On the bench – TechCrunch
Hello and welcome to Max Q. Last week was the week of ambitious deadlines. In this problem:
- Modest profile of one of the greatest experts in space propulsion
- Delve into the history of NASA’s Landsat
- News from Masten Space, Swarm and more
PS Applications are closing soon for Startup Battlefield 200! Apply today to join Startup Battlefield 200 for the chance to exhibit your startup for free at TechCrunch Disrupt in October and win the $100,000 equity-free prize. Applications close August 5. Apply today.
Let’s get to the news.
You may not have heard the name Tom Mueller, but if you’re a space fan, you’re probably familiar with the technology he helped pioneer: the Merlin rocket engine, which powers the Falcon rocket. 9 from SpaceX, and the Draco engines that power the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft.
Mueller spent 18 years at SpaceX before retiring. But as he told me, “I found that when I stopped creating, I didn’t feel good.”
Mueller, who is widely considered one of the leading propulsion experts alive today, began sketching out a small thruster. This thruster is now called “Rigel”, after the blue supergiant in the constellation Orion. It became a cornerstone of Mueller’s new startup, Impulse Space, which he founded in September 2021. With the new venture, Mueller wants Impulse to be the go-to option for cost-effective space transportation and efficient.
“It was going to be just for fun and not too serious, but then some SpaceX alums started talking [to me] and I wanted to help and all of a sudden it became real,” he said. “Now it’s complete.”
NASA’s Landsat constellation of satellites has made Earth observation history since the project’s inception in 1972, providing reams of EO data to government, scientists and industry. TechCrunch’s Devin Coldewey caught up with Jim Irons, who retired earlier this year as director of NASA’s Earth Sciences Division, about the history of the project and why it’s still relevant today. .
Today, a myriad of constellations like the one in Planet Labs image the entire globe daily. Which begs the question: Why have Landsat?
“Those of us who work on Landsat are very impressed with what the commercial vendors have achieved,” Irons said. “The message we want to send is that Landsat is complementary to this data — it does not replace Landsat data. First, it’s open and transparent access – that’s key, and it’s true for all data collected by NASA satellites.
“Second, the USGS has kept this 50-year archive of data. Is there a business case for companies to archive their data for decades, so we can observe the effects of climate change on the long term rather than just having short bursts of data?I don’t know if the business case is there.
More news from TC…
- Eutelsat and OneWeb agreed to a merger valued at $3.4 billion, a move widely seen as a challenge for SpaceX’s Starlink.
- The exploration company is developing an all-new reusable orbital spacecraft, à la SpaceX’s Dragon capsule. I met CEO Hélène Huby to talk about the young startup’s ambitious plans.
- Mast space systems filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, telling a Delaware court that it owed millions in debt to companies including SpaceX, Astrobotic, NuSpace and others.
- Swarm Technologies was acquired by SpaceX 10 months ago. Darrell Etherington sat down with co-founder and CEO Sara Spangelo (now Senior Director of Satellite Engineering at SpaceX) to discuss what Swarm has been up to during this time.
- AST SpaceMobile signed a five-year 4G and 5G agreement with Nokia to build a cellular broadband network delivered by satellite.
- blue origin plans to launch its sixth crewed mission of the New Shepard rocket on August 4, from its sprawling launch site in West Texas.
- Boeing said it incurred $93 million in additional costs related to its Starliner capsule, bringing the company’s total costs to nearly $700 million.
- China launched an experimental module for its developing space station, which will attach to the Tianhe module already in orbit. Unfortunately, it looks like the Long March 5B rocket booster from the launch will re-enter the atmosphere in an uncontrolled re-entry.
- Congress passed a NASA Authorization Bill, as part of the broader “Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) and Science Act,” confirming International Space Station operations through 2030 and directing the NASA to create a “Moon to Mars program”, which includes the existing Artemis program.
- Firefly Aerospace Alpha Rocket is on the launch pad at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, indicating that a second test launch of the vehicle is likely imminent.
- Nasa Detailed changes to its Mars sample return plan, to return samples collected by the Perserverance rover to Earth by 2033. Instead of rovers and rockets, the new plan will replace one rover with two helicopters.
- rocket lab and the United States National Reconnaissance Office aim now for august 2 for the next launch of an NRO satellite, after the organization needed more time to perform software updates on the spacecraft.
- rocket lab will supply the solar power units for three satellites manufactured by Lockheed Martin for the US Space Force, indicating that the company’s acquisition of SolAero earlier this year is already paying off.
- Roscosmosthe Russian space agency, apparently intends to continue using the International Space Station until 2028, after first hinting that it would sever ties with the station in 2024.
- Sierra Space formed a National Security Advisory Group “to help Sierra Space continue to respond to the changing and complex needs of the United States and their impacts on the commercial space industry.”
- SpaceX requested more spectrum from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, telling the regulator it wanted to “optimize performance” for Starlink customers.
- Starlink’s Second-generation satellites will emit less light than their first-generation counterparts, SpaceX said in a blog post. The company has taken “unprecedented steps” to work with the astronomical community on this issue, she said.
- The Space Foundation found that the space economy reached $469 billion last year, a 9% increase from 2020.
- X-Bow systems first launched its Bolt rocket from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. X-Bow Systems was testing a payload test vehicle for the Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory.
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