Issue No. 235

The Orbital Index

Issue No. 235 | Sep 13, 2023

🚀 🌍 🛰

Up next: LUPEX / Chandrayaan-4. Building on the recent Chandrayaan-3 (Ch-3) success, the in-development Japanese-Indian Lunar Polar Exploration (LUPEX) mission is slated for launch in 2025. The mission will consist of a lander built by ISRO and a rover from JAXA, all launched on a Japanese H-3 rocket. Landing near the lunar south pole (89° South) at a highly illuminated site proximal to permanently shadowed regions, LUPEX will also build on Ch-3’s science, this time directly measuring the quantity and quality of water in lunar regolith by drilling for samples and then heating them while measuring escaping volatiles. While final instrument payloads have not been announced, they will include multiple spectrometers and ground penetrating radar, along with additional experiments contributed by JAXA, ISRO, ESA, and NASA. The mission duration will be much longer than Ch-3’s single lunar day, lasting through 14-day lunar nights for over six months by using the highest power density batteries in the world, allowing JAXA’s rover to avoid the need for the RTGs used on China’s Chang’e missions. JAXA will also contribute a precision landing system (<100m accuracy)—the same one that will be tested on its SLIM lander, recently launched and so-far healthy, which is en route to the lunar surface. 

A mission diagram for LUPEX showing a long-term sun-exposed (80%) pin-point landing site and rover waypoints for regolith testing that covers multiple terrain types, including a permanently shadowed region.

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ESTCube-2 tries again. ESTCube-2 is hopefully launching in the next few weeks aboard Vega C flight VV23, Europe’s final launch of 2023. The 3U CubeSat is a collaboration between the Estonian Student Satellite Foundation and UT Tartu Observatory. Our friend Andris guest wrote about E-sails / Coulomb drag propulsion and the ESTCube-1 mission back in Issue 123. Briefly, Coulomb drag propulsion employs the interaction of a long, thin, charged wire with oncoming plasma. In the case of the E-sail, the wire is positively charged and deflects solar wind protons to generate thrust. In the case of a plasma brake—what ESTCube-1 would have tested had it not had deployment issues—the wire is negatively charged and its interactions with the ionosphere produce drag, accelerating a satellite’s deorbit. ESTCube-2 is the group’s second attempt. Before attempting a plasma brake deorbit, the cubesat will employ an onboard electron emitter to set up a positively charged E-sail—this won’t test solar wind thrust in LEO since the solar wind is inaccessible there, but it will qualify the system for a future deep space mission (paper). The mission also carries an EO payload and experimental multilayer materials and corrosion-resistant coatings for testing in the atomic oxygen environment of LEO. The ESTCube-2 team is already working on designs for a lunar mission that would perform actual E-sailing (paper). Also onboard the same Vega C launch will be a Thai EO satellite (for agriculture, forest, coast, and flood management), a Taiwanese weather satellite, and a cornucopia of smallsats with missions to perform formation-flying for water monitoring, tech demos, IoT, as well as ocean, vegetation, and radio frequency spectrum monitoring.

Starship is stacked. Ship 25 and Booster 9 are stacked and ‘ready to launch’ for a second integrated flight test (IFT-2), but the FAA, in closing its Starship launch mishap investigation (pdf), has stated that a new launch cannot be licensed until all 63 identified corrective actions from the investigation have been performed. Musk noted that SpaceX has already corrected 57 of the 63 action items as part of the 1,000+ hardware changes that it made since IFT-1 (and that the remaining six are slated for future flights—which doesn’t jibe well with the FAA’s statement). Upgrades include the addition of 15x increased fire suppression, 90+ cameras for engine monitoring(!), electric engine actuation (aka thrust vector control), significant leak mitigation, and methane sensors in each engine bay, in addition to an upgraded Autonomous Flight Safety System, hot staging hardware, and the new water deluge system. With the hardware complete and fully tested, the timeline with the FAA for a new launch license is the last hurdle before we see a second Starship launch.

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News in brief. SLIM (c.f. Issue 232) and XRISM launched on their H-IIA rocket—SLIM will attempt a pinpoint landing in about four months Indian startup Manastu Space raised $3M for collision avoidance and green propulsion Ingenuity completed its 57th flight, traveling 217 m north for 129 seconds MOXIE generated in situ oxygen on Perseverance for the 16th and final time, completing its successful mission that produced 122 grams of oxygen in a variety of conditions over a Martian year Virgin Galactic completed its third commercial suborbital spaceflight (its second with private astronauts) SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 mission for the 62nd time this year, breaking their previous record for number of launches in a year (61 in 2022), and is on track to be just shy of 100 launches in 2023 ULA’s Atlas V launched some secretive NRO satellites to GEO Satellite software startup Antaris secured an additional $3.5M in seed funding The EU allowed the UK to resume participation in the Copernicus EO programs and to regain eligibility for the Horizon Europe research funding program (while also contributing €2.6B annually) after a three-year hiatus following Brexit India and the US made plans to cooperate on planetary defense Redwire Space bioprinted a human knee meniscus on the ISS (meniscus allograft transplantation currently uses cadaver menisci) UK-based EO satellite-as-a-service company Open Cosmos raised a $50M Series B GHGSat closed a $44M Series C for their greenhouse gas monitoring satellites Ariane 6 successfully completed a short-duration hot-fire test of its core stage on the launch pad, ahead of a long duration test in October Galactic Energy launched a Ceres-1 solid rocket from a barge off the coast of China’s eastern Shandong province.

Ceres-1 launches from a modified deck barge, just off the Chinese coast.


‘Picoflares’ stream from the Sun in this video taken by ESA’s Solar Orbiter. These bursts of superheated gas may fuel the solar wind (paper). Credit: ESA & NASA/Solar Orbiter/EUI Team.

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