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Successful Launch of Transporter 9, Blue Ghost to Carry SPIDER, and ESA Boosts RFA’s Projects

Latest in smallsat industry: Transporter 9 triumph, Blue Ghost’s new payload, and ESA’s boost to RFA Projects. Dive into the success of the latest SpaceX rideshare, details on Firefly’s new lunar payload, and the latest backing of RFA’s space ventures. Stay updated on the pulse of the small satellite world. 

Precious Weekly: November 6 — 12, 2023

Transporter 9 payload stack

Image: SpaceX Transporter 9 payload stack


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Launch Updates

Several launch service providers showcased the impressive Transporter 9 payload stack, with Falcon 9 successfully launched on November 11. Providers are now confirming successful deployments. See more mission highlights here: [NasaSpaceflight]

🇺🇸 Firefly Aerospace will deliver 🇦🇺 Fleet Space’s Seismic Payload for Interplanetary Discovery, Exploration, and Research (SPIDER), alongside payloads from 🇺🇸 NASA and 🇪🇺 ESA, on its second Blue Ghost lunar lander mission in 2026. SPIDER will capture lunar seismic data for 14 days, aiding lunar infrastructure and regolith exploration. [Firefly]

🇺🇸 Virgin Galactic to cease VSS Unity suborbital flights by mid-2024, shifting focus to bigger, Delta-class vehicles for higher revenue opportunities and positive cash flow by 2026. [Virgin Galactic]

🇺🇸 U.S. Air Force X-37B spaceplane’s seventh mission (USSF-52) launches on SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy on December 7. Tests include new orbital regimes and NASA’s Seeds-2 experiment exposing plant seeds to space radiation. It’s the first Falcon Heavy launch for the reusable spaceplane. [SpaceNews]

🇮🇳 Space Zone India and Edutech4Space will launch RHUMI, a mobile hybrid rocket carrying three cubesats for climate research, reaching an altitude of 80 km on August 24, 2024, from Thiruvidanthai coastal village in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India. [Mission-Rhumi]



  • 🇺🇸 Starfish Space decided to halt satellite rendezvous plans after Otter Pup’s Exotrail-built thruster anomaly, a fallout from its June launch’s tilt-a-whirl spin. [Starfish Space]
  • 🇺🇸 Amazon validated Project Kuiper’s controlled satellite maneuvering in space and the capabilities of its custom Hall-effect thruster. Launched on October 6, 2023, the tech demo was confirmed through a series of test firings. [Amazon]
  • 🇺🇸 CesiumAstro’s CommPack cross-link communications payload passes successful tests on NASA’s Starling mission cubesats, achieving TRL 9 status. The CommPack will enable dynamic communications networks between swarm spacecraft, demonstrating distributed autonomy in space. [CesiumAstro]


🇪🇺 ESA, 🇫🇷 Airbus, and 🇺🇸 Voyager Space collaborate on the Starlab space station for post-International Space Station missions. [Airbus]

In Phase 3, the 🇺🇸 Space Force may order 90 rocket launches, a significant increase from the estimated 36 missions in Phase 2. The split approach entails multiple companies bidding for assignments in two categories (Lane 1 and Lane 2). Proposals for Phase 3 are due by December 15. [CNBC]

🇺🇸 Momentus teams up with 🇪🇸 AVS for the SpaceX Transporter-11 mission in 2024. AVS, a Spanish company specializing in big science and space market equipment, to launch its LUR-1 payload—a mix of an in-orbit demonstration and commercial mission, as it includes one VNIR imager to provide data to different clients, and subsystems to validate them in orbit, including different propulsion technologies and mechanisms. [Momentus]

🇫🇷 France, 🇩🇪Germany, and 🇮🇹Italy bolster Ariane 6 with €340M (approx. $385M) annually. The deal promotes competition in launch services. Italy withdraws Vega-C from Arianespace, opting for 🇮🇹Avio’s operation. The move counters SpaceX’s dominance in the commercial space sector. [FT]


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Funding, Grants, and Contracts 

🇺🇸 Astra founders, Chris Kemp and Adam London, propose to take the struggling space company private at a $30 million valuation, offering $1.50 per share, a 103% premium to the current stock price. The rocket-launching business has halted since a June 2022 mission failure, and Astra faces financial challenges, cutting 25% of its workforce in August. [CNBC]

🇺🇸 Billionaire investor Ron Baron anticipates SpaceX’s Starlink IPO in 2027, estimating the company’s value at $250-300B. Baron is a significant supporter of Elon Musk’s ventures, with SpaceX and Tesla among his largest holdings. [CNBC]

🇪🇺 ESA boosts Rocket Factory Augsburg’s (RFA) projects: €2.5M for the development of RFA One rocket, €0.8M for the development of the Redshift orbital stage, additionally, €3.6M for developing RFA’s launchpad infrastructure at SaxaVord Spaceport in the UK. RFA One will be able to lift 1300 kg of payload to a 500 km polar orbit. [ESA]

🇺🇸 Sift, co-founded by ex-SpaceX engineers, secures $7.5M to develop an end-to-end telemetry stack simplifying machine data analysis. The Los Angeles-based startup’s system is designed for efficient hardware development, resonating with investors including Riot Ventures and Fika Ventures. [TechCrunch]



🇪🇺 ESA invites ideas for In-Space Transportation Proof-of-Concept 2 (PoC-2) to advance European in-orbit refueling capabilities. Open to participants from ESA Member States, Associate Members, and certain Cooperation Agreement countries. Deadline: December 5, 2023. Submit your idea here.

🇬🇧 The UK Space Agency earmarks £2M (approx. $2.7M) for feasibility studies, inviting applications for refueling missions. Open to organizations of any size (check more requirements here), the competition aims to support the National Active Debris Mission and a commercial satellite. Submissions are due by December 5, 2023, at sustainability@ukspaceagency.gov.uk.


🇺🇸 Rocket Lab, in collaboration with 🇳🇿 Australia’s Hypersonix, secures a 🇺🇸 U.S. Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) mission to launch a 3D-printed hypersonic drone for the Defense Department’s hypersonic testing project (HyCat). The scramjet-powered vehicle is set for a suborbital launch in early 2025. [SpaceNews]

🇺🇸 Qualcomm ends its partnership with 🇺🇸 Iridium, abandoning plans to provide technology for Android phones to connect directly to Iridium satellites (SOS feature). The move follows smartphone manufacturers’ reluctance and concerns over pricing. [The Verge]

🇺🇸 Lynk launches “sat2phone” service in the Solomon Islands in collaboration with regional mobile operator Bmobile, using Lynk’s satellite-to-cell concept. [Via Satellite]

Discover our smallsat updates from last week – read now!


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