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In today’s newsletter:
🪨 Micrometeoroid hits JWST
🛰️ ION-X raises €3.8M
📝 The contract report

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Space Rocks Incoming

Graphic: NASA

Earlier this year, we held our breaths for weeks as the super-powerful and highly delicate JWST made a galactic journey a million miles away to its final orbit and unfolded all its individual components. The observatory had 344 single points of failure in its deployment phase.

In January, NASA announced that the telescope had fully deployed, and we breathed a sigh of relief, thinking the dangerous part was over. 

How could we forget about the space rocks??

Yesterday, NASA made an announcement that a micrometeoroid about the size of a speck of dust struck one of the space telescope’s golden mirrors. The speck made impact between May 23 and 25. So far, NASA says that it has made a minor difference in the telescope’s data readings, but that the telescope is still performing at a higher level of precision than the NASA team expected.

Preparing for impact: “We always knew that Webb would have to weather the space environment, which includes harsh ultraviolet light and charged particles from the Sun, cosmic rays from exotic sources in the galaxy, and occasional strikes by micrometeoroids within our solar system,” said Paul Geithner, technical deputy project manager for JWST, in a NASA blog post.

The JWST team at NASA conducted impact tests on mirror segments before the telescope launched to see how a potential micrometeoroid impact might affect the telescope’s data collection. The May impact was “beyond what the team could have tested on the ground,” per the blog post, but still not unexpected.

Each component of the telescope’s primary mirror is controlled by a series of actuators, which can make tiny corrections to the mirror’s position. These can make up for some of the damage caused by the impact.

  • The telescope is designed to be robust and last for quite a long time despite natural, gradual degradation from micrometeoroid impacts. 

+ While we’re here: We talked to Geithner in January about the 20 years spent building JWST and how the instruments work. Read the full story here.

Adding Oomph to Electrospray Thrusters

French startup ION-X has raised €3.8M ($4.1M) to fund further R&D and field a demo mission of its scalable small satellite propulsion system. Joining the round: 

  • Bpifrance, the French public investment bank. 
  • TF Participations, the investment arm of deeptech startup studio TechnoFounders.
  • Geodesic, an investment vehicle that will make way for the future Expansion fund, a €300M pot for European aerospace and defense startups. 

ION-X will tap the new funds to hire additional engineers dedicated to the design of what it calls “a new kind of small satellite thruster.” The company expects this will accelerate the development of a flight model that will be launched on a demonstration mission towards the end of 2023. It will also allow the company to enter the first phases of commercialization. 

The tech: ION-X says its ionic liquid electrospray thrusters are poised to be a disruptive force, offering unmatched thrust and ISP with a 30% lower fuel consumption compared to other thrusters in this class. The system is based on a 1U (10cm x 10cm x10cm) module that can be stacked to answer more complex mission requirements.

In Other News

  • ELA (Equatorial Launch Australia) is planning to make the first commercial launch from the land down under on June 26. The company is launching a science mission for NASA.
  • China plans to conduct a LEO space-based solar power test in 2028.
  • Relativity announced that every component of the Terran 1 rocket has arrived at the launchpad in preparation for its debut flight later this summer.
  • SpaceX launched the Nilesat 301 mission to geostationary transfer orbit for Egyptian satcom company Nilesat. The launch was the 23rd Falcon 9 flight of the year.
  • Raytheon ($RTX) is moving its global HQ from Massachusetts to Arlington, VA, following in the footsteps of Boeing ($BA).
  • Inmarsat is testing a signal from an old satellite that could help the UK replace satnav capabilities it’s been missing since Brexit.

The Contract Report

  • Northrop Grumman ($NOC) will produce GEM solid rocket boosters under a $2B+ contract from ULA, in support of Amazon’s Project Kuiper and other customers.
  • NASA intends to buy five more Crew Dragon rides from SpaceX, as a modification of its Commercial Crew Transport Capabilities contract.
  • Airbus received a 10-year deal to upgrade the French Armed Forces’ telco satellite ground segments, with an initial order worth €100M.
  • Aegis Aerospace, and Intuitive Machines signed the first Texas-based B2B contract to deliver a commercial science payload to the Moon.
  • AstroAccess, a nonprofit promoting disability inclusion in space, partnered with Aurelia Institute and MIT Space Exploration Initiative to expand access to zero-gravity missions.
  • Satellite Vu and Landmark Information Group will develop geospatial information products for the UK real estate market, focused on sharing data on thermal efficiency of homes.
  • Phase Four and Impulse Space inked an MoU to explore ​​multi-mode propulsion capabilities.
  • Isar Aerospace, a German launch services provider, will use Exotrail’s ExoOPS mission simulation software to manage payloads on its Spectrum vehicle.
  • Kepler Communications selected Tesat-Spacecom to provide optical inter-satellite links for its first tranche of ÆTHER satellites.
  • Lockheed Martin ($LMT) awarded MDA ($MDA) a contract to provide antennas and antenna control electronics for the SDA Tranche 1 Transport Layer Constellation.
  • Gilat Satellite Networks ($GILT) subsidiary Wavestream received a $8M+ follow-on order to support LEO constellation gateways.
  • UK Ministry of Defense selected Globalstar’s ($GSAT) satellite GPS messengers to track RAF Force Protection personnel during training exercises.
  • Redwire Corporation ($RDW) will manufacture 42 high-gain antennas under a contract for an undisclosed national security customer. ICYMI: We just spoke with Redwire COO and President Andrew Rush about the company’s various lines of business.

The View from Space

Though Uranus (left) and Neptune (right) have similar sizes, masses, and atmospheric makeups, Uranus is lighter in color, as these Hubble images show. Now, an international team of researchers suggests an explanation: a thicker layer of haze in Uranus’s atmosphere.
NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), and M. H. Wong (UC Berkeley) and the OPAL team

Though Uranus (left) and Neptune (right) have similar sizes, masses, and atmospheric makeups, Uranus is lighter in color, as these Hubble images show. Now, an international team of researchers suggests an explanation: a thicker layer of haze in Uranus’s atmosphere.