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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

Weeks after Blue Origin trip, spaceflier dies in plane crash

A month after taking a suborbital space trip alongside Star Trek actor William Shatner, medical-technology entrepreneur Glen de Vries has died in a New Jersey small-plane crash.

New Jersey State Police identified de Vries, 49, as one of two people killed on Thursday when their single-engine Cessna 172 went down in a wooded area shortly after takeoff from Caldwell, N.J. The other fatality was Thomas P. Fisher, 54, NJ.com quoted authorities as saying.

De Vries was the co-founder of Medidata Solutions, a medical software company that was acquired by Dassault Systemes in 2019 for $5.8 billion. He bought a ticket for an undisclosed price from Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture to go on the company’s second crewed suborbital spaceflight in October – and trained alongside Shatner as well as Planet Labs co-founder Chris Boshuizen and Blue Origin executive Audrey Powers.

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Universe Today

NASA’s first Artemis moon landing slips to 2025

NASA has pushed back the timetable for landing astronauts on the moon for the first time in more than a half-century from 2024 to no earlier than 2025.

Blue Origin’s unsuccessful legal challenge to a $2.9 billion lunar lander contract awarded to SpaceX was one of the factors behind the delay in the Artemis moon program, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said during a Nov. 9 teleconference.

Nelson also pointed to Congress’ previous decisions not to fund the lander program as fully as NASA wanted, plus delays forced by the COVID-19 pandemic and the fact that “the Trump administration target of a 2024 human landing was not grounded in technical feasibility.”

“After having taken a good look under the hood these past six months, it’s clear to me that the agency will need to make serious changes for the long-term success of the program,” he told reporters.

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GeekWire

Blue Origin practices with simulated orbital rocket

It’ll be at least another year before Blue Origin’s orbital-class New Glenn rocket gets its first launch, but Jeff Bezos’ space venture has brought out a dummy version of New Glenn’s first stage to practice for that eventual countdown.

The 188-foot-long, 23-foot-wide simulator emerged from Blue Origin’s rocket factory in Florida last week.

In a series of tweets, the company said the GS1 simulator would “enable the team to practice ground ops for New Glenn’s massive first stage, including the transport from the rocket manufacturing complex to LC-36 for integration.”

“While not destined for flight, this hardware is giving our team invaluable data to inform future launch vehicle operations,” Blue Origin said.

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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

A win for SpaceX: Blue Origin loses lunar lander lawsuit

A federal judge today rejected Blue Origin’s challenge to a $2.9 billion contract that NASA awarded to SpaceX for building the lunar lander destined to carry astronauts to the moon.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ space venture had argued that NASA gave overly wide leeway to SpaceX in advance of the contract award in April — but Judge Richard Hertling of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims rejected Blue Origin’s arguments. His opinion was sealed, pending a Nov. 18 conference to discuss which details needed to be redacted for competitive reasons.

In a statement, NASA said that it would resume work with SpaceX under the terms of the contract “as soon as possible.”

Bezos tweeted that today’s ruling was “not the decision we wanted, but we respect the court’s judgment, and wish full success for NASA and SpaceX on the contract.”

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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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Cosmic Space

Astronomers detect first hints of extragalactic planet

A blip recorded by the NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory has pointed astronomers to what might be the first planet detected passing across a star in a galaxy beyond our own — but we may not know for sure anytime soon.

The observation of an X-ray transit in the spiral galaxy M51, about 28 million light-years away in the northern constellation Canes Venatici, is reported in the journal Nature Astronomy.

Even if the detection of a planet in M51 goes unconfirmed, the Chandra observations demonstrate that X-ray transits could become a new method for tracking planets far beyond our solar system.

“We are trying to open up a whole new arena for finding other worlds by searching for planet candidates at X-ray wavelengths, a strategy that makes it possible to discover them in other galaxies,” Rosanne Di Stefano of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, lead author of the newly published study, said in a news release.

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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

Blue Origin leads team for ‘Orbital Reef’ space outpost

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture is joining forces with Colorado-based Sierra Space and a host of other partners, including Boeing, to propose building a space-based “mixed-use business park” called Orbital Reef.

The plan, announced today at the International Astronautical Congress in Dubai, is among about a dozen proposals being submitted to NASA for a share of development funds under a program aimed at preparing the way for replacing the International Space Station.

If Blue Origin and its partners follow through on the plan, the basic version of Orbital Reef would be in low Earth orbit sometime during the latter half of the 2020s — in time for an orderly transition from ISS operations. That version would include power-generating capability, a core module with picture windows looking down on Earth, a habitat provided by Sierra Space and a Boeing-built science lab.

Blue Origin’s senior vice president of advanced development programs, Brent Sherwood, told me that Orbital Reef would cost “at least an order of magnitude less” than the International Space Station. The development cost for the International Space Station is typically estimated at $100 billion, which would imply a cost in the range of $10 billion for Orbital Reef.