Monthly Dose of Space - November 2023

Monthly Dose of Space - November 2023


Welcome to our second Monthly Dose of Space! In this monthly newsletter, we bring you all of the major news from the past month! November has had some pretty interesting moments, so let's jump into it!

SpaceX

SpaceX has had a monumental month this November with the second integrated flight test of Starship-Super Heavy! We'll cover all of their launches in a little bit, but first, let's go over some of the work they've done this month!

On the 18th of November 2023, SpaceX launched its Starship-Super Heavy launch vehicle for the second time ever! Starship-Super Heavy launched at the start of its window lifting off at 07:02 am Central Standard Time and continuing powered flight for a little over eight minutes!

The Super Heavy booster lit all thirty-three of its engines with all of them lasting up until hot staging of Ship 25 from Booster 9. The booster however experienced a rapid unscheduled disassembly while attempting to perform its boostback burn. After hot staging, the six Raptor engines, three sea-level engines, and three vacuum engines, continued to power the second stage flight for six minutes before Ship 25 also experienced a rapid unscheduled disassembly for unknown reasons.

SpaceX has considered the second integrated flight test of Starship-Super Heavy a success with the Head of SpaceX, Elon Musk, having said online that the third test flight of Starship-Super Heavy could be ready from a hardware standpoint within a month. SpaceX however still needs to complete the mishap investigation for the second test flight and make any changes necessary.

News of the Month

November has not been short of news from around the world, Boeing's Starliner working towards a crew flight test, China developing a stainless steel rocket, the X-37B heading back to space soon, and much more!

Astra Secures more additional funding

Astra's rocket 3 on its launch pad. ©Astra
Astra's rocket 3 on its launch pad. ©Astra

In a filing with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission on November 24th, Astra announced it had a “subsequent financing" with two of its investors. This included modifying existing loans, a sale of stock and warrants with a new three million United States Dollar loan.

This comes after news a few weeks ago where Astra's founders Chris Kemp, who is currently Astra's chairman and chief executive officer, and Adam London, who is currently Astra's chief technology officer, offered a proposal to Astra's board of directors to buy all of the company's shares at $1.50 United States dollars each for a total of about $30 million dollars on the week of the 9th of November.

Astra had also released its Q3 2023 financial results on the 16th of November and reported a loss of 29.7 million United States dollars and a revenue of two-hundred and fifty-six thousand United States dollars.

United States Space Force to launch the X-37B in December

Boeing's X-37B encapsulated within Falcon Heavy's fairings in the payload processing facility. ©Boeing
Boeing's X-37B encapsulated within Falcon Heavy's fairings in the payload processing facility. ©Boeing

This topic is part of a larger article written by Miranda for Cosmic Nxws and is available in full here.

The United States Space Force is expected to launch the Boeing X-37B spaceplane back into orbit next month. In a somewhat unclear decision, the chosen launch vehicle for this mission, USSF-52/OTV-7, is SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket. This is Falcon Heavy's first time launching the spaceplane, and could very well be seen as overkill considering the previous six flights have taken place on ULA's Atlas V 501 and SpaceX's Falcon 9 Block 4. Once again, the precise destination and purpose of X-37B is highly classified, but it is anticipated to be targeting a higher Earth orbit than previous flights, but notably not a Geostationary orbit.

Considering the significant uptick in launcher capabilities, the vehicle itself has likely sustained significant upgrades adding to its launch mass, such as a beefed-up heat shield, a more capable service module (allowing for more substantial changes in orbit - key for a sneaky and agile military asset), and likely upgrades to its electronics to sustain the craft for longer in a more intense radiation environment.

The particular Falcon Heavy to launch this mission is comprised of an all-new center core, B1084, a pair of side boosters, B1064 and B1065, which have previously supported the USSF-44, USSF-67, EchoStar 24 (Jupiter 3) and Psyche missions, and a brand-new pair of fairings, in which the X-37B (believed to be the second in Boeing's fleet, aptly named Vehicle 2) was encapsulated several months ago.

Boeing eyeing April for crewed flight test of Starliner

Boeing's Starliner while docking with the International Space Station. ©NASA
Boeing's Starliner while docking with the International Space Station. ©NASA

Speaking on the 20th of November NASA's Phil McAlister, Director of the Commercial Spaceflight Division for Space Operations, said the Boeing Starliner spacecraft was on schedule for the Crew Flight Test mission no earlier than April 14th.

Boeing and NASA have closed out work on all issues from Orbital Flight Test 2, which flew in May 2022, and ninety-eight percent of certification paperwork needed according to Phil McAlister.

The Crew Flight Test is currently planned to carry NASA astronauts Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore to the International Space Station where they will stay for eight days along with the spacecraft.

LandSpace unveils its Zhuque-3 re-usable rocket

LandSpace's announcement presentation of Zhuque-3.
LandSpace's announcement presentation of Zhuque-3.

On the 23rd of November, LandSpace announced its Zhuque-3 rocket to the wider world.

Zhuque-3 is planned to lift 20,000 kilograms to low Earth orbit when expended, 16,500 kilograms when landed downrange, and 11,000 kilograms when landing back at its launch site. LandSpace is looking to have Zhuque-3 be a two-stage launch vehicle made of stainless steel and powered by engine-burning liquid methane and liquid oxygen.

The first stage is planned to be recovered and re-used like SpaceX's Falcon 9 with deployable landing legs and grid fins. Any potential second-stage re-use information is currently unknown outside of LandSpace.

North Korea reaches orbit with Chŏllima-1 for the first time

Chŏllima-1 being lifted vertical at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station. ©KCNA
Chŏllima-1 being lifted vertical at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station. ©KCNA

This topic is part of a larger article written by Jack Congram for Cosmic Nxws and is available in full here.

The 21st of November saw the first successful launch of Chŏllima-1 while carrying the Malligyong-1c satellite into a sun-synchronous orbit from the Sohae Satellite Launching Station in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The Malligyong-1c is the third military reconnaissance satellite attempted to be launched atop of the Chŏllima-1 rocket.

Malligyong-1c is the third spacecraft to be placed into orbit by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. This launch was also the first successful launch of the Chŏllima-1 launch vehicle. Ground observers watching the launch also reportedly saw the first stage of the rocket explode after the second stage separated and began flight.

New Glenn to launch Mars satellites for NASA on first flight

New Glenn's first stage tanks outside of Blue Origin's factory. ©NSF/Max Evans
New Glenn's first stage tanks outside of Blue Origin's factory. ©NSF/Max Evans

On November 20th NASA's Bradley Smith, Director of Launch Services for Space Operations, announced that the launch of the Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers (ESCAPADE) mission is currently targeting an August 2024 launch. This would also be the first launch of Blue Origin's New Glenn rocket.

According to NASA ESCAPADE consists of two identical interplanetary Photon spacecraft developed by Rocket Lab. Both spacecraft are about the size of a mini-fridge and weigh no more than roughly 250 pounds (120 kilograms) excluding fuel. ESCAPADE plans to study how Mars’ magnetosphere interacts with the solar wind, and the processes driving its atmospheric escape.

NASASpaceFlight's Max Evans also spotted the first-stage tanks (pictured above) outside of buildings at Blue Origin's campus close to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Dream Chaser 'Tenacity' ready for testing

Dream Chaser 'Tenacity' during its construction. ©Sierra Space
Dream Chaser 'Tenacity' during its construction. ©Sierra Space

Sierra Space announced at the start of the month that it had completed construction on its first Dream Chaser spaceplane 'Tenacity'. The company currently expects to ship 'Tenacity' to NASA's Neil A. Armstrong Test Facility in Ohio for environmental testing.

Dream Chaser has been in development in many forms for over a decade with the goal of providing cargo transportation services to the International Space Station. NASA has also awarded Sierra Space a minimum of seven resupply missions to the International Space Station under a Commercial Resupply Services 2 contract awarded in 2016.

Tom Vice, the Cheif Executive Officer of Sierra Space, also said the following in a press release from the announcement of 'Tenacity's' completion;

“Today we have arrived at a profound milestone in both our company’s journey and our industry’s future – one that has been years in the making and is shaped by audacious dreaming and tenacious doing” – I am reminded of a comment made by Steve Jobs that every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything. I think Dream Chaser is that product. This breakthrough shifts paradigms and redefines space travel. The Dream Chaser is not just a product; it’s a testament to human spirit, determination and the relentless pursuit of what lies beyond.”

Artemis III unlikely to take place in 2025

SpaceX's Human Landing System during its trans-lunar injection burn. ©u/ForestKatsch on r/SpaceXLounge
SpaceX's Human Landing System during its trans-lunar injection burn. ©u/ForestKatsch on r/SpaceXLounge

The United States Government Accountability Office released a report on the 30th of November claiming to find several challenges likely to delay the Artemis III mission. The Government Accountability Office claims four major reasons for the possible delay; a too-ambitious schedule from NASA, many delays to key events from SpaceX, a large amount of work remaining for SpaceX, and design challenges for Axiom's suits.

The Government Accountability Office claims the following for the amount of work for SpaceX;

"SpaceX must complete a significant amount of complex technical work to support the Artemis III lunar landing mission, including developing the ability to store and transfer propellant while in orbit. A critical aspect of SpaceX's plan for landing astronauts on the moon for Artemis III is launching multiple tankers that will transfer propellant to a depot in space before transferring that propellant to the human landing system. NASA documentation states that SpaceX has made limited progress maturing the technologies needed to support this aspect of its plan."

The Government Accountability Office claimed the following for Axiom's suit challenges;

"Axiom is leveraging many aspects of NASA's prior work to develop modernized space suits, but significant work remains to resolve design challenges. For example, NASA's original design did not provide the minimum amount of emergency life support needed for the Artemis III mission. As a result, Axiom representatives said they may redesign certain aspects of the space suit, which could delay its delivery for the mission."

The Government Accountability Office claims the following key event delays from SpaceX;

"As of September 2023, the Human Landing System program had delayed eight of 13 key events by at least 6 months. Two of these events have been delayed to 2025—the year the lander is planned to launch. The delays were caused in part by the Orbital Flight Test, which was intended to demonstrate certain features of the launch vehicle and lander configuration in flight. The test was delayed by 7 months to April 2023. It was then terminated early when the vehicle deviated from its expected trajectory and began to tumble. Subsequent tests rely on successful completion of a second Orbital Flight Test."

And finally, the Government Accountability Office claimed the following for NASA's ambitious schedule;

"The Human Landing System program is aiming to complete its development—from project start to launch—in 79 months, which is 13 months shorter than the average for NASA major projects. The complexity of human spaceflight suggests that it is unrealistic to expect the program to complete development more than a year faster than the average for NASA major projects, the majority of which are not human spaceflight projects. GAO found that if development took as long as the average for NASA major projects, the Artemis III mission would likely occur in early 2027."

If you would like to read the full report from the Government Accountability Office it is currently available here.

Launches of the Month

This month saw seventeen launches this month. If you are keen to know what each launch was for we have all of them listed below!

November 2nd - SpaceShipTwo for Galactic 05

Keeping up with its monthly cadence of the past few months was Virgin Galactic launching SpaceShipTwo for its Galactic 05 commercial suborbital spaceflight. The customers for this flight on VSS Unity were; Dr. Alan Stern, U.S. Planetary Scientist and Associate Vice President in Southwest Research Institute’s Space Sector, Kellie Gerardi, U.S. Payload Specialist and Bioastronautics Researcher for the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences, and Ketty Pucci-Sisti Maisonrouge who flew with science payloads.

November 3rd - Long March 7A with TJSW-10

A Long March 7A launched from Wenchang Space Launch Site carrying the TJSW-10 satellite to a geostationary transfer orbit. The spacecraft is claimed to be for communication technology test purposes.

For the final launch of the week, SpaceX launched yet another twenty-three Starlink satellites into low Earth orbit for its space-based internet mega constellation. The booster for this mission was B1058 making its eighteenth flight and landed down range on the drone ship 'A Shortfall of Gravitas'. Booster B1058 currently holds the booster reused record and is SpaceX's booster fleet leader!

SpaceX started the launches for this week with yet more Starlink satellites launched into low Earth orbit from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral in Florida. The booster for this mission was booster B1073 making its eleventh flight and landing on the drone ship 'Just Read the Instructions' downrange.

November 9th - Long March 3B/E with ChinaSat 6E

China launched a Long March 3B/E from Xichang Satellite Launch Center carrying ChinaSat 6E to a geostationary transfer orbit. ChinaSat 6E is a communications satellite that will reside at 115.5 degrees east in geostationary orbit and take over ChinaSat 6B's tasks.

November 10th - Falcon 9 with CRS-29

Falcon 9 launched SpaceX's 29th commercial resupply service mission to the International Space Station carrying supplies and science payloads bound for the orbiting laboratory. The Cargo Dragon spacecraft for this mission was Cargo Dragon C211 and the booster for this mission was B1081 making its second flight and landing back at Landing Zone 1 in Florida.

Cargo Dragon C211 is carrying about 6,500 pounds, almost 2,950 kilograms, of cargo to the International Space Station where it will remain docked for roughly one month.

November 11th - Falcon 9 with Transporter 9

SpaceX ended this week's launches with the launch of Transporter 9 from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. The booster for this mission was B1071 making its twelfth flight and landing back at Landing Zone 4 in Vandenberg Space Force Base.

Transporter-9 is SpaceX’s ninth dedicated smallsat rideshare mission. There will be 90 payloads on this flight deployed by Falcon 9, including CubeSats, MicroSats, and orbital transfer vehicles carrying an additional 23 spacecraft to be deployed at a later time.

November 12th - Falcon 9 with O3b mPOWER 5 & 6

To kick off the week, SpaceX launched the O3b mPower 5 and 6 satellites into medium Earth orbit atop of its Falcon 9 rocket. The booster for this mission was B1076 making its ninth flight and landing downrange on the drone ship 'A Shortfall of Gravitas'.

The O3b mPower satellites are part of a constellation of eleven satellites for high-throughput communications, the satellites are built by Boeing and operated by SES.

November 15th - Long March 2C/YZ-1S with Haiyang 3-01

China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation launched a Long March 2C/YZ-1S from Launch Area 4 in Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center carrying the Haiyang 3-01 satellite into a sun-synchronous orbit. The Haiyang 3-01 satellite is described as being a 'Next generation Chinese ocean color measurements satellite to study ocean ecology and effects on biological cycles and the climate'.

As is routine now, SpaceX launched twenty-three Starlink satellites into low Earth orbit from Space Launch Complex 40 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The booster for this mission was B1069 making its eleventh flight and landing downrange on the drone ship 'Just Read The Instructions'.

November 18th - Starship IFT-2

SpaceX managed to successfully launch Starship-Super Heavy for its second integrated flight test from Starbase, Texas. The Super Heavy booster lit all thirty-three of its engines with all of them lasting up until hot staging of Ship 25 from Booster 9. After hot staging, the six Raptor engines, three sea-level engines, and three vacuum engines. The booster however did experience a rapid unscheduled disassembly while attempting to perform its boostback burn. Ship 25 also experienced a rapid unscheduled disassembly for unknown reasons after flying for roughly six minutes after staging.

Despite not landing the booster in the Gulf of Mexico or the ship near Hawaii, SpaceX has considered the mission a success.

Starting the launches for this week, SpaceX launched another batch of Starlink satellites into low Earth orbit from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. The booster for this mission was B1063 making its fifthteenth flight and landing downrange on the drone ship 'Of Course I Still Love You'.

November 21st - Chŏllima-1 with Malligyong-1c

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea, North Korea, launched a Chŏllima-1 from the Sohae Satellite Launching Station carrying the Malligyong-1c satellite into a sun-synchronous orbit.

The Malligyong-1c is the third military reconnaissance satellite attempted to be launched by the National Aerospace Development Administration and the first to successfully reach orbit. This launch was also the first successful launch of the Chŏllima-1 rocket.

SpaceX launched another twenty-three Starlink satellites atop of its Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The booster for this mission was B1067 making its fifteenth flight and landing successfully downrange on the drone ship 'A Shortfall of Gravitas'.

November 23rd - Long March 2D with Satellite-Internet Technology Demonstration Satellite

A Long March 2D launched from Xichang Satellite Launch Center carrying what is believed to be three "Satellite-Internet Technology Demonstration Satellite" built by the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The satellites were delivered to low Earth orbit, likely for testing technology for an internet satellite constellation like Starlink.

November 25th - Soyuz 2.1a with Kosmos 2572

A Soyuz 2.1a launched from Plestsk Cosmodrome likely carrying a Bars-M satellite called Kosmos 2572. Bars-M is believed to be a surveillance satellite with a ground resolution of roughly one meter.

Rounding out the launches for the month, SpaceX launched twenty-three more of its Starlink internet satellites, used to provide space-based internet to customers on Earth, into low Earth orbit. The booster for this mission was B1062 making its seventeenth flight and landing downrange on the drone ship 'Just Read the Instructions'.

Launches to look out for in December!

Launches in December show no sign of slowing down the global cadence too! Listed below are all of the launches happening in December that are either confirmed or very likely to happen.

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

Starting launches in December, Russia is expected to launch Progress MS-25 to the International Space Station for resupply services. Progress MS-25 will dock with the Russian Orbital Segment of the International Space Station.

December 1st - Falcon 9 with 425 Project Flight 1

Another SpaceX Falcon 9 is expected to launch next week but from Space Launch Complex 4E. The 425 Project Flight 1 is the first of five reconnaissance satellites for South Korea's Defense Acquisition Program Administration.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 will launch Starlink Group 6-31 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral in Florida. The booster and drone ship for this mission is currently unknown.

December 3rd - Long March 2C with a to-be-announced payload

A Long March 2C is expected to launch from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. The payload is not yet known and is likely to be announced after the launch.

December 4th - Ceres-1 with a to-be-announced payload

A Ceres-1 is expected to launch from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. The payload is not yet known and is likely to be announced after the launch.

December 5th - Smart Dragon 3 with a to-be-announced payload

A Smart Dragon 3 is expected to launch to a sun-synchronous orbit from a ship at sea designed to support rocket launches. The payload is not yet known and is likely to be announced after the launch.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 will launch Starlink Group 6-31 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral in Florida. The booster for this launch is expected to be making its maiden flight and the drone ship for this mission is currently unknown.

December 6th - Zhuque-2 for Flight 3

LandSpace is expected to make its first operational flight of Zhuque-2 for a customer mission. The payload and customer are not yet known and are likely to be announced after the launch.

First half of December - Falcon Heavy with OTV-7 of the X-37B (USSF-52)

The United States Space Force is expecting its X-37B spaceplane to launch in the first half of December for a classified mission. The boosters for 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 making its first and final flight with no plans to be recovered.

November 13th - Electron for 'The Moon God Awakens'

Electron is expected to return to flight next month with the mission 'The Moon God Awakens' to deliver iQPS's QPS-SAR-5 synthetic-aperture radar satellite to low Earth orbit.

December 24th - Vulcan Centaur for Peregrine lunar lander mission

United Launch Alliance is currently targeting December 24th for the maiden flight of its Vulcan Centaur rocket! The Peregrine lander is a Lunar lander developed by Astrobotic Technology and hopefully landing on the Moon after separating from the rocket.

December 28th - PSLV-DL with XPoSat

A PSLV rocket is expected to launch from Satish Dhawan Space Center on the 28th of December carrying the X-ray Polarimeter Satellite, XPoSat. XPoSat will be India’s first dedicated polarimetry mission to study various dynamics of bright astronomical X-ray sources in extreme conditions.

Conclusion

This month has seen the launch of hundreds of satellites, lots of interesting news, and by far our longest newsletter to date.

That concludes our second 'Monthly Dose of Space' and we hope to have you back next month for the third 'Monthly Dose of Space'!

Thank you for reading and....

AD ASTRA PER ASPERA

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