Issue No. 154

The Orbital Index

Issue No. 154 | Feb 2, 2022

🚀 🌍 🛰

The Artemis timeline. Artemis I will launch on the first SLS sometime this spring or summer, delivering 13 small spacecraft to cislunar space and sending its uncrewed Orion capsule around the Moon. In a few years, Artemis II will be the first crewed Artemis mission, flying by the Moon in 2024, similar to Apollo 8. Then, ostensibly in 2025, Artemis III will carry astronauts to a waiting SpaceX lunar Starship HLS and, like Apollo 11, descend to the lunar surface (that is, if Apollo 11 had landed inside a 50m tall metallic monolith…). NASA has now announced what astronauts will be doing on Artemis IV and V, and it looks like there will be at least a two-year gap before astronauts return to the lunar surface after Artemis III. Artemis IV, in perhaps 2026, will be the first SLS Block 1B mission, carrying crew to lunar orbit and continuing the assembly of the lunar Gateway with ESA/JAXA’s I-Hab habitat module joining the Power and Propulsion Element and Habitation and Logistics Outpost (which will launch together on a Falcon Heavy in late 2024). Artemis V, NET 2027, would then bring more components to Gateway along with astronauts and a rover to land on the Moon via the winner of the Lunar Exploration Transportation Services (LETS) contract—this may or may not be another Starship HLS. This all feels drawn out, but the missions really are coming together—for example, the first hardware for Artemis II has already arrived in Florida, while casting and assembly of the solid rocket booster for Artemis IV is underway.

Starship HLS and Orion docking. Image Credit: Mack Crawford & NASASpaceFlight

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Q4 in Space Capital. The final 2021 report on space sector investments was recently released by Space Capital. The quarter closed out a banner year for space investments, the second largest in terms of capital over the years that Space Capital has been tracking. Major deals in Q4 like Sierra Space’s $1.4B round, SpaceX raising another $337M, and Planet SPAC’ing with a PIPE of $250M meant that over 56% of the capital went to very late stage companies—investors will likely push for some of these massive investments to result in liquidity sooner rather than later. The fourth quarter yielded $14.7B in investments, bringing 2021 to $46.3B in total. Seed rounds accounted for almost 60% of the year’s 512 deals—$2.2B was invested in these very early-stage companies in 2021. Meanwhile, China is now solidly in second place in space investment, consistently contributing 30-40% of investment in each sector (except for satellite infrastructure, due to the vast majority of Chinese sats being government-owned and ITAR restrictions leading to few international launch collaborations with Chinese companies). For 2022, it feels like there will be fewer SPACs, but that this particular way for early investors to achieve liquidity is here to stay. A more competitive SPAC market will also hopefully force the quality of projections in their investment offering decks to improve.

News in (not so) brief. Honeybee Robotics (maker of many a deep space scoop and drill) is being acquired by Blue OriginCiting national security concerns, the FTC has filed an antitrust suit to prevent Lockheed Martin from acquiring Aerojet RocketdyneNASA selected 12 companies to receive launch service contracts through their Venture-Class Acquisition of Dedicated and Rideshare (VADR) program over five years—the contracts could total $300M, launching CubeSats and other non-critical missions using nascent launch vehicles and startupsAstra test-fired their first rocket at the Cape, ahead of a launch (now scheduled for February 5th) servicing the last round of the aforementioned VADR (née VCLS) programMeanwhile, in the EU, Isar Aerospace won a 10M € prize to support their upcoming Spectrum launch vehicle and the EU launched Cassini, a Billion-euro venture fund to support space startupsHot on the heels of Satellogic’s SPAC (and so many others), D-Orbit has announced their own SPAC valuing the company at €1.13BGalactic Energy raised $200M during the second half of 2021—the Chinese company is developing the kerolox, reusable, medium-lift Pallas-1Epsilon3, a YC graduate startup (and one of our sponsors), raised a $2.8M seed round to continue building their ground support and mission operations software platformSpaceX launched the second of 4 Italian COSMO-SkyMed second-generation military/civilian SAR satellites, with a Falcon 9 first stage that previously served as a Falcon Heavy side booster for the first time (it had a particularly flamey and high-quality return to launch site video and a great telephoto view of the stage separation)—the launch was delayed several days due to unfavorable weather and a cruise ship in the hazard zone 🤦‍♂️North Korea shared a photo of the Earth taken from a ballistic missile test that reportedly reached 2,000 km altitude 😟The loss of ABL’s RS1 upper stage on the test stand a couple of weeks ago will delay their first launch by three months—the failure was due to an engine ‘hard start’New Mexico is considering a law that would add a 6.9% sales tax to Virgin Galactic’s $450,000 suborbital space flights—at this rate, the $31,050/ticket tax would require ~7,100 paying space travelers to recoups the state’s $220M investment in Spaceport America, not to mention its roughly $4M/year ongoing budgetIsrael officially signed the Artemis Accords, becoming nation 15 to signChina’s Shijian-21 successfully docked with a defunct GEO satellite and raised it to a graveyard orbit, demonstrating advanced rendezvous and docking capabilities.

Centaurus A, at 12 million light-years away, is our nearest neighboring galaxy with an actively-feeding supermassive black hole. Its lobes of hot ejected gas cover 16 Moon-widths (8°), making it the largest radio galaxy in the sky (video). This image was captured without mosaicing by the Murchison Widefield Array in Western Australia and then combined with optical and x-ray data to produce the final image below (paper). (Note that the points of light in the image aren’t stars, they’re other radio galaxies.)

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