Space goes SPAC – TechCrunch 

 March 2, 2022

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In this matter:

  • SpaceX is limiting the Crew Dragon fleet to four
  • Funding for hyperspectral imaging startup Pixxel
  • A week with Chad Anderson from Space Capital

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It is the end of a (short) era. SpaceX will no longer be making new Crew Dragons, the spaceship that carries people in and out of space, and will instead focus on reusing the fleet of four people it already has. Reuters reported on Monday.

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Crew Dragon is owned by SpaceX first manned spaceship, which borrows its design from the Dragon cargo pod used for resupply services to the ISS. Crew Dragon capsules have launched humans into space on five different missions since their debut in 2020, including Inspiration4, a private manned mission Funded by billionaire Jared Isaacman.

As the company completes production of Crew Dragon, it continues to work hard on the development of the next-generation ultra-superheavy launch system, Starship. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said on Twitter that the company is targeting May for the new spacecraft’s first orbital flight test, but the company is still awaiting key regulatory approvals from the Federal Aviation Administration before that can take place.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon on the launch pad for the Crew 3 mission. Photo credit: SpaceX

Pixxel, a startup with offices in the United States and India, has raised $25 million in funding to launch a constellation of satellites that will provide on-demand hyperspectral coverage. It aims to broadcast a constellation of six satellites approximately every 48 hours that will be able to provide five meter resolution over much of the Earth’s surface.

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The money goes into the construction and launch of the satellites and into a software platform for customers. Founder and CEO Awais Ahmed said it is “a generalized platform with built-in models and analytics.”

The $25 million Series A was led by Radical Ventures, with participation from Jordan Noone, Seraphim Space Investment Trust Plc, Lightspeed Partners, Blume Ventures and Sparta LLC.

Monochrome image on the left and hyperspectral image on the right of a satellite view of the mountains.

Photo credit: pixel

This week with… Chad Anderson

Chad Anderson

Photo credit: Chad Anderson (opens in a new window)

Chad Anderson is the founder and managing partner of Space Capital, an early-stage VC firm with $100 million under management. He is also a board member of the UK Space Catapult and honorary board chairman of the non-profit Explorers Club. He is also a member of the User Advisory Committee for the US National Lab on the International Space Station in Washington.

TechCrunch: What are you working on?

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Chad Anderson: Following the successful closing of $32 million on Space Capital II last month, we continue to be actively investing. We have more amazing companies in the pipeline than I’ve ever seen – we’ve already made eight investments from the new fund, have another investment close this week and have a term sheet for our next investment. And the Space Capital I portfolio is beginning to show some significant gains as our portfolio hits key milestones and our seed investments move into Series B. With three active funds under management, we are now supporting companies at all stages of the venture cycle with lots of action and fun.

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

Amid a series of mostly overwhelming earnings calls from space companies impacted by deSPAC, the SEC last week proposed rules to revise SPACs by improving disclosure and investor protection. (TC note: More information can be found here.) The proposal would tighten the rules for forward-looking forecasts and often unrealistic growth projections that SPACs have become notorious for. And companies acquired by SPACs and their officers and directors would be held liable for misstatements or omissions in merger documents filed by SPACs. I think this is a very healthy development and I’ve been thinking about all the ways it will improve the long-term health of the category.

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What are you looking forward to this week?

While an orbital launch from South Texas is unlikely to actually happen this week, I’m closely monitoring the progress at Starbase. I visited the manufacturing facility/test site/spaceport last week and the scale of what is happening there is impressive. The Super Heavy first stage that SpaceX will likely use for its first Starship orbital test flight has just been moved to the Orbital Launch Site, so I’m excited to see what happens next. Like many others, I look forward to seeing them get their launch license and test this thing in orbit.

Which song was repeated?

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The Fresh Prince of Bel Air Theme Song: “Well, this is a story about how my life was turned upside down…”

More news from TC and beyond

  • Blue Origin successfully sent a crew of six into suborbital space on the New Shepard rocket on Thursday. This is the fourth manned mission for the company.
  • The Federal Aviation Authorityhas delayed the release of its final environmental impact assessment for SpaceX‘s starbase/starship in Boca Chica for another month. The new deadline is April 29th. SpaceX cannot conduct Starship’s first orbital test launch until it receives this regulatory approval.
  • impulse space drive closed a $20 million seed round managed by Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund. The startup aims to develop space transportation services, including last-mile payload delivery and space debris removal.
  • NASA was able to get up $26 billion in funding $2 billion more for fiscal 2023 than this year if President Joe Biden’s budget proposal is approved. That includes $7.5 billion for “Deep Space Exploration Systems,” a category that encompasses the ambitious Artemis program to return humans to the Moon.
  • neural spacea Portuguese startup that is part of the European Space Agency’s Business Incubator program, 2.5 million euros raised by Armilar Venture Partners to commercialize its space debris monitoring and collision avoidance platform.
  • rocket lab launched two payloads into orbit from its launch facility on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula on behalf of Black Sky on Saturday. This is Rocket Lab’s 25th electron emission and the second electron emission in 2022.
  • space launch system, NASA’s expensive, massive rocket system, began its wet dress rehearsal. The wet dress rehearsal is a final set of key tests to determine if SLS is ready to take to the skies for the Artemis 1 lunar mission later this spring.
  • SpaceX launched Transporter-4 on Friday, carrying 40 customer payloads into space as part of its popular orbital ride service.
  • SPACs: planet, astra, Red cable and AST SpaceMobile all reported results this week. Find them by clicking on the links.
  • synspectivea Japanese startup, Raised $100 million to build a constellation of synthetic aperture radar satellites.
  • Terran Orbital completed its SPAC merger on Monday and debuted on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol $LLAP – an acronym for “Live Long and Prosper.”
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Weekly Reading

look at that fascinating twitter thread by Kevin Bell, attorney at Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. He describes how a whistleblower briefed him on a new spacecraft propulsion system that used mercury, a potent neurotoxin that, once emitted, would eventually fall back to the Earth’s surface. It is a vivid example of how legal and regulatory frameworks often do not keep pace with the pace of technological development.

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