US Space Force assigns 12 new missions to SpaceX and ULA. GAO finds red flags in Space Force procurements. Is China planning to spy from Cuba? And...
Skywalking into billion dollar space deals.
Maxar officially goes private. And Arconic might. Voyager Space’s latest purchase brings Astrolab closer to reality. Starlink hits a major milestone. And more
Maxar bought out for $6.4 billion by Advent. Arconic plans to go private for $5.2 billion courtesy of Apollo Global. ZIN technologies acquired by Voyager Space Holdings. Space tech investment firm Seraphim selects nine space startups for global accelerator program. SpaceX’s Starlink now numbers over 4000 in orbit, and more.
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Our Industry Voice Interview is with Dr. Quenton Bonds about NASA’s SBIR Ignite Catalyst program. Applications are only open until May 15th, so listen in and visit space.n2k.com/nasa to learn more.
And you can follow Quenton on LinkedIn.
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>> Maria Varmazis: High interest rates haven't sapped all interest from the private market. No, no. In fact, two aerospace companies are backing away from the public market and being bought out, going private. These multi-billion dollar deals closed or are in the works. Maxar was just bought out for $6.4 billion by Advent, and Arconic plans to go private for $5.2 billion, courtesy of Apollo Global.
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It's May 4, 2023. I'll say the thing. May the fourth be with you. I'm Maria Varmazis, and this is T-Minus.
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Maxar goes private, officially, and Arconic might. Voyager Space's latest acquisition brings Astrolab one step closer to reality. Space X's Starlink hits a major milestone, and our weekly industry voices segment. This week I'm talking to Dr. Quenton Bonds about a new program at NASA designed to help new entrepreneurs join the space economy. It's called NASA's SBIR Ignite Catalyst Program, and we'll tell you all about it. Stay with us.
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This is the way to today's intel briefing. It's a done deal. Private equity firm Advent International has bought out Maxar Technologies for $53 a share, bringing the total purchase price to an eye-watering $6.4 billion. As a result, Maxar is officially off the market, but it is remaining a U.S. controlled and operated company.
So, why did Advent buy Maxar? Well, Maxar is a really big name. They've been around since 1957 and, putting it very broadly, they are a satellite manufacturer and operator. In fact, they've made nearly 300 satellites that are currently in orbit, covering Earth observation and communications, and 100 large satellites in geosynchronous orbit, or geo, right now are specifically Maxar made, and they're used across commercial, civil, defense markets.
According to the company's website, 90% of the geospatial intelligence used by the U.S. government for national security comes from Maxar. And last year it won a $3.2 billion contract from the National Reconnaissance Office to continue to provide imagery for the government for the next 10 years. In fact, Maxar imagery has been used a lot in understanding the extent of Russian attacks during its war on Ukraine.
The company has been working on its next generation satellite constellation called The WorldView Legion, which has been effected by the same supply chain woes that everyone has and, as such, has been impacted with delays. The hope is that the first of six WorldView Legion satellites might launch sometime this summer.
This acquisition move by Advent, said Maxar CEO, Daniel Jablonsky, in an interview with Space News, "We'll allow the company to potentially add more satellites to the planned constellation and move more quickly in building the next generation satellite constellation and getting it up and running."
And as we said at the top of the show, Apollo Global management says they've reached an agreement with Arconic to buy them out for $30 a share in a deal that could be worth $5.2 billion.
Arconic is a spinoff of Alcoa, and it's a major aluminum supplier to aerospace, especially to Boeing. Arconic says this buyout would give them the capital that they need to make some much needed upgrades in investments, especially since they also have $1.5 billion in debt. This isn't a done deal, though. No guarantees that I'll happen, but if it does, expect that to happen around the second half of the year.
And from buyouts to acquisitions now, Zen Technologies, which provides engineering, design, and integration work for human-rated space flight systems for NASA and the ISS, has been acquired by Voyager Space Holdings, which holds the majority stake of Nanoracks, amongst other space companies.
For Voyager Space, this acquisition of Zen is a major step forward for their plans for Astrolab, Voyager's own planned commercial space station.
SpaceTech investment firm Seraphim has selected nine space startups to take part in its latest global accelerator program. This is the British firm's 11th accelerator program in the last five years.
Seraphim says that they have helped 81 startups raise more than $270 million from 80 venture capitalists through the program.
Raytheon Technologies have selected CesiumAstro to supply electronic phased-array payloads for seven satellites that the company is building for the U.S. military.
Raytheon was awarded a $250 million contract to build missile sensor satellites for Space Force's SDA, or Space Development Agency, to be delivered in 2025.
CesiumAstro will provide Ka-band radio frequency payloads to be integrated in the seven satellites that will be part of SDA's tracking layer, Tranche 1.
OneWeb has signed a deal with NOW Corporation to supply the 114 million people in the Philippines with broadband. The agreement with partner OneWeb's satellite technology with NOW Corporation's existing broadband service. OneWeb's LEO satellites will provide connectivity, enabling NOW to offer enhanced broadband services to government, aviation, maritime, military, energy, healthcare, and banking sectors.
A SpaceX launch has become a pretty regular occurrence here in the United States on both coasts. And although we don't mention all of their launches, we do want to mark this milestone. SpaceX celebrated Star Wars Day with a Falcon 9 launch in the early hours of today, May 4th, from the Space Coast in Florida, and their rocket transported 56 new Starlink satellites to low Earth orbit, or LEO. This is not normally a big news story, except this now brings the total number of Starlink satellites on orbit to over 4000.
This was also a quick turnaround for SpaceX missions, which is now down to less than five and a half days between launches. Wow.
It also means that Starlink makes up over 50% of the approximately 7400 satellites that are currently in space, bringing a whole new meaning to mega constellation.
So, with all this additional satellite activity, it should come as no surprise that the U.S. government is looking to enhance commercial satellite cybersecurity. In a bipartisan proposal, U.S. centers Gary Peters and John Cornyn introduced the Satellite Cybersecurity Act, requiring the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, or CISA, to help protect commercial satellite operators from attacks. The legislation points out that critical infrastructure systems are heavily reliant on commercial satellites. Although, space assets are currently not considered a critical infrastructure sector by the U.S. government. Similar legislation was proposed last year but did not pass.
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And that's your intel briefing for today. And you know, we do love an acronym in space, and this one has to be a T-Minus favorite. I will be amazed if I can get through this one.
ESA is funding a series of studies to look at the use of nuclear propulsion for deep space exploration, including the preliminary European reckon on nuclear electric propulsion for space application study, with the CamelCasing all over the place on that one, known as Rocket Roll. You can find out more about this story and others at the selected reading section on our website at space.n2k.com. Do or do not; there is no try.
Coming up, our industry voices with Dr. Quenton Bonds of NASA, speaking with us about NASA's new SBIR Ignite Catalyst Program.
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Say T-Minus crew, every Thursday we sit down with industry experts in a segment called "Industry Voices," all about the groundbreaking new products, services, and businesses emerging around the world. Every guest on "Industry Voices" has paid to be here, but today we're doing something a little different. We have a special industry voice from NASA with a new program announcement.
Today, you're going to hear from Dr. Quenton Bonds about NASA's SBIR Ignite Catalyst Program. Applications are only open until May 15th. So, listen in and visit space.n2k.com/nasa to learn more. Here's our conversation.
>> Dr. Quenton Bonds: Well, I'm Dr. Quenton Bonds. I am the lead for NASA's SBIR STTR Ignite Program.
>> Maria Varmazis: What we wanted to really dive into today is the Ignite Program. So, from a really high level, can we start with- So, what is it? [laughter]
>> Dr. Quenton Bonds: One thing I want to kind of distinguish is that we have SBIR Ignite and then we have our mainline SBIR solicitation. Our mainline SBIR solicitation is awesome. However, we wanted to try something different with IBIR Ignite. We wanted to get into that experimentation mentality. That's where, you know, entrepreneurship is going. So, us in the space industry, we should do the same thing.
So, we kind of heard from a lot of our stakeholders. When I'm saying stakeholders, I'm talking about applicants, PIs, even Congress. Everyone who is somewhat familiar with SBIR, and they talked about some things they would like to see, and one of those things was they wanted things to be a little bit more commercialization focused. They want to transition more. What a transition is, going from being funded by NASA or another government agency to actually be infused into a mission, research, flight project, or be used by the United States or another country terrestrial. Like how can we take these technologies and help firms to get more customers, get more government agencies to invest in them or buy into them, or even get private funding investment.
So we've done several different things with Ignite and made our topics more commercialization focused. And so, last year, what we did- Not only did we take topics from NASA scientists and engineers, but we brought in commercialization experts, business experts. We brought in people that have their pulse on entrepreneurship and technology to help us refine the topics such that they will be commercialization focused.
>> Maria Varmazis: It sounds like a really interesting accelerator program in a way.
>> Dr. Quenton Bonds: You're exactly right. One of the things that I wanted to quickly highlight- talk about why it's this important. A lot of times when people or and firms develop technologies for NASA, they develop what we call like a one-off. They develop a technology that could be used.
So, I developed microwave instruments. One of my instruments that I really enjoyed working on was- was Sweet Sar [phonetic]. It measures snow [inaudible]. Okay, so how much water will a snow peg make? Out west it affects the water supply. It eventually affects climate.
So, let's say I was a entrepreneur and I was developing this instrument to measure snow for NASA. Okay? Once I develop it for NASA's specific applications, I don't have a lot of, what we call, terrestrial customers, customers here on Earth, to pretty much purchase my instrument. So, we said okay. Let's do some research on these topics and figure out is there a commercial market. And it- In particular, is there commercial space or aerospace market? Because one of the outcomes that we want from Ignite, we want NASA to invest, and once NASA invests, we're hoping that other investors come in and invest, or firms get other customers from other government agency or even large companies like your Boeings, your Lockheeds, your Raytheons, and one those firms get more customers, we start to stimulate those commercial space and aerospace markets.
It's a huge payoff because now NASA, large companies, other government agencies, we have more firms to choose from. Our nation has more technology to choose from. In addition, we have more tax dollars flowing. We have more people in the job market as particularly in the space and technology arena. So, it's a real big win payoff with regards to this. And so we wanted to use Ignite, try to do some experimentation to figure out what could we learn from a commercialization focused solicitation that we can apply to our main lines solicitation.
So, some of the other feedback that we were getting is that, you know, NASA keeps funding the same companies, right? So, we said okay. How could we do something that's new to NASA, new to SBIR? How could we find firms that's new to us? And so that's why we're doing this podcast. We did a bunch of "Ask Me Anything" sessions.
Firms may be dev- developing technology terrestrially that may have implications, though, that can be applied in space. And so, we're doing a Catalyst community building events leading up to the Ignite solicitation, which is going to be around August 1st. That's when the Ignite solicitation is going to be released.
The Catalyst events, you don't win an award, but you get benefit because if you are selected to participate in the Catalyst events, you'll get in front of NASA subject matter experts. You'll also get in front of potential investors, people that have their pulse on commercialization.
Even if you're not selected, we're doing- At those Catalyst events, we're doing a morning session. We're going to help with the pitches. How do you tell your story? Kind of like an accelerator for Deep Tech space innovation.
Did that answer your question? I know I- I'm kind of all over the place here.
>> Maria Varmazis: To me, the question that I'm trying to understand is who should be applying to this program, and why would they be applying and-?
>> Dr. Quenton Bonds: That's why I mentioned the morning sessions that we plan to do in the in-person Catalyst events because we set those programmings up through H4XLabs Ellen Chang, and we set those things up because we knew that firms that may be new to NASA or new to a plan to space opportunities. So, we're actually providing infrastructure to help these new NASA firms through our Catalyst events that we're doing leading up to Ignite.
What firms should really do is when the solicitation comes out for the Catalyst events and for Expert Ignite, really look at the solicitation. See what our subject matter experts are asking for, and figure out if you could develop a Deep Tech technology. When I say Deep Tech, you know, hardcore research and development. That can meet that need.
It doesn't matter that you're not currently working in the space industry. It doesn't matter that you're not currently developing technology for space. It still may be able to be applied to space as long as you can kind of solve the problems that's asked for in that solicitation.
>> Maria Varmazis: What do you envision as a successful outcome for this program? Like when you look back maybe in a year or two, what would be like a success story for you?
>> Dr. Quenton Bonds: You know, before I hit on that success story, one of the things that I wanted to encourage firms to do is that I know a lot of you don't typically work in the space industry, or you've never developed a space technology. Still consider participating in these Catalyst events because you never know what you can do. You never know what capabilities that you have. But to answer your question, like what is a success, right?
So, this is a pilot. So, we have a limited number of awards, meaning that, for example, our main line solicitation has, I think, 86 or 89 topics, and I think they award like 150 phase ones. We're only going to give six topics, and we haven't figured out how many phase ones we're going to award. But last year we awarded 12, and we'll probably award about the same amount this year. But that's over six topics, right? We're still figuring that out.
But what a success would be, for me, is that several things would happen. Number one, we get some really good quality applications in response to all of these different topics, such that my topic authors come back to me. That's my NASA subject matter experts in these areas coming back to and say hey. I have so many great firms, but I don't have enough awards, right? We need more budget. Even though you all SBIR Ignite have a budget, these firms are so great that we want to come and put on our own budget to help this phase one, this type of thing. So, that's one.
Another win that I would like to see happen, I would like for the firms to be very commercialization focused. I want to be clear in that Ignite is not a grant. This is a contract, and I say that because we want transition. We want to actually use your technology in our missions, our research, and our flight projects. Even our test [inaudible] right? So, we want to use the technology, and we want you, as the firms, to get more investors or more investment or additional commercial customers. Leverage our phase one technology to get more customers, more investment, or buy in or customers from other government agencies. So, I want our firms to start thinking about that early.
Another things that's different about Ignite is that if you're awarded a phase one, your phase two is due 120 days within your phase one.
So, NASA can't do a direct to phase two. However, that's kind of about as close as we can get. So, we accelerate everything. Not only do we look for these commercialization focused firms, we accelerate the technology development, which helps firms get more investors. They don't have to wait six months. The typical period of performance for a phase one is six months. For SBIR it's I think a year for STTR, but they don't typically have to wait, reapply, and figure out are they going to get to phase two. We accelerate everything.
Another thing that I'm going to hint at is that if firms get a phase one, for SBIR Ignite, we budget for substantially higher award waiting for phase two. So, for phase two, you're not really competing against your other cohort. You're making sure that you meet the need of that NASA subject matter expert, and you're looking at what have you done in regards to commercialization. Have you found other customers? Have you got other investment? How have you leveraged our award to get more funding? Because remember, at the beginning of the podcast, I talked about how the idea behind NASA investing kind of certifies the firm or validates the firm. Then we look for other investment or other customers. We stimulate the whole commercial space and aerospace economy type of thing.
Another win that I really would like to see happen, I really want us to work with more diverse partners. Okay? We looked at our awards last year, and we plotted, you know, how many from underserved groups, and we set some goals this year to say okay. These groups, and we kind of compared it to the census or to the population, right? We said okay. This is the percentage of, you know, Hispanics, African Americans. Both of those demographics are, I would say with regards to applications, not really participating as much as other demographics, according to their population, right? So, we set some goals to target these communities. We want everybody to apply, but especially these underserved communities. We want you all to apply as well. So, a win would be, for me, would just to have the demographics of awardees similar to the U.S. population.
>> Maria Varmazis: That is a great goal because that's not the current state of this base economy right now. Before we wrap up, is there anything else that maybe we didn't cover that you'd like to address about the Ignite program?
>> Dr. Quenton Bonds: One of the things that I really wanted to get into is how does the Ignite program really help us terrestrially, right? I saw another one of your podcasts. I think you had somebody on there and they was like for the good of Earth, right?
And so, we have several topics that we're doing in Ignite that really have implications to help us as a nation or really help the entire Earth. But I think I mentioned that one of NASA's goals that people don't know about- Everybody knows about we want to go to the moon and we want to go to Mars. Everybody knows about the goal of expanding human knowledge through scientific discoveries. But one of our other goals is to address national challenges and catalyze economic group. And so some of the topics that we've chosen do just that.
So, a lot of you all have heard of space junk, right? So, we called that active debris remediation, okay? So, we're going to run topics. We're strongly considering running topics in Catalyst in active debris remediation and active debris tracking.
Why is that important? So, the cell phones that you use today, you can use them basically because of space technology, right? And those satellites, if it gets too congested up there, you know, it could affect our communications, and it could affect the advancement of technology. And so we need to figure out, you know, how to remove or how to have a amicable or politically correct way to move space debris. And it gets tricky, right? Because what if you take an asset down that's still working? What if you remove someone else's asset? However, if it gets too congested, we can't send more technologies up.
I think I read recently that the costs to get something in low orbit 10-15 years ago was like $10,000 per kilogram. Now it's like $3000 or $2500 per kilogram. That enables so many different scientific experimentation discoveries. I mean, schools. You know, high schools are sending up into the International Space Station. People are doing all types of experiments.
From an entrepreneur's standpoint and perspective, there are various satellite technologies, in my opinion, that will be made accessible to entrepreneurs as to whether they're D-Tech or Deep Space or not. That type of active remediation, people may think, well, it doesn't affect me. But it does.
Another topic that we have is hybrid electric aircraft, right? So, we want to reduce the carbon footprint. We want to use aircraft, and it's so many derivative technologies under hybrid electric aircrafts, like fuel sales, clean energy, clean power system. So many implications here on Earth that may shape even our automobile industry. That may help shape our automobile industry because a lot of people know that batteries is one of the biggest challenges that so many electric car manufacturers face, right?
>> Maria Varmazis: Oh yeah.
>> Dr. Quenton Bonds: You know, right. We need these hybrid electric technologies, right?
We have another topic in space manufacturing. I wanted to highlight because people think okay. How does in space manufacturing, you know, how does that relate to me on Earth? So, I don't know if you all remember, but there was a chip shortage a few years ago. Do you remember that? And that chip shortage was partly because we, as America, we became so dependent upon other countries, right?
In space, we need to develop electrical components, chips. The in-space manufacturing component has so many implications because things work- They can do a lot more testing, the crystals, the purities of the crystals when you manufacture them, or when you start analyzing them and testing them in space, it's like you're in a vacuum. So, you can get higher yields, and you can kind of do a lot better research of these same semiconductor crystals and chips in space that will allow you to develop better technologies here on Earth. Helping us not to be so dependent upon China and other countries for chips.
I can go on and on about the different technologies and how they can help us here. So, we've got another one saying your decision support tools for climate resilience, where we're trying to use decision support tools to help mitigate wildfires and floods. Clear implications here on Earth, right? But who's going to invest in these technologies, right? So, these are the types of things that were doing at SBIR Ignite.
>> Maria Varmazis: I hope lots of people listening are going I've got an idea for that. I've got technology for that, and I can apply to that. The application period is open now through May 15th. Is that correct?
>> Dr. Quenton Bonds: May 15th. And if you look on your website and H4XLab's website, there is a link and you can see the topics that we plan to present through Catalyst within the near future. I know we threw a lot at you really quickly, but you can see there and you can kind of get more insights into some of the things that I'm saying.
>> Maria Varmazis: Thank you so much for walking me through this and for giving me a really great dive into what the program and who we're looking for and what kind of amazing opportunities are there. So, I wish everybody all the best of luck in the application process, and I'm sure we're going to be hearing really fantastic stories and outcomes from this program. Dr. Quenton Bonds, thank you so much for joining me today. I really appreciate it.
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And again, you can learn more about NASA's SBIR Ignite Catalyst program at space.n2k.com/nasa. Everything you need to know about the application process and the in-person networking events is all there. Applications are due by May 15th. So, definitely jump on this opportunity. And again, that website is space.n2k.com/nasa.
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We'll be right back.
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And welcome back. And hey, would you like some friendly nightmare fuel? I'm sure you would, and I am here to provide. No, no. It's not a visualization of the eventual heat death of the universe, but it's kind of in that vein. It's May the 4th, after all. So, how about an IRL Death Star?
Near one of the brightest stars in our night sky, Aquila, astronomers have just observed a dying star's death throws as it expanded and gobbled up one of its orbiting planets. You know, just like what will happen to our planet one day.
Astronomers at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii noticed that star ZTFSLRN 2020 grew 100 times brighter over the course of 10 days before it faded away. At first they thought it was a star merger, but oh no. The spectrographs corrected that assumption pretty quickly. Something 1/1000 of the star's mass, the mere size of Jupiter, was rubbing against this dying star, leaving behind a lot of stellar material. The euphemistic term is a star planet merger, but I think the star won that war.
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That's it for T-Minus for May 4, 2023. For additional resources from today's report, check out our show notes at space.n2k.com. We're privileged that N2K and podcasts like T-Minus are part of the daily routine for many of the most influential leaders and operators in the public and private sector. From the Fortune 500 to many of the world's preeminent intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
This episode was produced by Alice Carruth. Mixing by Elliott Peltzman and Tre Hester, with original and music design by Elliott Peltzman. Our Executive Producer is Brandon Carth. Our Chief Intelligence Officer is Eric Tillman. And I'm Maria Varmazis. Thanks for listening.
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>> Unidentified Person: T-Minus.
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