Switcheroo (11/08/21 Newsletter)

To: Payload Subscribers

November 8, 2021

Good morning. As far as space companies are concerned, a jam-packed earnings season is upon us. And on a maybe-more-exciting note, some notable launches are also on the docket this week. Read on for more.

Today’s newsletter:
⭐ The National Space Council
🚀 Back-to-back-to-back for SpaceX
📅 Earnings, launches—the week ahead


The National Space Council Sets a Date

Via NASA

Six months ago, President Joe Biden tapped VP Kamala Harris to head up the US National Space Council. The White House stayed largely mum on that front until Friday, when Harris gave her first speech fully focused on space at NASA’s Goddard facility in Maryland. 

Mark your calendars…On Dec. 1, Harris will preside over the White House’s inaugural meeting of the National Space Council. Then and there, the VP will “outline a comprehensive framework” for US space priorities, so that the nation will “reap the full benefits” of the final frontier. 

While Harris didn’t explicitly spell out US space priorities Friday, she dropped some easter eggs that serve as hints. An assorted selection of quotes: 

  • “While the exploration of space defined the 20th century, I believe that the opportunity of space will define the 21st century.”
  • “Climate change is an existential threat and we must take immediate action to address it…I truly believe space activity is climate action.” Harris name-dropped Landsat-9, a joint mission between NASA and the US Geological Survey (USGS)
  • NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, who also spoke Friday, noted: “We are the leading climate agency, and the proof’s in the pudding.”
  • In addition to climate action, a timely topic last week, Harris said: “Space activity is education. Space activity is also economic growth. It is also innovation and inspiration, and it is about our security and our strength.”

The long view: “In America, when we shoot for the moon, we plant our flag on it,” Harris has said before. Like its predecessor, the Biden administration is still targeting 2024 for humanity’s return to the moon (via US astronauts, of course). 

For many space watchers though, the prospect of a 2024 return strains credulity. The Artemis 1 launch date has slipped to early 2022—and NASA’s super-heavy SLS rocket has been beset by a series of delays. And that’s to say nothing of spacesuit procurement issues. 

But we’ll cap this with a glass-half-full outlook. SLS is fully stacked for launch in Florida, NASA and Space will resume lunar lander work post-haste, and the US is discussing space priorities at the highest level of government.


Spaceships Passing In the Night

Via ESA/NASA/SpaceX

At long last, SpaceX and NASA are nearly ready to launch the Crew-3 mission. *knocks on wood*

  • Where? Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A → the International Space Station (ISS)
  • Who? NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, Kayla Barron, and European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Matthias Maurer
  • When? The launch window opens at 9:03 pm EST, with a backup opportunity available at 8:40pm EST on Friday. 

The Crew-3 launch has slipped due to uncooperative winter weather and a “minor medical” issue with one of the astronauts. NASA clarified that the issue was not Covid-related.

A switcheroo: Crew-2’s Dragon capsule is now set to undock from the ISS and return to Earth before its successor mission launches. There won’t be a direct handover at the ISS, leaving only one US astronaut—Mark Vande Hei—at the station until Crew-3’s arrival. At ~2 pm EST today, Crew Dragon is expected to undock from the ISS and splash down roughly eight and a half hours later in the Atlantic.  

+ Bonus round: SpaceX has set a date—Friday—for a next Starlink launch, the first in roughly six months. The $100B space company has been tight-lipped on Starlink launch updates, but aroused suspicions when it rolled a Falcon 9 booster activity across Kennedy Space Center—and sent “A Shortfall of Gravitas” out to sea. 

  • SpaceX’s other Atlantic rocket recovery droneship, “Just Read the Instructions,” will be busy this week catching the Falcon 9’s first stage on the Crew-3 mission.

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In Other News

  • Taikonaut Wang Yaping made history yesterday as China’s first female spacewalker.
  • China launched Guangmu, an Earth observation satellite, on a Long March-6 on Friday. The launch marked the Long March rocket family’s 395th flight.
  • SS-520-3, a suborbital Japanese research rocket, lifted off from a Norwegian launch site. 
  • NASA released the first images taken by Landsat-9.
  • Garret Reisman, a former NASA astronaut, tweeted that he almost drowned during a spacewalk. A cautionary tale about securing your bite valve…

The Week Ahead

Today: Crew-2 ISS undocking and splashdown. Virgin Galactic (NYSE:SPCE) reports earnings after market close (the stock is down nearly 70% from its Feb. high).

  • And…2021 Ascend, a conference put on by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), begins virtually. Live, in-person programming will be held on Nov. 15 in Vegas and DC, and continue the 16th and 17th in Sin City. 

Tuesday: JAXA, Japan’s space agency, is expected to launch the RAISE-2 mission at 00:48 UTC (7:48 EST). Astra will attempt an orbital launch with a Space Force test payload from Kodiak, AK. 

  • On the earnings front, Viasat (NASDAQ:VSAT) and Gilat (NASDAQ:GILT) report before market open, Echostar (NASDAQ:SATS) at 11 am EST, and Momentus (NASDAQ:MNTS) after the bell. 

Wednesday: SpaceX Crew-3 launch. Redwire (NYSE:RW) reports earnings before market open; Spire (NYSE:SPIR) releases quarterly results at 5 pm EST. The Cyber and Space Security Conference 2021 begins in Estonia and runs through Thursday. 

Thursday:  A Rocket Lab Electron rocket will launch the “Love at First Insight” mission, with two BlackSky satellites, on 4:25 am UTC (11:25 pm EST). Astra (NASDAQ:ASTR) reports after market close.) Thursday is also Veterans Day in the States

Friday: BlackSky (NYSE:BKSY) reports quarterly results before market open. Starlink launch scheduled for early in the morning.


The View from Space

Shenzhou 13 taikonauts conduct a Nov. 7 spacewalk at the Tiangong space station. Photo: CMSA