Issue No. 253

The Orbital Index

Issue No. 253 | Jan 24, 2024

🚀 🌍 🛰

SLIM. Last week Japan became the fifth country to softly land an operational spacecraft on the lunar surface (landing video). After a fuel-efficient translunar “swing-by” journey to the Moon, the $121M, 120 kg (plus remaining fuel) lander touched down near Shioli crater (13.3° S). The landing was not a total success, however, with its battery failing to charge, likely due to solar panels pointing west (according to the last public lander telemetry). This may indicate that the lander tipped, rolled, or landed on an incline. JAXA decided to power down the rover three hours after landing with battery levels at 12%, after receiving initial telemetry and some image data. The remaining charge should allow the agency to attempt to restart the lander once sunlight begins to hit the lander’s shadowed PV panels on its westward side as soon as today (video). During a hover phase of its descent, SLIM successfully deployed LEV-1 (hopper) and LEV-2 (roller), its tiny surface rovers. The hopper has its own direct-to-Earth communications capability as well as wide-angle cameras which may be able to survey the landing site and help JAXA create a strategy for extending the life of the mission. (We’d love it if JAXA would take a page out of Astrobotic’s playbook and improve its lackluster handling of mission updates—it has delayed initial data, an announcement of the accuracy of the landing, and image releases until later this week, and updates so far have been minimal in detail.) Related: if you haven’t seen it yet, give the SLIM lander game a (moon) shot.

SLIM attitude telemetry during its final 50 meters of descent.

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Another round of NIAC awards. NASA announced another round of early-stage, speculative, fun-to-write-about NIAC awards. This time 13 concepts were chosen for the grants which max out at $175,000 to fund initial investigation and roadmapping. NASA points out that the Ingenuity helicopter and the MarCO deep space CubeSats trace their lineage to NIAC awards.


MAGGIE on Mars.
News in brief. Ingenuity flew to its maximum altitude of 12 m on its 72nd flight, but then lost comms with Perseverance and landed unexpectedly—fortunately, NASA re-established contact two days later The Space Development Agency (SDA) awarded massive Tranche 2 Tracking Layer contracts to Sierra Space ($740M), Lockheed Martin ($890M), and L3Harris ($919M) Momentus, who did not win an SDA award, is almost out of cash, but did raise $4M from an institutional investorChina launched the Tianzhou 7 cargo spacecraft to resupply the CSS AST SpaceMobile has received a $155M strategic investment from AT&T, Google & Vodafone to continue building their space-based 5G network, competing with Starlink, Lynk Global, and others (c.f. last week’s issue) Impulse Space is developing a very big kick stage called Helios with plans to ferry satellites from LEO to GEO Iran launched a satellite to ~750 km, demonstrating technologies that the US argues break a 2015 UN Security Council resolution limiting its development of nuclear ballistic missiles Chinese launch startup Landspace conducted a successful VTVL test (60 sec, 350 m hop) of their reusable Zhuque-3 stainless steel rocket SpaceX launched a private Crew Dragon mission to the ISS for Axiom Space with a four-person commercial crew that will conduct 30 science experiments over 14 daysPeregrine burnt up safely in Earth’s atmosphere, a sad but responsible end to an undeservedly short mission NASA finally managed to open the OSIRIS-REx sample head using custom fabricated tools (aka, the world’s most expensive fancy screwdrivers) revealing the rest of the Bennu asteroid sample.

The remaining Bennu asteroid sample, shown in a top-down view of the OSIRIS-REx Touch-and-Go-Sample-Acquisition-Mechanism (TAGSAM) with the lid removed (fastener removal video).

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LIFE. Mid burst. 
One blanking plate with what we’ll call “yeet straps” (yellow) can be seen at center right

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