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Wired gets it wrong

Europe in Space
Issue 27. Subscribers: 597 
After a week of announcements at the International Astronautical Congress in Paris, this week’s news section is record-breaking. I had considered dropping the main story for this week considering the length of the newsletter, but then I had the displeasure of reading a Wired article.
To my 19 new subscribers, welcome, and I hope you enjoy your first issue. If you have any comments, suggestions, or tips, please reply to this mail.

Please stop using the term “space race”
Over the weekend, I had the displeasure of coming across a Wired article about Virgin Orbit launching from the UK towards the end of the year. The article represents everything that frustrates me about US-based journalists and pundits commenting on the European space market while taking no time to actually understand it. It is articles like this that prompted me to launch European Spaceflight.
The title of the piece is “The UK is rejoining the space race” and just like that it starts! What does that mean? The space race was about getting there first. It was about pushing boundaries and racing against a foreign power in what felt like an existential fight. The UK is not in a race, and it’s not building anything the world hasn’t seen before. 
The UK is developing sovereign launch capabilities to serve what looks to be an increasingly large market. You could claim that the UK is developing launch vehicles and facilities to compete with other European countries that are fast approaching their maiden flights. However, since the UK government is not directing these actions nor are they funding these projects in any meaningful way, I am not sure how you would make that argument. These are private companies pursuing a potentially profitable market with an exciting product. At best, you could say that the UK has created laws that make these activities possible. The term “space race” is so misplaced here that it is stripped of all meaning. 
And that’s just the heading. Then we get to the subheading, which declares that Virgin Orbit will be “bringing orbital flight capability to Europe.” Europe! Not just the UK, but all of Europe. The author seems to have forgotten that Europe has enjoyed orbital launch capabilities almost continuously since the first Diamant A rocket was launched in 1965. The first ESA launch was carried out aboard an Ariane 1 in 1979. The idea that an American microlauncher startup is bringing orbital launch capabilities to Europe would be laughable if it wasn’t so condescending!
The absurdity of hyperbole
Let me be clear, Virgin Orbit is not bringing sovereign launch capabilities to the UK. Virgin Orbit is, despite the nationality of its founder, a US company. The company is headquartered in California and has no presence in Europe apart from an integration building at Spaceport Cornwall in the UK. 
Additionally, by the author’s own admission, the launch will occur “hundreds of miles off the Irish coast.” International law considers 12 miles or around 22 kilometers off the coast of a country as that country’s sovereign territorial sea. So by that definition, the UK would merely be a departure point for a launch that would actually be occurring over international waters.
So, Virgin Orbit is not a UK company, and it will launch over international waters. How is this the UK entering the “space race”?
What really frustrates me about this is instead of giving a US company the “first orbital launch from the UK” publicity, the country could have waited just 12 more months to see it gain truly sovereign launch capabilities. 
As the article mentions so briefly that it is easy to miss it, Orbex and Skyrora are both UK-based launch startups. What the article fails to mention is that both expect to launch maiden flights of their respective orbital launch vehicles in 2023. While Skyrora does have contributions from Ukraine, Orbex and their Prime vehicle have been conceived, built, and will be flown by citizens of the UK on UK soil. One would assume this is the kind of achievement the UK Space Agency and UK government would be all too ready to support. But instead, they’re trying to hype up this Virgin Orbit launch as a significant milestone for the country’s burgeoning launch sector. It truly baffles me.
Snubbing the Nordics
Then there’s the claim that there are “no active launch sites in Europe.” Even if you forget the Guiana Space Centre which is on French soil, regardless of its distance from France, Europe still has two of the world’s oldest active launch sites in Norway and Sweden.
The Andøya Space Center in Norway was founded in 1962, the same year as the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Since then, it has hosted over 1,200 sounding rocket missions.
Esrange Space Center in Sweden was founded in 1964 by the European Space Research Organisation, which would later become the European Space Agency. The facility has hosted over 500 rocket launches in addition to hundreds of high-altitude balloon missions.
Now, the author could be forgiven for being imprecise in their phrasing. Maybe they actually meant orbital launch facilities, despite the fact they mention it multiple times and the fact that the Guiana Space Centre exists. However, it becomes clear a little further in that they are completely unaware of two of the world’s oldest and most historic launch facilities. 
After claiming again that there are no operational launch sites in Europe, they reference sites being considered in Germany and Portugal in addition to the UK.  While Germany and Portugal have proposed the construction of orbital launch sites, Norway and Sweden are quite literally in the process of building orbital launch facilities, with maiden flights expected in 2023. How you don’t mention two projects that are without doubt further along in their development lifecycle than those in the UK is beyond me. The only conceivable explanation is that the author is completely unaware of either Andøya or Esrange.
A clickbait conclusion
What do the UK space industry and the death of Queen Elizabeth II have in common? If you guessed nothing, you’re correct. That doesn’t stop the author from referencing the Queen’s death and the ascension of King Charles III in the article’s conclusion. And to think, I used to have a great deal of respect for Wired.
SUSIE lobbies ESA for money - During the first day of IAC 2022, ArianeGroup introduced its SUSIE spacecraft proposal. The spacecraft proposal is aimed at providing Europe with independent crew and cargo access to LEO. The large 12-meter spacecraft can be launched in a cargo or crew configuration to carry either five astronauts or up to 7,000 kg of payload.
It should go without saying that the announcement of this proposal was intentionally made in the run-up to what may be one of the most consequential ESA ministerial level council meetings in the agency’s history, which is expected to take place in November. During this meeting, it is widely believed that ESA will announce its intention to develop sovereign crewed launch capabilities. ArianeGroup likely sees the enormous financial windfall such a programme could bring and will be lobbying hard to make sure that SUSIE is on the lips of ESA decision-makers come November.
True sovereign launch capability - SaxaVord Spaceport in the UK posted a video on Twitter showing the progress of the site’s construction. Much of the clearing has been done for the access road, satellite integration facility, and the two launch pads which are being called Fredo and Elizabeth, after the late Queen Elizabeth. The maiden flight from the spaceport is expected to take place in 2023.
Getting a spacecraft bikini weather ready - Franco-German space startup The Exploration Company revealed that its Bikini tech demonstrator had been completed and was being shipped off for environmental tests. Later in the week, the company announced that “the most demanding environmental tests” had been completed. Additional testing is expected to be conducted today, with The Exploration Company hoping to have a qualified spacecraft by tomorrow.
The wait is almost over - ESA announced that its astronaut selection process will be concluded on 23 November with the announcement of the newest class of ESA astronauts. The announcement that ESA would be recruiting for a new class of astronauts was made in February 2021. This selection process is just the third in the agency’s history, with the first taking place between 1978 and 1979 and the second between 2008 and 2009. This most recent call received a record 22,000+ applications, with 1,361 being selected to start the rigorous multi-stage selection process.
No, not the stripper from Friday night - ESA has selected Harmony as its tenth Earth Explorers mission. The ESA Earth Explorers programme seeks to utilize novel observing techniques to discover new scientific findings about our planet. The Harmony mission will be composed of two identical satellites orbiting Earth in convoy with a Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellite. The Harmony satellites’ receive-only synthetic aperture radars and multiview thermal-infrared instruments will deliver a wide range of unique high-resolution observations of motion occurring at or near Earth’s surface. These observations will provide a wealth of new information about our oceans, ice, earthquakes, and volcanoes.
Japan comes to Europe for parts - Japanese orbital debris removal company Astroscale has signed a contract with AAC Clyde, a UK-based space tech company. The £940,000 (approximately €1 million) contract will see an adapted version of the company’s Starbuck power system integrated into Astroscale’s ELSA-M debris removal satellite. The power system is expected to be delivered to Astroscale in the first quarter of 2024.
Japan comes to Europe for parts again - Astroscale announced that it had selected German space tech company Jena-Optronik to supply a LiDAR system for its ELSA-M debris removal satellite. The Jena-Optronik Rendezvous and Docking RVS 3000-3D LiDAR sensor will provide sensor data to aid the spacecraft with capturing client satellites safely and securely. 
Space sailing is environmentally friendly - German satellite manufacturer Reflex Aerospace signed a letter of intent with German space tech company HPS to utilize the company’s ADEO deorbit system for its satellites. The HPS ADEO deorbit system utilizes a solar sail to reduce a satellite’s altitude until it burns up in the atmosphere. A demonstration mission that includes the HPS ADEO system is expected to be launched in mid-2024.
Smelling cow farts from space - ESA has awarded French satellite operator Absolut Sensing a contract to access its methane emissions satellite data under the agency’s Earthnet Third Party Mission programme. Under the agreement, ESA will gain access to methane data and emission maps to assess their quality and validation protocols with the aim of procuring satellite constellation data and analytics.
So, it’s like WALL-E in space? - The European Commission has selected Thales Alenia Space to lead EROSS IOD, a project focused on developing in-orbit servicing capabilities. Thales will validate the technologies needed for the robotic in-space servicing operations, culminating in a demonstration mission by 2026. The mission will demonstrate satellite rendezvous, capture, docking, refueling, and payload exchange capabilities.
Italians doing deals - Italian launch startup Sidereus Space Dynamics has signed a contract with Italian satellite manufacturer Delta Space Leonis to launch and validate their first deployer with five pocketqube satellites for IoT applications. Sidereus Space is developing a small single-stage-to-orbit rocket called EOS that is designed to be capable of delivering 15 kg payloads to low Earth orbit.
Students getting the right kinda high - Italian space logistics company D-Orbit signed a hosted payload contract with the Spacecraft Team of the Swiss Institute École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. The agreement will see D-Orbit carry the student-developed HOBC onboard computer aboard one of the company’s ION orbital transfer vehicles. The launch is expected to take place in the first quarter of 2023.
Airbus gets some powah! - French space logistics company Exotrail has signed a contract with Airbus to supply the company’s 300W spaceware electric propulsion systems. The propulsion systems will be used within the Airbus Earth observation satellite platform portfolio. The agreement will see Airbus purchase the systems following the completion of qualification activities in 2024.
An icy launch deal - Finish Earth Observation data provider ICEYE signed a contract with Italian launch logistics company SAB Launch Services (SAB LS) to carry two SAR satellites aboard an Arianespace Vega C. The satellites are expected to be launched aboard the first VEGA C SSMS (Small Spacecraft Mission Service) mission in the first quarter of 2023.
Agreements, MoUs, and LoIs
Agencies renew their vows - Italian space agency ASI and German space agency DLR signed an eight-year implementation agreement to strengthen cooperation in the field of hyperspectral Earth observation missions. The agreement will see the pair sharing hyperspectral data, strategies, methodologies, and results of the hyperspectral Earth Observation missions PRISMA (HyperSpectral PRecursor of the Application Mission) of ASI, and EnMAP (Environmental Mapping and Analysis Program) of DLR. This latest agreement builds upon a framework agreement for collaboration in space activities signed between the two parties in 2007. 
A decade-spanning agreement - The Swedish Space Corporation signed a 10-year agreement with the French space agency CNES to provide ground station coverage for polar missions. The agreement is an extension of the partnership, with the first 10-year contract period coming to an end in December 2022. The agreement includes the operation of two jointly developed ground stations in Sweden and Canada.
Like actual whales? - French launch startup Latitude signed a memorandum of understanding with Flying Whales to explore utilizing rigid airships as a rocket transportation system. The LCA06T Flying Whales airship will be 200 meters in length with a 60-ton payload capacity and a 100km/h top speed. Latitude intends on using the airships to transport Zephyr rocket stages from its production facility in Reims to its launch facility at the SaxaVord Spaceport in the United Kingdom.
From the UK with love - UK-based launch startup Skyrora signed a letter of intent with Maritime Launch Services to launch its Skyrora XL rocket from Spaceport Nova Scotia in Canada. The agreement will see Skyrora supply launch vehicles for Maritime Launch Services satellite clients, as well as to host their own satellite clients under a lease agreement. The Skyrora XL launch vehicle is expected to debut in 2023.
The Arianespace family gets bigger - Italian launch logistics company SAB Launch Services (SAB LS) has signed a multi-year framework agreement to support Arianespace. The agreement will see SAB LS offering end-to-end services for nanosatellite customers intending to launch aboard Arianespace-managed Vega C rideshare missions. “This partnership with SAB-LS will provide us with increased flexibility to better address the needs of the small sat community worldwide,” said Marino Fragnito, Head of Vega Business Unit at Arianespace. The next Vega C mission is scheduled for November 2022.
It’s a quantum leap - Singapore-based Quantum communication startup SpeQtral has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Thales Alenia Space to research, develop and demonstrate quantum communications from space to Earth. The MoU includes joint experiments that will be carried out between the SpeQtral-1 quantum satellite currently under development and a quantum ground receiver being developed by Thales. These experiments are expected to be completed by 2025.
A sherpa gets a ride - German launch startup Rocket Factory Augsburg (RFA) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Spaceflight Inc. to carry its Sherpa orbital transfer vehicles and other rideshare payloads to orbit. The companies are targeting mid-2024 for their first mission, following the maiden flight of the RFA ONE in 2023. In addition to the announcement of the MoU, the press release also revealed for the first time that RFA would launch missions from the United Kingdom. However, it is currently unclear which of the several proposed launch facilities the company has its eyes on. 
You scratch my back - German launch startup Rocket Factory Augsburg (RFA) signed a memorandum of understanding with Digantara, an Indian space situational awareness startup. The deal includes an agreement to launch two Digantara SSA satellites aboard an RFA ONE flight. It will also see the integration of Digantara’s S-MAP technology into the RFA tech ecosystem, enabling safer launch, early operations, and last-mile space services.
Money money money money, MONEYYY - Audacia and Starburst announced that Nordic investment firm Rymdkapital has joined their planned Expansion fund. The pair announced plans to launch the first pan-European VC fund for the New Space, New Air Mobility, and Defence sectors in April. The planned €300 million fund is designed to invest in startups from seed to Series B. Expansion expects the first €100-million tranche of its investment fund to be secured by Q1 of 2023.
The only carrier you can use on the Moon - To meet the demands of the expected sharp increase in missions to the Moon, the Swedish Space Corporation (SSC) has announced plans to extend its network of Lunar Exploration Ground Sites. The expansion includes the addition of two new locations in Australia and Chile. To achieve this ambitious goal, SSC has partnered with French satellite tracking equipment manufacturer Safran Data Systems, which will deliver a set of large high-power antenna systems.
It’s complicated - French private equity firm Tikehau Ace Capital has transferred its majority stake in Italian aerospace component manufacturer Groupe Rossi Aero to French engineering company Mecachrome. As a subsidiary of Mecachrome, Groupe Rossi Aero is expected to retain its autonomy while also taking charge of Mecachrome’s Speedshop division. “This transaction will enable the new Group to meet the growing needs of its customers while maintaining a high level of service quality,” said Marwan Lahoud, Executive Chairman of Tikehau Ace Capital.
You can’t blame it on signal these days - Swiss IoT startup Astrocast and CEA, a French technology-research firm, announced its low-cost bidirectional Astronode S communication module. The new module enables companies to communicate with remote assets in areas not covered by terrestrial networks. According to Astrocast, Astronode S represents a cost reduction of around three times from traditional satellite IoT alternatives.
The Germans doing deals - German space tech startup DcubeD announced a collaboration with German Orbital Systems to develop an innovative heat management system for small satellites called FENNEC. The new system aims to tackle the issue of excess heat in cubesats and small satellites. The project is supported by ESA through its ARTES Core Competitiveness programme and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) with funds from the German ESA budget. The project is currently in the early stages of product development.
For Us, By Us - The Young European Enterprises Syndicate for Space (YEESS) welcomed Exolaunch, Unseenlabs, and U-Space as new members. The international non-profit organization was launched in 2021 with the aim of boosting the competitiveness of Europe in space. The current members of YEESS are Satlantis, Exotrail, Pangea Aerospace, Aerospacelab, and Constellr.
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Andrew Parsonson

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