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Space SPAC Index – Virgin Orbit Bows Out as Virgin Galactic Heads Back to Space

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
May 24, 2023
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Space SPAC Index – Virgin Orbit Bows Out as Virgin Galactic Heads Back to Space
Crew for VSS Unity’s final flight test.
Image credit: Virgin Galactic.

Welcome to S-SPACi. This week, we say goodbye to Virgin Orbit, sister company Virgin Galactic prepares for its first launch in nearly two years, BlackSky and Spire Global team up to track ships, AST SpaceMobile will join two Russell indexes, Planet Labs announces two artificial intelligence partnerships, Redwire wins a contract to develop a 3D bioprinter, and SatixFy’s beam-hopping communications system is launched into orbit.

VO Laid Low

Virgin Orbit (OTCMKTS: VORBQ) is making its final appearance on the old index in the wake of the bankrupt company’s announcement on Tuesday that it had auctioned off most of its assets and would be shutting down once all the paperwork is done.

Virgin Orbit's Boeing 747 Cosmic Girl
Cosmic Girl Boeing 747. Image credit Virgin Orbit.

The only uncertainty concerns the fate of about a half dozen LauncherOne boosters that are in various stages of completion at the company’s production facility in Long Beach, California, and the intellectual property that goes with them. Virgin Orbit didn’t auction off that inventory, and the company’s court filing indicates it could take unspecified action on them at a later time.

Stratolaunch, which bid $17 million on the Boeing 747 Cosmic Girl that air launches LauncherOne, did not bid on the boosters. Rocket Lab said it would not integrate the rockets into its operations. Launcher, which bid on Virgin Orbit’s engine test facilities, also did not acquire the boosters.

VSS Unity on approach to Spaceport America after a glide flight
VSS Unity glides to a landing after a test on April 26, 2023. Image credit: Virgin Galactic.

Virgin Galactic Prepares for Flight

With Virgin Orbit’s demise, one-half of Richard Branson’s ambitious plan to become a space mogul is gone. The lone company standing is Virgin Galactic (NYSE: SPCE), which is preparing for its first suborbital flight in nearly two years.

The WhiteKnightTwo VMS Eve carrier aircraft is set to take off from Spaceport America in New Mexico at 8 AM MT (10 AM ET/1400 UTC). It will air launch SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity with two pilots and four company employees in the passenger cabin for what is planned to be the final flight test before the company begins commercial flights late next month.

Virgin Galactic does not plan to webcast the flight, but the company will provide updates through its social media accounts.

Virgin Galactic’s stock had been on an upward climb this week, hitting $5.18 on Tuesday. However, the stock subsequently fell and was at $4.50 in after-hours trading on Wednesday.

Space SPAC Index
May 24, 2023

CompanyFirst Trading DayOpening Share PriceHighClosing Price
Astra Space (Nasdaq: ASTR)July 1, 2021$12.30$16.95 (7/2/21)$0.38
AST SpaceMobile (Nasdaq: ASTS)April 7, 2021$11.63$15.48 (6/30/21)$5.25 (NYSE: BBAI)Dec. 8, 2021$9.84$16.12 (4/6/22)$2.40
BlackSky (NYSE: BKSY)Sept. 10, 2021$11.80$13.20 (9/16/21)$1.39
Intuitive Machines (Nasdaq: LUNR)Feb. 14, 2023$10.00$136.00 (2/20/23)$7.16
Momentus (Nasdaq: MNTS)Aug. 13, 2021$10.8512.87 (9/7/21)$0.34
Planet Labs (NYSE: PL)Dec. 8, 2021$11.25$11.65 (12/8/21)$4.35
Redwire (NYSE: RDW)Sept. 3, 2021$10.70$16.98 (10/25/21)$2.51
Rocket Lab (Nasdaq: RKLB)Aug. 25, 2021$11.58$21.34 (9/9/21) $4.63
Satellogic (Nasdaq: SATL)Jan. 26, 2022$9.19$10.92 (5/4/22) $2.18
Satixfy (NYSE: SATX)Oct. 28, 2022$8.29$51.70
Spire (NYSE: SPIR)Aug. 17, 2021$10.25 $19.50 (9/22/21)$0.71
Terran Orbital (NYSE: LLAP)March 28, 2022$12.69$12.69 (3/28/22) $1.43
Virgin Galactic (NYSE: SPCE)Oct. 28, 2019$11.79$62.80 (2/4/21)$4.41
Virgin Orbit (OTCMKTS: VORBQ)Dec. 30, 2021$8.525$11.28 (1/11/22)$0.012
Stock Price Source: Google Finance.

AST SpaceMobile to Join the Russell Indexes

Satellite-to-cell-phone company AST SpaceMobile (Nasdaq: ASTS) announced that it is set to join the small-cap Russell 2000® and broad-market Russell 3000® indexes after the U.S. market opens on June 26. The annual indexes capture the 4,000 largest U.S. stocks and ranks them by total market capitalization.

“Being added to the Russell 3000 index is an important milestone for AST SpaceMobile and sign of maturity as we have now been a public company for over two years,” said CFO Sean Wallace. “We anticipate inclusion in this index to improve liquidity and broaden exposure for our company.”

Meanwhile, the Gross Law Firm and the Klein Law Firm, which are both in New York City, have launched separate investigations into whether AST SpaceMobile’s 2021 merger with New Providence Acquisition Corp. was fair to shareholders and whether the companies disclosed all material facts. These investigations typically result in class-action lawsuits that are often consolidated with each other.

BlackSky satellites in orbit
Satellites in orbit. Image credit: BlackSky Technology.

BlackSky & Spire Team Up to Track Vessels

BlackSky Technology (NYSE: BKSY) and Spire Global (NYSE: SPIR) have teamed up to create a real-time, commercially available Maritime Custody Service (MCS) that can automatically detect, identify and track more than 270,000 vessels worldwide in open water, along rivers and canals, and while docked at port.

The MCS uses data from Spire’s satellites to detect RF emissions from maritime targets and then automatically tips BlackSky’s satellites to collect imagery. Once collected, BlackSky Spectra AI processes and analyzes the electro-optical images using artificial intelligence to detect vessels, estimate cargo, and monitor change over time.

Planet Labs Announces AI Partnerships

Planet Labs (NYSE: PL) has announced new strategic partnerships with artificial intelligence (AI) analytics providers that will provide object detection and classification capabilities that will enhance data returned by Planet’s constellation of high-frequency, medium- and high-resolution satellites.

Wisconsin-based Synthetaic’s Rapid Automatic Image Categorization (RAIC) product automates the analysis of large, unstructured datasets like geospatial imagery so even a non-technical user can detect objects in minutes, or train and deploy AI models radically faster than traditional approaches and without labeled data.

Planet is also partnering with South Korean startup SI Analytics, which uses AI-powered super-resolution, GeoAI analytics, and object detection/segmentation algorithms to enhance the resolution of satellite imagery. The enhancements allow for the analysis of changes and abnormalities in the areas of interest.

Redwire Wins Contract to Develop 3D-BioSystem

A European subsidiary of space infrastructure company Redwire (NYSE: RDW) has won a €14 million (US $15.1 million) contract from the European Space Agency (ESA) to develop and qualify the 3D-BioSystem Facility.

Redwire Space NV of Belgium will develop the facility that astronauts on the International Space Station will use to bioprint cells. The system will include a 3D bioprinter, 3D cell culture units, and an incubator.

“We are proud to be developing the 3D-BioSystem to advance critical microgravity bioprinting capabilities,” said Erik Masure, Redwire Space NV Managing Director. “The ability to bioprint cell constructs will be critical for long-duration spaceflight expeditions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond and for sustainable planetary settlements.”

SatixFy’s Beam-Hopping Payload Launched

SatixFy’s (NYSE: SATX) fully digital beam-hopping and beam-steering payload on OneWeb’s JoeySat spacecraft was successfully launched into orbit aboard SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on May 20, 2023, from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

The advanced high-speed broadband satellite is able to remotely direct and boost its beams to focus coverage to certain locations, such as areas of high usage where the network is struggling to cope with demand. SatixFy’s payload can switch between various places on Earth up to 1,000 times per second and adjust the strength of the communications signals to meet demand.

The satellite was named JoeySat after a baby kangaroo for its beam-hopping abilities. The spacecraft was developed under a £32 million (US $39.6 million) grant from the UK Space Agency via the Sunrise Partnership between OneWeb and ESA.

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