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Breaking human spaceflight records by chance.

US Astronaut Frank Rubio sets a new spaceflight record. Open Cosmos raises $50 million in Series B funding. Telesat taps SpaceX for 14 launches. And more.





US Astronaut Frank Rubio sets a new spaceflight record for spending the longest time on a space mission. UK satellite data company Open Cosmos raises $50 million in Series B funding. We have the latest headlines from the World Satellite Business Week conference, and more.

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T-Minus Guest

Our guest today is Bill Murray, Co-founder and EVP of Product Engineering at rocket motor manufacturing company, Ursa Major.

You can connect with Bill on LinkedIn and find out more about Ursa Major on their website.

Selected Reading

Astronaut Frank Rubio breaks US record on way to spending a year in space- Space

Open Cosmos Raises $50M From Leading Impact Investors To Grow Its Leadership In Accessible, Sustainable Space Tech And Satellite Data- PR

U.S. export credit agency is working through $5 billion pipeline of space financing, vice chair says- CNBC

New MDA Software-Defined Satellites Target Operator Pain Points With Digital Solutions- PR Newswire\

Telesat taps SpaceX to launch its broadband satellites in orbit

United Launch Alliance Successfully Launches Joint National Security Mission- PR Newswire


Iran announces tender for first space navigation satellite- Al Mayadeen

Kombucha: Ally for Moon and Mars- ESA

As DoD readies new commercial space strategies, industry frets funding gap

SpaceX is the best bet for the commercial space station Earth needs- the Hill

First cat in space: how a Parisian stray called Félicette was blasted far from Earth- The Guardian

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>> Maria Varmazis: [Music] Less than a thousand humans have ever spent time in orbital space. It's an exclusive club, though the ranks are growing faster nowadays. You want to talk about real velvet rope exclusive though? That's for the number of humans who have spent over a year in space. And by the end of this month, that club will number a total of seven. [Music] Today is September 11 2023. I'm Maria Varmazis, and this is T-Minus.

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US astronaut, Frank Rubio, sets a new spaceflight record. Open Cosmos raises $50 million in series B funding. We'll have the latest headlines from the world satellite Business Week conference. And our guest today is Bill Murray, co founder of Rocket Motor Manufacturing Company, Ursa Major. Stay with us.

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Let's dive into the Intel briefing to start off our week. We love being able to report a bit of human spaceflight news and today we doff our proverbial cap to astronaut Frank Rubio, who today wins the title of US astronaut who has officially spent the longest time on a space mission, just nudging out astronaut Mark Vandehei, who only won that title last year. With his continuing stay on the International Space Station, Rubio is breaking that previously won record of 355 days, three hours and 46 minutes. At the end of this month, astronaut Frank Rubio also becomes only the seventh human in human history to spend over a year in Earth orbit. His flight home scheduled on September 27th will clock him in at 371 days in low Earth orbit. Rubio didn't set out to nab all these titles, mind you, it was supposed to only be a six month long tour. But that stay was extended in February, you might remember because of the coolant leak discovered on his ride home, the Soyuz MS 22. Taking a look at some funding news now and UK satellite data company Open Cosmos has raised 50 million US dollars in a series B funding round. Open Cosmos says the funding will be used to accelerate the company's growth internationally and expand its offering to encompass sophisticated satellites and constellations as well as satellite based analytics and insights solutions. Hello, or should I say Bonjour to all of our listeners at the World satellite Business Week conference. We definitely wish we were there in Paris with you. We're keeping an eye out for stories from the conference, like, the news from the Export Import Bank of the US or XM, which announced in Paris that it is working through a 5 billion US dollar pipeline of applications related to the space industry. XM helps us companies compete for international contracts and says it's seeing a dramatic increase in applications from companies looking to build satellite constellations and low Earth orbit for communications and Earth observation platforms. Canadian Space technology company MDA also used world satellite business week to reveal details about its new software defined digital satellite product line. Canadian telecommunications company Telesat selected MDA as the prime satellite contract for their Lightspeed constellation, which was announced last month. MDA is developing a fully integrated portfolio of modular digital products and components for space based communications solutions with Telesat as the anchor customer. Telesat has also announced that it has contracted with SpaceX for 14 launches of its next broadband satellites. The satellites are due to launch in 2026, with a company aiming to roll out a global broadband service in 2027. The companies have not revealed the cost of the launch agreements. And speaking of SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk has taken to his social media platform X to confirm that his company has completed 57 of the 63 corrective actions that were asked for by the FAA for starship flight 2. The remaining six actions are for future flights according to the space billionaire. So, one step closer to seeing the massive starship launch again from Boca Chica, absolutely, but we will see how long the FAA stretches out the license application process before we get too excited. The United Launch Alliance Atlas five rocket carrying the silent Barker or NRL 107 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office, and the US Space Forces Space Systems Command finally lifted off on Sunday. The silent Barker mission was ULA 98th launch for national security and was the final NRO launch aboard an Atlas 5 rocket as ULA transitions future missions to the next generation, Vulcan rocket. Five Northrop Grumman graphite epoxy motor solid rocket boosters provided approximately 1.85 million pounds of thrust to propel the Atlas 5 rocket out of Earth's gravity. Stick around for our chat with Ursa Major's co founder Bill Murray later this episode to hear more about rocket motor thrust options. According to the Iranian Space Agency, Iran's Space Research Center is planning to call for a public procurement for the construction of its inaugural space navigation satellite. The Iranian government quoted the agency's statement as a means of supporting the private sector, the Iranian Space Research Center is planning to hold a public tender for the development, construction, and launch into orbit of research satellite one. The satellite will be used for research purposes in the field of space navigation. The US imposed sanctions on Iran's civilian space agency and two research organizations in 2019, saying they were being used to advance Tehran's ballistic missile program. And completely changing gears now a fun little story to close out our intelligence briefing. The European Space Agency is studying Kombucha as a life support system for space settlements. Yes, I just said Kombucha, this same fermented tea that we're all guilty of liking and not knowing why. I'm definitely one of those people. It's obviously because we're astronauts and training and we didn't even know it. Isa is testing Kombucha's cultures to assess their resilience in space. The Europeans say these cultures hold great promise for supporting humans on the Moon and Mars. Isa's expose facility held experiments on the ISS to investigate if and how bacteria survive in space and in simulated Martian conditions. Samples flew on the outside of the space station and the results show that a micro organism called cyanobacterium, was able to repair its DNA and resume cell division even after being [music] exposed to cosmic radiation. The micro organism even resisted the destructive iron ions that caused extensive cell damage. So you need an excuse to drink a little Buch today, this is it. It's all in the name of science.

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That concludes our roundup of today's news from the space industry. But you can always find more details about all the stories we've mentioned in our selected reading section. And we've included a few opinion pieces on the US Department of Defense funding gaps. And the hill poses the question is Space X the best bet for the commercial space station Earth needs? You can find all the links at space.n2k.com, and just click on this episode. A T-Minus crew every Monday we produce a written intelligence roundup. It's called "Signals and Space." You happen to miss any T-Minus episodes, this strategic intelligence product will get you up to speed in the fastest way possible. It's all signal, no noise. You can sign up for Signals and Space in our show notes or at space.n2k.com.

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Our guest today is Bill Murray, co founder of Rocket Motor Manufacturing Company, Ursa Major. I started off our interview by asking Bill for an overview of the work that they're doing at Ursa Major.

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>> Bill Murray: So the company was founded back in 2015, and we are a bunch of rocket nerds. Basically the idea behind the company is that we are focusing on what I would call the most complex part of an entire rocket, which is the rocket engine, the propulsion part. A good way to frame that as well over 50 percent of flight failures are due to propulsion so it can kind of tell you where the complexity lies in the device. We're very laser focused on rocket engine propulsion, and we have several different products across different thrust classes, different propellant choices that fit a wide range of market applications. So going on eight years, the company has been around that long, and we've got quite a quite a big offering at this point.

>> Maria Varmazis: I would love to know why you all stay laser focused on propulsion, many companies try to branch out into other things, and you'll want to stay focused on that. I'd love to know more about the thoughts behind that.

>> Bill Murray: Yeah, absolutely. So different industries have different, I think natural points of separation. If you look at aircraft, for example, it's a similar industry in the sense that the propulsion, you know, the jet engines on aircraft are generally not made by the companies that make the aircraft themselves. You know, a good example is just, you know, Boeing aircraft, and, you know, they source engines from Rolls Royce, or General Electric, that, really, it comes down to the technical complexity of the device, the amount of money it takes to develop that, and the timelines required are just so intense, that really, you know, companies that do focus on propulsion do tend to have better and higher performance offerings than those who, you know, are spread across the entire airframe in the entire propulsion system. So, you know, rockets are different in the sense that the industry history is different than, let's say, commercial aviation. In some sense, it's a smaller and born out of, you know, really the Cold War, if you think about our rocket tech. And because of that, I think the industry is still not as mature as commercial aviation. And therefore, I think there are still quite a few leaps for the industry to make. And one of them is, in my mind, and [inaudible] is, you know, allowing some companies to really focus on propulsion to deliver, you know, like I said, higher performance alternatives at a lower price point. And let, you know, the rocket manufacturers focus on the next problems that they need to solve, which is, how do we get into regular flight operations for a rocket? How do you reuse a rocket? What does it do in space? And really take the burden of developing the propulsion off of those suppliers. And really, at the end of the day, if this all works out, the entire industry benefits and prices just drop across the board.

>> Maria Varmazis: There's definitely a lot to be said for specialization so I really appreciate that perspective. Thank you. So, yeah, we were talking about all these propulsion systems. So let's get into what Ursa Major makes. So you want to give me an overview of the different types of engines y'all make and what they do, what kind of missions they support?

>> Bill Murray: Absolutely. Our very first product and our namesake product is Hadley. That's the engine that we have been developing for quite some time. And that really just started off, in some sense, actually, as a demonstrator for us to go demonstrate technology. It was interesting to see the market tension and interests we got very early on as the company started in furthering that engine, so really, what it is, is it's a liquid oxygen, liquid kerosene rocket engine, which is very common. That's what the SpaceX Falcon 9 flies in terms of propellant. But it's very small at 5,000 pounds of thrust, which, you know, compared to other engines is small. If you hear it in person, it's pretty loud, it's pretty impressive because it is a rocket engine. But the idea is that it's got many different applications. One is ground launch. So Oost application we call a sea level variant, that's, you know, the engine that would be used on the first stage to get the vehicle off the ground. We have a couple of customers using it for that application, we have a version of it that is more tuned for hypersonic flight. So, yeah, the application there are, you know, Stratolaunch is a is a public customer of ours. And we supply their engines for their talent vehicle, which is dropped off of an aircraft and flies at supersonic speeds, and is propelled by one Hadley. And then we have a version of the engine for in space operations, we call it the, you know, the vacuum variant. And all three of those are pretty much the same in terms of, you know, the overall architecture, the engine, but have, you know, slightly different capabilities and are tuned for the environments that are in so that's our main Hadley product. That's the one that's in production. That's the one that we have made many, many engines of, well over 80,000 seconds of test time over the years. And we're getting into flight operations here soon, which is very exciting. So, yeah, yeah. That's our main product. And then we have, you know, stepping up and thrust in different propellant class, we have Ripley. It's very similar to Hadley in terms of propellant, but it's 10 times the thrust, the 50,000 pounds thrust, that engine is in test. We've tested that this year. I think we've got some pretty cool video out of that. And we're currently developing Draper which is a peroxide and kerosene engine, about the same size as Hadley. And then airway is our 200,000 pound thrust in methane oxygen engine, and development. Wow. So mouthful, sorry.

>> Maria Varmazis: No, no, no, it's totally okay. I'm just- we went from 5,000 to 200,000. Wow, that's, amazing. All right. So the national security space launch program. There's a lot that's happening there. It's a very exciting program. And I'm curious about your thoughts on maybe what kind of doors this opens up for Ursa Major and what kind of opportunities that it can invite.

>> Bill Murray: Absolutely. You know, competition, diversity, and speed is good for this industry. And like I said earlier, I think the industry still has a lot of evolution ahead of it and providing more launch opportunities for NSSL is really good thing for us. You know, it opens up the customer base that we can play to, you know, mentoring the airway 200,000 pound thrust engine. That's really us, trying to get ready for that market to open up in the medium and heavy launch class. So, you know, we're excited for it. I'm excited to see the industry start to grow and more competition is really, you know, plays well for us, so.

>> Maria Varmazis: Sure. Okay. So L3 Harris just recently completed their Aero jet Rocketdyne acquisition, that was big news item when it came out. It's in your universe. I'm very curious what your thoughts are on what that means for companies like yours.

>> Bill Murray: Mergers and acquisitions have really become the norm in defense over the last few decades. And this is a, you know, another example of that. At the end of the day, it's kind of my, the opposite of what I mentioned about NSSL. You know, having fewer players in the market really does slow down innovation. We need a healthy defense industrial base. And so there are things about this that aren't very exciting from that perspective. However, you know, we'll wait and see how it turns out.

>> Maria Varmazis: There's a lot that we could have touched on, and it's always a short interview. But I want to make sure I give you the opportunity to say anything you wanted to say that maybe we didn't touch on or that you would just like to send out to the audience.

>> Bill Murray: Absolutely. You know, overall, I'm just excited for this industry to grow, have gravitated this way my entire career. And my personal interest in this company, and the industry is really seeing space as a primarily economic problem. I think a lot of the technologies that we still use today are- been developed, really in the '60s, in the '50s. And we're still working on what are the economics of space? How does it make sense to make money from launch? It's exciting to see companies go into communications and telecom in space, I think that's a really exciting opportunity for us, because it really drives a lot of launches, a lot of satellites. And we're very interested in space propulsion, I think seeing orbital transfer vehicles, different satellite mining capabilities. And, you know, it just the opportunity space for Ursa over the next, you know, five to 10 years is just wide open. And for me, rocket engines are some of the coolest machines made by man. So, you know, I'm just excited for what's coming.

>> Maria Varmazis: [Music] Amen to all of that. As I said, I don't- I will fully admit that rocket engines are very outside of my understanding and, like, they're complex. Not a lot of people understand them very well, so I'm fessing up to that. But indeed what you all are building is incredible. And I also look forward to seeing where you're going, because it's going to be amazing. So, Bill, thank you so much for joining me and for walking me through it really. And I appreciate your patience with me on this one, so thank you so much.

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We'll be right back. [Music] Welcome back. And if you are a bit of a space geek, no doubt you've heard of Ham the Astro Chimp, and like the ill fated Astro pup, but have you heard of Felicette? No? Well, we're fast approaching the 60th anniversary of the first feline mission in space. Yes. Felicette was a Parisian stray cat that was launched on a sub orbital mission in October 1963 that reached an altitude of over 95 miles above the Earth. The French space agency then known as CERMA or Centre d'Enseignement et de Recherches de Medicine Aeronautique, thank you high school French, selected 14th street cats as feline astronauts. The cats were not given names in order to prevent the scientists from becoming too fond of them. But the cat selected to travel to space was simply known as C 341. After the successful flight of C 341. And yes, she did survive the flight. The French press decided that the feline flyer needed a name and picked Felix after the cartoon cat character, you know, Felix the Cat. And when they realized that C 341 was female, her name was adjusted to Felicette. [Cat sound] I know my fellow cat fans are wondering, Felicette was a tuxedo cat. The more you know, huh.

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That's it for T-Minus for September 11, 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 that we deliver the information that keeps you a step ahead in the rapidly changing space industry. 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. 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. Learn more@n2k.com. This episode was produced by Alice Carruth, mixing by Elliot Peltzman and Trey Hester, with original music and sound design by Elliott Peltzman. Our executive producer is Brandon Karp, our chief intelligence officer is Eric Tillman, and I'm Maria Varmazis. Thanks for listening. We'll see you tomorrow.

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>> Unidentified speaker: T-Minus nine.

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