More debris (11/15/21 Newsletter)

To: Payload Subscribers

November 15, 2021

Good morning. On this day in 1988, the Buran spaceplane flew its first (and only) uncrewed spaceflight. The Buran, which you can see at the bottom of the newsletter, was the Soviets’ answer to NASA’s Space Shuttle. 

In today’s newsletter…
🚨 ISS debris encounter
📝 Space agreement
📅 A busy week ahead

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 Too Close for Comfort

Image: NASA

The ISS is returning to a normal configuration after two close passes with space debris, and crew initiated “safe haven” protocols. Under these procedures, astronauts treat vehicles as “lifeboats” and prepare for the possibility of an emergency departure. 

  • “In order to dodge the ‘space junk’, specialists…have calculated how to correct the orbit of the International Space Station,” Roscosmos said. 

Early in the morning, astronauts took refuge on two spaceships docked with the ISS after close projected space debris flybys. The astronauts took the measure and prepared for a potential hazardous collision between “debris field,” “debris cloud,” and the ISS. 

  • Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov and US astronaut Mark Vande Hei boarded the Soyuz MS-19, while NASA’s Raja Chari, Thomas Marshburn, Kayla Barron and ESA’s Matthias Maurer boarded Crew Dragon.
  • Additional info on the debris’ origin isn’t known at the moment. 

More details (as of 9AM EST): According to TASS, NASA and Roscsomos expected space debris to fly past the ISS at 10:06 AM Moscow time (1:06 AM in Houston), and again from 11:38–11:44 AM (2:38–2:44 AM CST).

Russian and American sources told CBS that “more encounters may be possible.” And though crews are back inside the ISS—and hatches between segments are open—some modules are still sealed off as a precaution, per CBS’s William Harwood. 

Big picture: Last week, we saw a similar incident and ISS avoidance maneuver. The problem of hazardous debris is getting worse, we wrote then, increasing the risk of a collision and frequency of ISS maneuvers. We didn’t realize just how soon we’d be writing the same type of story again. 


 A New Type of Net Zero

Ten space companies and organizations signed the Net Zero Space Declaration last week at the fourth Paris Peace Forum. The initiative’s signatories will report annually on progress (or lack thereof) toward reducing the proliferation of hazardous space debris. 

  • Who? Arianespace, Astroscale, CGSTL/Chang Guang Satellite, CNES, EU SST, Eutelsat, International Institute of Air and Space Law, Isispace, Planet, Share my Space, and SpaceAble. Signatories hail from industry, civil society, governments, universities and more.
  • What? The declaration calls on space actors to achieve “sustainable use of outer space for the benefit of all humankind.”
  • When? By 2030.

The declaration has both forward-looking and reactive components to reducing “ongoing pollution of Earth’s orbital environment,” by:

  1. “Avoiding the further generation of hazardous space debris,” and… 
  2. …“Remediating existing hazardous space debris.” 

+ ICYMI: We recently interviewed astrodynamicist and space environmentalist Moriba Jah on how to better manage on-orbit resources.


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In Other News

  • Glen de Vries, a 49-year-old medical research entrepreneur who flew to space with Blue Origin last month, tragically passed away in a plane crash on Thursday. Our thoughts are with his family.
  • SpaceX launched 53 Starlink satellites to orbit aboard a Falcon 9 rocket on Saturday. SpaceX also conducted a static fire test with all six engines on the Starship SN20, which could be the first Starship to reach orbit.
  • The U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame added three new inductees in a Saturday ceremony: Michael E. Lopez-Alegria, Pamela A. Melroy, and Scott Kelly.
  • Morpheus, a German startup, unveiled the SPHERE, a new suite of propulsion products meant to work in tandem to assist constellation operators.

The Week Ahead 

Today: Rocket Lab (NASDAQ:RKLB) and AST SpaceMobile (NASDAQ:ASTS) announce Q3 results after the bell. 

Tuesday:

  • The Space Tech Expo Europe begins in Bremen, Germany and runs through Thursday.
  • Arianespace is launching a French military intelligence system called CERES, consisting of three satellites in formation, to orbit aboard its Vega rocket.
  • John Hopkins hosts the 2nd annual Cislunar Security Conference, which will run through Thursday. 

Wednesday:

  • At 6 PM EST, Elon Musk will provide a Starship program update at a National Academies open session
  • Rocket Lab is planning to launch their “Love at First Insight” mission, sending two BlackSky EO satellites to orbit.
  • NASA will host a news conference to go over the details of an upcoming spacewalk from the ISS on November 30.
  • The 6th annual ORF Kalpana Chawla Annual Space Policy Dialogue begins. The dialogue will be hosted virtually, continuing until Friday

Thursday:

  • Planet is hosting a Virtual Investor Day ahead of its anticipated public offering via SPAC.
  • The Atlantic Council is hosting an event from 3–5 EST to discuss “the state of the space industrial base 2021,” a recently published report from the think tank. 

The View from 1988

Image: TASS

The Buran mission represented the first uncrewed spaceplane venture and first automated landing. Despite its successful maiden flight, the spaceplane was scuttled after the Soviet Union dissolved.