Happy Wednesday. Today, we’re thrilled to publish the second installment of our deep dive on orbital debris. Read on for a peek into FCC decision-making and public-private collaboration around debris mitigation.
In today’s newsletter:
🚯 Space junk, part 2
🎙️ Pathfinder #0001
💸 The term sheet
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Orbital Debris, Part Two
Plenty of ink is spilled on the notion that the space industry is at an inflection point, driven by lowering launch costs and barriers to entry. In the coming decade, tens of thousands of satellites are poised to enter the orbital commons. And as more and more satellites head to LEO, congestion at key altitudes is bound to get worse.
With industry at an inflection point, regulators, policymakers, and diplomats, by contrast, stand at a crossroads: Forge forward with rules that set the stage for a safe and prosperous future in space—or leave a new era of space exploration and commercialization up to chance.
In the second installment of Payload’s deep dive into orbital debris, we look into the role the FCC plays in ensuring a safe and operable orbital commons, as well as what governments can do—and have done—to spur debris mitigation tech development on the commercial side.
We spoke with experts in active debris removal and government affairs to make some sense of the maze of planned and dropped regulations, and what gets overlooked for space-based applications (hello, NEPA reviews). Here’s a look at what they had to say…
- On creating new regs: “Technology is always outpacing the law,” said John Janka, head of government affairs at Viasat. “And that’s fine, right? That’s a normal and good thing. But it is important to realize that the rules that were written 10 years ago, five years ago, maybe even three years ago, weren’t written with the types of situations we’re seeing today.”
- On encouraging tech dev: “I really believe that without a mature service industry, we’re always going to be stuck in first gear,” said Chris Blackerby, COO of Astroscale. “We’re always going to be reliant on government missions, never really opening it up to a truly commercial opportunity, which is what accelerates everything else that we can do in space.”
There’s still a ways to go before government regulations, tech maturity, and the demand for space sustainability services strikes the balance that would enable a viable business model for debris removal. It’ll take tangible regulatory action to get there.
In Other News
- The UN’s first week of space norm discussions on May 9–13 were relatively smooth and productive, Breaking Defense reports. The second set of talks on Sept. 12-16 are where things “will start to get spicier,” one US-allied source predicted to Breaking Defense.
- Blue Origin announced its NS-21 mission will lift off on Saturday, June 4 from Launch Site One.
- NOAA’s JPSS-2 mission, set to launch an extreme-weather monitoring satellite, is now targeting Nov. 1 for launch aboard an Atlas V rocket.
- The UAE will chair the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space from this year through 2023.
- The FAA bumped its environmental review of SpaceX’s Starship by another two weeks, to June 13.
- On that note: The FAA released the redacted versions of the 19,000+ comments it received on the environmental assessment. Notably, NASA chipped in with an explanation for why it offered to be a contributing agency for the review.
- Momentus ($MNTS) says its Vigoride space tug deployed two customer satellites over the weekend. The company is still working to address anomalies it’s experienced with Vigoride.
Payload has launched the Pathfinder podcast, presented by SpiderOak Mission Systems. In our first episode, which aired Tuesday, Payload managing editor and Pathfinder host Ryan Duffy sat down with Michael Suffredini, cofounder, president, and CEO of Axiom Space.
The Houston-based space unicorn is developing its own LEO orbital outpost and brokering commercial missions to the ISS with SpaceX. Axiom also has a coveted slot at the ISS.
In this wide-ranging discussion, Ryan and Mike discuss:
- Ax-1, the first-all private mission to the ISS, and how many hours of sleep Suffredini averaged each night during the mission
- Strategic phases of the Axiom Station
- Raising a Series C, Axiom’s business model, future customers, and its various revenue streams (👀 in-space manufacturing)
- NASA and other space agencies becoming customers, rather than operators, in LEO
- Filming a movie in space with Tom Cruise
- Mike’s favorite moments at the University of Texas
- His favorite Houston-area TexMex spot and BBQ joint
…and more! We’re also pleased to report that Pathfinder is now available on Apple Podcasts.
If you like what you heard, don’t forget to subscribe to Pathfinder and give us a five-star rating on Apple/Spotify. We’d like to give a huge thanks to SpiderOak Mission Systems, an industry leader in space cybersecurity, for sponsoring our first ten episodes. Stay tuned for Pathfinder #0002 with Rob Meyerson, CEO of Delalune Space and former president of Blue Origin, dropping next Tuesday.
The Term Sheet
- Infinite Composites raised $500,000+ in its public allocation round on Spaced Ventures.
- SatSure, a deep tech company based in India, acquired Philadelphia-based geospatial firm Old City Innovations in a cash and stock deal that marks SatSure’s entry into the US market.
- Southern Launch received nearly $1M through an Australian Space Agency Moon to Mars Grant to construct a mobile launch rail.
- Astrocast, a smallsat operator based in Switzerland, agreed to acquire Dutch IoT-as-a-Service provider Hiber and will issue new shares to fund the deal. Hiber will invest €10.45M (~$11M) in this new public offering (via Payload).
- Astroforge, an asteroid mining startup based in California, raised $13M in seed funding led by Initialized Capital, per Axios.
- The B612 Foundation, which maps asteroids in hopes of preventing impacts with Earth, announced it raised $1.3M in gifts and secured a separate $1M gift-matching grant from Tito’s Handmade Vodka that it will receive if it raises an additional million by the year’s end.
The View from Mars
NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter captured a video on April 18 of its record-breaking 25th flight—its fastest and farthest. The video plays at ~5x speed, condensing the helicopter’s 704-meter, 161.3-second flight into ~30 seconds.