Good morning. We are exactly 150 subscribers away from a big (and arbitrary) readership milestone. Help us get there and earn Payload exclusive content/swag in the process. Get sharing using your personalized referral link below.
In today’s newsletter…
⚡ DIA space security report
🌎 Planetary Variables
🌱 ConstellR & ScanWorld
💸 The term sheet
Was this email forwarded to you? Sign up here.
On Tuesday, the Defense Intelligence Agency published “Challenges to Security in Space,” an updated edition of a report it first released in 2019. The findings aren’t necessarily groundbreaking, but they’re aimed at communicating the rapidly evolving threat landscape in space to the general public:
- The DIA says that US efforts to ensure the space domain “remains secure, stable, and accessible…are under threat.”
- In the event of a hot war between major spacefaring nations, on-orbit assets, from comms satellites to optical sensors, are unlikely to be spared.
- “China and Russia value superiority in space.” (Editor’s note: So, too, does the US.)
That was then…The DIA says that US adversaries paid attention to 30+ years of space-supported US military operations (take the Gulf War, and precision-guided munitions, as one example). And this is now…Adversaries “are now seeking ways to expand their own capabilities and deny the US a space-enabled advantage.”
The report opens by noting that China and Russia grew their combined operational space fleets by 70% in just over two years (after 200+% growth from 2015 to 2018). The two major spacefaring nations are simultaneously upgrading their space and counterspace capabilities. A continuum of counterspace capabilities, via the DIA:
What stuck out to us
- # to note: Beijing’s intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) fleet stood at 250+ as of January, trailing only that of the US.
- Quote of note: “Russia perceives the U.S. dependence on space as its Achilles’ heel, which can be exploited to achieve Russian conflict objectives.” The report, we should note, was prepared before Russia invaded Ukraine.
- Others to watch: Tehran and Pyongyang will continue to field “electronic warfare (EW) capabilities to deny or degrade space-based communications and navigation.”
Competition to exploit resources on the Moon, Mars, and even asteroids, “while a nascent endeavor today,” could become a bigger driver for top spacefaring states and alliances in the future. But this appears to be mainly speculation-driven, as the DIA stops short of saying any ways in which deep space exploration programs are being militarized.
Two big updates from the 2019 report
#1: Commercialization continues apace: The number of launchers and satellite operators “will expand at least through 2025.”
#2: An orbital minefield: LEO collisions are a growing risk, due to a rising cadence of launches, upper stages deploying multiple craft, and “continuing fragmentation from collisions, battery, explosions, and further ASAT testing events.” The biggest risk =600,000–900,000 pieces of “uncatalogued lethal nontrackable debris (LNT),” ranging from 5mm to 10cm in size, are estimated to be in LEO.
Planet (NYSE:PL) yesterday announced Planetary Variables, a new analytics product that spans three preprocessed data feeds:
- Soil Water Content: daily observations of the amount of water in soil at 5cm depth at 100m resolution
- Land surface Temperature: “Accurate, continuous insight” into surface temps at 100m resolution
- Vegetation Biomass Proxy: Daily crop biomass data at 10m resolution
Oh hey VanderSat: Planet completed its ~$28M acquisition of the Danish startup in December. VanderSat uses space agency data to provide specialized water and crop health analytics products.
- “When one combines their new data with Planet’s, the value is far greater than the sum of its parts,” Planet CEO Will Marshall said last November.
- Planetary Variables is “based on the scientific expertise of VanderSat,” Planet says on its new product page for the data feeds.
Payload takeaway: Planet continues to move “up the stack” to analytics and lean into the agriculture vertical, in part assisted by M&A.
German thermal remote sensing startup ConstellR has acquired Belgian hyperspectral startup ScanWorld to offer better agricultural insights for end users. According to ConstellR, ScanWorld’s hyperspectral product development know-how will complement its own thermal infrared and data processing capabilities.
- Both companies were founded in 2020 with the aim of offering Earth observation (EO) data to the agricultural industry
- In October 2021, the companies signed a memorandum of understanding to combine EO expertise
- This week, ConstellR acquired ScanWorld
With the acquisition closed, ConstellR expects to launch its first public-facing product within a month. It will offer a harmonized data stream integrating observations from Landsat, Copernicus, and the company’s own proprietary data, with a focus on water monitoring.
The ConstellR constellation
Currently, the company has a single asset in orbit, launched to the ISS via a Northrop Cygnus cargo spacecraft in February. But ConstellR has a roadmap to launch a pair of constellations that will offer proprietary thermal and hyperspectral observations:
- The first independent thermal system will be launched towards the end of 2023.
- That first system will be joined by three more, enabling daily revisit capabilities.
- The first hyperspectral systems will be launched starting from 2024.
In the future: Despite its disciplined ag focus in the near term, ConstellR hasn’t ruled out expansions into other verticals down the road.
In Other News
- Maxar (NYSE:MAXR) is bumping up against capacity constraints, CEO Daniel Jablonsky told SpaceNews, and it’s keen to launch new satellites. Maxar has been a key provider of Ukraine imagery in recent months to newsrooms, the OSINT community, and…
- …the US. The NGA and NRO revealed last week that they’ve been working with satellite operators, buying commercial imagery and directing it to specific military commands and allied entities before and during the war.
- Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin still supports Russia/US crew launch vehicle swaps.
- USSF was authorized to commission civilian cyber talent into officer ranks (via CSC). Space Force’s min. commitment is 4 years and positions are concentrated in Colorado and DC.
- Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC) has broken ground on a 25,000-square-foot space systems facility in Albuquerque.
- DLR, Germany’s space agency, tweeted that “due to [Transporter-4’s] good injection accuracy, good [attitude & orbit control] performance, & optimized orbit correction maneuvers,” the enMAP hyperspectral satellite has more than double the fuel than expected to carry out its mission (h/T Eric Ralph).
The Term Sheet
- Polaris has secured a pre-series-A investment from the newly created Polaris Space Ventures investment company.
- Airbus has acquired DSI Datensicherheit, a European cryptography systems provider for space applications.
- AstronetX, a space-based observational and data services startup, raised $352,000 in angel investment.
- iSpace, a company developing robotics for space applications, raised $15.7M in early stage VC funding led by Daxing Guotou.
- PCX Aerosystems, a company producing mechanical systems for aerospace, acquired Honematic Machine Corporation.
- Prométhée, a French EO startup, has raised €4.7M ($5.1M) in venture funding.
The View from Augsburg
“Enough with the renders!” Yesterday, Rocket Factory Augsburg revealed its Helix engine, which it calls the EU’s first staged-combustion engine.