Northrop Grumman launches its final Antares 230+ rocket. Voyager Space and Airbus to partner on Starlab. US Senate plans to mitigate space junk. And...
India is on the Moon. The peacock has landed.
India’s Chandrayaan-3 soft lands on the moon. ESA’s target for space junk removal mission hit by space junk. NASA announces Artemis 3 geology team. And more.
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Chandrayaan-3 soft lands on the moon making India the first nation to reach the lunar south pole. The European Space Agency says the target for the ClearSpace-1 space debris removal mission was hit by other space debris. NASA announces its Artemis III geology team, and more.
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Our guest today is Dr Lyle Roberts, Head of Photonics at Advanced Navigation.
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[ Fireworks ]
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>> India is on the Moon!
>> Maria Varmazis: Today is August 23, 2023. I'm Maria Varmazis, and this is the 100th episode of T-Minus. Yes, 100 episodes. A big thank you from all of us at T-Minus to you, dear listeners, who've been with us since we started this podcast. And for those that have just joined us, we can't believe we've already hit this big 100-episode milestone. And really, we're just getting started. Thank you for your support. And our guest today is Dr. Lyle Roberts, head of Photonics at Advanced Navigation. You do not want to miss it. Stay with us.
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And now for today's news briefing. India is on the Moon. India is the first country ever to soft land on the lunar South Pole and now joins the rare ranks of countries that have soft landed anywhere on the Moon. It is the fourth nation ever to do so. The word gets thrown around a lot, but, yes, this was truly epic. All eyes of the world were on India for ISRO's triumph today, as the Chandrayaan-3 made its successful soft landing on the Moon just a smidge after 6 PM local time in India. It was a moment of pure joy and redemption, especially after the 2019 heartbreak of the Chandrayaan-2 mission failure. The memories of which were looming large in the minds of everyone at ISRO mission control as they awaited confirmation of mission success. And indeed, with that, Chandrayaan-3's mission success today, everyone in ISRO mission control was all smiles and cheers, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulating team ISRO and sending a message to the watching world.
>> Prime Minister Narendra Modi: One Earth, one family, one future is resonating across the globe. This human-centric approach that we present and that we represent has been welcomed universally. Our Moon mission is also based on the same human-centric approach. Therefore, this success belongs to all of humanity. We can all aspire for the Moon and beyond.
>> Maria Varmazis: And yes, many millions across the world heard those words, with more than 8 million viewers tuning into the YouTube live stream of the lunar landing alone. And ISRO tweeted this upon mission success: "India" -- India flag emoji -- "I reached my destination and you, too. Within hours of the landing, we started to get first images of the nice and flat lunar landing site that Chandrayaan-3 chose from the landing imager camera." And with its lander Vikram making its successful landing, Chandrayaan-3's lunar rover Pragyan -- at the time of this show's recording anyway -- has just slowly rolled out onto the lunar surface. Once it gets powered up, its 14-day mission -- and that's 14 Earth days and not lunar days, to be clear -- will be to gather key lunar geologic insights, including looking for water ice in lunar soil. We can't wait to learn what it finds. And for Chandrayaan-3, what a stellar success. Congratulations to ISRO on this monumental achievement. And two addendum stories to Chandrayaan-3's Moon landing. First is Bloomberg reporting that 13 space companies in India that are suppliers to ISRO saw their stocks rally in the week leading up to the landing. These companies include PTC Industries, Zen Technologies, Centum Electronics, Avantel Limited, and Linde India. And several of the companies hit historic high market caps during this rally. In all, the stock rally added $2.5 billion in total market value. And secondly, Prime Minister Modi, who is currently at the plenary session of the BRICS bloc in Johannesburg, South Africa, floated the idea of creating a BRICS space exploration consortium just before the lunar landing success. The idea would be to expand upon the in-progress BRICS Remote Sensing Satellite Constellation and data sharing project and increase ambitions to include space exploration as well. The target of the European Space Agency Space Debris clear-up mission has, ironically, been hit by space debris. ESA is planning on launching the ClearSpace-1 mission in 2026 to demonstrate the technologies needed for debris removal and as a first step to establishing a new sustainable and striving commercial space ecosystem. The target of the mission was a payload adapter called VESPA that was left in orbit following the 2013 launch of a Vega rocket from French Guiana. Now, ESA says that VESPA has been moved from its current orbit, most likely by a hyper velocity impact of a small, untracked object, that has resulted in a low-energy release of new fragments. Early assessments indicate that the increased collision risk to other missions posed by these fragments is negligible. The problem was spotted by the 18th Space Defense Squadron of the US Space Force, which is tasked with monitoring satellite movement in low Earth orbit, or LEO. ESA and its partners are evaluating the event's impact on the ClearSpace-1 mission. And, you know, we really should rebrand this week as Moon Week with all the activity that's been going on. NASA also jumped on the bandwagon, releasing the name of its Geology Team selected to assist the first crewed Artemis landing. The team will develop the Surface Science Plan for the first crewed lunar landing mission, expected at the coveted South Pole. According to Dr. Nicky Fox, NASA science associate administrator, "Science is one of the pillars of Artemis, and this team will be responsible for leading the geology planning for humanity's first return to the lunar surface in more than 50 years, ensuring that we maximize the science return of Artemis and grow in our understanding of our nearest celestial neighbor." The Artemis III Geology Team will be led by principal investigator Dr. Brett Denevi of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. They will work with NASA to determine the mission's geological science objectives and design the geology surface campaign that the Artemis astronauts will carry out on the Moon during their historic mission. And the US Space Agency is looking to procure a venue for their Break the Ice Lunar Challenge Phase 2 Level 3 Competition. NASA needs a site to test working prototypes of lunar excavation and transportation systems. The prototypes are developed by competing teams in phase 2 of the Break the Ice Lunar Challenge. The space agency is also soliciting information regarding potential sources for a new procurement of lidar sensors for the on-orbit servicing, assembly, and manufacturing mission. If those are of interest to you, we've linked both notices in our show notes at space.n2k.com. And speaking of NASA, they're working with SpaceX and gearing up for the next crewed mission to the ISS later this week. The four astronauts on Crew-7, along with their associated SpaceX and NASA teams, have completed a full rehearsal of launch day activities, according to a message shared on the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. And, hey, did we mention that today is our 100th episode? Yeah, we're a little excited about that. But we are even more pumped that we share this incredible milestone not only with Israel and Chandrayaan-3, but also with SpaceX, which launched its 100th Starlink mission this week. A SpaceX Falcon 9 carried 21 second-generation Starlink satellites from Vandenberg Space Force Base on Tuesday morning, bringing their total number in orbit to just short of 5,000 satellites. Satellite manufacturing and space services company Sidus Space has acquired Edge Artificial Intelligence software and hardware company, Exo-Space. Carol Craig, who is the founder and CEO of Sidus Space, said, "This transaction provides the opportunity for us to enhance our presence in the Earth and space observations markets by providing actionable solutions for our customers' needs as opposed to just raw data. The integration of Exo-Space Edge AI technology with Sidus's sensors provide significant value and transformative potential across various domains." The acquisition amount was not disclosed with the announcement. US commercial space company Momentus Inc. is performing a 1 for 50 reverse stock split effective tonight. The idea is to reduce shares of common stock from over 97 million to 1.9 million and increase the value from around 23 cents per share to over $10 per share. The reverse stock split is intended to bring the company into compliance with the minimum bid price requirement for maintaining the listing of its common stock on NASDAQ, which is a minimum of a dollar per share, and to make the bid price more attractive to a broader group of institutional and retail investors. Space data company Spire Global is working with the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency for the phase four of MagQuest, which is a prize challenge to advance how Earth's magnetic field is measured, with multimillion dollar prize awards. Spire will design, develop, and launch a satellite that will provide a novel approach to geomagnetic data collection for the World Magnetic Model. The satellite will carry a diamond quantum magnetometer system developed by SBQuantum. Spire plans to demonstrate operations of the satellite system and provide data to NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center for assessment. Phase four of the challenge is set to conclude in September 2026. And that concludes our intel briefing for today. You can find links to further reading on all the stories that we've mentioned in our Show Notes. And, as always, we've included a few opinion pieces. One of them is on the US Space Force, and another one is an Ars Technica piece on SpaceX. You can find all those pieces and a lot more over at space.n2k.com, and just click on today's episode to find it. And hey, T-Minus crew, we've been telling you about it all week and we thought we'd mention it again, we have a new survey out. It's one big important question: What new feature do you think we should add next? You want to tell us, the link is at the top of our Show Notes, and we would greatly appreciate your feedback. And, as always, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks, crew. Our executive producer, Brandon Karpf, recently caught up with Dr. Lyle Roberts. He is the head of Photonics at the Australian space instrumentation company, Advanced Navigation. Now, continuing with our Moon landing theme for today, Advanced Navigation is working with Intuitive Machines on their lunar probe, slated to be the first commercial lunar lander from the US. Brandon started the conversation by asking Lyle, what exactly is photonics, and how that relates to his role at Advanced Navigation.
>> Dr. Lyle Roberts: Photonics is the physical science of lights. It's using light and lasers and things to do interesting things. And in my case, we're using light to measure things with extreme precision and accuracy. One of the things that we work on is we use lasers to measure things like rotation in gyroscopes, but we also use lasers to measure how fast an object is moving relative to its surroundings.
>> Brandon Karpf: So, you know, one of the reasons we wanted to connect with you all is you announced a partnership with Intuitive Machines. I'm kind of curious what that looks like moving forward and how you all are working together.
>> Dr. Lyle Roberts: We've been talking about it for a long time, the need for technologies to improve the confidence and reliability of these really challenging maneuvers when they're landing on the Moon. And so for those who are unaware, Intuitive Machines is a NASA CLPS provider, CLPS stands for the Commercial Lunar Payload Services Program. And it's really NASA's initiative to try and open up commercial access to the Moon. So Intuitive Machines, being a commercial operator, they're profit-focused, right. In order to be a commercial success, they need to be able to actually get different payloads to the Moon whilst also making money, right. And so one of the objectives here is to not only get there safely and land confidently, but also do it as cheap as possible. And, unfortunately, space is not one of these areas where you can skimp out on costs and sacrifice a little bit of reliability. You've really got to try and maintain that confidence and reduce costs. And in this situation what we're finding is it really requires the development of entirely new technologies.
>> Brandon Karpf: What's different about the reliability and potential cost savings of the technologies that you are proposing compared to state-of-the-art?
>> Dr. Lyle Roberts: Yeah, so every kilogram that you send to the Moon costs around $1 million dollars. So the first thing that you can think of is, if I can reduce the total mass of my sense of payload or my package that's responsible for figuring out where I am and what I'm doing and how fast I'm moving, then I'm saving $1 million per kilogram. And that's $1 million that I could then get from a customer putting their own payload on that spacecraft. So the technology that we're developing, it's designed to be ultralightweight. So instead of being 7 kilos, it's 2 kilos to 5 kilos, depending on, you know, what it's actually required to do. But it's also a lot cheaper to produce. And the way that we've done that is by leveraging what we call higher liability technologies built for the telecommunications industry that have already been placed in Earth's orbit for telecommunications purposes. And so they're already proven, right. And so what we're doing is just consolidating that, taking advantage of, you know, the last three decades of progress to try and produce a sensor that's not only lightweight, saves on, you know, the cost of the mass, but it's also cheap for these providers to actually purchase compared to alternative technologies.
>> Brandon Karpf: You briefly mentioned other use cases. Are there other organizations or other use cases for the technology?
>> Dr. Lyle Roberts: Absolutely, yeah. So it's kind of funny. We originally were developing this technology for terrestrial applications, actually to assist with autonomous vehicles.
>> Brandon Karpf: Notoriously not Tesla, that doesn't use light.
>> Dr. Lyle Roberts: Yeah, no. We're not on a fool's errand. Although I do note that Tesla are now putting radar back in their vehicles. But it's this funny thing. It's worth really clarifying that the technology we develop is not scanning lidar. There's no scanning element.
>> Brandon Karpf: Okay.
>> Dr. Lyle Roberts: What we're doing is really producing the most accurate and precise measurement of the vehicle's velocity relative to the ground that you could possibly get. Like we're talking being able to measure the velocity of some vehicle -- could be a plane, a UAV, or a ground vehicle. For example, a ground vehicle up to 150 meters per second. Just phenomenally quick, right, several hundred kilometers per hour, with less than 10 millimeters per second accuracy.
>> Brandon Karpf: Wow.
>> Dr. Lyle Roberts: And that's the only reason we can actually do that is because we're exploiting this incredible attribute of lasers. Like they've got this incredible sensitivity to motion, which is why they're used so much in these types of applications, right. So we were originally developing it for terrestrial applications to help them understand where they are. Because if you can measure vehicle's velocity, you're only one calculation away from position, right. Because if you integrate velocity, then, over time, then you've got your position. And the whole goal here was to, when you're in an environment where GNSS or the global positioning system is unreliable -- for example, if you're in a tunnel, if you're in a densely populated city with tall buildings or if you're in a forest -- the GNSS, the Global Navigation Satellite System, is not as reliable. And so you would rely on this type of sensor to then augment that, not replace it, simply improve it.
>> Brandon Karpf: Maybe a little bit of an aside, is there any relation or combination of this technology with something like inertial, laser inertial navigation?
>> Dr. Lyle Roberts: Yeah.
>> Brandon Karpf: That could kind of help with a communication denied environment or a GPS denied environment for navigation?
>> Dr. Lyle Roberts: Oh, absolutely. In fact, a huge amount of interest is coming our way purely for this scenario, where if GPS is actively denied, then you'd really have no choice but to rely on alternative navigation modalities or sensor technologies. What's great about advanced navigation is that we're world leaders in the inertial navigation space. So we actually tightly integrate our technology with the company's inertial navigation systems to provide this comprehensive all-in-one capability. And so you absolutely can count on this technology being present in these GNSS denied environments in the future, wherever they are.
>> Brandon Karpf: Got it. So maybe this is my ignorance. Your technology, you related it initially to something like lidar. Is it actually transmitting out, you know, some sort of laser outside of the vehicle, or is it all contained within the vehicle like an inertial navigation system?
>> Dr. Lyle Roberts: No, it projects its own lasers. And what they're doing is we call it interrogating the environment. Now, the physics here is pretty straightforward. What happens is any relative motion either compresses or it stretches that frequency out. And it's exactly the same effect as Doppler when you hear like a siren whizzing by. You hear the pitch of that siren gets modulated. And so it's literally the same physics. It's called the relativistic doppler effect. And it's really important for me to point out that this technology was pioneered originally the concept by NASA, right. There's a team at NASA Langley in I believe it's in Virginia, and they originally developed or began developing this, they call it Navigation Doppler Lidar Technology, as far back as 2008. And they do it in a vastly different way to how we do it. But they originally developed it for navigating on the Moon. There's only a few people in the world, a few organizations, actually developing it.
>> Brandon Karpf: So allow me to kind of change tacks real quick. Your organization has also recently got a contract from the Australian Space Agency. At the same time, there's been quite a bit of reporting coming out of Australia about the hot and cold with the Australian government in terms of investment in space. Can give us a sense how you as someone who's helping to bring a new space company to market in Australia is perceiving this "will they won't they" with the local government?
>> Dr. Lyle Roberts: Yeah. I think the first thing to clear up is that I've never doubted that the Australian government is committed to supporting Australia's, you know, growing or emerging space industry. It's a difficult position for them because they've got to really focus their money in high-value areas. And Australia, you know, we're really trying to play a big part on the global stage. And what that means is creating an identity for ourselves in the space industry. Now, does that mean that Australia should be producing rockets or, you know, producing our own satellites? It's a really difficult question. And it really comes down to what's our industrial capability, right? What's the advantage for us doing these different things? Now, I come from a background -- I'm an instrumentation scientist. So I've spent the last 15 years of my life developing instruments. And instruments, you know, they play a very small role individually in all of these space missions. It doesn't matter if it's a CubeSat or if it's a navigation satellite like a GPS sat, or if it's a comsat, they all have instruments. And something that Australia should be really proud of is that we've built ourselves this incredible reputation for producing world-leading research on these advanced sensor technologies, advanced instruments. And I really do believe that the ASA, the Australian Space Agency, has, you know, really focused their attention on these areas, where Australia cannot just do it because we can, but we're doing it because we're world leaders in it. And so I can totally understand I guess that there are certain people in the Australian space industry who are, you know, obviously unhappy with where the Australian Space Agency is funneling the money, but it's a difficult problem. They've got to put that money where it's going to generate the most value. And obviously I benefit from the space agency. But I've felt nothing but solid support from the ASA.
>> Brandon Karpf: Well, Lyle Roberts, thank you so much for making time for us today.
>> Dr. Lyle Roberts. Thank you so much, Brandon. It's been awesome.
>> Maria Varmazis: We'll be right back. And welcome back. Now, have you ever wondered how space agencies like NASA decide on the optimum number of participants on missions? It's not just an amount of space thing, no. A new study has been looking at how many astronauts are needed to build and sustain a colony on Mars. And scientists use a type of computer simulation called agent-based modeling to analyze complex systems and predict the emergence of larger patterns and phenomena with simple rules and behaviors. Using the model, the team simulated the survival of a human habitat on Mars under different working conditions. In five runs of the model, for a period lasting 28 years, with the initial population sizes in the study ranging from 10 to 170, found that, "An initial population of 22 was the minimum required to maintain a viable colony size over the long run." So just 22, hey? Well, that 22 number also hinged on human personality types, as the researchers found that the agreeable personality type associated with overall greater empathy was the one more likely to survive, while those with the more neurotic psychology died at a much higher rate. And I feel like I could've told you that last part without the need for simulations and peer reviews. In any case, Dunbar's Number, eat your heart out.
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That's it for T-Minus for Lunar Lander Day, August 23, 2023. For additional resources from today's report, check out our Show Notes at space.n2k.com. And today is our 100th episode. Thank you to all of our listeners that have been with us and joined us along this journey. We'd love to know what you think of this podcast. You can email us at email@example.com, or submit the survey in the Show Notes. Your feedback ensures we deliver the information that keeps you a step ahead in the rapidly changing space industry. N2K's strategic workforce intelligence optimizes the value of your biggest investment: your people. We make you smarter about your team while making your team smarter. And I'll close today with a huge thank you to and from our T-Minus team that have worked on our 100 episodes. Our amazing producer, Alice Carruth. Our incredible audio team, Elliott Peltzman and Tre Hester. Our one and only executive producer and resident wonk, Brandon Karpf. The whole team at N2K, including our chief intelligence officer, Eric Tillman. And a huge thank you from me, your host, Maria Varmazis. Thank you so much for listening, and we'll see you tomorrow.
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