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Signals and Space | V1 | Issue 17 | 08.07.23

SpaceX opens the floodgates to possible fines. Space Command is staying Rocky Mountain High. Swan song for Antares 230+. A matter of mini space debris. And more!



Signals and Space | V1 | Issue 17 | 08.07.23

SpaceX opens the floodgates to possible fines. Space Command is staying Rocky Mountain High. Swan song for Antares 230+. A matter of mini space debris. 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, 7/31/23: SpaceX opens the floodgates to possible fines. 

  1. SpaceX's New Flame Deflector Water Deluge System

    • Who: SpaceX.
    • What: Testing of a new flame deflector water deluge system at Boca Chica, meant to prevent issues seen during the Starship orbital flight test in April.
    • Why: Concerns arose regarding the company's lack of environmental permits necessary for discharging the industrial process water, potentially violating the federal Clean Water Act.
  2. SpaceX Aids Boeing with Parachute Systems

    • Who: SpaceX, Boeing, and Elon Musk.
    • What: Elon Musk mentioned that SpaceX shared its knowledge of crewed parachute systems with Boeing.
    • Why: To highlight the complexities of designing parachutes for orbital, crewed spacecraft, and to possibly demonstrate cooperation between space industry competitors.
  3. FAA Restrictions on SpaceX's Starship Launch

    • Who: SpaceX, FAA.
    • What: Starship's next orbital launch is grounded, awaiting FAA approvals.
    • Why: Contrasting claims between Elon Musk and the FAA regarding when the next Starship orbital launch will take place.
  4. Maxar's JUPITER 3 Satellite Launch

    • Who: Maxar Technologies, Hughes Network Systems, SpaceX.
    • What: Successful launch of the JUPITER 3 satellite on SpaceX's Falcon Heavy.
    • Why: To double Hughes satellite fleet's capacity, providing extra bandwidth over North and South America, challenging SpaceX’s Starlink.
  5. Sierra Space's Vortex Engine Contract

    • Who: US Air Force, Sierra Space Corporation.
    • What: A $22.6 million contract awarded for the maturation of the Vortex Advanced Upper Stage Engine.
    • Why: To develop a 35,000 lb thrust upper stage engine for future space missions.
  6. Controlled Deorbit of Aeolus Satellite

    • Who: European Space Agency (ESA).
    • What: Assisted reentry and deorbit of the Aeolus weather monitoring satellite over the Atlantic Ocean.
    • Why: To gather data for future satellite re-entries, setting a precedent for other space entities.
  7. ISRO's Successful Satellite Launch

    • Who: Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Singapore's Defence Science and Technology Agency, ST Engineering.
    • What: Launch of the PSLV-C56 rocket carrying seven Singaporean satellites.
    • Why: Strengthening international collaboration and advancing satellite technology.
  8. Debris of Indian Rocket in Australia

    • Who: ISRO, Australia.
    • What: Confirmation that debris found on an Australian beach is from ISRO's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle.
    • Why: To address concerns about space junk and international responsibility.
  9. China's New Rocket Engine Test

    • Who: China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.
    • What: Static fire test for a new 10-tonne, 3.35-meter-diameter hydrogen-oxygen engine.
    • Why: To cater to future requirements of medium-sized launch vehicles and facilitate rapid launches.
  10. Voyager 2 Communication Pause

    • Who: NASA, Voyager 2.
    • What: Voyager 2's antenna accidentally shifted 2 degrees away from Earth, causing a pause in communications.
    • Why: To ensure the well-being of Voyager 2, a crucial spacecraft launched in 1977, and to share news about the upcoming attempt to restore communication.
  11. Featured interview: Doug Milburn, Cofounder of Protocase, on the evolution to ProtoSpace Mfg, and rapid innovation and prototyping for the space industry. You can connect with Doug on LinkedIn and learn more about ProtoSpace Mfg on their website.

Tuesday, 8/01/23: Space Command is staying Rocky Mountain High.

  1. Space Command's Location in Colorado

    • Who: US Space Command, President Biden, Pentagon, Department of Defense, Department of the Air Force, Secretary Austin, Sect of the Air Force Kendall, US SpaceCommand commander General Dickinson, Senator Tuberville from Alabama.
    • What: Confirmation that the US Space Command Headquarters will be located in Colorado Springs.
    • Why: After a thorough and deliberate evaluation process, including input from multiple defense departments, the decision was made in favor of Colorado Springs to ensure peak readiness in space operations and best serve national interests.
  2. Budget Cut for Space Force

    • Who: US Senate, US House, Space Force.
    • What: $1 billion reduction from the requested budget of Space Force for fiscal year 2024.
    • Why: The budget cut decision was due to reported schedule delays and performance issues.
  3. KBR Wyle Services Contract

    • Who: KBR Wyle Services, Air Force Research Lab.
    • What: A $24.9 million contract for the development of capabilities related to understanding and predicting space-related phenomena.
    • Why: To gain insights into chaotic orbits beyond geosynchronous orbit, predict celestial object interactions, and improve Space Situational Awareness frameworks.
  4. FCC's New Spectrum Rules

    • Who: Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.
    • What: Introduction of new spectrum rules for commercial space launches.
    • Why: To ensure that commercial space launches have reliable communication resources, bolster economic strength, safety, competitiveness, and innovation.
  5. Planet's Restructuring Plan

    • Who: Satellite-imagery company Planet, CEO Will Marshall.
    • What: Company restructuring resulting in layoffs for 117 employees.
    • Why: Aimed at increasing focus on high-priority growth opportunities and enhancing operational efficiency.
  6. Tilebox Investment News

    • Who: Australian space data platform Tilebox.
    • What: Tilebox raised $1.7 million in a Pre-seed funding round.
    • Why: To expand the team and further enhance platform capabilities for more efficient space data processing.
  7. SPAINSAT NG Programme

    • Who: Spanish satellite operator Hisdesat.
    • What: Announcement of the first satellite (SpainSat NG-I) in the SPAINSAT NG programme, readying for launch next summer via SpaceX’s Falcon 9.
    • Why: To provide secure communications for the Spanish Armed Forces and other government agencies.
  8. Chandrayaan 3 Update

    • Who: Team behind Chandrayaan 3, Indian Space Research Organisation.
    • What: The Chandrayaan 3 vehicle has completed its Earth orbits and is now heading towards the Moon.
    • Why: As a part of its mission progression, it is preparing for Lunar-Orbit Insertion on August 5.
  9. Shenzhou-15 Crew Update

    • Who: Three Chinese Taikonauts from the Shenzhou-15 crew.
    • What: Post-mission press interaction after their return to Earth and quarantine period.
    • Why: To share their experiences from the mission, followed by observation and health checks before resuming training.
  10. Featured interview: Kathy Steen, Senior Program Manager at the Hyperspace Challenge. You can connect with Kathy on LinkedIn and learn more about the Hyperspace Challenge on their website.

Wednesday, 8/02/23: Swan song for Antares 230+.

  1. Northrop Grumman's Final Antares 230+ Rocket Launch

    • Who: Northrop Grumman
    • What: Launched its final Antares 230+ rocket, carrying the Cygnus spacecraft, on a resupply mission (NG-19) to the ISS. Post-docking, the Cygnus will host NASA's sixth Spacecraft Fire Safety Experiment (SAFFIRE).
    • Why: The mission brings new instrumentation, supplies, and research materials to the ISS. The discontinuation of the Antares 230+ rocket series, previously built with international cooperation, has been accelerated due to the war in Ukraine.
  2. Voyager Space and Airbus Partnership on Starlab

    • Who: Voyager Space and Airbus Defense and Space
    • What: Announced a joint venture to develop, build, and operate Starlab, a commercial space station intended to succeed the ISS.
    • Why: The venture aims to unite American and European interests in future space exploration and to directly serve the European Space Agency and its member state space organizations.
  3. Privateer Space's New Module, Pono

    • Who: Privateer Space
    • What: Announced a new module called Pono, designed to help make space data available at scale and at lower costs. The prototype will be launched on a D-Orbit Space Tug via a SpaceX Falcon 9 rideshare.
    • Why: This move marks a progression for Privateer Space from tracking space debris (with the app Wayfinder) to enabling large-scale and cost-effective access to space data.
  4. Virgin Galactic's Second Quarter Financial Results

    • Who: Virgin Galactic
    • What: Released their second quarter financial results, reporting $2 million in revenue and a net loss of $134 million.
    • Why: Despite the financial loss, Virgin Galactic's strong cash position allows for continued operations, including the next planned tourism flight from its Spaceport America base on August 10.
  5. Passage of the ORBITS Act

    • Who: U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation
    • What: Passed the Orbital Sustainability Act (ORBITS), establishing a program to reduce space junk in orbit.
    • Why: The Act responds to growing concerns about space debris, which pose a risk to orbiting spacecraft. It encourages the development of practices for coordinating space traffic to avoid creating additional debris.
  6. Space Force Partnership with Johns Hopkins University

    • Who: US Space Force and Johns Hopkins University
    • What: Launched officer training programs, offering a Masters in International Policy. The programs will be open to various military personnel, including international students.
    • Why: The programs aim to cultivate military leaders well-versed in space-focused education and capable of addressing future challenges.
  7. NATO Nations' Discussion on Space

    • Who: NATO nations
    • What: Discussed the integration of space into planning, exercises, and operations during a summit in Lithuania.
    • Why: The goal is to ensure coordinated space effects across all domains and to enhance the sharing of space data and services within NATO, in support of Alliance's requirements and defense plans.
  8. Voyager 2's Communication Pause and Recovery

    • Who: NASA and Voyager 2
    • What: Voyager 2 experienced a communication pause but has since managed to send a "heartbeat signal" back to Earth.
    • Why: Voyager 2's ability to receive commands and transmit data back to Earth is crucial for ongoing space research and exploration. Full communication is expected to resume in October.
  9. Featured interview: Matthew Fetrow, Communications Director for the Space Force's Rapid Capabilities Office (Space RCO). You can connect with Matthew on LinkedIn and find out more about Space RCO on their website.

Thursday, 8/03/23: A matter of mini space debris.

  1. SINTRA's Launch for Space Debris Tracking

    • Who: IARPA (Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity), prime contractors including A-Tech, Advanced Space, SRI International, and West Virginia University Research Corporation, and test teams from MIT Lincoln Laboratory, Naval Research Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.
    • What: Launch of SINTRA, the Space Debris Identification and Tracking program, a four-year initiative to detect, track, and characterize space debris ranging from 1 millimeter to 10 centimeters in size.
    • Why: To fill the gap in tracking space debris that is neither tiny nor large but can pose significant risks to missions in low earth orbit.
  2. Cyberattack on NOIRLab

    • Who: NSF's National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory (NOIRLab) and its international partners.
    • What: A cyberattack that led to the suspension of observations at the Gemini North Observatory in Hawai'i and other related systems.
    • Why: The nature and motive of the attack are still under investigation, reminding observatories and research centers of the importance of cybersecurity.
  3. UK's Earth Observation Tech Funding

    • Who: UK Space Agency and the Centre for Earth Observation Instrumentation.
    • What: Announcement of £15 million funding for the research and development of space-based Earth Observation technologies.
    • Why: To bolster the UK's Earth observation sector, part of a larger financial commitment made the previous year.
  4. UK's National Risk Register Update

    • Who: UK Government and UK Space Agency.
    • What: Publication of an annual assessment highlighting serious risks, with several identified in the space domain.
    • Why: Recognizing the increasing importance of space-based tech to daily life and the need for its protection for national security and prosperity.
  5. China's Chang'e-7 Lunar Probe

    • Who: Researchers from the National Space Science Center, under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the China Lunar Exploration and Space Engineering Center of the China National Space Administration.
    • What: A paper detailing the Chang'e-7 probe's mission to search for water-ice on the lunar south pole.
    • Why: To investigate potential resources on the moon, with a subsequent mission scheduled to collect samples from the moon's far side.
  6. China's Long March-4C Launch

    • Who: China's space program.
    • What: The launch of the Fengyun-3 06 meteorological satellite via the Long March-4C carrier rocket.
    • Why: Marking the 481st flight mission of China's Long March carrier rocket series.
  7. iRocket & Air Force Research Lab Agreement

    • Who: Innovative Rocket Technologies Inc. (iRocket) and the Air Force Research Lab.
    • What: A cooperative research agreement allowing iRocket to use a government facility to advance its reusable rocket technology.
    • Why: To develop technology for iRocket's fully reusable Shockwave launch vehicle, harnessing powerful testing facilities.
  8. Joint Capsule Recovery Exercise

    • Who: US Navy, Air Force, and NASA.
    • What: A simulation of capsule recovery in preparation for the Artemis II lunar mission.
    • Why: To ensure safe and efficient recovery procedures for the first human lunar mission in over six decades.
  9. Atomos Space and Solestial Agreement

    • Who: In-space logistics provider Atomos Space and solar energy company Solestial, Inc.
    • What: A sales agreement for Solestial’s ultrathin, radiation-hardened solar blankets to be used in Atomos's missions.
    • Why: To demonstrate and potentially provide primary power for Atomos’s solar-electric orbital transfer vehicles on future missions.
  10. Featured interview: Jack Cohen, Program and Mission Manager at AstroDigital. You can connect with Jack on LinkedIn and learn more about Astro Digital on their website.

Friday, 8/04/23: SES satellites soar.

  1. SES's Half-Year Financial Update

    • Who: Satellite giant SES
    • What: Announced a growth of 10% in the first half of 2023 with revenue totaling 987 million euros. They project year-end revenue to be between 1.95 to 2 billion euros. Also highlighted power issues on their O3B mPOWER satellites but assured they are addressing them.
    • Why: Demonstrates SES's dominance in the satellite industry and their proactive approach to technical glitches.
  2. FCC Payout to SES and Intelsat

    • Who: SES, Intelsat, telecommunications companies (T-Mobile, Verizon, AT&T)
    • What: Both SES and Intelsat are expecting to receive a combined total of $9 billion for vacating the lower 300 megahertz of the C-band spectrum to make way for 5G operations.
    • Why: Highlights the significant financial gains to satellite companies for accommodating the expansion of terrestrial tech services.
  3. NASA and Axiom's Fourth Agreement

    • Who: NASA, Axiom Space, SpaceX
    • What: They have agreed on a fourth private astronaut mission to the International Space Station (ISS) targeting a launch next year, with SpaceX being the launch provider.
    • Why: Indicates the growing partnership between public and private space entities and the privatization of space missions.
  4. ISS Stem Cell Experiment

    • Who: Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus, Sierra Space, BioServe Space Technologies, University of Colorado Boulder
    • What: A project aiming to grow hematopoietic stem cells in microgravity on the ISS to improve blood cancer treatments.
    • Why: Shows how space research can directly benefit medical science and health on Earth.
  5. Satellite Data on Amazon Deforestation

    • Who: Brazil’s Space Research Agency INPE
    • What: Satellites revealed a significant drop in Amazon deforestation rates for July, the lowest since 2017.
    • Why: Demonstrates the importance of space tech in monitoring and managing environmental challenges.
  6. Psyche Spacecraft's Solar Arrays

    • Who: NASA, SpaceX
    • What: The Psyche spacecraft is equipped with solar arrays for its journey to study the metal-rich asteroid Psyche, with a launch planned on SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy.
    • Why: Underscores the preparation for deep space missions and the collaboration between NASA and SpaceX.
  7. Potential Creation of Space National Guard

    • Who: US Military branches, US Senate, US House
    • What: Debates on the establishment of a Space National Guard with a potential agreement pending.
    • Why: Suggests the evolving nature of space as a strategic and defense domain.
  8. ESA's Ariel Mission Progress

    • Who: European Space Agency (ESA)
    • What: Ariel mission passed its payload preliminary design review, advancing its mission to analyze the composition of exoplanets.
    • Why: Emphasizes the progress in international space missions dedicated to astronomical studies.
  9. Russia's Space Debris Detection Facility

    • Who: Russia, South African National Space Agency
    • What: Russia launched a space debris detection facility in South Africa to monitor threats from space junk.
    • Why: Reinforces the global concern and collaborative efforts towards the increasing problem of space debris.
  10. Featured interview: Francis Walker, Associate Principal at Corgan on designing Spaceports around the world. You can connect with Francis on LinkedIn and learn more about Corgan on their website.

Saturday, 8/05/23: Francis Walker, an architect with a focus on designing Spaceports around the world.

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