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Good morning. Last night, the moon took on a red glow in a total lunar eclipse visible across much of the Americas, western Europe, and Africa. NASA put it best: “It’s as if all the world’s sunrises and sunsets are projected onto the Moon.”

Beyond lunar eclipses, we’re thrilled to debut the first installment of a feature series on orbital debris. You won’t want to miss it. And stay tuned for more in the coming weeks…

In today’s newsletter:
🌐 Orbital debris, part 1
🛰️ Orbiter fully booked 
🗓️ The week ahead

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Tragedy of the Commons, Part One

Graphic: ESA. The number of tracked objects in space has increased sharply over the past decade.

When humanity was just beginning space launches 60 years ago, it seemed as if nothing could stand in the way of our inevitable push into the cosmos. Now, a booming young commercial space industry is brushing up against a consequence of this frontier mindset, and a problem of our own making: debris.

We’re switching gears for a moment to take a deep dive into orbital debris regulation and the economics and politics of debris removal. It seems that everyone agrees to some extent that orbital debris could become an existential problem for our continued access to space—but who’s keeping track? A handful of experts in debris mitigation and tracking spoke with us about the state of the problem.

Here’s a preview of what these industry experts have to say…

  • On why to protect the orbital environment: “[Space] makes our lives better,” said Chris Blackerby, COO of active debris removal Astroscale. “It gives us easier and faster access to information. It provides for communities that don’t necessarily have the capability to get wired connectivity into their areas to be able to do so. We see it being beneficial in understanding our climate.”
  • On regulating debris: “There is so far no one that actually forces you to clean up after yourself,” said Dr. Luisa Buinhas, founder of space situational awareness startup Vyoma. “There are a couple of guidelines that people need to adhere to. Some of the countries adhere, some of the players do not adhere, but even if you do not, it’s not like there are consequences. And this is problematic because this leaves the burden for whoever comes after you.”
  • On understanding the issue in Earth terms: “It’s your responsibility to make sure that you take all the measures possible to avoid risk for the other drivers on the motorway,” said Luc Piguet, CEO of active debris removal startup ClearSpace. “The reason why that’s not the case in space is because there’s no ‘tow truck.’”

In the first installment of the story, we cover the issue of orbital debris and span the regulations that already exist for mitigating debris creation. Stay tuned for part two, where we’ll get deeper into the politics of how to practically regulate debris creation and whether there’s a path to profitability for removal services.

Read the full story online.

Launcher Names Orbiter Customers

Image: Launcher

Orbiter’s inaugural SN1 mission is nearly ready to fly. The satellite transfer vehicle and payload-hosting platform will launch on a Transporter-6 rideshare this October. Hawthorne, CA-based Launcher announced customers this morning:

  • Orbiter will deploy craft for Skyline Celestial, Innova Space, NPC Spacemind, Bronco Space/Cal Poly Pomona, a Stanford student-run organization, and an undisclosed customer…
  • …and host payloads for CesiumAstro, yet another undisclosed customer, Beyond Burials, and TRL11.  

Orbiter specs

  1. Mass of 200 kg, payload capacity of 400 kg, and propulsive capability of 500 m/s delta-V. 
  2. Mission lifetime of “2+ years.” 
  3. Orbiter can conduct altitude, plane, and inclination changes, along with in-plane phasing. 
  4. A dedicated ride costs $400,000, plus $1M+ in associated launch costs. Rideshare costs $8,000–$25,000/kg, inclusive of launch.
  5. Launcher’s tagline for the vehicle: “Anywhere in space, at the lowest price.”

Orbiter SN2, SN3, and SN4 are set to launch in January, April, and October 2023. Launcher is still selling capacity for all three missions, along with SN5 (slated for Q1 ‘24). Each manifested Orbiter mission will launch with Falcon 9. 

Big picture: The time of space tugs (or orbital transfer vehicles, or OTVs) may be upon us. Beyond Launcher bringing Orbiter to market as its first product, there’s plenty more happening in this space. To wit: 

  • D-Orbit’s ION vehicle has flown five missions and recently claimed an on-orbit propulsive maneuvering first. By all appearances, the Italian startup’s SPAC merger with $BREZ is still a go. 
  • Momentus ($MNTS) is set to launch its first Vigoride OTV this month or in early June on Transporter-5. 
  • On the earlier-stage side, Momentus’s fellow Y Combinator alumni Turion and TransAstra (both YC S21) are developing the Droid de-orbiter and Apis transfer vehicle.

Read/share online.

In Other News

  • Snoop Dogg jokingly floated the prospect of buying Twitter, with the first order of business being to bring free internet to planes. 
  • Fragments of space debris reentered the atmosphere and fell in three areas of India’s Anand district, India Express reports. 
  • The UK and US will work together to boost spaceflight opportunities in the UK.
  • SpaceX launched two Starlink missions—and 106 V1.5 broadband satellites—within 24 hours, from Vandenberg and Florida.

The Week Ahead

All times in Eastern.

Monday, May 16: The IAF Global Conference on Space for Emerging Countries kicks off in Quito, Ecuador and runs through the week. At 9am, Lt. Gen. Stephen Whiting of the USSF is speaking at the Schriever Spacepower Forum. Rocket Lab ($RKLB) and AST SpaceMobile ($ASTS) will announce Q1 earnings after market close.

Tuesday, May 17: At noon, NASA will host a presser with Boeing on the upcoming OFT-2 mission then discuss the InSight Mars lander at 2pm. The Humans to Mars Summit begins in DC, and the Ohio Space Forum kicks off at NASA’s Glenn Research Center. It’s a busy day in Congress, with budget hearings for NASA, USAF, and USSF. Finally, what you’ve all been waiting for: the House Intelligence Subcommittee will discuss Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (yes, that means UFOs).

Wednesday, May 18: Another Falcon 9 launch of 53 Starlink sats is set from Kennedy Space Center (time TBA), which will be the rocket’s tenth planned trip within only seven weeks. NASA is hosting another media conference ahead of OFT-2’s launch. Foundation for the Future will host its Conversations For The Future event on space security from 10am–2pm on Wednesday and Thursday.

Thursday, May 19: At 1pm, The Aerospace Corporation will hold a webinar titled “Space—Safe, Secure, Sustainable.” ULA, NASA, and Boeing plan to launch Starliner’s much-anticipated OFT-2 flight at 6:54pm.

Friday, May 20: In the morning, Blue Origin will launch Evan Dick, Katya Echazarreta, Hamish Harding, Victor Correa Hespanha, Jaison Robinson, and Victor Vescovo on N-21 from Van Horn, TX. By evening, Boeing’s OFT-2 is set to dock at the ISS. China is also set to launch the SATech 01 & Chuangxin 15 satellites on a Long March CZ-11 rocket NET (no earlier than) Friday.

The View from Space

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

ECOSTRESS, a NASA instrument aboard the space station, recorded this heat map of ground temperatures in India near midnight on May 5. “The urban “heat islands” of Delhi and smaller villages peaked at 102 °F (39 °C) while nearby fields were about 40 °F cooler,” per JPL.

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