Hello and welcome back to Max Q. In this issue:
- A micrometeoroid ping heard around the galaxy
- Delay in supplies of SpaceX cargo
- News from Rocket Lab, United Launch Alliance and more
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Astra mission fails, resulting in the loss of two NASA satellites
An Astra rocket failed on Sunday, when the second stage was shut down prematurely, causing the complete loss of two NASA satellites.
It’s an unfortunate debacle for both the rocket startup and the space agency, as the two satellites would be the first duo to compose the much-hyped TROPICS (Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation structure and storm intensity with a constellation of SmallSats) constellation . The TROPICS satellites will be used to measure variables such as temperature, humidity and pressure in storm systems.
NASA enlisted Astra to perform three launches, each equipped with two TROPICS satellites, at a cost of $8 million — so that means the agency (and Astra) is 0/6 so far. But the space agency said Sunday it could still meet its program goals with just four satellites. “Despite the loss of the first two of the six satellites, the TROPICS constellation will still achieve its scientific goals with the four remaining CubeSats split into two orbits,” NASA said. “With four satellites, TROPICS will still provide improved time-resolved observations of tropical cyclones compared to traditional observation methods.”
That means the Astra has to make it to the other two TROPICS launches. No pressure!
$10 billion James Webb Space Telescope pinged by micrometeoroid
NASA said on Wednesday that the James Webb Space Telescope, that pinnacle of optical performance in space with a multi-billion dollar price tag, was hit by a small meteoroid on Wednesday. The impact caused one of the telescope’s mirrors to become out of alignment, but “do not worry”, the agency said. “Webb continues to perform at a level that exceeds all mission requirements.”
Small pings from space rocks aren’t necessarily news; apparently the telescope had already been hit by four micrometeoroids at the time of this latest collision. Indeed, NASA did its best to reassure the public that it designs spacecraft, including JWST, to withstand minor impacts.
“Effects will continue to occur throughout Webb’s lifetime in space; such events were expected when building and testing the mirror on the ground,” said NASA’s Thaddeus Cesari. The telescope is also designed to deliberately turn optics away from meteor showers, although this micrometeoroid did not come from a meteor shower, but “an unavoidable chance event.” The micrometeoroid, while small, was also larger than NASA’s model and could have been tested on the ground, so the agency assembled a team of engineers to investigate how to protect itself against future hits on this scale.
SpaceX’s resupply mission for NASA halts due to problems with Crew Dragon .’s propulsion
SpaceX was due to launch another resupply mission for NASA’s International Space Station last Friday, but it was halted after teams discovered a problem with the propulsion of the Crew Dragon spacecraft.
“During the propellant loading of the Dragon spacecraft, elevated mono-methylhydrazine (MMH) vapor levels were measured in an isolated area of the Draco thruster’s propulsion system,” the agency said. SpaceX and NASA are now looking at the CRS-25 mission no earlier than June 28.
As the mission’s name suggests, this will be SpaceX’s 25th resupply mission under its Commercial Resupply Services contract with the agency.
More news from TC and beyond
- Arianespace’s Vega C rocket will debuts on July 7† The rocket was developed in collaboration with the European Space Agency and contractor Avio.
- Artemis chords has a new signatory: France. Artemis Accords are a “non-binding statement of principles and rules to improve the governance of responsible space exploration,” in which 20 countries have signed up (at least theoretically) to use space together.
- Bellatrix Aerospacean Indian startup developing space propulsion systems has raised an $8 million Series A led by BASF Venture Capital and Inflexor Ventures, with the participation of StartupXseed Ventures LLP, Pavestone Capital, KITVEN FUND, Survam Partners, Mankind Pharma Family office, growX ventures and Urmin Group family office.
- China successfully docked a trio of astronauts at the Tianhe space station module. The country wants to develop Tianhe into a full-fledged space station with three modules, called Tiangong.
- ION-Xa French startup, has raised €3.8 million ($4.1 million) to further test its small satellite propulsion system that uses ionic liquid electrospray thrusters.
- Rocket Lab was selected by Ball Aerospace to manufacture a key component of NASA’s Global Lyman-Alpha Imager of Dynamic Exosphere (GLIDE) mission spacecraft. Rocket Lab will manufacture the Solar Array Panel to power the spacecraft, which is likely to be launched in 2025.
- SpaceX Starlink probably won’t make public until mid-decade or later, CEO Elon Musk told employees, according to CNBC.
- Strato Launch executed the sixth test flight of the Roc aircraft carrier in the Mojave Desert. The company wants to use Roc to transport its hypersonic craft Talon-A.
- United Launch Alliance placed a massive $2 billion order with aerospace first Northrop Grumman for solid rocket boosters, in support of a series of upcoming launches for Amazon’s Project Kuiper broadband satellite constellation project.
Video of the week
Phase 1 and Phase 2 of Relativity Space’s 3D-printed Terran 1 rocket have arrived at the launch pad at Cape Canaveral, bringing the company one step closer to its first-ever orbital flight test. Relativity shared this video of the two stages making their arrival (complete with hype-y EDM in the background).
NASA is putting together a team to study unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP), although the agency says “there is no evidence that UAPs are of extraterrestrial origin.” Wow wow. Read more about the announcement here.
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