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(14 August 2020 – Exolaunch) Exolaunch has signed a wide-ranging MOU with Germany-based launch service provider, Rocket Factory Augsburg (RFA), to provide end-to-end launch services for small satellites, with Exolaunch procuring launch capacities from RFA.

“Exolaunch and Rocket Factory share a common mission that places the customer at the center of every launch service experience,” said Jeanne Medvedeva, Commercial Director at Exolaunch. “The agreement between our companies not only expands access to commercial space opportunities, but also reinforces Germany’s leadership position in the space industry in Europe and beyond.”

Exolaunch is the European leader in providing launch services, mission management, and small satellite deployment systems whose customers include startups, universities, scientific institutions, and space agencies from around the world. Since 2017, Exolaunch has helped launch nearly 100 small satellites into orbit, with 50 more small satellites to be launched before the end of 2020.

(courtesy: Rocket Factory Augsburg)

Rocket Factory, a start-up backed by the German satellite maker OHB as a strategic investor and Venture Capital firm Apollo Capital Partners, currently is developing a launcher system called RFA One for small satellites with a payload performance of up to 300kg to low earth orbit (LEO). The first launch is scheduled for 2022. The company recently qualified the upper stage tank system during cryogenic tests and currently is preparing hot-fire tests of the main engine in Esrange, Sweden.

“RFA is looking forward to launching the first RFA One vehicle, using separation and payload deployment systems supplied by Exolaunch. We are optimistic that this partnership will generate a win-win situation for all parties involved, in particular our customers.” said Dr Stefan Brieschenk, Chief Operations Officer at RFA. “This marks the beginning of a new era, where the space domain is transformed into a commercial market in Europe”.

Jörn Spurmann, Chief Commercial Officer at RFA, added, “I am excited about joint missions together with Exolaunch. They lead the market in our target segment and share the same spirit: providing first-class launch services at most affordable prices and outstanding quality, in-time without delays.”

RFA is at the forefront of the global new-space launch vehicle development, with its state-of-the-art staged-combustion engine technology. This high-performance engine technology, coupled to lowest-possible-cost production techniques, is essentially new to Europe, and through the support of OHB, RFA managed to acquire key technologies and key talent that will propel the business case of the RFA One launch vehicle to allow it to compete on a global scale. Recent firing tests have demonstrated that RFA is on a winning path to resolve Europe’s most efficient and most powerful rocket engine technology. Recently, RFA won the first round of the German micro-launcher competition of the German Space Agency DLR, which granted RFA with a letter of support to receive 500.000 € of funding within ESA’s C-STS programme. In the next round of the competition, DLR and ESA will award a launch contract worth 11.000.000 € for institutional payloads.

About Exolaunch

Exolaunch is a rideshare launch and deployment solution provider offering regular access to space for small satellites. Its flight heritage includes the successful deployment of nearly 100 small satellites into orbit, in cooperation with launch vehicle providers worldwide. Exolaunch enables the visions of the New Space leaders, world’s most ambitious startups, research institutions, governmental organizations and space agencies. The company also designs and manufactures in-house flight-proven advanced separation systems: 12U/16U EXOpod cubesat deployers, CarboNIX shock-free separation system for microsatellites, EXObox deployment sequencers and ESPA ring multi-port adapters to deliver the best-in class integration services and deployment into orbit for small satellites.

About RFA

Since its foundation in August 2018, RFA established a team of 70 (as of August 2020) New Space veterans from 20 different nationalities having a demonstrated track record from previous small launcher projects. An own turbopump prototype was developed from scratch and has undergone first successful tests mid-2019. The Upper stage tank qualification under cryogenic conditions was successfully conducted beginning 2020. At the same time an engine test site is being implemented in Sweden, which will host the hot-fire test of the RFA staged combustion engine from September 2020 onwards. On top, the avionics system test readiness will be given by fall 2020 and RFA will be happy to report about first successful hardware in the loop test results. All system developments being executed in parallel, RFA is happy to present the status of the upcoming integrated stage test next the year.

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Series C funding for ICEYE to continue conquering boundaries in radar satellite imaging

Series C funding for ICEYE to continue conquering boundaries in

(22 September 2020 – ICEYE) ICEYE today announced the closing of a larger than planned $87M Series C funding, led by return investor True Ventures, with a significant additional investment by OTB Ventures.

ICEYE has so far successfully launched 5 satellite missions, starting with the first ever small SAR satellite launched in January 2018. The company is launching 4 additional SAR satellites this year and is on course to launch at least an additional 8 in 2021. This will grow the existing operational constellation into a capability that is unique in the World. To date, ICEYE has raised a total of $152M in financing.

An artist’s depiction of two ICEYE SAR satellites in orbit. (courtesy: ICEYE)

“ICEYE is enabling others to solve immeasurably difficult problems that affect the lives of millions of people around the world. Our team has built a reputation of delivering results to our customers with unmatched timelines and quality of service. We are proud of that reputation, and we intend to maintain it,” said Rafal Modrzewski, CEO and Co-founder of ICEYE. “This round of investment ensures our SAR satellite constellation will reach a size of at least 12 satellites in 2021, guaranteeing 4 times a day revisit rate globally.”

ICEYE designs, manufactures and operates its SAR satellites in-house, with manufacturing timelines brought down to months for its spacecraft. Since the successful January 2018 launch of the first ICEYE SAR satellite, the company has delivered SAR imaging services and new capabilities to global customers. These years of operation have included many world-first achievements for small SAR satellites, such as 0.25 meter resolution data and SAR video. Recently, ICEYE has demonstrated record time data deliveries of 5 minutes from the start of data downlink to having processed images available on customer systems.

ICEYE intends to use this financing round to continue accelerating the growth of its SAR satellite constellation with more spacecraft, increasing data availability for all continents through 24/7 customer operations, continuing the development of ground-breaking radar imaging capabilities, and for establishing spacecraft manufacturing in the US. The financing round is significantly larger than originally planned, which is especially noteworthy during the economically turbulent year of 2020. It is a powerful sign of trust from the financial community that ICEYE’s business and operational model works, and that the organization is accelerating towards further global impact.

Given the unprecedented frequency and scale of climate driven changes in the weather, crop patterns, fires, urban living and human activities, there is a critical immediate need for real-time information and data access on a global scale. This access can be used for saving lives during humanitarian and disaster response situations, and for economic decision making during moments of crisis.

ICEYE has provided commercial radar satellite imaging worldwide for several years, enabling ICEYE’s customers to respond to oil spills, hurricanes, deforestation and many more use cases. Along with these active customer imaging operations, the ICEYE SAR satellite constellation has seen an unprecedented development cycle of new imaging capabilities and new spacecraft generations.

Adam Niewiński, co-founder and Managing Partner of OTB Ventures, said: “We are pleased to be a cornerstone investor in the latest round of venture funding for ICEYE. We are thrilled to be part of the evolving ecosystem where even the sky is no longer the limit.”

ICEYE’s Series C includes participation from return investors True Ventures, OTB Ventures, Finnish Industry Investment (Tesi), Draper Esprit, DNX Ventures, Draper Associates, Seraphim Capital, Promus Ventures and Space Angels. The funding round is joined by New Space Capital and Luxembourg Future Fund. The European Investment Fund (EIF) participated both as advisor to Luxembourg Future Fund and as investor through the InnovFin For Equity (IFE) programme, which is backed by the European Commission. Further, a significant portion of Tesi’s investment is supported by the European Investment Bank (EIB) under the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), the central pillar of the Investment Plan for Europe of the Juncker Commission. Coinciding with ICEYE’s Series C funding, OTB Ventures today announced the launch of a dedicated investment vehicle to support Europe’s leading space technologies – OTB Space Program I – backed by the European Investment Fund and the European Commission through the InnovFin for Equity programme.

About ICEYE

ICEYE is building and operating its own commercial constellation of radar imaging satellites, with SAR data available to global customers since 2018. With the company’s unique satellite constellation capabilities, ICEYE empowers others to make better decisions in governmental and commercial industries. The company is tackling a tremendous global need for timely and reliable information, with world-first aerospace capabilities and a New Space approach. ICEYE’s radar satellite imaging service, designed to deliver very frequent coverage, both day and night, helps clients resolve challenges in sectors such as maritime, disaster management, insurance, and finance.

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Meteorites from Vesta found on asteroid Bennu

Meteorites from Vesta found on asteroid Bennu

(21 September 2020 – NASA Goddard) It appears some pieces of asteroid Vesta ended up on asteroid Bennu, according to observations from NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft.

The new result sheds light on the intricate orbital dance of asteroids and on the violent origin of Bennu, which is a “rubble pile” asteroid that coalesced from the fragments of a massive collision.

“We found six boulders ranging in size from 5 to 14 feet (about 1.5 to 4.3 meters) scattered across Bennu’s southern hemisphere and near the equator,” said Daniella DellaGiustina of the Lunar & Planetary Laboratory, University of Arizona, Tucson. “These boulders are much brighter than the rest of Bennu and match material from Vesta.”

During spring 2019, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft captured these images, which show fragments of asteroid Vesta present on asteroid Bennu’s surface. The bright boulders (circled in the images) are pyroxene-rich material from Vesta. Some bright material appear to be individual rocks (left) while others appear to be clasts within larger boulders (right). (courtesy: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)

“Our leading hypothesis is that Bennu inherited this material from its parent asteroid after a vestoid (a fragment from Vesta) struck the parent,” said Hannah Kaplan of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Then, when the parent asteroid was catastrophically disrupted, a portion of its debris accumulated under its own gravity into Bennu, including some of the pyroxene from Vesta.”

DellaGiustina and Kaplan are primary authors of a paper on this research appearing in Nature Astronomy September 21.

The unusual boulders on Bennu first caught the team’s eye in images from the OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer) Camera Suite (OCAMS). They appeared extremely bright, with some almost ten times brighter than their surroundings. They analyzed the light from the boulders using the OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer (OVIRS) instrument to get clues to their composition. A spectrometer separates light into its component colors. Since elements and compounds have distinct, signature patterns of bright and dark across a range of colors, they can be identified using a spectrometer. The signature from the boulders was characteristic of the mineral pyroxene, similar to what is seen on Vesta and the vestoids, smaller asteroids that are fragments blasted from Vesta when it sustained significant asteroid impacts.

Of course it’s possible that the boulders actually formed on Bennu’s parent asteroid, but the team thinks this is unlikely based on how pyroxene typically forms. The mineral typically forms when rocky material melts at high-temperature. However, most of Bennu is composed of rocks containing water-bearing minerals, so it (and its parent) couldn’t have experienced very high temperatures. Next, the team considered localized heating, perhaps from an impact. An impact needed to melt enough material to create large pyroxene boulders would be so significant that it would have destroyed Bennu’s parent-body. So, the team ruled out these scenarios, and instead considered other pyroxene-rich asteroids that might have implanted this material to Bennu or its parent.

Observations reveal it’s not unusual for an asteroid to have material from another asteroid splashed across its surface. Examples include dark material on crater walls seen by the Dawn spacecraft at Vesta, a black boulder seen by the Hayabusa spacecraft on Itokawa, and very recently, material from S-type asteroids observed by Hayabusa2 at Ryugu. This indicates many asteroids are participating in a complex orbital dance that sometimes results in cosmic mashups.

As asteroids move through the solar system, their orbits can be altered in many ways, including the pull of gravity from planets and other objects, meteoroid impacts, and even the slight pressure from sunlight. The new result helps pin down the complex journey Bennu and other asteroids have traced through the solar system.

Based on its orbit, several studies indicate Bennu was delivered from the inner region of the Main Asteroid Belt via a well-known gravitational pathway that can take objects from the inner Main Belt to near-Earth orbits. There are two inner Main Belt asteroid families (Polana and Eulalia) that look like Bennu: dark and rich in carbon, making them likely candidates for Bennu’s parent. Likewise, the formation of the vestoids is tied to the formation of the Veneneia and Rheasilvia impact basins on Vesta, at roughly about two billion years ago and approximately one billion years ago, respectively.

“Future studies of asteroid families, as well as the origin of Bennu, must reconcile the presence of Vesta-like material as well as the apparent lack of other asteroid types. We look forward to the returned sample, which hopefully contains pieces of these intriguing rock types,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “This constraint is even more compelling given the finding of S-type material on asteroid Ryugu. This difference shows the value in studying multiple asteroids across the solar system.”

The spacecraft is going to make its first attempt to sample Bennu in October and return it to Earth in 2023 for detailed analysis. The mission team closely examined four potential sample sites on Bennu to determine their safety and science value before making a final selection in December 2019. DellaGiustina and Kaplan’s team thinks they might find smaller pieces of Vesta in images from these close-up studies.

The research was funded by the NASA New Frontiers Program. The primary authors acknowledge significant collaboration with the French space agency CNES and Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Core-to-core Program on this paper. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland provides overall mission management, systems engineering, and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator, and the University of Arizona also leads the science team and the mission’s science observation planning and data processing. The late Michael Drake of the University of Arizona pioneered the study of vestoid meteorites and was the first principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the spacecraft and is providing flight operations. Goddard and KinetX Aerospace are responsible for navigating the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program, which is managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. NASA is exploring our Solar System and beyond, uncovering worlds, stars, and cosmic mysteries near and far with our powerful fleet of space and ground-based missions.

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Thales Alenia Space will provide the IRIS altimeter for the Copernicus CRISTAL mission

Thales Alenia Space will provide the IRIS altimeter for the

(21 September 2020 – Thales) Thales Alenia Space has today signed a close to €88 million contract with Airbus Defence and Space, prime contractor of the satellite, to develop the two IRIS flight models (Interferometric Radar Altimeter for Ice and Snow) of the Copernicus polaR Ice and Snow Topography ALtimeter (CRISTAL) mission.

The CRISTAL mission is part of the expansion of the Copernicus Space Component programme of the European Space Agency, ESA, in partnership with the European Commission. The European Copernicus flagship programme provides Earth observation and in situ data and a broad range of services for environmental monitoring and protection, climate monitoring, natural disaster assessment to improve the quality of life of European citizens.

The CRISTAL satellite will carry, for the first-time, a dual-frequency Ku/Ka bands radar altimeter to measure and monitor sea-ice thickness and overlying snow depth. Measurements of sea-ice thickness will support maritime operations and they will help in the planning of activities in the polar regions. IRIS will also measure and monitor changes in the height of ice sheets and glaciers around the world, thanks to its interferometric radar mode. IRIS will significantly improve the measurement accuracy of its predecessor SIRAL-2 (a Ku band only altimeter on board ESA’s CryoSat-2 Earth Explorer mission) thanks to the dual frequency operation and by adding the measurement of sea surface height as part of the mission objectives. The CRISTAL global mission is essential to better understand and monitor Earth climate in a context of the rapid climate change.

CRISTAL (courtesy: Airbus Defence and Space)

Hervé Derrey, CEO of Thales Alenia Space declared: “By providing the IRIS altimeter onboard CRISTAL, Thales Alenia Space is pleased to contribute to improve the data already provided by SIRAL-2 on board Cryosat and ensure the continuity of ice monitoring. Polar regions have a real influence on patterns of global climate, thermohaline circulation, and the planetary energy balance. A long-term program to monitor Earth polar ice, ocean and snow topography is therefore of the utmost interest to both operational and scientific users of Arctic and Antarctic measurements.”

Marc-Henri Serre, VP Observation and Science domain, at Thales Alenia Space in France added: “Thales Alenia Space will bring all its expertise and long-standing heritage on space altimetry, and its flight proven heritage acquired with SIRAL-2 to serve this crucial mission to understand and monitor the climate”.

The IRIS altimeter is designed and it will be built from the legacy of several altimeter programs of the Thales Alenia Space product line, including SIRAL-2, Poseidon 4 on board Sentinel-6/Jason-CS, Alti-Ka on the CNES/ISRO satellite, and KaRIn on board the CNES/JPL SWOT satellite. Thales Alenia Space is also the first to have flown an interferometric SAR altimeter (SIRAL) offering a unique expertise in interferometric radar electronics and interferometric antennas.

About industrial contributions for CRISTAL

Thales Alenia Space in France is prime of the IRIS altimeter, with contribution from Thales Alenia Space in Belgium for the Ku and Ka band Solid State Power Amplifiers power supply, Thales Alenia Space in Italy for the Ultra stable Oscillator. Thales Alenia Space in Spain will provide the S-Band transponder (SBT) of the CRISTAL satellite.

Thales Alenia Space: world leader in space altimetry

Thales Alenia Space is a world leader in space altimetry, a technique that lets us study sea surface height, sea ice thickness and river and lake levels, as well as land, ice sheet and seabed topography. The company has provided a whole host of instruments for oceanography, like the Poseidon altimeters on the Topex-Poseidon and Jason 1, 2 and 3 missions for the CNES. Thales Alenia Space also built the AltiKa Ka-band altimeter for the French-Indian SARAL oceanography satellite, and the SIRAL 2 very-high-resolution SAR (synthetic aperture radar) altimeter on ESA’s Cryosat-2 satellite, capable of measuring variations in sea ice thickness and continental ice mass balance with unprecedented accuracy. In addition, Thales Alenia Space supply the SRAL SAR altimeters for Sentinel-3, the SWIM altimeter on the CFOSat satellite for CNES, which measures wave spectra, and the SADKO altimeters on Russia’s GEO-IK satellites.

About Thales Alenia Space

Drawing on over 40 years of experience and a unique combination of skills, expertise and cultures, Thales Alenia Space delivers cost-effective solutions for telecommunications, navigation, Earth observation, environmental management, exploration, science and orbital infrastructures. Governments and private industry alike count on Thales Alenia Space to design satellite-based systems that provide anytime, anywhere connections and positioning, monitor our planet, enhance management of its resources, and explore our Solar System and beyond. Thales Alenia Space sees space as a new horizon, helping to build a better, more sustainable life on Earth. A joint venture between Thales (67%) and Leonardo (33%), Thales Alenia Space also teams up with Telespazio to form the parent companies’ Space Alliance, which offers a complete range of services. Thales Alenia Space posted consolidated revenues of approximately 2.15 billion euros in 2019 and has around 7,700 employees in nine countries.

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