SAN FRANCISCO — AAC Clyde Space announced plans Oct. 15 to acquire SpaceQuest, a satellite technology developer based in Fairfax, Virginia, for $8.4 million, pending the approval of shareholders and the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.
Luis Gomes, AAC Clyde Space CEO, and Craig Clark, AAC Clyde Space chief strategy officer, have often expressed their desire to expand the firm’s presence in the dynamic U.S. space market.
“This acquisition represents the next step in our strategy to grow our operations in the U.S., and to expand our Space as a Service [SaaS] business,” Gomes said in a statement. “SpaceQuest’s fleet of satellites and ground station network represent a great addition of capability to our SaaS offering and further strengthens our plans to change the economics of delivering data services from space.”
AAC Clyde Space was formed in early 2018 when shareholders of AAC Microtech of Uppsala, Sweden, approved a plan announced in late 2017 to acquire Scotland’s Clyde Space.
Since the acquisition, AAC Clyde Space has been growing rapidly through acquisitions and by expanding its product line to include everything from satellite subsystems to small satellites and space as a service, meaning the company handles mission design, satellite construction, launch arrangements and flight operations.
Prior to the SpaceQuest announcement, AAC Clyde revealed plans Oct. 7 to purchase Hyperion Technologies of the Netherlands for 21.7 Swedish Krona ($2.44 million).
Hyperion Technologies, founded in 2013, produces small satellite components and “is particularly renowned for its attitude and orbit control technologies,” according to AAC Clyde’s Oct. 7 announcement. Hyperion Technologies also is a member of a Dutch consortium developing technology for optical satellite communications.
“We have always strived to grow and to expand,” Bert Monna, Hyperion Technologies CEO, said in statement. “Our success in the market has shown that we need to up our game in order to respond appropriately to our clients. As part of AAC Clyde, we can address these needs by offering a more integrated one-stop-shop, increased service levels and more robustness as a business.”
SpaceQuest, founded in 1994, designs, manufactures and tests small satellites and satellite components. SpaceQuest customers include LeoStella, Orbcomm, Iceye, Northrop Grumman, the Canadian Space Agency, NASA, and the U.S. Air Force and Navy, AAC Clyde Space said in an Oct. 16 news release.
“There is a growing market demand for quality suppliers of satellite technology,” Dino Lorenzini, SpaceQuest founder and CEO, said in a statement. “The combination of SpaceQuest’s brand name, products and satellite infrastructure, along with the platform designs from AAC opens up new opportunities for us. The combination of SpaceQuest, Hyperion and AAC Clyde Space creates a powerful and synergistic capability.”
In addition to capturing a greater share of the U.S. space market, AAC Clyde is intent on supporting companies around the world building satellite constellations to gather data and relay communications.
By bringing Hyperion and SpaceQuest into the AAC Clyde “group we become a truly global supplier of space systems and a very attractive partner for companies who are looking to exploit opportunities based on data from space,” Rolf Hallencreutz, AAC Clyde Space chairman, said in a statement.
Space Development Agency begins market research for its next batch of satellites to be launched in 2024
Tranche 1 is envisioned to have about 100 to 150 space vehicles, developed and manufactured by multiple vendors.
WASHINGTON — The Space Development Agency in recent months acquired 28 satellites that it plans to launch in 2022. It is now preparing for its next big procurement of up to 150 satellites to be launched in late 2024.
In a request for information issued Oct. 23, the SDA asks vendors to pitch ideas for the next layer of satellites known as Tranche 1. Responses are due Nov. 13.
Tranche 1 is envisioned to have approximately 100 to 150 space vehicles developed and manufactured by multiple vendors, to be launched in late fiscal year 2024, says the SDA request.
Tranche 1 will be a “proliferation of very similar space vehicles to those launched for the Tranche 0 Transport Layer with incremental and minimal technology enhancements but remains open to other options presented by industry,” according to the RFI.
The 28 satellites in Tranche 0 include 20 for a Transport Layer of data-relay satellites and eight are for a missile-warning Tracking Layer.
Lockheed Martin and York Space Systems are manufacturing the 20 Transport Layer satellites. SpaceX and L3Harris are producing eight for the Tracking Layer. There will be a new competition for Tranche 1 that will be open to any bidder.
SDA plans to release separate solicitations for Tranche 1 space and ground segments. A request for proposals for the Tranche 1 Transport Layer is expected in summer 2021.
The agency says it “significantly prefers comprehensive solutions that include open architectures,” meaning buses that support multiple payloads and software applications, and leverage commoditized satellite technologies.
SpaceX adds another 60 satellites to Starlink network
SpaceX successfully deployed 60 more Starlink internet satellites in orbit Saturday, continuing a record launch cadence while engineers assess a concern with Falcon 9 rocket engines that has delayed other missions, including the next crew flight to the International Space Station.
The 60 Starlink satellites blasted off from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 11:31:34 a.m. EDT (1531:34 GMT) Saturday. The mission was delayed from Thursday to allow time for engineers to assess a problem with a camera on the Falcon 9 rocket’s upper stage.
Nine kerosene-fueled Merlin 1D engines powered the 229-foot-tall (70-meter) launcher into the sky on a trajectory northeast from Cape Canaveral.
The rocket’s first stage shut down its engines and separated two-and-a-half minutes into the mission, beginning a controlled descent to a pinpoint landing on a floating platform parked some 400 miles (630 kilometers) northeast of the launch site.
The landing concluded the third trip to space and back for the reusable Falcon 9 booster — designated B1060 — and the touchdown occurred moments before the rocket’s upper stage delivered the 60 Starlink satellites into a preliminary parking orbit.
SpaceX did not try to catch the Falcon 9’s two-piece payload fairing as they fell back to Earth under parachutes. A nose cone structure damaged a net on one of SpaceX’s fairing recovery vessels on the company’s most recent launch Oct. 18.
Instead, SpaceX dispatched one of the boats from its fleet to retrieve the fairing structures from the Atlantic Ocean for inspections, refurbishment, and potential use on a future flight.
After coasting across the Atlantic Ocean, Europe and the Middle East, the Falcon 9’s upper stage briefly reignited its single engine at T+plus 44 minutes to inject the Starlink satellites into a near-circular orbit at an altitude of roughly 170 miles (275 kilometers) with an inclination of 53 degrees to the equator.
All 60 satellites, which were flat-packed on top of the Falcon 9 rocket for launch, separated from the upper stage at 12:34 p.m. EDT (1634 GMT). A live video feed from the rocket showed the flat-panel satellites receding from view as they flew south of Tasmania.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral at 11:31am EDT (1531 GMT) with 60 more Starlink internet satellites, darting through clouds in an autumn sky on the way to orbit.
— Spaceflight Now (@SpaceflightNow) October 24, 2020
The satellites, built by SpaceX in Redmond, Washington, were expected to unfurl power-generating solar arrays and prime their krypton ion thrusters to begin raising their orbits to an operational altitude of 341 miles (550 kilometers), where they will join more than 800 other Starlink relay stations to beam broadband internet signals across most of the populated world.
SpaceX plans to operate an initial block of around 1,500 Starlink satellites in orbits 341 miles above Earth. The company, founded by billionaire Elon Musk, has regulatory approval from the Federal Communications Commission to eventually field a fleet of up to 12,000 small Starlink broadband stations operating in Ku-band, Ka-band, and V-band frequencies.
There are also preliminary plans for an even larger fleet of 30,000 additional Starlink satellites, but a network of that size has not been authorized by the FCC.
SpaceX says the Starlink network — designed for low-latency internet service — is still in its early stages, and engineers continue testing the system to collect latency data and speed tests. In a filing with the FCC dated Oct. 13, SpaceX said it has started beta testing of the Starlink network in multiple U.S. states, and is providing internet connectivity to previously unserved students in rural areas.
On Sept. 28, the Washington Military Department announced it was using the Starlink internet service as emergency responders and residents in Malden, Washington, recover from a wildfire that destroyed much of the town.
Earlier this month, Washington government officials said the Hoh Tribe was starting to use the Starlink service. SpaceX said it recently installed Starlink ground terminals on an administrative building and about 20 private homes on the Hoh Tribe Reservation.
A catalog of Starlink satellites maintained by Jonathan McDowell, a widely-respected astronomer who tracks global spaceflight activity, indicated that 53 of the Starlink satellites have been deorbited since their launch, primarily test models that launched last year. Two other satellites have failed and another 20 appear have stopped maneuvering, leaving around 820 spacecraft presumably operational, according to McDowell.
Since Oct. 6, SpaceX has shot 180 Starlink satellites into orbit on three dedicated Falcon 9 rocket missions. That’s more satellites than in the entire constellation operated by Planet, which owns the second-biggest fleet of spacecraft in orbit.
As of this week, Planet had around 150 active SkySat and Dove Earth-imaging satellites in its fleet, a company spokesperson said.
SpaceX continues Starlink launches while engine issue delays other missions
The launch of three Starlink missions on Falcon 9 rockets this month occurred as SpaceX delayed other launches to study an issue with Merlin engines that aborted a Falcon 9 countdown Oct. 2 with a U.S. military GPS navigation satellite.
Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and CEO, tweeted after the abort that the countdown was stopped at T-minus 2 seconds after an “unexpected pressure rise in the turbomachinery gas generator,” referring to equipment used on the rocket’s nine Merlin first stage main engines. The gas generators on the Merlin 1D engines drives the engines’ turbopumps.
NASA announced Oct. 10 that the launch from the Kennedy Space Center of SpaceX’s first operational Crew Dragon flight to the International Space Station would be delayed from Oct. 31 until early to mid-November to allow time for engineers to study and resolve the engine issue.
Kathy Lueders, head of NASA’s human spaceflight programs, tweeted Oct. 21 that the space agency and SpaceX were making “a lot of good progress … on engine testing to better understand the unexpected behavior observed during a recent non-NASA launch.”
It’s too early to report findings at this point, as SpaceX continues testing to validate what’s believed to be the most credible cause,” Lueders tweeted.
She wrote that SpaceX is replacing one engine on the Falcon 9 rocket assigned to the Crew Dragon mission — known as Crew-1 — and one engine on the Falcon 9 booster designated for launch of a U.S.-European oceanography satellite next month from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
The engines being replaced displayed behavior during their ground testing that was similar to the “early-start behavior” noted during the aborted GPS launch Oct. 2., Lueders wrote.
The launch of the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich oceanography satellite remains scheduled for Nov. 10 from California, Lueders said.
“We are also still working towards a mid-November launch for Crew-1,” she added. “We will want a few days between Sentinel-6 and Crew-1 to complete data reviews and check performance. Most importantly, we will fly all our missions when we are ready.”
The Crew-1 mission will launch four astronauts to begin a six-month expedition on the International Space Station. It follows a two-man Crew Dragon test flight that launched May 30 and concluded with a successful return to Earth on Aug. 2, the first orbital flight of astronauts to launch from U.S. soil since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011.
In a press briefing Oct. 16, a NASA manager said engineers from NASA, the U.S. Space Force, and SpaceX are jointly investigating the engine problem that surfaced during the Oct. 2 countdown.
“I can tell you an incredible amount of data has been looked at, to include members from our commercial crew program which also has an upcoming Falcon flight,” said Tim Dunn, NASA’s launch director for the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich mission.
In addition to testing at the launch base at Cape Canaveral, SpaceX removed engines from the Falcon 9 rocket for the GPS mission and returned them to the company’s test facility in McGregor, Texas, for detailed testing and reviews.
“We’ve learned a lot,” Dunn said. “There’s going to be some hardware implications as we move forward, depending on the engines installed on various rockets. The GPS mission obviously is affected. The NASA Crew-1 mission is affected. On Sentinel-6, we are looking at the engines that are on our first stage. We are going to work through what we need to do, but as of today, we have a path forward that allows us to do whatever necessary rework may be required and still maintain that Nov. 10 launch date.”
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SpaceX reaches 100 successful launches with Starlink mission
WASHINGTON — SpaceX launched another set of Starlink satellites Oct. 24, marking the 100th time the company has placed payloads into orbit.
The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 11:31 a.m. Eastern. The rocket’s upper stage deployed the payload of 60 Starlink satellites into orbit 63 minutes after liftoff. The first stage, making its third flight, landed on a droneship in the Atlantic Ocean.
This was the 100th successful launch in the company’s history. That total includes 95 Falcon 9, three Falcon Heavy and two Falcon 1 launches. The company also suffered three Falcon 1 launch failures and one Falcon 9 launch failure; another Falcon 9 was destroyed in 2016 during preparations for a static-fire test.
The launch was the third Starlink mission in less than two weeks, after Falcon 9 launches Oct. 6 and Oct. 18 that each carried 60 Starlink satellites into orbit. The company has now launched 895 Starlink satellites, 55 of which have reentered either because of passive orbital decay or by being actively deorbited.
SpaceX has boasted in filings with the Federal Communications Commission of the high reliability of the Starlink satellites. That included an Oct. 15 filing about an ex parte meeting between SpaceX and FCC staff where the company noted “the successful launch and operation of nearly 300 additional satellites without a failure” since an earlier report filed with the FCC.
That streak, though, may have been broken on the previous launch. Satellite observers noted that one of the satellites on the Oct. 18 launch, identified as Starlink-1819, was not raising its orbit like the other 59. Tracking data showed that satellite’s orbit was instead decaying, suggesting it had malfunctioned.
Starlink 1819 appears to be in trouble. Kelso’s SupTLEs (magenta) derived from SpaceX data stopped on Oct 20; 18SPCS TLEs (green) started for it later the same day and show continued decay. All other sats from the launch (red) are raising orbit pic.twitter.com/No1Kbr3Ke1
— Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589) October 21, 2020
SpaceX and its competitors have debated the reliability of Starlink satellites in a series of FCC filings in recent weeks. Viasat has argued that the failure rate of Starlink satellites is far higher than what SpaceX has promised, although the company made that argument in part on the apparent deliberate deorbiting of the original 60 “v0.9” Starlink satellites launched in May 2019.
The recent surge in Starlink launches is taking place as two other Falcon 9 missions remain on hold. The last-second scrub of a Falcon 9 launch of a GPS 3 satellite Oct. 2 has yet to be rescheduled, and the investigation into the gas generator problem that caused the scrub led NASA to postpone the Falcon 9 launch of the Crew-1 commercial crew mission, which had been scheduled for Oct. 31.
The Crew-1 launch remains on hold. In a series of tweets Oct. 21, Kathy Lueders, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, said investigators were making “good progress” on understanding the engine issue, but that they were not ready to report the cause of the problem.
She did note that SpaceX will replace one Merlin engine on both the booster that will be used for the Crew-1 mission and the booster for the launch of the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich ocean science satellite, scheduled for Nov. 10 from Vandenberg Air Force Base. The Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich launch remains on schedule for that launch even with the engine swap, she said.
The earliest Crew-1 would launch is mid-November, Lueders said. “We will want a few days between Sentinel-6 and Crew-1 to complete data reviews and check performance. Most importantly, we will fly all our missions when we are ready.”
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