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Biz Briefs – L3Harris Completes Aerojet Rocketdyne Purchase, Lockheed Martin to Build Nuclear Rocket

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
July 28, 2023
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Biz Briefs – L3Harris Completes Aerojet Rocketdyne Purchase, Lockheed Martin to Build Nuclear Rocket
Artist concept of Demonstration for Rocket to Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) spacecraft, which will demonstrate a nuclear thermal rocket engine. Nuclear thermal propulsion technology could be used for future NASA crewed missions to Mars.
Image credit: DARPA.

Welcome to Biz Briefs! In this edition, L3Harris completed its $4.7 billion acquisition of Aerojet Rocketdyne, Lockheed Martin won a contract to develop a nuclear thermal powered spacecraft, NASA awarded 11 Tipping Point contracts for lunar technologies, HawkEye 360 and Impulse Space completed funding rounds, Kleos Space declared bankruptcy, and much more.

Mergers & Acquisitions

L3Harris announced on Friday (July 28) that it has completed its $4.7 billion acquisition of rocket engine manufacturer Aerojet Rocketdyne. The acquisition will form the fourth business segment of L3Harris.

Contracts & Awards

Lockheed Martin has won a contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop and demonstrate a nuclear-thermal powered spacecraft under the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) program. BWX Technologies will build the nuclear fission reactor. DARPA is partnered with NASA on DRACO, which is aiming for an in-space flight demonstration no later than 2027.

ESA has awarded three additional contracts for the Galileo Second Generation satellite navigation program. The space agency signed contracts with GMV (Spain) for the ground control segment, Thales (France) for security monitoring, and Thales Alenia Space (France) for the ground mission segment. The ESA has awarded Galileo Second Generation contracts worth approximately €900 million (USD $991.9 million) since summer 2022.

The Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator, or LOFTID, spacecraft is pictured after its atmospheric re-entry test in November 2022. Through a new Tipping Point partnership, United Launch Alliance will continue the development of the inflatable heat shield technology demonstrated by LOFTID. Image credit: NASA/Greg Swanson.

NASA has awarded $150 million in Tipping Point contracts to 11 companies to develop technologies to assist astronauts who will explore the Moon during the Artemis program.

NASA Tipping Point Awards

Blue Origin
Kent, Washington
Blue Origin will advance an end-to-end in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) system that can extract oxygen, iron, silicon, and aluminum from lunar regolith simulant and use the extracted materials to produce solar cells and wire.$34.7 million
Astrobotic Technology
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Astrobotic will demonstrate the robotic deployment of one kilometer of cable and power transmission through that cable across the lunar surface. A CubeRover delivered by Astrobotic’s Griffin lander will deploy the power line. The demonstration will advance power generation and distribution technologies, including – a high-voltage power converter, cable, and cable reel system.$34.6 million
United Launch Alliance
Centennial, Colorado
ULA will continue to evolve a proven Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (HIAD) technology design. The company will develop a larger 10-meter HIAD that leverages a two-piece structure to enable effective load distribution for even larger inflatable decelerators.$25 million
Zeno Power Systems
Washington, DC
Zeno Power will develop a Stirling engine-enabled radioisotope power system that utilizes a long-lived, thermally constant heat source – Americium 241. This technology could be used for space and surface power systems, offering an alternative to plutonium-based power systems.$15 million
Jacksonville, Florida.
The company will develop a grader, compactor, and microwave emitter into a scalable platform that removes rocks, compacts loose regolith, and melts or sinters regolith into a solid surface. This technology could enable dust mitigation areas, habitat foundations, roads, and landing pads. $12.9 million
Lockheed Martin
Littleton, Colorado
The company will demonstrate in-space component joining and inspection technologies for structural, electrical, and fluid systems. The capability would reduce risk and advance the maturity and reliability of in-space assembly architectures.$9.1 million
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Protoinnovations will advance modular, flight-ready mobility control software for future lunar rovers and robots.$6.2 million
Big Metal Additive
Denver, Colorado
Big Metal Additive will advance materials, manufacturing processes, equipment, and facilities for metal hybrid additive manufacturing. The project aims to increase technology readiness and reduce lead time, material waste, and cost to enable a range of structural products, including space habitats.$5.4 million
Hampton, Virginia.
Partnering with Draper Laboratory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Psionic will conduct a flight demonstration of its latest generation Navigation Doppler Lidar and terrain contour matching system. Crewed and robotic missions could utilize the high-precision navigation system to land at various planetary destinations, including the Moon.$3.2 million
Varda Space Industries
El Segundo, California.
Varda will mature Conformal Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablator (C-PICA), a cost-effective and mass-efficient thermal protection system material developed by NASA. The project will flight test C-PICA and start commercial production of the material.$1.9 million
Freedom Photonics
Santa Barbara, California.
Highly Efficient Watt-Class Direct Diode Lidar for Remote Sensing$1.6 million
Source: NASA

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has rejected a protest from Greystones Consulting Group over its exclusion from a list of 18 companies eligible for $900 million in US Space Force contracts for data analytics and software services.

NASA has awarded a sole-source contract to Columbia University, New York, to operate the agency’s Socioeconomic Data and Application Center’s (SEDAC) Distributed Active Archive Center (DAAC). The total potential contract value is nearly $30 million if all four options are exercised.

Sidus Space was awarded a subcontract by Parsons for U.S. Space Force launch manifest systems integration support. Sidus Space will fabricate a master harness assembly and test cables for Parsons.

NASA is investing more than $14 million in 19 US colleges and universities to grow their STEM capacity under the MUREP (Minority University Research and Education Project) Curriculum Award program. The awards will allow students to participate in critical spaceflight research and prepare them for careers in the nation’s science, technology, engineering, and math workforce.

Cluster 4 satellites in orbit
Cluster 4 satellites in orbit. Image credit: HawkEye 360.


Radio frequency (RF) geospatial intelligence company HawkEye 360 has closed a $58 million Series D-1 funding round. The Virginia-based company will use the funds to develop new space systems and expand analytics that support high-value defense missions. Blackrock led the round, with additional funding from Manhattan Venture Partners. Existing investors Insight Partners, NightDragon, Strategic Development Fund (SDF), Razor’s Edge, Alumni Ventures, and Adage Capital also participated in the round.

In-space propulsion provider Impulse Space has raised an oversubscribed $45 million Series A round led by RTX Ventures. Founders Fund, Lux Capital, Airbus Ventures, and Space Capital contributed to the round. Impulse Space said it would use the funding to continue work on missions headed for Earth orbit and Mars.

Satellite ground segment services provider Leaf Space SpA completed a capital increase of €20 million (USD $22 million). CDP Venture Capital Sgr (through Fondo Evoluzione) and Neva Sgr were the lead investors. SIMEST and Digital Transition Fund, which is part of the CDP S.p.A. group, also participated in the round.

A French startup named Look Up Space has raised €14 million (USD $15.6 million) to deploy powerful radars around the globe to provide real-time data on satellites and orbital debris to companies and governments.


Kleos Space has filed for bankruptcy in Luxembourg. The company uses small satellites to detect radio signals in order to uncover illegal activities. Trading of the company’s shares in Australia was suspended in May.

Astronauts in space. Image credit: FAA
Rendering of astronauts in space. Image credit: FAA.

Human spaceflight

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has launched a 25-member rulemaking committee composed of government and industry officials to examine the development and cost of safety regulations to protect occupants on commercial human spaceflights. Recommendations will be submitted to the FAA next summer. The announcement came two months before a federal moratorium on regulations is set to expire on October 1.

Government involvement remains important to commercial companies flying people to space and planning to launch private space stations later in the decade, due to the challenges of funding such missions without public resources.

Intuitive Machines' lunar lander with Zeno Power unit.
Intuitive Machines’ lunar lander with Zeno Power unit. Image credit: Zeno Power.


The government-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation is facing competition from commercial companies in the launch market. Meanwhile, SpaceX continues to dominate the U.S. market.

The Space SPAC Index has updates on Redwire’s contract to develop lunar technologies, Intuitive Machines’ work on a nuclear generator for use on the Moon, Spire Global’s ESA contract and new weather visualization tool, AST SpaceMobile’s research and development facility in India, and much more.

SpaceRef writer Blaine Curcio takes an in-depth look at G60, the latest Chinese plans for to launch a large constellation of broadband satellites.

In-space logistics provider Atomos Space is ready to launch two internally designed and built spacecraft named Quark and Gluon. The satellites will perform rendezvous, docking, refueling, and orbital transfer. This demonstration mission will pave the way for Atomos’s Quark Orbital Transfer Vehicle (OTV). Atomos plans to provide in-space services such as satellite orbit raising and life extension, spacecraft refueling, and cargo delivery to space stations.

Vigoride orbital transfer vehicle. Image credit: Momentus
Vigoride orbital transfer vehicle. Image credit: Momentus.

In-space transportation company Momentus announced it has deployed all customer payloads from its Vigoride-6 orbital transfer vehicle launched aboard SpaceX’s Transporter-7 rideshare mission in April. The company has deployed 15 customer satellites on three missions over the past year.

ETH is leading a team of Swiss researchers who are developing robots equipped with legs that will use scientific instruments to search for minerals and other resources on the moon. The researchers want to send groups of robots to explore the moon.

Sidus Space will host a star tracker developed by SOLAR MEMS on its fourth planned LizzieSat mission, currently scheduled to launch with SpaceX in June 2024. LizzieSat will host the star tracker as a part of its payload rideshare program.

A review last month gave approval for the manufacturing and testing of elements of ESA’s Space Rider orbital laboratory. The automated laboratory will allow scientists to conduct experiments and engineers to test technologies for up to two months.

Nokia Bell Labs plans to deploy the first cellular network on the surface of the Moon as part of Intuitive Machines’ IM-2 mission.


Both lawmakers and witnesses accused the Pentagon of a cover-up of information about unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs) during a United States House of Representatives subcommittee on national security hearing on July 26.

On Thursday (July 27), the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation passed the Orbital Sustainability (ORBITS) Act of 2022, and the Act will now go to the floor of the Senate. The Act, sponsored by Senator John W. Hickenlooper (D-CO), is aimed at understanding and fighting the growing problem of junk and debris in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). 

Argentina became the 28th country to sign the Artemis Accords. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson participated in the signing ceremony in Buenos Aires. Daniel Filmus, Minister of Science, Technology, and Innovation, signed on behalf of Argentina. The accords are a set of principles for the exploration and utilization of space.

The Portuguese government has authorized annual funding of €9.25 million ($10.25 million) for the Portuguese Space Agency (PSA) for the 2023-2027 period. The new space agency is looking to implement potentially ambitious plans by Portugal to make its stamp on the space economy.


Satellite servicing company Astroscale Holdings Inc. has appointed three new members to its Board of Directors. The new members include Gayle Sheppard, CEO of Bright Machines, and Erica Newland, the former CFO of Baraja. Astroscale CFO Nobuhiro “Matsu” Matsuyama has joined as an internal director.


Optimum Technologies announced the opening of a new spacecraft integration facility in Sterling, Virginia. The facility has a 5,700 square foot cleanroom, bonded storage, software development labs, and a machine shop.

The California Science Center has begun the process of vertically stacking the space shuttle Endeavour with its external tank and solid rocket boosters (SRBs) in launch configuration. The process began with the installation of two aft skirts that make up the base of the SRBs. Endeavour has been on display separately in a building while the science center raises funds for the vertical exhibit.

A Viasat survey of senior electrical utilities industry professionals indicated “an alarming number of emerging threats to national grid stability over the next five years.” The majority of those surveyed believe satellite-based Internet of Things services would be crucial in meeting the threats.

High-altitude balloon tourism company Space Perspectives said it has sold more than 1,600 tickets, representing $200 million in sales.

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