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Good morning. Moments ago, NASA’s Mega Moon Rocket made it to the pad at Launch Complex 39B. The SLS rocket and its massive crawler transporter departed Kennedy’s Vehicle Assembly Building just after midnight. Slow and steady wins the race?

In today’s newsletter:
🚨 Sony space lasers
💻 SpaceX update
🗓️ The week ahead

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Conglomerates Gonna Conglomerate

An image transmitted via SOLISS in 2020. Image: JAXA/Sony

Japanese communications and entertainment giant Sony has opened the doors to a new business: Sony Space Communications. The new San Mateo, CA-based business plans to begin developing laser optical communications tech for small satellites in LEO.

This isn’t Sony’s first venture into space tech. Since 2016, the company has worked with JAXA on optical communications technology development, including the SOLISS (Small Optical Link for International Space Station) project. 

  • According to Sony, the optical disc technology that it developed for its CD players applies surprisingly well to satellite ground communications and laser inter-satellite links.

Enter SSC

The new business aims to relieve the pressure that comes with limited radio bandwidth, said the new company’s president, Kyohei Iwamoto, in a press release. Satellites need to pass directly over ground stations to communicate back to Earth using radio, which takes a lot of power and infrastructure. 

  • Laser comms could speed up communications without having to use so much power or bandwidth.
  • Satellites require less licensing hoops to jump through if they don’t need to use radio frequency to transmit data back to Earth. Since spectrum is finite, that makes lasers an enticing option for satellite operators. 

So far, the company hasn’t revealed how far along it is in the development process or whether it has any customers lined up for its key product.

The big picture: Laser satellite links are a hot market right now. NASA is working on its version of the technology on the public side through its LCRD mission. China is working on laser comms for its BeiDou constellation. On the commercial side, Mynaric ($MYNA) is working on bringing the tech to market, and SpaceX is building it in-house for Starlink.


All-Hands TL;DR – We’re Busy 

Image: SpaceX

On Sunday, Elon Musk shared the deck from an all-hands SpaceX update he gave to employees last week. Highlights below. 

SpaceX is averaging one launch a week. In late April, the company notched its fastest booster turnaround time to date (just 21 days). To date, SpaceX has successfully launched 160 times, with 122 landings and 98 reflights. 

  • Hello, old friend…We could see up to four Falcon Heavy missions in 2022, which would make for a busy back half of the year for the heavy rocket. 
  • Polaris: Jared Isaacman and the Polaris Dawn crew plan to conduct the first spacewalk in Q4 from a Crew Dragon.

Ax-1: In April, SpaceX and Axiom completed the first all-private mission to the ISS (more on that here).

Near the third anniversary of its first Starlink V0.9 batch launch, the broadband internet service is nearing 500,000 subscribers. It’s available in 32 countries. With new airline deals, Starlink is available “by land, air, & sea,” Musk noted. Starlink is also rolling out support for RVs.

Finally, as Kyiv and satellite operators fend off jamming efforts and other cyberattacks from Moscow, SpaceX says it has sent 15,000 Starlink terminals to Ukraine.

Starship

Musk highlighted SpaceX’s work on Ship 24 , Booster 7 (B7), and Raptor 2.0 engines. Starship Ship 24 recently passed its first cryoproof test, while B7 appears to have received new Raptors. 

Musk also indicated that SpaceX will build two factories “of the future” in Texas and Florida that will presumably be co-located with Starship launch sites. The latter telegraphs that SpaceX will continue with contingency plans to build, develop, and launch Starship from the Space Coast, regardless of the FAA’s environmental assessment decision on Starbase. That decision is coming June 13, for what it’s worth. 


In Other News

  • China launched the Shenzhou 14 crew to the Tiangong space station. Commander Chen Dong, Liu Yang, and Cai Xuzhe arrived at Tiangong, or ‘heavenly palace,’ roughly seven hours after launching from Inner Mongolia late Saturday night ET. 
  • Blue Origin launched a crew of six on NS-21, its fifth human spaceflight mission, from Van Horn, TX. 
  • Firefly is targeting mid-July for its second Alpha launch. 
  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom visited Astra’s ($ASTR) rocket factory in Alameda. 
  • Space equities had a turbulent Q1, per CNBC, “with many CEOs complaining of supply chain disruptions pushing back hardware deliveries and launch schedules.”
  • Relativity’s Tim Ellis says engine development will always remain in-house:

“We will always develop and build our own engines in-house. Too important and integrated into the final rocket not to own directly.”


The Week Ahead

Monday, June 6: Just past midnight, NASA began the 8- to 12- hour process of rolling out the Artemis I rocket and Orion spacecraft. NASA, DOE, and NSF members of the Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee will meet from noon to 4pm.

Tuesday, June 7: At 11am, NASA will discuss thunderstorm research with the media. The NASA Engineering & Safety Center’s workshop on “Unique Science from the Moon in the Artemis Era” begins at KSC/online and lasts through Thursday. The four-day Space Resources Roundtable, hosted by Colorado School of Mines, kicks off in Golden, CO.

Wednesday, June 8: Shortly after 4pm, a Falcon 9 will launch the Nilesat 301 communications satellite into geostationary transfer orbit (GTO).

Thursday, June 9: The France Air Expo 2022 kicks off and runs through Saturday in Bron. The Aerospace Corporation will hold a webinar at 1pm on “Wildfires from Space.” In preparation for the Dragon mission launch, NASA will host a “climate conversation” at 2pm discussing science and climate experiments onboard the capsule, and it will air a prelaunch news conference at 3:30pm.

Friday, June 10: NASA and SpaceX will launch a cargo resupply mission, which will include the agency’s Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation (EMIT) instrument. And the window opens for China’s GX-1 to launch the Taijing 1-01 and 1-02 EO satellites. 


The View from Space

Two images of Lake Mead, taken May 19, 2000 and May 25, 2022, show how much the water level has dropped. Much more land is visible in 2022, including larger islands that the drying lake has exposed.
Image: NASA/METI/AIST/Japan Space Systems, and US/Japan ASTER Science Team

Lake Mead, located on the border of Nevada and Arizona, has reached historic low water levels due to drought, climate change, and increasing water needs. These two images captured by ASTER show how much the lake has dried up since 2000.