Weekly Dose of Space (10/3-16/3)

Weekly Dose of Space (10/3-16/3)


Welcome back to Weekly Dose of Space! Last week saw seven launches worldwide, and a long-awaited flight test. This week also saw news related to both human and robotic exploration of space. As always, we'll also look ahead to the launch schedule worldwide for next week too.

SpaceX

This week was a big week at Starbase, but it started with Ship 28 being stacked atop of Booster 10 at the launch site on the 10th. 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.

After the launch, minimal visible damage was seen around the launch site, similar to after the second flight test. SpaceX teams have been seen cleaning up and inspecting the site in the days following the launch.

Launches This Week

The launches this week started with a Falcon 9 lifting 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'.

Falcon 9 lifting off from SLC-40 for Starlink Group 6-43. ©SpaceX
Falcon 9 lifting off from SLC-40 for Starlink Group 6-43. ©SpaceX

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.

Falcon 9 lifting off from SLC-4E for Starlink Group 7-17. ©SpaceX
Falcon 9 lifting off from SLC-4E for Starlink Group 7-17. ©SpaceX

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.

Electron lifting off from Launch Complex 1B. ©Rocket Lab
Electron lifting off from Launch Complex 1B. ©Rocket Lab

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.

KAIROS during its rapid unscheduled disassembly.
KAIROS during its rapid unscheduled disassembly.

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

Another failure occurred 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.

Xichang Satellite Launch Center is reportedly working on a way to safely dispose of the Yuanzheng-1S upper-stage, and potentially the two payloads.

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

The big launch of the week 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. A more in-depth article on the third flight can be found here.

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

Ending the launches for the week was yet another Falcon 9 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'.

Falcon 9 lifting off from LC-39A for Starlink Group 6-44 via SpaceX on X.

In Other Space News

Fourth Taikonaut batch selection concludes

Tang Shengje (left) and Jiang Xinlin (right) aboard the Tiangong Space Station unrolling artwork for display during the Shenzhou 17 mission. ©China Manned Space Agency
Tang Shengje (left) and Jiang Xinlin (right) aboard the Tiangong Space Station unrolling artwork for display during the Shenzhou 17 mission. ©China Manned Space Agency

The China Manned Space Agency announced this week that it had concluded the selection of its fourth batch of Taikonauts. It is expected that between twelve and fourteen new taikonauts will be added to China's Taikonaut corp. According to reports from news outlets in China, payload experts from Hong Kong and Macao were selected for the first time.

The selection process is believed to have started in 2022 with the applicants being narrowed down to twenty by August of 2023. Those who have made it this far in the selection process are planned to undergo training over roughly the next three and half years.

Taikonauts in the fourth batch are expected to start flying in late 2026 or early 2027.

Eighth Long March 5 arrives in Wenchang

A container containing the Long March 5 Y8 first-stage being unloaded. ©China Aerospace and Science and Technology Corporation
A container containing the Long March 5 Y8 first-stage being unloaded. ©China Aerospace and Science and Technology Corporation

The China National Space Administration announced on the 15th that hardware for the eighth flight of the Long March 5 had arrived in Wenchang after being transported by ship. While not confirmed, it is believed that the first and second stages were delivered with the whereabouts of the four boosters not shared, they could already be at the Wenchang Space Launch Site.

These stages will support the launch of the Chang'e 6 mission in the coming months. The China Aerospace and Science and Technology Corporation shared that the rocket will be assembled and tested with the Chang'e 6 spacecraft prior to launch.

A breakdown of the Chang'e 6 mission can be found here.

NASA's Crew-7 mission ends

Crew Dragon Endurance splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico. ©NASA
Crew Dragon Endurance splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico. ©NASA

On the 12th of March, NASA's Crew-7 mission splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico with astronauts Jasmin Moghbeli, Andreas Mogensen, Satoshi Furukawa, and Konstantin Borisov onboard. The crew had been aboard the International Space Station since late August of 2023, having left shortly after the arrival of Crew-8.

The four astronauts are reported to have completed approximately two-hundred experiments while onboard, with Jasmin Moghbeli having completed a spacewalk during the mission. Crew-7 was part of the Expedition 69 and 70 International Space Station missions.

The Crew Dragon spacecraft that supported the mission was Endurance on its third flight, having previously flown for Crew-3 and Crew-5.

SpaceX shares post-flight update for Starship-Super Heavy

Ship 28 during re-entry during Starship-Super Heavy's third flight. ©SpaceX
Ship 28 during re-entry during Starship-Super Heavy's third flight. ©SpaceX

Less than a day after Starship-Super Heavy's third flight, SpaceX provided an update on what occurred during the flight. The company confirmed that the following 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.

Observers during SpaceX's coverage of the flight believed most of these events had happened but had no way to confirm it. During the update, SpaceX reiterated that Starship-Super Heavy testing is using an iterative development approach and that loss of vehicles is expected and not a major setback.

What to Expect Next Week

Starbase

Ship 29 and Booster 11 are believed to be the vehicles for the fourth flight test and will undergo testing in the coming weeks. Ahead of the fourth flight, SpaceX will need to complete a mishap investigation with the Federal Aviation Administration to determine exactly how the last flight ended. This also had to happen following the last two flight tests.

SpaceX is planning to launch another batch of Starlink satellites atop of its Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 4E in California.

March 20th - Long March 8 with Queqiao-2

The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation is expected to launch the Queqiao-2 satellite to a trans-lunar trajectory from the Wenchang Space Launch Site. Queqiao-2 is a relay satellite that will support the Chang'e 6, 7, and 8 missions via the use of an elliptical 'frozen orbit' of 300 by 8600 kilometers around the Moon.

March 21st - Long March 2D with a to-be-announced payload

A Long March 2D is expected to launch from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center carrying a currently unannounced payload. Not much is known about the launch but a Yuanzheng-3 upper-stage may be onboard.

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

Electron is expected to launch from Rocket Labs Launch Complex 2 in Wallops Island, located on the coast of Virginia, carrying a spacecraft for the United States National Reconnaissance Office.

March 21st - Soyuz 2.1a with MS-25

A Soyuz 2.1a is expected to launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome carrying three astronauts aboard a Soyuz spacecraft. The three astronauts are currently planned to be Oleg Novitskiy, Tracy Caldwell Dyson, and Marina Vasilevskaya.

March 21st - Falcon 9 with CRS-30

SpaceX is currently expected to launch its thirtieth cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station from Space Launch Complex 40. The Falcon 9 with have a Cargo Dragon 2 spacecraft atop of it and will attempt a landing at Landing Zone 1 in Florida.

Another Falcon 9 is expected to launch a day later from Launch Complex 39A, in Florida, carrying yet another batch of Starlink satellites to low Earth orbit.

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