Monthly Dose of Space - March 2024

Monthly Dose of Space - March 2024


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

SpaceX

The last month saw SpaceX finally launch the third flight of its Starship-Super Heavy vehicle! Activity was still abuzz at Starbase as always so let's recap.

The 1st of March had Ship 28 stacked atop of Booster 10 once again. Later on, Ship 29 was moved next to the orbital launch mount, we don't know why but this is likely for a photo shoot as no testing of Ship 29 was done. A test of the booster quick disconnect was also done on the 1st.

Overnight on the 2nd, Ship 29 was moved back onto sub-orbital Pad B to undergo testing. A little later on the 3rd, Ship 28 and Booster 10 completed a wet dress rehearsal. The wet dress rehearsal was the third to be attempted using the two vehicles and is believed to be a success. A day later on the 4th, the boosters' grid fins were seen moving as part of a separate test.

On the 5th, Ship 28 was destacked from Booster 10 as it was believed to be undergoing final checks and hardware changes ahead of the third flight test. The next day teams were seen working on the ship's thermal protection tiles. Part of one of Booster 10's chines were removed as well so teams could access the composite overwrapped pressure vessels.

A few days later on the 8th, SpaceX teams were seen installing the flight termination system explosives on both Ship 28 and Booster 10. These explosives were planned to destroy the vehicles in the event of a failure in flight where needed.

The 10th saw hip 28 being stacked atop of Booster 10 at the launch site. Not long after stacking, a test of the water deluge system occurred. The next day Ship 28 was seen undergoing fuelling followed by a spin prime test of its engines. Booster 10 and Ship 28 were also heard testing their igniters on the 11th. Ahead of the launch, Ship 29 was moved back to the production site on the 12th to keep it at a safe distance.

The 14th saw the big event, the third launch of Starship-Super Heavy! Ship 28 and Booster 10 took the skies above Texas at 13:25 pm Univerversal Coordinated Time with all engines successfully firing. Booster 10 however was lost during its landing burn and Ship 28 was lost during re-entry.

Starship-Super Heavy lifting off from Starbase, Texas. ©SpaceX
Starship-Super Heavy lifting off from Starbase, Texas. ©SpaceX

On the 20th, the protective rear hood for the booster quick disconnect arm was removed to allow workers to access the inside. Umbilical pipes were removed from the arm as they appear to have sustained heavy damage during the last flight. Workers were also seen working on connections to the launch towers 'chopsticks'. In the early hours of the 22nd, Ship 29 returned to the launch site and was placed onto suborbital Pad B for testing.

The most recent events at Starbase were Ship 29's two static fires. The first was on the 25th when it fired all six of its engines. The second static fire occurred a few days later on the 27th when it fired a single engine. The next day on the 28th, Ship 29 was removed from suborbital Pad B. Early in the following morning, Ship 29 was also moved back to the production site.

Ending out the month on the 30th, hoses that are part of the booster quick disconnect system were seen being re-installed along with the protective cover.

News of the Month

Last month saw news of future space partnerships, the beginning of end of a long-term mission, a major test flight, and a lawsuit.

Boeing looking to sue Virgin Galactic

VSS Unity during a suborbital flight in 2022. ©Virgin Galactic
VSS Unity during a suborbital flight in 2022. ©Virgin Galactic

Boeing and its subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences have filed a lawsuit against Virgin Galactic claiming that the company has failed to pay over twenty-six million United States Dollars and had 'misappropriated' trade secrets, reported SpaceNews.

The lawsuit was filed on the 21st of March in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia with claims that Virgin Galactic refused to destroy proprietary information that Aurora Flight Sciences provided alongside $26.4 million in invoices being left unpaid. The money and information are reportedly for a new carrier aircraft that would have replaced VMS Eve, the aircraft Virgin Galactic uses as part of its suborbital flights.

While speaking to SpaceNews, a Virgin Galactic spokesperson said:

“We believe this lawsuit is wrong on the facts and the law, and we will vigorously defend ourselves in the appropriate forum”

Boeing and Aurora Flight Sciences are reportedly seeking damages for the 'misappropriated' trade secrets and unpaid invoices.

NASA announces Artemis III surface experiments

Artist’s concept of an Artemis astronaut deploying an instrument on the lunar surface. ©NASA
Artist’s concept of an Artemis astronaut deploying an instrument on the lunar surface. ©NASA

On the 26th, NASA announced the first science experiments that will be carried to the lunar surface as part of the Artemis III mission in the second half of the 2020s. The experiments will be installed near the lunar south pole with the agency believing they will collect valuable data.

The experiments are as follows:

  • The Lunar Environment Monitoring Station (or LEMS): a compact, autonomous seismometer suite designed to carry out continuous, long-term monitoring of the seismic environment, namely ground motion from moonquakes, in the lunar south polar region. The instrument will characterize the regional structure of the Moon’s crust and mantle, which will add valuable information to lunar formation and evolution models.
  • Lunar Effects on Agricultural Flora (or LEAF): will investigate the lunar surface environment’s effects on space crops. LEAF will be the first experiment to observe plant photosynthesis, growth, and systemic stress responses in space-radiation and partial gravity.  Plant growth and development data, along with environmental parameters measured by LEAF, will help scientists understand the use of plants grown on the Moon for both human nutrition and life support on the Moon and beyond.
  • The Lunar Dielectric Analyzer (or LDA): will measure the regolith’s ability to propagate an electric field, which is a key parameter in the search for lunar volatiles, especially ice. It will gather essential information about the structure of the Moon’s subsurface, monitor dielectric changes caused by the changing angle of the Sun as the Moon rotates, and look for possible frost formation or ice deposits.

For more information on the payload click here.

SpaceX launched third Starship-Super Heavy test flight

Ship 28 during its coast prior to re-entry during its flight. ©SpaceX
Ship 28 during its coast prior to re-entry during its flight. ©SpaceX

SpaceX launched its third flight test of its in-development Starship-Super Heavy launch vehicle on the 14th of March. The two vehicles used in the flight were Ship 28 and Booster 10.

Liftoff occurred at 13:25 pm Univerversal Coordinated Time with all thirty-three Raptors engines firing. The ascent of the flight went as planned with Ship 28 successfully hot-staging from Booster 10 for the second time ever for SpaceX. Booster 10 became the first Super Heavy to successfully relight its ten engines and performed the full 'boost back' burn as planned. Booster 10 did attempt to start up for landing but only managed to light three engines before hitting the ocean at 1111 kilometers per hour, or 691 miles per hour.

Ship 28 made it successfully to second-stage engine cutoff and proceeded to coast for a little over forty minutes. The ship unfortunately met a fiery end above the Indian Ocean and was lost on re-entry. During the webcast SpaceX claimed the re-entry was controlled however the vehicle was spinning upon the start of atmospheric re-entry, Ship 28 had been tumbling since second-stage engine cutoff.

Shortly after the launch, SpaceX provided an update on what occurred during the flight. The company confirmed that the following events did happen:

  • For the second time, all 33 Raptor engines on the Super Heavy Booster started up successfully and completed a full-duration burn during ascent.
  • Starship executed its second successful hot-stage separation, powering down all but three of Super Heavy’s Raptor engines and successfully igniting the six second stage Raptor engines before separating the vehicles.
  • Following separation, the Super Heavy booster successfully completed its flip maneuver and completed a full boostback burn to send it towards its splashdown point in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Super Heavy successfully lit several engines for its first ever landing burn before the vehicle experienced a RUD (that’s SpaceX-speak for “rapid unscheduled disassembly”). The booster’s flight concluded at approximately 462 meters in altitude and just under seven minutes into the mission.
  • Starship's six second stage Raptor engines all started successfully and powered the vehicle to its expected orbit, becoming the first Starship to complete its full-duration ascent burn.
  • While coasting, Starship accomplished several of the flight test’s additional objectives, including the opening and closing of its payload door (aka the pez dispenser,) and initiating a propellant transfer demonstration. Starship did not attempt its planned on-orbit relight of a single Raptor engine due to vehicle roll rates during coast. Results from these demonstrations will come after postflight data review is complete.
  • Starship went on to experience its first ever entry from space, providing valuable data on heating and vehicle control during hypersonic reentry. Live views of entry were made possible by Starlink terminals operating on Starship.
  • The flight test’s conclusion came during entry, with the last telemetry signals received via Starlink from Starship at approximately 49 minutes into the mission.

As SpaceX lost Ship 28 and Booster 10, the company will need to complete a mishap investigation with the Federal Aviation Administration before being able to launch the fourth test flight. SpaceX reiterated several times that Starship-Super Heavy testing is using an iterative development approach while sharing updates.

Taobao considering point-to-point delivery

Space Epoch's Yuanxing-1 first-stage booster with a proposed cargo section highlighted in green. ©Space Epoch
Space Epoch's Yuanxing-1 first-stage booster with a proposed cargo section highlighted in green. ©Space Epoch

Chinese e-commerce giant, Taobao, is reportedly looking into point-to-point delivery of parcels in under an hour anywhere on the planet. This comes as the company is considering partnering with Chinese launch startup Space Epoch.

It's unclear how the transportation of items would work with the rocket as the booster is only planned to be recovered at sea with no known second-stage reuse plans. Items could be held near the interstage, with the believed carrying capacity atop of the booster being ten tons.

Space Epoch is currently working on its Yuanxing-1 launch vehicle, which will be reusable in a similar way to SpaceX's Falcon 9. Development of the rocket is reportedly going smoothly, with a static fire of the engine attached to a test tank having happened in 2023 along with a sea-based recovery test.

Shenzhou-17 mission enters final month

Jiang Xinlin (left), Tang Hongbo (center), and Tang Shengjie (right) during an art exhibition aboard the Tiangong Space Station. ©China Manned Space Agency
Jiang Xinlin (left), Tang Hongbo (center), and Tang Shengjie (right) during an art exhibition aboard the Tiangong Space Station. ©China Manned Space Agency

The crew currently aboard China's Tiangong Space Station in low Earth orbit are scheduled to return to Earth before the end of the month. Tang Hongbo, Tang Shengjie, and Jiang Xinlin have spent over five months aboard the station since arriving in late October of last year.

Since arriving, the three taikonauts have completed two spacewalks, conducted hundreds of experiments, and held the third art exhibition aboard the space station.

The Shenzhou-17 crew will depart from the space station after handing over the station to the Shenzhou-18 crew, who will arrive towards the end of April.

Launches of the Month

This month saw twenty-two launches worldwide, if you want to know each launch was we have them all listed below!

March 4th - Falcon 9 with Crew-8

The first launch of the Month was Crew-8 from Launch Complex 39A, in Florida. This mission sent four astronauts into orbit where they later boarded the International Space Station. The astronauts of the Crew-8 mission are Commander Matthew Dominick, Pilot Michael Barratt, Mission Specialist Jeanette Epps, and Mission Specialist Alexander Grebenkin.

This mission used booster B1083 on its first flight, the booster landed back at Landing Zone-1, in Florida, as planned. The Crew Dragon capsule for Crew-8 is Endeavor on its fifth flight to orbit.

March 4th - Falcon 9 with Transporter 10

The next launch for March occurred on the same day and was Transporter 10 from Space Launch Complex 4E, in California. This mission delivered fifty-three satellites into a sun-synchronous orbit.

The booster used for the Transporter-10 mission was B1081 making its fifth flight, the booster landed at Landing Zone 4, in California, as planned. B1081 has previously supported the Crew-7, CRS-29, Starlink Group 6-34, and PACE missions.

Another launch also happened on the 4th and was Starlink Group 6-41 from Space Launch Complex 40, in Florida. This mission sent twenty-three Starlink satellites into low Earth orbit to grow the company's space-based internet constellation.

The booster for this mission was B1073 making its thirteenth flight, which landed on the drone ship 'A Shortfall Of Gravitas' downrange as planned. B1073 has previously supported the Starlink Group 4-15, SES-22, Starlink Group 4-25, Starlink Group 4-35, HAKUTO-, Amazonas Nexus, CRS-27, Starlink Group 6-2, Starlink Group 5-11, Starlink Group 6-12, Starlink Group 6-27, Starlink Group 6-37 missions.

Yet another Falcon 9 launched off from Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida carrying twenty-three Starlink satellites to low Earth orbit. The booster for this mission was B1077, making its eleventh flight, with it successfully landing downrange on the drone ship 'Just Read The Instructions'.

Next up was another Falcon 9 with another twenty-three Starlink satellites being delivered to low Earth orbit, this time from Space Launch Complex 4E in California. The booster for this mission was B1063, on its seventeenth flight, which made a landing on the drone ship 'Of Course I Still Love You' downrange.

March 12th - Electron for 'Owl Night Long'

Rocket Lab launched its Electron rocket from Launch Complex 1B on the Māhia Peninsula, in New Zealand, on the 12th for the mission 'Owl Night Long'. The rocket was carrying the StriX-3 satellite for Synspective to a sun-synchronus orbit.

March 13th - KAIROS on its maiden flight

Japanese launch start-up Space One attempted to launch its new KAIROS launch vehicle from Spaceport Kii in Japan. Sadly five seconds into flight the rocket was destroyed by the automated flight termination system, Space One is currently unsure what caused the system to trigger.

March 13th - Long March 2C/YZ-1S with DRO-A & DRO-B

Another failure occurred in March, less than a day later when the Yuanzheng-1S upper-stage failed in flight carrying the DRO-A and DRO-B satellites to a trans-lunar trajectory. This launch occurred from Xichang Satellite Launch Center with the two stages of the Long March 2C working as planned.

March 14th - Starship-Super Heavy for Flight Test 3

The big launch of the Month was SpaceX finally launching its Starship-Super Heavy vehicle once again from Starbase, in Texas. The two vehicles used for the flight were Ship 28 and Booster 10.

SpaceX believes the launch to have been a successful test mission with Booster 10 being lost during a landing attempt and Ship 28 being lost on re-entry.

SpaceX was also launching yet another Falcon 9 not long after carrying twenty-three more Starlink satellites to low Earth orbit, this time from Launch Complex 39A in Florida. The booster for this mission was B1062, making its nineteenth flight, with it successfully landing downrange on the drone ship 'A Shortfall of Gravitas'.

After a few days, another Falcon 9 launched from Space Launch Complex 4E, in California, carrying twenty Starlink satellites with two other satellites onboard. The other satellites onboard are yet to be identified but are likely to be two Starsheild satellites for a United States government customer. The booster for this mission was B1075 flying for the tenth time and successfully landing downrange on the drone ship 'Of Course I Still Love You'.

March 20th - Long March 8 with Queqiao-2

The China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology launched a Long March 8 rocket from Launch Complex 2 at the Wenchang Space Launch Site, located in the Hainan province in southern China. The Queqiao-2 satellite was delivered to a translunar trajectory alongside two other small satellites, Tiandu-1 and Tiandu-2. For more about this specific launch and the mission click here.

March 21st - Long March 2D/YZ-3 with Yunhai-2 Group 02

A Long March 2D with a Yuanzheng-3 upper-stage launched from Launch Area 4 at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center carrying a believed six Yunhai-2 satellites. The satellites are believed to be tasked with surveying atmospheric factors, monitoring the space environment, providing data to support disaster prevention and mitigation efforts, and carrying out scientific experiments according to the China Academy of Space Technology Corporation commenting after the launch.

March 21st - Electron for 'Live and Let Fly'

Also on the 21st, Rocket Lab launched its Electron rocket from Launch Complex 2, in Virginia, to an unknown low Earth orbit. The launch was for the National Reconnaissance Office.

March 21st - Falcon 9 with CRS-30

SpaceX launched its thirtieth cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station on behalf of NASA. The rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40, in Florida, carrying a Cargo Dragon V2 spacecraft into orbit. The booster for this mission was B1080 making its fifth flight and successfully landing back at Landing Zone 1. The Cargo Dragon V2 capsule was also flying for its fourth trip to space. More details on the CRS-30 mission can be found here.

March 23rd - Soyuz 2.1a with MS-25

A Soyuz 2.1a lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome carrying three astronauts aboard the Soyuz MS-25 spacecraft. The three crew onboard are Commander Oleg Noitskiy, Flight Engineer Tracy Caldwell-Dyson, and Flight Engineer Marina Vasilevskaya. Soyuz MS-25 is expected to dock at the International Space Station on the 25th of March. For more about Soyuz MS-25 click here.

SpaceX launched another batch of Starlink satellites being delivered to low Earth orbit atop of a Falcon 9 from Launch Complex 39A, in Florida. The booster for this mission was B1060 making its nineteenth mission and landing downrange on the drone ship 'Just Read the Instructions'.

SpaceX launched more of Starlink satellites to low Earth orbit atop of its Falcon 9 rocket the following day. The launch occurred from Space Launch Complex 40, in Florida, with the booster being B1078 on its eighth flight with it landing successfully on the drone ship 'A Shortfall Of Gravitas' downrange.

March 26th - Long March 6A with Yunhai 3-02

China launched a Long March 6A from Launch Complex 9A at the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center, located in northern China. The rocket was carrying the Yunhai 3-02 satellite to a sun-synchronous orbit. For more about the Long March 6A and the Yunhai 3-02 satellite click here.

March 30th - Falcon 9 with Eutelsat 36D

Another Falcon 9 launched a few days later, this time carrying Eutelsat 36D to a geostationary transfer orbit from Space Launch Complex 39A, in Florida. Eutelsat 36D is a telecommunications satellite planning to provide services for parts of Africa, Europe, and Russia. The booster for this mission was B1076 making its twelfth flight and landing successfully downrange on the drone ship 'Just Read The Instructions'.

SpaceX also launched yet another batch of Starlink satellites to low Earth orbit from Space Launch Complex 40, in Florida. The booster for this mission was B1067 making its eighteenth flight with it landing on the drone ship 'A Shortfall Of Gravitas' downrange.

March 31st - Soyuz 2.1b with Resures-P No. 4

A Soyuz 2.1b launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome carrying a Resurs-P to a sun-synchronus orbit. The satellite is believed to be a commercial Earth observation satellite.

Launches to look out for in April!

April looks to be another busy month too. Listed below are all of the launches expected or very likely to happen next month, launches on the 1st may have already occurred due to when this newsletter is published.

SpaceX is expected to launch another batch of Starlink satellites to low Earth orbit from Space Launch Complex 4E atop of a Falcon 9. The booster is unknown but is expected to land downrange on the drone ship 'Of Course I Still Love You'.

April 2nd - Long March 2C with a to-be-announced payload

A Long March 2C is believed to launch from China carrying a to-be-announced payload. The launch is expected to occur from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center.

SpaceX is expected to launch a batch of Starlink satellites to low Earth orbit from Space Launch Complex 4E atop of a Falcon 9. The booster is unknown but is expected to land downrange on the drone ship 'Of Course I Still Love You'.

April 7th - Falcon 9 with Bandwagon-1

SpaceX is expected to launch its first Bandwagon rideshare mission atop of its Falcon 9 rocket. The launch is expected to occur from Launch Complex 39A.

April 8th - Delta IV Heavy with NROL-70

United Launch Alliance is expected to launch a classified satellite to an unknown orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office. This will also be the final flight of the Delta IV Heavy ever. The launch is expected to occur from Space Launch Complex 37B, in Florida.

April 9th - Angara A5 for a test flight

Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center is believed to be launching its Angara A5 rocket from the Vostochny Cosmodrome for a test flight, the payload will be a mass simulator.

April 22nd - Falcon 9 with two Galileo satellites

A Falcon 9 is believed to be planning to launch from Florida carrying two Galileo satellites to a medium Earth orbit.

April 25th - Long March 2F with Shenzhou 18

The China Manned Space Agency is believed to be targeting no earlier than the 25th of April for the Shenzhou 18 crewed mission. The launch will occur from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.

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