Firefly Aerospace reaches orbit for the first time

There’s another space-proven private launch company in the club — Firefly Aerospace. The company’s small payload Alpha rocket reached orbit successfully early on Saturday morning after taking of from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

This is a major achievement for Firefly, which has been a lot to get here: The company originally began operations as Firefly Space Systems, which went bankrupt, and was then reborn as Firefly Aerospace after its assets were acquired by Max Polyakov’s Noosphere ventures in 2017.

Tom Markusic, who founded the company and led it as CEO, also departed the post in June. Markusic shifted into a technical advisory and full-time board member role, but his departure was preceded by the very public leaving of Max Polyakov, who in February shared a post pointing the finger at the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), the Air Force and other U.S. agencies for his forced exit. Polyakov is a UK citizen but was born in the Ukraine.

Firefly launched its first Alpha rocket just over a year ago on September 2, 2021, but the launch vehicle exploded mid flight, prior to achieving orbit.

That launch, like today’s, carried a number of payloads for actual paying customers. The difference is that Firefly claimed “100% mission success” for today’s flight, including successful deployment of all three payloads on board to their target orbits.

Firefly now ranks among the small but slowly growing club of private space companies that have attained orbit, including SpaceX, Rocket Lab, Virgin Orbit and Astra.

Firefly Aerospace reaches orbit for the first time by Darrell Etherington originally published on TechCrunch

Free the female-presenting nipple and other TC news

Is Tumblr porn making a comeback? No, it’s not — and Amanda Silberling joins me on this week’s TechCrunch podcast to explain why, and why people thought it might be. Devin Coldewey also joins us to talk about NASA’s DART mission, which saw the U.S. space agency throw a little spacecraft at a big asteroid moon. Yes it’s all real and it all makes sense, I promise. And of course, we run down the biggest stories in tech this past week that you need to know about.

By the way, if you recently were laid off, TechCrunch is offering a free expo pass to Disrupt (October 18-20) in San Francisco. No strings attached. These tickets get you access to the expo floor, breakout sessions and plenty of networking opportunities like partner roundtables and parties. For more info, check out this page.

Articles from the episode:

Other news from the week:

Free the female-presenting nipple and other TC news by Darrell Etherington originally published on TechCrunch

Astra brings on new CFO as it looks to scale launch and propulsion businesses

Astra is bringing on Silicon Valley veteran Axel Martinez as its new Chief Financial Officer, a C-suite change that in many ways demarcates a new chapter for the space company.

Martinez’s career includes a decade tenure at Google, where he held multiple roles including head of capital markets; VP of treasury at Uber; and CFO at Virgin’s Hyperloop One. Most recently, he was CFO at home building startup Veev. Current Astra CFO Kelyn Brannon will finish out this financial quarter before Martinez takes up the position at the start of Q4.

A person with knowledge of the change told TechCrunch that hiring Martinez, who has deep experience with capital markets, is a strategic move for Astra as it navigates capital management and scaling its launch, propulsion and space products businesses.

In many ways, Brannon seemed tailor-made for Astra as it shifted from a startup to a public company; according to her LinkedIn, she’s assisted multiple companies navigate their entrance to the public markets. Indeed, she guided Astra through its merger with blank-check firm Holicity in 2021, in a deal that injected the company with around $500 million. The SPAC deal also had a notably small number of redemptions, which totaled just a little over $100,000, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

But Astra is firmly in a new stage – and the markets are, too. Capital has become very expensive; there’s now a more high-pressure and risk-averse equity environment, where raising cash may not be as easy as it was even at the beginning of this year. Meanwhile, many space investors and private companies have cooled on SPAC deals, with Italian company D-Orbit and weather satellite analytics company Tomorrow.io reversing their merger plans this year (though it should be noted that Intuitive Machines will be moving forward with its SPAC).

Much of this cooling is due to plummeting stock prices and valuations for companies that went public through SPAC mergers. That includes Astra, whose shares have steeply fallen since its debut on the Nasdaq last July. At the end of the company’s first day on the market, stock was trading at $12.90 per share; by close of market Thursday, it had fallen to just $0.62 per share. Market confidence in Astra has been further shaken by a handful of launch failures, most recently a mission in June to launch two Earth science CubeSats for NASA under the agency’s TROPICS program.

All told, Astra ended last quarter with around $200 million on hand and no debt. The company has been investing a lot of capital over the last few quarters, expanding its 250,000 square foot rocket factory in Alameda, California, building a dedicated 60,000-foot rocket engine factory and growing its workforce by 300. The task now before it is figuring out how to best position itself amid an increasingly crowded field of players, both on the launch services and rocket engine sides, and how to deploy that existing capital to bring the company real revenue growth. Astra’s hoping Martinez will be the right talent to navigate these choppy waters.

The original story contained a typo stating that Astra‘s Alameda factory was 25,000 square ft. The story has been updated to reflect that it is 250,000 square ft.

Astra brings on new CFO as it looks to scale launch and propulsion businesses by Aria Alamalhodaei originally published on TechCrunch

NASA and SpaceX are studying sending a private crew to boost Hubble’s orbit

SpaceX and NASA have signed a new agreement to study the feasibility of sending a commercial crew in a SpaceX Dragon to boost the orbit of the Hubble Space Telescope. If completed, the mission could extend the operational lifespan of the telescope by as much as 20 years.

NASA officials cautioned that today’s news is not a mission announcement. For now, it’s just a feasibility study to consider whether such a mission is sensible, given technical and other constraints. Indeed, one might assume that an uncrewed space tug might be best suited for an orbital boosting mission, and there are plenty of space startups working on that kind of technology. But apparently the mission was SpaceX’s idea, and for some reason, they (and their partner, Jared Isaacman’s Polaris Program) want humans involved.

The agreement starts to make more sense with NASA’s acknowledgement that the mission, should it go forward, would come at no cost to the government. NASA and SpaceX are also each funding their participation in the study, NASA’s Science Mission Directorate Thomas Zurbuchen said during a media briefing, though he didn’t specify how much the study will cost.

One of the main goals of the six-month feasibility study is to explore how a crewed Dragon capsule, possible under the aegis of a Polaris Program mission, could safely rendezvous and dock with Hubble, and then boost the Hubble Space Telescope to a higher orbit. While SpaceX has plenty of experience docking with the International Space Station, SpaceX’s VP of customer operations and integration Jessica Jensen acknowledged that Hubble represents an entirely different challenge.

“Hubble’s different,” she said. “It’s in a different orbit, different mass, different vehicle […] it will all be unique to the telescope.”

The feasibility study, which will be predominately technical but will also consider cost and schedule, might determine that an uncrewed mission is more appropriate, Jensen added. “At this point, everything is on the table,” she said.

It seems likely that the mission would be part of the Polaris Program, a private spaceflight program headed by Jared Isaacman, the billionaire that flew to space on the Inspiration4 mission. That mission, which was conducted in partnership with SpaceX, was estimated to cost less than $200 million. Isaacman, who made his fortune from the payment processing company Shift4 Payments, footed the bill.

Hubble recently lost its place as the world’s most famous space telescope, after the newer and more powerful James Webb Space Telescope released its first images this summer. But Hubble’s contributions to science over its 32-year lifespan are arguably immeasurable: The telescope has made more than 1.5 million observations and helped generate material for more than 19,000 peer-reviewed scientific papers, Patrick Crouse, Hubble project manager, said.

But Hubble has not been immune to Earth’s gravity. Since the last servicing mission in 2009, it’s lost about 30 kilometers of altitude, dropping from around 565 kilometers to just under 535. This mission could provide 40-70 kilometers of boost, which could add 15 or even 20 years to the Hubble’s operational life, Crouse said. Should a reboosting mission not take place, Hubble may need to be de-orbited by the end of this decade.

The news is notable not just as the latest sign that the space agency is increasingly turning to commercial partnerships to execute essential missions. It also shows that NASA is theoretically open to working with private, non-astronaut crews, too.

“Alongside NASA, exploration is one of many objectives for the commercial space industry, and probably one of the greatest exploration assets of all time is the Hubble Space Telescope,” Isaacman said. “It’s absolutely exciting to think about extending the life and capabilities of one of our greatest explorers.”

NASA and SpaceX are studying sending a private crew to boost Hubble’s orbit by Aria Alamalhodaei originally published on TechCrunch

FCC rules satellites must deorbit within 5 years of ending mission

Satellites in low Earth orbit can’t linger too long after they’ve finished what they went there to do, according to new rules passed by the FCC today. Now there’s a five year limit on loitering in orbit, which should help keep the space debris problem more manageable in years to come.

The FCC, for reasons beyond the scope of this article, is the de facto regulator for commercial satellite operations, and although they have updated many of their rules in recent years, the old 25-year limit for post-mission deorbiting came from a different era. Chairwoman Rosenworcel pointed out that many pieces of space junk, indeed entire craft and launch components, from as far back as the ’50s are still in orbit.

The Commission argued that it’s in everybody’s favor if we address the potential for clogging up orbit before it becomes a crisis.

“If thousands of new satellites launch every year and are replenished every 5, 10, or 15 years, yet take 25 years to demise once the mission is done, the rate of debris accumulation will grow rapidly, and perhaps unsustainably,” wrote Commissioner Geoffrey Starks in a statement accompanying the news. “With this order, we take the practical step of reducing demise times in LEO to no more than 5 years, a timeframe we know is readily achievable.”

Commissioner Simington wrote that he very much hopes the 5-year rule will end up “a largely unused backstop for best-in-class commercial practice,” but that it would be foolish to let that stand in the way of making the rule in the first place.

There was some criticism when this rule began to be contemplated that it would just add more requirements and red tape to getting into orbit, and that some of the terminology and concepts in the order are evolving. For instance, what is a “large” constellation versus a “small” one? A few years ago even a dozen satellites would seem a “large” collection but these days that many are launched before tea.

These objections are not without merit. But for one thing, getting your satellite to deorbit within five years of its mission end date really isn’t that hard, compared with all the other parts about getting to and operating in space. And for another, if it’s really impossible, take the fine and apologize, and do better next time. Everyone acknowledges the whole show up there is a work in progress.

The FCC only has so much power, however, and it likely will take legislation and cooperation internationally to make even something as simple as the 5-year deorbit rule anything like universal.

FCC rules satellites must deorbit within 5 years of ending mission by Devin Coldewey originally published on TechCrunch

Astra will no longer launch NASA’s TROPICS satellites

Rocket launch company Astra will no longer send the remaining NASA TROPICS payloads to space, but instead will launch other “comparable” scientific missions for the agency, the company announced Wednesday. The change to the launch agreement comes a little over three months after Astra’s first TROPICS launch ended in failure after the upper stage shut down prior to delivering the payload to orbit.

NASA’s TROPICS (Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation structure and storm Intensity with a Constellation of SmallSats) program includes a trio of launches aimed at sending a total of six earth science CubeSats to space. The TROPICS satellites will be used to measure variables like humidity and pressure inside storm systems — a need that’s especially prescient today, when Hurricane Ian made landfall on the west coast of Florida.

Astra was awarded the launch contract for TROPICS in February 2021 at a total value of $7.95 million. It is unclear whether the modification to this existing launch services agreement will change the value of the contract.

The company conducted the TROPICS I launch with its Rocket 3.3 launch vehicle, a system designed to be lightweight and cheap to launch. But just a few weeks after the failure of that mission, which resulted in a complete loss of payload, Astra announced a complete change to its business plan. Instead of continuing launches with the Rocket 3, the company said it would re-manifest all launches on the considerably larger Rocket 4. That rocket, which CEO Chris Kemp said would have a payload capacity of 600 kilograms, is still under development.

“Following the first TROPICS launch attempt, Astra and NASA engaged in discussions regarding the remaining launch attempts,” NASA said in a statement. “Astra then notified NASA of its intent to discontinue its Rocket 3.3 and indicated the company would potentially not resume launches prior to the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season.”

The 12 remaining companies that are eligible to provide launch services through NASA’s Venture-Class Acquisition of Dedicated and Rideshare missions program will be able to compete for the TROPICS contract. These companies include ABL Space Systems, Rocket Lab, Relativity, Firefly and Virgin Orbit.

In a separate update, Astra said the premature upper-stage shutdown during the TROPICS I mission was due to “a higher-than-normal fuel consumption rate.” The company added that engineers will conduct additional tests to verify the root cause of the anomaly, but that they’ve narrowed the cause to an issue with the upper-stage engines. The investigation has been conducted with the participation of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, which is standard for all rocket flight anomalies.

Astra stock price has plummeted sharply over the past six months. At the beginning of May, stock was trading north of $3.25; today, it’s worth $0.68 per share. The company began trading on the public markets in June of last year, after merging with blank-check firm Holicity.

Astra will no longer launch NASA’s TROPICS satellites by Aria Alamalhodaei originally published on TechCrunch

Florida’s Space Coast braces for Hurricane Ian

Florida’s Space Coast continues to make preparations for the extremely powerful and slow-moving Hurricane Ian, with officials rolling rockets back to the safety of hangars and delaying launches until the storm passes.

The massive storm made landfall near Fort Myers Wednesday afternoon, coming in at just a few miles per hour shy of the Category 5 threshold. Forecasters expect Ian to travel in a northeastern direction across the state, with major storm bands hitting the Space Coast — the section of Florida’s east coast that includes Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Space Force Base. That means strong winds and rain are all but likely, and the threat of storm surge and flooding remains distinct.

By Wednesday afternoon, Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and Kennedy Space Center entered HURCON I, indicating that 50-knot sustained winds are likely within 12 hours. In light of these impending conditions, all non-essential facilities closed and the majority of staff were sent home. NASA also made the critical decision to roll back the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft from the launch pad to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) on Monday, giving employees enough time to safely move the massive launch system ahead of the storm.

The rollback, while indisputably necessary, will affect possible launch opportunities for the Artemis I moon mission. It’s looking likely that the next possible launch window will be no earlier than October 17.

In addition to the stacked SLS, NASA also secured Psyche, a spacecraft that will explore an asteroid of the same name, inside a shipping container located in the Payload Hazard Servicing Facility. Relativity Space, a private company planning on launching its majority-3D-printed Terran 1 rocket sometime this year, also moved the rocket’s first stage back to a company hangar ahead of the storm. Relativity’s Launch Complex is located on Cape Canaveral.

Terran 1 relativity

Image Credits: Relativity Space/Trevor Mahlmann

NASA also delayed the launch of Crew-5, which will carry a crew of four (including NASA astronauts Josh Cassada and Nicole Mann, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata and Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina) to the International Space Station. The launch was expected to take place on October 3 but has now been pushed back to no earlier than October 4. NASA warned that the launch date could be adjusted again depending on the impacts of the storm. SpaceX had already secured the Falcon 9 rocket inside its hangar.

“The Dragon Endurance spacecraft is currently mated to the Falcon 9 rocket and safely secured inside SpaceX’s hangar at Launch Complex 39A,” the space agency said in a blog post. “Kennedy Space Center is also making preparations across the spaceport to secure other property and infrastructure. After the storm progresses, teams from NASA and SpaceX will evaluate the potential impacts to the center and determine whether to adjust the mission timeline further.”

United Launch Alliance also delayed the launch of two SES telecommunications satellites aboard the Atlas V rocket, with both spacecraft and the launch vehicle secured inside the company’s Vehicle Integration Facility. The launch was expected to take place on September 30, but ULA is eyeing a possible October 4 launch date.

United Launch Alliance Atlas V

Image Credits: United Launch Alliance

Florida’s Space Coast is no stranger to hurricanes, but Hurricane Ian is one of the strongest to hit the state in years. The storm has already caused catastrophic damage in Cuba; the island temporarily experienced a total loss of power as a result of the storm, leaving 11 million people in the dark.

Florida’s Space Coast braces for Hurricane Ian by Aria Alamalhodaei originally published on TechCrunch

Firehawk’s rocket engines and 3D-printed fuel hit testing milestones ahead of first launch

Although today’s rocket engines are advanced and powerful, they tend to rely on traditional — and naturally volatile — fuels like hydrazine or liquid oxygen and kerosene. Firehawk Aerospace has a safer and more stable new fuel, new engines, and millions in new funding to take it through the next round of tests to its first launch.

Firehawk appeared on the scene two years ago with a fresh take on hybrid engines — those that use a fuel with both solid and liquid qualities. The breakthrough made by CEO Will Edwards and chief scientist Ron Jones was to give that fuel a structure and 3D print it in a specially engineered matrix.

The structured, semisolid fuel is more stable and easier to transport than other fuels, and burns in a very predictable way. The company designed engines around this concept and tested them at smaller scales, but recently graduated to the kind of engine you might actually use if you were going to space.

“It’s a unique engine with its throttling ability, low cost of manufacture, and a parametric design, so we can design for a missile interception system or second stage booster,” said Edwards.

The company recently performed full engine burn tests at Stennis Space Center with NASA supervision, and they’re ready to fly — the last step before reaching a technology readiness level that would permit the company to step up its revenue.

Firehawk CEO Will Edwards (left) and chief scientist Ron Jones hold 3D-printed fuel tubes Image Credits: Firehawk Aerospace

In addition to better safety, printing the fuel grains differently makes it possible to create different thrust characteristics. And the whole thing can be safely slowed, stopped and started again multiple times — not something you see often in a launch vehicle rocket engine. Normally once you fire those up, they blast at 100% until they run out of fuel, meaning you only get one shot at it and your options for force vectors are limited — more like a drag racer than a normal car.

“Our engine can replace solid rocket motors with something significantly lower cost, on par with fuel performance, but you can control its burn — that’s something the industry finds incredibly compelling,” Edwards noted.

A Firehawk engine being tested at Stennis Image Credits: Firehawk Aerospace

Not in the sense of first-stage launch vehicle engines, for which that high-thrust, full-throttle fire is desirable, but for systems where a little more complexity would be welcomed: second-stage thrust (e.g., boosting payloads to a certain orbit once they’re out of the atmosphere) and missile interception systems, for which precision is paramount.

Edwards also suggested in-space propulsion like satellite maneuvering as a potential application, since due to the volatility of fuels, more low-impulse methods like ion engines are often used. Firehawk’s fuel is “inert by nature,” making it a lot less of a liability in, for example, a multipayload launch. Would you want your satellite stored next to a barrel of kerosene?

The new Series B funding round will enable more tests, more R&D, and the production of more engines to meet demand — though predictably with a company working with the likes of Raytheon, NDAs prevent the nature of that demand to be described with any specificity. They’ve raised $15.5 million so far but are expecting to close at $17 million shortly.

The list of funders is a bit long, but for the record: Star Castle VC led the round, with participation from Raytheon, Draper & Associates, Goff Capital, Cathexis Ventures, Plains VC, Victorum Capital, Stellar VC, Capital Factory, Echo Investments, and Hemisphere Ventures.

Although the engines currently being tested are nearly ready for use by customers, Edwards stressed that this is just the start. New applications are potentially just a few keystrokes away:

“We can create really unique fuel grain geometries, and by changing the design we can improve its performance. It’s just a matter of rewriting some code and uploading that to our 3D printers,” he said, adding that the new funding has let them buy and customize their own printers, CNC machines, and test setups for deployment in a new Addison, Texas, location. “We’ll be able to move through our next test campaign much more quickly.”

Here’s the happy team at the new HQ:

Image Credits: Firehawk Aerospace

More tests should be coming next month, which should clear the way for a launch of some kind in the near (but still unspecified) future.

Firehawk’s rocket engines and 3D-printed fuel hit testing milestones ahead of first launch by Devin Coldewey originally published on TechCrunch

NASA’s DART anti-asteroid satellite successfully smashes into space rock

A short animated GIF of DART impacting with Dimorphos from the POV of DART

NASA has completed a key step of its “Double Asteroid Redirection Test” (DART), smashing a satellite roughly the size of a vending machine into a small moon that’s about half-a-mile in diameter. The moon, Dimorphos, is orbiting an even larger asteroid, Didymos, and while neither is in any danger of colliding with Earth, they’re good test cases to see whether us puny humans smashing them with technology can cause them to change course.

DART is basically a demonstration of what would be a ‘Hail Mary’ pass in the case of any asteroid actually threatening Earth — namely, can we use a human-made spacecraft to redirect any planet-killers enough that they end up safely whizzing by our home planet instead of causing a repeat of the extinction even that wiped out the dinosaurs.

NASA launched DART last November, using a SpaceX Falcon 9 to send the satellite on its collision course with Dimorphos. The DART spacecraft smashed into the asteroid moon at a speed of roughly 6.5 km per second on Monday evening at 7:14 p.m. ET, with confirmation of impact coming in a series of images from its onboard camera.

Next, NASA will be gathering data on whether or not DART actually had its intended effect. That process will take a few weeks, and include observations from Earth-based telescopes trained on Dimorphos and Didymos, as well as space-based observation from the James Webb and Hubble space telescopes. If it turns out this didn’t work as intended, I guess it’s back to the drawing board — my vote is for a fully operational Death Star.

NASA’s DART anti-asteroid satellite successfully smashes into space rock by Darrell Etherington originally published on TechCrunch

Max Q: Icy

Hello and welcome back to Max Q. This past week, thousands of people traveled to Paris for the International Astronautical Congress 2022, one of the world’s largest space conferences. Alas, I was not one of them. But it means there’s tons of news, so let’s get to it! In this issue:

  • An analysis of Intuitive Machines’ SPAC bet
  • Rocket Lab is expanding its U.S. footprint
  • News from ArianeGroup, Rocket Factory Augsburg and more

Intuitive Machines bets the moon could be big business

Over at TechCrunch+, Alex Wilhelm wrote an excellent deep-dive into lunar infrastructure company Intuitive Machines’ SPAC deal, which will see the combined entity valued at just north of $1 billion. (I reported on the deal last week.)

It’s a sign that the space SPAC craze isn’t as dead as we all thought, despite plummeting stock prices of companies that went public last year, as well as a handful of mergers that were cancelled before they could be finalized. Indeed, Intuitive Machines will make its public market debut as a unicorn if all goes to plan. But that depends upon a number of factors — not least of which, a growing market for lunar services to generate the steep revenue growth Intuitive Machines projected. The deal is expected to close in the first quarter of next year, and I’ll be paying attention to shareholder redemptions, stock price and more.

lunar lander concept

Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C lunar lander concept render. Image Credits: Intuitive Machines

Rocket Lab expands US presence with engine testing, launch facilities

Rocket Lab is a U.S.-based company, but until now the bulk of its activities have been conducted in New Zealand. While the company has been public about its plans to expand to both hemispheres for a while, executives released a slew of updates on Wednesday detailing their goal to make the U.S. home to an even greater share of launches, testing and manufacturing.

The company shared the news with investors and the general public during Rocket Lab’s Investor Day. While the event livestream hit a technical snafu, Rocket Lab shared all the updates in a long tweet thread concurrent with the event (read it here).

One of the biggest takeaways was news that the company will be conducting all testing of its reusable rocket engine for Neutron, called Archimedes, at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. Also, the company finally set a firm launch date for the first Electron launch from the Eastern Seaboard: this December, followed by a second launch in January of next year.

More news from TC and beyond

  • ArianeGroup has its eye on fully reusable rockets. The company announced a proposal for a reusable upper stage it’s calling the Smart Upper Stage for Innovation Exploration, or SUSIE, that could be used to carry astronauts and cargo. If it comes to fruition, SUSIE could be a massive boost for European human spaceflight.
  • Artemis Accords signatories held an in-person organizational meeting for the first time at the International Astronautical Congress, a step toward setting standards and best practices for human space exploration.
  • Astrobotic announced a new initiative, LunaGrid, “a commercial power service for the poles of the moon.” If it becomes operational, the service would allow companies and astronauts to survive the long, cold lunar night, a notoriously tricky problem for lunar exploration. The goal is to make LunaGrid operational at the lunar south pole by 2028.
  • Blue Origin opened applications today for the Reef Starter Innovation Challenge, a startup challenge for early-stage companies looking to use their tech on the Orbital Reef space station.
  • Dawn Aerospace has completed Phase One testing of its spaceplane demonstrator, the MK-II Aurora. In Phase Two, the spaceplane will be fitted with a rocket motor, which will propel it to altitudes greater than 100 kilometers.
  • Elon Musk tweeted that “November seems highly likely” for the first orbital launch attempt of Starship, though it should be noted that Musk’s timeline estimates aren’t always the most accurate.
  • James Webb Space Telescope is experiencing an issue with one of the observing modes of the Mid-Infrared Instrument. NASA said it would temporarily halt observations that use that mode as they investigate the issue.
  • Microsoft, Planet and The Nature Conservancy are launching a tool called Global Renewables Watch, a “living atlas” to map and measure utility-scale renewable projects.
  • NASA is still planning on attempting to launch the Artemis I mission on September 27, despite a hurricane brewing in the Atlantic.
  • Planet released more details on its new hyperspectral satellite constellation. The constellation, which it’s calling Tanager, will be capable of measuring carbon emissions, methane and other data for environmental applications.
  • Orbital Reef, the private space station being developed by Blue Origin and Sierra Space, will feature in a film here on Earth. The film, called HELIOS, will start shooting next year.
  • Rocket Factory Augsburg, a German company developing rockets for the small launch market, signed an MOU with Spaceflight Inc. to fly its Sherpa orbital transfer vehicles on forthcoming RFA missions.
  • Satellite Vu, a British Earth observation company, signed a second launch contract with SpaceX to deploy their second thermal monitoring satellite sometime in early 2024.
  • Saudi Arabia is sending two astronauts to the International Space Station as part of a deal with Axiom SpaceTurkey announced a similar deal with Axiom, to launch their first astronauts to space late next year.
  • Somewear Labs raised $13.7 million in Series A funding to expand the company’s satellite-enabled software platform, which the company says helps its customers maintain “situational awareness during high pressure operations.”
  • SpinLaunch closed $71 million in funding, including debt and equity, to accelerate the commercialization of its kinetic launch system. The company is preparing to construct its full-sized launch system after a string of successful tests on a smaller demonstrator.
  • Starburst Aerospace is launching a new early-stage fund dedicated to aviation, space and defense, that it’s calling Starburst Ventures. Starburst is not releasing the total value of the fund, but it’s already invested in startups Outpost and Strong Compute.
  • Starlink’s mobile app has been downloaded almost 2 million times so far this year, with the majority coming in the period between February 19-April 9, which coincides with the start of Russia’s invsaion of Ukraine, according to an analysis by 42matters.
  • Starlink will request an exemption to sanctions against Iran to provide its satellite broadband service to that country, Elon Musk tweeted.
  • Voyager Space and Lockheed Martin landed a partnership with hospitality giant Hilton for the space companies’ future orbital station, Starlab. The hotel chain said it would design the “hospitality suites and sleeping arrangements,” the companies told CNBC.

Computer game of the week

Redwire Space developed a retro, computer-style game in honor of the forthcoming DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) mission. They’re calling it Planetary Defenders, and it’s an apt name: In the course of the mission, NASA will smash spacecraft into an asteroid to try to deflect its course. Redwire provided power and navigation tech for the spacecraft.

Play the game here.  

Max Q is brought to you by me, Aria Alamalhodaei. If you enjoy reading Max Q, consider forwarding it to a friend. 

Max Q: Icy by Aria Alamalhodaei originally published on TechCrunch