Stress (11/18/21 Newsletter)

To: Payload Subscribers

November 18, 2021

Good morning. Rocket Lab’s “Love at First Insight” succeeded in two crucial ways: 1) The Electron rocket launched and deployed its payloads, and 2) The mission had a neat, simple name. It was truly the dream for space newsletter writers.

In today’s newsletter…
🌡️ Hydrosat seed round 
🧪 Axiom’s research 
📝 Contract report

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 Raising the Temperature

This week, Hydrosat closed a $10M seed round led by OTB Ventures. The geospatial imagery and analytics startup is using those funds to finance its first infrared imaging satellite, among other things.

Hydrosat has its sights set on water stress. After a year of worsening climate catastrophes, the case for high-quality water data is clearer than ever. Considering COP26, the US infrastructure bill, and other policy developments, the appetite for this data is growing by the day.

“When a field is under water stress, its temperature will increase weeks to months in advance of the color changing,” Hydrosat CEO Pieter Fossel told Payload. “Thermal infrared data gives you an early warning.”

  • This data is especially well-suited for the agricultural and forestry sectors. Many government agencies and commercial clients also have a vested interest in tracking crop health.

The product: An API that allows users to search through current and historical infrared satellite data. An analytics dashboard sits on top with more actionable insights. Hydrosat’s data comes from public sources: NASA and ESA satellites equipped with infrared sensors. 

Hydrosat has already landed government contracts with ESA, the US Air Force, and the DoD. According to Fossel, HydroSat plans to roll out a commercial data product over the next year.

The problem: Sensors generating public data “are either very, very low resolution, or they’re very, very low revisit,” Fossel said. What’s an analytics company to do? 

  • Hydrosat has partnered with ABB to develop an infrared, higher-res sensor that will continually image the Earth’s surface. More satellites + more frequent imaging = better data.

What’s next? Hiring and scaling. Hydrosat’s seed round funded the first of 16 total planned imaging satellites. The constellation will eventually offer customers constant, clearer thermal data. The first of Hydrosat’s proprietary satellites, VanZyl-1, is currently being built, with a launch planned for 2022 in partnership with Loft Orbital. 

  • According to Fossel, the full 16-satellite constellation is expected to be operational within three years. 

 Ax-1’s Lab Agenda

Image: Axiom

Axiom Space will conduct around 25 research experiments on its forthcoming ISS mission, the Houston company said Tuesday. Ax-1’s research portfolio includes senescent cell studies, a two-way hologram demo, and experiments in disciplines that run the gamut from astrophysics to neurology. 

Ax-1, 101: Axiom Mission 1 launches in 94 days, give or take. Beyond the research bounties it will bring to orbit, Ax-1 has the added significance of being the first private crewed mission to the ISS. 

Axiom is developing human-rated space infrastructure, and brick by brick, building its way to a free-flying LEO outpost. The company was started in 2016 by Michael Suffredini, who had previously worked across town as ISS program manager at NASA. 

  • Axiom has secured a $140M NASA contract to attach a commercial habitable module to the ISS. It’s raised $171.5M to date, per PitchBook.
  • Ax-1 tickets were $55M apiece. Michael López-Alegría, an Axiom VP and former NASA astronaut, will be the mission’s commander. 

The long view: Rome and space stations aren’t built in a day. The privatization of human spaceflight activities in LEO takes time. While the gradual handoff happens, NASA will be a key partner for Axiom and others, as an anchor customer and orbital host.


In Other News

  • Love at First Insight successfully deployed two BlackSky birds, bringing Rocket Lab to 107 total satellites launched. 
  • Starship update: first orbital try in Jan./Feb. and ~12 expected launch attempts in 2022. SpaceX is 90% self-funding Starship and will start selling launches in 2023. 
  • Virgin Orbit and Astroscale joined forces to work on on-orbit satellite servicing and space sustainability.
  • Dawn Aerospace and Orbit Fab are partnering on green propellant fuel for future orbital gas stations. 
  • Intelsat says 8,000+ vessels are connected via its FlexMaritime satellite service. 

Contract Report

  • NASA awarded Intuitive Machines a $77.5M contract for a 2024 lunar mission. The Nova-C lander will host experiments and tech demos for NASA. 
  • The US Space Force had a busy week, extending a contract with Lockheed Martin, worth ~$737M, to procure three additional GPS satellites. The USSF also signed an MoU with Georgia Tech and expects to release a solicitation next year for high-speed broadband internet from commercial LEO providers (h/t SpaceNews). 
  • Astroscale signed an MoU with New Zealand to research new approaches to space debris removal.
  • NASA awarded seven startups $90,000 each as part of its Entrepreneur’s Challenge program.
  • Arianespace won a contract with SingTel Optus to launch a communications satellite aboard an Ariane 6 in 2023.
  • BlackSky secured a five-year, sole-source blank purchase agreement from NASA for “high revisit satellite imaging data.” 
  • Exolaunch signed an agreement with SpaceX to fill extra capacity on several Transporter missions, enabling the German launch service provider to accommodate more customer payloads over the next two years. 

The View from Morocco

Numerica and Slingshot Aerospace took what they believe is the first before/after imagery of Russia’s ASAT test. The images come from the Numerica Telescope Network site in Morocco, and were captured the night of Monday, Nov. 15.