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Signals and Space | V1 | Issue 11 | 06.26.23

Competing in the 2023 Spaceport America Cup. Electron’s hypersonic suborbital test packs a Wallop. DARPA, debris, and de-risking with simulation. 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, 6/19/23: Competing in the 2023 Spaceport America Cup.

  1. Special edition: 158 teams from around the world were selected to compete in the 2023 Spaceport America Cup. Over 120 made it to the competition in New Mexico. We spoke with University College London team lead Adrien Coutant about what drew his team to compete in the Cup.

Tuesday, 6/20/23: Electron’s hypersonic suborbital test packs a Wallop.

  1. Relativity Space's Launch Complex Upgrades for Terran R

    • Who: Relativity Space
    • What: The company is preparing for the launch of its reusable rocket, Terran R, by filing a permit to upgrade Launch Complex 16 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The upgrade will involve the construction of additional facilities like a larger hangar and new tank farm areas.
    • Why: The upgrade aims to bolster the upcoming Terran R program, moving away from the Terran 1 initiative and showing Relativity's commitment to this new venture.
  2. Skyrora's Progress with 3D Printed Engine

    • Who: Skyrora
    • What: The Edinburgh-based rocket company is making strides towards its first commercial orbital launch using a new 3D-printed engine. The engine is undergoing full duration tests and is produced by Skyora's new Skyprint 2 machine.
    • Why: The development of this 3D-printed engine represents a significant step forward in Skyrora's mission to launch from the SaxaVord Spaceport in Shetland, pending approval by the Civil Aviation Authority.
  3. Rocket Lab’s Hypersonic Accelerator Suborbital Test Electron (HASTE)

    • Who: Rocket Lab
    • What: Rocket Lab successfully launched its first suborbital variant of its Electron vehicle, named HASTE, carrying the first suborbital testbed vehicle for the Multi-Service Advanced Capability Hypersonic Test Bed (MACH-TB).
    • Why: This launch represents a response to the Pentagon's increased focus on hypersonic development, and it is expected to boost Rocket Lab's ambitious plans for more Electron launches in 2023.
  4. European New Space Startups Join Copernicus

    • Who: European Space Agency (ESA), nine European new space startups
    • What: ESA announced the inclusion of nine new space startups in the Copernicus program, Europe's earth observation satellite program.
    • Why: The startups will be part of the Copernicus Contribution Missions, filling informational gaps from ESA’s Copernicus Sentinels and adding new data to the program to help businesses improve their sustainability practices and monitor climate change impacts.
  5. Ball Corporation Exploring Sale of Aerospace Unit

    • Who: Ball Corporation
    • What: Ball Corporation is reportedly considering selling its aerospace unit, a longstanding partner for NASA and NOAA missions, for about $5 billion.
    • Why: This sale could help Ball Corporation significantly reduce its considerable debt, allowing it to focus more on its profitable sectors.
  6. Swedish and Colombian Space Partnership

    • Who: Swedish Space Corporation, Swedish Royal Institute of Technology, Colombia's national space program
    • What: A new partnership to bolster Colombia's space operations, including rocket and satellite missions, satellite ground station development, and more.
    • Why: Sweden's contribution to the partnership is expected to significantly improve Colombia's space capabilities, leveraging its 50 years of experience in space operations.
  7. Saudi Arabia's Space Scholarship Program

    • Who: Saudi Arabia
    • What: A new scholarship program for students pursuing advanced degrees in space-related fields at the world's top 200 educational institutions.
    • Why: The scholarship aims to align with Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 policy, helping to reduce the kingdom's economic dependence on oil by fostering talent in high-tech sectors like space.
  8. Boosting Greece's Space Industry with Seven CubeSat Missions

    • Who: European Space Agency, Greece's Ministry of Digital Governance
    • What: Seven CubeSat missions are being developed to provide secure connectivity, telecommunications, and Earth observation services, aiming to boost Greece's nascent space industry.
    • Why: The initiative seeks to enhance the Greek space industry's capabilities and contribute to various sectors, such as agriculture, maritime tracking, secure connectivity, and more.
  9. The Libra Group's Entrance into Space Infrastructure

    • Who: The Libra Group
    • What: The Libra Group announces its entrance into space infrastructure, aiming to provide satellites, space ports, and other core infrastructure on lease.
    • Why: This new venture, under Space Leasing International, aligns with Libra Group's initial investment in setting up a ground station in the Alaskan Arctic and plans to construct more stations worldwide, thereby strengthening its position in the space infrastructure industry.
  10. Featured interview: Jonathan Firth, Chief Corporate Development Officer for D-Orbit. You can connect with Jonathan on LinkedIn and learn more about D-Orbit on their website.

Wednesday, 6/21/23: DARPA, debris, and de-risking with simulation.

  1. Digantara's Series A1 Funding Round

    • Who: Digantara, a Bengaluru-based space situational awareness software startup.
    • What: Digantara announced a $10 million USD series A1 funding round, intending to further develop their Space Mission Assurance Platform (SpaceMAP) for providing comprehensive situational awareness data.
    • Why: The investment round aims to improve the ability to understand risk exposure to debris and other spacecraft on orbit, enhancing decision-making for militaries, commercial customers, and insurance companies.
  2. Vyoma's Seed Extension Round

    • Who: Vyoma, a German space situational awareness software company.
    • What: Vyoma announced an 8.5 million euro seed extension round, with Safran Corporate Ventures as a co-investor. The company plans to use their own space-based telescopes for on-orbit object monitoring.
    • Why: This funding will help the company develop sensor diversification and data fusion, contributing to more accurate monitoring and increasing space safety.
  3. SCOUT Space's Oversubscribed Seed Round

    • Who: SCOUT Space, a Virginia-based space safety company.
    • What: SCOUT Space closed an oversubscribed seed round to advance its software that enables spacecraft to see, understand, and make decisions about their surroundings autonomously.
    • Why: This latest funding, led by Decisive Point, aims to improve real-time traffic management in space, contributing to overall space safety.
  4. DARPA and SpaceLogistics' Satellite Repair Robotic Vehicle

    • Who: DARPA and Northrop Grumman’s SpaceLogistics.
    • What: The partnership is developing a satellite repair robotic vehicle under the Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites program, planning for a 2025 launch.
    • Why: This initiative aims to provide services such as inspection, orbital adjustment, repair, and upgrade missions, enhancing the capabilities and lifespan of satellites, and promoting cost efficiency.
  5. Skyroot's Successful Raman-I Engine Test

    • Who: Skyroot, an Indian launch services startup.
    • What: Skyroot announced a successful flight qualification test for their Raman-I engine, marking a significant milestone for the company.
    • Why: The successful test shows progress towards the development of the Vikram-I rocket, showcasing Skyroot's growing capabilities in the launch service market.
  6. NASA's Partnership with GHGSat

    • Who: NASA and GHGSat.
    • What: NASA has partnered with GHGSat under the Commercial Smallsat Data Acquisition program to acquire methane emission data.
    • Why: This collaboration will advance NASA's Earth science and climate change objectives, providing critical data on human-induced and natural methane emissions globally.
  7. Telstra and OneWeb's Backhaul Implementation

    • Who: Telstra and OneWeb.
    • What: The two companies have partnered to implement large-scale low earth orbit (LEO) backhaul for commercial mobile networks.
    • Why: This collaboration will enhance real-time applications such as voice and video calling, especially for customers in remote areas of Australia, furthering OneWeb's global coverage ambitions.
  8. Impact of Launch Activities on Marine Life

    • Who: Brazilian researchers studying the environmental impact of launch activities on marine life near Brazil's Alcântara Launch Center.
    • What: The study found a significant decline in shark populations around the launch sites, likely due to noise, seismic vibrations, and increased electromagnetic activity.
    • Why: This study brings attention to the overlooked environmental impacts of increased space activities and highlights the need for effective conservation and biomonitoring programs near coastal spaceports.
  9. Space-Based Security Threats for CISOs

    • Who: CSO Online, an outlet providing security news.
    • What: A new article discussing why Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) should be more concerned about space-based security threats to their infrastructure.
    • Why: As the space sector continues to grow, the article emphasizes the importance of understanding and managing the potential security threats posed by space-based infrastructure, informing decision-making among CISOs.
  10. Featured interview: Steve Bleymaier, CTO for Aerospace & Defense at Ansys, on managing risk via modeling, and simulation as a strategy for early-stage startups via the Ansys Startup program. You can follow Steve on LinkedIn

Thursday, 6/22/23: SES and Intelsat parting ways. NorthStar and Rocket Lab weighing parts.

  1. Intelsat and SES Call Off Merger Talks

    • Who: Intelsat and SES, two major satellite communications companies based in Luxembourg.
    • What: After months of negotiations, the companies have decided to call off the merger talks. A potential merger between the two could have created a company valued around $10 billion.
    • Why: The decision to discontinue merger discussions comes amidst the increasing competition in the satellite field and shrinking revenues in the satellite communications industry year after year.
  2. Anomaly Affects the Otter Pup

    • Who: Starfish Space and Launcher, two space tech companies working on in-space satellite servicing capabilities.
    • What: An update was given regarding the status of the Otter Pup, a testbed for the companies' technology. The Otter Pup experienced an anomaly after separating from the Orbiter, inducing a high rotation rate.
    • Why: The unexpected anomaly puts the mission's objectives at risk. Efforts to stabilize the Otter Pup and continue the mission are ongoing.
  3. Russian Hackers Claim to Have Access to Maxar Satellite

    • Who: An alleged Russian-speaking hacker named "labs666".
    • What: The hacker claims to have access to a Maxar Technologies US military satellite and is offering this access for sale for $15,000.
    • Why: The credibility of this claim is still in question. If true, it represents a significant cyber-security threat and a potential risk to national security.
  4. SDA Partners with SAIC for BMC3 LEO Satellite App Store

    • Who: The Space Development Agency (SDA) and SAIC (Science Applications International Corporation).
    • What: The SDA has selected SAIC to build a cloud-based "application factory" for designing, testing, and deploying cyber-resilient battle management, command, and control (BMC3) software for low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites.
    • Why: This initiative is part of the SDA's plans to enhance satellite communication and data sharing, aiming to support the Defense Department's Joint All Domain Command and Control concept. The factory will allow for in-space satellite upgrades.
  5. NorthStar Earth and Space Contracts Rocket Lab for Satellite Launch

    • Who: NorthStar Earth and Space and Rocket Lab.
    • What: NorthStar signed a multi-launch contract with Rocket Lab to deploy its space situational awareness satellites, following the bankruptcy of the original launch provider, Virgin Orbit.
    • Why: The satellites will help track objects as small as five centimeters in low Earth orbit, improving space situational awareness and satellite collision avoidance.
  6. Satellite Industry Association Advocates for Satellite Technologies in Rural Areas

    • Who: Tom Stroup, President of the Satellite Industry Association.
    • What: Testifying before congress, Stroup called for financial incentives, funding, and regulatory changes to promote satellite technologies in rural areas.
    • Why: Stroup emphasized the importance of satellite technology in advancing farming, broadband access, and robust IoT connectivity in rural areas.
  7. NASA Opens the Earth Information Center

    • Who: NASA.
    • What: NASA has launched the Earth Information Center (EIC) at its headquarters, a public facility aimed at showcasing the data collected by its Earth science spacecraft.
    • Why: The EIC aims to make NASA's critical environmental data more accessible to the public and decision-making agencies, contributing to environmental awareness and informed policymaking.
  8. Danti Announces Funding Round for Geospatial Data Search Engine

    • Who: Danti, a tech startup.
    • What: Danti has emerged from stealth, announcing a $2.75 million pre-seed funding round to develop a search engine for geospatial data.
    • Why: The search engine will help users access information about Earth's locations using natural language, enabling non-expert users to process geospatial data into actionable intelligence.
  9. Virgin Galactic Board Chair Evan Lovell Passes Away

    • Who: Virgin Galactic and Evan Lovell, Chair of the Company’s Board of Directors.
    • What: Evan Lovell, the Chair of the Board of Directors of Virgin Galactic, has unexpectedly passed away following an illness.
    • Why: His unexpected passing is a significant loss for the company. Ray Mabus, former Secretary of the US Navy, will serve as Interim Chair.
  10. ULA Delta IV Heavy Launches Classified Satellite

    • Who: United Launch Alliance (ULA).

    • What: The ULA Delta IV heavy successfully launched last night, carrying a classified satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) on the NROL-68 mission.

    • Why: This is the second to last launch for the Delta IV heavy, a powerful launch vehicle used for high-priority national security payloads.

  11. Featured interview: Kim Macharia, Executive Director at Space Prize Foundation, joins us to talk about space education and empowering women to participate in the space economy. You can follow Kim on LinkedIn and Twitter, and Space Prize Foundation on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Friday, 6/23/23: India says yes to Artemis.

  1. India Signs the Artemis Accords During US State Visit

    • Who: India, led by Prime Minister Modi, and the United States.
    • What: India has signed the Artemis Accords, committing to a shared vision of space exploration for the benefit of humanity. This move opens doors for collaborative projects with NASA, including a joint mission to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2024.
    • Why: The signing indicates India's alignment with the US in space exploration endeavors, moving away from China's International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) agreement. This might have broader geopolitical implications beyond the space domain.
  2. Apex Spacecraft Manufacturing Raises $16 million in Series A Funding

    • Who: Apex Spacecraft Manufacturing, Andreessen Horowitz, and Shield Capital.
    • What: Apex raised $16 million in a series A funding round for its innovative model of building off-the-shelf Ares satellite buses.
    • Why: The funding boosts Apex's approach to satellite manufacturing, emphasizing speed and customer convenience. The model has already attracted significant customers, demonstrating its potential for success.
  3. Virgin Galactic Raises Funds through Stock Offering

    • Who: Virgin Galactic.
    • What: Virgin Galactic has raised $300 million through a stock offering, with plans to raise an additional $400 million in a subsequent offering.
    • Why: The funds will be used for various corporate purposes, including the development of its spaceship fleet and infrastructure for scaling its commercial operations. This follows the company's plans for its first commercial spaceflight.
  4. D-Orbit Secures New Contracts with Italy's Recovery and Resilience Plan

    • Who: D-Orbit, the Italian Space Agency (ASI), and Thales Alenia Space.
    • What: D-Orbit announced four new contracts, two of which are for ASI, as part of Italy's Recovery and Resilience Plan framework.
    • Why: The contracts include a significant project to launch Italy's first national on-orbit servicing demonstration mission, underlining D-Orbit's prominence in the country's space sector.
  5. Safran and Terran Orbital Collaborate for US-Based Propulsion Production Line

    • Who: Safran and Terran Orbital.
    • What: The companies have announced a joint venture to explore the creation of a US-based production line for next-gen electric satellite propulsion systems.
    • Why: The production line will cater to the growing global demand for maneuverable propulsion systems and increase Safran's international production capacity.
  6. SpiderOak's OrbitSecure Completes First Successful Space Flight

    • Who: SpiderOak, a cybersecurity provider, and Ball Aerospace.
    • What: SpiderOak announced the successful space flight of OrbitSecure, their end-to-end data security solution for space systems, deployed on a Ball Aerospace prototype payload.
    • Why: This achievement demonstrates the effective operation of the cybersecurity platform in a space environment, contributing to data resilience for multi-vendor low-Earth orbit networks.
  7. Rocket Lab's Upcoming 'Baby Come Back' Mission to Recover Booster at Sea

    • Who: Rocket Lab.
    • What: Rocket Lab's upcoming 'Baby Come Back' mission will deploy seven satellites and aim to recover the rocket's booster at sea.
    • Why: This mission marks a significant step in Rocket Lab's recovery and reuse program, contributing to cost-effectiveness and sustainability in their launch operations.
  8. House Armed Services Committee Allows US Space Force to Alter Launch Service Charges

    • Who: The House Armed Services Committee and the US Space Force.
    • What: The Committee has approved a change that allows the Space Force to collect fees for indirect costs related to private company use of military launch ranges.
    • Why: This change reflects a shift in perspective, viewing the ranges more as service-providing spaceports.
  9. Ovzon 3 Launch Delayed until Late 2023

    • Who: Swedish satcom service provider Ovzon, manufacturer Maxar Technologies, and launch provider SpaceX.
    • What: The launch of Ovzon's first broadband satellite, Ovzon 3, has been delayed again until at least late 2023 due to assembly, testing delays, and a switch in launch providers.
    • Why: The delay has increased the project's overall cost by around $25 million and may require regulatory extensions from the International Telecommunication Union.
  10. Featured interview: Timur Davis and Peter Ortez, Director and Principal at Munich Re Ventures, on building the "picks and shovels" for the space industry. You can follow Timur on LinkedIn and Peter on LinkedIn.

Saturday, 6/24/23: Timur Davis and Peter Ortez on picks and shovels for the space industry.

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