Issue No. 244

The Orbital Index

Issue No. 244 | Nov 15, 2023

🚀 🌍 🛰

First captures for Euclid. ESA’s Euclid space telescope, launched in July as the first dedicated SpaceX mission purchased by the European agency, has delivered its first images. One of our favorites, of the Horsehead Nebula, is below. Euclid is a 1.2 m, wide-field survey telescope with a primary mission of mapping the extent of dark matter and dark energy by observing the large-scale structure of the Universe. While orbiting L2 it will capture more than ⅓ of the extragalactic sky beyond the Milky Way in both visible and near-infrared, creating a three-dimensional map of the Universe out to ~10B light-years that is 4x sharper than ground-based surveys (time is effectively the map’s third dimension). The mission’s nominal life is six years, with the hope for a mission extension only limited by budgets, any technical issues, and its supply of cold gas attitude control propellant. Related: The mission is named after the c. 300 BC father of geometry, yet the Universe doesn’t neatly fit into a Euclidean geometric box. Lorentzian Geometry (aka the geometry of Minkowski spacetime) seems to model the geometry of our universe by accounting for general relativity and the observed finite speed limit of light, something the Euclid telescope will be intimately familiar with.

Credit: ESA/Euclid/Euclid Consortium/NASA, image processing by J.-C. Cuillandre (CEA Paris-Saclay), G. Anselmi, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

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Transporter again. The latest transporter mission—the ninth of its name and the fourth this year—took off on Saturday from Vandenberg AFB, carrying 113 payloads, 90 of which were deployed directly by the Falcon 9. The 23 other payloads will be deployed in the coming weeks by OTVs from Momentus (5 payloads) and D-Orbit (11 payloads, including 9 ⅓U IoT picosats from Apogeo), with Exotrail’s SpaceVan and Impulse Space’s LEO Express-1 flying demo missions as new entrants to the OTV field. Several companies also had large deployments, with Planet leading the way by launching their new demonstration sat Pelican-1 along with 36 SuperDoves. Other large deployments include 9 EO sats from SatRev, three new GHGSats (including the first fully commercial CO2 detector), four RF sats from Spire, and two SAR sats from Umbra. Rogue Space also debuted in space by launching Barry-1, a demonstration mission to test the integration of multiple data sources on orbit for faster response times. SpaceX has now conducted 83 operational launches this year, plus its first Starship test launch in April. Starship stands ready for its next orbital flight test, which could be approved for launch as soon as this Friday. Along with a heavy launch manifest for the last 45 days of the year, SpaceX will come close to, if likely just shy of, their 100 launch target.

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Short Papers

“The configuration of the spacecraft during the GRB 211211A event: panel (a) - location of STEREO A, SolO, MAVEN in HCI (Heliocentric inertial) coordinate system. The Earth’s orbit is shown in blue. Panels (b) and (c) display the locations of THEMIS and POES/MetOp spacecraft in the Geocentric Solar Ecliptic (GSE) coordinate system. The propagation of the GRB 221009A across the heliosphere is schematically shown with the set of planes.”

News in brief. Ingenuity flew back-to-back on consecutive sols for the first time, in preparation for its grounding over the next two weeks during the Mars solar conjunction OtterPup will not continue with its docking demonstration mission due to an anomaly with its Exotrail thruster—a second Otter Pup mission is planned for EOY 2024 Astra founders have offered to take the company private at a $30M valuation (it SPAC’ed at a valuation of $2.1 billion just two years ago) Virgin Galactic reduced its workforce by 18% and plans to scale back their VSS Unity flights (currently flying monthly) and then to stop by mid-2024 due to low profitability, focusing on their next generation aircraft (we hope this doesn’t go the same way as Astra) The US military’s reusable X37-B space plane will launch on a Falcon Heavy instead of a Falcon 9…maybe to GEO? LA-based Sift raised $7.5M to continue developing their telemetry analysis software Bulgaria became the 32nd nation to sign the Artemis Accords The SETI Institute received a $200M gift from the estate of Franklin Antoni, Qualcomm co-founder Unrelatedly, Qualcomm scrapped its plans to offer an Apple-copycat satellite SOS feature for Android phones because no smartphone makers signed up for the service Frank Borman, Apollo astronaut who commanded the first mission to orbit the moon, has passed away Saudi Arabia plans to create a "Science Fiction Space City" with a Mars focus in Taif to encourage tourism and interest in the space industry Rocket Lab will resume Electron launches starting with a mission for iQPS in late November, and is now aiming to launch their Venus Life Finder mission in late 2024 ESA is opening a competition to develop commercial cargo vehicles to transport cargo to and from the ISS They also signed an agreement with the developers of Starlab to explore how European missions, including cargo and crew capsules, could use the future crewed station NOAA-21, the agency’s latest polar-orbiting weather satellite, is now fully operational.

Satellite imagery from NOAA-21’s VIIRS instrument shows Canadian wildfire smoke being pulled across the Atlantic Ocean by Storm Agnes.


Dinkinesh’s surprise satellite is a surprise contact binary!

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