The Space Roundup - Sep 26th, 2021

Hello, hello, my dear space lovers!

Get ready for yet another week of space awesomeness!

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3, 2, 1, zero! Lift-off!

Moon updates!

NASA has decided where they are going to send the VIPER rover. This rover will be launched by SpaceX in 2023 with a mission to prospect water ice and will land on the Moon aboard Astrobotic’s commercial lander. We now know it is going to be sent to Nobile Crater. This place is very accessible to the rover, yet full of very interesting areas such as permanently shadowed areas, which are supposed to have water ice. Go, VIPER!  

One of the challenges that NASA is trying to overcome now that it is planning more and more missions is how to deal with the lunar dust that flies every time a lander lands on the surface. It is a real problem and Masten is working on a solution: the FAST landing pad. They plan to inject ceramic particles into the rocket plume to form a solid coating on the surface as the landers descend on the lunar surface. The first feasibility study is now released and they are ready to move on and test it directly on the Moon. When? We don’t know yet, but how exciting will this be? Rockets building their own landing pads as they land? AMAZING! 

Talking about NASA, it is in a hurry to define a continuity plan for the ISS. It is now reviewing private space station proposals (they have received more proposals than initially expected) and with these public-private agreements, NASA aims to save over $1 billion annually after ISS retires, while at the same time opening very interesting opportunities for a whole new commercial universe. Not bad! 

Gas Stations in Space 

After a first successful test mission launched in June where Orbit Fab launched TANKER-001, the first propellant depot into low Earth orbit, they just announced that it will soon be launching TANKER-002. This will be the first propellant tanker in geostationary orbit. "This GEO tanker will have the capability to store propellant for up to 15 years” - they haven’t defined a firm launch date, but this will be a key first step to open a whole new market: if everything goes right, they will be able to start commercializing their fuel and start refueling satellites. A true game-changer. Go, Orbit Fab! 

Propulsion jet packs for dying satellites

Northrop Grumman has signed a contract with six satellite owners to launch a mission in 2024 which will use a robotic arm from DARPA to autonomously install small thrusters that will provide six additional years of life to those satellites. They plan to be able to install 5-6 of these mission extension pods each year in different missions. 

And who else is in this race? Yes! Astroscale! Rocket Lab won a contract to launch Astroscale’s  ADRAS-J satellite on an orbital debris removal demonstration mission. This sat will rendezvous with an empty Japanese upper stage rocket body in low Earth orbit, preparing for a second mission on which they will deorbit it.

Smarter CubeSats!

ExoSpace, the startup offering inexpensive and easy-to-assemble CubeSats, has decided to expand into the new on-orbit data processing market. They are adding to their sats a new device specialized in image processing on-orbit, so instead of delivering raw data to their customers, they’ll be processing images with machine vision algorithms to identify objects of interest and then sending the processed images and data back to their customers. Nice! 

China

After successfully returning home their three taikonauts, this week the Tianzhou-3 cargo craft docked with the Chinese Space Station preparing for the arrival of the next missions.

Next week is going to be exciting: China is expected to present its next-generation manned carrier and heavy-lift launch vehicle that will support all main missions for the next decade. The load capacity, reusability, and many other details will be released during the "Airshow China” event. I’m so looking forward to it! 

Pic of the week

Today I wanted to share this amazing picture of Ganymede, one of Jupiter’s moons. The image was taken on 1998 by NASA's Galileo spacecraft.

Ganymede is the largest moon in the Solar System and the next planned mission to visit it is ESA’s JUICE mission, due to launch in 2022.

Launches of the week!

Busy week ahead! Love it :)

  • Monday Sept. 27th - ULA’s Atlas 5 • Landsat 9 

  • Monday Sept. 27th - CASC Kuaizhou-1A | Jilin-1-02D

  • Monday Sept. 27th - CASC Long March 3B/E | Unknown Payload

  • Thursday Sept. 30th - JAXA Epsilon • RAISE 2

And that’s it for this week!

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Cheers from sunny Spain!

Juan, the Curious Astronaut