Lockheed Martin increases its bet on satellite manufacturer Terran Orbital with $100 million investment

Aerospace giant Lockheed Martin is deepening its investment in satellite manufacturer Terran Orbital with a $100 million investment and a cooperation agreement for the development and sale of smallsats through 2035.

Terran also announced that it will now build its massive, $300 million space vehicle manufacturing facility in Irvine, California, not Florida as originally planned. CEO Marc Bell told press that the company decided to move the facility to California, where Terran Orbital already has a substantial footprint, because it could move into the facilities faster than in Florida. It’s a big loss for Space Florida, the state’s economic development agency focused on aerospace, which was going to provide the conduit financing for the facility.

Boca Raton, Florida-based Terran Orbital is a contract manufacturer, designing and building satellites for the U.S. government and commercial customers. Bell estimated to TechCrunch in an interview last year that around 95% of the company’s work is related to the Department of Defense and NASA.

Lockheed Martin made its first investment in Terran back in 2017; the following year, it led a $36 million investment round. The new funds from Lockheed will go toward acquiring additional assembly space and increasing satellite module production, Terran said in a statement. The smallsat manufacturer also said it planned on expanding its offerings to include a synthetic aperture radar satellite product line and satellite components and subassemblies, like reaction wheels and star trackers.

The company was originally planning to launch and operate its own SAR satellite constellation, called PredaSAR, but it decided to pivot from those plans and offer the technology as a product instead. Terran said the conflict in Ukraine showed the need for advanced satellite imagery.

Terran Orbital is one of a handful of space ventures that have gone public via a merger with a special purpose acquisition vehicle, or SPAC. The company’s stock price saw a brief price jump with the news about the deal with Lockheed, closing on October 31 at $2.62 a share. Like other companies post-SPAC merger, Terran’s stock value has plummeted since its public market debut: it’s currently down around 72% year to date.

Lockheed Martin increases its bet on satellite manufacturer Terran Orbital with $100 million investment by Aria Alamalhodaei originally published on TechCrunch

NASA’s CAPSTONE looking ‘happy and healthy’ after communications issue

NASA’s CAPSTONE cubesat is “happy and healthy” after reestablishing communications with Earth, bringing to an end a nerve-wracking 24-hour period in which the spacecraft was out of touch with ground communications.

Advanced Space, the Colorado-based company that built, owns and is operating CAPSTONE, Terran Orbital, which built the cubesat platform, and NASA each independently confirmed the reconnection Wednesday.

CAPSTONE, or Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, is the first step for NASA’s ambitious Artemis program, which aims to return humans to the moon by the middle of this decade. The microwave oven-sized cubesat is meant to chart out an unusual orbit around the moon, called a near-rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO), that could eventually be used for a lunar space station.

That space station, which NASA refers to as “Gateway,” could open up a huge array of possibilities for humanity’s exploration of space. Gateway could be used to deposit rovers or humans on the moon, act as a resupply depot or even as a way station for longer-crewed missions to Mars or beyond. But first, the agency wants to collect more data on NRHO — and that’s where CAPSTONE comes in.

A brief anomaly

Loss of communication occurred just one day after CAPSTONE deployed from Rocket Lab’s Lunar Photon booster. Rocket Lab provided launch services and payload delivery services for the mission. CAPSTONE was operating as normal for the first eleven hours after its detachment from Photon, Advanced Space said in a statement. It successfully deployed its solar arrays and communicated with a Deep Space Network (DSN) ground station in Madrid, Spain. DNS is an international series of massive radio antennas operated by NASA for supporting deep space missions.

It seems the anomaly occurred during the second ground station pass with DSN, when CAPSTONE made partial contact with an antenna in California. As SpaceNews noted, amateur satellite observers first noticed the lack of downlink from CAPSTONE, causing a minor flurry of panic on Twitter. Due to the lack of communications, the first trajectory correction maneuver — the first in a series of maneuvers to ensure the spacecraft stays on an accurate trajectory to the moon — was delayed.

NASA noted in a July 5 mission update that CAPSTONE is still on track for the ballistic lunar transfer to its target orbit, even with the delay of this first maneuver. “One of the benefits of the BLT, the designed trajectory, is its robustness to delays such as this,” Advanced Space said in a mission update.

It is not clear why the underlying communications issue occurred, or what actions were taken to correct it. “Additional updates will be provided,” NASA said.

Max Q: All eyes on Astra

Hi folks, welcome back to Max Q. This week we have news on rockets both small (Astra’s Rocket 3.3) and very, very large (NASA’s Space Launch System). Plus further fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and some funding news too.

Max Q is brought to you by me, Aria Alamalhodaei. Thoughts, comments and tips can be sent to aria.techcrunch@gmail.com. You also can catch me on Twitter at @breadfrom. Let’s dive in.

Don’t forget to sign up to get the free newsletter version of Max Q delivered to your inbox.

Astra sends customer payload to orbit for the first time

Space startup-turned-public company Astra scored a big win on Tuesday, deploying customer payloads to orbit for the first time.

The 43-foot tall rocket, designated LV0009, took off from Alaska’s Pacific Spaceport Complex shortly after 11:00 AM on Tuesday. It carried payloads for three Spaceflight Inc. customers, including a CubeSat for Portland State Aerospace Society and a sat-to-sat communications system for NearSpace Launch. The third customer was not announced.

The successful mission comes a little over one month after the Astra rocket designated LV0008 experienced complete loss of payload in the company’s first mission out of Cape Canaveral in Florida. Astra’s senior director of mission management and assurance, Andrew Griggs, said in a blog post published March 6 the team had identified and resolved the issues leading to the failure.

Astra went public via SPAC merger last July, joining a growing group of space companies to eschew a traditional IPO in the path to the public markets. The company reached orbit for the first time in November 2021, but it hadn’t been able to replicate that feat — until now.

Each success ups the ante for the launch company. It’s one thing to perform a feat once, or even twice. It’s quite another to do it over and over and over again. We’ll certainly be paying attention to the company’s fourth-quarter earnings announcement on March 31.

astra lv0009 rocket

Image Credits: Astra

NASA’s super costly, super huge Space Launch System rolls out to launch pad

Image Credits: NASA/Michael DeMocker

Twelve years after it was first announced, NASA’s “mega Moon rocket” made its public debut. The integrated Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft was rolled out from the vehicle assembly building at Kennedy Space Center on Thursday, where it then made a nearly 11-hour procession to the launch pad. From there, it will undergo a number of tests to determine flight readiness, including the all-important “wet dress rehearsal,” when the launch system will be loaded with fuel and engineers will practice countdown.

NASA hasn’t set an exact date for SLS’s inaugural mission — Artemis 1, which will kick off the agency’s ambitious Artemis program to return humans to the moon — but it could be as early as this summer.

It’s been a long time coming. Congress directed NASA to develop SLS to replace the Space Shuttle, the agency’s original spaceflight workhorse, back in 2010. But ever since, the project has faced repeated setbacks and technical issues. A year ago, NASA’s Inspector General’s office issued a damning report on the costs and contracts associated with the SLS program, finding that “rising costs and delays” pushed the overall budget for the project far beyond the original scope.

NASA's Vehicle Assembly Building, Kennedy Space Center

NASA’s very large Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, USA. Image Credits: nathanphoto / Getty Images

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine puts a halt to ExoMars

Russia’s war against Ukraine continues to reverberate across the space sector. This week, the European Space Agency voted to suspend its forthcoming Mars rover mission that was slated to launch this year aboard a Soyuz rocket. In light of the war in Ukraine, ESA members “acknowledged the present impossibility of carrying out the ongoing cooperation with Roscosmos” with respect to the ExoMars mission, the agency said.

An extraordinary session of ESA’s ruling Council has been called for April 6 to discuss possible alternatives for launch. This will be the first time Europe sends a rover to the red planet.

More news from TC and beyond

  • Aquarian Space raised $650,000 in seed funding from VC firm Draper Associates to develop a communications system for the solar system, starting with the moon, SpaceNews reported.
  • Astranis completed final testing for Arcturus, a MicroGEO satellite that will enter service later this year. The satellite should triple the state of Alaska’s satellite bandwidth and provide lower-cost broadband, the company said in a statement. Last year, Astranis raised a $250 million Series C which launched its valuation to $1.4 billion.
  • Axiom Space, which is planning the first completely private astronaut mission to the International Space Station, released more details about the scientific experiments that will be conducted while the crew is aboard. One of the projects will explore “self-assembly methods for in-space construction.” Very cool.
  • Blue Origin selected the next batch of passengers that will head to suborbital space on its New Shepard rocket. It includes angel investor Marty Allen, nonprofit founder Sharon Hagle, her husband and Tricor CEO Marc Hagle, entrepreneur Jim Kitchen and Commercial Space Technologies founder Dr. George Nield. Saturday Night Live’s Pete Davidson was also going to join the crew, but Blue Origin later said he’d no longer be flying.
  • Celestia Aerospace, a launch solutions startup, closed a €100 million ($109.5 million) seed round financed by Invema Group. With the funds, Celestia is opening a nanosat production center and a development center for its launch system, Sagittarius.
  • The James Webb Space Telescope, NASA’s deep space infrared telescope, completed key optical alignment steps that have the agency’s scientists expecting it will meet or even exceed performance expectations.

James Webb Space Telescope JWST alignment image

The JWST focused on the bright star at the image center to evaluate the alignment of its 18 mirrors. Image Credits: NASA (opens in a new window)

  • Sierra Space and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries signed an MOU to collaborate on technologies that could eventually be used on Orbital Reef, a commercial space station being developed by Sierra, Blue Origin, Boeing and Redwire Space.
  • SpaceX sent another batch of Starlink terminals to Ukraine, the country’s Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Digital Transformation said on Twitter.
  • Terran Orbital, a contract manufacturer that designs, builds and engineers satellites, was awarded a contract by Lockheed Martin to build 42 satellites for the Space Development Agency.
  • Virgin Orbit signed a letter of intent with the Polish Space Agency conveying the agency’s “strong interest in bringing a domestic launch capability to Poland” with Virgin’s LauncherOne rocket.

The Andromeda galaxy imaged from the White Mountains of California. Image Credits: Tony Rowell / Getty Images

Read more stories on TechCrunch.com

Max Q: Sierra Space, Blue Origin, Boeing and others stake out space real estate

Hello and welcome back to Max Q. It feels odd to be living in a time when companies are announcing their plans to develop commercial space stations and yet, here we are! Read on for news from Sierra Space, Blue Origin, Boeing and others on their plans for a station, called Orbital Reef. Plus this week, another space SPAC and more.

Tips, opinions, criticism, thoughts? Email me at aria.techcrunch@gmail.com or find me on Twitter at @breadfrom.

Don’t forget to sign up to get the free newsletter version of Max Q delivered to your inbox.

Orbital Reef is claiming its slice of LEO real estate

Let’s get into it: Sierra Space, Blue Origin and Boeing are teaming up to send the spacecraft to orbit in the second half of the decade. The planned station, called “Orbital Reef,” will also include tech and services from Redwire Space, Genesis Engineering and Arizona State University.

The news comes less than a week after Voyager Space, Nanoracks and Lockheed Martin laid out their own plans for a commercial space station, which the group says will launch in 2027. Axiom Space is also planning a commercial station.

The big questions that remain: how much it’s going to cost. None of the executives would say. The other major piece of the puzzle is the launch capabilities of Blue Origin’s New Glenn, Boeing’s Starliner and Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser spaceplane. None of these vehicles have yet reached orbit, and the team wants their commercial station in space by the latter half of the decade.

Satellite manufacturer Terran Orbital is going public via SPAC merger

The trend of space companies heading to the public markets via SPAC mergers is not over yet. Terran Orbital, a leading manufacturer of small satellites, is going public in a merger with special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) Tailwind Two Acquisition Corp. The deal has a post-transaction enterprise value of $1.58 billion and will furnish the company with around $470 million.

Terran Orbital is a contract manufacturer of satellites, working primarily with the government. The company will be opening the world’s largest spacecraft manufacturing facility in Florida. It also has plans to launch and operate its own satellite constellation and to deliver satellite imagery as a service. In a statement, CEO Marc Bell called it the new SaaS: “Satellites-as-a-Service.”

Other news from TechCrunch

Gitai Japan successfully completed a technology demo of its robotic arm aboard the International Space Station, a major milestone in the Tokyo-based startup’s goal of commercializing its space robots. Gitai has a really fascinating vision for the future of space, which sees robots as composing the labor force in off-world colonies on the moon and Mars.

Promus Ventures, a VC firm based in Chicago, closed a €120 million ($139 million) space fund, dubbed Orbital Ventures. The new fund, which will operate out of Luxembourg, will be focused on early-stage space companies.

Other news from around the web

ABL Space had a huge week, closing $200 million in funding from existing investors including Fidelity Management and Lockheed Martin Ventures. The financing shot the company’s valuation to $2.4 billion. The company aims to launch its first rocket, dubbed RS1, from Alaska before the year is out.

Amazon has a new agreement with telecom giant Verizon for its Project Kuiper internet satellite project. Verizon will aim to improve wireless internet access in rural areas in the U.S. by expanding its LTE and 5G service.

Astroscale and ClearSpace were awarded a collective £700,000 ($1 million) from the U.K. Space Agency to conduct mission feasibility studies into de-orbiting unusable satellites — AKA cleaning up space junk.

Firefly Aerospace is on track to send its Blue Ghost lunar lander to the moon in September 2023, announcing it had completed a critical design review with NASA that paves the way for it to begin construction of the spacecraft. Firefly eventually wants to complete annual missions to the moon’s surface.

Isar Aerospace inked a firm launch services agreement with satellite company EnduroSat to launch multiple satellites to orbit from the company’s site in Andøya, Norway between 2022 and 2025.

ispace scored a new investment from Airbus Ventures, part of a Series C extension that brings the company’s total raise to around $200 million (ispace has three lunar lander missions planned through 2024).

Join us at TC Sessions: Space in December

Last year we held our first dedicated space event, and it went so well that we decided to host it again in 2021. This year, it’s happening December 14 and 15, and it’s once again going to be an entirely virtual conference, so people from all over the world will be able to join — and you can, too.

Read more stories on TechCrunch.com

Satellite manufacturer Terran Orbital to go public in $1.58B SPAC merger

Terran Orbital, a leading manufacturer of small satellites, is going public in a merger with special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) Tailwind Two Acquisition Corp. The deal has a post-transaction enterprise value of $1.58 billion and will furnish the company with around $470 million.

Of those funds, $345 million will come from Tailwind Two’s contribution, plus $50 million PIPE provided by AE Industrial Partners, Beach Point Capital, Daniel Staton, Lockheed Martin and Fuel Venture Capital. An additional $75 million has been committed by Francisco Partners and Beach Point Capital, and the company may have access to up to $125 million in debt commitments from Francisco Partners and Lockheed Martin at the close of the transaction.

Terran’s announcement is a reflection that space startups are still looking to SPAC mergers as a way to raise cash and go public. Deals with blank-check firms have become a popular route to the public markets in the space industry; Virgin Orbit, Planet, Redwire, BlackSky, Spire Global, Satellogic, Rocket Lab, Momentus and Astra are among the space companies that have raised billions through this financial vehicle.

Terran Orbital is a contract manufacturer, designing, building and engineering satellites primarily for the U.S. government. Around 95% of Terran’s work is related to NASA and the Department of the Defense, CEO Marc Bell told TechCrunch in an interview earlier this year.

The company will be opening the world’s largest space vehicle manufacturing facility on Florida’s Space Coast at an investment of $300 million, it announced in September. The 660,000-square-foot facility will have the capacity to manufacture 1000 complete satellites and over 1 million satellite components per year – a volume unheard of in the space industry.

In addition to manufacturing satellites, Terran Orbital also aims to operate its own earth observation constellation and deliver satellite imagery as a service. In a statement, Bell called it the new SaaS: “Satellites-as-a-Service.”

The  transaction, which has already received unanimous approval by both Terran Orbital and and Tailwind Two’s boards of directors, is expected to close in the first quarter of 2022.

Max Q: Blue Origin puts safety in the backseat, workers claim

Hello, readers: Welcome back to Max Q. First, an introduction: I’m Aria Alamalhodaei, the resident space and transportation reporter here at TechCrunch. I’ll be taking over the Max Q newsletter from Darrell Etherington for the next few months.

Tips, opinions, criticism, thoughts? Email me at aria.techcrunch@gmail.com or find me on Twitter at @breadfrom.

Bezos’ labor woes

Jeff Bezos is back in the news this week, this time over allegations of a hostile work environment and a lack of focus on safety from 21 current and former employees of his space company, Blue Origin. The news couldn’t come at a worse time for the company, which is currently mired in a lawsuit against NASA over its decision to award a lunar lander contract to rival SpaceX.

The essay jointly composed by the employees paints a vivid picture of Blue Origin’s work culture as one marred by sexual harassment, in which professional disagreement is stifled, environmental concerns are left unaddressed and speed of execution takes precedence over human safety.

Blue Origin disputed the allegations of sexual harassment in a comment to TechCrunch, but they did not respond to a follow-up inquiry regarding safety and whether the company has inserted stifling non-disparagement clauses in employee contracts.

TechCrunch spoke to the sole named author of the letter, Alexandra Abrams, who said she decided to go public with her identity because she felt a sense of responsibility for other employees.

“I really felt like I had compromised my integrity at Blue Origin,” she said. “I did my best, but I was Bob’s executive communicator and helped make him look good.”

It’s hard to imagine how this essay could not affect Blue Origin’s bottom line. After the successful launch of New Shepard in July, in which Bezos and three others went to space during an 11-minute flight, the company intends to start welcoming more paying customers on flights.

The situation was made even more sticky when the Federal Aviation Administration confirmed to TechCrunch that “the agency is reviewing the information” in the essay. “The FAA takes every safety allegation seriously.”

While Abrams confirmed that the FAA had not yet reached out to her, she said she would “very much welcome” that.

“I feel like I’m fulfilling my job description as employee communications for the first time.”

U.S. Space Force grants funds for next-gen rocket development

The U.S. Space Force has awarded a collective $87.5 million in funding to SpaceX, Blue Origin, Rocket Lab and United Launch Alliance for projects related to next-gen rocket engine testing and upper-stage improvements — that includes Rocket Lab’s mysterious Neutron rocket and Blue Origin’s heavy-lift launch vehicle New Glenn.

SpaceX and ULA are already established launch providers for the U.S. government under the Space Force’s National Security Space Launch program. Both Rocket Lab and Blue Origin will be able to compete for the next series of launch procurement contracts in 2024, and contracts like these are signs that the two companies are gearing up to do so.

Blue Origin’s next manifest

One last story related to Blue Origin this week… the company announced the next two people that will take a ride on the New Shepard rocket: Dr. Chris Boshuizen, co-founder of Planet Labs and current partner at venture capital firm DCVC; and Glen de Vries, co-founder of the clinical trial software company Medidata Solutions.

The flight is scheduled to take off on Tuesday, October 12, at 9:30 AM EST from Blue Origin’s sprawling Launch Site One just outside of Van Horn, Texas. The company has not released details regarding the identities of the remaining two crew members but we’ll certainly be keeping our ear to the ground. (Read our story on Blue’s first crewed launch here.)

Orbital servicing startup raises $7M

In-orbit satellite servicing company Starfish Space raised $7 million to accelerate the development of its Otter “space tug,” a spacecraft that the company says will be able to clean up orbital debris and extend the useful life of satellites in geostationary orbit. In the longer-term, Starfish even says the space tug could be used as autonomous in-orbit robots for a whole range of purposes related to the future space economy, including mining, manufacturing and recycling.

A $300M satellite manufacturing facility for Florida’s Space Coast

Florida’s Space Coast economy got a major boost this week when it was announced that contract manufacturer Terran Orbital would build a $300 million satellite manufacturing facility at Kennedy Space Center. The 660,000-square-foot facility will be the world’s largest, according to the company, and that’s not too hard to believe, considering the anticipated output: 1,000 complete satellites and over 1 million satellite components per year.

Join us at TC Sessions: Space in December

Last year we held our first dedicated space event, and it went so well that we decided to host it again in 2021. This year, it’s happening December 14 and 15, and it’s once again going to be an entirely virtual conference, so people from all over the world will be able to join — and you can, too.

Read more stories on TechCrunch.com

Terran Orbital to open a $300M satellite manufacturing and component facility on Florida’s Space Coast

Satellite manufacturing company Terran Orbital said Monday it would open the world’s largest space vehicle manufacturing facility on Florida’s Space Coast at a cost of $300 million.

The 660,000-square-foot factory will be capable of producing “thousands of different types of space vehicles per year,” including 1000 complete satellites and over 1 million satellite components per year, the company said in a statement.

Terran Orbital was founded in 2013, the same year that it acquired nanosatellite developer Tyvak, but has maintained a low profile since. In 2017, Lockheed Martin took a small stake in the company. While Terran operates a 128,000-square-foot facility in Irvine, California, CEO and co-founder Marc Bell told TechCrunch in a recent interview that Terran doesn’t disclose its current manufacturing capacity or how many satellites it has built.

Terran Orbital is a contract manufacturer that designs, builds and engineers satellites, primarily for the U.S. government. Bell said around 95% of Terran’s work is related to NASA and the Department of the Defense, and he declined to specify any of the company’s commercial customers.

The company will also be developing its own satellite constellation, Bell added. These satellites will use a type of synthetic aperture radar that will be capable of capturing images even through clouds or other weather events that impact visibility, like thunderstorms. Terran said it will start launching these satellites at the end of 2022.

It’s anticipated that the facility will be completed in 2025 and should generate around 2,100 jobs at an average wage of $84,000. The facility is being built in partnership with Space Florida, the state’s aerospace development authority, which is providing the conduit financing.

The announcement marks the latest boost for Florida’s Space Coast, which is already home to facilities owned by SpaceX, Blue Origin, Redwire and others. Last year, more than 1,200 satellites were launched into space, more than double the amount that were sent to orbit the previous year.