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India advances its human spaceflight plans.

India moves up its Gaganyaan human spaceflight program. Stoke Space launches its Hopper2 test. Varda continues to fight for reentry of its vehicle. And more.





India's ISRO aims for its first crewed space mission, Gaganyaan, to possibly launch by the end of this year if testing in October is successful. Stoke Space successfully conducts a VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) developmental test flight, showcasing their innovative hydrogen/oxygen engine and working towards a 100% reusable rocket with 24-hour turnaround. Varda Space struggles with regulatory hurdles, failing to secure support from the Air Force and the FAA for landing its in-space manufacturing vehicle, and more.

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T-Minus Guest

Our guest today is Tom Marotta, CEO of the Spaceport Company.

You can connect with Tom on LinkedIn and learn more about the Spaceport Company on their website.

Selected Reading

India plans crucial test in crewed space mission by October- Reuters

Update on Hopper2: The Hopper Has Landed- Stoke Space

Varda Space puts off orbital factory reentry pending Air Force and FAA green light- Tech Crunch

Ten Satellites Incorporating Terran Orbital Buses Launch As Part Of Space Development Agency’s Tranche 0 Mission- PR

​​Bentivegna Succeeds Towberman, ‘Has Big Shoes to Fill’ as as Space Force’s Top Enlisted- Air and Space Forces

One American, two Russians ride Russian capsule to the International Space Station- AP

Major UK methane leak is spotted from space: Satellite discovers plumes of the greenhouse gas coming from a pipeline in Cheltenham - with enough released to power 7,500 homes for a year- the Daily Mail

Simera Sense, CubeSpace, and Sodern Signs MOU on Advancing EO Capabilities- Space in Africa

Space, a new frontier, as govt mulls developing rocket launch site- Free Malaysia Today

Tim Peake backs idea for solar farms in space as costs fall- The Guardian

Balancing Space Superiority And Space Services To Better Sustain The Joint Force- War on the Rocks

Starship's advanced design is said to have NASA officials "sh**ting the bed"- Interesting Engineering

NASA-Developed Spherical Robots to the Rescue

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>> Maria Varmazis: We ain't seen nothing yet for India and space, baby. India's not resting on their lunar laurels. Chandrayaan-3 was a great success. So, what's next after landing and roving around the moon? Why, human spaceflight, of course. Expect to see some crucial test flights for ISRO's planned human spaceflight missions, as soon as next month.

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Today is September 18th, 2023. Happy birthday to the U.S. Air Force. I'm Maria Varmazis, and this is T-Minus.

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India moves up its Gaganyaan human spaceflight program. Stoke Space conducts a vertical takeoff and landing developmental test flight of its reusable second-stage rocket. Varda continues to fight for reentry of its vehicle. And our guest today is Tom Marotta, CEO of the Spaceport Company. Stay with us.

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Now, let's take a look at today's Intel Briefing. According to an update in Reuter's today, a key flight test for ISRO's first crewed space mission is happening as soon as this October. Astronaut testing is already underway for four crew members, of the Gaganyaan mission, which will send the crew to a 400-kilometer, low earth orbit for three days aboard a human habitable space capsule. And ISRO says while they aren't sharing a timeline for this, if all goes well in testing next month, it is possible that we could see India's first crewed human spaceflight happening before the end of this year.

On Friday's show, we discussed Stoke Space's static fire test of their second stage rocket engine, and stated that next up was a test launch, and low and behold, the Washington-based company delivered already. Stoke Space conducted a vertical takeoff and vertical landing developmental test flight of their reusable second-stage rocket. And during the test, the company launched the Hopper test vehicle to an altitude of 30 feet and landed it at its planned landing zone, following 15 seconds of flight. The aim of the test was to demonstrate Stoke's novel hydrogen-oxygen engine, regeneratively cooled heat shield, and differential throttle thrust vector control system. The company says it successfully completed all of the planned objectives. And now, the company plans to design and build a rocket that is 100% reusable, with a 24-hour turnaround. And to reach that goal, Stoke will now continue moving through its development program by increasing focus on the reusable first stage.

We're all feeling for Varda Space here at T-Minus this week after they failed to secure the support from the Air Force and the FAA to land its capsule at a Utah training area. The company took to the social media platform X to say that their efforts to bring their in-space manufacturing vehicle back to earth, have failed thus far. The company statement read, quote, "It was originally designed for a full year on orbit if needed. We look forward to continuing to collaborate with our government partners to bring our capsule back to earth as soon as possible." The company's application for a commercial space license was also denied by the FAA. So, we do hope that the company finds alternative plans soon.

Ten satellites that incorporated Terran Orbital Buses have been deployed in low earth orbit, following a September 2nd, 2023, launch. Those ten satellites are part of the Tranche Zero Transport Layer of the space development agency's proliferated war fighter space architecture. Terran Orbital manufactured the buses for Lockheed Martin for payload integration and delivery to the space development agency. Terran Orbital is producing 42 satellite buses for Lockheed Martin, which will deliver 42 Tranche 1 Transport Layer satellites for the SDA to be launched in 2024.

The title of Chief Master Seargent of the U.S. Space Force changed hands for the first time last week, as Roger Towberman retired and passed the mantle on to John Bentivegna in a ceremony at Joint Base Andrews Maryland. Bentivegna says he'll spend his first 90 days listening to Guardians and Airmen at commands worldwide, taking note of what he learns and using that to shape an agenda for the time that follows.

NASA astronaut Loral O'Hara and Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub blasted off from the Kazakhstan on Friday and docked at the international space station three hours later. O'Hara will spend six months on the ISS, while Kononenko and Chub will spend a year in orbit. The trio joins seven station residents from U.S., Russia, Denmark and Japan.

As if we all need a daily reminder of why space is important for life here on earth, scientists in the U.K. have used earth observation satellites to detect a massive methane leak for the first time. Imagery captured by satellite company GHGSat shows plumes of the greenhouse gas coming from a pipeline in Gloucestershire. Although the discovery is from March of this year, the information has only just been made public. Experts are looking into the cause of the leak but believe it's due to aging infrastructure.

On the sidelines of World Satellite Business Week in Paris last week, Simera Sense, CubeSpace, and Sodern signed a Memorandum of Understanding on advancing earth observation. According to Space in Africa, the agreement between the South African and French companies will enhance collaborative efforts to ensure the successful execution of all earth observation-based missions.

And Malaysia is looking to develop a space port. The Science Technology and Innovation Ministry and Malaysian Space Industry, known as Mysa, are studying the feasibility of establishing a space launch site with a focus on business development. Malaysia's Science Technology and Innovation Minister Chang Lih Kang said in a statement that, "Malaysia's unique geographical position being located near the equator, gives us an advantage in developing the space launching facility, with far more competitive operating costs." The minister also said that they are in talks with several companies that are keen on getting involved in the development.

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And that concludes our briefing for today. You can find links to further reading on all the stories we've mentioned in our Show Notes. We've also included some opinion pieces, one on solar farms in space, one on balancing space superiority and space services to sustain the U.S. Joint Force, and the last on NASA officials' reaction to Starship. They're all at space.n2k.com and just click on this episode. Hey T-Minus crew, every Monday we produce a written Intelligence Round-Up. It's called Signals and Space. If 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 returning guest today is Tom Marotta, CEO of the Spaceport Company. Now, Tom first joined us on the show in April, and so much has happened since then. So, I asked Tom to give us an update on all that's gone on since we last spoke.

>> Tom Marotta: Sure, sure. So, in the five months since we last spoke, we've hit a number of key milestones at the Spaceport Company. First and foremost, we tested our sea-based platform back in May. We leased a vessel, a ship. We modified it and we launched four rockets in one day in the Gulf of Mexico proving you can do serious rocketry at sea on a shoestring budget. That was internal Research and Development funding. Those were sounding rockets. It was a subscale prototype, but that was the first time that a rocket had ever been launched in U.S. waters, in U.S. air space. I want to recognize all of our partners. Our lift boat provider, EBI. Our rocket provider, Evolution Space. The FAA, the Coast Guard, the Air Force, they let us use their airspace. So, it was very nice. So, we had a lot of help doing that, and it was a great accomplishment. Very quickly on the heels of that test, the Spaceport Company was awarded a contract from the Defense Innovation Unit specifically a relatively new group that your listeners might not be aware of, the National Security Innovation Capital, NSIC, NSIC program. Like I said, it's relatively new, designed specifically to fund hardware for startups. So, NSIC awarded us a contract to design a full-scale sea-based launch system, one capable of taking satellites all the way to orbit, from anywhere in the ocean. So, we're really, really grateful for our partnership with NSIC, and that's what we're heads down on, working on now.

The other thing, the third thing that I wanted to mention, it has been a busy five months.

>> Maria Varmazis: Yes, yes. And that's a great thing, too.

>> Tom Marotta: It's a great thing. We've been really busy. The House passed their version of the National Defense Authorization Act, as you know. In it, the House instructed the DOD to begin pricing out and planning for a sea-based demonstration launch to orbit.

>> Maria Varmazis: Oh, hey. Yes.

>> Tom Marotta: So, the DOD, yes. The Chief of Space Operations and the Defense Innovation Unit has to report to that -- back to the House Armed Services Committee by December 1st of this year on what it might cost and how long it might take and kind of basic questions about moving to a sea-based demonstration launch. So, those are some of the highlights. We've had lots of other things going on here and there, but those are the big things that we worked on.

>> Maria Varmazis: I mean, not small things at all. You are booked and blessed. As they say, that is a wonderful thing.

>> Tom Marotta: Yes, we sure are. Yes.

>> Maria Varmazis: So, you are hard at work right now. I have to ask the inevitable questions of when do you think we're going to see like a rocket launched, something in the low earth orbit? You know, I know it's hard to say, but yes.

>> Tom Marotta: Sure. It is hard to say. So, our period of performance for our current contract is 18 months, which stretches out to next November. And that's just for design work. So, you actually build a sea-based platform that can launch, you know, a small satellite to orbit. We had previously been hoping to have something operational by Q1 of 2025. That will likely slip, unless we get a lot more money, really quickly.

>> Maria Varmazis: Put it out into the universe. You never know.

>> Tom Marotta: Yes, exactly. So, we are on schedule to complete our design on time. We do have a lot of support and interest from a variety of stakeholders, both public and private. So, we're working as hard as we can to get this thing built and operational.

>> Maria Varmazis: That's so great. I forgot to ask, I should have asked earlier, aside from me fangirling over here about how awesome it was to hear about your news in May, I'm curious what kind of reception you all got? What you heard from private/public sector, aside from maybe champagne popping?

>> Tom Marotta: Yes, yes. The response was overwhelming. This is clearly -- there's a lot of interest to supplement the existing watch range capacity in the United States, and indeed around the world. Not only did we get an overwhelming response from U.S.-based stakeholders, but also international stakeholders because the problem that we're trying to solve is real. Demand for launch pads continues to exceed supply. We see increasing needs for launches to orbit, not only for satellites, but for all sorts of users. And all of those launches have to start at a launch pad. And the supply is essentially static, and in many cases, it's decreasing. So, we had an overwhelming response. We got a lot of interest. The trick now is to go and do it on a demonstration basis and start putting it together. You know, building a ship is about 11 months, right? Modifying a ship is 11 to 12 months. Like, there are some very significant and real time that's necessary to weld steel, to put things together, to write the code, to test it all and make sure it's working before it can be operational. Luckily, it looks like we have a lot of interest and a lot of people coming out of the woodwork to support us. So.

>> Maria Varmazis: That's great. Yes, that's something -- I was looking at our interview from end of March. It aired in April, but it was end of March when we spoke, and that was something you had addressed was you know, "We're not just -- we're not just looking for rocket scientists, of course," you know, so to speak -- in a manner of speaking, "but we're looking for people with a whole wide variety of skillsets." And I was curious, as a follow-up, to hear how that was going. So, it sounds like success on that front.

>> Tom Marotta: Yes, modest success. I don't want to dissuade anybody who's thinking about entering the earth/space industry from not doing it. There's still plenty of opportunity. There's still absolutely a need for all sorts of individuals, with all sorts of skills. And I will add, all sorts of time and career experience levels. You know, we need senior level people. We need mid-career people. We need early career people, doing all sorts of things to enter the industry. No, labor is still a severe challenge. Post-COVID, being able to work with people virtually is really I think the saving grace of many startups across the tech industry, definitely in defense. I know a lot of essentially distributed startups that are tapping talent from across the country, you know, coast to coast. So, you know, we have people working for us literally coast to coast. Our web designer's in Kansas. You know, our accountants are all over the place. Not just our technical staff. So, it's really helpful. But one of our goals for the next year is to bring everybody together. You can only take an organization so far when it's distributed, so we're trying to, like I said, establish an office here in the Northern Virginia area and perhaps in another area of the country closer to our hardware as well.

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>> Maria Varmazis: We'll be right back. And welcome back. And on to our second reminder in today's show that tech developed for space helps us here on earth. A shapeshifting robot, which was designed to work in the extreme conditions of space, is helping first responders on earth. And the spherical robot, which is described as "squishy" conjuring images of kind of like a fluffy BB8, is said to be able to remotely gauge hazards and plan an approach for responders even before they enter areas hit by disasters like wildfires or chemical spills, crashes, and potentially even warzones. The Squishy Robotics Company, and yes, that is their actual name, Squishy Robotics Company, are the recipients of NASA grants to help develop the vehicle's ability to use gas thrusters which could be employed to make the system hop on areas of the moon or Mars. And the CEO of Squishy Robotics, Alice Agogino said, "We thought 'Wow! If we can do this on the moon, we can do it on earth and save some lives.'" And for the record, the robot looks a bit more like an 80s fidget toy than the Star Wars droid, but we're all for more squishy robots on earth and in space. These are the droids we're looking for.

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And that's it for T-Minus for September 18th, 2023. For additional resources from today's report, check out our Show Notes at space.n2k.com. We'd always love to hear what you think of our 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 at n2K.com. 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 Producers 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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