Self-isolation champions fresh home from a jaunt in orbit wonder if they've returned to the wrong version of Earth

Also: Asteroid landing dress rehearsal, 'new' Russian module for the ISS, another Starlink volley ready to go

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ISS

Roundup Astronauts said goodbye to the ISS as a lander said hello to the asteroid Bennu in another Register rundown of all things rocket-related for the week.

ISS 'nauts return to a very different Earth

"We've returned to a very different planet," observed NASA astronaut Jessica Meir as the Expedition 62 trio came home on 17 April. The Soyuz MS-15 crew included Oleg Skripochka and NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan, who had originally launched on Soyuz MS-13.

A little shuffling had been required to allow UAE "spaceflight participant" or "visiting astronaut" Hazza Al Mansouri to spend a week aboard the ISS after launching with Meir and Skripochka on MS-15. Al Mansouri returned on MS-12 and the need to accommodate his stay coupled with the fallout from the aborted Soyuz MS-10 in 2018 meant Morgan and fellow NASA 'naut Christina Koch enjoyed longer stays aboard the ISS than originally planned.

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The successful landing in Kazakhstan leaves just NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Roscosmos' Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner keeping the outpost running until the long-awaited US crew launch, courtesy of SpaceX's Crew Dragon.

Checkpoint! OSIRIS-REx rehearses Bennu bothering

NASA's asteroid sampler, OSIRIS-REx, conducted a rehearsal of the manoeuvres needed to descend to the surface of an asteroid ahead of August's planned retrieval of a bit of Bennu.

The manoeuvre saw the spacecraft descend from its "safe-home" orbit, approximately 1km from the surface of the asteroid, to an altitude of 125 metres. It then performed the "Checkpoint" manoeuvre to descend for another nine minutes on its landing trajectory.

It did everything but touch the surface, deploying its sampling arm and collecting science data. At the 75-metre mark, the spacecraft performed the "back-away" burn, completing the rehearsal.

The plan remains for the spacecraft to touch the surface for five seconds on 25 August, fire a charge of pressurised nitrogen to disturb the surface, collect a sample and back away. A return to Earth is due on 24 September 2023.

Fellow rock prodder JAXA's Hayabusa-2 is set to return to Earth later this year, with a second ion engine operation planned next month ahead of re-entry into the atmosphere in the November-December timeframe, some six years after launch.

ISS MLM module finally nears launch

Russian space programme watcher Anatoly Zak has reported that after many, many delays, the country's Multipurpose Laboratory Module (MLM) seemed to be edging closer to the launchpad.

It has been a tortuous journey for the module, which dates back to the 1990s. The MLM started out life as the backup for the Functional Cargo Block (FGB), or Zarya module, which forms part of the Russian contribution to the ISS. It was repurposed in 2004 and, when it eventually launches, will give Russia a research module on the orbiting outpost.

Originally intended for launch in 2007, a variety of problems, including failures in testing, caused lengthy delays. The sheer age of the module meant that additional checks were needed as warranties expired.

In retrospect, America's finest news source, The Onion, might have been a little closer to the mark than it realised, more than 20 years ago.

Look up! Another 60 Starlink satellites due for launch

Enjoy the night skies while you can; SpaceX are to launch another batch of internet-flinging satellites on Wednesday 22 April at 19:37 UTC, a day earlier than planned due to a better weather forecast.

The company had performed its usual static fire test of the Falcon 9 last Friday ahead of the launch from Florida's Launch Complex 39A.

It will be the fourth flight for this particular Falcon 9 first stage, which has seen duty on the first flight of the Crew Dragon to the ISS, launched the RADARSAT Constellation Mission and flung a batch of satellites into orbit last January as part of Starlink 3. The mission will also be reusing the fairing that supported the AMOS-17 mission last August.

The previous Starlink launch, Starlink 5, was a success, although something went awry with the propulsion system during ascent. While the satellites were deposited in orbit, the first stage booster failed to land. The company has not published details of what went wrong, although it has not stopped NASA and SpaceX pressing ahead with next month's Crew Dragon mission, replete with astronauts.

There are 358 Starlink satellites still in orbit. Wednesday's launch will push that figure past the 400 mark. The next launch is tentatively scheduled for May. ®

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