Aphelion Aerospace has been operating mostly in stealth mode this year and so we wanted to provide an update this summer on our progress. The coronavirus pandemic has definitely affected us but we have been able to continue steadily moving forward.
We now have in place or are finalizing MOU’s with three potential customers for the launch of their satellites in the 2023-25 timeframe. They are Utowave, Space Resources Laboratory and Celestial Space Technology. One is developing a new CubeSat propulsion system and needs a test flight. One of the others is developing a constellation and will need multiple launches. The third company is developing CubeSat communication systems and will need test flights for their systems as well as access to our customers. These will hopefully be the first three commercial launch customers to fly with us.
We executed a formal MOU with Leaf Space (https://leaf.space) to provide the ground segment and support for our launch vehicle communications, telemetry and C&DH. They have a global network as well as mobile options and a good synergy with us.
We are also executing an agreement with The Launch Company (https://www.launch-company.com). They offer launch site infrastructure design, development and operational support. They have extensive experience in this field and are or have previously worked with Firefly, SpaceX and provided launch site services for the DARPA Launch Challenge. Currently, they are supporting Astra’s August launch attempt from the Pacific Spaceport Launch Complex at Kodiak, AK.
We are continuing work to establish manufacturing facilities at or near KSC either on land leased to us or taking over an existing facility. Under our plan, we would also lease out one of the available launch complexes at Cape Canaveral AFS. A final agreement is expected in early fall with the consolidation of the team to begin by the end of the year. However, we will still maintain a small R&D and business office in the New York City area.
In addition to Florida, we are proceeding with discussions to establish a presence at the Kodiak, AK spaceport for launch operations to Sun Synchronous, Polar Orbit and government missions. We also have long-term negotiations in progress with corporate and government entities to operate from commercial spaceports in Australia on the northern coast as well as from a future spaceport in the Azores islands.
We have an application submitted for the AFWERX Space Challenges (https://www.afwerx.af.mil). In this program, if we are selected, we will present at a Showcase event in front of DoD, industry and investor representatives. If we do well, additional investment, as well as a contract for continued development, could be awarded quickly.
At the end of July, NASA released an RFP for the Venture Class Launch Services Demo 2 acquisition. This RFP is seeking dedicated nanosatellite launch services for one of two mission profiles. It’s being aimed specifically at new nano launch companies who have not launched anything yet and do not have existing launch contracts. https://beta.sam.gov/opp/8441829f378742f99a0ae9b35488ddc3/view
“The VCLS Demo 2 is anticipated to award one or more firm-fixed-price contract(s) for demonstration launch services with a capability to deliver at a minimum 30 kilograms of CubeSat satellites. The resultant contract(s) will require launch and orbit insertion no later than June 30, 2022.”
The RFP was released on July 31, 2020, with an anticipated proposal due date on or about August 31, 2020. This is a very rapid acquisition process. Normally, the response period is between 90-180 days. If we pursue this, the 30-day window is going to require us to work extremely hard to create a sufficient proposal.
Finally, we are in a collaboration with a non-profit organization on an experimental CubeSat to study optical communications, Calypso (http://www.calypsocubesat.com). We have the satellite hardware in storage and several people are currently working on the payload. We will be submitting a proposal to NASA’s Cubesat Launch Initiative in this year’s solicitation that opens this month, hopefully for a launch within 2 years.