Monthly Dose of Space - December 2023

Monthly Dose of Space - December 2023


Welcome to our third Monthly Dose of Space! In this monthly newsletter, we bring you all of the major news from the past month. December has been one of the busiest on record, so let's jump into it!

SpaceX

SpaceX has made progress toward Starship-Super Heavy's third integrated flight test during December. On the 3rd of December, teams were seen installing a sign at the launch site that reads 'Gateway to Mars'. The launch clamps on the orbital launch mount were also retracted for the first time since Starship-Super Heavy's second integrated flight test. Two days later on the 5th, Booster 10 was moved to the rocket garden to wait before being moved to the launch site for testing.

On the 11th, teams were seen working on the orbital launch mount and ship quick disconnect arm at the launch site. The following day, the 12th, the booster quick disconnect was seen being tested. On the same day, crews were spotted disassembling Suborbital Pad A. Suborbital Pad A had previously supported the flights of SN5, SN6n SN8, SN10, and SN15.

On the 14th, Ship 28 was seen rolling out from the production site towards the launch site. The self-propelled modular transporter for Ship 28 was also seen sporting Christmas decorations during the rollout.

The 18th of December saw Booster 10 being rolled out to the launch site ahead of testing. The following day, the 19th, Booster 10 was lifted onto the orbital launch mount using the tower's 'chopstick' arms. The day after, the 20th, Ship 28 performed a static fire using all six of its engines.

Ship 28 performing a six-engine static fire. ©SpaceX
Ship 28 performing a six-engine static fire. ©SpaceX

On the 29th Super Heavy Booster 12 was spotted being moved towards the Massey's test site at 01:39 am, Central Standard Time. The same day at 09:19 am Ship 28 performed a single-engine static fire for six-seconds. Under two-hours later at, 10:46am Super Heavy Booster 10 performed a thirty-three-engine static fire for ten-seconds! Ship 29 was also moved to the 'rocket garden' between the two tests likely ahead of engine installation.

Super Heavy Booster 10 performing a thirty-three engine static fire. ©SpaceX
Super Heavy Booster 10 performing a thirty-three engine static fire. ©SpaceX

News of the Month

December was full of lots of exciting news for future launch sites, crew missions, cat videos from space, and an upcoming maiden flight.

Commercial launch pad No. 1 completed at Wenchang

The No. 1 launch pad at China's first commercial launch site in Wenchang. ©CFP
The No. 1 launch pad at China's first commercial launch site in Wenchang. ©CFP

On the 29th of December construction of the No. 1 launch pad at the commercial launch site in Wenchang City, in southern China. The launch pad is reportedly dedicated to supporting launches of the Long March 8 rocket for sending payloads to sun-synchronous and low Earth orbits.

The launch pad is believed to have its first launch take place in June of 2024. Final hardware installation and checks are expected to happen before the first launch.

Construction efforts at the commercial launch site in Wenchang have also now moved towards completing the N0. 2 launch pad which is expected to complete construction in February 2024 and complete hardware installation in May 2024.

NASA beams cat video over 19 million miles

A render of the Psyche spacecraft. ©NASA/JPL
A render of the Psyche spacecraft. ©NASA/JPL

NASA completed a technology demonstration of the Deep Space Optical Communications experiment on the 11th of December. The test sent back an 'ultra-high' definition video from the Psyche spacecraft at a distance of over 19 million miles away, or 31 million kilometers.

The test transmitted a fifteen-second video which took over one-hundred and one seconds at a maximum speed of 267 megabits per second. The test video, available here, featured a cat named Taters chasing a laser pointer with various graphics overlayed on the video.

Ariane 6 to launch in June 2024

Ariane 6 during a hot-fire test on the 23rd of November 2023. ©ESA/CNES/Arianespace
Ariane 6 during a hot-fire test on the 23rd of November 2023. ©ESA/CNES/Arianespace

The European Space Agency announced on the 30th of November that the maiden launch of the in-development Ariane 6 rocket will take place no earlier than the 15th of June. Backup dates are reportedly available through to the 31st of July.

The Director General of the European Space Agency, Josef Aschbacher, did warn the following, however:

"it is rocket science that is at stake, and therefore it is to be expected that there may be one or the other delay that can occur."

Ariane 6 currently has its debut flight almost four years behind schedule.

Rocket Lab awarded $515 million to build 18 satellites

Rocket Lab's Electron lifting off from LC-1 in New Zealand. ©Rocket Lab
Rocket Lab's Electron lifting off from LC-1 in New Zealand. ©Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab has reportedly won a contract worth $515 million United States dollars to build 18 satellites for a currently unknown United States government agency. It is believed the customer will be the Space Development Agency.

It is unknown when the satellites will launch or what launch vehicle will deliver them to orbit.

Polaris Dawn mission moved to April

The crew of Polaris Dawn (from left to right) Jared Isaacman, Scott Poteet, Sarah Gillis, and Anna Menon. ©Polaris Program
The crew of Polaris Dawn (from left to right) Jared Isaacman, Scott Poteet, Sarah Gillis, and Anna Menon. ©Polaris Program

Jared Isaacman, the billionaire funding the Polaris Program, announced in social media posts on the 9th of December that the Polaris Dawn mission is now scheduled for April of 2024. According to Jared Isaacman SpaceX had been testing the extravehicular activity spacesuits planned to be used on the mission on the same day as the announcement.

The Polaris Dawn mission aims to test intentional depressurization of the Crew Dragon spacecraft to perform a spacewalk. It is also believed that the mission will test a laser communications link to SpaceX's Starlink constellation.

Launches of the Month

This month saw thirty launches this month worldwide! If you wanted to know what each launch was for we have all of them listed below.

December 1st - Soyuz 2.1a with Progress MS-25

Starting launches in December, Russia launched Progress MS-25 to the International Space Station for resupply services. The launch vehicle for Progress MS-25 was a Soyuz 2.1a.

Progress MS-25 docked with the Poisk Module of the Russian Orbital Segment of the International Space Station after launch.

December 1st - Falcon 9 with 425 Project Flight 1

SpaceX's first launch of the month was a Falcon 9 from Space Launch Complex 4E in Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. The booster for this mission was B1061 making its seventeenth flight and landing back at Landing Zone 4 at Vandenberg Space Force Base.

The 425 Project Flight 1 is the first of five reconnaissance satellites for South Korea's Defense Acquisition Program Administration.

This was also the 250th landing of a Falcon 9 booster!

SpaceX launched another Falcon 9, this time from Space Launch Complex 40, in Cape Canaveral, Florida. This launch saw another batch of Starlink satellites being delivered into low Earth orbit. The booster for this mission was B1078 making its sixth flight and landing downrange on the drone ship 'A Shortfall Of Gravitas'.

December 4th - Long March 2C with MisrSat-2

A Long March 2C launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center carrying the MisrSat-2 spacecraft into a sun-synchronous orbit. MisrSat-2 is described as being an Earth observation satellite for use with the Egyptian Space Agency. The satellite was built in the People's Republic of China with participation from Egyptian scientists and engineers.

December 4th - ADD Solid-Fuel SLV with S-STEP

South Korea launched a small prototype synthetic-aperture radar satellite atop of a new orbital launch vehicle. This was the first orbital test launch of the currently unnamed launch vehicle operated by the South Korean Military.

December 4th - Ceres-1 with Tianyan-16 and Starpool-01A

Ceres-1 launched for the ninth time and delivered two satellites to a sun-synchronous orbit from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. The Tianyan-16 is operated by MinoSpace with Starpool-01A being operated by ELLISPACE.

December 5th - Smart Dragon 3 with a SatNet test satellite

A Smart Dragon 3 launched from a sea launch platform to a polar orbit with a SatNet test satellite. The satellite is officially described as a Satellite-Internet Technology Demonstration Satellite and is likely a test spacecraft for the Chinese state-owned LEO communication satellite constellation SatNet.

SpaceX launched twenty-three more satellites to low Earth orbit to grow its Starlink internet satellite constellation. The launch took place from Space Launch Complex 40, in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The booster for this mission was B1077 making its ninth flight and landing downrange on the drone ship 'Just Read The Instructions'.

Twenty-two more Starlink satellites were delivered to low Earth orbit from Space Launch Complex 4E, in Vandenberg Space Force Base, California. The booster for this mission was B1071 making its thirteenth flight and landing downrange on the drone ship 'Of Course I Still Love You'.

December 8th - Zhuque-2 for Flight 3

LandSpace delivered its first three payloads atop of Zhuque-2 during its third flight. The rocket launched from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center and delivered its payloads to a sun-synchronous orbit.

The first of the three payloads is the Tianyi-33 satellite from Hunan University of Science and Technology and TYSPACE. Tianyi-33 masses just fifty kilograms and is intended to test new technologies including a new spacecraft thermal control system, composite material for anti-radiation effects, high-output electric power supplies, payload control software, and a camera.

The other two payloads are the Honghu-1 and Honghu-2 satellites which also mass fifty kilograms each. The Honghu satellites are intended for long-term in-space testing of argon ion thrusters as well as xenon and krypton hall-effect thrusters.

December 10th - Long March 2D with Yaogan 39 Group 05

A Long March 2D launched from Xichang Satellite Launch Center carrying more Yaogan reconnaissance satellites into low Earth orbit.

December 14th - Long March 2F/G with China's Reusable Space Vehicle

China launched its Reusable Space Vehicle into a believed low Earth orbit from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. The exact liftoff time is unknown due to the secret nature of the mission with its return date to Earth being unknown.

The Reusable Space Vehicle is a spaceplane similar to Boeing's X-37b with it previously having been to space twice.

December 15th - Electron for 'The Moon God Awakens'

Electron returned to flight carrying the QPS-SAR-5 synthetic-aperture radar satellite to low Earth orbit. This was the forty-second launch of Electron and the first launch following a failure to reach orbit on the forty-first launch.

December 15th - Long March 5 with Yaogan 41

A Long March 5 lifted off from Wenchang Space Launch Center carrying the Yaogan 41 spacecraft to a geosynchronous transfer orbit. Yaogan is claimed to be a 'high orbit optical remote sensing satellite' operated by the Chinese government.

December 16th - Soyuz 2.1b with Arktika-M No.2

A Soyuz 2.1b carried an Arktika-M Earth observation satellite to an elliptical orbit. The Arktika-M satellite is designed to gather meteorological and hydrological data in the polar regions of Russia.

December 17th - Hyperbola-1 with DEAR-1

iSpace's Hyperbola-1 rocket launched carrying the DEAR-1 satellite to a sun-synchronous orbit from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. The DEAR-1 spacecraft is a prototype of a 'recoverable experiment spacecraft' built by the Chinese company AZSPACE.

SpaceX launched another batch of Starlink satellites to low Earth orbit from Space Launch Complex 40 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The booster for this mission was B1081 making its third flight and landing downrange on the drone ship 'A Shortfall Of Gravitas'.

December 19th - New Shepard for NS-24

Blue Origin's New Shepard vehicle returned to flight after a fifteen-month hiatus from flight. New Shepard booster No. 4 lifted off for the ninth time from Blue Origin's Launch Site One with the capsule RSS H.G. Wells. The booster flew to an altitude of 350,885 feet above sea level before landing on a landing pad near its launch pad. The capsule traveled to an altitude of 351,248 feet above sea level before touching down in the Western Texas desert under a parachute near its launch site.

This flight flew without a crew but did carry research payloads and science experiments.

December 21st - Soyuz 2.1b with Kosmos 2573

A Soyuz 2.1b launched from Plesetsk Cosmodrome carrying the Kosmos 2573 spacecraft to a sun-synchronous orbit. The payload is believed to have been a Bars-M satellite used for surveillance.

December 22nd - Firefly Alpha for Fly the Lightning

Firefly's Alpha rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex 2W in Vandenberg Space Force Base, in California. The rocket carried Lockheed Martin’s Electronically Steered Antenna (ESA) payload to a low Earth orbit.

A few hours after the launch, Firefly announced that the second-stage engine failed to relight delivering the payload to a lower-than-planned orbit. The Electronically Steered Antenna (ESA) payload by Lockheed Martin is reported to be healthy on orbit.

SpaceX launched yet another batch of Starlink satellites from Space Launch Complex 40 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The booster for this mission was B1058 making its nineteenth flight and landing on the drone ship 'Just Read The Instructions'.

This flight was record-breaking due to it being the nineteenth flight of a Falcon 9 booster, surpassing the old record of eighteen flights. However, the booster was announced to have been lost during transport back to port due to high waves and winds.

December 24th - Falcon 9 with SARah 2 & 3

SpaceX launched yet another Falcon 9 from Space Launch Complex 4E in Vandenberg Space Force Base, in California, carrying the SARah 2 and 3 satellites for the German government into a polar orbit. The booster for this mission was B1075 making its eighth flight and landing back at the launch site at Landing Zone 4.

December 25th - Kuaizhou-1A with Tianmu-1 11-14

ExPace launched a Kuaizhou-1A from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, in northern China, believed to be carrying four Tianmu-1 meteorology research satellites into a sun-synchronous orbit.

December 25th - Long March 11 with Shiyan 24C

A Long March 11 launched from a sea-based launch platform and flew to a sun-synchronous orbit. The payload was three satellites believed to be used for orbital technology testing.

December 26th - Long March 3B with Beidou-3 M25 & M26

Two Beidou-3 satellites were launched to medium Earth orbit atop of a Long March 3B rocket. The rocket was launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southern China.

December 27th - Kuaizhou-1A with Tianmu-1 19-22

Another Kuaizhou-1A was launched with four more Tianmu-1 meteorology research satellites. The launch also occurred from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, in northern China, to a sun-synchronous orbit.

December 27th - Soyuz 2.1v with Kosmos 2574

A Soyuz 2.1v launched from Plesetsk Cosmodrome carrying a payload for the Russian military. It is unknown what the spacecraft is or its purpose.

December 29th - Falcon Heavy with OTV-7/USSF-52

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket lifted off from Launch Complex 39A in Cape Canaveral, Florida. This launch was for the United States Space Force carrying the X-37B spaceplane, the first time launching on Falcon Heavy and the second time launching with SpaceX.

This is the seventh mission for the X-37B program and is believed to be on an orbit between high earth orbit and a Geocentric orbit. The mission is currently classified but is believed to spend between two weeks and one-thousand days on orbit before returning to Earth.

The mission is believed to be carrying several experiments onboard, one of which is NASA's Seeds-2 experiment to investigate the effects of radiation in space on plant seeds over a long-duration mission.

The boosters that supported this mission are; B1064 making its fifth flight and landing back at the launch site, B1065 also making its fifth flight and landing back at the launch site, and B1084 being expended on its first and final flight.

For SpaceX's final launch of 2023, another Falcon 9 was launched from Space Launch Complex 40 to send twenty-three Starlink satellites to low Earth orbit. The booster supporting this mission was B1069 making its twelfth flight and landing downrange on the drone ship 'A Shortfall Of Gravitas'.

December 30th - Long March 2C with a SatNet test spacecraft

The final launch of 2023 was a Long March 2C carrying a test spacecraft for China's upcoming SatNet internet satellite constellation. The Long March 2C launched from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center and delivered the payload to low Earth orbit.

Launches to look out for in January!

January is looking to be another month full of launches with no slowing down the global cadence! Listed below are all of the launches happening in January that are either confirmed or very likely to happen.

January 1st - PSLV-DL with XPoSat

India is expected to begin the launches for 2024 with a PSLV-DL rocket carrying the XPoSat spacecraft. XPoSat, or X-ray Polarimeter Satellite, will be India's first dedicated mission to study various dynamics of bright astronomical X-ray sources in extreme conditions.

The XPoSat spacecraft is expected to be placed into low Earth orbit.

SpaceX is expected to launch more Starlink satellites from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Space Force Base, in California. The booster for this mission is believed to be B1082 making its first flight and landing on the drone ship 'Of Course I Still Love You'.

January 3rd - Falcon 9 with Ovzon-3

Another Falcon 9 is expected to launch but from Cape Canaveral, in Florida. This launch is expected to occur currently from Space Launch Complex 40 and deliver the satellite to geosynchronous transfer orbit. The booster for this mission is currently unknown but is believed to be landing at Landing Zone 1 in Cape Canaveral.

January 5th - Kuaizhou-1A with a to-be-announced payload

ExPace is expected to launch another Kuaizhou-1A rocket from the Jiuqan Satellite Launch Center. The payload is currently unknown to the public.

January 8th - Vulcan-Centaur with Peregrine lunar lander

United Launch Alliance is currently preparing to launch its Vulcan rocket on its maiden flight currently scheduled for the 8th of January 2024. This mission will send the Astrobotic Peregrine lunar lander on flight towards the Moon, and eventual landing. It will also certify Vulcan-Centaur to launch military payloads for the United States government.

January 10th - Kinetica 1 with a to-be-announced payload

CAS Space's Kinetica 1 is expected to launch from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center carrying a payload that is currently unknown to the wider world outside of China.

January 11th - H-IIA with IGS Optical 8

A H-IIA rocket is expected to launch from the Tanegashima Space Center carrying the IGS Optical 8 spacecraft to a sun-synchronous orbit. IGS Optical 8 spacecraft is an optical reconnaissance satellite operated by the Japanese military.

January 12th - GSLV Mk II with INSAT-3DS

The GSLV Mk II rocket is expected to launch from the Satish Dhawan Space Center to a geostationary transfer orbit. The INSAT-3DS satellite is a weather satellite built by the Indian Space Research Organisation as part of the Indian National Satellite System.

January 15th - Long March 7 with Tianzhou 7

The sixth cargo resupply mission for the Tiangong Space Station is expected to launch from the Wenchang Space Launch Site carrying the Tianzhou 7 spacecraft.

The Tianzhou spacecraft is an uncrewed cargo spacecraft developed by China to resupply the Tiangong space station. Tianzhou is derived from China’s first space station, Tiangong-1, and is capable of delivering 7,400 kilograms of cargo to their space station and weighs 14,000 kilograms.

January 17th - Falcon 9 with Axiom-3

SpaceX is expected to launch the Axiom-3 mission to the International Space Station. The mission is expected to carry the following as the crew of the Dragon spacecraft; Michael López-Alegría, Walter Villadei, Alper Gezeravcu, and Marcus Wandt. The booster for this mission is believed to be B0180 making its fifth flight and landing back at Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Conclusion

This month has been one of the busiest for launches, with hundreds of satellites being sent, into various orbits.

This concludes our third 'Monthly Dose of Space' and the final one for 2023! We hope to have you back next month for the fourth 'Monthly Dose of Space'!

Thank you for reading and....

AD ASTRA PER ASPERA

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