Weekly Dose of Space (28/1-3/2)

Weekly Dose of Space (28/1-3/2)


Welcome to Weekly Dose of Space! This week saw seven launches worldwide, preparations for another lunar mission, and the continuation of a 'secretive' mission in low Earth orbit. We'll also look ahead to the next week of launches worldwide.

SpaceX

SpaceX has continued to make progress toward the third integrated flight test of its Starship-Super Heavy vehicle over the past week, with Ship 28 being moved onto a work stand at the Rocket Garden on the 28th. The same day Ship 26 was moved off of its workstand, also at the Rocket Garden.

The next day on the 29th, the launch towers 'chopsticks' were seen moving, likely as part of a test. A little after that, both quick disconnect arms were seen performing a simultaneous test. A day later, the 'Mega Bay' door was seen beginning to lower for the first time, preventing most views of the inside.

The 31st had a Sea-level Raptor engine being spotted after removal from Ship 28, the reason for the removal is unknown outside of SpaceX.

On the 2nd of February, teams were seen on the Orbital Launch Mount working on the booster quick disconnect arm. The 2nd also saw a Raptor Vacuum engine being removed from Ship 28.

Launches This Week

January 28th - Simorgh with Mahda, Keyhan-2, and Hatef-1

Iran launched three satellites to low Earth orbit from the Imam Khomeini Spaceport. The three satellites were Mahda, a small test satellite, Keyhan-2, an attitude control systems test satellite, and Hatef-1, an internet communications test satellite.

Twenty-three more Starlink satellites were sent to low Earth orbit atop of a Falcon 9 from Launch Complex 39A. The booster for this mission B1062 making its eighteenth flight and landing downrange on the drone ship "A Shortfall OF Gravitas".

Falcon 9 lifting off from Launch Complex 39A. ©SpaceX
Falcon 9 lifting off from Launch Complex 39A. ©SpaceX

SpaceX launched another twenty-two to low Earth orbit atop of a Falcon 9 from Space Launch Complex 4E. The booster for this mission was B1075 making its ninth flight and landed on the drone ship "Of Course I Still Love You" downrange.

Falcon 9 lifting off from Space Launch Complex 4E. ©SpaceX
Falcon 9 lifting off from Space Launch Complex 4E. ©SpaceX

January 30th - Falcon 9 with NG-20

SpaceX launched the NG-20 mission from Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida, the first time SpaceX has launched a Cygnus resupply spacecraft. This is Northrop Grumman's nineteenth resupply mission to the International Space Station. The Cygnus spacecraft for this mission is S.S. Patricia “Patty” Hilliard Robertson and the booster was B1077 making its tenth flight and landed at Landing Zone 1 back at Cape Canaveral.

Falcon 9 booster B1077 landing at Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral. ©SpaceX
Falcon 9 booster B1077 landing at Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral. ©SpaceX

January 31st - Electron for "Four Of A Kind"

Rocket Lab performed its forty-third orbital launch attempt with the company's Electron rocket which took place from Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia peninsula, in New Zealand, carrying four satellites for NorthStar Earth and Space to a 530-kilometer low Earth orbit.

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

February 2nd - Long March 2C for Geely Constellation

A Long March 2C launched from Xichang Satellite Launch Center carrying eleven satellites to low Earth orbit for Chinese automotive company Geely. Geely is building a constellation in low Earth orbit to support testing of autonomous driving in its cars as well as for inter-vehicle communications.

A Long March 2C lifting off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center.
A Long March 2C lifting off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center.

February 3rd - Smart Dragon 3 with a nine-satellite rideshare

A Smart Dragon 3 launched from a sea launch platform to a sun-synchronous orbit carrying nine satellites for its payload. The nine spacecraft were: DRO-L, Zhixing-2A, DongFangHuiYan-GF01, WeiHai-01 & 02, XingShiDai-18 & 19 & 20, and NEXSAT-1.

Smart Dragon 3 lifting off from its sea launch platform.
Smart Dragon 3 lifting off from its sea launch platform.

In Other Space News

Intuitive Machines prepares for its lunar landing mission

Intuitive Machines Nova-C lunar lander for IM-1. ©Intuitive Machines
Intuitive Machines Nova-C lunar lander for IM-1. ©Intuitive Machines

Intuitive Machines is making its final preparations for its IM-1 mission to the lunar surface with the Nova-C lander reportedly having been recently encapsulated in a fairing ahead of launch. The company has not yet announced a launch date but has said that Nova-C will make a landing attempt on the 22nd of February.

The launch date is widely believed to be the 14th, including a now-deleted NASA post online, but officially is still aiming for 'mid-February'. The launch is expected to be from Launch Complex 39A, in Florida, atop of SpaceX's Falcon 9 which will land back near the launch pad after stage separation.

The Nova-C IM-1 mission is the second mission of NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, the first was Astrobotic's Peregrine, and is carrying six payloads for the agency.

China's spaceplane continues to operate in space

The spaceplane vehicle's believed technology demonstrator underneath the H-6 bomber.
The spaceplane vehicle's believed technology demonstrator underneath the H-6 bomber.

China's reusable spaceplane, similar to the United States X-37B spaceplane, has been operating in space since the 14th of December 2023 for its third mission. The spacecraft was launched into a 333 by 347 kilometer low Earth orbit on a fifty-degree inclination, this inclination allows the spaceplane to orbit as far south as New Zealand's southern island and as far north as the Canadian island of Newfoundland.

Roughly a week into its mission the spacecraft raised its orbit to a 602 by 609 kilometer orbit, similar to its previous mission. Claims have been circulating that the spacecraft had released six satellites but these turned out to be debris from the launch vehicle used to enter orbit.

The purpose of the mission is believed to be as follows, as reported by Xinhua News:

"During the in-orbit operation, the spacecraft will conduct verifications for reusable technologies and space science experiments to provide technical support for the peaceful use of space."

The mission length is currently unknown but the spaceplane could spend a few hundred days in space before returning to Earth.

The previous two missions were both launched on the same rocket at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. The first launch is believed to have occurred on the 4th of September 2020 before returning to Earth two days later. The second launch occurred on the 4th of August 2022 spending two-hundred and seventy-six days on orbit before returning to Earth on the 8th of May 2023.

Shenzhou-17 crew prepare to celebrate Chinese Lunar New Year

The crew of the Shenzhou 17 mission decorating the inside of the Tiangong space station. ©China Manned Space Agency
The crew of the Shenzhou 17 mission decorating the inside of the Tiangong space station. ©China Manned Space Agency

The crew currently aboard China's space station, Shenzhou-17, have begun decorating the space station for the Chinese Lunar New Year. This will be the second time the space station will be decorated for the celebrations.

This year the celebrations are happening from the 2nd of February to the 24th, with the largest celebrations happening on the 10th. 2024 is the Year of the Loong, or Dragon in the Western world.

The Shenzhou 17 is expected to return to Earth in May after Shenzhou 18 arrives. The crew of the mission are Commander Tang Hongbo, Operator Tang Shengjie, and System Operator Jiang Xinlin.

Xichang Satellite Launch Center passes 200th launch

A view of the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, in southern China. ©CGTN
A view of the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, in southern China. ©CGTN

The Xichang Satellite Launch Center, located in southern China, has recently surpassed its two-hundredth launch from the site. The mission to pass this milestone was a Long March 2C carrying eleven satellites for the Chinese automotive company Geely.

Xichang Satellite Launch Center is based in the province of Sichuan and had its first launch occur in 1984 after being established in 1970. On the 8th of April 1984, a Long March 3 rocket took off carrying the Dongfanghong-2 satellite towards geosynchronous orbit. Xichang is largely responsible for launching satellites to geosynchronous orbit.

Notably the launch center had the first Chang'e and BeiDou missions start at the site.

What to Expect Next Week

Starbase

SpaceX remains confident about a February launch for Starship-Super Heavy. It's believed Ship 28 and Super Heavy Booster 10 have completed most of their testing campaigns currently. Currently, SpaceX is still waiting on regulatory approval from the Federal Aviation Administration.

SpaceX plans to launch another Starlink mission from Space Launch Complex 4E to low Earth orbit to continue to grow its space-based internet constellation.

February 6th - Falcon 9 with PACE

A Falcon 9 is expected to launch from Space Launch Complex 40 carrying the PACE (Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem) for NASA to a sun-synchronous orbit.

Another Starlink mission is expected to launch to low Earth orbit using SpaceX's Falcon 9 from Space Launch Complex 40.

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