Good morning. Happy Hump Day! Today’s “Space Mike” is Michael Lopez-Alegria, NASA astronaut and commander of the first private flight to the ISS, who was nominated by Mike Antares, program manager of human spaceflight at Axiom Space.
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In today's edition...
🌎 GOP warns NASA to cut the politics
📷 Albedo’s advisory board
📃 Contract opportunities
💸 The term sheet
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GOP Slams NASA’s Proposed DEI, Climate Investments
A NASA mission to study how the ocean influences climate change. Image: NASA
Republicans warned NASA on Tuesday that promoting the Biden administration’s agenda, including what they called “woke” diversity initiatives and combating climate change, could threaten the bipartisan support historically enjoyed by the space agency.
“We’ve got a Republican House of Representatives now,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee said at a hearing. “If NASA is seen as partisan, that is very bad for space and space exploration.”
The rub: Republicans raised concerns about two issues: $22M in NASA’s FY24 budget request for an Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity, and a rule proposed in November that would require contractors working with NASA to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions and set targets to reduce them.
“I do worry sometimes that we may be losing focus on what makes America the preeminent space faring nation,” Cruz said. “If we show up second at the Shackleton Crater, I highly doubt the Chinese Communist Party will care much about how we’ve advanced an ‘Equity Action Plan.’”
NASA’s defense: Administrator Bill Nelson, who served on the committee alongside many of the current members before leading the space agency, defended NASA’s role in monitoring and combating climate change.
“You and I in this committee have a different approach to what is happening to the Earth’s climate,” he told Cruz. “It so happens that NASA is in the middle of this.”
He also clarified the parameters for the proposed rule, saying that he could waive the requirement to cut emissions for small businesses, for whom doing so could pose a heavy burden.
The China problem: Republican senators repeatedly pitted NASA’s desire to invest in diversity and climate change initiatives against the space agency’s ability to compete with China, which has announced its own ambitious space agenda, including a crewed Moon landing.
“You’ve indicated that China is a serious competitor here. In the budget, it is worth noting that China is mentioned one time…but climate and DEI-related items are mentioned 153 times,” said Sen. Eric Schmitt (R-MO), ranking member of the panel’s space and science subcommittee. “NASA has had such a great reputation. I do not want to see NASA dragged into these political fights.”
Kepler supports out-of-this-world communications
Kepler is delivering on-orbit data at lightspeed with a constellation of optical satellites designed to act as Internet exchange points for space-to-space data relay.
The Internet-ready constellation will deliver data to and from spacecraft in real time, helping customers to get more from their data. The hybrid network will modernize on-orbit communications with a combination of SDA-standard optical technology, RF inter-satellite links, and a high-speed backhaul link to move space-generated data efficiently back to Earth.
Kepler’s services are solving the downlink bottleneck by providing real-time access to satellite data, optimized latency, and high-speed downlinking capabilities. Kepler offers customers a service-level agreement and turnkey solution to satisfy the complete communications requirements of a mission, including:
Communications payloads for both optical and RF
Kepler’s services will expand customer mission potential, solving the current and future gaps in global space communications.
Exclusive: Albedo Forms a Strategic Advisory Board
Albedo, a startup developing a VLEO constellation to collect high-resolution optical imagery from space, has formed a strategic advisory board of former senior intelligence and defense officials to aid the company in its bid to boost government business.
The formation of this board “allows us to…strategize well and efficiently around engaging on the national security side, engaging with the government,” Albedo CEO Topher Haddad told Payload. The company aims to “maximiz[e] the opportunity that we can provide with high resolution, unclassified, shareable, resilient data, and just get in front of the right people quickly.”
Without further ado…the first three members of the advisory board are:
Joan Dempsey. Dempsey was deputy director of central intelligence for community management at the CIA, deputy director of intelligence at the DIA, and deputy assistant secretary of defense for intelligence and security.
John Deutch. Deutch was the 17th director of central intelligence as well as deputy secretary of defense in the Clinton administration.
Vice Admiral Bob Sharp (ret). Sharp was the most recent director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), and has served as commander of the Office of Naval Intelligence and as the director of the Joint Intelligence Center at US Central Command.
At first, the board will be heavy on national security, but Haddad said Albedo plans to add commercial expertise with the next round of members.
Time for a close-up: Back in Dec. 2021, Albedo clinched a first-of-its-kind NOAA license to sell 10-cm satellite imagery—much higher-res than the 30-cm imagery that was allowed previously. Since then, the company raised a $48M Series A in September and has been heads-down building its technology.
The satellites will come equipped with optical and infrared sensors. Data from both sensors can be combined to create thermal images at a higher resolution than anything available on the market today.
“We've gotten a lot of traction on the thermal infrared side with the government, and especially the ability to fuse the data together, because we could collect both 10-cm optical and two-meter thermal infrared at the same time,” Haddad said.
Albedo is targeting early 2025 for its first satellite launch, Haddad said, with a second launch later that year and several more in 2026. The initial constellation of six satellites is expected to achieve daily revisit, and the full constellation of 24 is intended to eventually reach five revisits per day.
Here are the top three government opportunities for space companies this week, as compiled by our partner TZero.
☔ NASA released the Space Weather and Science Agile Platforms (SWAPs) RFI to determine industry interest and options for using commercial and other government platforms for hosted space science and weather payloads. NASA will use inputs, which are due June 12, to focus efforts on relevant mature capabilities.
📡 DARPA/STO released an RFI to identify companies developing commercial capabilities that could be repurposed to provide space-based motion target indications (MTI) applications. The focus is on antennas and spacecraft that leverage existing and planned capabilities. Responses are due May 26.
🛫 AFRL/PZL (Sensors Directorate) released the Resilient Open & Agile Avionics System & Technology Development (ROAASTD) BAA. Multiple awards are available for $6M funding per year.
Additional opportunities and details can be found in the TZero Space Tracker.
Join Us in DC
Join Payload and In-Q-Tel for an evening where the emerging space community meets DC. We will be connecting space companies with the government to learn how to best serve each other.
Tom Gillespie, Managing Partner at In-Q-Tel
Rep. Max Miller (R-OH), a member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee who represents NASA Glenn Research Center
Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-CA), a member of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee who represents Vandenberg Space Force Base
In Other News
Artemis II astronauts are getting ready to begin 18 months of training in June.
SpaceX's Starlink plans to launch in South Korea in Q2 after receiving its telecom regulatory license.
US Space Command’s move to Alabama may be stalled by the Biden admin due to the state’s abortion law.
North Korea is nearing the deployment of its first spy satellite after Kim Jong Un approved the launch committee’s ‘future action plan’ yesterday.
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The Term Sheet
AccelerComm raised a £21.5M ($26.9M) Series B from Parkwalk, Swisscom, and Hostplus. The capital will be used to expand the team, increase global expansion, and further develop its capabilities.
Virgin Orbit agreed to a $17M ‘stalking horse’ deal with Stratolaunch to sell its aircraft assets. Other parties will have the chance to outbid Stratolaunch.
EnduroSat secured a $10M Series A led by Ceecat Capital. The funding will be used to scale operations.
Reflex, a German satellite startup, nabbed €1.8M ($1.9M) of additional funding. EFRE Bayern innovation fund joined the shareholder group for the round.
Arqit ($ARQQ) has hired a banker to sell off its space division, SpaceNews reports.
The View from Space
In a reversal of roles, South Korea’s Danuri orbiter snapped this fuzzy photo of NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which is usually the shutterbug for other spacecraft.