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Max Q: Lego Space Stations and robot astronauts

Max Q is a new weekly newsletter all about space. Sign up here to receive it weekly on Sundays in your inbox.

This week saw a huge funding round for a new space startup that’s working on the problem of distribution and use of the new data networks made possible by the explosion in the small satellite and satellite constellation industry. But we also saw one of the next wave of launch startups encounter a bit of a setback on their path to actually delivering their first rocket to orbit.

Lego is putting a new official International Space Station kit up for sale starting next month, after the project was originally suggested on its Ideas crowdsourcing platform. The new kit comes in at an impressive 864 pieces, and includes astronaut minifigs for simulated spacewalks, plus a Space Shuttle and a capsule.

It’s bound to be a hot item once it’s actually released, so I would say it’s probably best to get an order in fast once this goes on sale when February kicks off if you want to pick one up .

There’s been a huge increase in the number of satellites and satellite constellations in operation, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy for devices here on Earth to access the data networks many of those new satellites operate. Previously stealth startup Skylo aims to make it much easier for these networks to provide useful services here on Earth, and they’ve raised a new round of $103 million to make that happen, bringing their total raised to $116 million.

Visitors take selfies with ‘Vyommitra’ the first prototype half humanoid robot developed by the Inertial Systems Unit of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) for its planned ‘Gaganyaan’ unmanned mission at an exhibition during a symposium on Human Spaceflight and Exploration – Present Challenges and Future Trends in Bangalore on January 23, 2020. (Photo by Manjunath Kiran / AFP) (Photo by MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP via Getty Images)

India’s Space Research Organization is getting ready for its first human spacecraft launches, set for 2022. The path to that goal includes sending up a half-humanoid robot called ‘Vyommitra,’ whose face resembles that of a human woman. This robot is able to perform all the in-flight procedures that a real human pilot would be required to do, and will help test the agency’s Gaganyaan spacecraft before any people give it a go.

Launch startup Firefly Aerospace has overcome its fair share of difficulties, including a bankruptcy filing, but now it’s underway with hot fire testing of its Alpha launch vehicle. Unfortunately, its first test of the engines that power this rocket with the spacecraft assembled resulted in a fire on on the launch pad, which will mean an investigation to figure out how not to do that in future.

astrobotic peregrine

NASA’s first lunar lander missions provided by commercial contractors are set to fly this year – two landers should launch if all goes to plan, including one from Astrobotic and one from Intuitive Machines. Both of these are partners with the agency through its Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) sourcing program, and their landers will hopefully prove the viability of using private suppliers to get key experiments and cargo to the Moon’s surface ahead of the planned return of human astronauts.

Startup Capella Space has a new satellite design that can provide best-in-class resolution on a spacecraft of its size, which should unlock lots of additional demand for its services from clients who want to be able to image parts of the Earth on demand with fast turnaround time and plenty of detail.

The National Reconnaissance Office is Rocket Lab’s first client of 2020 for a launch, and the mission is set to take off from the company’s New Zealand launch pad at the end of this month. This is also the first mission the NRO has awarded under its ‘Rapid Acquisition of a Small Rocket’ or RASR contract model, which basically aims for cheap and fast launch vehicle sourcing.

Source: TechCrunch

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Max Q: SpaceX succeeds with a spectacular Crew Dragon test launch

Max Q is a new weekly newsletter all about space. Sign up here to receive it weekly on Sundays in your inbox.

We’re off and running with good milestones achieved for NASA’s commercial crew program, which means it’s more likely than ever we’ll actually see astronauts launch from U.S. soil before the year is out.

If that’s not enough to get you pumped about the space sector in 2020, we also have a great overview of 2019 in space tech investment, and a look forward at what’s happening next year from Space Angels’ Chad Anderson. Plus, we announced our own dedicated space event, which is happening this June.

SpaceX launched its Crew Dragon commercial astronaut spacecraft on Sunday. No one was on board, but the test was crucial because it included firing off the in-flight abort (IFA) safety system that will protect actual astronauts should anything go wrong with future real missions.

The SpaceX in-flight abort test included this planned fireball, as the Falcon 9 rocket it launched upon broke up.

The IFA seems to have worked as intended, propelling the Crew Dragon away from the Falcon 9 it was launched on top of at high speed. In an actual emergency, this would ensure that the astronauts aboard were transported to a safe distance, and then returned to Earth at a safe speed using the onboard parachutes, which seem to have deployed exactly as planned.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is looking a bit further ahead, in the meantime, to when his company’s Starship spacecraft is fully operational and making regular trips to Mars. Musk said he wants to be launching Starships as much as thrice daily, with the goal of moving megatons of cargo and up to a million people to Mars at full target operating pace.

Secretive space launch startup SpinLaunch is adding to its operating capital with a new $35 million investment, a round led by Airbus Ventures, GV and more. The company wants to use rotational force to effectively fling payloads out of Earth’s atmosphere – without using any rockets. Sounds insane, but I’ve heard from people much smarter than me that the company, and the core concept, is sound.

I spoke to Space Angels CEO Chat Anderson about his company’s quarterly tracking of private investment in the space technology sector, which they’ve been doing since 2017. They’re uniquely well-positioned to combine data from both public sources and the companies they speak to, and perform due diligence on, so there’s no better place to look for insight on where we’ve been, and an educated perspective on where we’re going. (ExtraCrunch subscription required).

Rocket Lab was born in New Zealand, and still operates a facility and main launch pad there, but it’s increasingly building out its U.S. presence, too. Now, the company shared its plans to build a combined HQ/Mission Control/rocket fab facility in LA. Construction is already underway, and it should be completed later this year.

‘Rideshare’ in space means something entirely different than it does on Earth – you’re not hailing an Uber, you’re booking one portion of cargo space aboard a rocket with a group of other clients. Orbex has a new customer that bought up all the capacity for one of its future rideshare missions, planned for 2022. The new launch provider hasn’t actually launched any rockets, however, so it’ll have to pass that key milestone before it makes good on that new contract.

Yes, it’s official: TechCrunch is hosting its on space-focused tech event on June 25 in LA. This will be a one-day, high-profile program featuring discussions with the top companies and people in space tech, startups and investment. We’ll be revealing more about programming over the next few months, but if you get in now you can guarantee your spot.

Source: TechCrunch