Weekly Dose of Space (17/3-23/3)

Weekly Dose of Space (17/3-23/3)


Welcome back to Weekly Dose of Space! Last week saw seven launches worldwide, like the week before. This week saw news of yet another Starliner delay and plans of an increased launch cadence from China. As always, we'll also look ahead to the launch schedule worldwide for next week too.

SpaceX

After last week's launch of Starship-Super Heavy vehicle workers were seen working in and around the orbital launch mount at the start of the week. A few days later, what is believed to be a Raptor engine maintenance platform was moved to the launch site along with the two-point lifter for Starship vehicles, the two-point lifter allows SpaceX's LR11000 crane to lift Starship onto suborbital Pad B.

The next day 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'. On the night of the 21st, Booster 4 was moved into one of the 'mega bays' for scrapping, the booster was part of the first stack Starship-Super Heavy vehicle but never flew.

Ship 29 being placed onto suborbital Pad B. ©SpaceX
Ship 29 being placed onto suborbital Pad B. ©SpaceX

A few hours later in the early hours of the 22nd, Ship 29 returned to the launch site and was placed onto suborbital Pad B for testing. The 22nd also saw Booster 4 cut in half inside one of the 'mega bays'.

Launches This Week

SpaceX started off the launches this week with a Falcon 9 launching 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'.

Falcon 9 lifting off from Space Launch Complex 4E for Starlink Group 7-16. ©SpaceX
Falcon 9 lifting off from Space Launch Complex 4E for Starlink Group 7-16. ©SpaceX

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.

The Long March 8 during first-stage flight carrying Queqiao-2.
The Long March 8 during first-stage flight carrying Queqiao-2.

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.

The Long March 2D/YZ-3 lifting off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.
The Long March 2D/YZ-3 lifting off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.

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

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.

Electron lifting off from Launch Complex 2 for 'Live and Let Fly'. ©Rocket Lab
Electron lifting off from Launch Complex 2 for 'Live and Let Fly'. ©Rocket Lab

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.

Booster B1080 landing at Landing Zone 1 during the CRS-30 mission. ©SpaceX
Booster B1080 landing at Landing Zone 1 during the CRS-30 mission. ©SpaceX

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.

Soyuz 2.1a lifting off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome carrying the Soyuz MS-25 spacecraft. ©NASA
Soyuz 2.1a lifting off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome carrying the Soyuz MS-25 spacecraft. ©NASA

SpaceX ended the launches this week with another batch of Starlink satellites being delivered to low Earth orbit atop of 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'.

Falcon 9 lifting off from LC-39A for Starlink Group 6-42 via SpaceX on X.

In Other Space News

Intuitive Machines confirms loss of lander

A photo from Intuitive Machines' lunar lander on the surface of the Moon during the IM-1 mission. ©Intuitive Machines
A photo from Intuitive Machines' lunar lander on the surface of the Moon during the IM-1 mission. ©Intuitive Machines

Intuitive Machines confirmed on the 23rd of March that its lander did not survive the lunar night after it landed on the Moon. Teams were hoping that the lander could be powered down during the night and powered back up after the sun rose again. Sadly the lander did not power back up due to damage from the extreme cold of the lunar night.

The company had been expecting to hear signals from the lander as early as the 20th.

Long March 8 ramping up cadence

The Long March 8 being transported to its launchpad ahead of launch on the 20th.
The Long March 8 being transported to its launchpad ahead of launch on the 20th.

Speaking to news agencies after the launch of the Long March 8 carrying the Queqiao-2 satellite, Song Zhengyu, Chief Designer of the Long March 8 launch vehicles, said that the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology is looking to utilize the launch vehicles two launch pads.

The launch vehicle currently launches from Launch Complex 2 and plans to launch from Commercial Launch Pad 1, both are at the Wenchang Space Launch Site located in the southern province of Hainan. Each pad would have a rocket liftoff once every two weeks for one launch a week, this would allow the rocket to launch up to fifty times a year.

During the interviews, Song Zhengyu did acknowledge, but did not say explicitly, that the limiting factor is the production facilities for the Long March 8. More production facilities are being constructed near Wenchang.

It was also stated that six more launches would happen this year, with three being the rocket in its current design and the rest being in an updated design.

Boeing's Starliner delayed into May

Boeing's Starliner during integration atop of an Atlas V rocket. ©United Launch Alliance
Boeing's Starliner during integration atop of an Atlas V rocket. ©United Launch Alliance

During press briefings on the 22nd, Boeing and NASA stated that they are working towards launching the first crewed flight of the Starliner spacecraft in early May of this year. The delay is due to the International Space Station's visiting spacecraft schedule as the Crew-8 Crew Dragon spacecraft is currently occupying the port needed.

NASA and Boeing are still planning to have the spacecraft carry astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams onboard. Starliner last visited the International Space Station in May of 2022 as part of an uncrewed flight test.

Fuelling of the spacecraft's propellants is reportedly underway ahead of integration to its Atlas V rocket from United Launch Alliance. The spacecraft is expected to lift off from Space Launch Complex 41 no earlier than May 1st.

What to Expect Next Week

Starbase

It's likely we could see Ship 29 perform a static fire this week, as it completed a spin prime test prior to last weeks flight. Booster 11 is unlikely to arrive at the launch site soon until replacement hardware is installed on the orbital launch mount.

SpaceX's Chief Operating Officer, Gwynne Shotwell, believes that the fourth flight of Starship-Super Heavy could occur in six weeks. With current hardware readiness, the 'long pole' item for flight four is likely regulatory approval.

This first launch of next week is expected to be yet another Falcon 9 carrying even more Starlink satellites to low Earth orbit. The launch is expected to occur from Space Launch Complex 40, in Florida.

March 26th - Long March 6C for its maiden flight!

China is rumored to be debuting its Long March 6C rocket from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center next week. The payload for the rocket is unknown. The Long March 6C is part of China's development push away from its older hyperbolic rockets. If the launch is the debut of the Long March 6C we will work to cover it as fast as possible!

SpaceX is planning to launch another batch of Starlink satellites atop of Falcon 9 again next week. The launch is expected to occur from Space Launch Complex 4E, in California.

March 28th - 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.

March 30th - Soyuz 2.1b with Resures-P No. 4

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

March 30th - Falcon 9 with Eutelsat 36D

SpaceX is expected to launch a Falcon 9 from Space Launch Complex 40, in Florida, carrying the Eutelsat 36D to a geostationary transfer orbit. Eutelsat 36D is a telecommunications satellite planning to provide services for parts of Africa, Europe, and Russia.

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