Issue No. 228

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The Orbital Index

Issue No. 228 | Jul 26, 2023

🚀 🌍 🛰

China’s 2030 Moon landing takes shape. The Chinese space program shared details on a plan to land taikonauts on the Moon by 2030. The mission profile resembles the later “J-type” Apollo missions with a 26-ton crew module (Apollo’s CSM maxed out at 30.3 tons) and a similarly-massed lunar descent and exploration module (the Apollo LEM extended version was smaller, at 16.4 tons). Like Apollo 15-17, the Chinese lander will include a rover—with a ~10 km range it is well shy of the Apollo LRV’s record of 36 km in a single drive (on that drive it roved to 7.6 km away from Apollo 17’s landing site). Unlike the Apollo missions, but closer to NASA’s recent Artemis plans, the mission will launch on two Long March 10 super heavy lift rockets—LM-10 is currently under development with a 2027 maiden launch target and will have a 70-ton to LEO / 27-ton TLI payload capability. Once launched, the crew module and lander will rendezvous in lunar orbit, transfer the crew to the lander and descend to the surface for a few days (J-type missions had a surface duration of 3 days). China has significant development ahead to meet its “before 2030” goal: they’ll need to finalize the next-gen crewed spacecraft (demonstrated at high altitudes in 2020, but likely now updating to a larger mass version), develop/launch/human-rate the LM-10, design new 8-hour rated lunar EVA suits (Apollo’s A7LB suits were rated for 7 hours, with 30 minutes of backup life support), and develop a completely new lander and rover. That said, the country does have significant robotic lander/rover experience under its belt, lots of crewed spaceflight experience, and some of the above engineering work has likely been underway (but unpublicized) for a while. CMSA also published a call for science payload proposals focused on lunar geology, physics, astronomical observation, life sciences/human factors, lunar surface drilling, and ISRU.

A 1967 flight path diagram for the first Apollo lunar landing. China’s plan, in many ways, follows a similar mission profile to the later Apollo 15-17 landings. We recommend clicking on the image and exploring the details.

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China’s upcoming planetary defense mission. More details emerged a couple of months ago about China's upcoming 2025 planetary defense mission. The mission’s target is 2019 VL5, a ~30-meter-wide object on a periodically Earth-crossing orbit. The mission consists of an impactor and an observation spacecraft, to be launched on a single Long March 3B. The observation craft will arrive first, to study 2019 VL5 with high-resolution cameras, radar, and LIDAR, before observing the 6.4 km/s impact of its partner with its ranged sensor suite, plus dust and particle sensors. The intent is for the impact to alter 2019 VL5's velocity by 5 cm/s. As with DART's impact on Dimorphos, the total change in velocity will likely depend on how much ejecta is thrown off by the impact, among other factors—for DART, the velocity change (2.7 mm/s) was larger than expected due to the amount of ejecta produced (paper). 2019 VL5 is much smaller than Dimorphos (​​12-50 m vs 177 m), and will hopefully provide a useful scientific counterpoint. Also observing the impact will be many telescopes on Earth and in space, including China's upcoming Xuntian space telescope which will co-orbit with the Tiangong space station. China is also currently working on an asteroid detection and early warning system, as well as an asteroid sample return mission (also NET 2025) which recently underwent parachute tests.

Papers (about impacts).

News in brief. Hubble detected 37 boulders ejected from Dimorphos’ gravity well by DARTAstranis’s first GEO sat has malfunctioning solar array drive assemblies, limiting its power generation and reducing capacityImpulse Space (helmed by Tom Mueller) raised a $45 million Series A round for its orbital transfer vehicles and first commercial Mars mission aspirationsSwarm is halting sales of its IoT modems as it appears to be pivoting towards SpaceX’s Starlink direct-to-cell plans announced with T-Mobile and slated for initial service testing later this yearAmazon’s Project Kuiper announced a new satellite processing facility to be built at Kennedy Space Center (its two first test satellites are currently manifested on the first—but currently delayed—Vulcan flight)Italian Leaf Space raised €20M a Series B for their ground station networkChandrayaan-3 successfully performed its fourth and fifth (and final) orbit-raising maneuversThe U.S. Senate threatened to cancel the Mars Sample Return mission if NASA can’t stay within a $5.3B total budget—if NASA chooses cancelation, much of the $300 million budgeted for MSR in FY24 would be reallocated to ArtemisLast week, Rocket Lab successfully parachuted the booster from its “Baby Come Back” mission, which placed NASA’s four Starling 6U cubesats along with ones from Space Flight Laboratory and Spire, to a soft landing in the Pacific and fished it out successfully—it remains to be seen if the company will ever attempt another mid-air catch. 

“Baby Come Back” coming back.

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The Daocheng Solar Radio Telescope in southwest China recently started observing the Sun. The radio telescope is composed of 313 six-meter-wide parabolic antennas with a 100 m high calibration tower at its center. In addition to observing the Sun, the massive installation will also study pulsars, fast radio bursts, and asteroids.

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