It’s time to highlight another week of storytelling in Voice by the staff and volunteers at the Seanchai Library – and this week previews the launch of a very special event.
As always, all times SLT, and events are held at the Library’s home in Nowhereville, unless otherwise indicated. Note that the schedule below may be subject to change during the week, please refer to the Seanchai Library website for the latest information through the week.
Monday, November 7th: That Hell-Bound Train
Martin, an out-of-luck orphan, struggles to fulfil the American dream – but fate conspires against him at every turn.
On the verge of giving up hope, our young protagonist is visited by a monstrous train, one whose conductor might just have a ticket to fame and riches… if Martin is willing to pay the price!
Join Gyro Muggins as he reads this classic short story.
China has completed all major construction activities with its Tiangong space station following the arrival of the ~20 tonne Mengtian laboratory module at the station. Launched at 07:37 UTC on Monday, 31st October, 2022, the module arrived at the space station 13 hours later, completing an automated docking with the axial port on the station’s docking hub, the docking overseen by the current crew on three on the station – Chen Dong, Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe.
Following this, on November 3rd, ground personnel used the docking manipulator on the module to literally grapple itself around to the hub’s portside docking ring. once a hard dock and pressurisation of the inter-module area had been confirmed, the hatches were undogged and the crew entered the module to commence preparing it for operations.
Next up for the station is the flight of the Tianzhou 5 automated resupply vehicle, due to launch on a Long March 7 rocket on November 12th. This will deliver additional supplies to the station ahead of the handover of the station from the Tianzhou 14 crew to the Tianzhou 15 crew, which is due to take place before the end of 2022.
This was not the end of the story for this launch however; on Friday, November 4th, the core stage of the Long March 5B rocket made an uncontrolled re-entry into the atmosphere. As I noted in my previous Space Sunday update, China has cavalier attitude towards large parts of its Long March core stages surviving re-entry to potentially fall on a populated area. In this case, the final track of the booster core saw it passing over numerous population centres in southern Europe and the Middle East, including Lisbon in Portugal, Barcelona and Madrid in Spain, Marseille in France, and Rome in Italy. As a result, emergency services were on alert, and an air safety notice was issued, closing EU airspace along the track of booster against the risk of smaller debris striking airliners and cargo aircraft.
Tracked by the US Space Force and EU Space Surveillance and Tracking (EUSST), the booster eventually re-entered the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean, the remnants falling into the seas there without incident. The re-entry of this vehicle means the core stages of the Long March 5B account for 4 of the six largest objects making uncontrolled re-entries; only the U.S Skylab (1979; ~77 tonnes) and the Soviet Union’s Salyut 7 (1991; ~40 tonnes), are the only higher mass events.
Artemis 1 Back on the Pad; Artemis 4 Regains Lunar Landing
NASA’s Artemis 1 mission, featuring the first launch of the space agency’s massive Space Launch System (SLS) rocket has returned to the launch pad at Kennedy Space Centre.
The vehicle, which is due to launch an uncrewed Orion vehicle to cislunar space, has seen numerous issues and delays in making its maiden flight, and was most recently held-up by the arrival of hurricane / tropical storm Ian in late September. The roll-out to Launch Complex 39B on November 4th marked the fourth (and hopefully last) trip back to the pad, departing the Vehicle Assembly Building at 04:00 UTC, and reaching the pad 8.5 hours later. Following arrival, work immediately began integrating the mobile launch platform on which the vehicle sits into the the pad systems in readiness for the next launch attempt.
If all goes according to plan, the rocket will lift-off on Monday, November 14th, at the start of an extended 39-day mission which will see the Orion vehicle and its service module spend some 15-16 days in a distant retrograde orbit (DRO) around the Moon before returning to Earth, with the uncrewed capsule splashing down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California. Providing no significant issues are encountered, the mission will pave the way for a second such flight in 2024/25- Artemis 2 – carrying a crew. Then in 2027, Artemis 3 should undertake the first crewed landing on the Moon since the Apollo missions of the late 1960s / early 1970s.
in addition, NASA announced that Artemis 4 – the third crewed flight of an SLS vehicle to the vicinity of the Moon – will now include a lunar landing, marking a reversal to plans announced earlier in 2022. Under those plans, Artemis 4 was going to be a mission focused solely on the construction of the new Lunar Gateway station, due to be placed in a cislunar halo orbit in support of lunar landings. This was to allow time for NASA to switch away from using the SpaceX Starship-derived lander vehicle of Artemis 3 with lander craft to be supplied under the Sustaining Lunar Development (SLD) programme.
However, NASA also has a so-called “Option B” in its contract with SpaceX that specifies the latter to develop and supply – funded by NASA – an enhanced version of the Starship lander, and it is believed that this option has now been exercised to enable a crew landing on the Moon with Artemis 4, which will still use the upgraded Block 1B version of SLS to deliver a crewed Orion vehicle and the Gateway station’s habitation module to lunar orbit in 2027.
In the meantime, Dynetics, one of the two contenders for the original Human Landing System (HLS) contract, has indicated it may well pursue the SLD contract, whilst Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman – the three main contractors in the so-called “National Team” and third contender for the original HLS contract – have indicated they will each independently pursue SLD contracts, with Lockheed Martin examining the use of nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) in it vehicle architecture, seeing NTP as a key element for future human exploration of Mars.
Starliner Will Not Fly to ISS Until 2023
The first crewed flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner to the International Space Station (ISS) has been further delayed to April 2023. However, the delay this time is not due to technical issues with vehicle, but rather to “deconflict” multiple planned arrivals at the station.
After a series of extended delays, Starliner finally completed an uncrewed flight to the ISS in May 2022, the second attempt at such a flight after software issues with the original December 2019 mission left the vehicle unable to achieve a rendezvous with the station.
Whilst this second uncrewed flight was a success, there were a number of minor issues which meant the hoped-for December 2022 crewed flight to the ISS – called the Crewed Flight Test-1 (CFT-1) – had to be delayed until February 2023. However with a another crewed flight using a SpaceX dragon vehicle and a further resupply mission both due to reach the station in February 2023, the decision has been taken to slip the Boeing flight and reduce the volume of traffic arriving at the ISS in a relatively short time span.