Weekly Dose of Space (24/12-30/12)

Weekly Dose of Space (24/12-30/12)


Welcome to Weekly Dose of Space! This week had nine launches worldwide for the end of 2023 as well as exciting news from in-space engine firings and the final flight of a workhorse rocket booster. We'll also look ahead to the first week of launches in 2024.

SpaceX

SpaceX has had a busy week as always at Starbase, in Texas, beginning with a new tank likely heading for the orbital tank farm on the 28th. On the 29th Super Heavy Booster 12 was spotted being moved towards the Massey's test site at 01:39 am, Central Standard Time.

The same day at 09:19 am Ship 28 performed a single-engine static fire for six-seconds. Under two-hours later at, 10:46am Super Heavy Booster 10 performed a thirty-three-engine static fire for ten-seconds! Ship 29 was also moved to the 'rocket garden' between the two tests likely ahead of engine installation.

Closing out the week at Starbase, Ship 30 was seen moving towards the Massey's test site on the 30th at 03:05 am.

Super Heavy Booster 10 during its thirty-three engine static fire at Starbase, Texas. ©SpaceX
Super Heavy Booster 10 during its thirty-three engine static fire at Starbase, Texas. ©SpaceX

Launches This Week

December 24th - Falcon 9 with SARah 2 & 3

SpaceX started the launches this week with the launch of a Falcon 9 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 mission was B1075 making its eighth flight and landing back at the launch site at Landing Zone 4.

A composite photo of the SARah 2 & 3 mission with the booster landing at Landing Zone 4 (left) and the rocket lifting off from Space Launch Complex 4E (right). ©SpaceX
A composite photo of the SARah 2 & 3 mission with the booster landing at Landing Zone 4 (left) and the rocket lifting off from Space Launch Complex 4E (right). ©SpaceX

December 25th - Kuaizhou-1A with Tianmu-1 11-14

ExPace launched a Kuaizhou-1A from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, in northern China, believed to be carrying four Tianmu-1 meteorology research satellites into a sun-synchronous orbit.

Kuaizhou-1A lifting off from its launch pad at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center with Tianmu-1 11-14.
Kuaizhou-1A lifting off from its launch pad at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center with Tianmu-1 11-14.

December 25th - Long March 11 with Shiyan 24C

A Long March 11 launched from a sea-based launch platform and flew to a sun-synchronous orbit. The payload was three satellites believed to be used for orbital technology testing.

Long March 11 lifting off from its launch platform with Shiyan 24C.
Long March 11 lifting off from its launch platform with Shiyan 24C.

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

Two Beidou-3 satellites were launched to medium Earth orbit atop of a Long March 3B rocket. The rocket was launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southern China.

Long March 3B lifting off from its launch pad at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center with Beidou-3 M25 & M26.
Long March 3B lifting off from its launch pad at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center with Beidou-3 M25 & M26.

December 27th - Kuaizhou-1A with Tianmu-1 19-22

Another Kuaizhou-1A was launched with four more Tianmu-1 meteorology research satellites. The launch also occurred from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, in northern China, to a sun-synchronous orbit.

Kuaizhou-1A lifting off from its launch pad at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center with Tianmu-1 19-22.
Kuaizhou-1A lifting off from its launch pad at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center with Tianmu-1 19-22.

December 27th - Soyuz 2.1v with Kosmos 2574

A Soyuz 2.1v launched from Plesetsk Cosmodrome carrying a payload for the Russian military. It is unknown what the spacecraft is or its purpose.

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

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket lifted off from Launch Complex 39A in Cape Canaveral, Florida. This launch was for the United States Space Force carrying the X-37B spaceplane, the first time launching on Falcon Heavy and the second time launching with SpaceX.

This is the seventh mission for the X-37B program and is believed to be on an orbit between high earth orbit and a Geocentric orbit. The mission is currently classified but is believed to spend between two weeks and one-thousand days on orbit before returning to Earth.

The mission is believed to be carrying several experiments onboard, one of which is NASA's Seeds-2 experiment to investigate the effects of radiation in space on plant seeds over a long-duration mission.

The boosters that supported 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 being expended on its first and final flight.

A long exposure shot of the OTV-7/USSF-52 mission from Cape Canaveral, Florida. ©SpaceX
A long exposure shot of the OTV-7/USSF-52 mission from Cape Canaveral, Florida. ©SpaceX

For SpaceX's final launch of 2023, another Falcon 9 was launched from Space Launch Complex 40 to send twenty-three Starlink satellites to low Earth orbit. The booster supporting this mission was B1069 making its twelfth flight and landing downrange on the drone ship 'A Shortfall Of Gravitas'.

SpaceX also managed to finally break its own turnaround time record between launches with the time between OTV-7/USSF-52 and Starlink Group 6-36 being a little under three hours.

Falcon 9 during first-stage flight for the Starlink Group 6-36 mission. ©SpaceX
Falcon 9 during first-stage flight for the Starlink Group 6-36 mission. ©SpaceX

December 30th - Long March 2C with a SatNet test spacecraft

The final launch of 2023 was a Long March 2C carrying a test spacecraft for China's upcoming SatNet internet satellite constellation. The Long March 2C launched from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center and delivered the payload to low Earth orbit.

Long March 2C lifting off from its launch pad at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center with the SatNet test spacecraft.
Long March 2C lifting off from its launch pad at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center with the SatNet test spacecraft.

In Other Space News

Hongqing Technology fires electric engines in space!

Honghu and Honghu-2 attached to Zhuque-2's payload adapter on the second-stage. (Via @CNSpaceflight)
Honghu and Honghu-2 attached to Zhuque-2's payload adapter on the second-stage. (via @CNSpaceflight)

On the 28th of December, Hongqing Technology reported that their Honghu and Honghu-2 satellites had successfully fired their 'Jinwu-200' engines. According to the company the 'Jinwu-200' fired on the 21st on the Honghu satellite burning xenon as its fuel. The 'Jinwu-200' engine on the Honghu-2 satellite was fired on the 26th burning krypton as its fuel. Both engines on both satellites were fired successfully and stably according to Hongqing Technology.

With the successful firing of the 'Jinwu-200' engines, Hongqing Technology has become the first company in China to ignite a 'permanent magnet excitation Hall thruster', use krypton gas in a Hall thruster, and the first company to use xenon and krypton in space.

The 'Jinwu-200' engine is a Hall electric propulsion unit developed independently by Hongqing Technology, also called Shanghai Blue Arrow Hongqing Technology Co Ltd. The company plans to sell the engine for use in Chinese satellite constellations.

The Honghu satellites are intended for long-term in-space testing of argon ion thrusters as well as xenon and krypton hall-effect thrusters.

Falcon 9 booster fleet leader, B1058, lost at sea

B1058 returning to port after its final flight. ©@johnkrausphotos
B1058 returning to port after its final flight. ©@johnkrausphotos

On the 26th of December, SpaceX announced that the record-setting booster B1058 had been lost. In a post on X, formerly Twitter, the reason for the loss was the following:

"During transport back to Port early this morning, the booster tipped over on the droneship due to high winds and waves."

Booster B1058 had an over three-and-a-half-year flight career making nineteen total flights. SpaceX claims B1058 had helped to launch over eight-hundred and sixty satellites to orbit and two astronauts, Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken for Crew Dragon Demo-2. At the time of publishing B1058 holds the record for most booster landings in the Falcon 9 fleet.

Second flight of H3 scheduled for February

A render of the H3 rocket in flight. ©JAXA
A render of the H3 rocket in flight. ©JAXA

JAXA announced on the 28th of December that the second flight of the H3 rocket is scheduled for no earlier than the 15th of February 2024. The rocket will carry Vehicle Evaluation Payload-4 and two small secondary payloads E-SAT-IE and TIRSAT.

Backup dates for the launch are available from the 16th of February through to the 31st of March 2024.

What to Expect Next Week

Starbase

It's likely that Ship 28 will be stacked atop of Super Heavy Booster 10 soon for the third integrated flight test of Starship-Super Heavy. Depending on when regulatory approval is given, and the completion of the mishap ingestion of Starship-Super Heavy's last flight, the third flight could take place in January!

January 1st - PSLV-DL with XPoSat

India is expected to begin the launches for 2024 with a PSLV-DL rocket carrying the XPoSat spacecraft. XPoSat, or X-ray Polarimeter Satellite, will be India's first dedicated mission to study various dynamics of bright astronomical X-ray sources in extreme conditions.

The XPoSat spacecraft is expected to be placed into low Earth orbit.

SpaceX is expected to launch more Starlink satellites from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Space Force Base, in California. The booster for this mission is believed to be B1082 making its first flight and landing on the drone ship 'Of Course I Still Love You'.

January 3rd - Falcon 9 with Ovzon-3

Another Falcon 9 is expected to launch but from Cape Canaveral, in Florida. This launch is expected to occur currently from Space Launch Complex 40 and deliver the satellite to geosynchronous transfer orbit. The booster for this mission is currently unknown but is believed to be landing at Landing Zone 1 in Cape Canaveral.

January 5th - 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.

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