Good morning. Happy Thursday! Hope you’re having a great week so far.
🚌 Maxar’s 300 series bus
🚀 VICTUS NOX on standby
📝 The contract report
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What’s Next for Maxar’s Newest (and Smallest) Bus
Maxar is getting ready to start pumping out 300 series buses for the Space Development Agency’s tracking mission, but a company exec says he sees a long future for the spacecraft with both commercial and national security customers beyond the military constellation.
“There are a lot of studies and demo-type contracts within the LEO sphere that could lead to larger constellations and distributed assets in LEO,” Chris Johnson, Maxar’s SVP of space programs, told Payload. “All of our traditional commercial customers as well as non-traditional commercial customers are asking about the benefits of LEO.”
Inaugural line: Maxar’s new 300 series bus, which is about the width of an oven, will support missions in LEO ranging from comms to EO to space domain awareness.
Maxar is building 16 of the buses for L3Harris Technologies to support the SDA’s Tranche 1 tracking layer, which will provide missile warning and tracking capabilities. The platform completed its first critical design review last month.
Chris Johnson 101: Johnson joined Maxar in 2021 after serving as the head of Boeing Satellite Systems International. During a recent conversation, Johnson also chatted with Payload about Maxar’s push into the national security business, the government’s approach to going fast, and what’s next for the 300 bus.
NASA, DLR, ESA, and More Added to 2023 ASCEND Program
Join A.C. Charania, Chief Technologist, NASA; Peter Gräf, Director for Applications and Science, DLR; Col. Pamela Melroy, USAF (Ret.), Deputy Administrator, NASA; Daniel Neuenschwander, Director for Human and Robotic Exploration, ESA, and other leaders from space agencies and governments at the world’s premier outcomes-focused, interdisciplinary space event.
Powered by AIAA, ASCEND connects the civil, commercial, and national security space sectors, along with adjacent industries, to embrace the opportunities and address the challenges that come with increased activity in space. Through cross-industry collaboration and technical exchange, ASCEND is moving new ideas forward to build our sustainable off-world future.
Join us Oct. 23–25 in Las Vegas. Early bird registration ends Sept. 15.
Firefly Stands at the Ready
The DoD wants rockets on deck to launch at a moment’s notice. Firefly is rising to the challenge.
The startup announced yesterday that it is officially on standby to launch the VICTUS NOX tactically responsive mission for US Space Systems Command (SSC). The Texas-based launcher and Millennium Space Systems, the payload provider for the mission, could be asked to launch anytime over the next six months—but they don’t know when. (That’s the point.)
“The US’s ability to rapidly respond to on-orbit needs is critical to our national defense, particularly in today’s evolving space environment,” Lt. Col. MacKenzie Birchenough, Materiel Leader for SSC’s Space Safari program office, said in a statement.
VICTUS NOX: The military awarded the contract for the mission, Latin for “conquer the night,” in September 2022. Firefly and Millennium got the rocket and payload ready to go in record time, and now they’ve entered a six-month “hot standby” phase. It’s a waiting game until SSC fires the starting gun.
SSC will, at some point, give a notification to kick off a 60-hour period in which Firefly and Millennium will have to transport the payload to Vandenberg, conduct fueling operations, and mate the payload with Firefly’s Alpha payload adapter.
A second notification with final orbit requirements will start a 24-hour countdown. In that time, the teams will have to update the trajectory and guidance, mate the payload adapter with Alpha, and stand ready to launch at the first open window.
In the first available window during or after the 24-hour period, Alpha will have to launch.
Once deployed in LEO, Millennium will have 48 hours to get the space situational awareness payload up, running, and sending data home.
Move, move, move: USSF wants to be able to launch whenever they need to, full stop. They don’t want to have to wait months or years to contract spacecraft and launches—they’ve got national security to think about, and are preparing for the day when they can’t wait.
But launching on demand is easier said than done. DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), for example, announced a responsive launch competition in 2018, and though three launch companies took up the challenge, it ultimately ended in 2020 without a winner.
So far, USSF has launched one successful tactical launch mission—Tactically Responsive Launch-2 (TacRL-2), which Northrop Grumman ($NOC) launched aboard a Pegasus XL rocket in 2021. VICTUS NOX is TacRL-3. The military is already working on the follow-on, dubbed VICTUS HAZE. The Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) announced last week that the next iteration will focus on “end-to-end execution using commercial capabilities.”
USSF has requested $60M over 2024 and 2025 for further tactically responsive launches. By then, it hopes it’ll have the capability locked.
Join Our Next Webinar!
Save the date for Payload’s next webinar. Join Ari and the Italian Trade Agency as they discuss the following:
How Italy markets itself to space companies
The challenges of marketing a country
In Other News
Space in Africa projects that the African space industry will grow 16% to $22.6B by 2026.
AAC Clyde Space, a Swedish satcom company, reported SEK 2.3M (~$212,000) in Q2 profit.
The Deep Space Network, the ground infrastructure that communicates with NASA’s missions across the Solar System, is nearly at its limit.
A defunct Soviet satellite broke up into at least seven pieces, likely due to a collision with a smaller piece of debris (h/t Jonathan McDowell).
Spire Global ($SPIR) executed a 1-for-8 reverse stock split.
The Contract Report
Voyager secured an Air Force Life Cycle Management Center contract worth up to $900M to develop intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems.
SAIC won a seven-year, $574.5M USSF contract to maintain missile warning ground sensors.
Spire clinched a $4.6M NASA award to develop a microwave sounder for NOAA’s Near-Earth Orbit Network.
Benchmark won a $2.8M AFRL contract to continue developing its thrusters for ASCENT.
Sedaro won a $1.5M USSF SBIR grant to demonstrate its digital twin spacecraft design model.
TransAstra signed an $850,000 NASA SBIR contract to build an inflatable capture bag for orbital debris.
Exotrail nabbed a Muon Space contract to supply five electric propulsion systems.
Viasat ($VSAT) won contracts with Hullo and the Vancouver Island Ferry Company to provide maritime Wi-Fi service.
Microsoft ($MSFT) secured a five-year contract with space AI startup Synthetaic to provide cloud computing.
Hera Systems teamed up with LeoStella on a combined manufacturing proposal for an SDA proposal.
The View from Space
That’s not a Magic Eye image, it’s the latest pic of spiral galaxy M51 from JWST.