VC investments in space rise during the pandemic

— Investment in space is continuing despite the pandemic, according to the chief trends strategist at the Oxford Club.

— Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt argues that a return to the moon is mandatory, and that a national team is the best way to do it.

— NASA’s commercial partnerships mean less public transparency.

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SPACE INVESTMENT DURING A PANDEMIC: The pandemic has so far not substantially impacted investment in the space industry, according to Matthew Carr, the chief trends strategist at the Oxford Club, a financial publisher. “The industry has shown to be extremely resilient in one of the most difficult periods any of us can actually remember,” he said. “I haven’t seen any sort of slow down from my end.”

Data backs this up. Space Capital’s second-quarter investment report found that venture capital funding in space companies was actually up 4 percent during the first half of 2020 compared to the same time in 2019, defying predictions that funding would dry up during the pandemic and economic downturn.

One reason is that space investors must think long-term, Carr said. In an industry where investors expect success to take decades and there’s always a risk of significant setbacks, the long-term opportunities still exist regardless of the pandemic, which began in the U.S. in March. “Space as a whole, you have to take that long term view,” he said. “It’s a $350 billion industry. By 2040, you expect it to be worth more than $1 trillion, and I think that’s being somewhat conservative.”

COUNTING DOWN TO 2024: Most people support the Trump administration goal of a crewed lunar landing in 2024 — but also doubt the lofty goal can be achieved that quickly, according to a series of interviews conducted by Nathan Price, founder of the NSS North Houston Space Society. Price has plans to interview a new person every day until 2024 for his “Countdown to the Moon” project. Interviews with more than 200 people, including a nurse working on Covid-19 testing, a science fiction writer, and an elementary school teacher, have already been posted on his website. The goal is to provide future space enthusiasts a glimpse at how Americans perceived the importance of space exploration ahead of the return to the moon.

Before the pandemic, Price interviewed strangers at coffee shops, the mall, or the airport to create a “time capsule” of viewpoints. But he has been forced to look for new interview subjects online. Price started the project in December 2019 and still has more than 1600 people to go, so is looking for volunteers who want to be interviewed.

Whether Congress will pay to meet the 2024 goal remains unclear. The House Appropriations Committee’s spending bill would give NASA $22.6 billion in fiscal 2021, about $2.6 billion less than the administration asked for. The Senate has not released its spending proposal, but the Republican-led chamber is likely to be more in line with the president’s goals.

Some of the leading companies in the Artemis program are calling out the big guns to help get Congress and the American people on board with the plan.

In a new POLITICO op-ed, Schmitt, a former Republican senator from New Mexico and crew member of the final Apollo 17 mission in December 1972, insists “there is no acceptable choice for America’s future but to return to the Moon to stay, and to do so as soon as possible,” adding that “scientific explorers and commercial pioneers need to get to the Moon with diverse people, practices, and profit motivations.”

“NASA’s Artemis Program will be one of the driving cultural, geopolitical and economic forces of this age,” adds Schmitt, 85, who hopes his voice can help the program overcome its many political risks (not many people can attest to having “walked in the lunar valley of Taurus-Littrow.”)

Schmitt, who serves on the Science Advisory Board of Blue Origin, also makes an appeal for the Human Landing System being built by Jeff Bezos’ space company, along with partners Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper Labs.

“Blending established entities and entrepreneurial space firms is a good prescription for success,” he argues, calling their offering “the best chance at returning to the Moon and using its resources to sustain and advance human exploration and civilization in space.”

The so-called “National Team” is competing against teams led by Dynetics and SpaceX.

WHAT ROLE WILL PRIVATE SECTOR PLAY IN MOON SHOTS? Commercial providers should take over providing utilities like power and water on the moon “as soon as possible” after human missions begin in 2024, according to a National Space Council report on “A New Era for Deep Space Exploration and Development” released Thursday that described the Trump administration’s vision for continuous and sustainable missions off Earth.

The report, which laid out the administration’s broad vision for exploration out of low-Earth orbit, said astronauts traveling to the moon would arrive to find something similar to a “small Antarctic scientific station” prepositioned on the lunar surface. Astronauts would then build out this existing infrastructure to support larger future missions

The government would initially provide things like oxygen and communications services, but would support private research and development to transfer those responsibilities to commercial providers quickly, a shift that “will represent an important step beyond space exploration to development and industrialization.”

“The following 2 or 3 years should see a very substantial increase in the capabilities of the lunar astronauts, the number of people working on the Moon, and the robustness of the space logistics systems bringing people and cargo back and forth on a routine basis,” it adds.

SPACE COMMAND NOMINEE TESTIFIES: Army Lt. Gen. James Dickinson’s nomination hearing to be the head of U.S. Space Command will be held Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee. The position is now filled by Gen. John Raymond, who is doubling as the head of the U.S. Space Force. Dickinson has been the deputy commander of Space Command since December. Prior to that he was the commander of the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command.

The two jobs were always intended to be split up. The fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act allowed the Space Force’s Chief of Space Operations to also serve as the head of U.S. Space Command for up to one year.

LOGO VERSUS SEAL: The Space Force unveiled its new logo this week. But didn’t the new branch already announce its logo this year? You’re not the only one who was confused. President Donald Trump in January tweeted a picture of the new “logo,” but officials now say that was the seal, while the image released this week is actually the logo.

What’s the difference? The seal is a “heraldic item” used for official purposes like letterhead and diplomas, said Lynn Kirby, a U.S. Space Force spokesperson. The logo, which is trademarked by the Air Force, is the “public-facing brand identity” and can be used both commercially as well as in more routine situations, like on briefings.

‘WITHHELD IN FULL’: There’s at least one major drawback to NASA’s big push to rely on commercial space providers, rather than develop government-owned spacecraft as in the past: much less public transparency.

Documents that in another era were relatively accessible by reporters and researchers through the Freedom of Information Act are being withheld, citing exemptions in the law for “proprietary information,” or to protect companies’ competitive advantage.

For example, in response to a recent request for the “readiness review” for the May 30 mission carrying NASA astronauts to the space station aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, the space agency said it found 361 relevant pages. But “345 pages are being withheld in full; 11 pages are released in part; 5 pages are being released in full.”

As for the “reliability analysis” for the capsule? NASA’s Commercial Crew Program Office located 625 pages, all of which “are being withheld in full,” NASA responded. And three government reports covering the parachute recovery system for Boeing’s Orion space capsule were similarly withheld in full.

Why? “During the shuttle era NASA owned the launch vehicles and was more or less obligated to make as much information publicly available as possible,” Carissa Wheeler, a FOIA Public Liaison Officer, explained in a recent email response to a requester, which was shared with us on the agreement they remain anonymous. “Nowadays, until [Space Launch System] flies, everything is contractor-driven. The NASA Launch Services Program is the only other entity launching besides the Commercial Crew Program these days. And all of their launches are contracted out as well.”

VIRGIN HIRES EX-PENCE AIDES AS LOBBYISTS: After hiring and firing a string of D.C. players over the years, Richard Branson’s space endeavors have enlisted a team of new lobbyists this summer, according to public disclosures — including two recent aides to Vice President Mike Pence.

Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit have brought on the law firm Venable to lobby on “space launch legislation, NASA Authorization, National Defense Authorization Act, appropriations,” according to lobby disclosures filed for both the space tourist company and the satellite launch company.

The primary Venable lobbyists identified are Daris Meeks, former director of domestic policy for Pence, and Jared Stout, former chief of staff for Pence’s National Space Council. This month Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit also added Venable’s Anne Kierig, former counsel to Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Democratic Whip.

Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit have also hired American Continental Group to help secure NASA funding and stimulus aid, the records show. The lobby team includes Shawn Smeallie, who worked for President George H.W. Bush on legislative affairs; Michael Barbera, chief of staff to former GOP Rep. Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania; Eriade Williams, a senior aide to former Democratic Rep. Robert Brady of Pennsylvania; and Patrick Grant, former counsel for the Senate Banking Committee.

THE BATTLE TO HOST SPACE COMMAND: The Colorado Springs Chamber and Development Corporation, meanwhile, also brought on American Continental Group this year to help lobby on “issues related to the location of the United States Space Command,” according to the reports. That includes David Urban, the former aide to former Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and a Washington power broker who is close to President Donald Trump and helped get his West Point classmate, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, his cabinet post.

Related: The Aerospace Corporation is building a second facility in Colorado Springs, Colo., that will include a lot of classified spaces in which to work with U.S. Space Command and the Space Force. The $100 million construction project is expected to be completed in spring of 2022.

SYMPOSIUM UPDATE: The Space Symposium set for late October in Colorado Springs will have both virtual and in-person components, the CEO of the Space Foundation, which organizes the major gathering, announced this week. Tom Zelibor said during a webinar on the Mars 2020 mission that the organization is “looking forward to bringing the world’s space community together again at the 36th Space Symposium, this coming October 31st through November 2nd, both in person in Colorado Springs and virtually.”

The White House announced Wednesday that it intends to nominate Greg Autry, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business who served on the Trump administration’s NASA transition team, to be NASA’s chief financial officer, replacing Jeff DeWit, who resigned in February.

Maj. Gen. Charlie Bolden, a retired Marine and former NASA administrator, is joining the team of principals at WestExec Advisors LLC.

Daniel Tomanelli is now policy adviser in the office of the deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration. He was most recently at the National Security Council, where he was a special assistant in the defense directorate.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Congratulations to Corey Gers, a senior graphic designer at Boeing, for being the first to answer that Buzz Aldrin’s mother’s maiden name was Moon.

This week’s question: The Mars 2020 rover is expected to launch this week. Where on Mars will the mission land in 2021?

The first person to email [email protected] gets bragging rights and a shoutout in next week’s newsletter!

Democrats’ 2020 platform supports return to the moon: Al.com

SpaceX’s first operational flight to the space station set for September: Space.com

And the two astronauts who launched on SpaceX’s demo flight in May will fly home Aug. 2: CNBC

Why Japan is becoming NASA’s most important partner on the Gateway: Technology Review

China successfully launches to Mars: Popular Mechanics

Virgin Galactic’s George Whitesides talks about the future of space exploration in a new podcast: Altamar

Is the government ready to manage the coming explosion of satellites in low-Earth orbit? Washington Post

A deep dive into the Space Force and the threats it is fighting: Time

Pentagon condemns Russia’s anti-satellite test from space: Space News

Two retired generals say the Pentagon must take action to deter competitors in space: C4ISRNET

The Pentagon’s U.F.O office will make some of its findings public: New York Times

MIT shows how easy it is to fake news with video of moon landing failure: CNET

TODAY: Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond speaks at a virtual Center for New American Security event.

MONDAY: NASA officials host a pre-launch briefing on the Mars 2020 mission.

TUESDAY: The Senate Armed Services Committee holds a confirmation hearing for Dickinson to be commander of U.S. Space Command.

TUESDAY: NASA hosts briefings on the sample return Mars 2020 mission, as well as how the program will contribute to future human flights to Mars.

WEDNESDAY: NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine conducts a briefing on the Mars 2020 mission.

WEDNESDAY: The Secure World Foundation holds an event on the Space Data Association, an industry-led effort to share space situational awareness that was founded 10 years ago.

THURSDAY: The Mars 2020 mission is expected to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

FRIDAY: Bridenstine speaks about legal issues in space at the American Bar Association’s virtual annual meeting.

FRIDAY: Crew aboard the International Space Station conduct a news conference.