Rocket Lab to launch TROPICS in NZL. Ball partners with Loft and Microsoft. GAO confirms what the Space Force knows. ITU to update spectrum regs. And...
Speculation surrounds launches planned at Cape Canaveral. SpaceX readies Starship for a second launch. XRISM and SLIM ready for take off. And more.
Speculation surrounds launches planned at Cape Canaveral this week. SpaceX readies Starship for a second launch but is still waiting for the green light from the FAA. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to launch the H2-A rocket with JAXA payloads XRISM and SLIM on board, and more.
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Our guest today is Starfish Space Director of Strategic Relationships Michael Madrid on reviving the Otter Pup.
SSC Rapid Reaction Branch receives Air Force Electronic Warfare Award for crisis response support for Commander, U.S. Space Command; named Outstanding Level II Electromagnetic Warfare Unit of the Year
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>> Maria Varmazis: In Boca Chica, SpaceX's starship is fully stacked yet again, and will they get the FAA okay to launch for another flight test by the end of this month? Who knows? And on the Space Coast, three mystery launches are scheduled this week. And if we pull off the masks Scooby-Doo style on who's doing the launching -
>> Let's just see who you really are, Mister. [Sounds]
>> Maria Varmazis: Is it the Department of Defense under there? Who's to say? Jinkies, space sure is shrouded in mystery. [Music and Sounds]
>> T minus 20 seconds to [inaudible] ready for deploy. Blast off.
>> Maria Varmazis: Today is September 6, 2023. I'm Maria Varmazis, and this is "T-Minus".
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Who's launching out of the Cape this week? What's the payload on [inaudible]? Will SpaceX launch the Starship soon? And our guest today is Starfish Space director of Strategic Relationships, Michael Madrid, with the incredible story of how Starfish Space brought the Otter Pup back from the brink. It's so back. You do not want to miss this one.
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Let's dive into the intel briefing for today. Mysteries abound at the Space Coast this week. And I promise I won't keep the Scooby Doo thing going. There are three launches scheduled this week, but the usual suspects say they're not on deck. SpaceX, ULA, and NASA, none of them have launches scheduled at Cape Canaveral this week. So filling in the blanks here, the rather safe assumption is that the US Department of Defense is doing some work this week, and yes, speculation abounds. Florida Today reports that at least one of the launches happening, perhaps today in fact, is likely to be a weapons test actually; a hypersonic missile, to be precise. A test earlier this year in March by the DOD, four hypersonic capabilities was scrubbed, according to Florida Today. So given the mysterious nature of the launch windows this week, it's speculation, but still a decently educated guess, that perhaps the DOD is giving things another go. And speaking of mysterious launches, sometime today from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in China, an unknown payload is launching on a long march for sea. I know, an unknown payload, going to an unknown orbit, for an unknown mission, real illuminating "T-Minus". And another launch mystery to add here, you take a Booster 9 and add a Ship 25 on top, put it altogether at Boca Chica, Texas, and you get another starship, the biggest and most powerful rocket in the world, with the grand hopes of revolutionizing access to orbit the Moon and beyond, ready for a second test flight. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk says the ship is ready to go for its flight test- fingers crossed, an orbital one this time, but there is that little matter of FAA approval that SpaceX doesn't have yet, and there's no way to know when it's coming. So while SpaceX enthusiasts are saying it's happening at the end of this month, that's still just conjecture until the FAA chimes in. Of course, if and when the FAA approval comes, we will be sure to update you with the confirmed flight test and time. And tonight at 7:42 p.m. Eastern time, or tomorrow morning at 8:42 a.m. in Japan, JAXA is giving the XRISM launch another try. The XRISM, or X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission, is a JAXA collaboration with NASA and contributions from ESA, and will be attempting to launch on an H2-A rocket from Japan's Tanegashima Space Center after an earlier attempt resulted in a scrub. The rocket will also be carrying the SLIM lunar lander. So best of luck to JAXA on the launch today. Voyager Space has announced the successful installation of a new self-built payload called "GAMBIT" to its Bishop Airlock on the International Space Station. The Bishop Airlock launched in December 2020, and is the first permanent commercial addition to the ISS. The addition features six external payload sites. One of GAMBIT's primary goals is to serve as a testing platform to demonstrate robotic transfer and installation processes at these external sites. GAMBIT was transported to the ISS on the NG-19 cargo mission earlier this year, and completed its installation on August the 28th. SES Space & Defense has been awarded a multiyear contract by the US Air Force Research Lab, to conduct a series to tests to integrate space broadband services across a multi-orbit satellite network in support of the DEUCSI program. Now, "DEUCSI" stands for "Defense Experimentation Using Commercial Space Internet" program, and is intended to establish communications with military platforms via multiple commercial space internet constellations in geostationary orbit, medium Earth orbit, and low Earth orbit, or "GEO", "MEO", and "LEO". It uses a common user terminal with the ability to alternate between space broadband providers. SES did not disclose the contract value. Terran Orbital has unveiled a new lineup of seven standard satellite bus platforms. The new bus platforms span nano, micro, mini, and small classes of satellites. Terran Orbital's new lineup of satellite configurations are derived from the company's prior experience with nano satellites and its micro satellite bus designed and built for the US Space Development Agency's recently launched Tranche 0 Transport Layer mission and the coming Tranche 1 mission. Earth observation companies Wivern and Loft Orbital are partnering to expand the coverage of the Dragonette satellite constellation. Wivern says the partnership will provide them with a seamless access to on orbit satellites that gather the hyperspectral data that the company's customers need. Wivern plans the use of observation time on Loft's hyperspectral mission, which is due to launch in 2024. Now, if you listened to yesterday's show, then you'll likely remember that the European Space Agency was hosting a hot fire of the Ariane 6 as we went to air. The test was held at Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana. The vehicle's Vulcain 2.1 engine fired for four seconds as planned, and switched off before its liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen fuels were drained to their separate underground tanks. This test was a continuation of an earlier dress rehearsal held in July. The Ceres-1 (Y1) carrier rocket lifted off from a platform in the Yellow Sea off the coast of China's Shandong Province yesterday. The vehicle carried four satellites into an 800-kilometer orbit, in a mission named "The Little Mermaid". This was the first sea launch by commercial space venture Galactic Energy, making the company the first private Chinese enterprise carrying out both land- and sea-based launches. And we'll close out our intel briefing for today with some NASA contract news. First, Astrobotic has started work on two NASA small business innovation research contracts to further research on lunar plume surface interactions. Hmm. And the second announcement comes from Solstar Space, which has received a phase two small business innovation research contract valued at over $1.2 million for the development of its critical data relay spacecraft operational status.
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We've included further reading on all of the stories that we've covered today in our show notes. And we've added a few extra on the US Space Force that we think you might find interesting. You can find all of these stories and more at space.n2k.com, and just click on this episode. Hey, "T-Minus" crew, if you find this podcast useful, please do us a favor and share a five star rating and short review in your favorite podcast app. That will help other space professionals like you find the show and join the "T-Minus" crew. Thank you so much for your support. We all really appreciate it.
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Our guest today is Starfish Space's director of Strategic Relationships, Michael Madrid, telling us the story about how the Otter Pup was saved. To start the story, Michael first sets the stage with an overview of the evolution of the Otter Pup itself.
>> Michael Madrid: Starfish is a venture back startup based here in the Seattle area that's building a spacecraft called the "Otter". And the Otter is built for satellite servicing missions. So for example, in geostationary orbit we could dock with large concepts and do mission extension or life extension. In low Earth orbit we talk a lot about end-of-life disposal for derelict satellites or debris remediation. And so to do those missions, we've developed capture hardware that can dock with anything in space with unprepared surfaces that don't have specific docking plates or features. And we've developed a lot of flight software to do autonomous rendezvous, proximity operations, and docking, or ARPOD, relative navigation and things like that. And so as a tech demonstration, we built a smaller version of the spacecraft called the "Otter Pup" that has a notably full scale versions of our capture mechanism, all of our flight software. And we wanted to go to space and test those pieces of technology by doing a docking demonstration with a commercial partner, somebody else's satellite. And we built this spacecraft in about- well just under 20 months, and for around eight million dollars that we had raised in the seed round at that point. We're really excited to get that spacecraft to be built and delivered to SpaceX, and we launched in June. And we launched onboard an OTV, an orbit transfer vehicle, as many of these rideshare missions kind of work out. And we were one of a couple payloads. And we were excited to partner with that company. And we are also going to do our docking demonstration with that OTV. We're going to deploy from that gains of distance [phonetic] commission, do some tests and then fly a rendezvous back to it and do all of our docking tests. And unfortunately, there was just an anomaly onboard the OTV shortly after release from the Falcon 9. And to the great credit of the team there, when they made the contact with their spacecraft and discovered it was starting to rotate very quickly, they made a fast decision to emergency deploy their payloads, including Otter Pup. And so that gave us a shot at saving the mission; got us free-forming, notably about a week earlier than planned, and [laughter] rotating with that- with the same speeds. And so we were rotating very quickly. And [laughs] it was an exciting time. It was an exciting time.
>> Maria Varmazis: I was going to say, you've had a very busy summer, probably not busy in the way you wanted. [Laughs] But after you all found out about the rotation, that was- I know a lot of us when we read the update we were all kind of heartbroken for you guys. But you were also so determined. That was what was really amazing was hearing like, "We're going to figure something out." So okay I'm going to just ask that, what happened next after all that; [laughs] well how did you get that mission plan together?
>> Michael Madrid: Yes, so I think that's just the DNA of the company. I think the- it was amazing to watch everybody at Starfish really keep their heads up and really get excited about tackling a challenge. I think, you know, from our cofounders, Austin and Trevor, down to every party organization, we try to be really realistic and practical. And so we know something's going to go wrong a space mission, especially a first one and it's just a matter of figuring out what's going to go wrong and tackling it. And notably, I think we had also great support from our partners. The OTV operators worked quick to both handle the anomaly and then also to communicate with us, and to share data with us and help us understand where the spacecraft was. Our satellite bus, the Otter Pup bus, was built by a company called "Astro Digital" down in Silicon Valley and their mission partner and flying as well, and they were incredible to scramble ground stations to make contact with the spacecraft quickly. You know, notably we picked up the, you know, UHF beacon within a couple hours and then we were able to establish two-way communication. So we sent to uplink and then received back acknowledgment of that command. So we knew we had two-way communications with the satellite about 25 hours after launch. And to your point, we just- we got to work. I think it was that very night people were in front of whiteboards. We were looking at, you know, alternative partners to dock with, we were looking at how do we detumble the spacecraft, how do we make sure different parts of the spacecraft are all right? And definitely the biggest priority up front was to figure out how to stop the rotation rates. And Otter Pup has- it does have a thruster, but its body mounted along the major axis, and so it wasn't really going to play a large role in slowing down the spin. We had, you know, spin around all three axes, but a lot of the spin around the major axis. But we have these three torque rods onboard. And basically, we were looking to find a way to control them in a- using novel algorithms that we sort of derived from first principles to use them in a sort of contingency operation that they aren't normally required to be in, and to use them and control them very quickly. As you're flying through the Earth's magnetic field, you're trying to control the torque rods and how they're activated to respond to how you're passing through Earth's magnetic field, to push off of that and to slow your rotation rate. If you get it wrong, you actually increase your rotation rate and you make yourself spin faster.
>> Maria Varmazis: Yay. [Laughs]
>> Michael Madrid: Now, there are a lot of challenges there, too, just like to build a feedback cycle for the spacecraft where you're using the sensors, you're determining your rotation. We were doing this without really clear knowledge of the spacecraft attitude. We were also notably battling a series of low-power events. Luckily, when we started, we were power positive and we were able to determine the solar panels had deployed on the sides of Otter Pup. But if you imagine the surface of the solar panels, they would end up knife edge onto the Sun. And so that would drive us into a low-power state, into safe mode several times, and notably once in July even browned out, which means we lost power to the flight computer. And so the flight computer shuts down and your spacecraft, you could never hear from it again. But thankfully, we- you know, from the early design days, we had put small [inaudible] solar panels on different faces. Those were getting a little bit of current. You know, the spacecraft was able to come back. We reestablished contact. We execute these emergency maneuvers that we had sort of defined, again, in partnership with Astro Digital and some of the other vendors. And so we would kind of kick Otter Pup into a more optimal orientation and get some sunlight back onto those solar panels, and then wait and like charge up very slowly. And it was this game of like, "Well, do we execute a recovery maneuver, or do we wait to charge, and how are we going to trade off the power usage of the sensors, versus the actuators, versus this system or that system?" And it was just, again, an incredible effort that I lead our business development team. I was an aerospace engineering major eight to ten years ago, but just, you know, in all watching everybody from, you know, our cofounders down to all of our engineers coming up with, you know, ways to control the satellite, and then also really developing a fast pipeline to deploy what they would create onto the satellite on orbit. If you think about writing code and developing these algorithms, testing it in simulation, which we do a lot of at Starfish anyway, and then testing it on a flat sat, a flat satellite to really verify it, and then uplinking it. Sometimes these are even 90-minute cycles. You know, it's not like lower orbit. You're talking to it, for example, every 90 to 95 minutes, and you would connect with it and downlink a bunch of telemetry. And you would go through that, analyze it, and try to understand what's happening, make some decisions about the next thing you want to test or try, you know, prepare those scripts, test them on a flat sat, and be uplinking them on the very next pass 90 minutes later to the satellite, which is just, again, an incredible kind of cycle time that the engineering team adapted to do instead.
>> Maria Varmazis: It sure it, yes. [Laughter] Thank goodness. Yes, I mean, [laughs] and you know, you- and you're in the middle of a crisis no less too, so it's like there's, you know, time- no time to waste.
>> Michael Madrid: Yes, it makes my job very easy. I get to just brag about our engineering team and be really proud of them. So I think, you know, fast forwarding, it's kind of to your point, it was a team effort. It was a team effort with our mission partners. People had just an incredible attitude and resiliency through this recovery effort. I remember even just coming in that- later that week of launch and there was a little Otter Pup model that had been 3D printed and mounted on a motor, and that motor was tagged to live telemetry so that the little model was spinning at a representative rate there on the ground [laughter] in our office.
>> Maria Varmazis: It looks like- it was almost like -
>> Michael Madrid: Little things like that, you know?
>> Maria Varmazis: It was like once a second almost, but essentially -[laughter]
>> Michael Madrid: At recording- yes the starting point here we were rotating about 330 degrees per second. So you can [inaudible] like a revolution a second. But just, you know, that's one of my favorite just small anecdotes about how, you know, people would really come together and work hard through it. And then we got to watch that, you know, slow down over time, and today's it's still; it's not moving. [Laughs] We were -
>> Maria Varmazis: I love that.
>> Michael Madrid: Ready to announce this week that after all these recovery efforts- and specifically there was an algorithm I've been talking about us developing and testing, and when we did deploy it to the spacecraft, it really took the rotation rate down very quickly. And so in early August, we were able to fully stabilize our Pup, we're Sun pointing, and in nominal conditions, normal operation modes we're now stepping through sort of spacecraft commissioning and some of the typical processes you would do there. And I'll highlight the next two big steps for us, you know, first is to do spacecraft health checks to make sure everything else is okay. You know, there's definitely a possibility that other spacecraft systems that weren't meant to rotate very quickly for months we want to go make sure those are healthy. So setting that aside, then we also are looking at an alternative- a docking partner so we can go and do the full demonstration we had set out to do in the first place. And so hopefully those are the kinds of updates people can expect to hear from us in the coming weeks.
>> Maria Varmazis: That's extremely exciting. And yes, congratulations to everybody who worked on this incredible rescue. What did you all take away from this experience?
>> Michael Madrid: You're right, because we're continuing to take things away, and we probably will be for a long time. Well, I think there, again, was a lot of engineering development, a lot of technical development that I'm sure we'll explore different venues that we can kind of share with the technical community the results of that or things that we learned along the way. I think the team had to be, you know, very resourceful in how they operated the spacecraft. I know there were times where we were working with the vendors to understand subsystem code and how it works so we could work around different limitations or sort of normal ops configurations. And so that really, you know, it involved some deep dives into different parts of the spacecraft and learning how to work around different things there during contingency operations. And I think, again, we really, you know, value and are just incredibly grateful for the people we got to work with in this process. And again, I'll foot stomp, you know, Astro Digital. I remember, you know, early in the design and decision process for doing the upfront mission, we were excited to work with Astro Digital because- hopefully they see this as a positive word, we felt like they were a fellow scrappy team. And what I mean by that is we felt like they would be in the trenches with us, you know, if they ever needed and when it counted. And this is when it counted. And oh boy, did they- they did that in space, they were with us every step of the way going above and beyond. And so, you know, definitely a big takeaway beyond any of the specific technical or engineering pieces is, you know, how incredible it is to have great relationships with your partners, with your vendors, with your customers, you know, people that we work with in the government and commercial markets as customers who have been incredibly supportive, offering ways to help, you know, checking in with us seeing what they can do to help, and just, you know, a lot of support from the community has been incredible while we're on this journey.
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>> Maria Varmazis: We'll be right back. [Music] Welcome back. Were you doing a lot of home cooking during the worst of 2020? I know I was. And space was, too; kind of. Now, this headline is all spaceology. A meteorite found in the Sahara Desert in Algeria in 2020, named "Erg Chech 002" is one of the oldest ever discovered space rocks; estimated to be about 4.6 billion years old. But the pictures- honestly, the pictures tell a little bit of a different story. I'll be honest, the meteorite is in the shape of a pie wedge and it's egg whitish with bits of golden brown, flecked with bite-sized spinach-like bits of green crystals throughout. It looks like a slice of spinach quiche, is what I'm saying. [Laughs] And a sliced cross-section of the meteorite kind of looks like slices of moldy bread. I swear, I'm not just hungry while looking at these photos, they really do look food-like. You can go see for yourself. Tell me if I'm crazy. Check it out in the link in our show notes. But please, do not attempt to eat the 4.6 billion-year-old space rock, everybody, as it holds some interesting clues to how planets like our own formed billions of years ago, and how different elements like those found in this meteorite were distributed amongst rocky planets. So while some of us were making sourdough, this slice of quiche-like meteorite discovered in 2020 is helping us better understand what the early solar system looked like.
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That's it for "T-Minus" for September 6, 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 our podcast. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or submit the survey in our show notes. Your feedback ensures that 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. This episode was produced by Alice Carruth, mixing by Elliott Peltzman and Trey Hester, with original music and sound design by Elliott Peltzman. Our executive producer is Brandon Karpf. Our chief intelligence officer is Eric Tillman. And I'm Maria Varmazes. Thanks for listening. We'll see you tomorrow.
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>> T-Minus [inaudible].
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