NASA Selects Emily Nelson as Chief Flight Director

NASA has named Emily Nelson its new chief flight director, leading the group that directs human spaceflight missions from the Mission Control Center at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Norm Knight, the agency’s director of flight operations, selected Nelson to replace Holly Ridings, who held the position from 2018 to 2022, and now helps lead the agency’s Gateway Program, an international partnership to establish humanity’s first space station orbiting the Moon. Nelson has been the acting chief flight director since Riding’s departure.

“Being a flight director is about accepting great responsibility and exercising excellent leadership and judgment – responsibility for the mission, for your team, and for the astronauts we fly,” Knight said. “Emily’s tenure leading our flight control teams has proven that she is remarkably knowledgeable on the realities of human spaceflight and eminently composed when facing daunting challenges. She is unequivocally the right person to lead our flight director office as we endeavor to push the boundaries of human spaceflight exploration.”

In this role, Nelson manages 31 active flight directors and flight directors-in-training who oversee a variety of human spaceflight missions involving the International Space Station, including integrating American-made commercial crew spacecraft into the fleet of spacecraft servicing the orbiting laboratory, as well as Artemis missions to the Moon.

“We are thrilled to announce Emily as chief fight director as her program and operations experience will continue to ensure the safe and successful completion of every mission as we prepare to transition to a commercialized low Earth orbit where NASA will be a customer of many,” said NASA Johnson Director Vanessa Wyche. “Emily’s dedication to mission excellence makes her the ideal choice to lead the teams that will send our astronauts around the Moon on Artemis II, and as we prepare for operations on the lunar surface via the Artemis campaign that will land the first woman and person of color on the Moon.”

Nelson, born in Okinawa, Japan, and raised in Austin, Texas, earned a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin in 1998. She joined NASA in 1998 as a flight controller in the space station’s thermal operations group.

She was selected as a flight director in 2007, becoming the 70th flight director in NASA’s history. Since then, she has served as the lead flight director for several missions including the station’s fourth utilization and logistics flight with the space shuttle, Atlantis, in 2010, a complex series of spacewalks to repair the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, and five space station long-duration expeditions. She previously served as deputy chief flight director while continuing to support real-time operations from mission control.

Panasonic Conducts Space-Exposure Tests for Electronic Materials

Panasonic Industry recently announced that it is conducting space exposure experiments of its electronic circuit board materials and underfill for board-level reinforcement. The materials were launched into space in March 2023 on the Exposed Facility of the Japanese Experiment Module Kibo onboard the International Space Station (ISS) for about six months.

In recent years, the aerospace industry has accelerated the development of space technologies and solutions intending to solve environmental and social issues on Earth, including endeavors such as the full-scale promotion of manned lunar surface activities and efforts to increase services that utilize low-earth-orbit satellites.

These experiments will expose Panasonic’s products to space environment and utilize the data obtained for future product development. Such products include MEGTRON series multi-layer circuit board materials and LEXCM series semiconductor device materials, widely used in ICT equipment. This project allows experiments in space (an environment where microgravity, high vacuum, cosmic radiation, and wide-ranging temperature changes occur simultaneously), which are difficult to duplicate on Earth.

Panasonic will provide electronic materials to contribute to businesses relating to the Moon and Mars, which are expected to expand in the future, and technological innovations for high-altitude platform stations (HAPSs). HAPS, short for High-Altitude Platform Station, is the general term for systems that provide communication services over a wide area by mounting communication base stations, such as those for LTE and 5G applications, on unmanned aircraft flying in the stratosphere about 20 km above the ground.

About The Electronic Materials That Will Be Evaluated


The MEGTRON brand family of circuit board materials offers the ideal range of performance, reliability, and quality. The products feature a unique dielectric system combined with low-profile copper foil to deliver high-speed/low-loss performance and superior thermal properties. With a lineup widely used in industry-standard products for lead-free, high-layer-count PCBs, it is the perfect solution for networking and other high-performance applications.


The LEXCM brand now comprises all of the Semiconductor Device Materials, IC packaging materials (which includes substrates, encapsulants, and underfills), and electronic assembly materials. The IC substrate materials’ brand is also transitioning from MEGTRON GX to LEXCM GX. [Main image above].


With FELIOS, Panasonic developed adhesiveless flexible circuit board materials that offer superior thermal resistance combined with dimensional stability. The FELIOS have Halogen-free single- or double-sided copper clad that are available in a wide range of film and copper foil thicknesses to support all applications, particularly for mobile products such as smartphones or tablet PCs and medical or avionics applications.

PCB manufacturers in Europe are already relying on Panasonic’s MEGTRON, LEXCM and FELIOS technology, especially in the sectors of aerospace, network communication, automotive as well as the development of wearables.

Starship, Uncrewed, Explodes After Launch

SpaceX’s Starship exploded in midair during its first launch attempt. This powerful rocket one of the most powerful ever constructed, was uncrewed. The SpaceX Starship launched for the test flight in Boca Chica, Texas, on April 20.

“Starship just experienced what we call a rapid unplanned disassembly,” an official said on the broadcast.

SpaceX has a philosophy to embrace mishaps in the learning process and Founder Elon Must called the break up “icing on the cake.” The company believes that such accidents are the quickest best way of gathering data.

Space Launch: Are We Heading for Oversupply or a Shortfall?

By Chris Daehnick, John Gang, and Ilan Rozenkopf

To serve an expanding space economy, nearly 7,500 active satellites orbit Earth and about 50 on average are taking to the skies every week.1 Many operate as part of multi- satellite constellations—serving commercial applications from remote sensing to communications to navigation. Governments are also expanding their satellite fleets for multiple missions. In the future, greater space exploration, the launch of commercial space stations, and even tourism could further increase launch needs. New companies are constantly entering the market and much uncertainty persists about their ambitions, as well as those of more established players. Forecasts for the number of constellations, and therefore required launch capabilities, thus vary widely.

In tandem with this rise in activity, the space industry is transitioning to a new generation of launch vehicles, leading to a range of possibilities in terms of availability and capacity. In light of these dynamics, both customers (commercial and government satellite owners) and suppliers must make tricky calculations to balance short-term opportunities against the imperative to control costs and flex to longer-term demand.

While government (military and civil) space activity remains a significant and growing source of launch demand, the private sector is the fastest-growing segment, amid technological advances and declining costs that have spurred innovation and commercial activity. The price of heavy launches to low-Earth orbit (LEO) has fallen from $65,000 per kilogram to $1,500 per kilogram—more than a 95 percent decrease.2 In part due to these efficiencies, companies and governments are putting thousands of new satellites into orbit.3 Elon Musk’s SpaceX is leading the way, with its Starlink program planning to launch as many as 42,000 satellites to provide global broadband and other services. 4

Satellite use cases span a range of applications. As of March 2023, there were 5,000 satellites serving communications, with the number of communications launches having grown by about 15 percent a year since 2017. There are about 1,000 active satellites for Earth observation and 1,500 for technology development, research, and other missions.5 Looking ahead, there are plans for a significant expansion to as many as 65,000 new communication satellites and 3,000 non-communication satellites (for applications such as Earth observation).6 In total, companies have proposed more than 100 new constellations. Direct-to-device concepts, which link satellites to cell phones, have also gained traction lately and could lead to additional new entrants. Even if not fully deployed, the new constellations will drive demand for services including intersatellite links, ground terminals, analytical support and, potentially, in-orbit maneuvering and debris removal.

A key driver of satellite proliferation is lower overall costs, enabled, for example, by more capabilities in small satellites such as cubesats, built from ten-by-ten-by-ten centimeter modules, and microsats, weighing less than 100 kilograms. These are used for applications such as Earth observation and in-orbit demonstrations of miniaturized technologies. Still, useful constellations (commercially or for government purposes) will require dozens to thousands of spacecraft. Moreover, as designs mature, satellites will tend to get bigger, suggesting medium and heavy launch capabilities will remain the most cost effective choice for deployment. And the new generation of satellites will operate for just five to seven years—allowing for technology refresh and reduced manufacturing costs. These factors are set to drive demand for significant launch tonnage.

Three scenarios for potential growth to 2030

According to the not-for-profit Space Foundation, the space economy is growing strongly, up 9 percent from 2020 to reach a value of $469 billion in 2021. 7 This was the highest recorded growth since 2014. To gauge the industry’s potential growth up to 2030, McKinsey modelled three scenarios, predicated on assumptions around the quantity, size, and timing of deployments (Exhibit 1).8 For each constellation, we estimated the total number of licensed or proposed satellites, expected mass, and likelihood of full deployment, which we then combined with views on launch dates and satellite lifespan. We also considered plans for non-constellation launches, such as commercial space stations, when creating the scenarios (see sidebar “Assumptions underlying the scenarios”).

  1. Radar, McKinsey, accessed March 1, 2023.
  2. Ryan Brukardt, “How will the space economy change the world,” McKinsey Quarterly, November 28, 2022; Chris Daehnick, Rob Hamill, Alexandre Ménard, and Bill Wiseman, “Is there a ‘best’ owner of satellite internet?” McKinsey, August 11, 2022.
  3. Chris Daehnick, Isabelle Klinghoffer, Ben Maritz, and Bill Wiseman, “Large LEO satellite constellations: Will it be different this time?” McKinsey, May 4, 2020.
  4. Starlink is responsible for almost half of all operational satellites. All have been launched in the past three years. Ramish Zafar, “SpaceX might not need 42,000 starlink satellites for quality internet coverage says president,” Wccftech, September 14, 2022.
  1. Radar, McKinsey, accessed March 1, 2023.
  2.  In most cases, the maximum number of satellites has been announced or filed for; the quantity may change.
  3. “Space Foundation releases the Space Report 2022 Q2, showing growth of global space economy,” Space Foundation, July 27, 2022; Michael Sheetz, “The space economy grew at fastest rate in years to $469 billion in 2021, report says,” CNBC, July 27, 2022.
  4. Note these are only three of many possible scenarios; other variables include delays in launch and planned satellite lifetimes.

Assumptions underlying the scenarios

For the three scenarios, we made the following assumptions about launch demand:

  • High. This scenario assumes that 67,000 satellites with an average mass of 1 ton are deployed by 2030. They are fully deployed within 4 years of initial launch, and satellites are replaced frequently, with an assumed service life of under 6 years on average. In addition, there are many heavy-payload-mass flights to space stations and beyond.
  • Base. This scenario assumes that 24,000 satellites with an average mass of 870 kg are deployed by 2030. There is a slower rate of deployment, with constellations completed on average in 5 years, and an average satellite life of slightly more than 6 years of service. There is a moderate quantity of flights and payload mass (75% of high case) to space stations and beyond.
  • Low. This scenario assumes that18,000 satellites with an average mass of 540 kg will be deployed by 2030. There will be slow deployment, taking over 5 years, and satellites will be kept in orbit longer, for nearly 8 years. There will be a low quantity of flights and payload mass (50% of high case) to space stations and beyond. For launch supply, the high-supply scenario assumes that Starship will achieve a daily launch rate by 2030 and have a fleet of 30 boosters and 60 ships. Launches of Falcon 9 will taper off, except for existing contracts, and be replaced with Starship launches. The high- supply scenario also assumes that other vehicles will achieve their anticipated rate capabilities within four to six years. In the alternative supply scenario, Starship is not included in the calculation. This scenario also assumes that Falcon 9 will reach and maintain a rate of 120 launches annually, while other vehicles reach expected rate capabilities within six years.

Update: Expectations Versus Reality for Commercial Satellite Constellations

by Ryan Brukardt, Jesse Klempner and Brooke Stokes

Interest in building and launching commercial satellite constellations continues to be high because of recent technological advances and cost reductions, combined with better access to capital. While some industry analysts feared that private investment in the space sector would plummet from the record highs achieved in 2021, the decrease in 2022 was less severe than expected and capital inflows were the second-highest on record. Excitement about commercial satellite constellations spans multiple sectors, with companies exploring wide-ranging use cases, ranging from national security to climate monitoring, to improve life on Earth.

In 2021, we conducted an analysis to determine if constellation operators were able to translate their ambitious plans for satellite count and launch into reality. The results showed that operators had not yet placed an asset in orbit in more than half of the announced constellations. We conducted an updated analysis in early 2023 to determine whether interest in satellite constellations remains strong and whether operators are now more successful in achieving their goals. Three findings stand out:

  • Interest in the sector continues to grow. The number of announced satellite constellations is now well over 300, up from about 250 in mid-2019.
  • Reality continues to lag expectations. For announced constellations, about 45 percent have not yet had a single satellite launch and about 10 percent have stagnant growth, defined as no launches for more than a year.
  • Positive momentum is growing. Although many operators have experienced little growth, nearly 30 percent of constellations did launch satellites over the past year, compared with only about 15 percent in mid-2021.

Many commercial satellite operators are still creating overly ambitious plans, but more companies are now making steady progress toward their launch goals.

The continued enthusiasm for commercial satellite constellations is encouraging, but it often results in plans that exceed what operators can reasonably accomplish, given development timelines, customer demand, and available capital. Some companies are emerging as leaders, however, despite the fact that capital is not as readily available as it was a couple of years ago. These businesses create well-articulated, data-backed plans that describe how they can increase customer demand for satellite offerings, and their solid preparation may help them obtain the capital required to achieve their constellation goals. After a funding round, their continued progress in launching satellites encourages further investment, since it provides proof of their commitment and capabilities.

For the remainder of 2023, we anticipate that current constellations, including megaconstellations in non-geosynchronous orbit that enable communications, will continue to make progress and that some new ones will emerge. Simultaneously, the number of constellations that are canceled, either through a formal announcement or simply by not making progress, will also increase. Industry entrepreneurs who follow these developments may gain insight into the factors that set successful constellations apart from the rest.

Ryan Brukardt is a senior partner in McKinsey’s Miami office, Jesse Klempner is a partner in the Washington, DC, office, and Brooke Stokes is a partner in the Southern California office.

NASA Launches Entrepreneurs Challenge to Advance the Agency’s Science Goals for Humanity

Today, NASA’s Science Mission Directorate launched the 2023 NASA Entrepreneurs Challenge. This year’s Challenge recognizes and supports entrepreneurs working on technology that advances the agency’s science goals, particularly in lunar exploration and climate science.

Reaching for new heights and revealing the unknown for the benefit of humanity doesn’t just require groundbreaking technologies; it requires visionary people. There are countless tenacious and innovative entrepreneurs working across the country on cutting-edge research and game-changing ideas of importance to NASA. The NASA Entrepreneur Challenge recognizes winning entrepreneurs with up to $1,000,000 in total prizes, provides winners with exposure to external funders and investors, and offers insight into how entrepreneurs can work with NASA in the future. NASA is particularly interested in reaching entrepreneurs from historically excluded communities, especially women, members of underrepresented minority groups, and persons with disabilities.

A follow-up to the previous NASA Entrepreneur Challenges in 2020 and 2021, this year’s Challenge focuses on two critical areas of need: lunar payloads and climate science. Prizes will be awarded to participants who successfully contribute ideas that further development and commercialization of technologies and data usage in these two broadly-defined areas.

In Round 1 of the Challenge, participants will submit a pitch deck alongside a technical white paper outlining the technology concept. Up to 20 organizations will receive $16,000 and advance to Round 2, where they will submit more detailed information and present at an in-person pitch event hosted at the Defense TechConnect Innovation Summit and Expo in Washington. Up to eight organizations will be awarded an additional grand prize of $85,000.

The pitch event will allow finalists to network with top agency, military, and industry leaders with exposure to venture capitalists and other impact funds. Winners from prior years have secured millions of dollars in investor funds, gained acceptance into accelerator programs, and won Small Business Innovation Research contracts following their participation in the challenge.

The Challenge: NASA’s Science Mission Directorate invites startups and entrepreneurs to participate in the NASA Entrepreneur Challenge to further the development and commercialization of technologies and data usage through an entrepreneurial lens to advance the Agency’s science goals for humankind. 

The Prize: NASA’s Science Mission Directorate will award up to $1,000,000 in prizes to participants who can successfully contribute ideas that advance innovations related to lunar payloads or climate science. In addition, finalists will participate in an in-person pitch event where they will have the opportunity to present to and network with venture capitalists, impact investors, NASA scientists, and industry leaders.  

Eligibility to Submit and Win Award: The prize is open to US persons aged 18 or older participating as individuals or as a team. Please see the challenge rules for complete eligibility requirements.

To learn more about the opportunity, visit

PickNik Robotics Unveils New Branding as “The Unstructured Robotics Company”

PickNik Robotics, the world leader in robotics software for unstructured environments, today announced a comprehensive rebranding initiative aimed at better communicating the company’s mission, strengths, and growth trajectory.

As part of the rebrand, PickNik Robotics will now be known as “The Unstructured Robotics Company.” The new name reflects the company’s singular focus on developing robotics software that can operate effectively in unstructured environments such as in space stations, disaster zones, underwater manipulation, and cultivation. The rebrand also includes a new logo, tagline, and website, all designed to convey the company’s expertise, innovation, and leadership in the field of unstructured robotics.

“We are thrilled to introduce our new brand as ‘The Unstructured Robotics Company,'” said CEO and Founder Dave Coleman. “Our new branding reflects our deep commitment to creating software that solves real-world problems in challenging and dynamic environments. With our new messaging, we hope to better communicate the value we bring to our customers and partners.”

The company’s new tagline, “Robotics Software for the Unstructured,” captures the essence of PickNik Robotics’ mission to create robotics software that can adapt to any environment, no matter how complex or unpredictable.

The rebranding initiative comes at a time of rapid growth for PickNik Robotics, which now has over 50 employees and a growing customer base in industries such as the space industry, agriculture, and logistics.

“We are excited to enter this next phase of our company’s growth with a brand that truly reflects who we are and what we stand for,” said Dave. “We believe that our new branding will help us better connect with our customers and partners, and position us for continued success in the years to come.”

Safran to Provide GNSS Simulation Solutions for Xona Space System’s Low-Earth-Orbit Constellation and Navigation Signals 

Orolia, a Safran Electronics & Defense company, has announced a partnership with Xona Space Systems to develop support for Xona’s Low-Earth-Orbit (LEO) constellation and navigation signals in its Skydel-powered simulation and testing products. Xona is developing PULSAR – a high-performance positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) service enabled by a commercial constellation of dedicated LEO satellites.

Xona’s PULSAR service will advance capabilities in global PNT security, resilience, and accuracy by augmenting existing GNSS while also operating as an independent PNT constellation. Xona’s high-power signals utilize modern signal structures and security techniques, adding resilience in challenging RF environments.

Skydel powers Safran’s portfolio of advanced GNSS simulators like the GSG-8.

“Our Skydel GNSS simulation engine will provide support for Xona’s PULSAR signals and satellite constellation to offer OEMs, developers, and integrators a unique tool that enables early testing and validation of Xona’s LEO PNT signal performance,” said Pierre-Marie Le Véel, GNSS Products Director with Safran. 

“Offering a new generation of satellite navigation and timing services allows receiver manufacturers to develop entirely new capabilities for end users,” said Brian Manning, CEO of Xona Space Systems. “Xona’s mission is to enable modern technologies to operate safely in any environment, anywhere on Earth. Having market-proven simulation solutions are critical to support the development of these new applications and technologies, which is why we are excited to be working with Safran to provide next-generation GNSS simulation tools to our partners and customers.”

NASA Announces Four Astronauts to Fly Around Moon

Artemis II is NASA’s first mission with crew aboard our foundational deep space rocket, the Space Launch System, and Orion spacecraft and will confirm all the spacecraft’s systems operate as designed with crew aboard in the actual environment of deep space. The mission will pave the way to way for lunar surface missions, including by the first woman and first person of color, establishing long-term lunar science and exploration capabilities, and inspire the next generation of explorers – The Artemis Generation.

The crew of four astronauts will lift off on the approximately 10-day mission from Launch Complex 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, heading out beyond Earth’s grasp atop the agency’s mega Moon rocket. Over the course of about two days, they will check out Orion’s systems and perform a targeting demonstration test relatively close to Earth before then beginning the trek toward the Moon.

Orion’s European-built service module will give the spacecraft the big push needed to break free from Earth orbit and set course for the Moon. This trans-lunar injection burn will send the astronauts on an outbound trip of about four days, taking them around the far side of the Moon, where they will ultimately create a figure eight extending more than 230,000 miles from Earth. At their max distance, the crew will fly about 6,400 miles beyond the Moon. During the approximate four-day return trip, the astronauts will continue to evaluate the spacecraft’s systems.

Instead of requiring propulsion on the return, this fuel-efficient trajectory harnesses the Earth-Moon gravity field, ensuring that—after its trip around the far side of the Moon—Orion will be pulled back naturally by Earth’s gravity for the free return portion of the mission.

The crew will endure the high-speed, high-temperature reentry through Earth’s atmosphere before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of San Diego, where they will be met by a recovery team of NASA and Department of Defense personnel who will bring them back to shore.

Lockheed Martin Selected As Preferred Bidder For JP9102

Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) welcomes today’s announcement that it has been selected by the Commonwealth of Australia as the preferred bidder for Project JP9102, the Australian Defence Satellite Communications System.

The multi-billion dollar JP9102 project will provide the Australian Defence Force (ADF) with a sovereign military satellite communications (MILSATCOM) system defined by its extensibility, agility and resilience.

“We are proud to be selected as the preferred bidder to deliver this critical capability to the Australian Defence Force,” said Warren McDonald, Chief Executive, Lockheed Martin Australia and New Zealand. “This capability will provide the Australian Defence Force with robust connectivity and reliable information when and where they need it, and by extension, contribute further to the growth and development of Australia’s defence and space industries.”

Lockheed Martin will leverage its deep experience in space-based mission solutions and resilient satellite communications networks for its JP9102 offer.

“We are excited to work with the Australian Defence Force and Australian industry to develop a robust solution for JP9102,” said Robert Lightfoot, Executive Vice President for Lockheed Martin Space. “We are bringing to bear all of Lockheed Martin’s companywide capabilities as well as our commitment to supporting allied nations to provide an operationally proven system that meets mission needs in terms of coverage, capacity, resilience and extensibility of the constellation.”

McDonald added that a significant amount of the content for Lockheed Martin’s proposed JP9102 solution will be via Australian small and medium enterprises and that the company is committed to knowledge sharing and technology transfer.

Lockheed Martin has assembled a diverse team of Australian companies including Inovor Technologies, EM Solutions, AV-Comm, Linfox, Shoal Group, Ronson Gears, Calytrix Technologies, Conscia, Clearbox Systems, DXC and Blacktree Technology to deliver ground and control segments and beyond for JP9102.

Lockheed Martin has also partnered with the Victorian Government to establish Victoria as the engineering and technical hub for the company’s JP9102 solution, an investment that will create more than 200 advanced space industry jobs in the state.

As another example of the priority placed on workforce development, Lockheed Martin Australia recently launched a space-focused education program with STEM Punks, a STEM education initiative to educate, upskill and inspire Australia’s future workforce.