Monthly Dose of Space - January 2024

Monthly Dose of Space - January 2024


Welcome to our fourth Monthly Dose of Space! In this monthly newsletter, we bring you all of the major news from the past month that we haven't covered in our weekly newsletters. January has been incredibly busy, so let's jump into it!

But just before we begin, yes, we know we're a few days late this month.

SpaceX

A view of three boosters inside one of the 'Megabay's' at Starbase. ©SpaceX
A view of three boosters inside one of the 'Megabay's' at Starbase. ©SpaceX

SpaceX has continued to make progress toward Starship-Super Heavy's third integrated flight test during January. On the 4th, Ship 30 was believed to be undergoing cryogenic proof testing at the Masseys test site. Ship 31 was also seen heading into the 'High Bay' at the production site, and Ship 28 was also spotted heading towards the production site too.

The following day on the 5th Ship 31 was spotted receiving two of its flaps on the bottom of the vehicle. The 'chopsticks' were also seen to be receiving a new coat of paint. Through the night of the 5th and into the 6th teams were seen removing one of the water tanks of the 'orbital tank farm' ahead of scrapping.

A few days Ship 30 was spotted rolling to the production site on the 10th from the Masseys test site after it was believed to have undergone testing. Booster 12 was seen undergoing 'cryo-testing' at Masseys the following day, the 11th. Later on the 11th Ship 32 was spotted heading to the 'rocket garden'.

SpaceX was seen receiving the delivery of another horizontal tank on the 14th of January to expand the orbital tank farm at the launch site.

On the 16th Super Heavy Booster 13 was seen receiving its 'forward barrel' during the stacking of this booster. The 16th also saw another horizontal tank being delivered to the launch site. A day later on the 17th the tank farm was seen operating, likely for a test as no vehicles were at the launch site on the orbital launch mount or suborbital pads. Another day later, on the 18th, the Ship quick disconnect arm was seen making a series of small movements with teams working around it. This was followed by two retraction tests later once teams had cleared the area.

The 19th saw Super Heavy Booster 12 return to the production site from Massey's after it had undergone cryogenic testing. Booster 13 was also seen continuing stacking during this time.

A couple of days later, Super Heavy Booster 12 seen leaving the rocket garden on the 23rd and rolling into one of the 'Mega Bay's' early on the 24th. Also on the 24th Booster 13 was spotted after having its liquid methane tank completed, bringing it almost to full height. Testing of the booster quick disconnect was seen at the launch site on the same day.

The 26th saw Super Heavy Booster 10 receive its hot-staging ring again ahead of flight, hopefully in early February. Late on the 26th Ship 28 was also seen on the move appearing ready for flight! Ship 28 completed its move once it arrived at the rocket garden.

SpaceX still believes they will be hardware-ready in the coming weeks. The launch would likely occur in mid-Febraury, pending regulatory approval and final hardware tests.

News of the Month

January was the month of Moon mission news as well as a potential competitor to SpaceX Starlink internet constellation.

Peregrine aims for the Moon but returns to Earth

A view of Earth seen from Peregrine. ©Astrobotic
A view of Earth seen from Peregrine. ©Astrobotic

Astrobotic's Peregrine lunar lander was the first payload to fly on United Launch Alliance's Vulcan rocket, which completed its maiden flight perfectly, back on the 8th of January. However, shortly after separating from Vulcan Peregrine suffered from a rapid loss of propellant causing the spacecraft to enter a spin.

Teams at Astrobotic did manage to slow the spin and generate power for the spacecraft but would not reach the Moon for a landing due to the lost propellant. Peregrine did manage to perform science with its payloads onboard despite the problems and missing its lunar landing.

The original mission plan would have had the spacecraft land on the lunar surface on the 23rd of February but the spacecraft would end its mission upon entering the Earth's atmosphere on the 18th of January.

Peregrine was Astrobotic's lunar lander designed to carry between 70 and 100 kilograms to the lunar surface while operating for at least eight days. Peregrine will land using five engines burning mono-methyl-hydrazine and dinitrogen tetroxide to generate 0.34 tons of thrust.

The company does plan to fly Peregrine again but the details of its mission are currently unknown. Astrobotic believes the experience gained on this mission will lead to a successful landing with its Griffin lunar lander in late 2024.

Japan becomes the fifth country to land on the Moon!

A photo of the SLIM lunar lander as seen by LEV-2. ©JAXA
A photo of the SLIM lunar lander as seen by LEV-2. ©JAXA

On the 19th of January, Japan became the fifth country to land on the Moon when its SLIM lunar lander spacecraft touched down successfully. The lander had intended to land on five crumple landing feet but due to a software error landed front first.

SLIM was launched back on the 6th of September 2023 atop of a H-IIA rocket from the Tanegashima Space Center and weighs just 590 kilograms fully fuelled. The spacecraft spent a little over four months heading out toward the Moon and entered lunar orbit on the 25th of December 2023.

During its descent toward the surface, SLIM was believed to have lost one of its engine nozzles, likely leading to the spacecraft landing front first. Shortly before landing the spacecraft released two smaller spacecraft called LEV-1 and LEV-2.

LEV-1 is a small lunar rover that travels across the surface by hopping. It also carries a thermometer, radiation monitor, and an inclinometer onboard.

LEV-2 is another small lunar rover weighing only 250 grams. LEV-2 is ball-shaped for landing before deploying on the surface where it crawls to move. The small rover has a camera onboard.

Shortly after landing SLIM was running low on power due to its landing position leading to the lander powering off a few hours after touching down. On the 29th, SLIM was powered on again successfully as the sun had moved into a position where the spacecraft could recharge using its solar panels.

Chinese Internet satellite constellation raises $940 million

The flag of the People's Republic of China flying in the wind.
The flag of the People's Republic of China flying in the wind.

Recently Shanghai Spacecom Satellite Technology announced they had raised 6.7 billion Chinese Yuan, or 940 million United States Dollars, in their Series A funding round. The funding round was led by Shanghai Alliance Investment, who are backed by the government of Shanghai. Other investors are reportedly; CAS Investment Management, Hengxu Capital, Guotai Junan Securities, and CAS Star.

It is believed the company will use the funding will be used for the production of the satellites needed for the low Earth orbit constellation. The constellation is currently planned to consist of twelve-thousand satellites launched on various rockets available in China.

The first one-hundred and eight satellites are believed to be planned for launch in 2024, the launch vehicles for these missions are currently unknown.

Chang'e 7 looking to land at Shackleton crater

The Chang'e 4 lander as seen by the Yutu-2 rover. ©CNSA/Thomas Appéré
The Chang'e 4 lander as seen by the Yutu-2 rover. ©CNSA/Thomas Appéré

China is looking to land its Chang'e 7 lunar mission near the Shackleton crater close to the Moon's south pole. The crater is believed to have water ice in areas in permanent shade but the lander is looking to land in an area with permanent sunlight.

The mission is expected to land in 2026 and will consist of an orbiter, lander, rover, and a hopping vehicle. Chang'e 7 is looking to provide valuable data on lunar exploration and is part of the reconnaissance phase of the International Lunar Research Station.

Shackleton crater is also a candidate landing site for NASA's Artemis 3 mission, which is also expected to land in 2026

Northrop Grumman's space refueling system to be used on U.S. defense spacecraft

A render of Northrop Grumman's Geosynchronous Auxiliary Support Tanker. ©Northrop Grumman
A render of Northrop Grumman's Geosynchronous Auxiliary Support Tanker. ©Northrop Grumman

At the end of January, Northrop Grumman's Passive Refueling Module was selected as the preferred refueling solution interface standard for use on United States defense spacecraft.

The selection was believed to be based on the project's maturity and the technical viability of its design. Northrop Grumman is also now contracted to begin development of the Geosynchronous Auxiliary Support Tanker spacecraft which will be used to refuel the U.S. spacecraft.

Program manager of in-space refueling, Lauren Smith, said the following about the system in a press release upon the company being selected:

“Refueling is the key to enhanced maneuverability, enabling our DoD customers to categorically change the way they operate U.S. assets in space. Built on a strong foundation of satellite servicing innovation, we are prepared to deliver a complete refueling architecture solution.”

Launches of the Month

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

January 1st - PSLV-DL with XPoSat

India launched XPoSat atop of a PSLV rocket in the DL configuration from the Satish Dhawan Space Center. XPoSat, or X-ray Polarimeter Satellite, is India's first dedicated mission to study various dynamics of bright astronomical X-ray sources in extreme conditions. The XPoSat spacecraft was placed into low Earth orbit successfully.

SpaceX launched twenty-one more Starlink satellites to low Earth orbit from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Space Force Base, in California. The booster for this mission was B1082 making its first flight and landing on the drone ship 'Of Course I Still Love You'.

January 3rd - Falcon 9 with Ovzon-3

SpaceX launched another Falcon 9 this time from Space Launch Complex 40 in Cape Canaveral, in Florida. The mission launched the Ovzon-3 communication satellite to geosynchronous transfer orbit. The booster for this mission was B1076 making its tenth flight and landing back at Landing Zone 1 in Cape Canaveral.

January 5th - Kuaizhou-1A with Tianmu-1 15-18

ExPace launched a Kuaizhou-1A from Launch Area 95A at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, in northern China, believed to be carrying four Tianmu-1 meteorology research satellites into a sun-synchronous orbit.

SpaceX once again launched a Falcon 9 sending another batch of Starlink satellites to low Earth orbit from Space Launch Complex 40 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The booster for this mission was B1067 making its sixteenth flight and landing on the drone ship 'A Shortfall Of Gravitas' downrange.

January 8th - Vulcan-Centaur with Peregrine Mission One

At 07:18 am on the 8th of January, United Launch Alliance's Vulcan-Centaur rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41, at Cape Canaveral in Florida, for the first time ever! The rocket delivered Astrobotic's Peregrine lunar lander to its desired orbit for its first trip to the Moon.

January 9th - Long March 2C with the Einstein Probe

On the 9th of January, a Long March 2C lifted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center carrying the Einstein Probe to a 600-kilometer low Earth orbit.

The Einstein Probe is a science mission by the Chinese Academy of Sciences in collaboration with the European Space Agency as well as the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, based in Germany.

January 11th - Kuaizhou 1A with Tianxing-1-02

A Kuaizhou 1A lifted off from the Jiquan Satellite Launch Center on the 11th of January. The rocket was carrying the Tianxing-1-02 satellites to a sun-synchronous orbit to perform 'spatial environment measurements'.

January 11th - Gravity-1 for its maiden flight

OrienSpace conducted the maiden flight of its Gravity-1 launch vehicle on the 11th of January. The launch vehicle lifted off from its sea launch platform at 13:30 pm, Beijing Time, off the coast of Haiyang, located in the Shandong province.

The rocket also carried three Yunyao-1 weather satellites into low Earth orbit.

January 12th - H-IIA with IGS Optical 8

The 12th of January saw a H-IIA rocket lift off the Tanegashima Space Center flying to sun-synchronous orbit with the IGS Optical 8 satellite. IGS Optical 8 spacecraft is an optical reconnaissance satellite operated by the Japanese military.

Another Falcon 9 launched on the 14th but from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Space Force Base, in California. The launch carried twenty-two Starlink satellites to low Earth orbit. The booster for this mission was B1061 making its eighteenth flight and landed downrange on the drone ship 'Of Course I Still Love You'.

This launch normally wouldn't have been included but launched successfully during the writing process of the newsletter.

SpaceX launched twenty-three Starlink satellites to low Earth orbit atop of its Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The booster for this mission was B1073 making its twelfth flight and landing downrange on the drone ship 'A Shortfall Of Gravitas'.

January 17th - Long March 7 with Tianzhou 7

A Long March 7 lifted off from the Wenchang Space Launch Site on Wednesday the 17th of January at 22:27 pm Beijing Time. The rocket was carrying the Tianzhou 7 cargo spacecraft to low Earth orbit where it chased down the Tiangong Space Station and docked to the Tianhe module at 02:07 am Beijing Time, on January 18th.

January 18th - Falcon 9 with Axiom-3

SpaceX launched the Axiom-3 mission to the International Space Station on the 18th of January. The Crew Dragon spacecraft for the mission is carrying Michael López-Alegría, Walter Villadei, Alper Gezeravcı, and Marcus Wandt onboard. The booster for this mission was B1080 making its fifth flight before it landed back at Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral, in Florida.

January 20th - Qaem 100 with Soraya

Iran launched a Qaem 100 rocket to low Earth orbit believed to be carrying the Soraya satellite from the Shahrud Missile Test Site. The purpose of the satellite is unknown.

January 23rd - Kinetica-1 for Flight 3

At 04:03 am, Coordinated Universal Time, a Kinetica-1 rocket lifted off from Launch Area 130 at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center and flew to a sun-synchronous orbit of the Earth. CAS Space's Kinetica-1 carried five satellites for MINOSPACE. The satellites were; Taijing-1 03, Taijing-2 02 & 04, Taijing-3 02, and Taijing-4 03.

SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 this week from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Space Force Base, in California. The rocket was carrying twenty-two satellites to low Earth orbit. The booster for this mission was B1063 making its sixteenth flight and landing on the drone ship 'Of Course I Still Love You' downrange.

January 26th - SpaceShipTwo for Galactic 06

Virgin Galactic flew its eleventh successful spaceflight mission carrying four customers onboard to an altitude of 290,000 feet. The customers for this flight of VSS Unity were Lina Borozdina, from Ukraine, Robie Vaughn, from the United States, Franz Haider, from Austria, and Neil Kornswiet, also from the United States.

January 28th - Simorgh with Mahda, Keyhan-2, and Hatef-1

Iran launched three satellites to low Earth orbit from the Imam Khomeini Spaceport. The three satellites were Mahda, a small test satellite, Keyhan-2, an attitude control systems test satellite, and Hatef-1, an internet communications test satellite.

Twenty-three more Starlink satellites were sent to low Earth orbit atop of a Falcon 9 from Launch Complex 39A. The booster for this mission B1062 making its eighteenth flight and landing downrange on the drone ship "A Shortfall OF Gravitas".

SpaceX launched another twenty-two to low Earth orbit atop of a Falcon 9 from Space Launch Complex 4E. The booster for this mission was B1075 making its ninth flight and landed on the drone ship "Of Course I Still Love You" downrange.

January 30th - Falcon 9 with NG-20

SpaceX launched the NG-20 mission from Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida, the first time SpaceX has launched a Cygnus resupply spacecraft. This is Northrop Grumman's nineteenth resupply mission to the International Space Station. The Cygnus spacecraft for this mission is S.S. Patricia “Patty” Hilliard Robertson and the booster was B1077 making its tenth flight and landed at Landing Zone 1 back at Cape Canaveral.

January 31st - Electron for "Four Of A Kind"

Rocket Lab performed its forty-third orbital launch attempt with the company's Electron rocket which took place from Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia peninsula, in New Zealand, carrying four satellites for NorthStar Earth and Space to a 530-kilometer low Earth orbit.

Launches to look out for in February!

February shows no signs of slowing down either! Listed below are all of the launches expected or very likely to happen in February.

February 2nd - Long March 2C for Geely Constellation

A Long March 2C is expected to launch from Xichang Satellite Launch Center carrying eleven satellites to low Earth orbit for Chinese automotive company Geely.

February 3rd - Smart Dragon 3 with a to-be-announced payload

A Smart Dragon 3 is expected to launch from a sea launch platform carrying a to-be-announced payload. This is believed to be the second launch of the Smart Dragon 3.

SpaceX is expected to launch more Starlink satellites to low Earth orbit from Space Launch Complex 4E in California.

February 6th - Falcon 9 with PACE

A Falcon 9 is expected to launch from Space Launch Complex 40, in Florida, carrying the PACE (Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem) for NASA to a sun-synchronous orbit.

February 14th - Falcon 9 with Nova-C IM-1

SpaceX is believed to be launching Intuitive Machine's Nova-C lunar lander on its first mission on the 14th of February. Falcon 9 will send the lander on a trans-lunar trajectory and land the booster back at Landing Zone 1 in Cape Canaveral.

February 15th - H3 with VEP-4, CE-SAT-1E, and TIRSAT

H3 is expected to make its second test flight from the Tanegashima Space Center. The rocket is expected to be carrying three satellites, VEP-4, CE-SAT-1E, and TIRSAT, to a sun-synchronous orbit.

February 15th - Soyuz 2.1a with Progress MS-26

A Soyuz 2.1a is expected to launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome carrying the MS-26 spacecraft to low Earth orbit where it will attempt to rendezvous and dock with the International Space Station.

February 29th - Soyuz 2.1a with Meteor-M No.2-4

A Soyuz 2.1a is expected to launch from the Vostochny Cosmodrome at the end of February carrying a Meteor-M meteorological satellite to a sun-synchronous orbit.

Conclusion

This month has been incredibly busy with space activity with hundreds of satellites being sent into various orbits worldwide.

But this concludes our fourth 'Monthly Dose of Space' and the first of 2024. We hope to have you back next month for the fifth 'Monthly Dose of Space'!

Thank you for reading and....

AD ASTRA PER ASPERA

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