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Firefly is quick to conquer the night.

Victus Nox conquers the night. The US DoD reveals its strategy for the protection and defense of on-orbit assets. Germany signs the Artemis Accords. And more.





Firefly Aerospace successfully launches the first US Space Force Victus Nox mission. The US Department of Defense has unclassified its strategy for the protection and defense of on-orbit assets. Germany becomes the 29th nation to sign the Artemis Accords, and more.

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T-Minus Guest

A study produced by graduate students at George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute is providing a deep look at the commercial space mission authorization regime. Current US regulation requires commercial space firms to navigate a complex web of federal agencies. This study looks at how the system could be consolidated. We speak to the three of the study’s authors; Zeke Clayson, Shiv Patel and Frank Spellman. 

Selected Reading

Firefly Aerospace Successfully Launches U.S. Space Force VICTUS NOX Responsive Space Mission with 24-Hour Notice- PR

Department of Defense Releases Space Policy Review and Strategy on Protection of Satellites

Increasing national security with satellites that team together- Sandia National Lab

NASA Welcomes Germany as Newest Artemis Accords Signatory

European Rover Challenge


Sidus Space Announces 180-Day Extension To Regain Compliance With Nasdaq Minimum Bid Price Requirement- PR

Chinese space authority says no proof aliens exist after Mexican congress shown ‘extraterrestrial corpses’- South China Morning Post

Space Force aims for more efficient operations with ‘integrated’ units- Air Force Times

Parker Solar Probe

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[ Musical Flourish ]

>> Maria Varmazis: It's not a bird, and it's not a plane; and it wasn't a comet either. No, that fantastic sight over Southern California caught a lot of people by surprise. But us space nerds, we knew that was VICTUS NOX going on to conquer the night.

[ Music ]

Today is September 15,2023. I'm Maria Varma.

>> Alice Carruth: I'm Alice Carruth, and this is T-Minus.

[ Music ]

>> Maria Varmazis: VICTUS NOX conquers the night. The US DoD reveals its strategy for the protection and defense of on-orbit assets. Germany signs the Artemis Accords.

>> Alice Carruth: And our guests today are three graduate students from George Washington University Space Policy Institute, who've produced a paper that takes a deep look at the commercial space mission authorization regime. So stay with us for that chat.

[ Music ]

>> Maria Varmazis: And now, onto today's Intelligence Briefing. Firefly Aerospace had been on hot stand by since the end of August, and in the last few days, there had been some signs that the airspace over Vandenberg was about to get busy. And last night, at 7:28 p.m. PDT, Firefly's Alpha rocket lifted off from Vandenberg, carrying aboard the payload from Space Force that it had received just 27 hours before. After progressing through all the flight stages, alpha then deployed the payload, which was built by Millennium Space Systems, to low Earth orbit. This marked a mission success for VICTUS NOX, the responsive space mission from us Space Force Space Systems Command. And really, it's quite an achievement to go through all the steps from notice to launch all the way to spacecraft deployment and orbit in a matter of hours. The idea behind this mission, and undoubtedly ones like it in the future, is to provide assured access to space in case of a national security threat or conflict. This has been a long-time goal for the US military. So understandably, a lot of folks are very excited about this, and Bill Weber CEO of Firefly Aerospace was justifiably proud today. He said, "Today was an incredible success for the Space Force, the Firefly team, and our nation after nailing this complex responsive space mission. Our combined commercial and government team executed the mission with record speed, agility and flexibility, adding a critical capability to address national security needs."

>> Alice Carruth: Kudos to them. The US Department of Defense has unclassified its strategy for the protection and defense of on-orbit assets. The full report is 19 pages long and includes an assessment of the threat to US space operations and that of US allies and highlights Russia and China as the nations that pose the most concern in space. The report also aims to assure critical space-based missions by accelerating the transition to more resilient architectures and by protecting and defending critical systems against counter space threats. The DoD is working to strengthen the ability to detect and attribute hostile acts in, from, and to space and protect the joint force from hostile uses of space.

>> Maria Varmazis: Sandia National Laboratories says it's working on an autonomy project led by the Air Force Research Laboratory to enable a cluster of relatively small and inexpensive satellites to work together as a single autonomous unit. The project aims to improve the nation's ability to conduct national security missions, including intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, climate monitoring and emergency response. The conclusion of the six-year study has been released this week, and you can find out more by following the link in our show notes over at space.n2k.com.

>> Alice Carruth: NASA has welcomed Germany as the 29th country to sign the Artemis Accords. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said at the ceremony in Washington DC that quote "Germany has long been one of NASA's closest and most capable international partners, and their signing today demonstrates their leadership now and into the future, a future defined by limitless possibilities in space and the promise of goodwill here on Earth. Now, NASA says that more countries are expected to sign the Artemis Accords in the coming months and years ahead, as the US Space Agency continues to work with its international partners to establish a safe, peaceful, and prosperous future in space."

>> Maria Varmazis: And speaking of Europe, the European Rover Challenge kicked off today. The competition is being live streamed, for those of us who are sadly unable to attend in person, on the campus of Kielce University of Technology in Poland. Day one saw student teams from all over the world compete for the title of the best rover construction. Good luck to them all.

>> Alice Carruth: Stokes Space took to the social media platform that we're still calling Twitter to release a video of its latest hot-fire test. The static fire was for Stoke's fully reusable second-stage rocket. The company posted, "This all-up test was really a hop mission simulation and included everything from flight avionics, power systems, computers, GNC, RCS, tank pressurization, and of course, the engine and heat shield. The only thing we simulated was position data, which was derived in real time from engine data. Simulating the position gave us the opportunity to inject dispersions such, as a persistent roll, which you can see the badass RCS fighting hard to correct." It is definitely that. Next up for Stoke is a test launch.

>> Maria Varmazis: Sidus Space has been granted an extension of 180 days, or until March 11, 2024, to regain compliance with the NASDAQ stock market. The space and data as a service company went public through a standard-issue IPO in January 2022. The IPO created 3 million new shares worth $5 a share on the NASDAQ, raising $15 million for the company, but NASDAQ requires that its stocks have a minimum initial bid price of $5 per share and then remain at a value at or above $1. Unfortunately, Situs Space is currently trading at 15 cents a share. The company says it intends to actively monitor the closing bid price of its class A common stock and may, if appropriate, consider implementing available options to regain compliance with the minimum bid price under the NASDAQ listing rules.

>> Alice Carruth: And news travels fast, especially when it comes to extraterrestrials, so it seems. The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation was forced to give their opinion on the topic of aliens after two alleged corpses were put on display at the Mexican Congress. It doesn't matter that the nations are on opposite sides of the world. Surely, they're all in on this alien nonsense. So thinks the public, although it seems that we at T-Minus are in agreement with China. The supposed corpses are not proof that extraterrestrials exist. Can we put this to bed yet, Maria?

>> Maria Varmazis: Most definitely.

[ Music ]

And that concludes our Intelligence Briefing for today, but you can find links to further reading on all the stories that we've mentioned in our selected reading section in our show notes. We've also included a piece on the US Space Force aiming for more efficient operations with integrated units. They can all be found at space.n2k.com.

>> 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 three guests talking about consolidating the commercial space mission authorization regime. 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.

>> Maria Varmazis: And hey everybody, we are on Instagram now.

>> Alice Carruth: Woo-hoo!

>> Maria Varmazis: Yay! Go follow us over at n2kspace -- all one word -- n2kspace. It's going to be some business and some fun. Probably more the latter because we do love some memeage here. Because yes, space is hard, but it can also be pretty funny. Why not?

[ Music ]

>> Alice Carruth: A study produced by graduate students at George Washington University's Space Policy Institute is providing a deep look at the commercial space mission authorization regime. Current US regulation requires commercial space firms to navigate a complex web of federal agencies. This study looks at how the system could be consolidated. I spoke to three of the study's authors, Zeke Clayson, Shiv Patel, and Frank Spellman. And I started off by asking Zeke to explain more about how they came up with the concept.

[ Music ]

>> Zeke Clayson: So we were looking for what we wanted to do for our capstone. We had a wide range of options. Sort of a key point for us was to find a client that had something that we could work on for them that would relate to space policy in some way. And so, we went through, looking through several clients, and we settled on the Defense Innovation Unit, DIU, who had, again, several options, but one of the ones that was most interesting to us and that they found was sort of a common concern among a lot of the companies with whom they work was that getting authorization to do space missions, particularly novel space missions that we don't necessarily have a lot of experience in. It has been something of an issue that people have been looking at for a long time to try to facilitate easing that process, but I didn't -- we just haven't quite finalized it yet. There's a lot of ideas in the works. And so, we wanted to sort of take our stab at what the ideal regime, or at least the ideal next step for the space mission authorization regime would look like.

>> Alice Carruth: So Shiv, do you want to talk a little bit more about that partnership that you have with DIU? How did you guys find that partnership? And you know, what is it you're hoping to achieve with this paper?

>> Shiv Patel: Hey, Shiv Patel here. So I work at a company that has done work with DIU in the past and just being in industry and piggybacking off of what Zeke just said. It's a pretty hot-topic issue right now, and there's legislation moving in Congress. At any industry event you go to, people are always talking about, you know, their difficulties with getting something authorized, a novel concept or, or some sort of concept that doesn't neatly fit the status quo. So we took a look and we kind of went into this process knowing that we wanted to tackle a -- an issue that's being talked about right now. So mission authorization naturally is at the top of our heads, and we started sorting through different potential clients that we could engage with in order to get this done, and DIU came up as, as one that really works with industry and tries to help them navigate, you know, some of this gridlock, if you will. I guess that's an appropriate word for it on getting over the finish line for an authorization concept. So that's a little bit about how we went to DIU. It was actually Zeke that reached out first, and then we just went from there. They were super receptive of working with us on the capstone, and they actually work with NSIN -- that's the National Security Innovation Network -- in order to assist, you know, programs like ours that are looking for relevant capstone topics.

>> Alice Carruth: So, Frank, we've talked about what this problem is. Can you talk us through what it is that most of these space startups are facing in the industry and what it is you were trying to achieve with this research paper?

>> Frank Spellman: Yes, sure. So one of the -- one of the things that we -- that we would like to be clear about is that the current regime is a good regime. Like it works for a lot of people. It's the -- it's the gold standard for the space industry in the United States and the world. So it's not as if we're, you know, to say that this is an abject failure of a system, it works and it works well, but that's not to say that there can't be improvements, specifically for, you know, nascent commercial companies. And that's the focus of this. DIU, you know, that's -- they're the client for this paper, and they asked that we look through the lens of a commercial company. In particular, new ones, and the new ones that have new technologies that nobody really understands how to regulate or how to monitor or how to supervise continually in space. And so, yes, some of these companies are having problems, you know, getting licenses even just navigating the regulatory regime. You know, who do we go to? Do we have to hire a consultant to do this for us? Is there advantages to being a big traditional aerospace company versus a new one? We found, yeah, there were, and so, we looked at this, again, through the lens of commercial companies and said, what would be the best way to form a regime that doesn't change a whole lot, that allows sort of the current responsibilities to remain in place but makes it easier, more amenable, for commercial companies to show up and say, hey, we have this really this really cool idea. Can we get authorized to launch? Right now, the answer to that is who do we go to? We don't know? Is this technology even under our wheelhouse? What are the laws that require, you know, supervision of these technologies? They're -- and they're all different and they're all brand new. So really, the answer is we don't know. It's not so much, you know, changing the now as it is preparing for what's coming, and what's coming in the future are new and innovative technologies that currently have no guidance or regulation. And so, we took a look. So we work in the industry. We also consulted a lot of industry people, you know, we're at George Washington University Space Policy Institute. We have access to these folks. We're able to interview them, get a lot of information and put together sort of a status quo what it looks like. Now, here are some of the options that we think are solid, and here's our recommendation. Our recommendation, of course, was to have the Department of Commerce Office of Space Commerce to take lead in this and essentially authorize them to be the only interface between, you know, licensing new missions, new technologies and the commercial companies. We think that they're already prepared to do this. Of course, it would take a little, you know, a little bit of money and maybe some manpower here or there. But we think that they're the best group to assume responsibility for ensuring the growth of the commercial space industry in the United States.

>> Alice Carruth: I think what we really liked about your paper was there were -- this is a common theme amongst the industry and a lot of people talked about it and complained about the process. But what you offered up were options. Zeke, do you want to talk us through some of the options of the things that you guys came up with from this research study and how you kind of came to your final conclusion?

>> Zeke Clayson: Sure. So one of the -- the first option, though, that we looked at was, essentially, retaining the status quo. We wanted to make sure that we presented this as an option and dealt with it honestly because like Frank said the current situation has enabled the United States to become, by far, the leading commercial space nation in the world. And so we, we don't want to make it look like the status quo is terrible, and we don't want to pretend like there would be no cost with changing the status quo and things like that. So that's really option one is to say, look the status quo, of course, there are problems. There's going to be problems no matter what the regime ends up being. So should it -- would it be best to just say, hey, leave well enough alone and proceed as is. One of the things that we looked at it, I guess, sort of against that argument was because was that industry is complaining and there -- to some extent, and they're complaining for a reason. There is a lot of complexity and a lot -- some of the government side that we did interview acknowledged that there is a lot of complexity in this regime, particularly with these novel space missions that are starting to become more and more common. And so, looking at the status quo, we said, okay. We took that. We wanted to retain the good parts of the status quo, the good things that the regulators are doing that everybody acknowledges has to be done and is good to be done, and then, sort of reorganize that while costing the least, essentially not money wise, but in terms of facilitating operations. And so, the status quo just isn't optimal right now, even though it's okay. And so, we wanted to take the good parts of it and then build on those.

>> Alice Carruth: Shiv, do you want to add to that?

>> Shiv Patel: Yeah, absolutely. So through our research, we kind of noticed that what we were looking at here in regards to the status quo, it involves the rise of a novel mission, and then, bureaucracy engaging in flexibility to authorize it. So it's an iterative approach where we're reactive with regulations instead of proactive. And yeah, as Zeke said with that approach, we lead the world in payloads launched by a country, the US does. And really, going back to what Frank said, this is really if it ain't broke, don't fix it approach that we took a look at in maintaining the status quo among our other suggestions, of course.

>> Alice Carruth: Do you want to add to that, Zeke?

>> Zeke Clayson: Yeah, just sort of building on that, an example of what Shiv was talking about, we included in our paper the space logistics mission, who had a repair satellite that they were going to send out that would be incredibly useful to everyone in the industry in the future of sort of commercial space operations, but no one knew who was going to authorize that and who was going to be the maintainer under article six of the Outer Space Treaty. And so, they just sort of figured it out like just that flexibility and the concept of a light touch in terms of regulation is what they dealt with. So they eventually enabled this -- this mission. But it took a long time, and there was a lot of confusion. And that can cost particularly novel companies that don't have a lot of capital on hand, money and time that they just don't have when they're trying to do these new innovative things.

[ Music ]

>> Alice Carruth: And you can join us for further discussion with the authors on tomorrow's Deep Space episode.

[ Music ]

We'll be right back.

[ Musical Flourish ]

>> Maria Varmazis: And welcome back. Now we know what space looks like. At the very least, we've all looked up and seen the moon, stars, and planets in the sky. At least, I would certainly hope so. We joke around here a lot that space probably smells pretty bad thanks to all the methane that has been discovered. But what does space sound like? Well, that is kind of a difficult one, as sound usually needs air to travel but take a listen to this.

[ Whooshing and Rumbling ]

... Now, what do you think that was? And what if I told you that that was the sound of the sun? on September 5, 2022, NASA's Parker Solar Probe was about to make its 13th close approach to the sun when a coronal mass ejection, which is a powerful explosion of magnetic fields and plasma erupted right in front of it. That sound is a composite collected by the wide field imager for the Parker Solar Probe instrument on board, which captured the entire event. Parker spent roughly two days observing the coronal mass ejection, becoming the first spacecraft ever to fly through a powerful solar explosion near the sun. The information collected provides researchers with an unparalleled view into these stellar events and an opportunity to study them early in their evolution for the first time.

>> Alice Carruth: That's super cool.

[ Music ]

>> Alice Carruth: And that's it for T-Minus for September the 15th, 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 the rapidly changing space industry.

>> Maria Varmazis: 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 at N2K.com. 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. Have a great weekend.

[ Music ]

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