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The looming shutdown and the rise of 12,000 mutant yeasts.

McCarthy pushes to extend commercial human space flight learning period. The FCC adopts new spectrum rules. Iridium makes bold revenue claims. And more.





The US House Speaker introduces a bill to amend title 51, to extend the learning period for commercial human space flight. The Federal Communications Commission introduces new rules to ensure commercial space launches have the spectrum resources they need for reliable communications. Iridium Communications’ CEO says that his company will hit $1 billion in annual service revenue in 2030, and more.

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T-Minus Guest

Our guest today is Dr. Paul Jaffe, an electronics engineer at the Naval Research Laboratory. Learn more about Space Power Beaming on the Naval Research Laboratory’s website.

Selected Reading

To amend title 51, United States Code, to extend the learning period for commercial human space flight. 

FCC Ensures Commercial Space Launches Have Reliable Spectrum Resources

Iridium Forecasts $1B Service Revenue in 2030, Hints at Narrowband IoT Ambitions- Via Satellite

True Anomaly lands $17 million U.S. Space Force contract for Space Domain Awareness- PR Newswire

NASA's OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return to Earth: Live updates

Hong Kong's first high-resolution AI satellite set for November launch- CGTN

Chandrayaan-3 Mission- X

NASA’s Webb Finds Carbon Source on Surface of Jupiter’s Moon Europa 

Namibia and South Africa Explore Space Collaboration at 7th AfriGeo Symposium- Space in Africa

Luis Zea, space bioengineer: ‘We cannot go to the Moon and Mars only to consume all the resources like on Earth’- El Pais

California bill would force large companies to disclose greenhouse gas emissions- NBC

Tom Hanks Says He'd Clean Space Toilets For The Chance To Be An Astronaut- Huffington Post

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>> Maria Varmazis: Okay, so, I'm not going to surprise or offend anybody by saying that the US Congress is not exactly the paragon of collaboration or productivity, especially right now. So, while we're reporting on some space-related legislative news today, with everything going on with yet another looming government shutdown potentially at the end of this month, the timing isn't ideal. But hey, commercial human spaceflight, folks! Looks like you're getting that learning period extension you were rooting for!

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>> Unidentified speaker: T-minus 20 seconds to LOS -

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>> Maria Varmazis: Today is September 22nd, 2023. I'm Maria Varmazis.

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

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>> Maria Varmazis: Will McCarthy get through an extension to the learning period for commercial human spaceflight before the shutdown? How is the industry reacting to new spectrum rules from the FCC? Will Iridium reach $1 billion in annual service revenue by 2030?

>> Alice Carruth: That's a whole lot of questions that we will aim to tackle. And our guest today is Dr. Paul Jaffe, an electronics engineer at the Naval Research Laboratory that works on solar power satellites and power beaming from space. Stay with us for the second part of the show for that chat.

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>> Maria Varmazis: Now on to today's Intelligence Briefing. Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, whose name you are probably hearing in the news lately for a whole host of reasons related to the potential US government shutdown, yesterday introduced the Space Transformation and Reliability, or STAR Act, to Congress. The STAR Act would extend the much-discussed FAA learning period for regulating commercial human spaceflight by another eight years through 2031. This new eight-year extension would give commercial space more time to figure out standard practices for human safety as activities ramp up. And many in commercial space have been hoping for just such an extension, as they'd argued, really, they've only just gotten started and there haven't been enough commercial spaceflights to say that they've learned enough to begin regulations in earnest. So not to be reductive here, but with all the political dysfunction going on with Congress right now and again, that potential shutdown, would this act actually become a law before the learning period technically ends next month? Well, probably not, to be honest, as all the squabbling has sort of left little room for much actual governments right now, unfortunately. But will it have an impact on commercial spaceflight itself? A bit of lapse in the learning period won't bring everything to a sudden stop when it comes to commercial spaceflight. A shutdown, though? Can't say that it won't have some kind of impact. Let's hope for the best, and hope the cranky kiddos in Congress can use their words and talk out their big feelings.

>> Alice Carruth: I say send them to the naughty step, Maria [laughter]. And Policy Friday updates continue with some news from the US Federal Communications Commission, otherwise known as the FCC. The agency has adopted new rules to ensure commercial space launches have the spectrum resources they need for reliable communications. The FCC says these updates will promote safety, competition, innovation, and continued American leadership in the new space age. The FCC has also established its new Space Bureau, and says it's taking action to speed up regulatory review processes, increasing the number of staff working on satellite applications, creating new opportunities for competition in the delivery of satellite broadband services, and modernizing spectrum policy to better meet the needs of the next generation space age. Tom Stroup, President of the Satellite Industry Association, said this at the announcement: "SIA applauds the FCC and its leadership for continuing to recognize the unprecedented growth and innovation taking place in the commercial space industry, and the critical role satellites are playing in providing vital and life-saving services to Americans each and every day. And SIA commends the Commission for ensuring adequate spectrum is available for an increasing number of commercial space launches." We've included a link to the full press release in our show notes with details on the new updates.

>> Maria Varmazis: And they say go big or go home, and that certainly seems to be the case with some satellite operators. Iridium Communications CEO has said that his company will hit $1 billion in annual service revenue in 2030. Matt Desch made the comments during the company's Investor Day presentation and said this revenue growth over the next seven years has the capacity for $3 billion in shareholder returns through 2030. It's a bold statement, but not too far-fetched given that Iridium reported over $730 million in revenue last year.

>> Alice Carruth: True Anomaly has been awarded a US Space Force Space Systems Command Phase 3 Small Business Innovation Research contract. Under the $17.4 million deal, True Anomaly will provide a suite of Space Domain Awareness, or SDA, applications that will leverage analytics and scalable AI to support human-machine teaming for improved efficiency across the spectrum of SDA operations. This will be delivered through True Anomaly's Mosaic software, an integrated operating system that the company says is used for every aspect of space domain awareness and security.

>> Maria Varmazis: And we're a little excited at T-Minus -- okay, we're very excited here at T-Minus for the return of the OSIRIS-REx mission this weekend. On Sunday, NASA's OSIRIS-REx will make history by returning samples of the asteroid Bennu to Earth after seven years in deep space. We will be tuning in to the livestream of that landing expected at 14:00 GMT or 10 a.m. Eastern on September 24th.

>> Alice Carruth: Congratulations to the team working on the Hong Kong Star satellite for completing the vehicle this week. The remote-sensing AI satellite is due to be launched in November from China's Guangdong province, and is the first satellite manufactured in the country. The Hong Kong Satellite Manufacturing Center that built the vehicle says it is aiming to build 300 satellites a year starting in 2024. That's quite a leap forward in manufacturing.

>> Maria Varmazis: My fellow night owls are going to really feel this next one because I don't know about you, but I do not always wake up on my first alarm. And it seems that the Vikram Lander and Pragyan Rover on the lunar south pole are also having some problems waking up. The Indian Space Research Organization took to the platform that we still lovingly call Twitter to say that efforts to establish communications with the Chandrayaan-3 mission probes have been unsuccessful for now. Waking up the equipment after the long lunar night was always a concern for ISRO, but we hope that they establish contact soon.

>> Alice Carruth: Absolutely. Now we have some juicy news from Jupiter. See what I did there, Maria?

>> Maria Varmazis: Very nice.

>> Alice Carruth: Data from NASA's James Webb Space Telescope has indicated the presence of carbon dioxide in a specific region on the icy surface of Europa. Analysis indicates that this carbon likely originated in the subsurface ocean and was not delivered by meteorites or other external sources, and suggests that it was deposited on a geologically recent time scale. This discovery has important implications for the potential habitability of Europa's ocean. JUICE, the European Space Agency's Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, lifted off earlier this year and will be arriving to explore the region in the next seven to eight years. We will expect more updates from Europa then.

>> Maria Varmazis: The South African National Space Agency known as SAMSA has held a bilateral introductory meeting with the Namibian Ministry of Higher Education, Technology, and Innovation to explore areas of collaboration in space. Both nations are supporters of the African space policy. South Africa and Namibia used the meeting to identify projects before the next bi-national commission for opportunities for joint development.

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>> Alice Carruth: That concludes our briefing for today but as always, you'll find links to further reading on all the stories we've mentioned in our show notes and we've included a few extra. One on a Guatemalan researcher who sent 12,000 mutant yeasts, yes, I said yeasts, around - around the moon on the Orion spacecraft. And another on earth observation implications with a new bill pushing for large companies to disclose greenhouse gas emissions. They're all in our show notes under selected reading which can also be found at space.n2k.com. and click on this episode title.

>> Maria Varmazis: This is not yeast related. 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. And tomorrow we have Dr. Paul Jaffe talking about space-based solar power. Check it out while you're mowing the lawn, grocery shopping, folding laundry, or driving your kids to the game. You really don't want to miss it.

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>> Maria Varmazis: Our guest today is Dr. Paul Jaffe, an electronics engineer at the Naval Research Laboratory that works on solar-powered satellites and power beaming from space.

>> Dr. Paul Jaffe: So, we have been powering satellites using solar cells since pretty much the dawn of the space age. Now, it was noticed pretty early on -- and actually if you want to go back to the science fiction roots back in 1941 when Isaac Asimov published the story "Reason", in the iRobot compilation, it is the idea that we would collect sunlight in space and then send it wirelessly to the ground. Now, you might ask, Well, wait a minute. The sunlight hits the ground without a satellite. Why would we want to complicate this process? And the answer is that the sun, of course, doesn't shine at night, and it also doesn't shine a lot of the time during the day if there's clouds or weather or other similar interference thing happening there. So this idea has been looked at for some time. The attractions for space solar are, of course, like ground solar. It's clean. It doesn't require fuel or produce waste in the way that other forms of energy do. Unlike solar on the ground, it is constant because you can have either a satellite or a group of satellites in space that will be in the sun pretty much all the time. It depends a little bit on the orbit. And one of the really compelling things about it that is very different than any other source of energy is you could actually create a global network of satellites to provide this energy. So you could think of this of doing for energy what GPS did for navigation. Now, of course, GPS is, of course, something we take for granted. And it's worth pointing out that the sun is the closest thing we have to an unlimited source of energy in the solar system.

>> Maria Varmazis: So how would it work? So if we had a single satellite, a network of satellites, and then they're beaming that power down to Earth, what would it look like?

>> Dr. Jaffe: There are a couple choices to be made. You certainly need to pick what kind of power beaming method you're going to use. And that could be using radio waves, microwaves, or it could also be using optical, maybe a laser or something like that. Some folks have also proposed just using a mirror to reflect the energy from space to the ground to existing solar farms. So there's arguments for and against each of these. So depending on which of those means of moving energy you selected, obviously the satellite would look very different. Historically, a lot of the attention has focused on using solar cells, photovoltaics, to collect the energy and then using microwave transmission because that does have that favorable characteristic of being able to go through the atmosphere and through the clouds and weather to give you kind of a 24-7 sort of resource. Whereas some of the other ones have a bit of a challenge with that.

>> Maria Varmazis: Understood. So that brings me to so what are you working on specifically? Because I'm sure you have a point of view on what's preferable and I'd be very curious to learn more.

>> Dr. Jafe: Yeah, we've tried to take a really diversified approach in exploring this. We have done a number of space experiments. We did a STEM demonstration on the International Space Station. We had astronaut Jessica Meir demonstrate how wireless power transmission works. And it is something that is easy enough that we have now had, I dare say, thousands of school-age kids make their own, what we call, lectennas. And it's basically just a Schottky diode and an LED that you twist together and then you hold it up to your phone or your Wi-Fi hotspot and you can say, Oh, look, wireless power transmission is a thing. And it is pretty convincing, pretty compelling for folks to see it with their own hands. So we did that in space. So that was kind of a lower-budget experiment, if you will. But we also have done demonstrations where we have actually put up a sunlight-to-microwave conversion module, working towards the possibility of using that architecture. We flew that on the X-37B spaceplane, which is basically like an uncrewed mini shuttle that launches on top of a rocket. So we flew that in space from 2020 to late last year. And we got a lot of great data on that showing the efficiency, showing how it operates in the space environment, what the temperature performance was like. And we actually have a paper that's about to be published in about a month with the results for that. We did send out some preliminary results in a paper back in 2021 as well, which it's open access. So if your readers want to look it up, it is called "Microwave and Millimeter Wave Power Beaming" in the IEEE Journal of Microwaves. And then we also have done power beaming in space using lasers. We have launched this year, back in March, to the space station a modest experiment called SWELL, the Space Wireless Energy Laser Link. And this is, to my knowledge, the first demonstration of laser power beaming in space. And it is - it is modest. It is over a short distance, about a meter and a half, and it's only a few watts, but we are pretty happy with our end-to-end efficiency, which is on the order of 12%. While that may not sound like much, that's including all of the conversion on the transmitter side through the laser, the beam traveling, all the conversion and efficiency on the receiver side, so all in. That's pretty good. That's not too far from the conversion efficiency of internal combustion engine automobiles. So, we're pretty pleased with that. We've also done some ground-based power beaming demonstrations, one called SCOPE-M, where the M stands for microwave. We did that - actually, two of those, one in Blossom Point, Maryland, where we sent 1.6 kilowatts over a distance of a kilometer using 10 gigahertz microwaves. And then we did a very similar experiment up in Massachusetts. So -- and that also is documented in the paper that I mentioned, and actually a second paper, "Terrestrial Microwave Power Beaming" in the same IEEE Microwave. And then we also did do a laser-based power beaming demonstration on the ground. And I should mention all of these demos, lectenna, Prem, the XRB10 project, SWELL, SCOPE-M, SCOPE-O. NRL has videos for all of these, so anybody who's interested in delving deeper or learning more, I definitely encourage them to check out NRL's YouTube channel and look at the videos on - on each of these projects. SCOPE-O was optical power beaming on the ground, also over a distance of a kilometer, about 500 watts. So, we're trying to lay the groundwork and really answer a lot of the fundamental technology questions that are needed to be addressed for space solar to be a thing.

>> Maria Varmazis: Yeah, and there are a lot of them for sure, but it's so - it's so cool hearing about all these really fascinating projects going on. And I know for people like myself who are really jazzed about the technology and its potential, many of us who read Asimov and were really inspired by his writings especially, I know for some of us, like the case has been made, but for folks who are skeptical about if this is ever going to be feasible, or, like, why do it at all, how do you make that case about why it's important?

>> Dr. Jaffe: Yeah, so if it does work, it is kind of hard to overstate how important it would be. So I want you to imagine, like, a world where one country or one company, like, masters this technology, and how they can basically be, like, the electrical utility for the world, right? So we have many people around the world whose standards of living are rising, their per capita energy consumption is going to increase, and that energy's going to have to come from somewhere. And if there's one country or entity that can say, Oh, set up this receiver and we'll beam you all the energy you want and we'll charge you for it. If a country's going to do that, I probably would like it to be the United States. So there's a huge geopolitical implication here. There's, I think, potential parallels between if you look at, like, how traditionally liquid hydrocarbons, oil in particular, has been controlled by a small number of countries, that similarly could be the case with energy. I guess the implication here, which sadly many people take for granted, is energy is absolutely fundamental to our society, right? Like, we take it for granted. Listening to this podcast, you have something that's powering whatever you're listening to it on, and we're talking here over the web. So, energy is pretty fundamental and you need it to do just about everything. That makes it very important. In terms of the feasibility, I think it's an open question, and I think it's important to look at, right? Because there's no physics reason you can't do this. And certainly, I think talented engineers can find a way to answer the engineering questions. But the larger question is probably, Can it be done affordably, right? And I don't think that's been answered yet.

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>> Maria Varmazis: We'll be right back.

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>> Maria Varmazis: Welcome back. And now a very important follow-up to a fun story that we did quite some time ago about celebrities wanting to go to space. And we mentioned that Tom Cruise was looking to film the next Mission: Impossible in microgravity for real. And he's not the only famous Tom who's saying he wants to go to space. So everybody, please sound the celebrity space klaxon because we have a Tom-versus-Tom situation on our hands. Woo-hoo! Tom - [laughter] Tom Hanks says being in the fictional portrayal of Apollo 13 was a nice start, but he'd really like to experience the real thing. Hanks is on a PR blitz right now promoting the new immersive art exhibit in London called The Moonwalkers, where he wrote the script and does the narration, which, as you might imagine, is all about both the Apollo and Artemis programs. And that exhibit in London runs from December through April at Lightroom, FYI. Anyway, Hanks told The Telegraph in an interview that not only would he like to go to space, he'd be happy to do some proper grunt work to hitch a ride. And he said, "A.I. eat your heart out," but for this next bit, just pretend I'm reading this in Tom Hanks's voice. "I would like to be the guy in charge of serving food and making jokes to and from the moon. If there was room, I would be the guy that cleans up, makes jokes, tells stories, and keeps everybody entertained. That might be a good idea. I'll do all the work. I'll clean the toilet. I'll serve the food. I'll fold clothes. I'll stow the gear. That way others could be free to do other stuff." I can totally hear him saying that. Well, you heard America's Dad, and consider yourself fairly warned, Artemis 2 crew. Double-check for stowaways, or should I say castaways. Because space is like a box of chocolates - okay, okay, I'll stop.

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>> Alice Carruth: That's it for T-Minus for September 22nd, 2023. But not an end to the dad jokes, because we've got Maria in charge of our new Instagram page at N2K Space, so go and take a look for that. 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 anytime at space at 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 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.

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