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Ex-Blue Origin leaders want to mine the moon

Date 06 Feb, 2024

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch Space. Happy Monday, everyone!

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Story of the week

With its incredible mass and lift, SpaceX’s Starship is already transforming mission planning. Case in point: Voyager & Airbus will launch their private space station Starlab on Starship — in a single mission.

The two companies announced the launch deal last week, though neither party disclosed the financial terms. In some ways, it isn’t much of a surprise: Starship is the only heavy-lift rocket under development that will be capable of accommodating the station’s eight-meter-diameter in one go. But it’s nevertheless a welcome sign of healthy development, both for Starlab and Starship.

Voyager Airbus Starlab

Voyager/Airbus Starlab. Image Credits: Starlab Space LLC

Scoop of the week

I uncovered more details about a secretive moon startup headed by ex-Blue Origin leaders. Interlune, a startup that’s been around for at least three years but has made almost zero public announcements about its tech, raised $15.5 million in new funding and aims to close another $2 million. It’s headed by Rob Meyerson, an aerospace executive and investor who was president of Blue Origin for 15 years.

What little is known of Interlune’s tech mostly comes from an abstract of a small SBIR the startup was awarded last year from the National Science Foundation. Under that award, the company said it will aim to “develop a core enabling technology for lunar in situ resource utilization: the ability to sort ‘moon dirt’ (lunar regolith) by particle size.”

“By enabling raw lunar regolith to be sorted into multiple streams by particle size, the technology will provide appropriate feedstocks for lunar oxygen extraction systems, lunar 3-dimensional printers, and other applications,” the abstract says.

NASAs Artemis I Moon rocket sits at Launch Pad Complex 39B at Kennedy Space Center

NASA’s Artemis I Moon rocket sits at Launch Pad Complex 39B at Kennedy Space Center, in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on June 15, 2022. NASA is aiming for June 18 for the beginning of the next wet dress rehearsal test of the agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) at the Kennedy Space Center, with tanking operations on June 20. (Photo by EVA MARIE UZCATEGUI/AFP via Getty Images)

Launch highlights

SpaceX teamed up with Northrop Grumman to deliver more than 8,000 pounds of cargo, fresh food and scientific experiments to astronauts on the International Space Station.

The NG-20 resupply mission took off from the Space Force’s Cape Canaveral in Florida on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on January 30 and arrived at the ISS on February 1.

Northrop has been launching Cygnus to the ISS for resupply missions using its own Antares rocket since 2013, with the exception of just two missions that used a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5. But Northrop retired that version of Antares last year, and the next version — an all-American launch vehicle called Antares 330, which it is developing with Firefly Aerospace — will not be ready to fly until around mid-2025.

Both Northrop and SpaceX have multibillion-dollar contracts with NASA to deliver cargo resupply missions to the ISS. Under its contract, SpaceX uses its Dragon capsule; this is the first time the company flew a Cygnus.

Rewatch the launch here:

What we’re reading

Last week, I had a great time diving into this story predicting SpaceX’s 2024 revenue authored by Payload co-founder Mo Islam and Jack Kuhr, Payload’s research director.

The TL;DR is that Payload is projecting SpaceX’s revenue will climb from $8.7 billion in 2023 to $13.3 billion in 2024, chiefly due to higher demand for Falcon 9 launches and more Starlink customers. But there’s tons more discussion on SpaceX’s business at the link above, and it’s worth checking out.

This week in space history

On February 5, 1971, Alan Shepard became the fifth astronaut to walk on the moon. Ad astra!

Alan Shepard on the moon NASA

Image Credits: NASA

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