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One giant web of communication constellations.

Eutelsat and OneWeb complete merger. The FAA concludes its Blue Origin mishap investigation. The US Space Force contracts with SpaceX’s Starshield. And more.





Eutelsat and OneWeb complete their merger to make the Eutelsat Group. The Federal Aviation Administration completes its investigation into the 2022 Blue Origin mishap. SpaceX secures their first Space Force contract to provide the US military with customized satellite communications under its Starshield satellite internet program, and more.

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T-Minus Guest

Our guest today is Aravind Ravichandran, the Founder and CEO of Terawatch Space, for the monthly Overview segment.

You can connect with Aravind on LinkedIn and find out more about TerraWatch Space on their website.

Selected Reading

Eutelsat and OneWeb combine to create European satellite giant as Musk’s Starlink pressures sector- CNBC

SpaceX wins first Pentagon contract for Starshield, its satellite network for military use- CNBC

Rogue Space Systems Awarded US Space Force Phase 2 Contracts- PR

Mynaric passes major product milestone of CONDOR Mk3, completing verification and interoperability tests- PR

UK launches £65 million funding call for space technologies and applications- UKSA

Iran’s IRGC successfully puts third imaging satellite into orbit- Al Jazeera 

Taiwan launches its first international SpaceTech startup collaboration project- Digitimes Asia

Space Force wrapping up plan to buy C2 software for maneuvering sats- Breaking Defense

Space Tourism: The Next Great Leap | CBS Reports

ESA - Seeking Euclid's hidden stars: commissioning looks up

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>> Maria Varmazis: The satellite team up of the year is officially official. The mega merger of two former rivals, French satellite behemoth Eutelsat and the UK's own giant OneWeb is now complete. News of this merger broke last year, and yup, a move like this takes time. But now the merger has official shareholder blessing. All the paperwork is signed and everyone's got the new keys. So the combined company is now done and its new name is Eutelsat group. Today is September 28, 2023. I'm Maria Varmazis, and this is T-minus.

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Eutelsat and OneWeb complete their merger. The FAA concludes its blue origin mishap investigation. US Space Force contracts with SpaceX's Starshield. And our guest today is Aravind Ravichandran for our monthly Earth observation chat.

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And here's today's intel briefing, Eutelsat and OneWeb are officially merged with their shareholders blessing and you can call them Eutelsat Group now, by the way. This new umbrella identity contains both Eutelsat and its new subsidiary Eutelsat OneWeb. And the corporate combination brings together both companies existing and upcoming satellite capabilities. Eutelsat's existing constellation in geostationary orbit or GEO and OneWeb's active constellation in low Earth orbit, or LEO, which is online and will be fully globally available by the end of this year. With their powers combined, Eutelsat Group says they're now the world's first GEO, LEO satellite operator. And in a statement, they say that this combination, quote, will open up new markets and applications for customers, including fixed connectivity, like backhaul and corporate networks, as well as government services and mobile connectivity, like maritime and inflight. Two big players like this merging also means, of course, big money. And Eutelsat Group says they're expecting big things there as well. Double digit revenue compound annual growth rate in the medium to long term, which they expect should hit around €2 billion in 2027. The FAA has closed their investigation into the September 2022 Blue Origin New Shepard 23 Mishap, the final report cites that the structural failure of an engine nozzle caused by higher than expected engine operating temperatures was the root cause of the problem. The FAA report has concluded that Blue Origin must implement 21 corrective actions to prevent another reoccurrence, including redesign of engine and nozzle components to improve structural performance during operation as well as organizational changes. The FAA is also quick to point out that closure of the investigation does not signal an immediate resumption of new Shepard launches. Blue Origin must implement all corrective actions that impact public safety and receive a license modification from the FAA that addresses all safety and other applicable regulatory requirements prior to the next new Shepard launch. Does anyone else feel like the Starship investigation was a little less harsh? No, just us. OK. And speaking of SpaceX, they have secured their first Space Force contract to provide the US military with customized satellite communications under its Starshield satellite internet program. The contract is worth up to $70 million and is set to provide the US military with end to end service, user terminals, ancillary equipment, network management, and other related services. The contract came alongside 18 other companies through a program run by the Space Force's Commercial Satellite Communications Office. It's the second big military win for SpaceX, which also secured a Pentagon contract for its Starlink services in Ukraine earlier this year. The US Air Force AFWERX directorate has selected Rogue Space Systems for two sitter contracts through its orbital prime program. AFWERX is a technology directorate of the Air Force Research Laboratory and the innovation arm of the Department Air Force. The contracts support continued development of Rogue innovations that address challenges in the Department of the Air Force. Now, Rogue designs satellite vehicles and subsystems to provide on orbit services to satellite operators and is partnering with the University of Utah and the University of Illinois on the contracts. Rogue plans to develop a functional multipurpose CubeSat dispenser system prototype that will solve the problem of frame style dispenser system incompatibilities with the funding from the contracts. And the funding amount was not disclosed in the press release. Space communications company Mynaric has announced an important product milestone of its CONDOR Mk3 Optical Communications Terminals. The company's CONDOR Mk3 passed optical verification and phase one of interoperability tests in the tranche one program of the Space Development Agency. Mynaric will supply the CONDOR Mk3 terminals to Northrop Grumman satellites for the tranche one transport and tracking layer programs. The UK space agency has announced new funding for technology development that could boost UK leadership in space. The funding, up to 65 million pounds, comes from the National Space Innovation Program and will be used to support high risk, high reward projects designed by British organizations. The first round of funding of up to 34 million pounds is open to proposals that will drive innovation, accelerate the route to market, and catalyze investment in the UK space sector. And the remaining funding will be split across further calls over the next two years, with projects running until March 2027. Iran has successfully put up a new reconnaissance satellite into orbit, according to the country's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Despite criticisms from the west, this is the third launch of the imaging satellite Noor, which means light in Persian. Iran launched Noor1 in 2020 and a second version last year. [Background music] The Noor3 satellite was reportedly launched to space using a Qased, meaning messenger carrier rocket developed by the Iranian military. And my apologies for my Persian pronunciation there. It's reportedly been placed in an orbit 280 miles above the surface of the Earth. And that concludes today's intelligence briefing. If you want to learn more about any of the stories we mentioned in the show, we've included links to further reading in our show notes. We've also included a story on Taiwan's space tech startup collaboration project and one on Space Rapid Capabilities Office procurement, and a link to the CBS documentary on space tourism. You'll find links to all these things and more at space.ngk.com. Hey, T-minus crew, if your business is looking to grow your voice in the industry, expand the reach of your thought leadership or recruit talent, T-minus can help. We'd love to hear from you. Just send us an email at space @ngk. com or send us a note through our website so we can connect about building a program to meet your goals.

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And our returning guest today is Aravind Ravichandran, the founder and CEO of TerraWatch Space. And he's here today for our monthly overview segment where we discuss all things Earth observation. Aravind started off by telling me about the two events that he recently attended that cover the Earth observation industry.

>> Aravind Ravichandran: So you know, the first one is the [inaudible] and that's related -- more related to the weather and climate community, and it's a lot more scientific in nature where they talk about, you know, where we are with the state of global weather monitoring, and obviously, it's organized by the European Meteorological Satellite Agency. So it's a lot of focus on, you know, where Europe's roadmap is for weather monitoring, but also obviously there's a lot of, you know, inputs from the global weather community, so from NOAA, from JMA, which is the Japanese, and you know, the Indian, the Chinese, obviously from around the world as well. So a lot of inputs on where we are with weather and climate monitoring and, you know, a long way to go to kind of keep up with our early warning systems and our, yeah, weather monitoring systems around the world, especially in the global south where obviously there's a lot of weather events that have started to happen. Well, it's happening around the world, but then some countries are better equipped to respond to it than others. And the second one is more commercial in nature, that's the World Satellite Business Week, which is a yearly conference organized by Euroconsult. So the first couple of days are about satellites and small sats and all things related to satellite manufacturing, launch and ground systems, and the last couple of days are about Earth observation. So talking about where we are with different companies, how their business models are evolving, you know, a ton of updates on what the companies are up to, how they're thinking, where they're going, but I think more importantly, I think the conversation is shifting to not just we are launching the satellite, we are starting to get into the details of, OK, how are we going to continue to exist as a company, what's our financial sustainability, how are we differentiating, because maybe three, four years ago it was all about, I guess, looking forward and what's coming up, which is always exciting. But I think now we are reaching, I don't know, in the hype cycle a lot more reality checkpoints of, you know, what can keep the business going, how can we continue raising funds, who can we partner with in order to go to market? So I think the conversation is shifting there

>> Maria Varmazis: Any trends you're seeing in terms of plans for how to attack the market, so to speak?

>> Aravind Ravichandran: Yeah, I think I call that, and I wrote about it recently about the difference between a technology driven strategy and a problem driven strategy. So when a lot of companies start, they are technology driven in Earth observation where I have a new sensor, I'm going to launch into space, make it work, and that's the focus. Obviously, that technology has some applications which they are aware of, so you know, they are not launching for no reason. They have some applications behind that technology, but then it's not really focused on solving a problem right? The problem is, you know, can it help detect methane leaks on a pipeline better than any other way? And the answer is yes, you know, that's the problem that you try and solve. That's a very different way of approaching, you know, starting a company. And there have been companies that have started to solve that specific problem. They didn't say, I have a hyperspectral sensor, I'm going to launch. I know that methane monitoring is an application, but I'm going to launch and figure it out after. But then doing the, I guess the preevaluation step of does this really make sense, people pay for it because it's the best option available to them and then making sure that we launch, so I think it's more like two approaches. Neither is, you know, good or bad, I think I always feel like we need to be in the middle of both. We can't be too technology driven and we can also not afford to be too problem driven because customers cannot articulate what their problem is sometimes. So yeah, I think companies are becoming more problem driven, which means that they're starting to execute a lot of go to market plans.

>> Maria Varmazis: So that's very interesting to hear. And I imagine also as the market continues to evolve, there's some thought around who has access to what data set, how that data set is getting sliced and diced and sold up, and also how it's being shared. And especially in an international market, I imagine this gets complicated and maybe territorial a little bit. Any thoughts on that?

>> Aravind Ravichandran: Over the last 10 years, we have launched a lot more satellites than we have ever have, which means that we can conclude that a lot of countries are also taking notice. Maybe they used to buy data or maybe they never used to use data at all, whether it is for national security or whether it's for environmental monitoring or for commercial use cases. So countries have either developed their own Earth observation strategies or have companies try to propose them options in a way that they can kind of own their sovereign assets, so to speak. And obviously, Earth observation industry has kind of responded, so to say, they are obviously proposing they can come and buy data. You know, you want to use data for bushfire monitoring in Australia, or you want to monitor your infrastructure, whether you're in the Middle East, or you want to monitor something else for national security purposes, you know, obviously they can buy data. With the industry moving forward, there are more business models coming into the foray where companies are starting to offer satellite as a service or space as a service, different names, different meanings, but essentially what it means is company can just offer a satellite, one of its satellites to a country and let it either buy the entire satellite or lease some of its capacity. You have companies like iSight today who have satellites almost in their storage that they can then take refurbished and then give it to customers in a lead time of probably a year to two years, which is crazy for having a satellite launched up and having data come down, which is great, right. And Satellogic is now proposing that for optical, you know, for different sensors, and we're sure to see a lot more companies also follow that route to propose these new models where countries can now make decisions and actually execute their own faster, because historically, you'd have to make an order for a satellite, and then by the time it's delivered, again, if you think of it from a country point of view, politically, it'd be probably the next election cycle and somebody else is probably reaping the benefits of an order you place, right?

>> Maria Varmazis: Yeah, and it sounds like it's a solution that also scales well, as opposed to saying everybody kind of figure it out on your own and you can rely on the expertise that's already there, but then you still own the asset so you don't have to, again, wait for a task or something. One thing I'm wondering about in that model, I had been hearing about situations where the imagery that was received from a satellite in certain applications was not actually necessarily relevant for the location. I'm thinking specifically about some situations in Africa where agricultural data was not actually accurately understanding what was going on, on the ground in a way that was useful for the customers. And there's some discussion about, like basically because of the way that the agriculture is done, the data is not parsing things correctly, I'm being very general. I'm just wondering if what you're talking about, if that helps with this issue, in the sense of like, if the nation sort of owns that satellite at that point, they can better customize what they're receiving, or is it still a little bit of trying to get things to fit?

>> Aravind Ravichandran: I think a very good example as well is how you monitor farms in the west versus farms in the developing country. I come from India myself, and I know for a fact that in a lot of developing countries, there are a lot of smallholder farmers, meaning they don't own acres and acres of land. They own very, very small pieces of land. And satellites, probably in the west, are designed to kind of monitor large fields, and they can -- even if there's like errors in the way that they operate and the resolution happens to be too low, it's fine because, you know, a large acre is probably owned by the same company, they don't need to know. But then if you go, you know, to the south or to the developing world and you look at how farmers operate and how the agriculture sector is set up, they need very high resolution, right? Like, if not their data -- the data is not very useful for them. So it's about also delivering the services and products that are fit for purpose, and that's why we need Earth observation to be also localized. It's easy not -- I mean, it's easy to say it's scalable because we are mapping the globe and we are kind of doing the same thing, but then if we do the same thing everywhere, it's probably not going to work in all cases.

>> Maria Varmazis: So next time I speak to you will be in about a month. So I imagine there's a few things maybe between now and then that you're looking forward to or things that are on your radar. Anything you want to share?

>> Aravind Ravichandran: Over the next month, what I'm going to be excited about is, well, there's going to be some updates on what each of the Earth observation companies are doing, whether it comes to, you know, whether the earnings of the companies.

>> Maria Varmazis: Any companies you're particularly looking for?

>> Aravind Ravichandran: Well, of course the usual suspects, right, like there are like four or five companies. Satellogic just provided a financial update to talk about what their status is. You know, we expect the planets and the spires and black skies of the world to do that. September is the end of the quarter. October is when, you know, they start reporting the earnings for the previous quarter. The second thing was about the launch market and what's going to happen to Earth observation satellites, because Earth observation satellites typically launched and frequently launched on two launchers, one is SpaceX and there is Rocket Lab. Rocket Lab failed recently with their Capella Space mission. Unfortunately, they lost a satellite and they're yet to actually complete their launches on their side. So I'm curious to see how soon Rocket Lab, you know, fixes the problem because there's no other way to launch, really. Europe does not have a launcher. I don't know when the next European launch is going to be. There's going to be some big European launches that are yet to happen, that has to happen, the biggest of them is SentinelOne C, the kind of the SAR satellite of the Copernicus program. SAR SentinelOne B failed early this year, I think, and we've had only one Sentinel. The Sentinels usually work in pairs, so essentially this means we've had only half the capacity for generating free SAR data and Sentinel data is free, so launch failure and what's going to happen to observation industry and its impact there. Obviously the SpaceX transport emissions are going to continue. I think there's probably going to be one next quarter as well. So if that happens in October, that's going to be exciting. It's always an exciting time because transport emissions, a lot of companies launch and most of them actually tend to be observation companies launching either their first or their second or new generation satellite. What else? I think there's also updates on what NASA's budget looks like. I don't know if we'll get answers next year, but we should on what their fiscal year 2024 budget looks like for Earth Science. Earth Science had a lot of reductions in budget cuts, meaning a lot of Earth observation missions were either canceled or postponed, and some of the missions ongoing where w'ere going to be decommissioned. And we are not quite sure which of those missions are going to be. A lot of these missions people have no idea about, but then they have been contributing to understanding of the Earth Science for research for a lot of time. [Background music] And I don't know what the plan B is going to be. If the decision is, you know, we're going to decommission this mission that has been up there for a decade, great. But what are the ways do you have to monitor ice sheets today? We don't know. One of those missions that I'm talking about is ICESat-2, which called there are a couple of other satellites also in that line of AP mission. So I'm curious to see what's going to happen there.

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

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Welcome back. And a little check in today on ESA's Cosmic Detective, its dark matter and dark energy hunting telescope, Euclid. It was launched on July 1st, this year, and is currently on its way to its home at Lagrange point 2, a mere 1.5 million kilometers away from Earth. So while it's on its way, let's just take a minute and ask Euclid, hey buddy, how you doing? And the answer we'd get back is something like, OK, enough, I guess. I'm running through all the tests, waking up all the onboard instrumentation, deicing my mirrors, and here are some really pretty test pictures for you. Nice, right? But I know precision is really important for this mission and I have to fess up. I'm having a tougher time than I expected seeing really faint stars. My fine guidance sensor can't lock on. Oh, yeah. And in order for me to see well, I can't have any sunlight reflected back into the telescope, but it ends up that at some certain angles, something's shining right into my eye. And in other cases, if it's not visible light, it's other kinds like X-rays. Either way, it's really annoying. Can you help me? So, ESA heard this loud and clear and got to work. First it said, this fine guidance sensor issue was definitely worth extending the commissioning phase to excess out the issue at hand. And in fact, they're still in the middle of testing out a new fix. They sent a software update to Euclid and the signs so far are encouraging. Euclid operations director, Andreas Rudolph, said that after the software fix was deployed, he's, quote, relieved to say that initial tests are looking good. We're finding many more stars in all our tests, and while it's too early to celebrate and more observations are needed, the signs are very encouraging. As for the light getting in Euclid's eyes, so to speak, well, those certain angles that are causing visible light interference, estimated to be about 10% of observations for the telescope, the fix may be just the simplest one that there is, and Euclid just might not be able to orient itself in the directions that cause the light leak. For nonvisible light issues, thankfully, they know about the issue, so simply repeating observations affected by stray -- X-rays would allow them to fix any gaps in data there. So, glad we could check in on Euclid as it continues its commissioning and wishing only good things for the teams at ESA, who are all working very hard on getting Euclid to its new home and in good working order. [Background music] And when you get there, happy dark matter hunting Euclid.

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That's it for T-Minus for September 28, 2023. For additional resources from today's report, check out our show notes at space.ngk.com. 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. This episode was produced by Alice Carus, mixing by Elliot Peltzman and Trey Hester, with original music and sound design by Elliot 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 Person: T-Minus.

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