10/13/21 Payload Newsletter

To: Payload Subscribers

October 13, 2021

Good morning. The James Webb telescope (JWST) has completed its 16-day, 5,800-mile nautical trip from California to Kourou, French Guiana. Worried about pirates, NASA officials stayed hush-hush about details of the telescope’s shipping route.

Here’s hoping that the rest of JWST’s journey goes off without a hitch. We’re grateful for its successful, safe passage across the high seas. Now that we’re not jinxing anything…a thought experiment: What would pirates even do with a $10 billion space telescope?

Today’s newsletter:
🚀 Astra & LV0007
📈 Q3 investment


Astra Readies LV0007

LV0006 in Kodiak, Alaska. Photo: Astra

Yesterday, Astra gave the space community—and its investors—a twofer.

  1. The small rocket company has set a date for its next launch attempt: Oct. 27–31 (or Nov. 7–12, if needed). LV0007, Astra’s seventh rocket, will carry a test payload for the US Space Force and launch from Kodiak, Alaska. 
  2. Astra offered up an explanation of what went wrong with LV0006, its last launch attempt: A propellant leak disabled one of the rocket’s five first-stage engines. 

Rewind to LV0006: In August, Astra’s first commercial launch flight failed after one of its engines shut off on the launch pad. The rocket initially drifted sideways, before gradually gaining momentum and moving up and away from the Alaska coast. The flight was terminated ~2.5 minutes after liftoff. Like its successor, LV0006 was carrying a US Space Force test payload. 

Rewind the tapes even more: In December, Astra’s LV0005 rocket passed the Karman line. The rocket was just short of hitting orbital velocity, running out of fuel moments too early.

Astra CEO Chris Kemp welcomed the December mission as a nice Christmas surprise. Kemp, formerly CTO of NASA, started Astra five years ago with the goal of creating mass-produced vehicles that could launch virtually anytime, anywhere. 

  • The three zeroes in Astra’s current rocket name is an ambitious indicator of how many missions it hopes to eventually fly: 300/year by 2025

Make or break? Astra went public via SPAC in July. While the merger provided more runway for the company, the vicissitudes and volatility of the public markets make Astra’s valuation especially sensitive to each launch attempt. 

Investors seem cautiously optimistic. Astra’s stock closed up 11+% yesterday, though $ASTR is still down more than 30% since its debut. To sum things up, there’s more than just a test payload riding on LV0007. 


Q3 Space Investment, By the Numbers

Space Capital has published its quarterly report tracking private investment in the space sector. Investors put roughly $8.7 billion to work in Q3 2021, backing a total of 112 space companies. 

In Q3, while the lion’s share of money went to growth- and late-stage companies, smaller startups pulled in $1.5 billion and represented 59% of all deals closed. NB: Space Capital’s methodology includes “applications,” a category enabled by space assets but not necessarily space-first itself. Delivery service GoPuff, for example, falls into this category.

Notable highlight: Space infrastructure, defined as “hardware and software to build, launch, and operate space-based assets,” has received $10.3 billion in investment YTD. Space infrastructure had its largest quarter on record in Q3, with $3.9 billion in new investment. Launch companies received $700 million, while satellite players pulled in $2.8 billion (these figures include SPAC deals and associated PIPE investments). 

Here’s Space Capital’s data on private investment in space infrastructure since 2012:


In Other News

  • Elon Musk and Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen are duking it out over chunks of spectrum, the WSJ writes. 
  • Hiber and Inmarsat have partnered to provide satellite connectivity to the former’s network of IoT devices. 
  • Planet unveiled Pelican, a next-gen satellite fleet with higher-res imaging sensors, and integrated synthetic aperture radar (SAR) data into its sensor fusion product.  
  • India Prime Minister Narendra Modi voiced support for accelerated development of the country’s private space sector. 
  • James Webb checklist: remove from cargo ship, run final equipment checks, configure craft for flight, load into fairing, and mount to rocket. Then, launch Dec. 18.
  • Blue Origin will start the livestream of today’s launch at 9:30 AM ET (so, half an hour after this newsletter hits inboxes).

The Term Sheet

  • Satelliteherd, a Chinese commercial satellite developer, raised nearly $30 million in Series “A++” funding from Orient SecuritiesPeak Valley Capital, and Tianda Haitang Fund
  • Muon Space, a climate-focused constellation and AI analysis company, raised $10 million in seed funding. The round was led by Costanoa Ventures.
  • Kuva Space, a developer of hyperspectral imaging satellites, raised $4.84 million (EUR 4.2 million) of seed funding from VTT Technical Research Centre of FinlandVoima Ventures and Nordic FoodTech VC
  • Farmbot, an Australian agtech startup connecting farms via satellite or mobile network, raised $2.7 million. Telstra, Australia’s largest carrier, joined the round, investing $1 million.  
  • Sidereus Space Dynamics, an Italian orbital transport startup, raised $1.7 million (EUR 1.5 million) in seed funding from CDP VC and Primo Ventures
  • Valley Tech Systems, a developer of various aerospace systems, was acquired by Voyager Space Holdings for an undisclosed amount.
  • Care Weather, a developer of CubeSats for weather monitoring, raised an undisclosed amount of venture funding from Campus Founders Fund.

The View From Space

Photo: NASA

You’re looking at four chili pepper plants growing on the ISS. Astronauts will harvest peppers from the plants later this month and early in November.