Biz Briefs – Vast Announces Commercial Space Station, Consortium Wins Euro Satellite Servicing Mission (Image Credit: Parabolic Arc)
Welcome to Biz Briefs. In this edition, a consortium of European companies wins a contract for a satellite servicing mission, Vast announces plans to launch a private space station, UK regulators approve the Viasat-Inmarsat merger, bankrupt Virgin Orbit pushes back its bid deadline, Intuitive Machines delays its lunar mission, Virgin Galactic says it is going to continue powered flight tests later this month, and Spaceport America commissions a study for a new master plan.
In-Orbit Servicing Demonstration Mission
Thales Alenia Space is leading a consortium of European companies that will conduct an in-orbit servicing demonstration mission under a €235 million ($255.5 million US) contract with the Italian Space Agency. The spacecraft is scheduled to launch in 2026.
“We are delighted that the Italian Space Agency chose the team of Thales Alenia Space, Leonardo, Telespazio, Avio, and D-Orbit to carry out this ambitious project that will make space more sustainable,” said Thales Alenia Space Senior Executive Vice President Massimo Claudio Comparini. “This mission reflects the skills and experience of established players in complex space projects, coupled with the more agile approach provided by emerging space companies. By working together they will generate synergies that ensure the future viability of the space sector, while also developing all-Italian technologies to support the growth of the country’s space industry.”
Leonardo is developing a robotic arm in collaboration with SAB Aerospace, the Italian National Institute for Nuclear Physics, and the Italian Institute of Technology. Telespazio will work with Altec to design, develop and validate the ground segment of the mission.
Vast’s Private Station
Vast has announced plans to launch the world’s first commercial space station, named Haven-1, on a SpaceX Falcon 9 in August 2025. A four-member crew will fly to the station aboard SpaceX Crew Dragons for 30-day-long stays aboard the station.
Haven-1 will initially operate as an independent station. It will eventually be attached to a much larger Vast space station.
“Vast’s long-term goal is to develop a 100-meter-long multi-module spinning artificial gravity space station launched by SpaceX’s Starship transportation system,” the company announced. “In support of this, Vast will explore conducting the world’s first spinning artificial gravity experiment on a commercial space station with Haven-1.”
Viasat-Inmarsat Merger Approved
The UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has approved the proposed $7.3 billion merger between London-based Inmarsat and U.S.-based Viasat. CMA had been concerned that the merger could reduce competition and lead to more expensive in-flight Wi-Fi services. The merger was announced 16 months ago.
In related news, Viasat is looking for another ride to orbit for its ViaSat 3 APAC satellite due to delays with Arianespace’s Ariane 6 launch vehicle. Ariane 6 is not scheduled for its maiden flight until late 2023, which could slip until next year.
Virgin Orbit Pushes Back Deadline
With more than 30 “expressions of interest” from potential buyers, bankrupt Virgin Orbit has pushed back the deadline for formal bids from May 15 to May 19.
Virgin Orbit will let suitors know whether they submitted qualified bids on May 21. There will be an auction the following day if there is more than one qualified bid. A sales hearing is scheduled for May 24.
Virgin Orbit has said multiple potential bidders were interested in keeping the company in the business of launching small satellites using the LauncherOne rocket.
Intuitive Machines Delays Moon Landing
Intuitive Machines announced last week that its IM-1 mission landing mission from June to sometime in the mid- to late third quarter.
The Nova-C will deliver a group of NASA and private payloads to the Malapert A crater near the south pole of the moon. The space agency is partially funding the mission under its Commercial Lunar Payload Services program.
CEO Steve Altemus said engineers are continuing to test the lander at the company’s Houston headquarters.
Virgin Galactic to Fly Again
Virgin Galactic said last week the company is on track to perform a final flight test of its VSS Unity by the end of May. The test will include two pilots and four company employees in the passenger cabin to test the spacecraft and evaluate the experience. The flight will originate from Spaceport America in New Mexico.
If the test goes well, Virgin Galactic will fly two Italian Air Force officers and an Italian researcher on the company’s first commercial flight in late June. Chief Astronaut Instructor Beth Moses will join them in the passenger cabin.
Spaceport America’s Master Plan Study
With Virgin Galactic set to start commercial service, the New Mexico Spaceport Authority has hired a team led by RS&H to spend 12 months developing a master plan for Spaceport America. Populous and Zia Engineering and Environmental Consultants will lead “key aspects of the future visioning and environmental stewardship critical to the project.”
“I am looking forward to working with Spaceport America and the State of New Mexico on this important project; but more importantly, I am excited about the opportunity to engage with many local and statewide citizens on the future of Spaceport America,” said RS&H Vice President of Aerospace Andrew Nelson.
Nelson previously headed up development for XCOR Aerospace and was a consultant on the Spaceport Camden project in Georgia.
“Spaceport America is our gateway to a new frontier and plays an essential role in the advancement of space travel, scientific research, technological innovation, and national security,” said Brian Mirakian, Populous senior principal. “This is an exciting moment for Populous and we couldn’t be more thrilled for the opportunity to work alongside our partners on this ambitious project as we chart the future for the first purpose-built spaceport in the world.”
In related news, NMSA appointed Dr. Francisco Pallares as Spaceport America’s new director of business development in March. Pallares joins the New Mexico Spaceport Authority from Sul Ross State University. He formerly served as deputy director for economic development for the city of Las Cruces.
Momentus Secures SpaceX Launch Contracts
In-space transportation company Momentus has signed a contract with SpaceX to reserve a port on its Transporter-12 rideshare missions, which is scheduled to launch no earlier than October 2024.
Momentus also has agreements to launch its Vigoride satellite deployer on all three of SpaceX’s rideshare missions next year. Transporter-10 is set to launch in January 2024, with Transporter-11 following in June.
Momentus also announced it had signed satellite deployment or hosted payload agreements with FOSSA Systems, Hello Space, SatRev, and an unidentified picosat operator. Momentus also teamed with Astroscale U.S. for a joint proposal to boost NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to a higher orbit.