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Signals and Space | V1 | Issue 1 | 04.14.23

This week: #Winning with NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts program. The TROPICS of New Zealand. Plus Loft and Microsoft call the Ball. 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 this week:

Monday, 4/10/23: #Winning with NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts program

  1. NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program:
    • Who: NASA and six organizations from industry and academia.
    • What: Received $600k grants each for their second phase projects, which include initiatives for planetary defense, lunar far side radio array, silent solid-state propulsion, quantum Rydberg radar, and radioisotope electric propulsion systems.
    • Why: The funding aims to support the development of advanced concepts that could enable space exploration and scientific research.
  2. Space situational awareness via DARC:
    • Who: Brig. Gen. Anthony Mastalir, commander of Space Forces Indo-Pacific.
    • What: Urges the need for space situational awareness radar systems, specifically the Deep Space Advanced Radar Capability (DARC).
    • Why: The urgency is due to concerns about China's space capabilities, as they could potentially use space to generate long-range precision strikes against maritime and air components.
  3. The future of Baikonur Cosmodrome:
    • Who: Roscosmos and Baikonur Cosmodrome.
    • What: A contract dispute between Roscosmos and Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan has put the future of Baikonur Cosmodrome in question.
    • Why: The dispute may jeopardize the future of the Soyuz-5 project, which is critical for keeping Baikonur alive beyond 2030.
  4. Featured interview: friend-of-the-show Dr. Diane Janosek, NSA Deputy Director of Compliance, discussed the implications of nanosatellites for the security of IoT devices and the potential challenges in maintaining cybersecurity.

Tuesday, 4/11/23: The TROPICS of New Zealand. Plus Loft and Microsoft call the Ball.

  1. Rocket Lab to Launch TROPICS Satellites from New Zealand:
    • Who: Rocket Lab USA, NASA.
    • What: Launching two Electron rockets carrying satellites for the TROPICS constellation.
    • Why: To better understand and predict tropical storms, ensuring the satellites are operational for the 2023 hurricane season in North America.
  2. Ball Aerospace, Loft Orbital, and Microsoft Collaborate for SDA's NeXt Program:
    • Who: Ball Aerospace, Loft Federal (subsidiary of Loft Orbital), Microsoft.
    • What: Collaboration on the Space Development Agency's National Defense Space Architecture Experimental Testbed (NeXt) program.
    • Why: To send 10 satellites with experimental payloads to orbit for defense purposes, with the launch set for 2024.
  3. Space Force Aims for Flexibility in National Security Space Launch Contracts:
    • Who: US Space Force, Space Development Agency (SDA).
    • What: Preparing for the third phase of the National Security Space Launch contracts, open for solicitation this summer.
    • Why: To improve the speed and flexibility of buying and scheduling missions for the SDA.
  4. GAO Report Highlights Aging Military Satellite Antennas:
    • Who: US Government Accountability Office (GAO), US Space Force.
    • What: A report on the aging Satellite Control Network (SCN) and plans to add 12 new antennas by 2025 and transition from parabolic to phased array antennas with the new antennas.
    • Why: To address system availability concerns and improve throughput and bandwidth for the control network.
  5. ITU Prepares Major Report planned for World Radiocommunication Conference 2023:
    • Who: International Telecommunications Union (ITU).
    • What: ITU has approved a major report to address issues with radio-frequency spectrum and satellite orbits, which will be released at WRC-2023 in November.
    • Why: To ensure secure, reliable, affordable, and accessible digital services worldwide.
  6. European Space Industry Gains Venture Capital Funding:
    • Who: European space industry, OTB Ventures.
    • What: A surge in venture capital funding for the European space industry.
    • Why: The European Space Agency (ESA) awarding contracts to smaller players, driving optimism for the region's space business ecosystem.
  7. Tlon Space Preparing for First Orbital Flight Test of Aventura I Rocket:
    • Who: Tlon Space, an Argentina-based startup.
    • What: First orbital flight test of the small launch vehicle, Aventura I.
    • Why: To prove its viability as a lightweight and cost-effective solution for launching nanosatellites and picosatellites.
  8. Satellite Vu Awarded Grant for Infrared Monitoring System for Solar Farms:
    • Who: Satellite Vu, Energy Entrepreneurs Fund.
    • What: Grant awarded for the development of a satellite-based infrared monitoring system, SARM-PV.
    • Why: To improve the efficiency of power generation through solar cells by 2-4% and reduce overall costs for solar providers.
  9. Featured interview: Brandon Bailey of The Aerospace Corporation discussing the SPARTA framework and cybersecurity for spacecraft.

Wednesday, 4/12/23: A warm “Hello!” to the FCC Space Bureau.

  1. FCC International Bureau Split:
    • Who: Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Julie Kearney, Chief of the FCC Space Bureau.
    • What: Split of the International Bureau into the Office of International Affairs and the FCC Space Bureau.
    • Why: To make the FCC more agile and responsive to the rapidly changing space economy and improve coordination among federal agencies.
  2. Arianespace and Reusable Rockets:
    • Who: Arianespace, SpaceX, Stephane Israel (Arianespace CEO).
    • What: Arianespace focusing on Ariane 6 instead of reusable rockets, with the Ariane Next set to debut in the 2030s.
    • Why: Arianespace may have missed the window for incorporating reusable rocket tech into the Ariane 6, which is expected to be in use for the next decade.
  3. HAKUTO-R Mission 1 Lunar Lander:
    • Who: Japanese private company ispace.
    • What: Historic lunar landing attempt.
    • Why: If successful, Japan will become the fourth nation to soft-land on the Moon, and it will be the first privately funded spacecraft to do so.
  4. CAS Space Reusable Rocket Model:
    • Who: Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) Space.
    • What: Successful launch and vertical landing of a jet-engine-powered reusable rocket model.
    • Why: Proof of concept for CAS Space, which could lead to more organizations scaling up their efforts in reusable rocket stages.
  5. AI in Space: Spiral Blue's Space Edge One:
    • Who: Australian space startup Spiral Blue.
    • What: Space Edge One, an NVIDIA Xavier NX-based AI device, performs real-time data processing in space.
    • Why: More efficient, targeted data transmission to end users on Earth.
  6. AI in Space: Microsoft's Azure Space:
    • Who: Microsoft.
    • What: Azure Space uses generative AI to make sense of space data.
    • Why: Allows end users to ask natural language questions to find locations from satellite data.
  7. South Korea's First Commercial-Grade Satellite:
    • Who: South Korea, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST).
    • What: Launch of NEXTSat-2 and seven cubesats on the KSLV-II Nuri rocket.
    • Why: First commercial-grade satellite for South Korea and first joint manufacture of the Nuri rocket by a private company.
  8. Midland Spaceport Development Board:
    • Who: Midland Spaceport Development Board, Texas state legislature.
    • What: Attempting to secure state funding for Midland International Air & Space Port.
    • Why: To revive the spaceport, which shut down in 2019 due to a lack of funding.
  9. Eclipse Venture Firm Funds:
    • Who: Eclipse venture firm.
    • What: Raised $1.2 billion across two new funds to invest in industries that create physical things, bringing their total managed funds to $4 billion.
    • Why: To help bring these industries into the digital era, focusing on sectors like manufacturing, supply chain, transportation, healthcare infrastructure, semiconductor, and energy.
  10. Flexible Mirror for Space Telescopes:
    • Who: Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics.
    • What: Development of high-quality, flexible membrane mirrors for use in space telescopes.
    • Why: To advance space telescope technology by making mirrors more easily transportable and deployable.
  11. Featured interview: Zhanna Malekos-Smith, Senior Associate at CSIS and Cyber Law Fellow at the Army Cyber Institute. We discussed the US-Japan Space Pact agreement and the meaning of “peaceful purposes.”

Thursday, 4/13/23: “PIVOT!” says Relativity Space.

  1. Relativity Space changes plans:
    • Who: Relativity Space.
    • What: Scrapping Terran 1, focusing on Terran R development. First launch scheduled for 2026.
    • Why: To compete in the medium to heavy launch vehicle market and capitalize on market and financial opportunities.
  2. US Space Force to task commercial satellites:
    • Who: US Space Force.
    • What: Building capabilities to directly task commercial satellites for faster imagery.
    • Why: To improve response times and coordination with the commercial sector to directly support the warfighter.
  3. Combat drones receiving orders from LEO:
    • Who: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI).
    • What: The successful demonstration of an MQ-20 Avenger Unmanned Aircraft System controlled by human and AI pilots via LEO satellite communications, the first such demonstration of LEO satellites controlling a drone.
    • Why: To explore the potential for faster and more efficient communication with combat drones. Before now, such drones have been controlled by satellites in GEO.
  4. Microsoft and Viasat collaboration:
    • Who: Microsoft and Viasat.
    • What: Connecting Viasat's Real-Time Earth ground service to Microsoft's Azure cloud.
    • Why: To scale operations and provide faster access to larger amounts of data for customers.
  5. Kepler Communications funding news:
    • Who: Kepler Communications.
    • What: Raised $92 million to deploy the Kepler Network, a constellation of 140 optical data relay satellites.
    • Why: To enable real-time and continuous connectivity with satellites in LEO.
  6. Slingshot Aerospace to improve space situational awareness:
    • Who: Slingshot Aerospace.
    • What: Adding 80 ground-based optical telescopes to its existing network of 150.
    • Why: To supplement radar observations and track objects in LEO more effectively.
  7. Astra Space granted extension by Nasdaq:
    • Who: Astra Space.
    • What: Granted a six-month extension to raise its stock price above $1 per share.
    • Why: To avoid being delisted from the stock exchange.
  8. Featured interview: Brandon Karpf, Executive Director of N2K Networks and our Executive Producer. We discussed the US Space Force component commands and the challenges facing the resource-constrained SPACECENT.

Friday, 4/14/23: Jupiter, get ready for this JUICE.

  1. Launch of ESA’s mission to Jupiter:
    • Who: ESA's Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE).
    • What: Successfully launched on an Ariane 5 rocket from Kourou, French Guiana.
    • Why: To explore Jupiter and its icy moons; the spacecraft will take 8 years to reach Jupiter and the mission will last until 2031.
  2. New space systems report from CSC 2.0:
    • Who: Cyberspace Solarium Commission (CSC) 2.0.
    • What: A new report calling for space systems to be designated as critical infrastructure.
    • Why: To close current gaps and prioritize space security and resilience through improved risk management and public-private collaboration.
  3. Large global market opportunities in satellite broadband access.  
    • Who: Satellite industry consulting group Euroconsult.
    • What: A report predicting $18 billion in revenues for the universal satellite broadband access market by 2031.
    • Why: The untapped market for service providers is worth about $74 billion, with 2.6 billion people still lacking access to broadband, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa, India, and parts of Asia.
  4. AWS ground station expands services with increased frequency support.
    • Who: Amazon Web Services (AWS) Ground Station.
    • What: Expanded services to offer Wideband Digital Intermediate Frequency to customers.
    • Why: To enable customers to demodulate and decode downlink data in real-time in their Amazon Virtual Private Cloud using a software-defined radio of their choice.
  5. Intelsat and Optus contract Northrop Grumman for in-space servicing.
    • Who: Northrop Grumman, Intelsat, and Optus.
    • What: Announced that two of the three mission extension pods (MEPs) on the planned 2026 mission robotic vehicle have been spoken for.
    • Why: The MEPs will service large satellites in geosynchronous orbit (GEO), expanding in-space servicing, assembly, and manufacturing (ISAM) capabilities.
  6. Successful launch from a Chinese private space startup.
    • Who: Chinese private rocket startup i-Space.
    • What: Successful launch of their four-stage solid rocket, Hyperbola 1.
    • Why: Marks their first successful launch since 2019 after three consecutive failures, and the 16th rocket launch for China this year.
  7. NASA initiates the second independent review for the Mars Sample Return mission.
    • Who: NASA, Orlando Figueroa, and the Mars Sample Return mission.
    • What: Figueroa appointed as the chair of the 2nd independent review of the Mars Sample Return mission.
    • Why: To oversee the complex mission planned for later this decade; Figueroa is a former director for Mars Exploration at NASA.
  8. Featured interview: Raphael Roettgen, Founder & Partner at E2MC Ventures and host of the Space Business Podcast, on the venture capital environment for new space startups and SpiderOak's recent Series C investment round. You can follow Raphael on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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