Trials and tribulations of Ariane 6. Placing our order for space knees, please. The FAA concludes its Starship mishap investigation. And more!
Signals and Space | V1 | Issue 6 | 05.23.23
Last week: JUICE jiggle frees the RIME. The Ariane countdown. A tale of two Virgins. “Please write a title for a space podcast about AI-powered satellites.” And more.
Signals and Space is your weekly intelligence briefing to ensure you know what's going up and what’s going on in space—and why it matters.
Here’s what we covered last week:
Monday, 5/15/23: JUICE jiggle frees the RIME.
JUICE Successfully Deploys RIME Antenna.
- Who: The European Space Agency (ESA)
- What: A stuck pin on the 16-meter long boom arm for the Radar for Icy Moons Exploration (RIME) antenna on the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) spacecraft was successfully loosened.
- Why: The successful deployment of RIME allows for future exploration of the surface and subsurfaces of Jovian moons like Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto when JUICE enters Jupiter's orbit in 2031.
Lunar Flashlight Mission Ends Prematurely.
- Who: NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
- What: The Lunar Flashlight mission ended due to a propulsion system issue, preventing the mission from orbiting the moon as planned.
- Why: Despite the mission's failure, it provided valuable tech demonstrations, particularly of NASA's new monopropellant, Advanced Spacecraft Energetic Non-Toxic (ASCENT), which performed well despite the overall mission failure.
National Cybersecurity Center Partners with USSPACECOM.
- Who: The National Cybersecurity Center and USSPACECOM
- What: The two organizations announced an official partnership to collaborate on various space and cybersecurity initiatives.
- Why: This partnership will help to shape the future workforce, support professional military education, increase applied research and innovation in the space domain, and promote strategic cyber-for-space dialogue supporting national security and defense.
NASA's TBIRD Sets Record for Optical Communications in Space.
- Who: NASA's TBIRD (TeraByte InfraRed Delivery)
- What: TBIRD broke its own record for optical communications in space, demonstrating 200 gigabits per second throughput on a space-to-ground optical link.
- Why: This achievement represents the highest data rate ever achieved by optical communications technology, which could revolutionize future space communications systems.
SDA Seeking to Procure 100 New Satellites.
- Who: The Space Development Agency (SDA)
- What: The SDA has released a draft solicitation to procure 100 new satellites as part of the Alpha variant of the Proliferated Warfighter Space Architectures Tranche 2 Transport Layer.
- Why: The addition of these new satellites will increase integration, enhance technology, and boost production efficiencies, contributing to advancements in space-based capabilities.
Planet Labs and AXA Climate Extend Partnership.
- Who: Planet Labs and AXA Climate
- What: The companies are expanding their partnership to use satellite data in a drought insurance program.
- Why: This extension will help AXA Climate's services in estimating crop yield and losses, and automatically providing payouts, which is crucial in areas prone to drought.
SpaceX Hires Former NASA Human Spaceflight Lead Kathy Leuders.
- Who: SpaceX and Kathy Leuders
- What: SpaceX has hired Kathy Leuders, the former lead of NASA's human spaceflight program.
- Why: Leuders brings considerable experience to SpaceX, including her role as the first woman to head human spaceflight for NASA, bolstering SpaceX's leadership in the private space sector.
Successful Separation Release Test by Stratolaunch.
- Who: Stratolaunch
- What: Stratolaunch successfully completed a separation release test of the Talon-A vehicle, demonstrating safe separation from the company’s Roc center-wing pylon.
- Why: The successful test allows Stratolaunch to plan for the first hypersonic flight of the TA-1 expendable test
Featured interview: Michelle Hanlon, Co-founder of For All Moonkind and Co-Director at the University of Mississippi School of Law on the ethics of space exploration. You can follow Michelle on LinkedIn and learn more about For All Moonkind at their website.
Tuesday, 5/16/23: The Ariane countdown.
The Final Flight of Ariane 5 and the Future of Ariane 6.
- Who: Arianespace, the European commercial launch service provider.
- What: The Ariane 5, Arianespace's heavy-lift launch vehicle, is set to have its final flight on June 16, 2023, with the launch of two satellites. However, the timeline for the launch of its successor, the Ariane 6, has been delayed.
- Why: The Ariane 6, though expected to be cheaper and faster than its predecessor, is experiencing delays due to pandemic-related supply chain issues and disruption caused by the war in Ukraine. This may result in a gap in Europe's access to its own home-grown heavy-lift rocket, affecting launch customers like Viasat.
Axiom Space's Narrow Launch Window.
- Who: Axiom Space, a private spaceflight and space station company.
- What: The Ax-2 mission to the International Space Station (ISS) has a narrow launch window on May 21 and 22, 2023.
- Why: The launch needs to happen from Kennedy Space Center's launch complex 39A, which has a full schedule of launches. Additionally, the ISS is expecting several arrivals in the coming months. Any delay means the launch will be postponed for months.
Space Forge's Reusable Reentry System.
- Who: Space Forge, a Welsh satellite manufacturing company.
- What: The company claims to have designed a reusable reentry system that allows low-cost, reliable return of satellites to Earth.
- Why: This could potentially revolutionize the process of satellite reentry, as current ablative heat shields require replacement after every flight.
China's Search for Low-Cost Space Cargo Transportation.
- Who: China's Manned Space Engineering Office.
- What: The office is seeking proposals for a low-cost transportation system to deliver cargo to and from the Tiangong space station.
- Why: The current Tianzhou rocket system is expensive, so China is looking for a more cost-effective solution, similar to NASA's commercial resupply program.
Israel's Moon Mission Setback.
- Who: SpaceIL, an Israeli nonprofit organization.
- What: Funding for the Beresheet 2 moon mission has been withdrawn, causing a significant setback.
- Why: Investors are redirecting their resources to other philanthropic projects, leaving Israel's lunar aspirations uncertain.
SES and Tesat's Quantum Key Distribution Project.
- Who: SES, a global satellite owner and operator, and Tesat, a German company specializing in satellite communications.
- What: They are developing a Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) payload for Europe’s EAGLE-1 satellite system to deliver secure encryption keys.
- Why: This development aims to enhance secure communication, a significant concern for data transmission in an increasingly connected world.
Internal Discontent in Space Force.
- Who: Space Force’s General Saltzman.
- What: A memo detailing General Saltzman's frustrations with Space Force’s mission statement was allegedly obtained by Military.com. The General asked service members to suggest a new mission statement.
- Why: General Saltzman believes that the current mission statement does not accurately reflect the importance of Space Force and the critical roles Guardians perform.
Growing Congressional Support for Space Force.
- Who: General Thompson, vice chief of Space Operations.
- What: Despite internal issues within the Space Force, Congress appears to be increasingly supportive of the military branch, with the Department of Defense's request for $30 billion for space operations being well received.
- Why: This budget will include plans for a large satellite constellation in low earth orbit (LEO), indicating the growing significance of space operations in defense and strategic initiatives.
Delay in the Location Decision for Space Command.
- Who: The Trump and Biden administrations, Alabama, and Colorado.
- What: The decision to move Space Command's headquarters from Colorado to Huntsville, Alabama, made during the Trump administration, continues to be delayed under the Biden administration.
- Why: Reports suggest that the White House is considering moving the headquarters back to Colorado due to concerns about recent changes to Alabama's abortion laws.
NASA’s InSPA Calls for Industry Proposals.
- Who: NASA’s In Space Production Applications program (InSPA)
- What: The program is seeking proposals from U.S. industry for the development of advanced materials and products in space that could be beneficial for life on Earth. White Papers are due by June 23rd.
- Why: This call for proposals aims to boost the space industry's research and development efforts and potentially lead to advancements that could improve life on Earth.
Reviving the Spitzer Space Telescope.
- Who: A startup called Rhea Space Activity and NASA.
- What: Rhea Space Activity received a grant from SpaceWERX to figure out a robotic rescue mission for the Spitzer Space Telescope, with the aim of reviving the telescope.
- Why: The plan is to use the telescope for further astronomical observations and potentially detecting hazardous near-earth objects. This could be a significant advancement for astrosciences and a compelling demonstration of In-Space Assembly and Manufacturing (ISAM) capabilities.
Featured interview: Brendan Rosseau, Teaching Fellow at Harvard Business School. Brendan discusses the growing demand for space business development courses. You can follow Brendan on Linkedin.
Wednesday, 5/17/23: A tale of two Virgins.
Virgin Orbit Bankruptcy and Asset Sale.
- Who: Virgin Orbit, Stratolaunch.
- What: Virgin Orbit filed for bankruptcy in April and is selling off its assets, including aircraft such as the Cosmic Girl carrier. Stratolaunch has bid $17 million for some assets.
- Why: Stratolaunch is looking to further their air-to-orbit launch capabilities, and the acquisition of Virgin Orbit's assets could enhance their current resources.
Virgin Galactic's Successful Return.
- Who: Virgin Galactic.
- What: The company has announced a launch window opening on May 25, marking a return to space since its last flight in 2021.
- Why: If the upcoming check of the full spacefaring system goes well, Virgin Galactic plans to offer commercial spaceflight services more frequently from next month.
Arqit's Space Division Sale.
- Who: Arqit.
- What: The British cybersecurity software developer has hired a financial adviser to sell its space division, including the quantum encryption satellite program.
- Why: Arqit had previously cancelled plans for a space-based quantum encryption network, deciding to instead use a terrestrial system.
Black Sky Aerospace's Queensland Facility.
- Who: Black Sky Aerospace.
- What: The Australian space and defense company has been approved to develop a rocket fuel facility and associated infrastructure on a 2,500 acre site in southern Queensland.
- Why: This comes following the company's announcement that it had successfully produced ammonium perchlorate, a key component of rocket fuel.
China's 56th BeiDou Satellite.
- Who: China.
- What: China has launched the 56th satellite for the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System.
- Why: This is the first BeiDou satellite launched since 2020, and it offers full global coverage for timing and navigation, providing an alternative to other global positioning systems.
Swedish Space Corporation's NODES Contract.
- Who: The Swedish Space Corporation, European Space Agency.
- What: The corporation has been awarded a $2.46 million contract from the European Space Agency for phase 2 of the NODES project.
- Why: This contract will support the implementation, testing, and demonstration of an optical network for data transfer to Earth from space.
JAXA's Contracts to Warspace.
- Who: Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Warspace.
- What: JAXA has awarded two contracts to Warspace to study Moon-to-Earth communications.
- Why: These contracts aim to enhance communication between lunar orbiting data relay satellites and the lunar surface, and to develop an ultra-sensitive sensor for satellite detection and tracking.
SpinLaunch's New Appointments.
- Who: SpinLaunch.
- What: The kinetic launch company has appointed Matthew Mejía as Chief Financial Officer and Chief Strategy Officer.
- Why: Mejía will lead SpinLaunch's fundraising efforts and accelerate the commercialization of their tech stack, including launch and satellite services.
Budget Requests for US Space Program.
- Who: US Department of Defense, NASA.
- What: Both agencies are calling for more money in their budgets to secure the skies and launch the next humans to the moon.
- Why: There is bipartisan support for a Space National Guard and for NASA’s Artemis Program, but the inability of Congress to pass a timely budget has stalled progress.
Crowdsourcing for Scientific Advancement.
- Who: University of Arizona's Catalina Sky Survey.
- What: The Catalina Sky Survey has initiated a citizen scientist program, inviting the public to help analyze their astronomical data to identify potential asteroids.
- Why: With large amounts of data collected daily, human assistance is crucial for pattern recognition and anomaly detection, tasks where humans still outperform artificial intelligence. The project enables public engagement and contributes to potentially critical scientific discoveries.
Thursday, 5/18/23: “Please write a title for a space podcast about AI-powered satellites.”
Global Space Autonomous Navigation Systems Market Growth.
- Who: Statsville Group.
- What: The market research firm has released a report predicting a growth rate of over 15% for the global space autonomous navigation systems market in the coming decade, with a particular boom in Asia Pacific markets and the commercial sector. This growth is spurred by advances in AI and machine learning, which enhance the capabilities of autonomous navigation systems.
- Why: The increased sophistication, power, and miniaturization of these systems are making them more affordable and easy to integrate into spacecraft, leading to more efficient and cost-effective space operations.
Prospects for Spaceport Nova Scotia.
- Who: Conference Board of Canada, Maritime Launch Services.
- What: The Conference Board of Canada has released a positive report about the future economic impact of Maritime Launch Services' Spaceport Nova Scotia, which is currently under construction.
- Why: Once completed, Spaceport Nova Scotia is expected to boost Canada's GDP by $300 million annually, generate government revenue by $100 million, and create up to 1000 new full-time jobs across Canada. This development will greatly benefit Canadian companies seeking to launch satellites by reducing regulatory hurdles and costs associated with international launches.
Varda Space's New Funding Round.
- Who: Varda Space, Side Door Ventures.
- What: Varda Space, an in-space manufacturing startup, is raising $25 million in a pre-Series C funding round with Side Door Ventures. The round is set to significantly increase the company's valuation.
- Why: Varda Space aims to establish autonomous space factories and re-entry modules, a concept that could revolutionize the manufacturing of materials for pharmaceutical and semiconductor applications that require microgravity.
Amini's Pre-Seed Funding and Accelerator Acceptance.
- Who: Amini, Europe Climate Technology Fund, Pale Blue Dot, Seraphim Space's Accelerator.
- What: Nairobi-based climate data startup Amini has secured $2 million in pre-seed funding and gained acceptance into Seraphim Space's Accelerator program.
- Why: Amini aims to fill a significant gap in climate data specific to Africa. With the new funding and support from Seraphim Space's Accelerator, the company plans to launch its own satellite constellation to improve data collection and accuracy.
Sidus Space and Leaf Space Agreement.
- Who: Sidus Space, Leaf Space.
- What: An agreement has been made between Sidus Space and Leaf Space to expand Sidus' access to ground station services.
- Why: With Leaf Space having 13 locations across Europe, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand, this agreement promises lower latency and greater scheduling flexibility for Sidus.
Viasat's Record Revenues in Fiscal 2023.
- Who: Viasat.
- What: The company reported record revenues for fiscal 2023, reaching $2.8 billion.
- Why: The increase is due in part to Viasat's $1.7 billion sale of its Link-16 Tactical Data Links business line to L3Harris, and also to the company's successful in-flight connectivity for aircraft.
Yahsat, Bayanat, and Iceye Collaboration.
- Who: Yahsat, Bayanat, Iceye.
- What: These three companies, each with different offerings in the satellite-based remote sensing and Earth observation sector, are collaborating to enhance their services.
- Why: The collaboration allows the companies to leverage each other's unique capabilities to enhance the quality of their respective services.
Regulatory and Cybersecurity Improvements in Space.
- Who: Lawmakers in DC and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA)
- What: A series of bills have been proposed to enhance CISA's role in the protection of the space sector, including the establishment of a commercial public satellite system clearinghouse and the development of voluntary cybersecurity guidelines for the space industry.
- Why: These actions aim to promote better information sharing, collaboration, and transparency among different stakeholders, such as commercial satellite operators and government agencies, and facilitate response coordination to threats or incidents affecting satellite systems.
ISRO’s Chandrayaan-3 Lunar Mission.
- Who: The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO)
- What: ISRO is in the final stages of payload assembly for its Chandrayaan-3 mission, a third lunar mission aiming for a mid-July launch window.
- Why: The Chandrayaan-3 mission is significant because it will mark ISRO's next attempt at a lunar soft landing after the Vikram lander on the Chandrayaan-2 mission had a hard landing in 2019.
- Who: Hinrich Woebcken, former CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, and CesiumAstro
- What: Hinrich Woebcken has joined CesiumAstro as an advisor to help realize the company's vision of satellite-connected vehicles.
- Why: CesiumAstro, which manufactures phased arrays for satellites, is collaborating with various car companies on a Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) constellation for the automotive industry. Satellite connectivity will play a significant role in the future of the automotive industry, enabling autonomous driving, over-the-air software updates, redundancy, and emergency response.
FAA’s Role in Commercial Space Industry.
- Who: Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
- What: An article in 'Cleared for Takeoff' provides a deep dive into the FAA's role in the commercial space industry, detailing regulatory responsibilities, the transition to performance-based licensing, and ongoing efforts to ensure public safety amidst increasing launch activities.
- Why: As the space industry continues to grow and evolve, understanding the roles and responsibilities of regulatory agencies like the FAA is crucial for industry professionals.
The Cygnus Suborbitals Student Rocketry Team Achievement.
- Who: The Cygnus Suborbitals team at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
- What: The team has set a record with their rocket, the Deneb, for the maximum altitude achieved by a small rocket launched by US undergraduate and collegiate amateurs.
- Why: After more than 4000 hours of work, and three scrubbed launch attempts, the team's achievement is a testament to their dedication and skill, further attracting recruitment interest from companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Firefly Aerospace.
- Featured interview: Ian Vorbach, Co-founder of Portal Space Systems and SpaceDotBiz, on the new space startup ecosystem and the balance between engineers and business operators at early stage space companies. You can follow Ian on LinkedIn, Twitter, and through his business newsletter SpaceDotBiz.
Friday, 5/19/23: Blue Moon lunar lander, brewed with real NASA orange peel.
NASA Announces Blue Moon Lunar Lander for Artemis V Mission.
- Who: NASA, Blue Origin, and team partners Lockheed Martin, Draper, Boeing, Astrobotic, Honeybee.
- What: Blue Origin's lunar lander, Blue Moon, has been chosen for the Artemis V mission. The lander will transport two crew members to the lunar surface, specifically the south pole area, for about a week.
- Why: This decision demonstrates NASA's push for diversifying its industrial base and fostering innovation. With a fixed-price contract of $3.4 billion, it's a significant win for Blue Origin and its partners.
CAPSTONE Cubesat Mission Success.
- Who: NASA and the CAPSTONE program.
- What: The Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) has successfully tested its technology in a near-rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO) around the moon for six months.
- Why: This success is crucial for future lunar missions, as the CAPS technology (essentially a GPS for the moon) will be vital for astronauts on the lunar surface. The confirmation of the orbit's stability also paves the way for the Lunar Gateway to use the NRHO.
SpiderOak Secures More Funding.
- Who: SpiderOak, Accenture Ventures, Raytheon Technology's RTX Ventures, and Stellar Ventures.
- What: Satellite cybersecurity company SpiderOak secured another investment round, expanding its Orbitsecure software to provide end-to-end security for satellite data.
- Why: This funding bolsters efforts to secure satellite communications, particularly in the increasingly crowded low earth orbit (LEO). This development is crucial given the rising cybersecurity concerns within the space sector, especially regarding national defense applications.
CNL to Develop Multipurpose Materials for Space Travel.
- Who: Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL).
- What: CNL has been chosen to develop and test multipurpose materials that can withstand harsh space conditions and protect humans and equipment in spacecraft.
- Why: Advancements in material sciences can make long-term space travel safer for astronauts and more sustainable for equipment. The $1 million grant for this research underlines the importance of such developments.
Zeno Power Systems Wins STRATFI Contract.
- Who: Zeno Power Systems and the US Airforce.
- What: Zeno Power Systems, a company that makes radioisotope power systems (RPSes), has won a $30 million contract to build a radioisotope-powered satellite by 2025.
- Why: This contract represents a significant step toward making RPSes more accessible to smaller satellites and the commercial sector, opening up more possibilities for diverse space missions, particularly for military applications.
Japanese Team Tests Wood Durability in Space.
- Who: A joint team from Kyoto University and Sumitomo Forestry.
- What: The team successfully tested three types of wood under the harsh conditions of space for ten months. The wood showed no signs of deterioration, making it a viable material for constructing satellites.
- Why: The use of wood in satellite construction could offer significant benefits, such as being transparent to electromagnetic radiation, allowing antennas to be housed inside satellites, and reducing environmental impact as wooden satellites would completely disintegrate upon reentry.
SpaceX's Starlink Gains FCC Approval.
- Who: SpaceX's Starlink and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
- What: The FCC decided in favor of SpaceX's Starlink over Dish Network, allowing them to maintain the 12.2-12.7 GHz band for customer terminal downloads and denying authorization
- Why: Starlink has grown significantly, with over 1.5 million subscribers in just over two and a half years, expanding the satellite broadband market.
Axiom-2 Mission Launch.
- Who: Axiom Space, a spaceflight service company, and astronauts from Saudi Arabia and the US
- What: The second all-private astronaut mission to the International Space Station is scheduled to launch, including the first Saudi female astronaut to go to space.
- Why: This mission is a significant step in commercial space travel and international cooperation in space exploration.
The Karman Project Announces its 2023 Fellowship Program.
- Who: The Karman Project, a space-oriented fellowship program, and its 2023 Fellows
- What: The project has announced the 15 global leaders chosen for its 2023 Fellowship program, representing the forefront of the space industry.
- Why: This program fosters international leadership, dialogue, and action in the space sector, aligning with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to advance various sectors of the space industry.
- Featured interview: Namrata Goswami, Senior Analyst, on India's Space Policy 2023. You can follow Namrata on LinkedIn and Twitter.