Issue No. 242

The Orbital Index

Issue No. 242 | Nov 1, 2023

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Blue Ring / Blue Moon. Last week, Blue Origin unveiled Blue Ring, a large orbital transfer vehicle capable of accessing LEO, MEO, and cislunar space while offering multiple planned services. Abilities include carrying 3,000 kg of payload (including sats up to 500 kg for deployment), multi-orbit transfers, refueling (itself and others), ESPA adapters, and data relay services for hosted payloads. The craft features hybrid electric/chemical propulsion developed in-house and fed by 44-meter-wide rollout solar panels. Blue Ring is launch vehicle agnostic, fitting into the >5 m fairings of ULA Vulvan and SpaceX Falcons (and of course New Glenn). Blue Ring will be larger than most other existing space tugs & OTVs, although it will squarely be in competition with Quantum Space’s 2,500 kg capable Ranger. Hot on the heels of the Blue Ring announcement, the company showed off a new and improved boilerplate mockup of their Blue Moon Mk 1 lunar lander. Built in Huntsville, Alabama and launching on New Glenn, the 3-story tall Mk 1 lander (of which this is a full scale mockup) will prove out systems before Mk 2 carries crew to the lunar surface as part of Artemis V (c. 2029). Mk 1 will participate in the CLPS program after its maiden pathfinder mission (SN-001) to shake down the BE-7 engine and the lander’s high precision terrain relative landing systems developed and tested on New Shepard. Commercial lunar payload services are planned from SN-002 onward and later with ongoing Mk 2 flights—although so far there has been no indication of when any of these missions might launch other than “on early New Glenn flights”.

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News in brief. China launched three astronauts to the CSS aboard Shenzou-17 and is now welcoming foreign astronauts to join them on future space station missions The UK has made plans with Axiom to send UK astronauts to the ISS on an up to 2 week long missionIngenuity flew 579 m on its 63rd flight Hong Kong firm ASPACE invested $200M in a deal with Saudi Arabia to build satellites in the country Intuitive Machines delayed its CLPS lander launch to January (NET 1/12/24 on a Falcon 9) SpaceX will likely launch four of ESA’s Galileo navigation satellites, a first for EU classified satellites Spanish startup Arkadia Space raised a $3M seed to develop green propulsion systems for spacecraft Two Russian cosmonauts conducted a spacewalk to investigate the coolant leak on the Nauka module of the ISS Russia is also hoping to have the first segment of its own space station in orbit by 2027 and to launch Luna 26 to lunar polar orbit in 2026Starship conducted a wet dress rehearsal while the FAA completed its safety review following IFT1—the environmental safety review being conducted in partnership with the Fish and Wildlife Service is all that now stands between SpaceX and IFT2, with NASA impatiently waiting on the sidelines NASA has surpassed the collection mass goal for OSIRIS-REx by processing 70.3 g of rocks and dust so far, with plenty more to collect once they figure out how to open surprisingly finicky primary sample container.

Stereoscopic images of material retrieved by OSIRIS-REx from Bennu, on top of the TAGSAM (Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism) instrument, which is currently held closed by the two most stubborn fasteners of its original 35. 


Watch a Martian dust devil cross the top of Perseverance’s view at about 19 kph.

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