Joe vs. the Volcano | Continuum
Heart muscle tissue heads to the ISS, the 90’s show up for Venus, and the many ways cash was king in space this week
Hello Continuum readers and Celestial Citizens,
Anyone else have the misfortune of trying to vacation with a venture capitalist at the same time that Silicon Valley Bank decided to collapse? No? Just me then…okay. It was quite the week to be sure and the elder millennial in me was trying hard not to have flashbacks to the 2008 banking crisis - which I lovingly refer to as phase two of realizing that millennials were probably the most frakked (for all you Battlestar Galactica fans out there) generation. And for the benefit of this community, I tried very hard to get someone to talk to me on the podcast about the bank run and any potential impact to the space community. But, unlike SVB’s duration…I came up short.
Any space investors out there that want to chat? You know where to find me!
And now, the space beat you came here for…
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Total Eclipse of the Heart – The ISS National Laboratory welcomed CRS-27 early yesterday morning, a mission launched by SpaceX carrying life science projects, including the NIH-funded study of microgravity’s effects on heart muscle tissue that could lead to new treatments for heart disease. Carrying 6,000 pounds of research and hardware, the CRS-27 has the potential to both “advance human exploration in space and technology here on Earth,” according to NASA’s ISS Program Deputy Scientist Meghan Everett.
Space Junk - For the second time this month, the International Space Station had to execute a stylish thrust maneuver to dodge space debris. It was Russia’s cargo capsule, the Progress MS-22 that saved the day, firing its thrusters to move the ISS to a safe altitude. This close call is a staunch reminder that the amount of trash in space needs to get under control, and a global treaty may be the only way to do it. If space tourism is to be a reality, a space junk collision could be a huge hit for the industry. If only For All Mankind’s space hotel Polaris had a crew like the ISS maybe Season 3 wouldn’t have started so tragically. Sorry for the spoiler, but if you haven’t watched Season 3, what are you even doing?
Tug of War // Biden’s Budget // Big Money Moves - Last Thursday (March 9th) U.S. President Biden announced a space budget request for 2024’s fiscal year, which would allocate $27.2 billion to NASA, a 5.6% increase from what the agency received in 2022. With the majority of funds going to the Mars Sample Return and Human Lander Program, $180 million would be devoted to what’s known as the “space tug” project. This would establish a system for the US to deorbit the ISS with a domestic spacecraft instead of relying on Russian cargo, such as in the recent space debris incident. Beating out NASA’s $27.2 billion is Space Force, which could receive $30 billion. While that may sound like a load of cash, it’s only about 3% of the total Department of Defense budget request, which totals at a whopping $773 billion. We’ll see if the allocations stand up in Congress; Space Force’s Chief of Space Operations has already testified this week before the Senate to justify the agency’s spending needs.
Crew 5 - SpaceX’s Dragon capsule is on a roll! Days after the craft safely dropped Crew-6 off at the ISS, Crew-5 splashed down on Earth. The four-astronaut crew – Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada from NASA, Koichi Wakata from JAXA, and Anna Kikina from Roscosmos – began their mission in October 2022, spending a total of 157 days in orbit. They accomplished a lot in 157 days, from releasing Uganda and Zimbabwe's first satellites to growing dwarf tomatoes (!!), and will hopefully celebrate by sipping a fine glass of champagne, without the worry of it floating into someone else’s mouth.
Space Suits - Great news, fashionistas: NASA unveiled the highly-anticipated new space suits on Wednesday. Designed by Axiom and intended for 2025’s Artemis 3 astronauts, the new get-ups include a variety of high-tech features to set them apart from the current Apollo-era design. One of those features is a light band along the visor of the helmet to allow astronauts to see while in shadowed portions of the moon or during a night pass in LEO. There’s also an HD video camera (get ready for moon-TikTok to blow up) and what’s “affectionately known as” the backpack, a life support system A.K.A. a “fancy scuba tank and air conditioner.”
We DO Know When the Volcano Blow - Mad that Fire of Love didn’t win the Oscar last Sunday? This should cheer you up. Scientists have just uncovered the most convincing evidence to date of Venus’s volcanism. For half a century, the planetary science community has believed in the presence of erupting volcanoes on Venus, but the planet’s opaque atmosphere made it nearly impossible to confirm. Finally, scientist Robert Herrick found a smoking gun. Tired of waiting for two radar-equipped crafts scheduled to provide high-resolution imagery of the planet in the 2030s, Herrick went back to the archives – data from a 1991 NASA spacecraft called Magellan – and found a measurable landscape shift almost certainly caused by a lava eruption, in what was previously considered inconclusive imagery.
The JWST Download
Hitting the JWST like a cosmic blast, this star is about to go supernova (girl).
It’s not a competition, but if it was the JWST has officially blown the Hubble out of the water.
Astronomers could discover more about the early days of the universe from this newly discovered quiescent galaxy.
A Global Space
Japan - Another (expensive) failed launch leaves JAXA scrambling. After an aborted launch last month, Japan’s second attempt with their flagship H3 rocket failed last week, not only severely damaging the rocket but also destroying a three-ton Earth observation satellite. JAXA has since been criticized for including a $200 million satellite - not to mention one that could have helped detect natural disasters - with a test launch in the first place. Given the carnage, a new launch won’t be in the cards any time soon.
Spain - With a goal of becoming the 10th country with space access, Spanish company PLD Space unveils their MIURA 1 flight (named after the country’s bullfighting tradition) at its launch base in Huelva on Saturday. If successful, this would be the first private reusable rocket in Western Europe. While MIURA’s launch date is still to be announced, the nation also introduced a Seville-based Spain Space Agency on March 7th!
United Kingdom - London’s calling…for sustainability, and UK-based Astroscale Ltd. has answered. The company is launching the UK’s first space debris removal mission, the COSMIC mission (Cleaning Outer Space Mission through Innovative Capture), which will utilize the company’s Active Debris Removal servicer to remove two defunct British satellites by 2026. As they say, out with the old and in with the new: London-based OneWeb just executed their 17th successful launch of satellites, putting them one mission away from completing their Gen 1 constellation. The bloody brilliant success stories continue with the UK Space Agency assigning £1.6 million to their “Enabling Space Exploration” fund and plans for an industry hub A.K.A. “Space City” in Leicester.
South Korea - Just a month after Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO), a.k.a Danuri, returned back some stunning views of Earth, South Korea aims to establish a 50-billion-won ($38.5 million) fund by 2027 to support private sector space startups.
Africa - EO Africa’s R&D Facility recently awarded 17 research projects for funding, in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the African Union Commission (AUC). These projects essentially all utilize satellite data to solve challenges in Africa, such as disaster risk reduction, aquatic weed management, desertification pattern mapping, and more.
China - That friend you can always count on to keep a secret, China launched a rocket on Wednesday with an unknown payload. Here’s to welcoming an “Earth observation satellite of unknown purposes” to the sky. Super.
Kazakhstan / Russia - Because of an unsettled debt between two companies, Kazakhstan just impounded a Roscosmos property at the Baikonur spaceport. Kazakh media describes the action as a “ban on the use of resources,” where the Roscosmos-owned company is “prohibited from withdrawing wealth and assets from Kazakhstan.” The spaceport, which Russia has leased from the nation since the fall of the Soviet Union, is an important one, as it’s currently the launchpad for the Soyuz-5 and Russia’s only port to the ISS.
If we’re going to get to space, we’re going to need a lot of help. In our Moonshot section, we’ll share highlights from some of the commercial companies that are taking us there:
The Silicon Valley Bank collapse-heard-round-the-world has had serious consequences for the space industry. As a bank of choice for many tech startups, SVB provided loans to Astra, Planet, Redwire and Rocket Lab, which has (had?) a total of $38 million with the bank. While most established space companies will be saved by their insurance policy, newer startups may really struggle. Still, some investors expect space funding to rebound fairly quickly.
Virgin Orbit furloughed nearly all of its employees this week, announcing a pause in operations. After their January mission out of the UK crashed and burned, the company’s stock has steadily slid and they’ve continued to burn cash. They’re expected to provide a more detailed plan of action next week.
People are buzzing about SpaceX’s Starship, which raised excitement back in early February after a successful test. Now, success for the rocket seems much more up in the air…or not. CEO Elon Musk said at a recent Morgan Stanley conference that the rocket’s “got, I don’t know, hopefully a 50 percent chance of reaching orbit” when it launches from South Texas next month. Bloomberg and Forbes have more updates from the interview.
NASA recently awarded Texas-based Firefly Aerospace, Inc. with a new $112 million contract focused on lunar operations.
The world’s first 3D-printed rocket, Terran 1 created by Relativity Space scrubbed its second planned launch day on Saturday, March 11th after three attempts.
Pale Blue, a Japanese company known for using a “green propellant,” successfully tested a water-based engine in orbit.
Another Japanese company, ispace eagerly awaits touchdown of its first moon lander as it grows closer to the rocky body this month. The spacecraft launched in December of last year on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, and has since been on a low-energy, fuel-efficient trajectory towards the moon. A planned arrival in April gives ispace a shot at becoming the first private spacecraft to land on the moon, ahead of Astrobotics’ Peregrine Lunar Lander and Intuitive Machine’s NOVA-C which launch later this year.
Axiom has just signed a new plan with NASA to send another private astronaut mission (Ax-3) to the ISS this coming fall.
U.S. startup Lonestar raised $5 million and scheduled their first mission for Q2 of this year, when they plan to deploy small data centers on the moon.
In the U.S. satellite company arena, Sidus Space (US) scored a new contract with NASA to continue collaborating on their Autonomous Satellite Technology for Resilient Applications (ASTRA) project based in Mississippi. Meanwhile, Seattle-based Starfish Space raised $14 million to develop a new type of spacecraft that’s able to hook up to larger satellites.
Voyager Space acquires ZIN Technologies, an engineering company which has worked with NASA for over 50 years. This is the largest of the seven acquisitions Voyager Space has made since January 2020.
Can’t get enough stellar content? Here are some pieces of space-adjacent news we’ve been reading:
Curious about the dark side of the moon? A few years from now, scientists plan to launch a small radio telescope to peer into the rock’s past.
In case you missed Celestial Citizen’s interview with Dr. Erika Nesvold, here’s another rave review of her book Off Earth: Ethical Questions and Quandaries for Living in Outer Space.
Still struggling to devise the perfect (or even just passable) salad? Good news is: you don’t have to! Scientists have done it for you. Read about the “space salad” designed with ingredients that can be grown on a spacecraft and are nutritious enough for astronauts in deep space.
Should we be worried about Orion’s “wonky” heat shield?
A recent discovery on a distant baby star could give astronomers new insight into the origins of Earth’s water, as well as life elsewhere in the universe.
Here we are, meeting again at the end of another newsletter. What was your favorite piece of space news from the week? Bonus points if you count up the number of movie references in this week’s newsletter and comment below - and you might even get a shoutout on the next Continuum podcast!
A big thank you to Tess Ryan for writing this edition with me (everyone welcome Tess to the CC fam!) and Evan Yee for editing support! We hope you enjoyed reading Continuum this week and will share it with your friends. And if you really, really like us, then consider becoming a paid subscriber or gifting a subscription to someone who you’d jump into a Venusian volcano with (I can think of two people…you know who you are). Until next time…
Keep it celestial people,
CEO of Celestial Citizen & Creator of Continuum
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