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Good morning. Lots of news this week and…it’s only Tuesday. Let’s dive right in. 

In today’s newsletter…
🚀 Kuiper’s workhorses
🏭 Ariane 6 upgrade
🔁 People on the move

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  Kuiper Finds Its Workhorses

Good morning from Colorado Spring, where we’re writing this at 5:30 am local time. Amazon front-ran Day 2 of Space Symposium with what it claims is “the largest commercial procurement of space launch services in history.”

Driving the news

Project Kuiper, Amazon’s LEO broadband initiative, has contracted three heavy-lift vehicles for up to 83 launches. The three providers:

  1. United Launch Alliance, a 50/50 JV between Lockheed (NYSE:LMT) and Boeing (NYSE:BA)
  2. Arianespace
  3. Blue Origin (cue pointing Spider Man meme)

ULA will fly 47 missions total for Kuiper, including nine already-booked Atlas rides. The launcher has sold out the rest of its Atlas rockets and the 37 new Kuiper launches will be conducted with Vulcan (maiden flight expected this summer). 

Arianespace’s Ariane 6 is contracted for 18 Kuiper launches and Blue Origin’s New Glenn will fly 12 missions, with an option for 15 more. The two rockets’ maiden flights are tentatively targeted for later this year. 

The big picture

New heavy-lift launchers and mega-constellations go together like peanut butter and jelly.

Before it starts deploying production sats, Amazon plans to launch the KuiperSat-1 & 2 demo craft in Q4 with ABL Space Systems. Amazon has ground to make up, seeing that Starlink recently passed 2,000 operational satellites and OneWeb’s fleet is 66% of the way to the planned target. 

With all Kuiper’s newly contracted rocket rides, launch capacity became much less of a headache. And by spreading its satellite eggs across multiple rocket baskets, SVP Dave Limp said Amazon is derisking launch schedules and securing more competitive prices. Fair, but a lot of rockets need to come online for everything to go to plan.

  ESA Floats Ariane 6 Upgrade

Image credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace/Optique vidéo du CSG - JM Guillon
Image credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace/Optique vidéo du CSG – JM Guillon

Image credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace/Optique vidéo du CSG – JM Guillon

The European Space Agency announced last week that it intends to develop an upgraded solid rocket booster for the Ariane 6 and Vega vehicles. 

So, what’s new? Well, the proposed P120C+ booster will be ~1 meter taller than the current P120, which would allow for an extra 14t of solid propellant. According to ESA, the new booster would increase the performance of the Ariane 64 by up to 2,000kgs “for a typical mega-constellation deployment mission.” 

But why? ESA’s thinking is that P120C+ could boost the competitiveness of Ariane 6 and Vega-C in the launch marketplace, and expand the range of missions they could take on. 

  • ESA will present plans for the P120C+ to Member States for approval at the agency’s ministerial-level council meeting in Paris this November.
  • If approved by Member States, the new booster is slated to enter service around mid-2025.

A little background

ArianeGroup will make Ariane 6 and Arianespace will operate it. ESA is overseeing the rocket’s development, working with a very tiny industrial network of 600+ companies in 13 European countries. 

  • 6’s design philosophy = preserve the Ariane 5’s heritage, expand flexibility, and cut costs through industrial streamlining. 
  • Part and parcel of that streamlining is using P120C for both Ariane 6 variants, the Avio Vega C, and eventually, the Vega E (expected to enter service in 2026).
  • Ariane 6 can be launched in two configurations. The Ariane 62, which will take over duties from the benched Soyuz ST, has two boosters. The Ariane 64 has (unsurprisingly) four.

In Other News

  • Maxar satellite imagery revealed a 45-ft. trench that was dug where a mass grave was identified in Bucha, Ukraine. Corpses were visible in satellite imagery going back weeks, the NYT reports, which directly flies in the face of Kremlin claims that residents of Bucha were killed only after Russian forces left. 
  • Viasat (NASDAQ:VSAT) confirmed that a new form of modem-wiping malware was connected with the Feb. compromise of customer terminals in Ukraine and Europe.
  • The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy released its official strategy for in-space servicing, assembly and manufacturing.
  • The UAE plans to set up “space economic zones” in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Sharjah to grow its space commercial sector. The Emirates government plans to invest at least Dh3B ($816M) in space companies over the next decade.
  • Elon acquired a 9.2% stake in Twitter for ~$3B.
  • Scientific American dove into the internal controversy at NASA over renaming JWST.
  • Mynaric (NASDAQ:MYNA) pushed its FY 21 financial update to April 28, noting that the “management team is still recovering from an illness.”
  • NASA scrubbed yesterday’s SLS wet dress rehearsal attempt. It’s next attempt is likely several days away.

On the Move

  • Privateer announced a six-person advisory board: Claude Amadeo, Chris Cretel, Bill Diamond, Robb Kulin, Kevin O’Connell, and Sanyin Siang.
  • Spire (NYSE:SPIR) appointed Benjamin Hackman, a longtime Boeing (NYSE:BA) exec, as head of IR.
  • Sierra Space hired Troy Lahr as its new CFO. Lahr formerly held the same position at Boeing’s Defense, Space & Security business unit.
  • Satellogic (NASDAQ:SATL) added Tom Killalea to its board of directors.
  • Virgin Galactic (NYSE:SPCE) appointed veteran pilot and retired USAF Lt. Col. Kelly Latimer as the new director of its flight test program.
  • Radian Aerospace brought on Jeff Matthews, a founding member of Deloitte’s space consulting practice, as director of strategy. More on Radian here.
  • BlackSky (NYSE:BKSY) appointed three new members to its strategic advisory group: former Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and ret. Navy Vice Adm. Joseph D. Kernan; former CIA Associate Director for Military Affairs and ret. Army Lt. Gen. John F. Mulholland, Jr; and former USSF Chief Architect and ret. USAF Col. Michael R. Dickey.
  • Ball Aerospace named Michele Miller as its new VP of its Security and Mission Assurance business.
  • Voyager Space named Rebecca Van Burken its new manager of government relations.
  • Lockheed Martin named Johnathon Caldwell its new VP and general manager of military space.

The View from Alaska

The Aurora Borealis over NASA Wallops
Image: NASA/Terry Zaperach

The Aurora Borealis shines over NASA’s Poker Flat Research Range in Alaska. The Wallops team is waiting for the right weather and science conditions to launch two sounding rockets for the INCAA (Ion-Neutral Coupling during Active Aurora) mission.