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In today’s newsletter…
🛰️ Voyager M&A
☢️ Lunar fission 
🔁 On the move

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Yesterday Was M&A Monday at Voyager…

Image: Nanoracks

Denver-based Voyager Space has a new deal in the works. Yesterday, the holding company said it intends to buy a majority stake in Space Micro, a San Diego-based satellite subsystem maker. The wheeling and dealing is becoming routine—Space Micro is Voyager’s sixth acquisition since it spun up in Oct. 2019. 

How’s that for flight heritage? Space Micro, started in 2002, has 100+ space electronics subsystems in orbit and 2.7M+ hours of spaceflight on the books. The company’s space electronics offerings include radiation-hardened radios, mission-data transmitters, image processing devices, and laser comms systems. 

“The satellite constellation market stands at the tipping point of explosive expansion,” Space Micro Cofounder and Chairman David Strobel said in a press release. “With the Voyager team and operational functions by our side, we will be prepared to scale our technologies to meet these market needs.”

The rest of Voyager’s stable? Let’s walk down (short-term) memory lane and look at the last ~two years of deal-making. Announcement date in parentheses. 

  1. Valley Tech Systems, a solid-fueled propulsion developer (Oct. ‘21) 
  2. XO Markets, parent of Nanoracks, which integrated the first privately built airlock with the ISS (Dec. ‘20) 
  3. Pioneer Astronautics, a deep space exploration R&D firm (July ‘20)
  4. The Launch Company, which provides launch services, hardware, and operations support (Nov. ‘20)
  5. Altius Space Machines, a robotic satellite servicer (Oct. ‘19)

The endgame: Rolling up space companies under one metaphorical roof, in theory, could enable cross-selling, back-office streamlining, and vertically integrating. Voyager can use revenue-generating product lines to cross-subsidize initiatives that are further from commercialization.

Voyager’s space portfolio—and acqui-hired teams—can also support the buildout of Starlab. Planned for 2027 initial operations, the free-flying LEO station is a joint effort between the holding company, subsidiary Nanoracks, and Lockheed Martin.

Closer on the horizon…An IPO. Voyager hopes to take the traditional route to the public markets in early 2022, Bloomberg reported in August. 

A Power Grid for the Moon

Illustration: NASA

NASA and the Department of Energy are asking American industry for moon-capable fission design concepts. The agencies hope to launch a fission power demonstration to the Moon’s surface within the decade.

Why fission power? Lunar surface missions will require a powerful, lightweight energy source. It needs to reliably stand the test of time and operate without sun exposure. Fission power ticks all those boxes. 

The ultimate system will need to provide at least 40 kilowatts of energy. That’s equivalent to continuously powering 30 households for a decade. 

In 2018, NASA spearheaded the Kilopower Reactor Using Stirling Technology (KRUSTY) project, which was powered by a uranium-235 core. The agency built the prototype reactor in-house and conducted a successful 28-hour ground test, verifying the technology’s potential in space. At ~$20M, the project was far cheaper than expected. 

The catch: Flight-qualifying fission power, safely managing fuel, etc. Just about exactly what you’d expect with a nuclear system. During the Cold War, the USSR launched over 30 satellites powered by uranium-235 fission, and the US launched one.

  • For the most part, those satellites are still in orbit now—save one significant example of a crash landing in Canada in 1978 that caused significant radioactive contamination. 

Since the ’80s, no nuclear-powered spacecraft have been sent to orbit. However, many industry experts have argued fission is the only feasible way to support long-duration lunar stays, deep-space probes, and eventually, setting up shop on Mars.


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In Other News

  • Astra shares (NASDAQ: ASTR) shot up yesterday ~17%. The small launcher is shifting its focus to customer payloads, CEO Chris Kemp said on a press call.
  • Firefly conducted a successful hot fire test on Friday, ahead of a second orbital launch attempt.
  • China launched its third Gaofen-11 Earth imaging satellite on Friday.
  • ULA, citing inclement weather, delayed its launch of the US Space Force STP-3 mission to Dec. 5. And NASA pushed back the launch of the $10B James Webb telescope to no earlier than Dec. 22, due to a clamp “incident.” 
  • Two UAE astronauts, Mohammed Al Mulla and Nora Al Matrooshi, are Houston-bound, in preparation for January training at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

On the Move

  • SpaceX VP of Propulsion Will Heltsley left the company, CNBC reported Monday. Lee Rosen and Ricky Lim, SpaceX VP and senior director of mission and launch operations, respectively, also recently departed, per CNBC. 
  • Satellogic hired a host of new execs, including Ryan Driver as VP of corporate development, Julia Dormaar as VP of people, Dustin Kapsa as VP of accounting and financial reporting, and Brian Lantier as EVP of global sales.
  • Spire (NYSE: SPIR) added Dirk Hoke to its board of directors.
  • United Space Structures, a cislunar infrastructure startup, named Zigmond Leszczynski its CEO.
  • Ramon.Space, a space software company, appointed Steve Good as chief commercial officer and Lisa Kuo as VP of strategic sales. 
  • The Space Data Association selected Joe Chan, Intelsat’s director of flight dynamics, as its new executive director.

The View from Space

Image: NASA. A pair of spacesuits sit inside the ISS’s Quest airlock, ready for an upcoming spacewalk.