Astra reaches orbit, Russia endangers the ISS & more top stories

This week we saw a significant milestone for the launch provider Astra but were also reminded how far we are from ensuring safe access to space for everyone. Read the top stores from space below.

Astra Space reaches orbit for the first time

On November 18, Astra launched their Rocket 3.3 LV0007 vehicle from Kodiak, Alaska. This was its fourth launch attempt and the first to reach orbit successfully, a challenge that has proven difficult for many companies in the past.

You may remember Astra’s LV0006 launch vehicle was also attempted to reach orbit but failed due to a leak in the rocket’s ground service equipment which lead to one of the rocket’s first stage engines to shut down. This lead to a “powerslide” off of the launch mount as the rocket could not provide enough thrust. Once the rocket burned off enough fuel, it began to rise. Later in the flight, the range terminated the vehicle.

LV0007 carried a similar payload to LV0006, a test payload for the Space Force’s Space Test Program. It was not deployed, but it did show that it could have if allowed. This is a major milestone for the company as it begins to move into commercial operations of launching smallsats. Their next flight is expected to be out of SLC-46 in Florida.

Russia performs live Anti-Satellite test, causing debris field in orbit

Early in the week, crews on the International Space Station were awoken by ground controllers with instructions to shut hatches to certain station modules and to enter their spacecraft. This is done when there is a risk of debris strike(s) and the crews may have to leave the ISS.

Later that day, the US Space Force confirmed that Russia conducted an Anti-Satellite test (ASAT) on one of its old surveillance satellites. This test created thousands of pieces of debris, which spread long its orbit and eventually cross over into the ISS’s orbit. Thus, the ISS was in limited operations for a few days until the scale of the new debris field was understood. Nations from all over the world, along with NASA, condemned the test.

The ISS is back to normal operations, but the threat of Russia’s ASAT test debris to the ISS and China’s Tiangong Space Station will last years.

NASA’s OIG report states Artemis I and III mission to be delayed

Early in the week, NASA’s Office of Inspector General released a report of its audit of the first few mission in NASA’s Artemis program. The biggest takeaway was its predicted delays of Artemis I and III. Of course, we already heard that the first three missions had been pushed back, meaning no more human landing on the Moon in 2024. But NASA’s OIG expects the first human landing of Artemis to be delayed by several years. This is due to expected delays in NASA’s xEMU suits, needed for lunar excursions by astronauts, and SpaceX’s Starship, aka the Human Landing System.

Artemis I is also expected to be delayed until the Summer of 2022. NASA is currently preparing the first Space Launch System rocket for launch no earlier than February.

SpaceX Starship orbital launch as soon as Janaury 2022

The long-awaited Orbital Flight Test of SpaceX’s Starship vehicle made an appearance in the report. Since Starship will be the Human Landing System for the Artemis program, NASA will have more oversight into Starship’s development. A graphic shared in the report shows Starship’s Orbital Flight Test in Q2 of Fiscal Year 2022 (Q1 of Calendar Year 2022). Still, we will have to wait for the FAA to finish its Environmental Assessment, expected to come by December 31, before knowing if that will hold.

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