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Happy Friday…Now that we’re closing out Week 1 of Payload as a daily newsletter, we’d love to hear your thoughts. Remember that you can always hit reply and drop us a line. 

Launch 37 Is In the Books…#38 Is on Deck

Photo: CNS

Yesterday, China successfully launched a Long March 2D rocket to orbit, carrying the H-alpha Solar Explorer and 10 additional small satellites. H-alpha is China’s debut solar observatory, SpaceNews reports. The telescope-equipped spacecraft is headed for 517-KM, sun-synchronous orbit.  

The mission was China’s 37th orbital launch of 2021. 

Next up: Shenzhou 13. Hours after this hits your inbox, China is set to launch the second crewed mission to the Tiangong space station. Astronauts Zhai Zhigang, Wang Yaping, and Ye Guangfu will stay at Tiangong (‘Heavenly Palace’) for six months. Wang will be the first female astronaut to visit Tiangong, per SCMP, and conduct a spacewalk. 

According to the China Manned Space Agency, the crew’s to-do list includes spacewalks, robotic arm tests, spacesuit evaluation, and scientific experiments. The astronauts will also prep the still-under-construction station for the forthcoming addition of the Wentian and Mengtian lab modules. 

Milestones to watch: China conducted 39 launches in 2020. The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation set a goal to pass 40 launches this year, as Ars Technica notes. The country is pacing to cruise past that number. Finally, one more benchmark to note: the Long March rocket family is approaching 400 total launches. 

And now for the latest from the land of space refueling…

Interesting trademark you got there. Photo: Orbit Fab

Orbit Fab and the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) have struck a partnership to share technology and R&D. What does that mean in practice? 

Per yesterday’s announcement, Orbit Fab will share the specs of RAFTI, its on-orbit refueling port, with AFRL. In return, AFRL will review Orbit Fab’s refueling tech, “advise on requirements and designs,” and open up its facilities to the startup. 

  • Equal parts petrochemical company, gas station developer, and in-space service provider, Orbit Fab has already sent a sub-100 lb. propellant depot to low-Earth orbit (LEO). 
  • A Falcon 9 will hoist a much heavier Orbit Fab tanker into geostationary (GEO) orbit in late 2022/early 2023.

Who’s interested? Northup Grumman and Lockheed Martin participated in Orbit Fab’s September $10M raise. The company’s prospective customer base seems to be concentrated in the US defense and intelligence communities, which have expensive assets in higher orbits. 

Should everything go to plan, Orbit Fab wants to also top off the gas tank for commercial vehicles, too, whether it’s an asteroid-bound miner or LEO satellite low on thruster juice. 


Firefly Aerospace provides cost-effective, convenient access to space for both full-vehicle and ride-share missions. Firefly’s Alpha launch vehicle is capable of delivering 1,000 kg to LEO and 630 kg to 500 km SSO. Email [email protected] to discuss your mission!

In Other News

  • Virgin Galactic is delaying commercial spaceflight to Q4 2022. Virgin’s stock fell by more than 14% in after-hours trading. 
  • Prince William criticized private space tourism, saying the world’s greatest minds should focus on “trying to repair the planet, not trying to find the next place to go and live.”
  • ULA’s Atlas V rocket and Lucy, its NASA payload, have rolled out to the launch pad, in advance of a Saturday liftoff. Next stop: Trojan asteroids. 
  • Elon congratulated Blue Origin on the NS-18 flight via tweet, adding that it “was cool to send @WilliamShatner to space.” Agreed.
  • Seraphim announced the next cohort of its “space camp” accelerator. 

Every is a writer collective offering a bundle of business-focused newsletters. We’re big fans of Napkin Math, the Every publication by Evan Armstrong that features data-driven business analysis. We’re happy to have co-authored an essay in Napkin Math with Evan: “Who is Making Money in Space?” Read it here.

The View From Houston

Axiom offered a sneak peek into the module manufacturing work underway at its Houston HQ. This week, the space infrastructure company said it’s completed 1) preliminary design review of the first two Axiom Station modules and 2) critical design review of the primary structure.