The Weekly Space Recap: September 3 – September 9, 2023

SpaceX Breaks Another Record – September 3, 2023

spacex record breaking launch
Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX has achieved a remarkable milestone by conducting its 62nd orbital mission of the year, breaking its previous record of 61 missions in 2022.

This achievement was marked by the successful launch of 21 Starlink internet satellites atop a Falcon 9 rocket from NASA‘s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The Falcon 9’s first stage executed a planned return to Earth, making its 10th successful landing on the drone ship “Just Read the Instructions” in the Atlantic Ocean.

The upper stage of the rocket is scheduled to deploy the 21 Starlink satellites into low Earth orbit.

In addition to this launch record, SpaceX also had a significant event on the same day, with the return of the four astronauts from its Crew-6 mission, who had been aboard the International Space Station since March.

The Crew Dragon capsule “Endeavour” departed the ISS and is set to splash down off the coast of Florida, marking another achievement for the company in its continued efforts to advance spaceflight capabilities.

NASA’s Perseverance Rover Finishes Oxygen Creation Experiment – September 6, 2023

On September 6, NASA reported the details of the Perseverance Rover’s experiment.

NASA’s MOXIE successfully completed its mission on Mars by generating a total of 122 grams of oxygen, which is twice as much as originally expected.

MOXIE, a toaster-sized device, demonstrated its capability to produce oxygen on Mars, a significant advancement for future human missions to the Red Planet.

The device operated at its most efficient rate, producing 12 grams of oxygen per hour with a purity of over 98%, making it a promising technology for supporting human exploration of Mars.

The significance of producing oxygen on Mars lies in its importance for sustaining astronauts during their missions and as a crucial component of rocket fuel.

Carrying oxygen from Earth is impractical due to its weight, making on-site production essential for future missions.

The success of MOXIE brings humanity one step closer to realizing the dream of living and working on Mars, while also having the potential to benefit lunar missions by enabling resource utilization on the Moon.

NASA plans to develop a full-scale system that includes oxygen storage and liquefaction, further advancing this technology for future missions beyond Mars.

Virgin Galactic is Blasting off – September 8, 2023

Virgin Galactic has successfully completed its third commercial spaceflight, named Galactic 03, sending three of its earliest ticket holders to suborbital space from Spaceport America in New Mexico.

The flight began with the VSS Unity spaceplane launching beneath the carrier craft VMS Eve. Unity was released at an altitude of 44,867 feet, allowing it to ascend to suborbital space.

The passengers on this mission, who had purchased their tickets as early as 2005, included investor Ken Baxter from the US, investor Timothy Nash from South Africa, and Adrian Reynard, the founder of Reynard Motorsport from the UK.

They experienced a few minutes of weightlessness and a view of Earth against the backdrop of space before Unity safely landed back at Spaceport America.

This successful mission marks Virgin Galactic’s 14th, 15th, and 16th astronauts and signifies the company’s commitment to expanding its commercial space tourism operations.

Virgin Galactic aims to continue launching Unity approximately once a month and plans to introduce its new “Delta class” spaceplanes in 2026, capable of flying once a week.

Virgin Galactic’s main competitor in suborbital tourism, Blue Origin, has not conducted any flights for nearly a year following an anomaly during an uncrewed research flight in September 2022.

FAA Finishes Investigation on SpaceX Starship – September 8, 2023

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has concluded its investigation into SpaceX’s Starship debut flight that ended in failure in April.

The investigation, led by SpaceX with FAA oversight, identified “multiple root causes” of the launch failure and outlined 63 corrective actions that SpaceX must take to prevent similar mishaps.

These findings are a significant step toward the second-ever Starship test flight, but the FAA emphasized that it doesn’t clear the path entirely.

The investigation’s closure doesn’t signal an immediate resumption of Starship launches in Boca Chica, Texas.

SpaceX must implement all safety-related corrective actions and obtain a license modification from the FAA that addresses safety, environmental, and other regulatory requirements before the next Starship launch.

SpaceX’s Starship is a massive and powerful launch vehicle, consisting of two fully reusable elements: the Super Heavy first-stage booster and the Starship upper stage.

The April 20 flight aimed to send the Ship 24 upper-stage prototype partway around Earth but faced issues, including the failure of the two stages to separate, leading to the vehicle’s destruction.

The corrective actions include hardware redesigns, launch pad improvements, additional reviews, and more testing of safety-critical systems.

SpaceX has already implemented many of these upgrades, including the adoption of “hot staging,” where the upper stage ignites its engines before full separation.

Other measures involve fortifying the launch pad and infrastructure to handle the immense power of the Super Heavy rocket.

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