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Good morning. A reminder: Payload will be at the SATELLITE 2022 Conference next week in DC. Slide in to our DMs if you’ll also be there and want to meet up. Reach out to Ari for business/partnership-focused meetings, or Ryan for anything editorial in nature.

If you’re interested in attending and haven’t snagged a ticket yet, register here with the code PAYLOAD for $350 off of the conference rate or a free exhibit hall pass.

In today’s edition:
💰 FY22 space funding
🚁 Drone antenna tests
💸 The term sheet

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  Biden Signs FY22 Federal Appropriations Bill

After months of delays in Congress, POTUS has signed the FY22 Consolidated Appropriations Act, which funds the federal government through the end of September. The bill introduces some changes into funding levels for NASA, NOAA, and USSF for the next year (ahem…six months). 

Here’s our rundown of those changes.

NASA

The agency is slated to receive $24B in federal funding, a 3.3% YoY increase but still $760M short of the amount requested. A few major updates:

  • A 4% increase, or additional $313.4M over FY21, for the Science Mission Directorate. This is $317M less than the Biden administration’s request.
  • A $420M increase over FY21 for the planetary science budget, bolstered by funding for the planned Mars Sample Return mission.
  • Full congressional support for the Human Landing System (HLS) mission.
  • Space Technology is being funded at 2021 levels, despite the agency’s request for a $325M increase. The $1.1B includes $110M for nuclear thermal propulsion, which was not part of the agency’s initial request.

NOAA

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration received $5.88B in discretionary appropriations, a $447M increase from FY21 but still $1.1B less than requested. Included in the appropriations:

  • $200M for climate research, an $18M increase over FY21. This includes a $10M increase to provide actionable climate change data.
  • $1.17B for operating expenses, which includes an additional $70M to procure weather satellites.
  • Cut funding for a line of geostationary weather satellites. The NOAA had requested $490M for the project, but only received $150M under the appropriations bill.

The Space Force

USSF is being funded at a higher level than the Biden administration requested. Legislators added $1.3B in funding for projects through the USSF and Space Development Agency (SDA). Some of the biggest changes:

  • An added $550M for a missile-tracking satellite demonstration through the SDA. SDA is planning a sprawling network of defense satellites, and a group of 28 missile-tracking satellites are being developed as part of the Tracking Layer.
  • $18B total for USSF operations and acquisitions accounts, a 17% increase over FY21, to encourage the still-new branch’s development.
  • An increase of $70M for small launch services.

The upshot: We wrote in January that USSF procurement was on pause, stuck at FY21 levels, until this bill passed. The $768B in DoD funding that has been held up since the NDAA passed in December is now being freed up. As for NASA and NOAA, funding requests fell a bit flat, and a few programs will be feeling the crunch over the rest of the fiscal year.


  QuadSAT Uses Drones to Test European Earth Station Antennas

QuadSAT said this morning that it partnered with ESA’s ESOC mission control center to run a drone-based measurement campaign of 13- and 15-meter European antennas at Kiruna Earth Station. The Danish startup says that this represents the first time anyone has used a drone to measure a 15m antenna and run tracking tests on it. 

The tech

QuadSAT has fitted drones with a radiofrequency (RF) payload and integrated the stack with bespoke automation/measurement software. The company’s quadcopters fly in front of an antenna, scans the entire area in a lawn-mower fashion, and generate “a heatmap of the entire performance of the antenna,” CEO Joakim Espeland told Payload last fall. 

  • The idea is to simulate on-orbit testing of antennas. 
  • But…by using drones rather than space assets for antenna diagnostics and calibration, operators could theoretically minimize downtime and the opportunity costs of using a satellite for ground segment testing. 

Target markets

While the startup eventually envisions using flying robots to inspect all manner of critical infrastructure, it’s first focused on the satellite industry, where the economics are most favorable.

“The highest value per measurement comes from large antennas,” Espeland said. “What I really want to do…is make drones just another tool in the toolbag for satellite technicians and antenna engineers.” 

ESA’s take: In a statement, Piermario Besso, head of the ESA’s antenna and infrastructure section, said: “The QuadSAT system has the potential to revolutionize satellite antenna testing and measurement, especially as it has now proven its ability to test large antennas.” The system will help improve QA and reliability, Besso added. 

The endgame: Espeland hopes that ideally, at scale, QuadSAT will “bring down the price per measurement so much that it would be negligent not to measure an antenna whenever a technician visited.”


In Other News

  • Astra (NASDAQ:ASTR) successfully deployed its first three customer payloads to GEO. $ASTR trading was temporarily halted due to volatility, but the stock ended the day slightly down. The stock experienced trading volume over triple its daily average, per CNBC/FactSet.
  • Northrop Grumman (NYSE:NOC) has retired two Space Tracking and Surveillance System (STSS) satellites that have “completed their missions” for the Missile Defense Agency.
  • Mark Vande Hei has been in space for the longest consecutive period of time of any NASA astronaut, breaking the record previously held by Scott Kelly. He’ll return to Earth later this month on a Soyuz capsule, if all goes to plan.
  • Speaking of Scott Kelly…the astronaut tells CNN that he’ll ratchet down a Twitter spat with Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin.
  • NetBlocks, which tracks internet disruptions and shutdowns, reports that Viasat’s KA-SAT network “remains heavily impacted 18 days after it was targeted by an apparent cyberattack.”
  • The DownLink pod spoke with Volodomyr Usov and Lyubomyr Sabadosh, two former heads of Ukraine’s space agency, and Liliya Shevchuk, director of the country’s Space Initiatives Center. 
  • The Daily Mail ran a story with the headline: “Asteroid half the size of a giraffe strikes Earth off coast of Iceland.” There is only reason we’re including this—we think all meteorites, spacecraft, and orbital debris should be measured in units of giraffe.

The Term Sheet

  • Hermeus, a developer of hypersonic aircraft, raised $100M of Series B funding led by Sam Altman and joined by Founders Fund, In-Q-Tel and others.
  • Synthetaic, a provider of “analytics-as-a-service”, raised $13M in Series A funding led by Lupa Systems (via Payload).
  • Celestia Aerospace, a Barcelona-based nanosatellite developer and launcher, has raised €100M ($109.5M) in equity financing from Invema Group.
  • Slingshot Aerospace, an Austin-based space situational awareness company, has raised a $25M Series A-1 co-led by Draper Associates and ATX Venture Partners (via Payload). 
  • Kymeta Corporation, a flat panel antenna manufacturer, has secured $84M in equity financing from Bill GatesHanwha Systems, and other undisclosed investors.

Note: An earlier version of the term sheet in correctly stated where Celestia Aerospace is based. Payload regrets the error and has updated this section with the correct information. 


The View from Space

NASA astronaut Kayla Barron works to ready the space station for a third set of roll-out solar arrays about 260 miles above the Earth. Credit: NASA TV
NASA astronaut Kayla Barron, mid-EVA, working on solar arrays outside the ISS. Image via NASA TV. Barron and Raja Chari finished their ~seven-hour spacewalk at 3:06 pm ET.