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Good morning. Today is an exciting day for space policy wonks. The UN’s Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) on Reducing Space Threats is holding its first meeting this week in Geneva, with the goal of forming norms for responsible behavior in space.

Covered in today’s edition:
🤝 Phantom, Ursa deal
🚀 M10 testing
🗓️ The week ahead

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A Big ‘Ole Engine Block Buy

Image: Ursa Major

Phantom Space has placed an order for 200+ rocket engines from Ursa Major, the two startups announced this week. Reading the fine print: 

  • Ursa Major will supply Phantom with 5,000-lb thrust Hadley engines that are already coming off of the production line, and Ripleys, which will have an order of magnitude more thrust. 
  • Phantom will use the engines in Daytona and Laguna, two launchers it is developing. 
  • The contract runs through 2026. As for how much of a deposit Phantom put down, all we can say is ¯_(ツ)_/¯

We chatted with Ursa CEO Joe Laurienti last month about ramping production and recruiting, so now we’ll turn our focus to the other side of this deal. 

The latest from Phantom

“We see no blockage getting to orbit next year,” Phantom CEO Jim Cantrell recently told Payload. 

  • Beyond launch: Phantom bills itself as a “space applications company,” since it is also focused on building others’ spacecraft and constellations. Since its inception, Phantom has had its “hands on, in, or around” multiple satellites, has signed four contracts for spacecraft design/build, and is in talks to launch ~40 payloads, Cantrell said.
  • The backstory: Since the margins are tiny in launch, other rocket makers have “backed into” satellite-making as a means of bolstering their bottom line, Cantrell said. Phantom, on the contrary, focused on the satellite segment from the get-go.   
  • Business model: “We don’t need to make money solely on launch services nor fly 300–400 times a year to make our business case close,” Cantrell said. “We can get cash-flow positive at 20 launches a year since we generally are projecting strong profit margins of 25-30% at those flight rates.”
  • Recruiting: Phantom has found it easier to recruit satellite engineers and specialists (vis-a-vis rocket scientists). It currently employs 35.  

Raising for rockets: Cantrell and his cofounders optimized for capital efficiency “because we thought we’d have a hell of a time raising money. I thought the markets were tapped out on launch. I was so wrong on that, as wrong as you get.” 

Now, Phantom is raising a Series B. The company is targeting a hotfire test for June. For Phantom’s next big test, a 2023 orbital launch, Daytona is set to lift off from Vandenberg to a polar orbit. Subsequent missions, if everything goes to plan, will launch from the Cape to low-inclination orbits.

Read/share online.


Avio Vega-E M10 Roars to Life in Sardinia

Image: Avio

Italian rocket builder Avio announced late last week that it had successfully tested its M10 methalox upper stage engine at its test facility in Sardinia. The engine will power the third stage of the company’s Vega-E rocket, which it expects to debut in 2026. The M10 at a glance:

  • Vehicle: Vega-E
  • Thrust: 98 kN 
  • Specific impulse: 362 seconds

Although neither ESA, Avio, nor Arianespace, which operates the Vega family of vehicles, are currently advertising what the potential performance of Vega-E will be, Avio told the UN in July ‘20 that the rocket would be capable of carrying 2,800 kg to a 700 km orbit, a more than 20% increase from Vega-C.

  • “With M10, Vega-E will improve performance, operational flexibility, sustainability, and cost efficiency,” said ESA head of space transportation flight programmes Stefano Bianchi. 
  • The M10 engine will also eliminate Vega’s reliance on the Ukrainian-built RD-843 engine that powers the Vega AVUM and Vega-C AVUM+ stages, the supply of which has been uncertain due to the war in Ukraine

Step by step…While work continues on Vega-E, ESA is preparing for the maiden Vega-C flight. Last week, the agency mated the Zefiro 40 second stage with the 1-2 interstage atop the P120C first stage booster.

Read/share online.


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In Other News

  • SpaceX switched ranges (Cape → Vandenberg) for the NROL-85 mission in mid-April at no extra cost to the NRO, after the US reconnaissance agency agreed to fly on a reused booster (H/T SpaceNews). The NRO had requested a different orbital destination (and thus a launch from the western range) just one year in advance.
  • Momentus’ Vigoride orbital transfer vehicle has arrived at the Cape and completed its FAA payload review in advance of its launch on SpaceX’s Transporter-5 mission.
  • The NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) is reviewing comments on its November notice of proposed rulemaking that would have the agency investigate failed commercial space launches.
  • Telesat ($TSAT) has decided to downsize its planned Lightspeed constellation from 298 satellites to 198, citing rising costs.
  • LinkSpace, a Chinese launch startup, says it conducted a static fire test of its reusable launch vehicle.
  • Defense and aerospace contractors are facing supply chain challenges across the board, the FT reports, which could hinder efforts to ramp up production.

The Week Ahead

All times in Eastern.

Monday, May 9: The three-day Special Aerospace Services Human Spaceflight and Exploration Forum begins. At 11am, NASA will discuss JWST alignment and setup. China is scheduled to launch a cargo resupply mission to its Tiangong space station in the afternoon, and at 5pm, Maxar ($MAXR) will announce Q1 results.

Tuesday, May 10: The Geospatial World Forum, which goes through Thursday, kicks off in Amsterdam. SpaceX plans to launch 50 Starlink satellites on a Falcon 9. After market close, Momentus ($MNTS) will report Q1 earnings.

Wednesday, May 11: House and Senate subcommittees will hear FY2023 budget requests for the DoD and USSF, respectively. Avio ($AVIO), MDA ($MDA), BlackSky ($BKSY), Spire ($SPIR), and Virgin Orbit ($VORB) will share financial results. The Lunar and Planetary Institute begins a two-day virtual workshop on what we can learn from the 2029 near-miss passage of Apophis.

Thursday, May 12: The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a much-anticipated hearing on space situational awareness (SSA) after two postponements. Astra ($ASTR) will host its inaugural Spacetech Day at noon, highlighting its product roadmap and future plans for institutional and retail investors.

Friday, May 13: The House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee will hear FY2023 budget requests for the USAF and USSF. 


The View from Florida

Image: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

The SpaceX Crew Dragon Endurance returned four astronauts to Earth on Friday. Here’s how the craft was looking shortly after splashdown off the coast of Florida.

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