Good morning. Later today and tomorrow, Foundation for the Future is hosting a speaker series event on space media and policy. Catch Payload reporter Rachael Zisk moderating the afternoon sessions.
In today's newsletter:🌐 ORBITS Act📲 SkyFi app 📝 Cyber survey💸 Term sheet
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The ORBITS Act
This week, Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and Roger Wicker (R-MS) introduced the Orbital Sustainability (ORBITS) Act on the Congress floor. The bipartisan bill is aimed at developing active debris removal (ADR) technology, with the eventual goal of removing dangerous debris objects from orbit.
The debris problem: 100M+ individual pieces of debris are in Earth orbit right now, ranging from flecks of dust and paint to spent American and Soviet boosters to decommissioned, defunct satellites. As the space industry gears up to launch tens of thousands of satellites in the coming decade, spacefaring nations’ governments are figuring out how to stop the dreaded Kessler syndrome before it becomes a reality.
Orbital debris is notoriously difficult to regulate. So far, humans have yet to actively remove debris from orbit. While rapidly advancing, ADR is far from the promised land of commercial viability.
“With any new technology, government investment in R&D is essential,” Chris Blackerby, COO of Astroscale, told Payload a few months ago. Public investment can help get innovative new ideas, like ADR, over the “valley of death.”
The ORBITS act spans four pillars. The bill would:
Direct NASA, the Office of Space Commerce (OSC), and the National Space Council (NSpC) to create a list of the most dangerous pieces of debris in orbit
Direct NASA to create a program focused on debris removal R&D
Update orbital debris mitigation guidelines across multiple government agencies
Require OSC, NSpC, and the FCC to develop practices to improve space situational awareness and space traffic management.
The second provision would allow NASA to petition industry for ADR demonstrations, a major step for advancing this technology in the US. The bill recommends appropriations of $150M from 2023 to 2027.
+ While we’re here…Orbital debris mitigation is top-of-mind across US government agencies. Yesterday, NASA announced funding for three research proposals on the topic of space sustainability, focusing on the economic, social, and policy impacts. The three awardees:
Richard Linares and Danielle Wood from MIT and Moriba Jah from UT Austin
Akhil Rao from Middlebury College, Daniel Kaffine from the University of Colorado-Boulder, and Brian Weeden of the Secure World Foundation
Patrice Kohl, Sergio Alvarez, and Philip Metzger of the University of Central Florida
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SkyFi Launches App in Beta, Tops Off Seed Round
SkyFi has a very ambitious vision: making satellite imagery available and accessible for the masses. But before it can even dream about widespread EO democratization, the Austin, TX startup must develop a clean, consumerized experience, with a web portal and mobile app that support a marketplace for imagery, data, and analytics.
To that end, SkyFi has redesigned its website and this week launched its mobile app in beta. The iOS and Android app currently has ~300 “curated” users, SkyFi CEO Luke Fischer told Payload, and the company will continue onboarding in waves. The startup currently has a headcount of 26, with 15 engineers. Fischer says SkyFi is “making a big push” to build a diverse team and that 25% of its engineering team is female.
Team work makes the dream work: SkyFi has quickly added new partners onto its platform, which now pulls from 40+ satellites and 13 imagery providers and analytics vendors. The startup signed its two newest partners, SIIS and Geosat, at WSBW this morning.
Extra runway makes the world go round: SkyFi has topped off its initial ~$7M seed round and has now raised $10M. The startup opted to fortify its balance sheet with a bit more cash due to “changing global and market conditions,” Fischer said.
Looking ahead...The SkyFi app’s global launch is roughly two months out, but it’s a “very tentative” moving target. SkyFi must squash any bugs found in the beta app and iterate based on early user feedback.
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Pléiades Neo Delivers Precise, 30cm Imagery for a New Era of Geospatial Applications
Pléiades Neo is Airbus' most advanced optical constellation with ultimate reactivity. Two satellites are already in orbit and the next two are scheduled to launch in November.
Entirely funded, owned, and operated by Airbus, Pléiades Neo is commercially available and offers 30cm native resolution data with the ability to task the satellites just minutes before a new collection is needed.
The exquisite-class system offers a 3.5m CE90 geolocation accuracy with 6 multispectral bands that allow more insights to be derived for various applications.
Interested to learn more about the constellation, what the imagery is used for, and see how to access it?
Take our Cybersecurity Survey
Payload and SpiderOak have partnered to conduct research on cybersecurity in the space industry. Calling all industry insiders...help us gather insights on the state of play in space systems' cybersecurity, and provide a look into what needs to change. Make the voice and cyber needs of you or your organization heard.
It will only take you a few minutes to complete the survey. Better yet, we'll share an aggregated analysis of our findings with everyone who participates.
In Other News
NASA science chief Thomas Zurbuchen will step down in December.
Japan and Germany joined the US’s pledge to not conduct destructive, kinetic energy ASAT tests. Here’s a readout of Washington’s stance on developing space norms, delivered to the UN in Geneva yesterday.
Viasat ($VSAT) CEO Mark Dankberg said the advent of direct-to-cell service will require industry-wide changes to policy, regulation, and orbital coordination.
AST SpaceMobile ($ASTS) engineers have established comms, stabilized, and taken control of BlueWalker 3.
Polaris Dawn kicked off spacewalk training at SpaceX HQ.
Sierra’s LIFE completed an ultimate burst pressure test. LIFE = the Large Inflatable Flexible Environment habitat.
The Term Sheet
Aalyria spun out of Alphabet, with an $8M DIU contract and backing from the founders of Accel, J2 Ventures, and Housatonic. The venture A) salvages tech from the shuttered Loon HAPS moonshot and B) aims to build speedy, secure networks “that span land, sea, air, near space, and deep space.”
Astrobotic officially announced its acquisition of Masten Space Systems. The Pittsburgh startup recently acquired most of Masten’s assets for $4.5M during bankruptcy proceedings.
Leanspace, which is building digital infrastructure for the space industry, expanded its seed round to €6M ($6.4M), led by Karista and 42CAP.
GalaxySpace, a Chinese satellite internet startup, says it raised new funding at a valuation of $1.58B (H/T SpaceNews).
Agnikul Cosmos, an Indian small launcher developer, “is close to raising up to” a $20M Series B, Nikkei Asia reports.
SkyFi has raised an additional $2.85M in funding since the company’s $7.15M haul earlier in 2022 (via Payload).
The View from Space
Seen above: the ISS's fine-tuned robotic arm, in all of its glory. The Canadarm2 robotic arm goes by the name "Dextre" and performs routine, precise maintenance chores on the exterior of the space station.