Max Q: Mapping the moon

Hello and welcome back to Max Q. Happy to have you with us and happy belated Earth Day.

In this issue:

  • No more ASAT operations for the U.S.
  • NASA gives nearly $300 million in awards to satcom providers
  • Mapping the moon using lidar
  • This week with…Araz Feyzi

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No more ASAT operations, VP Harris says

The U.S. will no longer perform direct-ascent anti-satellite missile (ASAT) testing, Vice President Kamala Harris said Monday. The space community nearly universally disapproves of the practice due to its propensity to create large amounts of space debris.

During a visit to Vandenberg Space Force Base, Harris said the U.S. will no longer conduct “destructive, direct-ascent anti-satellite (ASAT) missile testing,” which leaves things open to lasers and other methods, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. The U.S. “seeks to establish this as a new international norm for responsible behavior in space.”

The anti-satellite commitment is the first in a planned series of new “space norms” being contemplated by the National Security Council, the Pentagon, the State Department and others concerned about the safety and security of orbital operations.

Image Credits: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

NASA awards $279M to six satcom providers

NASA awarded $278.5 million in funding to six American satellite communications providers to help the companies develop near-Earth communications services that could potentially be used for future NASA missions.

The awardees are: SpaceX for $69.95 million; Amazon’s Kuiper project for $67 million; Viasat for $53.3 million; Inmarsat for $28.6 million; SES for $28.96 million; and Telesat for $30.65 million.

This is just the first phase of the agency’s Communications Services Project grants. NASA also expects each of the companies to “match or exceed its contributions … totaling more than $1.5 billion of cost-share investment” over the five-year duration of the program.

Starlink satellites streak through a telescope’s observations. Image Credits: IAU

Mapping the moon using lidar

NASA is working with lidar company Aeva to create a tool that will be able to scan the lunar terrain when ordinary cameras and satellite instruments won’t cut it. The project is called KNaCK, or Kinematic Navigation and Cartography Knapsack, and it’s meant to act as an analog to a GPS system here on Earth.

Once completed, KNaCK should be able to simultaneously map an astronaut’s surroundings in real time and tell them where they are and how fast they’re going. This would all feed into a larger system, of course, being relayed back to a lander, up to an orbiter and so on.

Animation of a drone kicking up a dust cloud, as seen through a lidar unit.

Image Credits: NASA

This week with…Araz Feyzi

Araz Feyzi is the co-founder and CTO of Kayhan Space. He co-founded Kayhan Space with his childhood friend, Siamak Hesar, who is an aerospace engineer by training. Araz fell in love with computers at a young age when he received a Commodore 64 as a gift. He is a technologist who enjoys solving real-world problems through technology. Outside work, and depending on the time of the year, you can find him working on his backyard garden, driving an RV or snowboarding in the mountains.

What are you working on this week?

This week, we are working on finalizing our upcoming summer and fall product releases. One of the amazing things about the space industry is that it’s evolving at a faster rate than ever before. What sounded like an important development a few months ago may very well be obsolete today. As a result, we continuously revisit our product roadmap as we work with our customers, advisors and partners. Besides writing code, which I try to do whenever possible, this is one of the most fun parts of my work — digging through all the capabilities we can bring to the table and strategically aligning them with what we believe the industry will need in the near future.

What’s something that happened in the news in the last week that you can’t stop thinking about?

News coming from Ukraine has been top of mind for weeks now. What’s happening today in Eastern Europe is showing us how fragile human civilization is. Most of us in the West who were born into freedom and democracy take it for granted, not realizing what could happen if we slip. We are fortunate to have inherited a democracy that was earned by fellow citizens at a colossal cost. Now it’s our job to not only keep it alive, but to mature it, and to promote it. Our work today plays a key role in ensuring that we continue to be the beacon of hope for humankind today and tomorrow.

What are you looking forward to this week?

This week we are preparing to officially launch our new product, Pathfinder. The team has been working on this product for months and it’s really exciting to see it in the hands of actual customers. It’s an amazing feeling to see how a small group of talented people can make such a meaningful difference for an entire industry.

On the personal side, I am looking forward to our short family trip to South Carolina next weekend where my older daughter will be participating in a regional sports competition, representing our home state, Georgia. The Lowcountry Boil, super spicy hot sauce and hopefully some beach time are on the agenda.

What song has been on repeat?

Imagine Dragons! The only time that I get to listen to music these days is when I am dropping off my kids in the morning. We’ve been exploring different genres of music, and this week “Thunder” and “Believer” have been major hits with the girls. I’ve caught my little one listening to covers of Believer on YouTube Kids, which I didn’t realize was a thing until recently! I tried to slip a few classics like “California Dreaming” in but they didn’t stick.

More news from TC and beyond

  • Astranis was awarded a multiple-award indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract under the Department of the Air Force’s Advanced Air Battle Management System program to compete for orders valued up to $950 million.
  • The crew members of Axiom Space’s inaugural mission, Ax-1, spent a few more days on the International Space Station after weather delayed their departure. The crew of four stayed on the station until Saturday.
  • BryceTech released its quarterly briefing on launches and satellites. It calculated that SpaceX launched an incredible 115,900 kilograms of spacecraft to orbit in the first quarter of this year.
  • Air carrier JSX will be offering in-flight Starlink internet Wi-Fi to its travelers, with the first fully equipped plane likely taking flight later this year.
  • NASA said it will roll back the ultra-expensive Space Launch System rocket to the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center for repairs. The move, which will likely delay the first Artemis mission, comes a little over one month after the much publicized roll-out of the launch system.
  • The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine published a report recommending that the country’s next major space mission should be to Uranus. The Uranus Orbiter and Probe mission could transform our knowledge of the ice planet, the report says.
  • Rocket Lab landed a multi-launch contract with radio frequency analytics company HawkEye 360, for a total of 15 satellites across three Electron missions between late 2022 and 2024.
  • United Launch Alliance tapped L3Harris to provide avionics and communication equipment for the upcoming launches of Amazon’s Kuiper satellites.

The Earth, as seen from the lunar surface on December 24, 1968. Image Credits: Stocktrek Images / Getty Images

“We came all this way to explore the Moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.” – Astronaut Bill Anders, Apollo 8 crew member

Max Q is brought to you by me, Aria Alamalhodaei. If you enjoy reading Max Q, consider forwarding it to a friend. 

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