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GeekWire

FTC blocks Lockheed Martin’s $4.4B deal with Aerojet

The Federal Trade Commission has filed a lawsuit to block Lockheed Martin’s $4.4 billion acquisition of Aerojet Rocketdyne, saying that the deal would “give Lockheed the ability to cut off other defense contractors from the critical components they need to build competing missiles.”

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GeekWire

NASA puts 12 companies on its latest launch list

NASA has chosen a dozen companies to provide commercial launch services for relatively small-scale space missions over the next five years, including two ventures with Washington state connections.

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture and Seattle-based Spaceflight Inc. will be eligible for shares of the $300 million that’s been set aside for fixed-price contracts under a program known as NASA’s Venture-Class Acquisition of Dedicated and Rideshare Missions, or VADR.

Although Blue Origin’s corporate headquarters are in Kent, Wash., NASA is listing Blue Origin Florida as one of its VADR choices. That reflects the fact that orbital launches would be conducted from Florida using the company’s New Glenn rocket, which is still under development. Spaceflight Inc., meanwhile, specializes in organizing rideshare missions that make use of other companies’ rockets.

VADR is a successor to NASA’s Venture Class Launch Services program, and focuses on launching payloads ranging from CubeSats no bigger than a shoebox to somewhat larger spacecraft that are built for risk-tolerant Class D missions.

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GeekWire

Blue Origin to acquire pioneering space robotics company

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture has struck a deal to acquire Honeybee Robotics, a trailblazer in the business of building specialized tools for space probes.

The deal with Honeybee’s parent organization, Ensign-Bickford Industries, is expected to close in mid-February. Financial terms were not disclosed. EBI has owned Honeybee since 2017.

Honeybee said it would become a wholly owned subsidiary of Bezos’ privately held company — which is headquartered in Kent, Wash. — but would continue with “business as usual,” with major operations based in Colorado and California.

Founded in 1983, Honeybee has delivered more than 1,000 advanced projects to customers in fields ranging from defense robotics and medical devices to mining and Mars exploration. It built the rock abrasion tools for NASA’s Opportunity and Spirit rovers on Mars, and the drills for the Curiosity and Perseverance rovers.

In the years ahead, Honeybee’s sampling hardware is due to be flown to the moon in support of NASA’s Artemis program — and to Titan, a smog-covered moon of Saturn, as part of the Dragonfly mission.

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GeekWire

Xplore makes a deal to use OrbAstro’s satellite platforms

Redmond, Wash.-based Xplore has signed a contract with Orbital Astronautics Ltd. to use its standardized satellite platform for a variety of missions, starting with a space imaging mission that’s due for launch as early as this year.

The debut mission will fly hyperspectral and high-resolution video payloads built by Xplore. “This mission will provide two of our services: data as a service, and sensors as a service,” Lisa Rich, Xplore’s founder and chief operating officer, told me in an email.

Rich said the onboard imagers will make Earth observations as well as astronomical observations from low Earth orbit. She said Xplore has procured a launch reservation but isn’t yet ready to identify the launch provider.

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GeekWire

Webb Telescope reaches its final destination

The $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope successfully fired its thrusters today to put it in position at the destination where it’s expected to probe the mysteries of the universe for years to come.

The nearly five-minute firing at 11 a.m. PT sent JWST into its prescribed orbit around a balance point known as L2, a million miles beyond Earth. It’s a point where the gravitational pulls of the sun and the Earth align to keep spacecraft in a relatively stable position, minimizing the need for course corrections.

Today’s maneuver came 30 days after the telescope’s Christmas launch from the European Arianespace consortium’s spaceport in French Guiana. NASA is playing the lead role in the project, in partnership with the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

“Webb, welcome home!” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement. “Congratulations to the team for all of their hard work ensuring Webb’s safe arrival at L2 today. We’re one step closer to uncovering the mysteries of the universe. And I can’t wait to see Webb’s first new views of the universe this summer!”

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GeekWire

NASA gives a lift to 57 student experiments

NASA has chosen 57 winning teams — including a team from Interlake High School in Bellevue, Wash.— to receive funding to build and fly experiments focusing on subjects ranging from lunar dust mitigation to inkjet printing in zero gravity.

Interlake’s team will focus on a more down-to-Earth scientific question: how pollution levels are correlated with altitude.

The prizes were awarded through NASA’s first-ever TechRise Student Challenge, which aims to give students in grades 6 through 12 an opportunity for real-world experience in designing and executing autonomously operated experiments. The program, administered by Future Engineers, attracted entries from nearly 600 teams representing 5,000 students nationwide.

“At NASA, we educate and inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers, and explorers,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said today in a news release. “The TechRise Student Challenge is an excellent way for students to get hands-on experience designing, building, and launching experiments on suborbital vehicles. … I can’t wait to see these incredible experiments come to life.”

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Universe Today

Tom Cruise movie’s producers plan space studio

The production company that’s playing a key role in a space movie project involving Tom Cruise says it’s working with Axiom Space to add a sports and entertainment facility to the International Space Station by the end of 2024.

The inflatable module, known as SEE-1, would be built by Axiom for Space Entertainment Enterprise and attached to the commercial complex that Axiom is already planning to put on the space station, SEE said today in a news release.

The facility would provide a studio for film, TV and music production as well as a space for performances and sports events. “SEE-1 is an incredible opportunity for humanity to move into a different realm and start an exciting new chapter in space,” said SEE’s co-founders, Dmitry and Elena Lesnevsky.

Dmitry Lesnevsky made his name in Russia as a film/TV producer, publisher and a co-founder of REN TV, but SEE is based in London. The Lesnevskys are listed among the producers of the unnamed Tom Cruise space film project, which has the support of SpaceX and NASA. (SpaceX founder Elon Musk is listed as a producer as well.)

Axiom Space, which has struck a deal with SpaceX to send its first customers on a visit to space station later this year, is expected to facilitate the Tom Cruise project, but the timing for that project has not been announced. It’s not yet clear whether the Tom Cruise project would make use of SEE-1.

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GeekWire

Radian raises $27.5 million for orbital space plane

More than five years after its founding, Renton, Wash.-based Radian Aerospace is emerging from stealth mode and reporting a $27.5 million seed funding round to support its plans to build an orbital space plane.

The round was led by Boston-based Fine Structure Ventures, with additional funding from EXOR, The Venture Collective, Helios Capital, SpaceFund, Gaingels, The Private Shares Fund, Explorer 1 Fund, Type One Ventures and other investors.

Radian has previously brought in pre-seed investments, but the newly announced funding should accelerate its progress.

One of the company’s investors and strategic advisers, former Lockheed Martin executive Doug Greenlaw, said Radian was going after the “Holy Grail” of space access with a fully reusable system that would provide for single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) launches.

It’ll take much more than $27.5 million to grab the grail: In the late 1990s, NASA spent nearly a billion dollars on Lockheed Martin’s X-33 single-stage-to-orbit concept before the project was canceled in 2001. But Radian’s executives argue that technological advances have now brought the SSTO vision within reach.

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GeekWire

IPO brings in $287.5M to spend on space ventures

A blank-check company that has former Blue Origin President Rob Meyerson as its CEO has completed a $287.5 million initial public offering, furthering its plans to link up with ventures focusing on space, cybersecurity and energy innovation.

C5 Acquisition Corp. closed the IPO with the sale of 28.75 million units at $10 per unit, which was 3.75 million units above the original allotment for sale. Those units are now listed as CXAC.U on the New York Stock Exchange, and common stock is expected to be listed as CXAC.

Blank-check companies — formally known as special-purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs — use their capital to pursue mergers or other types of business combinations with ventures in targeted industry segments.

The strategy typically accelerates the process of going public, and it’s been used with a growing number of space ventures, including Virgin Galactic, Virgin Orbit, Rocket Lab, BlackSky and Astra. Seattle-area telecom pioneer Craig McCaw played a key role in the SPAC deal involving Astra, which set that company’s value at $2.1 billion.

In a news release, C5 Acquisition Corp. said it would look for deals related to national security concerns.

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GeekWire

Mangata raises $33M for hybrid satellite constellation

BELLEVUE, Wash. — Mangata Networks, a Phoenix-based startup with links to the Seattle area, has closed a $33 million investment round for an innovative kind of satellite constellation for connectivity and edge computing.

The company received its initial seed financing in 2020 from Bellevue-based Intellectual Ventures’ Invention Science Fund, which was backed by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and IV’s co-founder, Nathan Myhrvold. Since then, that investment fund has morphed into a Bay Area venture capital fund known as MetaVC Partners or Meta Venture Partners.

The idea behind Mangata Networks is to create an Earth-orbiting constellation with some satellites in highly elliptical orbit, or HEO, plus others in medium Earth orbit, or MEO. Those satellites would optimize connectivity with an Earth-based system of MangataEdge micro data centers, extending the power of cloud computing to edge networks that would be close to network users.

The newly announced Series A round was led by Playground Global, which previously led Relativity Space’s $35 million Series B round in 2018. Other investors include Temasek, KTSat, Scottish Enterprise and Promus Ventures.

“We are out to change the world, and that requires visionary investors and partners,” Mangata CEO Brian Holz said today in a news release. “These investors, whose intercontinental representation reflects our own global mission, are championing a new evolution in human connectivity.”

Mangata aims to start deploying ground-based community networks as early as 2023, even before its first satellites are launched. That will give the company a chance to test connectivity for 5G, IoT and Wi-Fi networks at the 5G Open Innovation Lab in Bellevue as well as at other trial sites in South Korea and Scotland. (NASA, Intel and T-Mobile created the 5G Open Innovation Lab in 2020.)