Get daily insights on the most important news impacting the space economy
Join thousands of space leaders today.
Payload Mobile
Payload - we cover the business and policy of space

Good morning, and happy Friday.

It looks like Pete Davidson won’t be heading to space after all, now that his Blue Origin flight has been pushed back almost a week. We’re wondering what the schedule conflict could be.

In today’s newsletter…
🌎 ExoMars gets stranded
🌠 Geek out: asteroid tracking

Was this email forwarded to you? Sign up here.

  ESA Votes to Suspend Roscosmos Partnerships

It’s officially official for ExoMars: The ESA’s Mars rover mission will not fly this year.

Yesterday, ESA’s member states voted unanimously to suspend all operations with Roscosmos, the Russian space agency. In response to heavy sanctions, Roscosmos announced Feb. 26 that it would nix future Soyuz launches from French Guiana and pull staff from the spaceport. Now, ExoMars and several other ESA missions that would have flown on Soyuz are left to find another ride to space.

ExoMars: ESA’s Mars rover mission has been in the works since 2001. The mission consists of two components: 

  1. The Trace Gas Orbiter, which has been orbiting Mars and studying its atmosphere since 2016. The orbiter will also act as a communication relay for…
  2. …Rosalind Franklin, a rover on a mission to find out whether there has ever been life on Mars.

The ExoMars rover was originally meant to launch in 2020, but pandemic complications down on Earth and concerns that the mission’s parachute system wouldn’t be ready in time delayed the launch to Sep. 2022. 

Now, it’s being delayed again. Because scientists need to wait for Earth and Mars to be aligned properly in order to launch anything to the Red Planet, there are about 26 months in between launch windows. The earliest possible launch for ExoMars, then, would be in late 2024. 

  • ESA Director of Human and Robotic Exploration David Parker said at an ESA Council briefing that 2024 is only likely if the agency can mend its relationship with Roscosmos. Otherwise, the agency is looking at a 2026 or 2028 launch.

Other effects: ExoMars isn’t the only ESA mission planned to launch aboard a Soyuz in the near future. A few sets of Galileo navigation satellites, the EarthCare mission with JAXA, and ESA’s Euclid space telescope were all set to launch on Soyuz by 2023. The agency must now find a new ride for these missions.

What now? There’s an extraordinary ESA Council meeting planned for mid-April, where the member states will discuss alternative launch solutions and European reliance on Russian components.

In Other News

  • Poland’s space agency (POLSA) and Virgin Orbit (Nasdaq:VORB) signed an agreement to explore bringing domestic launch capabilities to Eastern Europe. 
  • 13 Colorado space companies signed a letter to Sens. John Hickenlooper (D-CO)and Michael Bennet (D-CO), advocating to permanently keep US Space Command in the state. 
  • Eugene Parker, a trailblazing astrophysicist and the Parker Solar Probe’s namesake, passed away Tuesday at the age of 94. 
  • Axiom shared additional details about the research planned for the upcoming Ax-1 all-private ISS mission. 
  • NASA rolled SLS to the launch pad for the first time.
  • Astra postponed releasing its FY21 and Q4 financial results by two weeks. The company says it had $325M in cash at the end of 2021.

  Geek Out: Asteroid Tracking

Last week, an asteroid struck the Earth. And for only the fifth time ever, an astronomer found it—and tracked it—before it hit our planet.

There are constantly asteroids on a collision course with Earth. Most of these are small, and they burn up upon entering the Earth’s atmosphere. Big ones, like the one that killed the dinosaurs 66 million years ago, are more easily trackable. Potentially hazardous asteroids are tracked through NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office, and there’s no known objects over 140m in diameter on track to hit Earth in the next hundred years. (Phew.) 

Smaller asteroids, though, are harder to find. The first time an asteroid was discovered before landing was in 2008, when an astronomer at the Catalina Sky Survey discovered one 19 hours before impact. Three others, in 2014, 2018, and 2019, have been tracked before entering the atmosphere.

Asteroid 2022 EB5: Astronomer Krisztián Sárneczky was combing the sky using a 60cm telescope from Piszkéstető Observatory in Hungary when he noticed a small object moving quickly through the sky. The object’s rapid acceleration caught his interest, and he zoned in on the object, taking shorter exposures. Sárneczky reported his finding to the asteroid community. Less than two hours later, the asteroid entered the atmosphere.

The asteroid he found is called 2022 EB5. It was probably around 10 feet in diameter, and it fell to Earth in the Norwegian Sea north of Iceland. It is most likely the smallest asteroid out of the five that have been tracked before landing—about half the size of a giraffe, as the Daily Mail put it, for some reason.

Why is it so hard to find asteroids? The simple answer is that they are small, and the sky is big. It’s impossible with our current technology to track every small rock that comes near our planet. The smaller the object, the dimmer it appears in readings, and the harder it is to identify. It’s really a case of being in the right place at the right time and knowing exactly what to look for. 

Do your part: If you see a fireball, you can report it to the International Meteor Organization to help scientists keep track of asteroid impacts. 

The View form Space

NASA has finished aligning JWST’s primary imager. Image: NASA