Investing in Space

Investing in Space: Coopetition

A Falcon 9 rocket launches OneWeb satellites from Florida on Dec. 8, 2022.

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Overview: Coopetition

This year has seen two remarkable examples of competitors cooperating, with OneWeb and then Northrop Grumman buying launches from SpaceX – deals which would have seemed far-fetched before 2022. Left without rides to space, OneWeb and Northrop turned to one of their biggest rivals in satellite broadband and space cargo delivery, respectively.

SpaceX began delivering on the first of those two deals last week, delivering 40 satellites to orbit for OneWeb. CEO Neil Masterson heralded the launch as "an immensely gratifying way" to finish the year. While OneWeb notes that it doesn't compete with SpaceX's Starlink in the direct-to-consumer satellite marketplace, the companies are both building government and enterprise customer books in key markets like maritime and aviation.

Northrop bought a trio of launches from Elon Musk's company for its Cygnus missions. Currently, Northrop's Cygnus and SpaceX's Dragon are the only two operational cargo spacecraft in the U.S. – and their deal means that next year, SpaceX will be launching both.

But don't take the camaraderie as a sign of good will to come: Both deals come after Russia's invasion of Ukraine forced the unlikely cooperation. Russia took OneWeb's satellites hostage in the Spring as international relationships began to break down, and Northrop's production of rockets and engines in Russia and Ukraine came to a sharp halt – with the supply chain for Antares rockets cut off. 

Space – and the perspective it brings of a single, fragile planet floating in the dark – is often seen as unifying. But the reality of the business of space is that it's no different from any other industry: highly competitive. An extreme outside factor pushed the rival products onto SpaceX launches, and I'm sure the extenuating circumstances meant OneWeb and Northrop paid top dollar to secure their spots. 

I've often seen how tight-knit the space industry is – but that doesn't mean competitors are flying off into the sunset together. 

A programming note: Investing in Space will be taking the next week off for holiday travel. See you on the 29th!

What's up

  • NASA completes Artemis 1 mission successfully: The uncrewed Orion capsule splashed down safely, as the agency passed through its "moment of truth" moment and can now begin looking toward analyzing lessons learned from the mission's data as it prepares to send astronauts back to the moon. – CNBC
  • The first ispace lunar mission is underway, after SpaceX launched the company's spacecraft and lander. CEO Takeshi Hakamada called the mission the "very beginning of a new era," outlining how his company wants to build an economy around the moon. – CNBC
  • Rwanda and Nigeria join the Artemis Accords, the first African nations to sign the U.S. agreement about cooperation and best practices in space exploration. To date, 23 countries have signed the Artemis Accords. – SpaceNews
  • Lockheed Martin conducts burst test with an inflatable space habitat prototype, which reached more than six times its maximum operating pressure before breaking. – Lockheed Martin
  • Boeing gives update on the training of NASA astronauts for the first Starliner crew flight, with completed simulations and tests in preparation to launch in April. – Boeing
  • ABL delays inaugural launch attempt to Jan. 9, as the company continues to work through issues that have kept its RS1 rocket grounded in Alaska. – ABL Space
  • White House looks to streamline space regulations, especially through a reported executive order to simplify the rocket launch licensing process. – Reuters
  • Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa announces dearMoon crew, with the mission on SpaceX's Starship featuring a variety of artists from DJ Steve Aoki to YouTube space enthusiast Tim Dodd. – Read more

Industry maneuvers

  • Planet is acquiring climate technology company Salo Sciences for an undisclosed amount. The satellite imagery and data company made the announcement as it reported Q3 results. Planet forecast it will see nearly $200 million in revenue for its current fiscal year. – CNBC
  • NASA awards Boeing with $3.2 billion contract for more SLS rockets: The contract covers SLS core stages for Artemis missions three and four, as well as upper stages for missions five and six. – NASA
  • Microsoft and Viasat partner on initiative to expand internet access: The companies say the partnership will "deliver internet access to 10 million people around the globe, including 5 million across Africa" by the end of 2025, through the "Airband Initiative." – Microsoft
  • Quantum Space raises $15 million from Prime Movers Lab, as the startup looks to build a network of satellites that provide communications and navigation capabilities between the Earth and the moon. – Quantum Space

On the horizon

  • Dec. 16: SpaceX aims for trio of Falcon 9 launches, with missions for NASA, SES and Starlink set to launch from California and Florida.
  • Dec. 16: Rocket Lab's Electron launching HawkEye 360 satellites. Lifting off from Virginia, the mission marks the long-awaited first Rocket Lab launch from the U.S.
  • Dec. 20: Arianespace's Vega C launching Airbus satellites from French Guiana.