Categories
GeekWire

Antenna venture gets a $30M boost from Korea

Hanwha Systems, a smart-technology company headquartered in South Korea, has agreed to make an $30 million investment in Redmond, Wash.-based Kymeta Corp. — with an eye toward getting a foothold in the market for antennas capable of linking up with satellite constellations in low Earth orbit.

The equity investment deal follows up on an $85 million funding round led by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates in August. Gates has backed Kymeta since its launch as a next-generation antenna venture in 2012.

Kymeta is in the midst of the commercial rollout for its latest connectivity offering, a hybrid cellular-satellite broadband service known as Kymeta Connect.

The service relies on an innovative flat-panel antenna called the u8. Metamaterial-based electronics allow Kymeta’s antenna to lock onto satellites without the need for moving parts.

Kymeta Connect currently takes advantage of satellites in geostationary Earth orbit, or GEO. But its system can be upgraded for compatibility with the broadband satellite constellations that are taking shape in low Earth orbit, or LEO — including OneWeb, SpaceX’s Starlink and Amazon’s future Project Kuiper constellation.

That meshes perfectly with the plans being laid by Hanwha, a global conglomerate involved in industries ranging from telecommunications to aerospace and finance. Hanwha Systems Co. focuses on smart technologies in defense electronics and information infrastructure.

“The objective of our investment in Kymeta is to enter the LEO satellite antenna market early on, and diversify our technology portfolio,” Youn Chul Kim, CEO of Hanwha Systems Co., said in a news release. “With the expertise of HSC’s top-notch defense communication and radar technologies, we are joining hands with this promising U.S. satellite antenna company. All these efforts will further strengthen HSC’s aerospace systems capabilities.”

Categories
GeekWire

FAA rules could smooth the way for drone deliveries

After months of feedback and fine-tuning, the Federal Aviation Administration today issued its final versions of safety rules for drones that fly over people and at night — including the drones that Amazon is developing to make package deliveries.

“The new rules make way for the further integration of drones into our airspace by addressing safety and security concerns,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in a news release. “They get us closer to the day when we will more routinely see drone operations such as the delivery of packages.”

Draft versions of the rules were issued a year ago, kicking off a review period during which the FAA received about 53,000 comments. The final rules take effect in about two months.

Categories
GeekWire

Lockheed Martin acquires Aerojet in $4.4 billion deal

Lockheed Martin has struck a deal to acquire Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings in an all-cash transaction valued at $4.4 billion, the two companies announced today.

The agreement marks the latest combination of space industry heavyweights, following Northrop Grumman’s $7.8 billion acquisition of Orbital ATK in 2017.

It also marks a change of ownership for Aerojet’s space propulsion facility in Redmond, Wash., one of the Seattle area’s longest-running space ventures.

Categories
GeekWire

How Amazon’s cloud and satellite ventures mesh

Amazon Web Services and the Project Kuiper satellite internet venture may be separate domains of Jeff Bezos’ business empire, but even Amazon’s executives admit there’s a lot of potential for synergy.

That’s one reason why the prospects for Project Kuiper shouldn’t be underestimated, even though Amazon is lagging behind SpaceX and OneWeb in the commercial satellite space race.

Project Kuiper announced last year that it intends to put 3,236 satellites into low Earth orbit, creating a constellation that would provide broadband internet access to the billions of people around the world who lack high-speed connections.

“Access to broadband is going to be very close to being a fundamental human need as we move forward. … It’s also a very good business for Amazon,” CEO Jeff Bezos said at last year’s re:MARS conference.

Categories
GeekWire

NASA puts Blue Origin’s big rocket on its wish list

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture hasn’t yet finished its orbital-class New Glenn rocket, but today NASA put it on the “on-ramp” for future missions.

The NASA Launch Services II contract, or NLS II for short, essentially puts New Glenn on the list of options available for ordering through June 2025, with an overall period of performance through 2027. As described in a NASA news release, NLS II is a contracting vehicle that can cover multiple suppliers and multiple awards on the basis of indefinite delivery and indefinite quantity.

NLS II contractors must be able to use a domestic launch service to deliver payloads weighing a minimum of 551 pounds (250 kilograms) to a 124-mile (200-kilometer) orbit at an inclination of 28.5 degrees, which matches Cape Canaveral Space Force Station’s coordinates. Such contractors include United Launch Alliance for the Atlas 5 rocket, SpaceX for the Falcon 9, and Northrop Grumman for the Antares.

Categories
GeekWire

Amazon’s Project Kuiper shows off satellite antennas

Amazon’s Project Kuiper hasn’t yet said when it’ll start launching satellites or providing broadband internet access from above, but it is sharing details about how customers will get their data.

The $10 billion project, which aims to put more than 3,200 satellites into low Earth orbit, will use an innovative type of phased-array antenna that overlays one set of tiny elements on top of another set, Amazon said today in a blog posting. “This has never been accomplished in the Ka-band,” the company said.

Amazon says the innovation should result in a lightweight, low-cost customer terminal with an antenna that’s only 12 inches (30 centimeters) wide. The hardware is being developed primarily at Project Kuiper’s research and development facility in Redmond, Wash.

“If you want to make a difference for unserved and underserved communities, you need to deliver service at a price that makes sense for customers,” said Rajeev Badyal, vice president of technology for Project Kuiper at Amazon. “This simple fact inspired one of our key tenets for Kuiper: to invent a light, compact phased-array antenna that would allow us to produce an affordable customer terminal.”

Categories
GeekWire

How to fold origami into a rocket ship’s tanks

Build a better fuel tank, and the space industry will beat a path to your door. At least that’s what Washington State University researchers are hoping after they harnessed the ancient art of origami to develop a foldable fuel bladder that stands up to cryogenic temperatures.

Graduate student Kjell Westra, engineering professor Jake Leachman and their colleagues at WSU’s Hydrogen Properties for Energy Research Laboratory, or HYPER Lab, describe their design in the journal Cryogenics. Their research addresses a longstanding challenge in rocket science: How can you store and pump super-chilled propellants like liquid hydrogen more efficiently?

“Folks have been trying to make bags for rocket fuel for a long time,” Leachman said today in a news release. “We currently don’t do large, long-duration trips because we can’t store fuel long enough in space.”

Categories
GeekWire

Self-driving tractors: Next frontier for Boeing’s ex-CEO

It’s been almost a year since Boeing fired CEO Dennis Muilenburg over his handling of the 737 MAX crisis, but now he’s found a new role in the manufacturing industry — as an investor and adviser at a company building self-driving electric tractors.

California-based Monarch Tractor says Muilenburg, who grew up on a farm in Iowa and served as a Boeing engineer and executive for more than 30 years, will bring his experience in the aerospace world to agricultural technology.

“Monarch is at the perfect intersection of my experience paths,” Muilenburg said in a news release.

The company unveiled its “driver optional” tractor just last week. The electric vehicle is designed to perform pre-programmed tasks in farm fields, but also will be capable of being driven either remotely or in the cab. The first tractors are due to be shipped in the fall of 2021, at a starting price of $50,000.

Categories
GeekWire

NASA names ‘Artemis Team’ for future moon trips

NASA today named the first 18 astronauts of its “Artemis Team” for missions to the moon — and two of the teammates trace their roots to Washington state.

One of the pair, Anne McClain, was born in Spokane and went on to serve a six-month stint aboard the International Space Station in 2018-2019. She took on two spacewalks during her time in orbit, but because of a flap over spacesuit sizes, she narrowly missed out on being part of a high-profile, all-woman spacewalk.

Now she has another chance at making history, as one of the candidates to become the first woman to set foot on the moon.

She played down the gender angle during a news briefing today.

“When I was up on space station, we never even thought about genders or races or religions — or nationalities, even — until somebody asked us about them,” McClain said through a mask that she wore to counter the COVID-19 pandemic. “So it has actually made us reflect on the reasons, and my takeaway is that the strongest teams are the most diverse teams.”

The other woman on the team with Washington state roots is Kayla Barron, who considers Richland her hometown and was named to the astronaut corps in 2017. She hasn’t yet been in space, but she has experience with living in close quarters by virtue of her service as a Navy submarine warfare officer.

Barron also has another connection to the Seattle tech community: She earned her master’s degree in nuclear engineering at the University of Cambridge, thanks to a scholarship funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The first Artemis astronauts were introduced by Vice President Mike Pence during a meeting of the National Space Council, held today at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

Categories
GeekWire

SpaceX’s Starship flight ends with a bang — and bravos

SpaceX put its Starship super-rocket through its first high-altitude test today — and although the flight ended in a fiery crash, the performance was impressive enough to draw congratulations from Jeff Bezos, who’s locked in a multibillion-dollar rivalry with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

“Anybody who knows how hard this stuff is is impressed by today’s Starship test,” Bezos, who’s the CEO of Amazon and the founder of the Blue Origin space venture, said in an Instagram post. “Big congrats to the whole SpaceX team. I’m confident they’ll be back at it soon.”