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Good morning. Good morning. NASA has awarded three companies $400M+ to build private space stations, under the Commercial LEO Destinations (CLD) program. The agency awarded $160M to Nanoracks, $130M to Blue Origin, and ~$126M to Northrop Grumman.

In today’s newsletter… 
📝 SPACE Act
🚀 Neutron update

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The SPACE Act

Yesterday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced the Space Protection of American Command and Enterprise (SPACE) Act. The proposed legislation seeks to further unwind the US and China space supply chains by zeroing in on cross-border flows of investments.

The SPACE Act’s scope: The bill would… 

(1) Bar Commerce Dept. and NASA funds from being used to buy or lease aerospace hardware, software, and services from any entities affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) or People’s Liberation Army (PLA). This plank of the bill includes the alphabet soup of CCP/PLA-affiliated agencies and state corporations and name-checks BeiDou. 

(2) Lower the threshold triggering SEC foreign ownership filings from 5% to 2%, for space companies developing “critical technologies.” The intent here, per Rubio, is to “inform American investors of risk exposure to foreign adversarial capital.” 

(3) Require a National Space Council (NSpC) report to Congress “on space investment competition from China and Russia.” NSpC’s report would cover VC $$$, civil-military fusion, IP theft, industrial imitation, and other potential economic conduits of exposure within the US industrial space base. 

(4) Require the secretaries of Defense, Commerce, and Treasury to brief Congress on the above, but with a classified annex. This interagency report, delivered annually, would compile and disseminate data already being collected by the three departments. 

Impact for startups? “This bill will largely make clear guidelines about what kinds of money they can and can’t take. This is going to make it easier for startups to navigate what would otherwise be confusing national security regulations,” Tim Chrisman told Payload. Chrisman is executive director of Association for the Future, a US space investment trade group that supports the bill.

Upshot: While the SPACE Act would affect the commercial space sector the most, Chrisman said that the proposed law was written to put the onus of compliance on government agencies, rather than startups.


“An Absolute Beast”

A rendering of Rocket Lab’s “Hungry Hippo” fairing design. Via Rocket Lab

Yesterday, Rocket Lab (NASDAQ: RKLB) finally lifted the wraps on Neutron, its forthcoming medium-lift launch vehicle. CEO Peter Beck kept his pre-2019 promise to eat his hat—literally—if Rocket Lab ever developed a reusable launch vehicle. 

Meet Neutron: The first stage will be fully reusable, with a target turnaround time of just 24 hours. The squat rocket features a claw-like fairing that can open up mid-flight and release a disposable upper stage. The carbon-composite first stage features a static base with shock absorbers that will help with the trip home. Falcon 9, by contrast, has deployable landing legs.

Neutron will use Archimedes, a new engine that will be 3D-printed in-house. All in all, Neutron is “an absolute beast,” Beck said yesterday. The specs:

  • 131-foot tall, 21-foot diameter body
  • 15,000kg target maximum payload capacity—8,000kg for reusable launches
  • “Cost-competitive” launches, Beck told CNBC.

The inevitable comparison: While quite different in design, Neutron and Falcon 9 will compete for the same customer and constellation payloads. Like Falcon 9, Neutron will be capable of supporting human spaceflight.

Rocket Lab is targeting 2024 for Neutron’s first trip to the launchpad and 2025 for commercial missions. It’s TBD whether Neutron can compete with Falcon’s ~$62M price tag, or if Starship makes that moot. Either way, Rocket Lab is confident that Neutron can earn share in the medium-class market and compete on low-cost access to space. 


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In Other News

  • Blue Origin hopes to expand its rocket facility on the Space Coast, Florida Today reports.
  • Nissan is developing a lunar rover prototype with JAXA. 
  • SpaceX launched 48 Starlink satellites and two BlackSky satellites on a Falcon 9. With the mission, SpaceX set a new annual launch record for Falcon 9.  
  • Arianespace pushed back the launch of two Galileo satellites to tonight.
  • Fleet Space announced plans to launch a constellation of 3D-printed satellites. 
  • NASA is reviewing comments from the public on how to make its resources more accessible for underserved communities.

Payload Insights (Corrected)

Note: As our eagle-eyed readers pointed out, yesterday we switched the legend on this graph. We’ve included the right version today. Source: NASA OIG. Note: Congressional appropriations for FY 2022 had not been finalized at the time of OIG’s report.