Issue No. 226

The Orbital Index

Issue No. 226 | Jul 12, 2023

🚀 🌍 🛰

Chandrayaan 3. ISRO is scheduled to launch its latest lunar mission this week on a GSLV Mk III rocket. The agency only recently shared detailed specifications about Chandrayaan 3, a follow-on to 2019’s failed lunar landing, which will attempt a near-polar touchdown (right here), about 100 km away from Chandrayaan 2’s attempted landing site. If the landing is successful, Chandrayaan 3’s rover will explore the Moon for one lunar day (14 Earth days), analyzing the lunar surface with an x-ray spectrometer (pdf) and laser-induced breakdown spectrograph (pdf). The lander also carries a suite of instruments, including an experiment to study surface thermal conductivity, as well as seismic instruments, and the requisite Langmuir probe to quantify the local plasma environment. Because Chandrayaan 2’s orbiter is still functional, Chandrayaan 3 consists primarily of a lander and rover, using a small comms payload on its propulsion module and the Chandrayaan 2 orbiter as relays to ISRO, ESA, and NASA’s comms networks back on Earth. (The only additional payload on the propulsion module left in lunar orbit is a near-IR spectro-polarimeter to observe the Earth from the Moon as an example of what a habitable exoplanet might look like.) Here’s hoping India becomes the fourth country to successfully land on the Moon. Related: Pradeep Mohandas has written up more details about the mission in his newsletter.

Chandrayaan 3 ahead of launch, currently scheduled for July 14 at 5:05 AM EDT.

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The last flight of the Ariane 5. After nearly three decades in service and 117 missions (with only two complete failures), Europe’s workhorse launch vehicle has flown for its final time. An Ariane 5, launched from French Guiana, carried an experimental German commsat and a French military commsat to GTO. Ariane 5 had a hydrolox core stage with twin solid rocket boosters and two different upper stage variants which ran on hydrazine or cryogenic propellant. In addition to numerous geosynchronous communications and European national security satellites, the rocket delivered such venerable missions as Rosetta, BepiColombo, the JWST, and most recently JUICE. The Ariane 6—which honestly isn’t that different from its predecessor, but has upgraded engines, more payload flexibility, and ~40% lower cost—likely won’t be ready before mid-2024. With Vega C also struggling, Europe currently faces a gap in domestic space access.

News in brief. Vermont-based Benchmark Space raised $33M for in-space propulsionChina’s Landspace is set for a second attempt to reach orbit with its Zhuque-2 methalox rocket, which, if successful, would make it the first methalox rocket to do soMeanwhile, Space Pioneer, which reached orbit in April with China’s first successful, commercial, liquid-fuelled launch vehicle, raised a Series C round (of undisclosed size) for its Tianlong-3 reusable rocketWilson Aerospace, a small Colorado aerospace tool manufacturer, is suing Boeing—the company alleges that Boeing stole designs for its specialized torque wrench used for installing RS-25 engines, which Boeing then used on SLS, but in a flawed way that caused costly ongoing leaks and potentially put lives at riskSpaceX’s Falcon 9 fleet life-leading booster successfully flew and landed its sixteenth mission (and is now more than three years old), delivering 22 Starlink V2 Mini satellites to LEOThe Australian government selected HawkEye 360 to monitor illegal fishing in the Pacific Islands supporting the 17-country Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries AgencyVisionCosmos Saudi Arabia, Maritime Launch Services, Precious Payload, and Al NajmX joined together to launch a mission aboard a York University Arbalest Goose 3 suborbital rocket, marking the first launch from Canada’s Spaceport Nova ScotiaJWST recently found a new most distant supermassive black hole, CEERS 1019, which existed just 570 million years after the big bangNext up after Chandrayaan 3: Russia’s long-delayed Luna-25 Moon lander (no rover) was delivered to its launch site ahead of a scheduled August 11 launch on a Soyuz rocket.

Luna 25, being unpacked at Vostochny Cosmodrome.

JWST’s first full-color images were released a year ago today. The image of a star-forming region of the Carina Nebula, below, is still one of our very favorites. 🤩

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