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Good morning. Hope everyone had a great weekend. We’re coming to you live from the nation’s capital (and Texas…and NYC…and 36,000 ft. above West Virginia). 

Today, we’re thrilled to announce a new feature in the Payload newsletter—read on for details and what it means for you. 

In today’s newsletter…
📱 Starlink downloads in Ukraine
🌳 GEDI sensor extension?
🚀 Payload referral system
🗓️ The week ahead

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Ukraine Starlink downloads, Feb. 21 – March 19. Image: 42matters
Ukraine Starlink downloads, Feb. 21 – March 19. Image: 42matters

SpaceX has trucked in Starlink terminals to Ukraine to keep the country online during the ongoing war. Over 5,000 terminals are in the country, the Washington Post reported this weekend.

Plenty of ink has been spilled on the physical deliveries of Starlink hardware. But how are downloads of the app trending? To find out, we consulted data from app analytics providers Sensor Tower and 42matters.

Via Sensor Tower (snapshot as of 3/17)

Starlink’s app has seen ~295,00 lifetime installs across the iOS and Android Ukrainian app stores, per Sensor Tower estimates shared Thursday with Payload. The lion’s share of installs came during the week of 3/10-3/16, when Starlink was downloaded 224,000 times. That represents ~76% of all lifetime Ukrainian downloads, and a 14x week-over-week increase.

Via 42matters (data runs through 3/19)

From Feb. 21 to March 19, Ukrainians downloaded Starlink 129,147 times (65% through iOS; 35% through Android). Ukraine represents ~30% of Starlink’s global downloads in 2022, per 42matters. Key inflection points in the Ukraine download data:

  • Starlink downloads surged 422% between Feb. 20 and 22, in the days leading up to the war.
  • On March 19, one day after the most recent Starlink shipment arrived, the app surpassed 13,000 daily downloads.

It’s not just Ukraine: “We’re also seeing an uptick in Starlink downloads in neighboring countries, like Russia, Belarus, Poland, and Moldova,” 42matters’ Alexander Braelow told Payload.

Interpreting the #s…Bear in mind that these are preliminary, third-party findings rather than ironclad numbers, which could partially explain the variance in reporting between the two providers. Furthermore, a Starlink download ≠ an active user.

The bigger picture

While Ukrainian networks have proven remarkably resilient, airstrikes and cyberattacks are taking their toll. Ukraine’s observable connectivity sat at 77% of ordinary levels on 3/17, per internet monitor NetBlocks. In Kherson, the first city to fall to Russian forces, one service provider’s connectivity has dropped to 2% of pre-war levels.

At a time when internet connectivity via traditional means may be harder to come by in besieged parts of Ukraine, app download data shows surging interest in SpaceX’s satellite broadband service. But hardware availability presumably is still a bottleneck.

+ While we’re here: The FBI and US cyber agency CISA have warned satellite communications (SATCOM) operators of “possible threats” to their networks, and instructed companies to step up their security posture.

🔗 Click here to read or share this story online. PSA: Our full on-site story has more data and visuals🔗


  Scientists Ask NASA for GEDI Extension

Climate scientists are asking NASA to extend the lifetime of the Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) sensor, a project on the ISS that provides vital forest health tracking information, The Guardian reports. The $150M sensor has been attached to the ISS since April 2019. It’s scheduled to be deorbited next January. 

GEDI: The sensor, developed by University of Maryland researchers, uses LiDAR—Light Detection and Ranging—to collect information about the world’s forests. GEDI is the first tool that’s used to measure the height, shape, and health of trees in the world’s forests via satellite. LiDAR data provides vital insight into carbon and water cycling processes, filling an important gap in our climate understanding. 

  • Data from GEDI has indicated that much more carbon may be stored on land than scientists previously anticipated.

Why extend the mission? GEDI researchers at U. Maryland say the sensor is still collecting vital forestry information that’s not available elsewhere. They hope to prolong the mission so that the data can be calibrated with additional climate- and forest-monitoring missions scheduled for launch within the decade.

GEDI has also provided some accountability for the 142 countries that signed on at COP26 to halt and reverse deforestation. “Every country can come up with its own definition of a forest,” Inge Jonckheere, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s head of remote sensing and climate change, told The Guardian. “Countries can just fill in numbers and then everybody has to take them as the truth. But with satellites, we can check them.”

Over to NASA…It seems unlikely that the agency will extend the mission. NASA told The Guardian that the sensor’s lifetime has already been extended once and that another sensor is set to replace GEDI next year.


Introducing Payload’s Referral System

Today, we’re psyched to launch the Payload referral system. With this feature, you’ll be able to unlock exclusive content and earn the chance to receive Payload swag.

Get started: Going forward, each newsletter we send you will have a personalized referral hub. You’ll see a button you can click to access the hub, where you can:

  • See your total referral count
  • Grab your personalized referral link to share with friends, coworkers, and fellow space geeks
  • See our reward tiers
  • Access up-to-date info on those you’ve successfully referred, and those who have signed up but are pending confirmation

If you don’t want to go to your hub each time, fear not. Every newsletter will also contain your personal link that you can share with your network.

Count it: When someone you refer signs up for Payload, we’ll verify the signup using a double opt-in process and fraud detection system behind the scenes. This helps us ensure the legitimacy of new emails…not that any of you would spam us, of course.💖

Once your referrals are verified, we’ll automagically update your tracker.

Climb the ranks: We’ve created a tiered systems of rewards that you’ll receive once you hit certain referral thresholds. Reward #1 is exclusive digital content. But as you ladder up to bigger and better tiers, you’ll receive the chance to earn physical Payload swag. The more people you refer, the better the swag gets.


In Other News

  • Falcon 9 set a reusability record Saturday after the 12th launch and landing of a booster. The 53 Starlink satellites that were launched also represent Falcon 9’s heaviest payload to date. 2,086 Starlink satellites are currently operational, per Jonathan McDowell.
  • Cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev, and Sergey Korsakov arrived at the ISS Friday. The crew’s Soyuz departed Baikonur Cosmodrome around noon Eastern and the capsule docked with the new Prichal model just over three hours later.
  • UN researchers, using satellite imagery, determined that nearly 400 buildings have been damaged or destroyed in an eastern district of Mariupol, which has been besieged for nearly three weeks. Satellite imagery also shows the bombed-out Mariupol Theater, WaPo reports. 
  • Netflix released the trailer for Return to Space, a documentary focused on the Demo-2 mission with “rare inside access to NASA and SpaceX.” The film premieres April 7. 
  • Telesat (NASDAQ:TSAT) reported Q4 and FY 2021 financial results. Consolidated Q4 revenue came in at $187M, a 7% YoY decrease.

The Week Ahead

Monday, 3/21: Satellite 2022 kicks off in DC and runs through Thursday.

Tuesday, 3/22: Terran Orbital and Tailwind Two (NYSE:TWNT) will hold a shareholder vote to approve a planned SPAC merger.

Wednesday, 3/23: NASA astronauts are set to conduct their second spacewalk of the month. The American Astronautical Society will host its 59th annual Robert H. Goddard Memorial Symposium. The event extends through Friday.


The View from Florida and Texas

SLS Artemis I rollout
Photo: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

Overhead, you have SLS looking like a snack during its rollout from VAB to Launch Complex 39B. Below, find a recent photo of Starship at Starbase. The fully stacked rocket recently underwent propellant load testing in south Texas.

Fully stacked Starship in Starbase, Texas
Image: SpaceX