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VICTUS NOX on standby for callup.

Firefly and Millennium on standby for VICTUS NOX. QinetiQ awarded a $224M SDA contract. ReOrbit closes a $7.4M oversubscribed Seed round. And more.





Firefly Aerospace and Millennium Space Systems enter a six-month hot standby phase for the US Space Force’s VICTUS NOX mission. QinetiQ's US subsidiary has been awarded a $224 million five-year contract to engineer systems and provide other professional support services for the Space Development Agency’s future layered network of missile tracking satellites in low-Earth orbit. Helsinki-based ReOrbit has completed an oversubscribed Seed funding round for $7.4 million, and more.

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T-Minus Guest

Our guest today is Aravind Ravichandran, the Founder and CEO of Terrawatch Space. This is a new recurring segment we'll be doing on T-Minus Space Daily every month covering the earth observation and sensing market with Aravind and his work consulting for this industry. We’re calling it the Overview.

You can connect with Aravind on LinkedIn and find out more about TerraWatch Space on their website.

Selected Reading

Space Force is branching out with new subordinate command in Japan- Stars and Stripes

 KDDI Signs Agreement with SpaceX to Bring Satellite-to-Cellular service to Japan

QinetiQ Wins $224M SDA Proliferated Architecture Support Contract- GoveConWire

NASA Awards Contracts for NOAA Sounder for Microwave-Based Applications Study

ReOrbit Completes Oversubscribed $7.4M Seed Funding Round: Enabling Real-Time Dataflow in Space

AAC Clyde Space Q2 Report 

Polaris on course to develop hypersonic spaceplane Aurora- IE

AstroCardia develops artificial 'space heart' to study heart health- Space Applications

Spiral Blue Unveils Australia’s First ‘your Code In Space’ Initiative

Space Force in discussions to establish a cyber component to US Cyber Command- Defense Scoop

Old Soviet satellite breaks apart in orbit after space debris collision- Space.com

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>> Maria Varmazis: How fast do you think a space mission can go, from loading a payload, to fueling, to integration and launch, all the way to beginning operations in space? Well, how about in a matter of days, end to end? That has been the goal for the Space Force for a while now. And pretty soon, well, in the next six months of so, but still soon, we'll know if the U.S. Space Systems Command and its commercial space partners are able to conquer the night.

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Today is August 31st, 2023. I'm Maria Varmazis, and this is T-Minus.

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Firefly and Millennium are on hot standby for Victus Nox. QinetiQ is awarded a $224 million SDA contract. ReOrbit closes an oversubscribed Seed funding round for $7.4 million. And our guest today is Aravind Ravichandran, the Founder and CEO of TerraWatch Space. Aravind's joining us for a new recurring segment that we'll be doing on T-Minus Space Daily, every month, covering the Earth observation and sensing market, with Aravind and his work consulting for this industry. We're calling it the "Overview."

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And now, onto today's Intelligence Briefing. Firefly Aerospace and Millennium Space are ready to see how they'll conquer the night with Space Systems Command. The two companies are officially in what's called the "Hot Standby Phase," for a tactically responsive space mission that you might remember is called "Victus Nox," which means, "Conquer the night," if you love a bit of Latin. That mission is to get a payload to Vandenberg Space Force Base, fuel up the launch vehicle, and integrate the payload with the Firefly payload adapter, within 60 hours of an alert from the Space Force. And then, get everything ready to launch within 24 hours of an official launch notice. And then, launch at the first available window. And then, once the payload's in low earth orbit, it'll then be Millennium's job to initialize the vehicle and begin operations within 48 hours. Whoo, now that is blazingly fast for a space mission, and definition a challenging timeline, to put it gently, but Victus Nox is a key mission for the Space Force. Lieutenant Colonel MacKenzie BBirchenough, Material Leader for Space Safari, said this, "The U.S.'s ability to rapidly respond to on-orbit needs is critical to our national defense, particularly in today's evolving space environment. The accelerated build-time the team demonstrated for Victus Nox, combined with demanding launch and on-orbit goals, exemplifies our strong commitment to preserving our nation's dominance and ability to freely operate in the space domain."

Now, Firefly and Millennium will be in this "Hot Standby Phase" for the next six months. And at some time in that window, the Space Force will issue the order for them to get going. And of course, Firefly and Millennium don't know when, as well, that would sort of defeat the purpose of this whole thing. But as the kids say, "You don't have to get ready if you stay ready."

Yesterday, we mentioned that the U.S. Space Force was working on cooperation with Japan, and today we know that cooperation will extend to a new subordinate command in the country. According to a report in the "Stars and Stripes," the service is boosting its space cooperation with allied forces, including Japan, where a new component command should be standing up there shortly.

And staying with Japan, the country's telecommunications company, KDDI, has signed an agreement with SpaceX to provide satellite-to-cellular service from Starlink satellites and KDDI national wireless spectrum nationwide. The company's plan to start with SMS text services as early as next year.

QinetiQ's U.S. subsidiary has been awarded a five-year contract to engineer systems and provide other professional support services for the Space Development Agency's future layered network of missile tracking satellites in low-Earth orbit. The contract is valued at $224 million U.S. dollars. SDA officially awarded the firm-fixed-price contract to Avantus Federal, which was acquired by QinetiQ last year. The SDA contract covers engineering and technical analysis, management and professional services and acquisition support to the "Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture Project." The agency received two bids for the competitive acquisition effort and will obligate $13 million in fiscal 2023 operations and maintenance and research, development, test and evaluation funds.

NASA, on behalf of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA, has awarded four contracts to conduct NOAA's "Sounder for Microwave-Based Applications," known as SMBA, Phase-A study. Among those awarded is Spire Global, who will receive $4.6 million for the 12-month contract. The firm fixed price contracts allow for a definition study and design development, as part of SMBA's formulation activities. NOAA's "Near-Earth Orbit Network" program, also known as NEON, is responsible for SMBA instruments, the next generation of low-Earth orbit microwave sounders. They provide critical data on the physical properties of Earth's atmosphere, such as temperature and moisture, which heavily influence weather patterns. They also enable the NOAA National Weather Service's numerical weather models to forecast weather three days in the future and beyond. SMBA will fly on NOAA's NEON program series of low-Earth orbit satellites with the first launch planned in 2030.

Helsinki-based, ReOrbit, has completed an oversubscribed Seed funding round for $7.4 million. ReOrbit enables real-time dataflow in space and provides Earth Observation and SatCom operators with flight software, satellite platforms, and complete systems. ReOrbit enables real-time dataflow in space and provides Earth Observation and SatCom operators with flight software, satellite platforms, and complete systems. Thanks to its highly flexible software-first architecture, ReOrbit says it can adapt its satellites to different missions and support any payloads with powerful flight capabilities, while keeping cost and time-to-orbit low. ReOrbit has been profitable since it was founded, gaining strong traction with customers ranging from governmental and institutional sectors to commercial satellite operators.

Swedish satellite communications company, AAC Clyde Space, has reported a 53% jump in net profit in its interim annual report, compared to the same period in 2022. The company reported a net profit of over $13 million. AAC Clyde Space specializes in small satellite technologies and services that enable businesses, governments and educational organizations to access high-quality, timely data from space. The company was part of the team developing the SWI instrument on-board the European Space Agency's Jupiter mission, also known as "JUICE."

Polaris spaceplane is celebrating the successful maiden flight of its "Mira-Light." The vehicle is a scaled-down version of their "Mira" plane, and measures 2.5 meters in length. The German Aerospace startup, Polaris spaceplane, is developing a reusable space launch and hypersonic transport system, that operates like an aircraft. The primary objective of "Mira-Light" was to test and fine-tune the flight control systems for "Mira." The vehicle was designed and built in parallel with "Mira," within a matter of weeks. The "Mira-Light" completed five flights in one day, and the company's aiming to conduct a further 10 to 15 additional flights in the coming weeks to conclude their testing program. The full-scale "Mira" is scheduled for its inaugural flight by year-end. And if you'd like to hear more about Polaris, check out our interview with Polaris's Chief Commercial Officer, Annika Wollermann, on Episode 93 of "T-Minus Space Daily."

Five Belgian companies and research centers are joining forces in the "AstroCardia" project. And that's to study the heart on the ISS. They're aiming to study heart ageing and have developed an artificial miniature heart and associated circulatory system using 3D bioprinting. This so-called "heart-on-a-chip" will be sent to the International Space Station in 2025.

Australian Company, Spiral Blue has launched the "Your Code in Space" initiative. The program allows anyone, including developers, researchers and innovators from around the world, to run their custom code on Spiral Blue's SE-1 space edge computer which facilitates real-time AI processing on satellite imagery to find insights from space. If you're interested, you can find the link to the application and more details in our show notes.

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That includes our "Intel Briefing" for today, but you can always find links for further reading in our show notes, and we've added a story that's close to our hearts: cyber-security in space collide with discussions on a new Space Force component at Cyber Command.

Hey, "T-Minus" crew, if your business is looking to grow your voice in the industry, expand the reach of your thought leadership, or recruit talent, "T-Minus" can help. We would love to hear from you. Just send us an email at space@n2k.com or send us a note through our website, so we can connect about building a program to meet your goals.

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Our guest today is Aravind Ravichandran, the Founder and CEO of TerraWatch Space. This is a new recurring segment that we're doing on "T-Minus Space Daily" every month that covers the Earth observation and sensing market with Aravind and his work consulting for this industry. We're calling this segment the "Overview." Our Executive Producer, Brandon Karpf, spoke with Aravind and asked for him to give the audience a quick characterization of his work in this market, and the type of work that TerraWatch does.

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>> Aravind Ravichandran: So, TerraWatch kind of has two arms: one is the consulting arm, and the other is, what I call, the communications arm. So, the consulting arm does traditional strategy consulting work, go to market, commercial [inaudible] roadmap, [inaudible] of Earth observation for the end users, etcetera. And on the communications side, I have the newsletter, which [inaudible] you know, the developments of observation but also publish the analysis, insights, [inaudible] every week.

>> Brandon Karpf: Yes, and it's an excellent newsletter. It's actually how we first got connected, which is the team here in [inaudible] Space where you know, regular readers of your newsletter, and kind of -- that's what was getting us up to speed on this market, and we figured it would make a lot of sense to bring you on regularly to give us the characterization, you know, who the major players are, what the changes are in demand, commercialization, business models in this market.

So, let's dive right in. What are the -- any recent trends, recent notable releases and announcements in this subsegment of the space industry?

>> Aravind Ravichandran: So, in the last year or so, we've seen increasing number of observation satellites being launched. Each of them [inaudible] different sensors. Different sensors can -- because it's used for, you know, different purposes. You know, from a scientific point of view, they can do something, but then, from an application standpoint, each sensor is launched for a specific purpose. You know, the most obvious one being military reconnaissance satellites, or you know, [inaudible] infrared satellites. That's more related to Wi-Fi monitoring, or it can be, you know, satellites that can see two clouds, which is called a synthetic aperture radar or SAR satellite. So, all of those satellites are being launched. And the launches -- the launch is done by government agencies. And the vast majority of them are actually by private companies or what you would call new space companies. Companies that have formed in the last, you know, five, ten years. So, you know, that's been a big trend. Also, the adoption of Earth observation is happening. It's not -- you know, Earth observation as a technology has been around for 50 years, you know? The first missions launched in the late 60s and early 70s, that's when Earth observation began. But then mainstream, the most successful mainstream Earth observation app or application is the weather app that we use every day on our phones, that we don't think about. But you know, they include 80 to 90% of data for that application comes from space. But, you know, nobody talks about that. That's been the most mainstream application. But then in the last couple of years, we've seen increasing adoption of the imaging satellites as well.

>> Brandon Karpf: So, in relation to that most mainstream adoption, where you're talking about weather, data weather apps, most recently just saw an announcement from Tomorrow.IO. They just announced the first data from their radar satellite to gauge precipitation from space, which is kind of putting them on the same level as you know, JAXA, NOAA, some of these nation state-level capabilities. Could you potentially talk a little bit about the business case for a private company, collecting and delivering that type of data?

>> Aravind Ravichandran: Well, I'll give you the shorter version. I have a very long version on the blog on a [inaudible] weather. It is a very, very complicated market because weather as you know, is a public good. You know, everybody takes it for granted.

>> Brandon Karpf: Right.

>> Aravind Ravichandran: We see it on TV.

>> Brandon Karpf: Yes.

>> Aravind Ravichandran: You know, it's one Google search away. So, people just assume that, you know, it's not a business because it's free, or it's just there on your phone, and you're not paying for it. So, it's not a business. But then, you know what? It is a business. One, from a data standpoint. You know, from a data standpoint, do we have more data to collect about our planet, specifically of the atmosphere that can influence better weather forecasting around the world? Yes. There are a lot of data gaps and if you think of it geographically, there are parts of the world, actually large parts of the world, that do not have access to better forecasts. You know, can be surprising for some, but in 2023, that's the case. And also, the same case with [inaudible], right? We are sending, in 2023, people into the eye of the hurricane, or close to the eye of the hurricane. You know, hurricane hunters, [inaudible] is what I'm talking about.

>> Brandon Karpf: Yes.

>> Aravind Ravichandran: And because we have no way of collecting data. There's only one satellite that does that, and that's the NASA Global Precipitation Mission. And NASA also launched recently a couple of [inaudible] called Tropics, also for that same purpose to monitor hurricanes. And what Tomorrow.IO satellites give the opportunity is now we have radar. So, as I mentioned radar. They can see through clouds, meaning you can see through hurricanes and get data about, you know, what's happening in the core, which we can then transmit to the models to improve the weather forecast, right? So, that's the first business model where there is a gap. You know, you can monetize the data of weather data gaps, and you know, that's where private companies like Tomorrow.IO come in, and Spire as well, another private company that has launched a different kind of sensor called [inaudible] sensor.

And the second area where there's a lot of, I guess, commercial potential is really for enterprises and governments, right? So, if you're a company, you need to start preparing for your weather risk, because it is a real risk for your business. You're an airline? How many flights are going to get cancelled if you don't have [inaudible] weather forecast? Or you know, how much do you need to prepare for deicing your planes, right? That's just one industry, and think of it in logistics and shipping, supply chain, and you know, the applications just are infinite. And if you look at traditional industries as well, like insurance, you know? Insurance industry has to--

>> Brandon Karpf: Right.

>> Aravind Ravichandran: -now, right? So, weather data is going to play a very important role in [inaudible] companies.

>> Brandon Karpf: So, the other notable announcement I just saw was that Orbital Sidekick publicly shared the first images from its hyperspectral satellites. Could you talk a little bit about that technology and the kind of the use cases there for that business?

>> Aravind Ravichandran: For sure, yes. I think that is actually a pretty big deal, because hyperspectral is one of the sensors for which there have been not many commercial satellites that have launched. Actually, I think most of them have launched in the last year or two. One is from an Indian company called Pixxel. The other one was for a Canadian company called Wyvern. Maybe I'm missing out others. But then Orbital Sidekick also launched, I believe this year or late last year, I don't remember exactly when, but they did launch I think two or three of their first satellites. And the big deal is hyperspectral technology allows us to -- I'll think I'll explain it in a way that it allows us to zoom in, into the properties of an object. So, if you see a plant, we won't just see a plant with that image. We will see a chlorophyll content of that plant. If you just see land, we won't just see land. We will see [inaudible] the soil properties, and you can just extrapolate that for every use case. And I think one of the big applications that they are focusing on is related to emissions from pipelines, and you know, the leaks as well, or flares. All of that is becoming of course, you know, in the current context with reporting emissions, climate change, becoming very, very important and interesting. So, I think that's one of their biggest target applications.

>> Brandon Karpf: Who would be the potential consumers of that type of data? They were talking, at least in these initial images about methane concentration and methane leaks, to your point about emissions. Who do you envision as the customers for this kind of data?

>> Aravind Ravichandran: Yes, the two main customers are the energy companies, the oil and gas companies, and government, right? So, oil and gas companies, for them to know about their state of emissions. So, they can try to reduce. And then governments, that's more for -- from a regulatory standpoint, for understanding, you know, where emission's happening. So, that if you're thinking about reducing our emissions, they can then you know, come up with realistic estimates of how much can we really reduce in the next ten years, and how much are they actually following, right? Like that's also the policy aspect. I don't think is picked up just as much, but I think just from oil and gas companies, you know, they also want to reduce, or at least most of them, want to reduce, you know, their emissions. And I think the most important thing as well with all of this is transparency, right? Like, five years ago, we probably didn't know that there was this company or there was something probably just around the corner, if you're living in Texas or you know, [inaudible], there are a lot of pipelines. You now know that there are these emissions that are happening periodically. So, I think transparency is also a very big deal. And I don't know how much of that data is going to be open, but then there are also other open initiatives as well for methane and carbon that are coming up where we're going to have satellites collecting data about the emissions. And released openly to the public.

>> Brandon Karpf: What are you looking forward to in the next month?

>> Aravind Ravichandran: Well, I think September is going to be, I guess, the restart month. Somehow September always ends up being the conference month. I have no idea why. A lot of conferences tend to take place in September. There's one that's happening in Paris as well as [inaudible] that brings a lot of the space industry together. You know, that's going to be an interesting conference. Just for [inaudible]. You know, getting. And also, the space industry is always -- works in ways where they make announcements during conferences. I don't quite understand why, but so, there are probably some, I don't know, partnerships, contracts, whether it's you know, observation companies buying satellites, or partnership between two observation companies. I think those can be expected because that's what usually happens during this event in September. And apart from that, I guess we had launches happen throughout the year. There were two or three transport emissions [inaudible]. A lot of new space companies launched, just like Orbital Sidekick.

>> Brandon Karpf: Yes.

>> Aravind Ravichandran: And they're going to have to have their first images out. And then just do it right, Orbital Sidekick and Tomorrow.IO. And there are quite a few companies who are going to have to, you know, release their images. See if, you know, if everything's fine. And there's also going to be I guess, in this industry, because it's so crowded now, I think every month, and probably going to make the same, I don't want to call it prediction, but expectation that there'll be some consolidation. And we're seeing that increasingly, not just on the satellite side of things, but also downstream, right? Like an analytics company--

>> Brandon Karpf: Right, right.

>> Aravind Ravichandran: -being acquired by a company, and we saw that with Planet for instance, quite recently. Planet acquired a company from Slovenia called Sinergise to go downstream and start building their [inaudible] platform. So, you know, I think developments like [inaudible] are inevitable in our industry where [inaudible] and Earth observation where things are getting pretty crowded.

>> Brandon Karpf: Perfect. Well, we look forward to catching up with you again in a month. Before I let you go though, how can the audience find you and keep tabs on TerraWatch?

>> Aravind Ravichandran: Sure. Follow TerraWatch or myself, probably easy to find on LinkedIn. Put my name and TerraWatch on Twitter as well. On Twitter, it's AravindEO, EO for earth observation. So, Twitter and LinkedIn are kind of where I'm very active, but obviously you know, the newsletters, kind of a passive resource if you don't want to be logged into social media all the time. You can get updates with what's happening in Earth observation, and I guess also, you know, get some of my thoughts and analysis as well.

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>> Maria Varmazis: We'll be right back. Welcome back, and this is undoubtedly no surprise to frequent listeners of "T-Minus," but things are getting busy in low earth orbit. Not only has SpaceX contributed to thousands of new satellite constellations in LEO over the last few years, but there are also remnants of older satellites up there, that are causing space traffic management issues and worse, space junk. As you probably know, it's a real problem. Case in point, an old Soviet satellite has been spotted in low earth orbit at an altitude of some 870 miles above the earth that has disintegrated. Most likely caused by a collision with other debris. Astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell, also famously known as Planet 4589 on the platform formerly known as Twitter, raised the alarm on aforementioned social media. McDowell believes that he has seen seven debris objects from either the Cosmos 2143 or Cosmos 2145 spacecraft, both of which were launched in 1991. Old satellites and used rocket parts are of great concern to researchers, namely because they're floating too high at altitudes above 500 miles to be deorbited by the natural decay of their orbits caused by the drag of Earth's atmosphere. And these objects have already been involved in several incidents. This is a worrying situation and one we hope to see resolved in the coming years. Fingers crossed.

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That's it for "T-Minus" for the last day of August 2023. For additional resources from today's report, check out our show notes at space.n2k.com. We're privileged that N2K and podcasts 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. This episode was produced by Alice Carruth, mixing by Elliot Peltzman and Trey Hester, with original music and sound design by Elliot Peltzman. Our Executive Producer is Brandon Karpf. Our Chief Intelligence Officer is Eric Tillman. And I'm Maria Varmazis. Thanks for listening. We'll see you tomorrow.

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