SN Commercial Drive | Kymeta raises $30 million • Voyager stakes claim to NanoRacks • Skyroot Aerospace test fires engine
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A commercial space newsletter from SpaceNews. Delivered Wednesdays.
 December 30, 2020
In what is usually a quiet month, investors continued to bet on space industry innovation. Redwire acquired satellite and rocket component manufacturer LoadpathVoyager Space Holdings claimed a majority stake in NanoRacks. Also in the final month of 2020, the European Investment Bank promised $24 million to satellite data specialist Spire Global, German launch startup Isar Aerospace raised $91 million, Scottish launch services company Orbex secured $24 million, Kymeta collected $30 million and hyperspectral imaging firm Orbital Sidekick received $16 million

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  • Voyager stakes claim to NanoRacks
  • SpaceX tests another Starship
  • Satellite parts face plasma wind tunnel
  • Skyroot Aerospace test fires engine
Voyager Space Holdings is acquiring a majority stake in commercial space station company Nanoracks. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Nanoracks flies payloads to the International Space Station, including satellites for deployment there, and recently installed a commercial airlock. NanoRacks has long-term plans to develop commercial space platforms using repurposed upper stages, which will require cutting metal. NanoRacks plans to test its ability to do that in 2021, followed by work to take control of a spent upper stage in 2022. [SpaceNews/Observer]

The Space Force is looking into legal problems involving a contractor recently selected to run the Space Enterprise Consortium (SpEC). The Space and Missile Systems Center awarded a contract earlier this month to the National Security Technology Accelerator, or NSTXL, to operate SpEC, an organization established in 2017 to attract startups and companies that don't traditionally bid on government contracts. That award, though, came weeks after a Texas court found that NSTXL acted fraudulently to end a relationship with an events firm. The Space Force said it was not aware of the Texas case at the time of the award, and is delaying the start of the contract while it evaluates the matter. [Washington Post]

SpaceX is beginning to test the next Starship prototype. The Starship SN9 vehicle, on the pad at SpaceX's Boca Chica, Texas, test site, started a series of pressurization tests Monday, to be followed by a static-fire test of the vehicle's three Raptor engines. If successful, the vehicle could perform a flight to 12.5 kilometers as soon as early January, similar to the one Starship SN8 performed earlier this month. [NASASpaceFlight.com]

The European Space Agency Clean Space group plans to test commercial solar array drive mechanisms and monopropellant tanks in a plasma wind tunnel as part of its campaign to determine whether spacecraft components have less than a 1 in 10,000 chance of surviving reentry and posing a threat to people on the ground. In 2020, the Clean Space group tested a broad selection of components through simulated re-entries, including a computer, a battery module and a magnetorquer, and made recommendations to improve safety. [SpaceNews]

In recent commercial space acquisitions, founders largely have remained with the businesses they established or moved on to form new space companies. Two exceptions are Roccor co-founder Doug Campbell and Scott Larson, who co-founded UrtheCast and Helios Wire. Campbell, who served as Roccor CEO until 2018, now works full time as CEO for Solid Power, a firm he founded in 2012 to develop solid-state rechargeable batteries primarily for automotive applications. Larson is interim president of Draganfly, a Canadian drone manufacturer established in 1999. [SpaceNews]

As companies and government agencies plan missions to the moon, academics and technologists are assessing ways to lessen the negative impact of lunar dust. Dust had deleterious effects on Apollo astronaut spacesuits, helmets, equipment and instrumentation. In preparing for future missions, NASA is working with scientists, doctors and technologists to identify dust mitigation strategies and technologies. [SpaceNews]

Launch vehicle developer Firefly Aerospace announced a multi-year agreement with San Diego-based Adaptive Launch Solutions (ALS) to integrate four Firefly Alpha flights including two scheduled for 2021. "Firefly has now nearly filled our 2021 launch manifest and is focused on finalizing our 2022 flight opportunities," Bradley Schneider, Firefly chief revenue officer, said in a statement. Firefly plans to launch rockets from California and Florida. The firm's Vandenberg Air Force Base site is nearly completed, the company said in the Dec. 23 announcement. [Firefly]

Roscosmos has filed suit against one of its subsidiaries, Progress Space and Rocket Center, alleging Progress produced a satellite that stopped working after launch. The announcement did not disclose the satellite in question or the cause of the failure. [TASS] 

An Indian launch startup has tested a solid-fuel engine. Skyroot Aerospace test fired the Kalam-5 motor, a demonstration version of motors that will be used on its Vikram-1 small satellite launch vehicle. The test keeps the company on track for a first launch of the Vikram-1 in late 2021. Skyroot is working to raise $15 million to fund development of the vehicle. [Business Standard]

A Japanese company is proposing to launch a satellite made of wood. Sumitomo Forestry is working with Kyoto University to study how wood products could be used in spacecraft, with a goal of launching a satellite made with wooden structures in 2023. Proponents of the concept say wooden satellites could burn up upon reentry without releasing harmful chemicals. [BBC]


  • Kymeta raises $30 million
  • Viasat questions Starlink's environmental impact
  • China Satcom seeks investment
  • Telesat's focus on LEO

South Korean conglomerate Hanwha Systems is investing $30 million in Kymeta to support the satellite antenna company's development of Kymeta's u8 antenna and Kymeta Connect, which pairs the new antenna with connectivity services. "The objective of our investment in Kymeta is to enter the [low Earth orbit] satellite antenna market early on, and diversify our technology portfolio," Hanwha Systems CEO Youn Chul Kim said in a statement. Kymeta raised $85.2 million in a funding round announced in August. With the latest investment, Kymeta plans to increase antenna production, enhance customer service and continue product development. [Kymeta/SpaceNews]

Viasat is petitioning the Federal Communications Commission to perform an environmental review of SpaceX's Starlink broadband constellation, arguing that the satellite system poses environmental hazards in space and on Earth. In a Dec. 22 filing, Viasat called for an environmental assessment or more rigorous environmental impact statement before approving a SpaceX request to modify its existing Starlink license to allow the operation of nearly 3,000 additional satellites in lower orbits. Viasat's petition cites orbital debris, satellite launch and reentry hazards and light pollution. SpaceX's Elon Musk questioned Viasat's motives in a Dec. 29 tweet, saying Starlink is a hazard "to Viasat's profits, more like it." [SpaceNews]

Fleet operator China Satcom, a subsidiary of state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology, plans to sell shares to raise as much as 3.3 billion yuan ($506 million). Under the plan, China Aerospace Science and Technology would remain the largest shareholder. China sees communications satellites as a key element of its civil space infrastructure as the country aims to provide access to faster and more convenient connections to complement 5G networks. [CX Tech]

Telesat stock is likely to begin trading in the second or third quarter of 2021, subject to regulatory and Loral stockholder approvals. Stock sales are intended to help fund Telesat LEO, a global broadband network to serve for enterprise, telecommunications and government customers. Telesat plans to equip its LEO satellites with optical inter-satellite links to speed data transfer and direct radiating phased array antennas to "instantaneously and dynamically steer beams to focus multiple gigabits per second of broadband capacity into demand hotspots like communities, airport hubs or sea ports," said Stephen Hampton, Telesat government affairs manager. [Geospatial World] 

Roscosmos' Research Institute of Precision Instruments completed testing and delivery of three Sadko radio systems for the next generation of Russia's Gonets-M communications satellites to Russian satellite manufacturer ISS Reshetnev. The radios are designed to transmit data, including text, telemetry and Glonass navigation satellite coordinates, throughout Russia for the Gonets-D1M multifunctional personal satellite communications system. [3dnews.ru]

Thailand's mu Space is preparing to build a factory that harnesses 5G to help remote engineers work together to develop and test spaceships, satellites, a Thai global navigation satellite system, autonomous systems and lunar rovers. Mu Space also is working with Thailand's state-owned communications company TOT to establish the first data center in space. [mu Space] 


Jan. 4
SpaceX Falcon 9 to launch TurkSat 5A communications satellite from Cape Canaveral, Florida
Jan. 10-15
American Meteorological Society virtual annual meeting
Jan. 12-13
Newspace Industrialization with Rob Hoyt of Tethers Unlimited, Jim Cantrell of Phantom Space and Ray Johnson of Bessemer Venture Partners
Jan. 14
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to launch Transporter 1 small satellite rideshare mission from Cape Canaveral, Florida
Jan. 14
The Great Game of Economics Afoot in Space webinar from NewSpace New Mexico
Jan. 18-19
AIxSpace conference with CNES President Jean-Yves LeGall, MDA CEO and President Mike Greenley, and Leap Biosystems CEO and President Dave Williams, a retired Canadian Space Agency astronaut
Feb. 25
Soyuz rocket to launch 36 OneWeb broadband satellites from Vostochny Cosmodrome, Russia
Thank you for reading this week's issue of SN Commercial Drive. For the latest commercial space news, visit SpaceNews.com and follow Debra Werner (@SpaceReportr) on Twitter.

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