Main Engine Cut Off

The Swarm-Spaceflight-ISRO Situation

I’m holding off on making too many assessments of the Swarm authorization fiasco until we know a little more than we do now. Did one of the parties knowingly make a nefarious decision to proceed? Or did this really fall through the cracks because of how many parties were involved in getting these satellites up?

I have a hard time believing that it was an honest oversight. It certainly sounds like Silicon Valley arrogance—the type that would justify that it will be cheaper to launch now, continue development work, and fight legal battles if necessary than it would be to work through authorization issues and find another launch. But I also find that strange, given the Swarm leadership’s past experience.

No matter what, here’s my basic assessment for each party involved, from what we know now:

Swarm: A disastrous scenario that makes their future incredibly murky.

Spaceflight: It’s a bad look, and they’ll have a lot of tough questions to answer, but I think they’ll come through just fine.

ISRO: It makes any loosening of the US policy towards commercial launches on ISRO vehicles even less likely than it was before.

LeoLabs and other satellite tracking organizations: This is an incredible opportunity to show off the capability to track objects as small as SpaceBees, and LeoLabs is doing an absolutely excellent job taking advantage of it. This visualization of the four SpaceBees in orbit is wonderful. Bravo.