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Pragyan shares its wisdom from the Moon.

India’s rover makes its debut on the lunar south pole. JAXA’s launch of the SLIM lunar lander is expected this weekend. SpaceX gets sued by the DoJ. And more.





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The Indian Space Research Organization says its Pragyan rover is on the move and “All planned Rover movements have been verified.” JAXA moves the launch of its SLIM lunar lander and XRISM satellite to Saturday. The US Department of Justice has sued SpaceX alleging hiring discrimination against refugees and asylees, and more.

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T-Minus Guest

Our guest today is Dhruva Space CEO and Co-founder Sanjay Nekkanti. 

You can connect with Sanjay on LinkedIn and learn more about Dhruva Space on their website.

Selected Reading

Chandrayaan-3 rover rolls onto moon's surface as ecstatic India celebrates- Reuters

Exclusive: L&T, HAL vetted to bid on India rocket privatization-source- Reuters

The Launch Schedule of the X-ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM) and the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) onboard the H-IIA Launch Vehicle No. 47 (H-IIA F47) [Rescheduled]- JAXA

SpaceX aiming for September launch from Boca Chica facility 

Department of Justice Sues SpaceX for Hiring Discrimination Against Refugees- Via Satellite

Launch of 4 astronauts to space station bumped to Saturday- ABC News

Russia, US agree additional US astronaut flight to ISS- Reuters

Space SPAC: Mission Control Acquisition Files for IPO - FLYING Magazine 

SpaceWERX TacRS Space Challenge 

Viasat reports second satellite malfunction in a matter of weeks- CNBC

European Union nations join ASAT testing ban- Space News

American spaceflight company, Spinlaunch, to conduct a feasibility study in Western Australia - ABC News 

Orbital Sidekick Shares First Images from Hyperspectral Satellites- Via Satellite

Tomorrow.io announces its first weather measurements from space-based radar - UPI.com 

Europe has a productivity problem. It can be solved from space- Euronews

How NASA Picked Sally Ride to Be the First American Woman in Space- Bloomberg 

Why does the US government need Elon Musk and SpaceX so badly?- QZ 

Japan’s space observatory will measure X-rays in exquisite detail- Nature

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>> Alice Carruth: We've got moon fever here at T-Minus. We've been talking about the missions by Russia and India for some time, and we forgot to mention Japan. But we'll get to that later. And that excitement has been reflected across the world, but especially in India, following the successful soft landing on the lunar south pole. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told members of BRICS at their summit in South Africa that it's a matter of pride and a pat on the back for Indian scientists. Headlines across the country have read quote, "the moon is Indian. India goes where no nation's gone before, and India lights up the dark side of the moon." It's been hailed as the most significant Indian scientific achievement.

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>> Unidentified Person: T-Minus, 20 seconds to [inaudible].

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>> Alice Carruth: Today is August the 25th, 2023. I'm Alice Carruth.

>> Brandon Karpf: And I'm Brandon Karpf. And this is T-Minus.

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India's rover makes its debut on the lunar south pole. JAXA's launch of the SLIM lunar lander is expected this weekend. SpaceX gets sued by the DOJ. And our guest today is Indian commercial space company Dhruva Space's CEO and co-founder, Sanjay Nekkanti.

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>> Alice Carruth: Onto today's intelligence briefing. Chandrayaan means moon vehicle in Hindi and Sanskrit, if you were wondering. So, what's the latest from the lunar south pole? The Indian Space Research Organization took to the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, to share the following, quote, "all planned rover movements have been verified. The rover has successfully traversed a distance of about 8 meters. Rover payloads, LIBS and APXS are turned on. All payloads on the propulsion module, lander module and rover are performing normally. So far, so normal," says ISRO. Although the head of the agency has been cautious about how the rover deals with the lunar dust. He told CNN's News18 TV channel that, quote, "the mechanisms, the moving items can get entangled with the dust there. It can get into the moving parts and jam them. The bearings of the system may not work. The motors may not work." Seemingly preparing us all for possible bad news in the coming days.

>> Brandon Karpf: But can we all just take a step back and admire this achievement as is. For a mission that has cost the country 6.15 billion Rupees, which amounts to just about 75 million US dollars, this has been an incredible success. To give you some context on that amount, which I agree is still rather a large figure, it's less than the cost of a Hollywood movie about space exploration. "Gravity," which cost a hundred million US dollars, "The Martian," which cost 108 million US dollars, and it was less than half the cost of "Interstellar," my personal favorite, which was filmed on a budget of 165 million US dollars. India is proving that a lot can be achieved, even with a slim budget, and it's making the country very enticing to investors.

>> Alice Carruth: Speaking of which, Reuters is reporting that Larsen & Toubro and Hindustan Aeronautics are among companies vetted to potentially bid in India's effort to privatize its small satellite launch rocket. We've included that story in our show notes and this new interest in investing in commercial space in India really bodes well for Dhruva Space, who I'll be talking to later in this episode.

>> Brandon Karpf: Now, we did briefly mention at the top of the show that we should also be talking about the third country planning a lunar mission this month. Japan's Aerospace Exploration Agency known as JAXA, is launching its SLIM mission this weekend. SLIM stands for the Smart Lander for Investigating the Moon, along with its XRISM satellite, which stands for X-ray Imaging and Spectroscopy. According to JAXA, SLIM is a small-scale exploration lander designed for pinpoint landing on the moon's surface. Its mission is to investigate the moon's origins. It will also test technology fundamental to exploration in low gravity environments, an important requirement for future scientific investigation of the solar system. The liftoff has been delayed due to bad weather but has been rescheduled for Saturday from Japan's Tanegashima Space Center. Godspeed.

>> Alice Carruth: And as if we couldn't be more excited about launches coming up. There's a rumor that SpaceX is planning its next Starship launch from Boca Chica in the coming weeks. Now, I must caveat that with this is pending the results from the FAA's investigation into their last attempt. But according to an updated notice from the US Coast Guard, SpaceX may try to launch the Starship super heavy rocket on Saturday, September the 16th. All eyes will be on the FAA in the coming weeks to see if they will allow that to move forward.

>> Brandon Karpf: In staying with SpaceX, the Department of Justice, or DOJ, if you want to sound in the know, has sued the space giant, alleging hiring discrimination against refugees and asylees. While SpaceX claims ITAR regulations restrict them to hiring only US citizens and permanent residents, the DOJ disagrees. Despite thousands of hires between 2018 and 2022, SpaceX employed just one asylee. The lawsuit covers various roles at SpaceX, not just high-tech positions and seeks compensation and penalties for affected individuals. Related to the story today we learned that asylee is the nominal derivative of asylum and refers to someone who has already been granted asylum, as opposed to an asylum seeker who is someone still seeking protection. The more you know.

>> Alice Carruth: Absolutely. And a brief mention, the launch of the four international astronauts on SpaceX's Falcon 9 to the ISS has been postponed by a day. Interestingly, the ISS recently maneuvered to avoid space debris from a 2007 Chinese missile test. And that's all we have to say about that.

>> Brandon Karpf: Despite heightened tensions over Ukraine, NASA and Roscosmos have reaffirmed collaboration agreeing to an extra Soyuz flight for an American astronaut. This decision aligns with the ongoing cross flight arrangement between NASA and Roscosmos for the ISS. While geopolitical strains persist, space cooperation remains a unifying thread, although Russia has hinted at future independent space station endeavors.

>>Alice Carruth: And on to some lighter news, space SPACs are back. Mission Control Acquisition Corporation, a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC focused on global space economy, aimed to raise 100 million US dollars through an IPO, targeting businesses in space communications, tourism and more. In a recent SEC filing, the company outlined plans to offer 10 million stock units at $10 each, with an anticipated market cap of 126 million US dollars. Set to list on the New York Stock Exchange as MISNU, the company is to be led by ex-NASA executive Kira Blackwell.

>> Brandon Karpf: The US Space Force has launched the Tactically Responsive Space Challenge, inviting bids for rapid satellite deployment solutions during emergencies. Proposals submitted between August 30th and September 28th can earn up to 1.7 million US dollars on S contracts. The Space Force is looking for rapid response solutions across launch, satellite, ground systems and space logistics, with some response times in less than 24 hours. The challenge extends beyond launch services, exploring concepts like on orbit prepositioned payloads. The broad initiative covers six areas, emphasizing mature technologies for prototyping in 15 months and deployment within two years. And we've included a link in the show notes for those interested to apply.

>> Alice Carruth: ViaSat's recently launched Inmarsat-6 F2 satellite has encountered a power subsystem anomaly. This comes shortly after another malfunction in ViaSat's portfolio, when the boom armor of the ViaSat-3 Americas's satellite failed to extend, degrading the satellite's capabilities. Airbus, the manufacturer of the new Inmarsat-6 F2 satellite, has never seen this power subsystem anomaly in its geostationary telecommunications satellites before. In an official press release, ViaSat claimed that this anomaly won't impact customers or financial forecasts. With the recent 7.3 billion US dollar Inmarsat acquisition, ViaSat doubled down on its commitment to a resilient redundant network. They also highlighted ongoing construction of other L-band and Ka-band satellites to bolster their global services constellation. Space is hard, my friends.

>> Brandon Karpf: Ahead of a UN meeting on space threats scheduled for August 28th, 27 EU member states committed not to conduct destructive direct-ascent anti-satellite tests. This follows a US declaration against such tests signed in 2022 after a Russian ASAT test created significant debris that threatened the International Space Station. While the UN has encouraged nations to adopt similar stances, individual commitments are sought for a broader international consensus. The forthcoming UN working session, aims to finalize such measures, but reaching substantial agreements remains uncertain.

>> Alice Carruth: SpinLaunch, a US-based kinetic launch company, is eyeing Western Australia's remote south coast for its novel orbital accelerator, a technology that leverages kinetic energy to catapult rockets into space. As part of the announcement, Australian National University astrophysicist, Brad Tucker, emphasized the remote region's appeal for launches given its geographical isolation, favorable weather and geopolitical stability. With satellites in high demand, Australia emerges as an attractive hub for space enterprises, promising economic growth and community development akin to other space centric location, like Cape Canaveral. SpinLaunch built its suborbital version of its accelerator at Spaceport America in New Mexico, but has struggled to find an orbital launch site in the Americas.

>> Brandon Karpf: Orbital Sidekick has publicly shared the first images from its new hyperspectral satellites, part of its GHOSt constellation, capable of detecting 472 light bands with eight-meter resolution. These satellites, initially launched for oil and gas pipeline monitoring, spotlight methane concentrations and employ AI to identify leaks. After surveying 12,000 miles and identifying a hundred leaks in 2022, Orbital Sidekick is now advocating for more real time infrastructure oversight. The company anticipates expanding the GHOSt constellation by three satellites by 2024.

>>Alice Carruth: Methane or methane? You decide. Weather intelligence firm Tomorrow.io has announced the first data from its radar satellites that can gauge precipitation intensity from space. This advancement could provide real time, radar-based weather forecasting that fills a coverage gap for billions globally. As the race for space-based weather monitoring intensifies, with entities like Rocket Lab and NASA joining in, Tomorrow.io backed by the Defense Department and NOAA, signifies a new era in satellite enhanced weather prediction and earth observation.

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>> Brandon Karpf: And to kick off the weekend, we have some selected reading for you as well. The first is a thought piece around how the space industry can help stimulate the broader EU economy. The second is a fun article from Bloomberg about how NASA selected Sally Ride to be the first American woman in space. And the third is a detailed look at how the US government is totally reliant on SpaceX for its myriad space programs. And, as always, the links can be found in the show notes. And if you haven't had a chance yet to submit our new audience survey, today is the final day. It only takes about one minute to complete. It's linked at the very top of the show notes, and we really appreciate your feedback.

>> Alice Carruth: Hey, T-Minus crew. Tune in tomorrow for T-Minus Deep Space, our show for extended interviews, special editions and deep dives with some of the most influential professionals in the space industry. Tomorrow we have Dhruva Space CEO and co-founder, Sanjay Nekkanti. Check it out while you're mowing the lawn, grocery shopping, folding laundry or driving your kids to the game, you don't want to miss it.

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In a week where India is dominating the headlines around the world after their historic landing on the lunar south pole, we take a look at what the commercial space industry is doing in the country. Our guest today is Dhruva Space CEO and co-founder, Sanjay Nekkanti. I started off by asking Sanjay about how he started his company.

>> Sanjay Nekkanti: Dhruva Space was an idea, I would say, that was thought during my college days. I started building satellites when I was 19 years old. One fine day, after the success of the first Chandrayaan mission, there was a scientist from ISRO who had come to our university and said we, as students, could actually build satellites. For me, I wasn't really sure if- if that is really possible. I have this unusual hobby which is being the ham radio operator. One of the early satellites that students were building were all based on amateur radio communications. So, my university team requested, you know, if I could be part of the satellite mission and be part of the whole program. And that really got me into building satellites. And, you know, two years down the line, we were able to realize a satellite. And I was thinking that, you know, we're a country with a billion people in India, but there's not a single private company that exists to serve the global market. So, that was definitely the tipping point or the inspirational point for me to think about starting a private space company in India.

>> Alice Carruth: So, you just mentioned it tha- that's new to India, this idea of private space. Can you talk us through how that kind of came about and how difficult it has been for you to sort of disrupt the market, so to speak?

>> Sanjay Nekkanti: India, and especially the Indian Space Research Organization, has done a lot of amazing things in space, right? Like, we've gone to the moon, we've gone to Mars. We have one of the most reliable launch vehicle programs in the world. I think notable of them is we have flown more than 350 foreign satellites on the Indian launch vehicle. So, over the last 30 to 40 years, the Indian Space Research Organization has nurtured an ecosystem of small and medium scale companies that have been building small components for the Indian space program. But majority of these guys have remained building those small building blocks, but important blocks for the Indian space program. But they never graduated from that phase to building like a full spacecraft or a full launch vehicle or you know even doing operations. So largely, when we spoke about private space, there was definitely a wall, that you know, is this possible, right? You know, as I just mentioned, when I as a student was building a satellite, that wall also existed for me, that you know, can we as students build satellites? So, it definitely took a lot of effort to break that barrier. But I would- I would say the initiatives taken by the Indian government to promote entrepreneurship in general, and bring in the startup culture, has been like a major breakthrough in- in some of these endeavors seeing light of the day. Because in the early phase, like you know between 2012 and like say, 2016, our audience would- there was no audience to- to- to speak. Like you know if- if I would go to a private company and say, hey, you know, you're buying satellite data from- from other countries, would you be interested in- in having your own space asset? People- people would be like, I don't think this is possible in India, versus today where, you know companies really want to have their own space assets. I think we've come a long way. The timing is fine. A decade to get here. But to be very honest, I think the changes have happened on- only in the last couple of years. And the growth that is being seen, especially in India, has been exponential and not like, you know, slow growth. So it's- it's fine. It's fun.

>> Alice Carruth: So, you have a MOU with the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Centre known as IN-SPACe. How much is that private-public partnership important to Dhruva Space?

>> Sanjay Nekkanti: See, IN-SPACe is a new body that is trying to enable private space endeavors in India. So, you know, they are acting as a bridge not just between government and private companies, but also in a lot of cases, trying to enable the companies to also get customers not just within India, but also outside of India. So, they have a huge responsibility to- to make this ecosystem grow and thrive. For us, I would say, the support that they have extended since their formation is very close to my heart, I would say, because they have truly lived up to what they have been created for. They have helped us at every, you know, on our every mission to space, right? Like we have gone to space less than three times in a- in a year. And at every stage, IN-SPACe was instrumental in solving some of the hurdles that we had faced. Whether it is in terms of coordinating with different agencies to get permissions, or it could be in the form of getting access to test facilities. In certain cases, also getting access to expertise from ISRO scientists.

>> Alice Carruth: So, you mentioned that you've been to space a couple of times. Can you talk us through the missions that Dhruva Space has already been part of?

>> Sanjay Nekkanti: Sure. So, our first mission happened on- on the 30th of June 2022. We tested a separation, CubeSat separation system in this particular mission. For us, this was- this was like our first mission to space. So, we were all very nervous because all the components of this particular contraption were designed, developed, manufactured in India. And it had to perform. And yeah, it- it did its job. Its function was to, you know, hold a dummy spacecraft and deploy at a particular time. Because this was like a dummy spacecraft, we- we didn't launch it into- into space, but you know it was sticking out of the- out- out of the deployer, not creating like a debris. So, then our next mission happened on the 26th of November 2022, where we used the same separation system to deploy two satellites called the Thybolt-1 and 2. These two satellites are Dhruva's first two satellites, also India's first two privately built satellites authorized by the government of India. And we just completed close to 7,000 orbits, you know, of these two satellites. And the beauty of the second mission is- is again the same, which is every component of the spacecraft has been designed, manufactured in India, launched on the Indian launch vehicle using a separation system that is also built by us. So, where I'm getting with this whole idea of doing everything by ourselves is that if we want to make space accessible to- to people or if we want to make the ambitions of several organizations to have their missions in the orders of tens, hundreds or thousands of satellites, we- we should be able to serve that market. And hence, you know we- we've been trying to build as many technologies as possible within the company, and we've been successful on the first and second mission. The third mission was slightly different. So this flew in April of 2023, where we tested two more variants of the separation systems, which can hold larger size satellites. One very interesting part about this mission is the deployers, or you know which is also called as the separation systems, were meant to hold payloads for extended durations. So, meaning, you know if I want the same deployer to take a mission to lunar orbit or the Martian orbit, this is like a small step for us that you know we should be able to hold the satellites for a couple of days and- and then make the deployment happen. So, we were able to test all these functionalities. So, the last one year has been, you know, super- super fun doing these three missions in the required time.

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>> Alice Carruth: We'll be right back. Welcome back. We briefly mentioned earlier in the show, that along with Japan's SLIM lunar lander, JAXA is also planning on launching its XRISM satellite this weekend. The X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission aims to observe X-rays coming from deep space and to identify their wavelengths with unprecedented precision. The Space Agency says that XRISM will perform high resolution observations of hot gas plasma wind that blows through the galaxies in the universe. These observations will enable researchers to determine flows of mass and energy, revealing the composition and evolution of celestial objects. This innovative JAXA-led international project has been developed in collaboration with NASA, ESA and other partners. XRISM will carry forward the ambitions and successes of its predecessor, the ASTRO-H, and will deliver the highly anticipated scientific results to the world.

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>> Brandon Karpf: That's it for T-Minus for August 25th, 2023. For additional resources from today's report, check out our show notes at space.n2k.com. We'd love to know what you think of this podcast. You can email us at space@n2k.com or submit the survey in the show notes. Your feedback ensures we deliver the information that keeps you a step ahead in a rapidly changing space industry. We're privileged that N2K and our podcast, like T-Minus, are part of the daily routine of many of the most influential leaders and operators in the public and private sector. From the Fortune 500 to many of the world's preeminent intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

>> Alice Carruth: N2K strategic workforce intelligence optimizes the value of your biggest investment, your people. We make you smarter about your team, while making your team smarter. Learn more at n2k.com. This episode was mixed by Elliot Peltzman and Trey Hester, with original music and sound design by Elliot Peltzman. Our chief intelligence officer is Eric Tillman. Thank you to our executive producer, Brandon Karpf, for joining me on this episode. I'm Alice Carruth, and thanks for listening.

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>> Unidentified Person: T-minus.

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