked Crew Dragon for some traditional free-flying station functions. If Vast can meet its very ambitious timeline, it could be the first commercial station in orbit, potentially beating out Orbital Reef, Starlab, Axiom, and others. Related: The first US space station, the iconic Skylab, launched 50 years ago on May 14th, 1973. (While Salyut 1 has the distinction of being the first crewed station, its singular crew, sadly, did not successfully return home due to the Soyuz 11 reentry depressurization event. Skylab was not without its own issues.)

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AstroForge. CA-based AstroForge, part of a new generation of asteroid mining startups, raised $13M about a year ago and recently announced two upcoming tech demonstration missions. The first, built by OrbAstro, already launched on Transporter-7 last month to demonstrate the extraction of platinum-group metals (from an asteroid analogue test target) in space. The second is an 11-month mission to visually observe an unannounced target asteroid in some capacity and will head to deep space onboard Intuitive Machines’ second CLPS mission, which recently passed launch vibration testing and is scheduled to launch late this year (but will likely slip due to delays with their first mission). Two missions in about two years, even with a high tolerance for failure, is impressively fast-paced for a brand-new company. AstroForge has also collaborated with the Colorado School of Mines on a paper exploring the distribution of rare metals in asteroids and potential extraction techniques. Ambitiously, the young company says they are now also planning their third (asteroid landing) and fourth (asteroid material return) missions.

AstroForge’s Brokkr-1 LEO refinery testbed being packed up prior to integration on Transporter 7. 

News in brief. Orbital Outpost X raised $5M for the development of commercial space station components, including fluid, electricity, and data transfer interfacesNASA has ended the Lunar Flashlight mission after the CubeSat failed to enter lunar orbit due to thruster underperformance—it did successfully flight test a green fuel, low-power & radhard flight computer, and radioISRO has finished qualification of the Gaganyaan crew module’s propulsion systemAxiom Space’s second private ISS mission is scheduled to launch next weekChina launched a cargo ship to TiangongJuice's RIME antenna has been successfully deployed by kicking the spacecraft (well, shaking it) EnduroSat raised a $10M Series AKathy Lueders joined SpaceX to work on Starship’s crewed capabilities after a 31-year career at NASAJWST confirmed water around a main belt object, Comet 238P/Read, a first—surprisingly, no CO2 was detectable as would be expected in early solar system objects …perhaps it has been baked off ☄️🍪NASA will announce the selection of a second lunar lander partner this Friday—this lander is penciled for Artemis V, currently planned for NET 2029Ariane 6’s debut will now almost certainly slip to a 2024 launch given that key testing will not be completed until Q4Vulcan Centaur rolled out to the pad for a final tanking test before a final, final static fire ahead of a NET June launch.

Vulcan Centaur, which will take the place of both Atlas V and Delta IV for ULA, loaded ~500,000 kg of liquid methane and oxygen during a recent tanking test.



Paparazzi in lunar orbit: ShadowCam on the Danuri lunar orbiter took a quick shot of LRO as it passed 18 km beneath the Korean spacecraft (with cooperation between the teams). The relative speed of the two craft was in excess of 3 km/sec. The animation below resolves the pixelated multi-frame capture into a model of the orbiter.

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