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Jonathan's Space Report
No. 831                                                          2024 Mar 25   Somerville, MA

Chandra X-ray Observatory

NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory was launched in 1999. In a hair-raising
event-filled launch on Space Shuttle Columbia flight STS-93, Eileen
Collins and her crew risked their lives to deploy this ground-breaking
scientific instrument. Since then Chandra has provided a series of
scientific discoveries, notably (in combo with optical weak lensing
measurements) the best evidence for the reality of dark matter. Demand
for the observatory remains high and the rate of scientific publications
from it continues steady. Engineers expect Chandra is capable of
continuing to operate effectively for up to another decade, although
thermal insulation issues have complicated mission planning (requiring a
1% increase in the operating budget to keep everything healthy, rather
than a small budget decrease that might otherwise have been possible).
Chandra is considered by the astronomy community as one of the most
scientifically effective missions per dollar.

Nevertheless, NASA has decided that Chandra should be shut down to
address the overall budget cuts faced by the agency. Although the
official FY2025 President's Budget Request language says the proposed
reductions are for a 'minimum mission', the reality is that reducing the
annual budget of $60M in FY2023 to $41M in FY2025 and $27M in FY2026
means shutting down the mission and firing most of the staff. (Conflict
of interest disclaimer: I am one of those staff.) The remaining money
would be used for wrapping up the archive and so forth - the public data
archive is used repeatedly for lots of additional science papers.

This decision is not yet final, since the president's budget is followed
by revisions made by Congress before it is enacted. Nevertheless at the
moment that is the plan, and it would mean that scientists using Hubble
and JWST to observe the cold parts of the universe  would no longer be
able to complement those observations with similarly sharp images of the
hot parts of the universe in the X-ray. [Note: for us X-ray astronomers,
"cold" means "less than a million degrees"].  For example, perhaps you
see a glowing gas cloud in JWST, but without the Chandra data you can't
see the compact binary star that is responsible for pumping energy into
that cloud. So, shutting down Chandra would mean that HST and JWST would
also be less scientifically effective.

No replacement for Chandra is in the works anywhere in the world.
China's Einstein Probe (just launched), the Japan-US XRISM mission
(recently operational), Europe's XMM-Newton and its proposed (but also
budgetarily threatened) replacement Athena are fantastic X-ray
observatories but none of them can take the sharp images that can be
used for comparisons with HST and JWST. The plan implies a gap in
astronomy's capability for a generation or more, and the end of a US
dominance in X-ray astronomy that has for the most part lasted since the
discovery of Sco X-1 in 1962. 

See the Chandra director's letter to the community at

International Space Station

Expedition 70 continues. 

Dragon Crew-8 was launched on Mar 4 with M. Dominick, M. Barratt, J. Epps and A. Grebyonkin.
It docked with IDA-2 at 0728 UTC Mar 5.

On Mar 10 A. Mogensen transferred command of Expedition 70 to Oleg Kononenko.

Crew-7 undocked from IDA-3 at 1520 UTC Mar 11 with J. Moghbeli, A. Mogensen, S. Furukawa and
K. Borisov. It splashed down in the Pensacola recovery area (87.5W 29.8N) at 0947 UTC Mar 12.

On Mar 14 at 1311 UTC Progress MS-26 raised the ISS orbit with a 1097s burn of 1.6m/s.

Cargo Dragon CRS-30 was launched on Mar 21. It carries a spare Pump Module in its trunk,
and at least seven cubesats. CRS-30 docked with the ISS at the IDA-3 port on Harmony zenith
at 1119 UTC Mar 23.

Soyuz MS-25 was launched on Mar 23 at 1236 UTC.
Crew are Oleg Novitskiy of Roskosmos (Komandir; space traveller 535),
Tracy Caldwell Dyson of NASA (Bortinzhener/flight engineer, 467) and Marina Vasilevskaya of Belarus (Uchastnik
Kosmicheskaya Poleta/spaceflight participant, 685).
Soyuz MS-25  docked with the Prichal module on Mar 25 at 1502:50 UTC.
The third stage of the Soyuz-2-1a rocket that launched it made an uncontrolled reentry
over Novy Urgal in the Russian far east at 1019 UTC Mar 25.

Chinese Space Station

Astronauts Tang H. and Jiang made the second spacewalk of their ZR6 expedition on Mar 1.
The spacewalk lasted about 8 hours and the hatch was open from around 2130 UTC Mar 1 
to 0532 UTC Mar 2.


The third Starship flight test was launched from Starbase (Boca Chica, Texas) at 1325 UTC Mar 14
using Booster 10 and Ship 28. Booster and Ship successfully separated at T+2:49 at an altitude
of 72 km.  Booster reached an apogee of 106 km and made a controlled flight down to an
altitude of 1 km before attempting to restart engines for a soft-water-impact landing burn.
However the engines did not successfully restart and the booster was lost at this point.

Ship continued ascent to targeted engine cutoff at T+8:35 at an altitude of 150 km,
reaching an orbit of -50 x 234 km x 26.5 deg. Apogee of 234 km was reached at 1350 UTC
over the mid-Atlantic Ocean. A Raptor restart had been planned around 1406 UTC over
Namibia, which would have been prograde and raised perigee to around +50 km. However
this did not occur. Entry began around 1411 UTC southeast of Madagascar and at T+49:35,
1414:35 UTC, contact was lost with the vehicle at an altitude of 65 km, probably near 70E 26S.
It seems likely that Ship broke up and was destroyed at that point.

The Ship flight was not fully in orbit and so did not receive a US Space Force catalog number
or an international launch designation. I have assigned it a 'U' launch designation 2024-U01 in my
system, denoting a launch that was 'not quite orbital in an interesting way'.  A full
list of the 'U' designations is at

Starlink launches

Starlink Group 6-41 (23 sats) was launched from Canaveral on Mar 4.
Starlink Group 6-43 (23 sats) was launched from Canaveral on Mar 10.
Starlink Group 7-17 (23 sats) was launched from Canaveral on Mar 11.
Starlink Group 6-44 (23 sats) was launched from Kennedy on Mar 16.
Starlink Group 7-16 (20 sats) was launched from Vandenberg on Mar 19.
Starlink Group 6-42 (23 sats) was launched from Kennedy on Mar 24.

Note: because the initial SpaceX web page for the 7-16 launch said 22 sats, some suggested
two secret sats are on the same launch. I was not initially convinced, but the cataloging
of USA 352 suggests that USA 350 and USA 351 were launched recently - likely two Starshield
military Starlinks on this launch. The situation is still unclear as none of the objects
from the launch have yet been cataloged by Space Force.


SpaceX launched the Transporter-10 rideshare mission from Vandenberg on Mar 4.

The payloads are:
 Imaging:  Rose (Aerospacelab, Belgium);  HORACIO (Satlantis, Spain);  GHOST-4, 5  (Orbital Sidekick, US);
   Hammer (Open Cosmos, UK); NewSat-44 (Satellogic, Uruguay/Argentina); PYXIS (Axelspace, Japan);
   RROCI-2 (Orion Space/USSF, US);  Musat-2 (Muon Space, US)
 Radar Imaging:   ICEYE-X36 X37 X38 (Iceye, Finland/US)

 Sigint:  Loulou, Riri, Fifi (Aerospacelab, Belgium);  BRO-12, BRO-13 (Unseen Labs, France)

 Other remote sensing:  AEROS/MH-1 (CEIIA, Portugal); Lemur-2 x 2 (Spire, US); Veery-0E  (Care Weather, US); 
  MethaneSat (EDF, US)

 Comms:  Hubble 1,2  (Spire/Hubble Networks, US); TIGER-7, 8  (OQ Tech, Luxembourg);  OWL-1,2  (Ondo Space, Mongolia);
  IRIS-F1 (Satoro Space and NCKU, Taiwan);   Lynk Tower 5,6 (Lynk, US)

 Tugs:  Optimus-2 (Space Machines, Australia)
 Prox ops tests  Jackal X-1L-001/002 (True Anomaly, US);  Quark/Gluon  (Atomos Space, US);  
  Pacific Lace A, B (NIWC-P, US);  PY4 SV1 to SV4  (NASA Ames, US);  Pony Express 2 SV1, SV2 
  (Terran Orbital/Lockheed, US)

 SSA payloads:  Sentry/Scout-1, (Quantum Space, US )

 Other technology verification:  SONATE-2 (U Wurzburg, Germany);  M3 (Missouri U.ST, US)  

 Misc hosted payloads  YAM-6 (Loft Orbital, US);  LizzieSat-1 (Sidus Space, US);  Aries 1 (Apex Space, US);
  OrbAstro-TR2 (Orb.Astro, UK)


The Exotrail Spacevan tug, launched on Transporter-9 last year, ejected a 8U cubesat (EXO-1) on Feb 28.


The Strix-3 radar satellite for the Japanese company Synspective was launched on Mar 12 by Rocket Lab's
Electron from New Zealand.


On Mar 13 China launched two experimental spacecraft from Xichang on a CZ-2C/YZ-1S. The
spacecraft were intended to test out lunar direct retrograde orbit
navigation - presumably similar to the US CAPSTONE mission. However the YZ-1S upper stage failed
to complete its burn Two objects have been cataloged in low orbit. One is the CZ-2C second stage. The other
is likely a separation motor cover (four of these are often seen on CZ-2 class launches).
A third object, object A, is presumably the YZ-1S stage, and is in a highly
elliptical orbit with an apogee of around 132600 km. (The satellite catalog page on Space-Track
shows an orbit of 1164 x 246391 km, but no corresponding TLE has been released)
It is possible that the DRO-A and DRO-B craft are still attached to object A, or that they have
not yet been tracked.

It is now clear that the DRO-L satellite launched by JL-3 in February is part of the same
program and was intended to test comms between the lunar bound DRO-A/B and the DRO-L in LEO.


SpaceOne's KAIROS solid-propellant  rocket made the inaugural launch
from Kii Spaceport in Wakayama province, Japan, on Mar 13, but was
destroyed 5 seconds into flight. It carried a test satellite for the
Japanese government's rapid-replacement spy satellite project.


On Mar 20 China launched a CZ-8 from Wenchang to place the 1200 kg Queqiao-2 relay satellite in a translunar orbit.
Two small technology spacecraft, the 61 kg Tiandu-1 and the 15-kg Tiandu-2, were also launched.
QQ2 will serve as a relay satellite for upcoming Chinese lunar farside missions.

On Mar 24 at 1646 UTC QQ2 made a 19 min lunar orbit insertion
burn into elliptical lunar orbit with 440 km perilune.

On Mar 24 at 1732 UTC Tiandu-1/2, still attached to each other,
made an 11 min lunar orbit insertion burn to orbit with
209 km perilune.

SAST launches

SAST launched a CZ-2D/YZ-3 on Mar 21 and placed six Yunhai-2 satellites in orbit.
Three were placed in a 480 km orbit and three in a 1135 km orbit. The satellites are expected
to converge on an intermediate altitude orbit after some months of plane drift.
The CZ-2D second stage remains in a low parking orbit. The YZ-3 upper stage appears to have been deorbited.


Rocket Lab launched an Electron from Virginia on Mar 21 placing four US military payloads in a 48 degree
inclination low Earth orbit:
the classified USA 352 for the NRO, the Mola 6U cubesat for the Naval Postgrad School, and
the Aerocube 16A/16B 6U cubesats for the Aerospace Corporation.

Table of Recent Orbital Launches

Date UT       Name			     Launch Vehicle	 Site		 Mission  INTL.  Catalog  Perigee Apogee  Incl	 Notes
Feb 17 0022   VEP-4                             H3 22S                    Tanegashima Y2    Tech    32   664 x 670 x 98.1
              CE-SAT-1E                                                                    Imaging  32A?
              TIRSAT                                                                        Tech    32B?
Feb 17 1205   INSAT-3DS                         GSLV Mk II                Satish Dhawan SLP Meteo   33A  158 x 38264 x 19.5
Feb 18 1452   ADRAS-J                           Electron                  Mahia LC1B        Tech    34A  533 x 597 x 98.2
Feb 20 2011   Merah Putih 2                     Falcon 9                  Canaveral LC40    Comms   35A  316 x 54924 x 20.8
Feb 23 0411   Starlink Group 7-15               Falcon 9                 Vandenberg SLC4E  Comms    36   284 x 294 x 53.2
Feb 23 1130   TJS 11                            Chang Zheng 5            Wenchang          Sigint?  37A  218 x 35800 x 16.5
Feb 25 2206   Starlink Group 6-39               Falcon 9                 Canaveral         Comms    38   273 x 283 x 43.1
Feb 28        EXO-0                                                    Spacevan-001, LEO   Tech  23174DK 513 x 529 x 97.5
Feb 29 0543   Meteor-M No. 2-4                  Soyuz-2-1B/Fregat        Vostochniy        Weather  39A  812 x 824 x 98.6
              Pars-1                                                                       Imaging  39B? 486 x 511 x 97.4
              Marafon-D GVM                                                                Tech     39V? 731 x 751 x 89.0
              Zorkiy-2M No. 2                                                              Imaging  39C? 486 x 511 x 97.4
              SITRO-AIS-29 to 36                                                           Comms    39   486 x 511 x 97.4
              SITRO-AIS-49 to 52                                                           Comms    39   486 x 511 x 97.4
              SITRO-AIS-25 to 28                                                           Comms    39   503 x 747 x 95.4
Feb 29 1303   HWGGW 01                          Chang Zheng 3B            Xichang          Comms    40A 236 x 35830 x 27.7
Feb 29 1530   Starlink Group 6-40               Falcon 9                 Canaveral         Comms    41A  273 x 283 x 43.1
Mar  4 0353   Dragon Crew-8                     Falcon 9                 Kennedy LC39A    Spaceship 42A 191 x 215 x 51.6
Mar  4 2205   Transporter-10                    Falcon 9                 Vandenberg SLC4E  Rideshare 43  508 x 529 x 97.5
Mar  4 2356   Starlink Group 6-41               Falcon 9                 Canaveral         Comms    44   273 x 283 x 43.1
Mar 10 2305   Starlink Group 6-43               Falcon 9                 Canaveral         Comms    45   273 x 283 x 43.1
Mar 11 0409   Starlink Group 7-17               Falcon 9                 Vandenberg SLC4E  Comms    46   284 x 294 x 53.2
Mar 12 1503   Strix 3                           Electron                 Mahia LC1B        Radar    47A  553 x 579 x 97.6
Mar 13 0201   KAIROS TUGKE                      KAIROS                   Kii               Imaging  F01  -6378 x 0 x 97
Mar 13 1251   DRO-A/DRO-B                       Chang Zheng 2C/YZ-1S     Xichang           Lunar    48A  525 x 132577 x 27.7
Mar 14 1325   Starship 28                       Starship                 Starbase OLP1     Test     U01  -54 x 234 x 26.5
Mar 16 0021   Starlink Group 6-44               Falcon 9                 Kennedy LC39A     Comms    49   279 x 288 x 43.0
Mar 19 0228   Starlink Group 7-16               Falcon 9                 Vandenberg SLC4E  Comms    50   305 x 314 x 53.2
              USA 350?                                                                     Unk      50   305 x 314 x 53.2
              USA 351?                                                                     Unk      50   305 x 314 x 53.2
Mar 20 0031   Queqiao-2                         Chang Zheng 8            Wenchang LC201    Lunar    51A  200 x 420000 x 22.6
              Tiandu-1                                                                     Lunar    51B? 200 x 420000 x 22.6
              Tiandu-2                                                                     Lunar    51C? 200 x 420000 x 22.6
Mar 21 0527   Yunhai-2 02 zu 01 xing            Chang Zheng 2D/YZ-3      Jiuquan           Weather  52A  1130 x 1140 x 50.1
              Yunhai-2 02 zu 02 xing                                                       Weather  52B  1130 x 1140 x 50.1
              Yunhai-2 02 zu 03 xing                                                       Weather  52C  1130 x 1140 x 50.1
              Yunhai-2 02 zu 04 xing                                                       Weather  52D   475 x  486 x 50.1
              Yunhai-2 02 zu 05 xing                                                       Weather  52E   475 x  486 x 50.1
              Yunhai-2 02 zu 06 xing                                                       Weather  52F   475 x  486 x 50.1
Mar 21 0725   USA 352                           Electron                  MARS Pad 0C      Tech     53A   500?x500? x48
              Mola                                                                         Tech     53B
              Aerocube 16A                                                                 Tech     53C
              Aerocube 16B                                                                 Tech     53D
Mar 21 2055   Dragon CRS-30                     Falcon 9                  Canaveral LC40   Cargo    54A  193 x 211 x 51.7
Mar 23 1236   Soyuz MS-25                       Soyuz-2-1a                Baykonur LC31  Spaceship  55A  330 x 367 x 51.6
Mar 24 0309   Starlink Group 6-42               Falcon 9                  Kennedy LC39A    Comms    56   284 x 292 x 43.0

Table of Recent Suborbital Launches 

Date UT       Payload           Rocket              Site                 Mission       Apogee    Target

Feb 15 1442   TEXUS 59          VSB-30              ESRANGE              Microgravity  264       ESRANGE
Feb 27 0727   MAPHEUS-14        Red Kite/IM         ESRANGE              Microgravity  265       ESRANGE
Mar  1        Yars RV           Yars                Plesetsk             Op. test      1000?     Kura
Mar 11        RV x 3?           Agni 5              Kalam Island         Test          800?      Indian Ocean
Mar 12 0515   REXUS 32          Orion               ESRANGE              Microgravity   80?      ESRANGE
Mar 14 1200   REXUS 31          Orion               ESRANGE              Microgravity   80?      ESRANGE
Mar 24 0945   TEXUS 60          VSB-30              ESRANGE              Microgravity  264?      ESRANGE

|  Jonathan McDowell                 |                                    |
|  Somerville MA 02143               |  inter : planet4589 at gmail       |
|  USA                               |  twitter: @planet4589              |
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