Weekly Dose of Space (17/12-23/12)

Weekly Dose of Space (17/12-23/12)


Welcome to Weekly Dose of Space! This week saw almost half a dozen launches from four different aerospace companies and lots of exciting news this week, from deep space mission plans, to a spacewalk, and engine firings! We'll also look ahead to next week's launch schedule for the final week of 2023.

SpaceX

SpaceX has had a busy week as always at Starbase with Booster 10 being rolled out to the launch site early on the 18th of December. The self-propelled modular transporter moving Booster 10 was also seen with Christmas decorations attached.

On the 19th of December, Booster 10 was lifted onto the orbital launch mount using the tower's 'chopstick' arms. A test of the 'FireX' systems also occurred on the same day once Booster 10 was on the orbital launch mount.

The following day on the 20th of December, Ship 28 performed a static fire using all six of its engines. Booster 10 also attempted a static fire on the 21st of December but was aborted for unknown reasons.

Super Heavy Booster 10 during rollout passing by Ship 28 in the background. ©SpaceX
Super Heavy Booster 10 during rollout passing by Ship 28 in the background. ©SpaceX

Launches This Week

December 17th - Hyperbola-1 with DEAR-1

Starting the launches this week was iSpace's Hyperbola-1 rocket carrying the DEAR-1 satellite to a sun-synchronous orbit. The DEAR-1 spacecraft is a prototype of a 'recoverable experiment spacecraft' built by the Chinese company AZSPACE.

Hyperbola-1 carrying DEAR-1 during first stage flight.
Hyperbola-1 carrying DEAR-1 during first stage flight.

SpaceX launched a 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'.

A long-exposure photo of the Starlink Group 6-34 mission. ©SpaceX
A long-exposure photo of the Starlink Group 6-34 mission. ©SpaceX

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.

New Shepard's booster landing on the pad during the NS-24 mission. ©Blue Origin
New Shepard's booster landing on the pad during the NS-24 mission. ©Blue Origin

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.

Firefly Alpha during first-stage flight for Fly the Lightning. ©Firefly Aerospace/Trevor Mahlmann
Firefly Alpha during first-stage flight for Fly the Lightning. ©Firefly Aerospace/Trevor Mahlmann

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.

Falcon 9 during first-stage flight for the Starlink Group 6-32 mission. ©SpaceX
Falcon 9 during first-stage flight for the Starlink Group 6-32 mission. ©SpaceX

In Other Space News

Shenzhou-17 crew completes spacewalk!

Tang Shengjie exits the Tiangong space station. ©Xu Bu/China Daily
Tang Shengjie exits the Tiangong space station. ©Xu Bu/China Daily

On the 21st of December, two members of the Shenzhou 17 crew, Tang Hongbo and Tang Shengjie, conducted a spacewalk outside of China's Tiangong space station. The third member of the crew, Jiang Xinlin, stayed inside the space station to provide support to the spacewalkers.

During the spacewalk, the two taikonauts conducted an 'experimental repair operation' on the Tianhe module's solar panels. The duo spent seven-and-a-half hours outside of the space station.

This was the 14th spacewalk conducted by Chinese taikonauts with this being Tang Hongbo's second spacewalk as well as making Tang Shengjie the youngest Chinese spacewalker at age 34.

Ingenuity completes flight 69!

NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter during flight photographing its own shadow during its 69th flight. ©NASA
NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter during flight photographing its own shadow during its 69th flight. ©NASA

NASA completed its sixty-ninth flight of the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter. Ingenuity flew a distance of seven-hundred and five meters at an altitude of sixteen meters. The helicopter reached a speed of twenty-two miles per hour during its two-minute and fifteen-second flight.

Ingenuity is a small aerial vehicle designed to test atmospheric flight on another celestial body. The Martian helicopter masses only 1.8 kilograms with each of its blades being 1.2 meters long.

CRS-29's Cargo Dragon returns to Earth

Cargo Dragon V2 with Earth in the background. ©SpaceX
Cargo Dragon V2 with Earth in the background. ©SpaceX

SpaceX completed the CRS-29 International Space Station resupply mission on the 22nd of December as part of NASA's Phase 2 Commercial Resupply Services. The mission launched back in early November and spent forty days docked to the forward node of the Harmony module.

The Cargo Dragon spacecraft splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico and was picked up by SpaceX's recovery ship Shannon. Cargo Dragon also returned 1,588 kilograms of science experiments and hardware from the International Space Station.

Galactic Energy raises 1.1 billion Yuan in funding

A render of the Pallas-1 rocket. ©Galactic Energy
A render of the Pallas-1 rocket. ©Galactic Energy

On the 18th of December, the Chinese aerospace company announced it had received 1.1 billion Chinese Yuan, approximately 154 million United States dollars, in its latest funding rounds. It is believed the funding will be used to develop the company's medium-lift partially reusable Pallas-1 rocket.

The Pallas-1 rocket is Galactic Energy's in-development medium-lift partially reusable rocket planned to be able to carry 5,000 kilograms of payload to low Earth orbit or 3,000 kilograms of payload to a sun-synchronous orbit.

Galactic Energy is a private Chinese launch provider founded on the 6th of February 2018 and is headquartered in Beijing. The company currently has the long-term objective to mine asteroids for rare metals and minerals.

China unveils Tianwen-4's mission plan!

Diagram of Tianwen-4's mission plan. ©AJ-FI/User China航天 on Weibo
Diagram of Tianwen-4's mission plan. ©AJ-FI/User China航天 on Weibo

The China National Space Agency had its plans for the Tianwen-4 mission shared recently providing some useful insights into the deep space mission.

The mission is currently expected to launch in September of 2029 being sent towards Venus initially with a gravity assist to gain speed in April of 2030. After passing Venus Tianwen-4 will then fly by Earth in February of 2031 and May of 2033 to gain more speed.

Tianwen-4 is expected to arrive at Jupiter and enter its orbit in December of 2035. Once in the Jovian system, the spacecraft is believed to deploy an impactor probe into the surface of the moon Callisto.

There are also believed to be plans for a second spacecraft that will fly with Tianwen-4 and fly by Jupiter to gain speed for a Uranus fly-by in March of 2045!

Relativity completes two Aeon R tests in two days!

Aeon R during a thrust chamber assembly test at NASA's Stennis space center. ©Relativity Space
Aeon R during a thrust chamber assembly test at NASA's Stennis Space Center. ©Relativity Space

Relativity has recently claimed to have completed two 'Mission Duty Cycle' tests in just two days with its Aeon R engine at NASA's Stennis Space Center. The first test occurred on the 14th of December and the completion of the second test was announced late on the 16th of December.

The first test saw the rocket burn liquid methane and liquid oxygen for ten seconds at seventy percent of the engine's maximum thrust. The second test had the same Aeon R engine burn for two minutes and twenty-three seconds at seventy percent of its maximum thrust.

What to Expect Next Week

Starbase

It's unclear if SpaceX will continue working toward the third flight of Starship-Super Heavy over the holidays but it is likely we will see a static fire from Booster 10 in the coming weeks.

Ship 28 is also likely to receive some new heatshield tiles soon after some were damaged during its static fire.

December 24th - Falcon 9 with SARah 2 & 3

A Falcon 9 is expected to lift off 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 flight is believed to be B1075 making its eighth flight and landing back at Landing Zone 4.

December 25th - Kuaizhou-1A with a to-be-announced payload

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

December 25th - Long March 11 with a to-be-announced payload

The China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology Long March 11 rocket is expected to launch from a sea launch platform. The payload is currently unknown to the public.

December 24th/25th - Unidentified high-speed flying object

NORAD expects an unidentified high-speed flying object to depart from the North Pole late on the 24th of December. The high-speed flying object is expected to fly at speeds of 650 miles per second, or Mach 3100, and travel the entire globe before returning to the North Pole early on the 25th of December.

This flight is routine and has been tracked every year since 1958 according to NORAD.

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

The China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology Long March 3B/E launch vehicle is currently expected to launch from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center to a medium Earth orbit. The payload atop of the rocket is believed to be two Beidou-3 global navigation satellites.

December 27th - Soyuz 2.1v with a Kosmos spacecraft

A Soyuz 2.1v is expected to launch from Plesetsk Cosmodrome carrying a payload for the Russian military.

December 27th - 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.

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

SpaceX is expected to launch the X-37B spaceplane for the United States Space Force early next week. The orbit for the mission is unknown but the boosters for the mission are expected to be B1084, making its 1st and only launch, B1064, making its fifth flight, and B1065, also making its fifth flight.

Another SpaceX Falcon 9 will launch Starlink Group 6-36 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral in Florida. The booster for this mission is currently unknown but it is believed it will land at Landing Zone 1 back at Cape Canaveral.

December 30th - Ceres-1 with a to-be-announced payload

A Galactic Energy Ceres-1 rocket is expected to launch from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. The payload is currently unknown to the public.

A Falcon 9 is expected to carry another batch of Starlink satellites to low Earth orbit. This launch is currently expected to take place from Space Launch Complex 4E in Vandenberg Space Force Base, in California.

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