Friday, May 3, 2024

Small Space News Story Roundup 35

Well... You know...

Ariane 6 is on the Launch Pad

Over the course of April, the first Ariane 6 vehicle has been assembled on the launch pad in French Guiana. First, they raised the core of the first new version of the rocket on its launch pad, replacing a full-scale ground model used for testing last year. Then, on April 30, the ESA gave us this update.  

The first Ariane 6 rocket to take flight is being pieced together at Europe's spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. The two solid rocket fuel P120C boosters have now been connected to the central core. For this, the core was raised with a lifting beam and the boosters were moved the last few centimeters into their final positions.

With that, the core is supported by the boosters and the teams on the ground could complete the mechanical and electrical connections, followed by a series of functional controls.

Ariane 6 in with the strap-on P120C boosters. Image credit: ESA/ArianeGroup/Arianespace/CNES

There's still much to be done before we can expect a launch, with fueling tests, and all of the things done to verify it has been assembled correctly and can launch. There's a projected first mission and launch window.

The small satellites that will ride the first Ariane 6 rocket into orbit are scheduled to arrive at the French Guiana launch site later this month. The satellites will be encapsulated inside the Ariane 6 payload fairing and then raised on top of the rocket ahead of the first launch attempt, which could happen in a window between June 15 and July 31.

Ariane 6 is capable of essentially the same payloads and orbits of the Falcon 9 but isn't reusable. The European Space Agency just had to hire SpaceX to launch a pair of their Galileo satellites, and have a second launch booked as well. All because the EU currently has no rockets that are flying and have paid SpaceX 180 million euros ($193 million) for the two Falcon 9 launches. The Falcon 9 booster was dumped earlier this week because the orbit required every bit of fuel a Falcon 9 can carry, and stories are that the next Galileo launch will sacrifice the booster as well. The last Falcon 9 to be dumped was 146 missions ago. 

The ESA needs to get Ariane 6 flightworthy.

China Launches Lunar Sample Return Mission

Eric Berger at Ars Technica puts it this way: 

NASA hasn’t landed on the Moon in decades—China just sent its third in six years

Stings a bit but it's the honest truth. 

On Friday the country launched its largest rocket, the Long March 5, carrying an orbiter, lander, ascent vehicle, and a return spacecraft. The combined mass of the Chang'e-6 spacecraft is about 8 metric tons, and it will attempt to return rocks and soil from the far side of the Moon—something scientists have never been able to study before in-depth.

One of the difficulties in a mission to the far side of the moon (note to Bill Nelson - NOT the DARK side) is that with no atmosphere, and especially without an ionosphere to provide a natural way to get radio signals around the moon, there's no radio contact with the lander. To address that, China launched the Queqiao-2 relay satellite in March, which will serve as a radio relay between the Moon and operators back in China.

The Chang'e-6 spacecraft is intended to return something like 2 kg (4.4 lbs) of rocks to Earth in about a month.  Such a small quantity makes it seem like it may be a "proof of concept" mission before they try to bring back lots more.


  1. 8 tons to the moon to return 5 kilos of rocks. Lot of DeltaV. Its kind of noteworthy no humans have been to the moon since last Apollo. 60 whole years.
    May be it is only, the advent of new super heavy rockets, that this is changing. Never quite looked at it specifically in that way. Must be a ratio here. If so then SpaceX Super Heavy maxed out with every ounce if fuel and the mass savings in a slick Starship as moon lander has to be in another ballpark in relative terms. Still, some way is still required to return people and cargo to the bottom of Earths gravity well. Until people begin to permanently stay. How does the ratio change at that point? Is there a accumulative like effect in general terms of the results then in DeltaV? Kind of a turning point happens? The more can be left on the moon becomes a game changer? Then if you start to make say fuel and water, oxygen, grow some food, it begins some kind of logarithmic like effect?
    Not quite sure how to compose this question here. But thats the gust of it.

    1. Oh! A linear or other drive launching system! Its like stage Elon, his stage zero, but its built from moon materials, bolted to the moon instead of earth. Possible turning point in off earth human activity and DeltaV? Removes part of the total gravity well DeltaV equation. It is the "hump" then maybe your getting past? Cause there is always DeltaV of the gravity well. You have to save DeltaV on the other end of the loop between earth and moon, coming-going. Break a part of DeltaV out of the loop and everything starts changing maybe?

    2. Delivering people and small loads of critical components and supplies is easy. Just ride back on HLS transfer from the Moon's surface to Earth orbit, transload to an Earth lander. Bingo, bango boffo. Which is what SpaceX is trying to do.

      As to big stuffs and construction and fabrication systems, well, again, SpaceX has already thought of the answer. Which is, stuff made in space or on exo-sites stay in space or at the exo-sites.

      We have enough resources here on Earth that are easy to extract, refine and manipulate that we don't need, contrary to the friggin Greenies, to bring anything bigly down from 'up there.' No reason at all.

      Now, once you've got stuff 'up there' that can process stuff 'up there.' like surplus satellites, excess stages, old busted space stations, then cleaning up the orbitals by recycling makes sense. Once we have recyclers and smelters and yada yada yada.

      Same with the Moon, or Mars or any exo-place, including an asteroid or Oort body way the heck out there, it's cheaper to send the machines to get the materials and send the machines to make the basic materials and do all that material handling, processing and fabrication there to make stuff for there than it is to keep shipping stuff back and forth.

      Only really strange and unusual stuff, like Helium 3 for fusion reactors or exotic metals and minerals that aren't easy or available here on the Earth's surface or down in the crust in a mineable depth, that's the stuff to bring back down, and, again, small amounts travel via space-only transport to Earth orbit and then cross-loaded to an Earth-to-Orbit-to Earth ship. Heck, you can even make big arsed capsules and drop said capsules loaded with
      the stuff.

      But for the most part, what's 'up there' can just stay 'up there.'

    3. The entire concept behind Starship is making life interplanetary. To do that requires completely new and much bigger hardware.

      In what they called the truck configuration, carrying nothing but cargo to the moon, the Saturn V could have carried about 5 tons down to the lunar surface. A fully expendable Starship, same concept, could bring more than 200 tons to the Moon, 40 times as much. The liftoff thrust of the Starship is "only" twice the Saturn V. The trick? Refueling in space. Tests and demonstrations may begin this year.

      Another comparison is that for Artemis, NASA reportedly wants to land just ~180 kilograms (~400 lb) of cargo with the first crewed HLS. A tiny fraction of what the Starship Human Landing System can carry, estimated at "dozens of tons" along with the astronauts.

  2. Think i get most of all that, you guys, what it is i am thinking about is it is all, maybe a zero sum game till there is a positive added, mass wise, fuel wise, which does not get there from earths gravity well, but rather from resources not from earth but space off earth.
    Expressed differently, what if, in the longer run, we only do space things with and from earth resourced mass and fuel, in time is there a zero sum penalty?
    Does that make any sense or cause to be concerned?
    I just have a gut feeling where without say mining asteroids or the moon, (moon's lesser gravity well to contend with is a plus), by way of eliminating the gravity well penalty of earth, now we are adding to the total equation, there then we create a positive sum game, and at least part and pieces of humans in space are self sustaining. Assuring being off earth as a viable, mind you this is about the long range scope of things.
    There is the prospect of asteroid mining which seems to me at least to have high potential, how it is speculated some asteroids originate from the primordial core of an early forming planet, which by rights could be extremely rich in metals and rare earths, then there is the icy asteroids made of water ice possibly other frozen gaseous compounds and elements.

  3. Going to be a spectacular feat launching a fully loaded to the gills SH. The thrust numbers involved, just the raw unbridled energy to get that beast the first inch and keep it aimed, off it's OLM, are difficult to equate with any present norms. Even now it almost does not look real there is nothing to mentally gauge it by, no visual references.