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Good morning. Tuesday marked the five-year anniversary of the European/Russian Trace Gas Orbiter entering Mars’ orbit. The spacecraft has been collecting atmospheric data ever since. Idle observation: Robotic life forms rule the roost on and around the Red Planet. They never take any days off of work. They must just be built different. 

In today’s newsletter: 
Fast cloud Phantom’s new hire
Money emoji Hypersonic Q&A
Clockwise rotation emoji Contract report

Fresh off the Press

Render of a Daytona launch. Graphic: Phantom

Phantom Space Corp. said today that longtime space exec Chris Thompson has joined the company as CTO. In the chief technologist role, Thompson will oversee the development of Phantom’s rockets and satellites. Thompson’s résumé, in reverse-chronological order:

  1. Chief engineer of advanced projects at Astra 
  2. VP of advanced programs at Virgin Orbit 
  3. 2nd “official” employee at SpaceX, with the formal title of VP and senior director of structures production development 
  4. Stints at Boeing, McDonnell Douglas (acquired by Boeing), and the US Marines

Phantom 101: The Tucson, AZ company has ambitiously set its sights on becoming the “Henry Ford of space.” Phantom is developing satellites, propulsion systems, and two launch vehicles: Daytona and Laguna.

  • Phantom is targeting 2023 for Daytona’s maiden flight. 
  • In September, Phantom announced a deal worth up to $240 million with Ingenu, an industrial Internet of Things (IoT) provider. Phantom’s side of the bargain: building, integrating, and launching a 72-satellite constellation. 

Why Phantom? “I like the idea of a simple, low-cost two-stage launch system that fills the void left by Falcon 1,” Thompson told Payload. “I like Phantom’s approach of not vertically integrating every aspect of the rocket system, but [leveraging] key suppliers.”

On competition: Asked about launch getting more crowded, Thompson said: “The market has room for additional players. No doubt there will be some consolidations, reductions, and pivots over time.”

SpaceX mafia spread their wings…
“From our work together in the early years of SpaceX, to his innovative leadership at Astra, Chris has repeatedly proven himself to be an invaluable asset with a wealth of knowledge and perspective,” Phantom CEO/cofounder Jim Cantrell said in a statement. 

Hypersonic Glide Vehicle Wonk Talk

Graphic: DARPA

What’s the expert view on hypersonic glide vehicles, in light of recent news? To get some answers, we spoke with Jaganath Sankaran, a professor at UT Austin’s LBJ School of Public Affairs. Sankaran’s research spans space weapons, missile defense, and arms control policy. 

  • NB: HGV = hypersonic glide vehicle; FOBS = fractional orbital bombardment system. Payload questions in bold; Sankaran answers in standard typeface. 

If we’re assuming that the Financial Times story holds up, how much of a surprise is this development?
Politically speaking, it’s a significant surprise. There hasn’t been a significant shift in US missile defenses that would justify the Chinese pursuit of a FOBS. Technologically, it isn’t much of a surprise. The Soviets had done it. The Chinese apparently had a test program during the Cold War and later abandoned it.

How could this technology affect global security? Do HGVs change deterrence?
Not much. There are better and cheaper ways to reinforce second-strike capabilities and China’s nuclear deterrent. A FOBS has no effect on American nuclear deterrence. We have always accepted nuclear vulnerability with China. This development does not alter that fact. 

The only plausible negative consequences would be if China deploys an extensive system and expands its nuclear arsenal. In that case, it would certainly provoke a debate in the American nuclear enterprise and may require offsetting actions. But we are not there yet. 

Are there any adequate ways to track or intercept HGVs? 
The consensus seems to be that we need newer tracking capabilities for HGVs. However, some recent research indicates that existing tracking capabilities may have more residual capacity than previously assumed.

Will this development drive calls for increased spending on specific military programs?
There is already a robust effort to fund R&D in hypersonic offense/defense weaponry. This development may be politically used to support some of those existing funding priorities.

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In Other News

  • Simonetta Di Pippo, the UN’s space chief, says billionaire-funded space tourism will have positive benefits. “We can really improve the quality of life for people on Earth, thanks to space,” Di Pippo told The National. 
  • Israel and the UAE announced a space cooperation deal that will include the Beresheet 2 lunar mission in 2024. Call it space detente in Dubai. 
  • In related city-state news: Monaco created a space affairs bureau. 
  • LeoLabs is building its sixth space radar in west Australia. Ribbon-cutting expected next year. 
  • Nasa and SpaceX pushed the Crew-3 launch date one day back to Halloween (Oct. 31 @ 2:21 AM). The Crew-3 astronauts entered quarantine Saturday.

Contract Report

  • SpaceLink selected OHB, a German space manufacturer, to build a set of medium-Earth orbit satellites. The contract is estimated to be worth over $300 million. 
  • Orbit Fab and the US Air Force Research Laboratory (USAFRL) announced a technology-sharing partnership agreement.
  • The US Space Force and Embedded Ventures, a VC firm, signed a CRADA, the same type of partnership signed by Orbit Fab and USAFRL.  
  • NASA awarded L3Harris an $8M weather forecasting contract. L3Harris will develop a “sounder” proof of concept (sounders = advanced weather sensors). If NASA selects its prototype, the production contract will be much larger, an L3Harris exec told Florida Today. 
  • The ISS National Lab is soliciting proposals for biomanufacturing in microgravity demonstrations. NASA is also interested.
  • The European Space Agency (ESA) named Earth Observation startup ICEYE as a contributor to its Copernicus imagery program. 
  • The US Army awarded Comtech a $4.6M mobile satellite equipment contract. 
  • The Department of Defense awarded a $2M contract to Ovzon, a Swedish satellite terminal maker. 
  • The Polish military awarded a contract to manufacture three nanosatellites to PIAST, a recently formed Polish industry consortium.

Payload Insights

Source: Bryce Tech | September 2021