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Kathy Lueders joins SpaceX, NASA picks Blue Origin for lunar lander, and Arqit sells space division and encryption satellite

Precious Weekly: May 15 — 21, 2023

Kathy Lueders joins SpaceX and more exciting news in our weekly wrap-up. See news tagged with a 🚀? Click the link to reveal more about the launch or its provider on Launch.ctrl by Precious Payload—your gateway to space! 💫

Kathy Lueders joins SpaceX, will work at Starbase facility

Image: Starbase facility by SpaceX


Launch Updates

🇺🇸RocketLab is set 🚀to launch the second half of 🇺🇸NASA’s TROPICs satellites on May 25.



🇺🇸NASA selects 🇺🇸Blue Origin for a fully reusable lunar lander, adding competition and advancing space exploration. [Ars Technica]

Former 🇺🇸NASA human spaceflight chief Kathy Lueders has joined 🇺🇸SpaceX and will work out of the company’s “Starbase” facility in Texas and report directly to SpaceX president and COO Gwynne Shotwell as general manager. [CNBC]

🇦🇪Bayanat, 🇦🇪Yahsat, and 🇫🇮ICEYE have launched a Space Program to expand commercial opportunities in the 🇦🇪UAE’s space ecosystem. The program involves developing a constellation of five SAR satellites for EO, with the first satellite scheduled to launch in Q1 2024 (the launch provider is not mentioned). [ICEYE]

Welsh startup 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿Space Forge unveiled a satellite reentry system with a large heat shield for its in-space manufacturing satellite platform ForgeStar and an uncrewed water vehicle for catching it after landing. [TechCrunch] Space Forge signed an MoU with Australia’s Southern Launch earlier this year to explore potential satellite return technologies in 2023.

Cybersecurity software developer 🇬🇧Arqit to sell its space division, including a partially built quantum encryption satellite. Arqit had initially planned to deploy the satellite but shifted its focus to terrestrial encryption key distribution. [SpaceNews]

Satellite manufacturer 🇺🇸Crean acquires 🇺🇸Aquarian Space to create CelestNet, a satellite network in lunar orbit enabling real-time interplanetary communication. The system is expected to enter commercial service in 2025. [Ein Presswire]

🇦🇺Akula Tech’s satellite to be launched “with Indian partners (from the press release’s URL, we can see that it’s 🇮🇳ISRO’s launch) in October 2023” will host 🇦🇺Esper Satellite Imagery’s hyperspectral sensor. [Esper]

These six missions, finalists of the ESA Payload Masters competition held by Space Impact, will fly with The Exploration Company’s NYX reentry spacecraft:

  • ACE:DREAMS 🇩🇪 (Germany) is a student-built technology demonstrator for automated cell culture experiments in microgravity.
  • Astrobiome 🇩🇪 (Germany) aims to enhance plant development using microbiome modulation.
  • Ecolora 🇬🇧 (United Kingdom) is developing autonomous plant growth chambers for lunar and Martian settlements.
  • Hydromars AB 🇸🇪 (Sweden) offers next-generation water purification technology.
  • Deep Space Industries Europe 🇱🇺 (Luxembourg) presents the Binary platform computer for spacecraft control.
  • Op-To-Space 🇬🇧 (United Kingdom) focuses on levitated optomechanics for space applications.

🇦🇺Australia and the 🇺🇸United States have reached an agreement in principle (subject to final domestic authorizations) for the controlled transfer of sensitive US launch technology and data. [whitehouse.gov]

🇸🇪Swedish Space Corporation (SSC) and 🇬🇧OneWeb partnered on a ten-year project to enhance connectivity in 🇨🇦Canada. SSC to build The Satellite Network Portal (SNP) in Yellowknife, NW, Canada, delivered increased bandwidth and performance to OneWeb services by Q4 2023, with ongoing maintenance provided by SSC. [OneWeb]



🇺🇸NASA’s CAPSTONE cubesat, currently in lunar orbit, has successfully conducted navigation technology tests, marking an important milestone as it paves the way for the Lunar Gateway mission. [NASA]

🇺🇸Firefly Aerospace completes Vandenberg payload facility. It features a dedicated cleanroom and advanced capabilities for fueling hypergolic spacecraft. [LinkedIn]

🇦🇺Black Sky Aerospace has received approval to build a rocket fuel facility in southern 🇦🇺Queensland, streamlining the production and testing of solid rocket propellant and motors. [LinkedIn



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Funding and Contracts 

🇰🇪Kenyan climate tech startup Amini raised $2M in pre-seed funding from Pale Blue Dot, Superorganism, RaliCap, W3i, Emurgo Kepple Ventures, and angel investors. [GlobalVillageSpace]

🇩🇪Satellite manufacturer Reflex raised $1.9M of additional funding with EFRE Bayern innovation fund as a new shareholder. [Payload]

🇸🇪SSC won a 2.26M€ contract from ESA for the NODES project, aiming to develop a direct-to-Earth data reception service based on free-space optical communication, to implement an optical network and add multiple optical ground stations to the global network. [SSC]

🇺🇸Above: Space Development Corporation and 🇺🇸Ascent Solar Technologies were awarded a contract by the 🇺🇸United States Air Force (USAF) for an undisclosed sum for on-orbit manufacturing of lightweight, thin-film solar photovoltaics. [SatNews]

🇺🇸Zeno Power Systems secures $30M contract from the 🇺🇸USAF to build a radioisotope-powered satellite. The tech demo launch is expected in 2025. Zeno aims to qualify its system for small satellites and sees potential in the lunar space economy. [SpaceNews]

🇵🇱 Polish orbital transportation startup Liftero has secured pre-seed funding (amount is undisclosed) to develop reusable orbital transfer vehicles. The company will launch its first OTV, Motus, in 2025 to demonstrate the capability to maneuver in space and deploy customer satellites to different orbital slots. [Liftero]

Satellite cybersecurity company 🇺🇸SpiderOak raised an undisclosed amount from Accenture Ventures, Raytheon Technologies’ RTX Ventures, and Stellar Ventures. [Via Satellite]

🇮🇹Thales Alenia Space and a consortium including 🇮🇹Leonardo, 🇮🇹Telespazio, 🇮🇹Avio, and 🇮🇹D-Orbit won a €235M contract from the 🇮🇹Italian Space Agency to develop an In-Orbit Servicing (IOS) demonstration mission to test technologies for refueling, component repair, orbital transfer, and reentry by 2026. [SatNews]

🇺🇸Orbit Logic, specializing in mission planning and scheduling solutions for aerospace and geospatial intelligence, and 🇺🇸Chooch, developed an AI Vision platform, received a 🇺🇸USAF contract to develop the CASTT system. CASTT automates satellite data gathering and analytics for timely information delivery. It improves satellite imagery intelligence processes and has broader applications. [SatNews]

🇺🇸Astra received a contract add-on for 🚀Rocket 4’s inaugural test flight with the US DoD. The test flight will assess the operations of Launch System 2 and ensure Rocket 4’s suitability for future DoD missions. [Astra]


Start-up Cohorts in Accelerator Programs

CASSINI Business Accelerator, funded by DG DEFIS and EUSPA, has selected 20 space startups and scaleups for its first batch:

  • 🇸🇰 3IPK (Slovakia): Blockchain-based SaaS for EO data integrity.
  • 🇧🇪 Aerospacelab (Belgium): Geospatial intelligence.
  • 🇫🇷 Cailabs (France): Designing and manufacturing photonic solutions.
  • 🇳🇴 DigiFarm (Norway): Agtech solutions for precision farming.
  • 🇩🇪 Exolaunch (Germany): Rideshare launch mission management.
  • 🇨🇿 Groundcom (Czechia): Global network of ground stations for satellite connectivity.
  • 🇩🇪 Hyimpulse (Germany): Developing small launchers with disruptive propulsion systems.
  • 🇪🇸 IENAI Space (Spain): Space mobility solutions and customizable electric propulsion systems.
  • 🇮🇹 Latitudo 40 (Italy): Environmental Operative System for cognitive cities.
  • 🇮🇹 Nano-Tech SpA (Italy): Applying nanotechnology to advanced materials.
  • 🇵🇱 Orbify (Poland): B2B SaaS platform simplifying geospatial applications.
  • 🇸🇮 Paradigma Technologies (Slovenia): Designing high-performance radio telecommunication systems for small satellites.
  • 🇪🇸 PLD Space (Spain): Developing reusable launch vehicles for small satellites.
  • 🇫🇷 Prométhée (France): Nanosatellite constellation operator for EU.
  • 🇪🇸 Rokubun (Spain): Researching and developing innovative navigation solutions.
  • 🇵🇱 Scanway S.A. (Poland): Designing smart optical instruments for small satellites.
  • 🇨🇿 Spacemanic (Czech Republic): Developing small satellite components based on plug-and-play methodology.
  • 🇵🇹 Spotlite (Portugal): Infrastructure monitoring system based on satellite imagery.
  • 🇳🇴 Vake (Norway): Delivering maritime insights using satellite data fusion and machine learning.
  • 🇩🇪 Vyoma (Germany): Providing space safety services for real-time insights to protect orbital infrastructure.



🇺🇸The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report on low-altitude satellite constellations in LEO, highlighting increased commercial investment and the Department of Defense’s plans (check out the latest Albedo news). Pros include timely communications and higher resolution imagery, while cons include limited viewing time and potentially higher costs. [The Journal of Space Commerce

🇹🇼Taiwan-based satellite suppliers have been experiencing a surge in inquiries since 2023. Demand is rising for LEO (which mainly depends on the orders from Starlink), but also GEO, MEO satellites, beamforming technology, and array antennas. Meanwhile, Taiwan’s industry lacks system integration capabilities. [DigiTimes Asia]

Did you know about the ESA Commercialisation Gateway? It offers market intelligence, giving an overview of promising trends and use cases. Check out the available materials.


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