Go for Ghost #2 (3/15/23)
Good morning and happy Wednesday. We take no pleasure in reporting that 2023 is 20% done. Let’s make the remaining 80% count.
PS—yet another housekeeping note from us up top: Payload’s two moderation events in DC and Austin went swimmingly yesterday. We’ll need another day to process the audio from the live Pathfinder podcast in Austin—the wait will be worth it!
📡 Kuiper hardware
👻 Blue Ghost 2
💸 The term sheet
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Amazon Announces Three Project Kuiper Terminals
Amazon unveiled three Project Kuiper terminal designs yesterday at Satellite 2023 in DC. Customers will use the antenna devices to connect users to Kuiper, Amazon’s planned LEO satellite internet network, starting in late 2024.
- Compact: The micro-terminal measures 7 inches square. The 1-lb device will be the most affordable option in the family. Despite its small stature, the device still packs a punch with an estimated 100 Mbps speed.
- Standard: Amazon is touting the medium-sized terminal as its standard model. The device is 11 inches square, weighs five lbs, and delivers speeds up to 400 Mbps.
- Jumbo: At 19 x 30 inches, the largest terminal can deliver a whopping 1 Gbps of internet speeds. Amazon designed the product with high-bandwidth government, enterprise, and telco applications in mind.
The Kuiper terminals incorporate proprietary antenna and baseband chip technology, and the e-commerce giant says it has already driven production costs down to $400-$500 a unit. How much of that upfront cost is passed onto the consumer has yet to be revealed.
On May 4, Amazon will launch two Project Kuiper satellite prototypes aboard the maiden ULA Vulcan flight.
- By mid-2024, the tech giant plans to begin a rapid-fire launch cadence to get its 3,236 satellite constellation into orbit.
- To deploy this monster constellation, Amazon booked up to 92 (!) launches with ULA, Blue Origin, and Arianespace. SpaceX, unsurprisingly, is absent from the list of Kuiper workhorses.
The internet battle heats up: Starlink has a four-year, 4,000-bird, and 1M-subscriber head start on Project Kuiper. To close the gap, Amazon is hoping that offering an array of terminal options will expand the addressable market and differentiate its product offering.
Firefly Heads to the Dark Side of the Moon
Blue Ghost #2 is a go.
Firefly has clinched a deal to travel to the dark side of the Moon in 2026. Yesterday, NASA awarded the Cedar Park, TX-based launcher a $112M contract to deliver several lunar payloads using the Blue Ghost spacecraft.
The details: NASA awarded the contract through its Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, which counts on industry players to support the agency’s efforts to establish sustainable lunar infrastructure.
- Firefly has already made progress toward another CLPS contract, with plans to deliver 10 lunar payloads to Mare Crisium on the Moon’s earth-facing side in 2024.
- NASA has awarded nine CLPS contracts so far. This is the second mission destined for the dark side.
Under the contract, Firefly will launch Blue Ghost in a two-stage configuration to first deploy a satellite into lunar orbit, then carry two payloads to the surface. The cargo:
- Lunar Pathfinder: a comms and data relay satellite
- Lunar Surface Electromagnetics Experiment-Night (LuSEE-Night): a system that will study the radio environment on the Moon’s dark side
- User Terminal (UT): a device to communicate with Lunar Pathfinder and establish a new lunar communications protocol.
Geek out: Since it’s always facing away from Earth, the dark side of the Moon can naturally shield any research instrument from our home planet’s noisy radio environment. This makes the dark side a great spot to study radio signals from the distant universe.
“Going to the lunar far side will help scientists understand some of the fundamental physics processes that occurred during the early evolution of the universe,” said Nicola Fox, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.
What’s next? Firefly successfully reached orbit with its Alpha rocket for the first time in October last year, but fell short of its intended orbit. Now, the space transportation player has its sights set not only on deep space exploration, but also on responsive launch services for satellites closer to home.
“Looking ahead, Firefly’s evolving line of launch vehicles and spacecraft allows us to support more advanced missions over the next 5 to 10 years,” Bill Weber, Firefly CEO, said in a statement. “This includes responsive launch, de-orbit, and reentry services in LEO; in-space mobility, logistics, and payload hosting in GEO; lunar deliveries, sample return, and relay services in cislunar space; and transport services to nearby planets such as Mars and Venus.”
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In Other News
- Axiom and NASA signed a mission order for a third private astronaut mission to the ISS (targeted for NET Nov. 2023).
- Debris from a Long March 2D reentered over Nepal on Saturday, USNI News reports.
- Kayhan shipped an upgraded version of Pathfinder, its STM and collision avoidance platform.
- SpaceX launched thousands of pounds of supplies and science experiments to the ISS in its 27th cargo run to the space station for NASA.
- The FAA requested $42M in FY 2024 funding for the Office of Commercial Space Transportation, a $5M annual increase over FY 23 appropriated levels.
- USSF won’t be buying new GPS satellites for the time being, as it has several birds already built and awaiting launch.
- LockBit, a ransomware group, claims that it stole 3,000 SpaceX schematics and will leak them if a payment is not made.
The Term Sheet
- South Korea plans to establish a 50B won ($38.5M) fund by 2027 to support the country’s commercial space sector.
- Voyager acquired spaceflight engineering specialists ZIN Technologies. While the Denver, CO space exploration company didn’t disclose terms of the deal, chairman and CEO Dylan Taylor said the acquisition was Voyager’s “largest to date.”
- Starfish Space raised a $14M Series A led by Munich Re Ventures, with participation from Toyota Ventures, PSL Ventures, NFX, and MaC VC (via Payload).
- ispace announced plans to IPO in April on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, at a valuation of ¥19B ($138M) (via Payload). The Japanese startup’s HAKUTO-R lander is currently en route to the Moon, where it will attempt to be the first privately developed spacecraft to land on the lunar surface.
- Gilat ($GILT) acquired DataPath, a government communications company providing end-to-end solutions for mission-critical operations.
- K2 Space, a startup founded by brothers Karan and Neel Kunjur, emerged from stealth with $8.5M in funding, per CNBC. First Round Capital and Republic Capital led K2’s seed round.
The View from Space
There is beauty in transience. 🌸
Webb’s stunning image of a super bright, massive Wolf-Rayet star calls forth the ephemeral nature of cherry blossoms. The Wolf-Rayet phase is a fleeting stage that only some stars go through, soon before they explode: go.nasa.gov/3Ln74VC
— NASA Webb Telescope (@NASAWebb)
Mar 14, 2023