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Good morning, especially to all of our Irish readers. Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all who celebrate.

In today’s newsletter…
✅ MicroGEO completes major testing
🛰️ Fresh satellite imagery
🤝 The contract report

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  Astranis Completes Final Testing for First Commercial Satellite 

Via Astranis
Via Astranis

Astranis says its first commercial satellite is “ready for launch.” 

On Wednesday, the SF-based space unicorn said it had cleared all major tests for its first MicroGEO satellite…including the vibe test campaign (vibration/vibroacoustic tests), along with final solar array and antenna deployment tests, propulsion system tests, software tests, and electrical checkouts. 

  • In late December, the spacecraft successfully completed thermal vacuum (TVAC) tests.
  • At the time, Astranis also announced that it had secured “all perils” insurance coverage for the satellite, covering launch + year one of on-orbit ops.
  • Earlier in the month, Astranis signed a $90M contract with Andesat, a Latin American telco, to help leapfrog networks from 2G to 4G .

MicroGEO fast facts

  • Lifespan: One decade 
  • Use case: connectivity & cellular backhaul
  • Lead time: 12-18 months to build
  • Bells & whistles: Software-defined, reprogrammable radio and bespoke thermal, structural, and electronic componentry built from scratch
  • Future home: A GEO orbit ~36,000 km away from Earth
  • Weight: 400 kg (~880 lb). That may sound heavy to humans, but MicroGEO is ~1/20th the size of its geostationary compatriots…and 1/10th the cost, per Astranis. 

There are tradeoffs to the nimble form factor, as Astranis cofounder and CEO John Gedmark told us in December. “Each of our satellites is a smaller, more targeted chunk of capacity,” compared to conventional GEO craft that can cover an entire continent.

Astranis is leasing all of its first satellite’s capacity to Pacific Dataport, an Anchorage, AK-based satellite middle-mile provider. Astranis has said that once operational, MicroGEO will provide Alaska with 7.5 Gbps of capacity, ~3X the satellite bandwidth that the state has today. 

Pacific Dataport POV: “Complete and ubiquitous coverage of Alaska has been our primary mission from the start,” CEO Chuck Schumann said in a press release. Alaska is the largest US state, and with the lowest population density, far-flung towns without cell towers, cable, and fiber are commonplace. “Affordable, reliable broadband is a generational change for a community like that and this satellite is going to help us bring this change for our entire state.”

Up next: Astranis says its Alaska satellite is ready to ship to the launch site. Later this year, MicroGEO will ride as a secondary payload to ViaSat-3 on Falcon Heavy. 

  Satellites Reveal Further Destruction in Ukraine

Imagery shows destruction of a neighborhood in Moschun, Ukraine. Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies.
Imagery shows destruction of a neighborhood in Moschun, Ukraine. Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies.

Imagery shows destruction of a neighborhood in Moschun, Ukraine. Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies.

Satellite imagery is continuing to prove a trustworthy source and rare window into the tolls of war. New Maxar imagery shows massive destruction by Russian attacks across Ukraine, as well as the movement of Russian military forces.

The damage: Ukraine’s cities have sustained devastating damage from Russian missiles in the past three weeks. In Moschun, a city about 34 miles northeast of Kyiv, Maxar imagery shows that nearly every house in a residential neighborhood was scorched and severely damaged. Damage is visible to hospitals and commercial and residential areas across Ukraine, particularly in Mariupol, Chernihiv, Sumy, and Kharkiv.

The imagery also shows the movement of Russian troops and artillery. Maxar captured a line of Russian self-propelled howitzers and multiple rocket launchers stationed outside the city of Chernihiv, as well as Russian ground forces deployment at an airfield in Kherson.

Satellite imagery takes the spotlight: Last night, Maxar images of Mariupol and areas near Kyiv were CNN online’s top story when we looked around 10pm ET. At SXSW, Umbra co-founder Gabe Dominocielo recently said the demand for satellite imagery of Ukraine is 4X  greater than what existing commercial Earth observation satellites can fulfill, SpaceNews’s Jeff Foust tweeted.

For their part, satellite imagery companies have been stepping up and providing Ukraine with satellite imagery to support the defense of their country. 

  • Satellogic and Astraea last week created a platform to get free satellite imagery to Ukraine and humanitarian groups.
  • Canadian satellite developer MDA is supplying SAR imagery.
  • Maxar, Planet, and Capella Space, among others, have said they are working with the Ukrainian government to provide imagery.

In Other News

  • At SXSW, National Science Foundation Director Sethuraman Panchanathan announced a new NSF Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships. 
  • In-Q-Tel, the intelligence community’s venture arm, estimates that commercial satellite capabilities being used to support Ukraine were enabled by $25B+ in VC funding of space startups over the last seven years. 
  • Planet March 15 imagery shows multiple destroyed helicopters and plumes of smoke, after a Ukrainian counterattack on an airport near the Russian-occupied city of Kherson.
  • SpaceX delivered a new set of Starlink terminals earlier this week, per Ukraine Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov.
  • The Today Show profiled World View, which will ferry space tourists in a 10,000-lb. pressurized capsule and football stadium-sized balloon…and charge ~$50,000 a ticket. (Comp—Virgin charges 9X that amount.)
  • NASA published a video on JWST’s mirror alignment process.
  • China launched its second classified Yaogan-34 satellite to orbit on a Long March 4C.

The Contract Report

  • Orbit Fab won a $12M contract to build an on-orbit refueling payload for the USSF. 
  • Terran Orbital won a contract from Lockheed Martin to build 42 satellites for the Space Development Agency’s network of defense satellites. The satellites will be part of the Transport Layer.
  • AST SpaceMobile has signed a multi-launch agreement with SpaceX to launch its BlueWalker 3 and BlueBird direct-to-phone communications satellites.
  • MDA won a $269M contract from the Canadian Space Agency to continue developing Canadarm3, a robotics system that will be used as part of NASA’s Gateway lunar station. 
  • GMV has signed a contract with INTA to provide corrective maintenance on the ground segment for the PAZ EO satellite. 
  • Spire Global announced a space-as-a-service partnership with NorthStar to build a constellation of space situational awareness satellites.
  • ICEYE and Fermat Capital Management have entered into a strategic partnership, where ICEYE will provide the investment manager with flood hazard data and R&D support. 
  • NOVELSAT was awarded a multi-million dollar award to build the ground network for a planned EO constellation. The exact value of the contract was not disclosed.

Payload Insights: USSF FY21 & FY22 Budget ($B)

Payload Insights: United States Space Force Budget ($B). Source: Payload Data | March 15, 2022
Source: Payload Data | March 15, 2022

The View from Alaska

On March 15, 2022 Astra delivered its first customer payloads into Earth orbit for the Spaceflight Astra-1 mission.
LV0009 and the Spaceflight Astra-1 mission depart Earth on March 15. Photo: Brady Kenniston / Astra