Max Q — China’s space station gets a staff – TechCrunch

by Joseph K. Clark

Max Q is a weekly newsletter from TechCrunch about space. Sign up here to receive it weekly on Mondays in your inbox. This week, China started staffing its space station, and Rocket Lab got the nod from NASA to develop small satellites to explore Mars. Meanwhile, space startups continue to raise money, and it doesn’t look like the pace will slow much heading into summer.

China delivers three astronauts to its space station

.China has launched astronauts to its space station for the first time, providing three to its core module, where they’ll remain for a mission until September. This is the first time China has flown a crewed mission since 2012, and it will also set a record for the most prolonged period a Chinese astronaut has remained in space continuously.

This will be a big step forward for China’s space program and a fundamental evolution of its ambitions to establish a continuous presence in low Earth orbit. China is not an International Space Station partner, and no Chinese nationals have ever set foot aboard that station. The European Space Agency had welcomed overtures to participate as a member nation in the ISS last decade, but the US refused.

China has stated outright that it will welcome participation in its space station from foreign astronauts, though there haven’t been any specific agreements for who those might be or from what countries.

space station

Rocket Lab will build two orbital research spacecraft for a mission to Mars.

This is unique for Rocket Lab because it’s developing spacecraft won’t be launched aboard a Rocket Lab Electron spacecraft. Instead, it will fly them on a commercial rocket to be selected by NASA in a separate contract process later.

The goal is to have these fly to the red planet by 2024, and it’ll help support NASA’s deep space exploration ambitions more broadly.

Startups raise $$

Some enjoyable funding rounds this week, including $5 million for Hydrosat, a company that’s spotting ground temperature from space and providing that to customers for use in industries like agriculture, wildfire and drought risk, water table information, and more.

Weather and environmental monitoring agencies have monitored this kind of data in the past, but Hydrosat aims to collect it at a frequency that hasn’t been possible before.

Meanwhile, another startup focusing on ensuring that companies and other users on the ground can use Earth observation data also raised a chunk of cash. Skywatch picked up $17.2 million to help expand its platform, which provides access to the data for customers and provides the customers themselves a valuable feature for brand-new satellite companies.

Join us at TC Sessions: Space in December.

Last year we held our first dedicated space event, and it went so well that we decided to host it again in 2021. This year, it’s happening mid-December, and it’s again going to be an entirely virtual conference, so people from all over the world will be able to join — and you can, too.

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