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GeekWire

Kymeta and OneWeb move ahead with satellite terminals

Kymeta Corp., the antenna venture backed by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, has signed onto a joint development agreement with OneWeb to develop a flat-panel user terminal for OneWeb’s global satellite internet network.

The plan calls for modifying Kymeta’s u8 antenna system for fixed-terminal applications on land, with an eye toward supporting additional applications including mobile service in land-based and maritime settings.

Today’s announcement comes just weeks after Redmond, Wash.-based Kymeta and OneWeb reported a successful test of Kymeta’s u8 technology, which takes advantage of an exotic category of electronics known as metamaterials. The technology makes it possible to “steer” an antenna electronically rather than physically moving it.

OneWeb is one of several ventures that is creating satellite constellations in low Earth orbit, or LEO, to broaden access to broadband internet service. SpaceX’s Starlink service is furthest along, but OneWeb is planning to begin limited service in the Arctic within the next few months. The plan calls for Kymeta’s terminals to enter the market as an option by the third quarter of 2022.

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GeekWire

Rocket Lab launches two satellites for BlackSky

BlackSky’s Earth-watching constellation has grown by two satellites, thanks to Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle and Seattle-based Spaceflight Inc.’s logistical help.

Rocket Lab’s previous BlackSky launch ended in failure back in May, but the launch team traced the problem to a computer glitch that was corrected. This week’s mission, nicknamed “Love at First Insight,” went much more smoothly. It was the 22nd Rocket Lab launch, and the fifth since the start of the year.

The two-stage rocket rose from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula at 2:38 p.m. local time Nov. 18 (5:48 p.m. PT Nov. 17), successfully deploying BlackSky’s eighth and ninth satellite about an hour later.

“Perfect flight by the team,” Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck tweeted.

“Another great launch in the books,” Spaceflight Inc., which handled mission management and integration services for BlackSky’s satellites, said in a tweet.

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Cosmic Space

Russian anti-satellite test creates space station hazard

A Russian anti-satellite test sparked an orbital-debris emergency aboard the International Space Station today, followed by sharp protests from NASA’s administrator and other U.S. officials.

The incident, which involved the deliberate destruction of an obsolete Russian spy satellite known as Cosmos 1408, is likely to spur renewed debate over military rules of engagement in space and the nature of Russian (and Chinese) anti-satellite maneuvers.

The U.S. Space Command said Russia struck the one-ton satellite with a direct-ascent, anti-satellite missile, breaking it into more than 1,500 pieces of trackable orbital debris and what’s thought to be hundreds of thousands of smaller bits.

“The debris created by Russia’s DA-ASAT will continue to pose a threat to activities in outer space for years to come, putting satellites and space missions at risk, as well as forcing more collision avoidance maneuvers,” U.S. Army Gen. James Dickinson, commander of the Space Command, said in a news release. “Space activities underpin our way of life, and this kind of behavior is simply irresponsible.”

The trajectories for the debris cloud and the International Space Station come close to each other every 90 minutes, and that required the space station’s seven crew members to take cover today.

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GeekWire

BlackSky strikes a satellite data deal with NASA

BlackSky Technology says it has secured a five-year, sole-source blanket purchase agreement with NASA for the use of high-revisit satellite imaging data in support of the space agency’s Earth observation research.

The agreement announced today is part of NASA’s Commercial Smallsat Data Acquisition Program, or CSDAP. It will give researchers access to frequently updated high-resolution imagery via BlackSky’s Spectra AI geospatial data platform.

Spectra AI makes use of imagery from BlackSky’s on-demand satellite constellation as well as other sources to provide global real-time environmental monitoring. BlackSky’s satellites are manufactured in Tukwila, Wash., by LeoStella, the Virginia-based company’s joint venture with Thales Alenia Space.

BlackSky traces its lineage back to Seattle-based Spaceflight Industries, which sold off Spaceflight Inc. for an undisclosed price in 2020 and adopted the BlackSky corporate brand. In September, BlackSky went public through a blank-check merger with Osprey Technology Acquisition Corp. that provided $283 million in cash. More than 50 of BlackSky’s 200-plus employees are based in the Seattle area.

In a news release, BlackSky CEO Brian O’Toole said the CSDAP award “reflects yet another valuable point of alignment between government demand and BlackSky’s commercially available real-time, global intelligence products.”

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GeekWire

Astra Space joins the satellite broadband race

Make room for yet another competitor in the market to provide broadband internet access from low Earth orbit: Astra Space, the venture that went public with a helping hand from Seattle-area telecom pioneer Craig McCaw, is asking the Federal Communications Commission for authorization to launch as many as 13,620 bit-beaming satellites.

In today’s filing, a subsidiary known as Astra Space Platform Services says its V-band constellation would “bring new opportunities for reliable, high-speed communications services to select enterprise, government and institutional users and partners around the globe.”

California-based Astra is best-known as a launch venture. Last December, it sent a test rocket to space from a launch pad on Alaska’s Kodiak Island and barely missed reaching orbit. Another orbital launch attempt is planned for as early as this month.

Astra said its satellites would be built in-house, and would be launched on Astra’s own rockets. The satellites would be sent into orbital altitudes ranging from 236 to 435 miles (380 to 700 kilometers), and would be equipped with propulsion systems to aid in collision avoidance and post-operational deorbiting.

Potential applications for Astra’s high-bandwidth connectivity would include communications services, environmental and natural resource applications and national security missions.

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GeekWire

Boeing satellite internet cleared for takeoff

The Federal Communications Commission has authorized Boeing to put 147 satellites in orbit for a broadband internet constellation, adding to a list of competitors including Amazon, OneWeb and SpaceX.

Boeing’s constellation was proposed in 2017, but it took four years for the FCC to iron out the technicalities surrounding the plan. Most of the satellites will circle the globe at a height of about 650 miles. Fifteen of them will go into highly inclined orbits at an altitude between 17,000 and 27,500 miles.

To comply with requirements laid out in the FCC’s order, half of the satellites must be launched by 2027, with the rest in place by 2030.

Boeing’s aim is to provide high-speed satellite data services to consumers on a global basis — echoing the goals set for SpaceX’s Starlink service, OneWeb’s constellation and Amazon’s Project Kuiper, among others. SpaceX is currently leading the pack by providing limited service via more than 1,600 satellites. OneWeb is due to begin limited service this winter, and this week, Amazon asked the FCC to authorize the launch of its first two prototype satellites next year.

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GeekWire

Amazon plans first Kuiper satellite launches in 2022

Amazon plans to launch the first two prototype satellites for its Project Kuiper satellite broadband constellation by late 2022, using rockets currently being developed by ABL Space Systems.

The timeline for testing what’s slated to become a 3,236-satellite network in low Earth orbit was laid out today in an experimental license application filed with the Federal Communications Commission. It’s the first time that Amazon has specified launch dates in its multibillion-dollar effort to compete with SpaceX’s Starlink network, which is already in limited operation.

Amazon said the two prototype satellites — KuiperSat-1 and KuiperSat-2 — would serve as a testbed for technologies that it plans to use to offer broadband internet service to tens of millions of people around the globe. The prototypes will also help the company validate procedures on the ground for operating and maintaining the full constellation.

The satellites are being developed at Amazon’s Project Kuiper headquarters in Redmond, Wash. — not far from where SpaceX’s Starlink satellites are built.

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GeekWire

Amazon and Verizon plan satellite cellular services

Amazon’s Project Kuiper and Verizon Communications say they’ll collaborate on connectivity solutions that capitalize on Kuiper’s future broadband satellite constellation as well as Verizon’s terrestrial 4G/LTE and 5G data networks.

The Amazon-Verizon partnership will focus on rural communities and other regions that are currently underserved when it comes to broadband data services, the two companies said today in a news release.

“There are billions of people without reliable broadband access, and no single company will close the digital divide on its own,” Amazon CEO Andy Jassy said. “Verizon is a leader in wireless technology and infrastructure, and we’re proud to be working together to explore bringing fast, reliable broadband to the customers and communities who need it most. We look forward to partnering with companies and organizations around the world who share this commitment.”

Last year, Amazon received the Federal Communications Commission’s conditional go-ahead to deploy 3,236 satellites that would provide broadband internet access across the globe from low Earth orbit, or LEO.

Amazon says it plans to invest more than $10 billion in Project Kuiper — and the company currently has more than 700 employees working on the project, most of them based in Redmond, Wash. Antennas for the ground terminals are being tested in Redmond and elsewhere, but the satellite design hasn’t yet been unveiled.

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GeekWire

How the cloud supports Satellogic’s whole Earth catalog

It’s one thing to send down more than a trillion bytes of satellite data every day, and quite another thing to turn all that data into a complete picture of our planet that’s updated daily.

For the first part of the task, Satellogic — a global company that’s headquartered in Uruguay — turns to a constellation of Earth observation satellites that’s expected to grow from its current 17 spacecraft to more than 300 by 2025.

To help with the processing part of the job, Satellogic turns to Amazon Web Services.

“We’ve built the future together, between Satellogic and AWS,” Clint Crosier, director of AWS Aerospace and Satellite Solutions, told GeekWire. “We’ve enabled them to plan to their goal of being able to image every square kilometer of the Earth every single day.”

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GeekWire

Starfish Space raises $7M to boost satellite servicing

Kent, Wash.-based Starfish Space says it’s raised $7 million to boost its drive to develop a space tug capable of moving objects into different orbits — or sending them down through the atmosphere for safe disposal.

The seed funding round was co-led by NFX and MaC Venture Capital, with participation from PSL Ventures, Boost VC, Liquid2 Ventures and Hypothesis.

Starfish Space was founded in 2019 by Austin Link and Trevor Bennett, two veterans of Jeff Bezos’ Kent-based Blue Origin space venture. The company’s senior roboticist, Ian Heidenberger, also came to the venture from Blue Origin.

The centerpiece of Starfish’s business plan is the Otter space tug, a small satellite that would be capable of capturing and moving other objects in orbit. Such a capability could address two of the emerging challenges in the satellite industry: extending the operating life of large, expensive geostationary spacecraft; and disposing of obsolete spacecraft and other space debris.