Issue No. 221

The Orbital Index

Issue No. 221 | Jun 7, 2023

🚀 🌍 🛰

Starliner’s got more problems. The much-delayed Starliner crewed capsule, which failed to reach the ISS in 2019 in an uncrewed test, and then mostly succeeded three years later in 2022, has now been delayed for an indeterminate length of time (press teleconference). Next month’s now-postponed Crew Flight Test (CFT) was meant to be the last milestone before Starliner entered NASA’s commercial crew program rotation alongside Crew Dragon. Two primary issues are driving this latest delay. The first is the discovery that parachute lines could snap if one of the capsule’s three chutes were to fail to deploy 😱. The second issue, and perhaps harder to correct in the short term, is the potential flammability when chafed of wire harness wrapping material used in the capsule—estimates for the length of harness that needs to be re-wrapped or over-wrapped are at least “hundreds of feet” which will include significant disassembly, testing, reassembly, and finally recertification of the capsule. Luckily for NASA, Boeing has confirmed that it will continue Starliner development and, since Commercial Crew Development contracts are fixed cost, this latest delay will again be borne by the company and not the agency. These issues feel like they should have been found significantly earlier in the development process, and yet again call into question Boeing’s ability to create crew-quality hardware, which is worrying given their planned involvement in developing the Orbital Reef commercial station with Blue Origin and Sierra Space. (Related: Perhaps tellingly, Boeing’s involvement in Blue’s HLS design was limited to the contribution of the docking adapter.)

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“We were able to replicate and confirm prior authors' detection of a moon orbiting the Earth with high confidence.” XKCD #2783

News in brief. Both NASA and China’s Manned Space Agency announced requests for proposals for crewed lunar roversShenzhou-15 and crew returned to EarthDragon CRS-28 launched to deliver cargo to the ISSRFA completed a full duration upper stage test fireSpain joined the Artemis Accords, the 25th country to do soInmarsat’s acquisition by ViaSat closedThe Psyche mission is back on track for an October launchA Chollima-1 rocket from North Korea carrying the country’s first spy satellite failed to reach orbit after an upper-stage failure, crashing off the Korean Peninsula’s western coastIndia-headquartered Pixxel raised a $36M Series B for their hyperspectral satellite constellationHubble Network raised a $20M Series A for a satellite constellation that can talk directly to Bluetooth low energy devices, a ~5 orders of magnitude improvement in range on unmodified devices that we’d be very impressed byThe Pentagon is paying SpaceX for Starlink service in UkraineSierra Space powered up Dream Chaser for the first time—Dream Chaser, pictured below, was the third crew capsule bidder, unchosen in favor of Starliner and Crew Dragon, from the initial commercial crew program process.


“This image reveals the fine structures of a sunspot in the photosphere. Within the dark, central area of the sunspot’s umbra, small-scale bright dots, known as umbral dots, are seen. The elongated structures surrounding the umbra are visible as bright-headed strands known as penumbral filaments.” Image Credit: NSF/AURA/NSO

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