Tethers Unlimited’s system provides an affordable path to reducing space debris, which is becoming a problem of greater concern as more small satellites go into orbit. Statistical models suggest that there are nearly a million bits of debris bigger than half an inch (1 centimeter) whizzing in Earth orbit.
Today’s announcement of the transaction’s completion follows up on February’s announcement of the sale for an undisclosed amount. Spaceflight Industries’ other subsidiary, BlackSky Global, isn’t part of the transaction and will continue to operate as a privately held company with offices in Seattle and Herndon, Va.
Spaceflight Industries also has a 50% share in LeoStella, a satellite manufacturing company based in Tukwila, Wash. The other half of that joint venture is owned by Thales Alenia Space, a French-Italian aerospace company.
Mitsui and Yamasa will similarly split ownership of Spaceflight Inc. as a 50-50 joint venture, operating independently with its headquarters remaining in Seattle.
The sale brings a parting of the ways for Spaceflight Inc., which focuses on arranging launch services for rideshare satellites; and BlackSky, which is building a satellite constellation for Earth observation and provides geospatial data analysis tools.
The definitive share purchase agreement, reached with Mitsui & Co. Ltd. in partnership with Yamasa Co. Ltd., will have to be reviewed over the next few months by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to evaluate national security aspects of the acquisition — but the companies expect the deal to be approved by midyear.
Seattle-based Spaceflight says it’s handling the pre-launch logistics for a Japanese satellite that’s designed to spray artificial shooting stars into the sky.
Tokyo-based ALE’s spacecraft is just one of seven satellites due to be sent into orbit from New Zealand as early as Nov. 25, aboard a Rocket Lab Electron launch vehicle.
It’ll be the 10th Electron launch, earning the nickname “Running Out of Fingers.” It’ll also be the first launch to test the guidance and navigation hardware as well as the sensors that Rocket Lab will eventually use to help make the Electron’s first stage recoverable.
No recovery will be attempted during this mission.
The shooting-star satellite, ALE-2, is already making headlines in New Zealand. It’s designed to release particles from its sun-synchronous orbit below the International Space Station’s altitude, according to a timed schedule. When the particles re-enter Earth’s atmosphere, they’re supposed to burn up and create the appearance of meteors as seen from the ground.
In addition to the entertainment factor, ALE says scientists participating in the Sky Canvas project will be able to study the path of the particles during re-entry. That could lead to more accurate predictions of the path of satellites during orbital decay, and perhaps contribute to studies of weather and climate change.
“This launch gets us much closer to realizing the world’s first man-made shooting star,” ALE’s CEO, Lena Okajima, said in a news release. “We really appreciate Spaceflight`s support and attention to our mission, and we’re honored to take this big step with them.”
Three weeks after announcing that it’s getting into the rideshare market for launching small satellites, SpaceX slashed its prices by more than half – and said it’ll be offering rideshare opportunities on its Starlink broadband satellite launches as often as once a month.
Today’s moves suggest that SpaceX is amping up its effort to get in on the small-satellite launch market, using a strategy pioneered by Seattle-based Spaceflight.
Seattle-based Spaceflight says it’s purchased the first commercial launch of India’s next-generation Small Satellite Launch Vehicle, or SSLV, and has already committed all of the available payload space to a U.S.-based satellite constellation customer.
The deal, announced today in conjunction with the annual SmallSat conference in Logan, Utah, builds on Spaceflight’s existing relationship with the Indian Space Research Organization and India-based commercial ventures.
ISRO developed the SSLV with a payload capacity of 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) to mid-inclination low Earth orbit, or LEO, and 300 kilograms (660 pounds) to sun-synchronous orbit. That’s more suited for launching small satellites than India’s workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, or PSLV, which can put 1,100 to 1,600 kilograms (2,425 to 3,500 pounds) into sun-synchronous orbit and has served as a go-to rocket for Spaceflight.
The SSLV launch was purchased from New Space India Limited, or NSIL, and is due for liftoff from India’s Satish Dhawan Space Center later this year.
Seattle-based Spaceflight has made a name for itself by putting together bunches of small satellites for launch on someone else’s rockets, but now the owners of some of those rockets are aiming to take the business for themselves.
On the plus side, Spaceflight announced that it’s getting ready for the second of several rideshare launches from New Zealand on Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket. The mission, dubbed “Look Ma, No Hands,” is due to put three satellites into orbit for Spaceflight’s customers during a launch opportunity that opens Aug. 16.
Rocket Lab executed a picture-perfect first launch for Seattle’s Spaceflight Inc., putting BlackSky’s Global-3 Earth-observing satellite and six other small spacecraft into orbit from its New Zealand launch pad.
The Los Angeles-based launch company nicknamed today’s mission “Make It Rain,” in honor of Spaceflight and its allegedly drizzly home base.
In contrast to the nickname, the weather was crystal-clear and sunny for liftoff at 4:30 p.m. June 29 New Zealand time (9:30 p.m. PT June 28) from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula. The launch had been delayed twice this week, just to make sure all systems were go, but today’s countdown was trouble-free.
The ascent of Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket looked trouble-free as well. After the first two stages did their job, the rocket’s kick stage entered what Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck called a “perfect transfer orbit” in preparation for satellite deployment.