At your own risk (5/31/23)
Good morning. It’s Wednesday and you know what that means: time to shout out Mikes in the space world! Today’s honoree is Michael Fossum, former astronaut and current VP of Texas A&M.
According to his nomination from Stacy Cusack of Sierra Space, who helped train Fossum for his STS-121 mission: “Mike was a true pleasure to train, and to work with in general. He always had a smile on his face, loved learning, and showed his true appreciation for all the work that occurred behind the scenes in preparation for and during a spaceflight mission.”
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In today's edition...
🍊 Florida’s new space-friendly law
☄️ UAE to visit asteroid belt
📝 Contract opps
💸 The term sheet
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FL Limits Spaceflight Liabilities to Attract Launch Businesses
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law last week to reduce the liability for commercial spaceflight companies in a bid to lure even more launch providers to the Space Coast.
The law grants launch businesses sweeping immunity from flight-related injury or death liability, on the condition that the crew members sign a waiver. The bill aims to “limit the cost of litigation to businesses engaging in spaceflight activities,” making Florida’s Space Coast an even more attractive HQ for space companies.
SpaceX prize: The law, signed a day after DeSantis announced his run for president on Twitter with Elon Musk, comes at a time when SpaceX is facing increasing uncertainty and pushback from the community at its $3B Starbase launch facility in Boca Chica, TX.
After Starship’s orbital test flight scattered miles of debris, the FAA and SpaceX were hit with a lawsuit brought forth by environmental groups.
The lawsuit calls for a Starbase environmental impact statement (EIS) review, which could take years to complete.
“[An EIS] would set us back for quite some time,” Elon Musk said last year. “We would have to shift our priorities to Cape Kennedy.”
SpaceX is already in the process of building a launch pad at Cape Canaveral, FL. How the launch giant divides its operations between Florida and Texas is still up in the air.
FL vs. TX: As the Sunshine State attempts to attract space business, the Lone Star State is also ramping up its economic incentives. The Texas legislature recently passed a bill committing $350M to fund and support Texas aerospace and space projects.
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The Emirates Mission to the Asteroid Belt
Artist rendering of the MBR Explorer spacecraft. Image: UAE Space Agency
The UAE unveiled plans on Sunday to send a spacecraft to explore the asteroid belt by 2028, a follow-on to the emerging space nation’s ambitious Mars mission currently orbiting the Red Planet.
The Emirates Mission to the Asteroid Belt, or EMA, will study six asteroids before reaching its final destination: a mysterious red asteroid that may hold clues about the genesis of life on Earth.
A rare item: Discovered in 2021, the 30-mile wide asteroid “269 Justitia” is one of two known red asteroids. Its distinct color is attributed to the presence of organic compounds called tholins, more common to the icy objects of the Kuiper Belt, suggesting its potential origin.
The two-ton spacecraft, which is named “MBR Explorer” after UAE’s Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, is expected to conduct its first asteroid flyby 2030, followed by five subsequent flybys before reaching Justitia in 2034.
Buy local: The mission has the dual goals of scientific discovery and boosting the commercial space sector much closer to home. Half of the mission’s budget will be spent within the UAE, and a small lander to be deployed to Justitia’s surface from the MBR Explorer will be fully developed by UAE-based startups.
International organizations are also working on the mission, including:
The Italian Space Agency, which is developing an imaging spectrometer in collaboration with the National Institute of Astrophysics and Leonardo S.p.A.
US-based Malin Space Science Systems is adding two cameras to the spacecraft.
The University of Colorado Boulder is serving as a knowledge partner to the mission. The university was also a partner on UAE’s “Hope” Martian orbiter that launched in 2020.
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Here are the top government opportunities for space companies this week, as compiled by our partner TZero.
⭐ NASA GSFC will release an RFP in mid-to-end of June for the Atmospheric Composition (ACX) instrument as part of the Geostationary Extended Observations (GeoXO) program. ACX will be a hyperspectral, UV through visible imaging spectrometer that will fly on a GEO platform. The solicitation will be for a cost plus award fee (CPAF) contract for two flight units and an optional spare.
♻️ AFRL/RV Geospace Technologies Division released a five-year open BAA for the Space Environment Exploitation and Mitigation (SEEM) Program. This BAA, with specific topic areas to be released, will focus on mitigating space environmental impacts on DoD operational systems.
👔 Multiple SBIR topics opened on May 17, with responses due June 14. Open topics can be found here.
Additional opportunities and details can be found in the TZero Space Tracker.
In Other News
As the State Department released its first Strategic Framework for Space Diplomacy, some experts say training on diplomacy in orbit is not keeping pace with the rapidly advancing space industry (via Payload).
North Korea attempted and failed to launch its first spy satellite.
Seoul residents heard air raid sirens and received wartime alerts in response to the North Korean launch attempt.
Spain became the 25th country to sign the Artemis Accords during NASA chief Bill Nelson’s visit to Madrid.
SpaceX launched a batch of Starlink satellites.
Ax-2 splashed down off the coast of Florida.
17 people were in orbit for a few hours Tuesday morning, setting a new record for the most people off Earth at any one time.
The Term Sheet
Fleet raked in $33M in a Series C round to build out its satellite-enabled mineral exploration solution. Blackbird led the funding round, which valued the startup at $229M (via Payload).
Fortuna Investments is opening a Miami office with the goal of investing in 12 early-stage space startups over the next few years (via Payload).
Viasat ($VSAT) completed its acquisition of Inmarsat.
Alpine Space Ventures, a spacetech VC, received a €60M ($64M) investment from the European Investment Fund.
The UK Space Agency launched the Space Clusters Infrastructure Fund. The fund will award more than £50M ($62M) in matched funding to support space R&D.
GITAI, a Japanese robotics startup, raised ¥4B ($29M) in a Series B extension round led by Global Brain. The proceeds will be used to build a lunar rover and robotic arm.
Terran Orbital ($LLAP) has offered 29M shares for $1.28 a pop in its bid to raise liquidity by $37.1M.
Stratasys is in talks to acquire Desktop Metal, according to Bloomberg.
The View from Space
Image: NASA, ESA, CSA
JWST spotted a giant water plume erupting from Saturn’s moon, Enceladus, that would stretch from Ireland to Japan on Earth.