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Spaceflight learning period extended, for now.

The US continuation resolution extends the learning period for commercial spaceflight companies. The IAC opens in Baku. NASA contracts with SpaceX. And more.





The US Government agrees to a continuation resolution that extends the learning period for commercial space companies dealing with human spaceflight. The 74th International Astronautical Congress opens in Baku, Azerbaijan. NASA selects SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket to provide the launch service for the agency’s TRACERS weather satellite mission, and more.

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T-Minus Guest

Our guest today is Tim Franta. Vice President of Development for Starfighters Space on the future of supersonic flight.

You can connect with Tim on LinkedIn and find out more about Starfighters Space on their website.

Selected Reading

Shutdown Averted, Government Funded Until November 17- Space Policy Online

NASA’s New Horizons to Continue Exploring Outer Solar System

NASA Announces Launch Services for Pair of Space Weather Satellites

NASA Selects Four Small Explorer Mission Concept Studies

Intuitive Machines Opens Lunar Production and Operations Facility at the Houston Spaceport and Confirms Lander Ship Date in the Coming Days- PR

Chandrayaan-3: Lander, rover revival hopes virtually over as Sun sets on lunar landscape- business today

India once again sets sights on Mars, readies to launch Mangalyaan-2- WION

China's 2024 Lunar Mission To Feature Pakistani Payload- Outlook India

China's Chang'e-5 Team awarded 2023 Laurels for Team Achievement by International Academy of Astronautics- CGTN

Call for applications: UK National Delegate support for the ESA Competitiveness and Growth programme- UKSA

Let's create a Cape Canaveral in the North not a Silicon Valley in the South​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ - Volodymyr Levykin- The Scotsman

Japan startup unveils 15-foot robot suit for space exploration | The Independent 

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>> Maria Varmazis: The U.S. Federal shutdown has been averted, for now. So, now there are 43 days and counting for the Senate and House to figure out a long-term solution to their funding. Meanwhile, commercial space flight companies can breathe a sigh of relief. The continued resolution also extended the learning period for human space flight until January 2024.

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Today is October 2, 2023. I'm Maria Varmazis and this is "T-Minus".

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The U.S. continuation resolution extends the learning period for commercial space flight companies. The IAC opens in Baku. NASA contracts with SpaceX for weather satellite missions. And our guest today is Tim Franta, Vice President of Development for Starfighters Space on the future of supersonic flight. Let's take a look at the Intel briefing for this Monday. Little doubt today about what our top story would be, the specter of a U.S. government shutdown has been pushed aside, at least for a few more weeks, in a squeaker on Saturday night. In case you missed it, in last Friday's episode, we briefly chatted with Dan Dumbacher is the Executive Director of AIAA about the possible repercussions of a federal shutdown on both space and the FAA commercial space learning period. In a nutshell, wouldn't have been great, so we're all glad that the worst case scenario did not come to pass. Still, we're nervously eyeing November 17 now as that's the next funding deadline. The learning period has received a three month extension until January 1, 2024 under the continuation resolution. Today marks the opening of the 74th International Astronautical Congress and Get Together. This year's conference is being held in Baku, Azerbaijan. We'll be watching the conference for news and announcements, and we'll bring them to you throughout the week. And if you have news from the conference that you want to share with us, you can email us at space@n2k.com to get featured in the show. On to some news now from NASA. And we're starting with a positive update on the New Horizons mission which we discussed with Alan Stern on our show last Wednesday. Following a petition led by the National Space Society and calls from former NASA leaders, the U.S. Space Agency has announced an updated plan to continue New Horizons mission of exploration of the outer solar system. Beginning in fiscal year 2025, New Horizons will focus on gathering unique heliophysics data which can be readily obtained during an extended, low activity mode of operations. NASA has selected SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket to provide the launch service for the agency's TRACERS mission. Now TRACERS stands for Tandem Reconnection and Cusp Electrodynamics Reconnaissance Satellites, which will study space weather and how the sun's energy affects earth's magnetic environment, or magnetosphere. The TRACERS mission is led by the University of Iowa with partners at the Southwest Research Institute and Millennium Space Systems. The mission has a target launch readiness date of July of next year. NASA has also selected four small explorer missions to conduct concept studies aimed at expanding knowledge of the dynamics of the sun. The missions will also look at related phenomena such as coronal mass ejections, aurora, and solar wind to better understand the sun/earth connection. Funding and management oversight for these mission concept studies is provided by the Heliophysics Explorers Program which, in turn, is managed by the Explorers Program Office at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. And you can read about the selected studies by following the link in our show notes. Intuitive Machines has opened its Lunar Production and Operations Center at the Houston Spaceport in Texas. The completed facility is ready to support each of Intuitive Machines' three NASA-awarded missions. Intuitive Machines says the Lunar Production and Operations Center serves as the pivotal bridge between the earth and the moon, enabling sustainable, safe, and efficient human and robotic space exploration. Intuitive Machines confirmed its first mission lunar landing, Nova-C will be shipped from the new facility in the coming days ahead of its upcoming launch. The mission to deliver NASA and commercial payloads to the moon's south pole marks the first attempted lunar soft landing by the United States since 1972. Speaking of the moon, the lunar night has set at the Shiv Shakti point, dimming hopes of reviving Chandrayaan-3's Vikram Lander and Pragyan Rover. The European station in Kourou and ISRO's Telemetry Tracking and Command Network in Bengaluru had been attempting to revive the duo. The lunar night marks the end to the Indian Space Research Organization's mission at the lunar south pole, but the space agency is still buoyed by the overall success of Chandrayaan-3. And hot on the heels of India's success on the moon, the country is now setting its sights once again on the Red Planet. Indian news sources are reporting that the country is planning a second Mars Orbiter mission, or MOM-2, which would carry four payloads. According the mission document, payloads will include a Mars Orbit Dust experiment, a Radio Occultation experiment, an Energetic Ion Spectrometer, and a Langmuir Probe and Electric Field experiment. But there's no details yet on when MOM-2 will launch. And this next story is definitely appropriate for the mid-Autumn Moon Festival as China is setting its plans for its next lunar mission. First up is a launch of their newly developed relay satellite, Queqiao-2, which means Magpie Bridge-2. The China National Space Administration says, it plans to launch the vehicle in the first half of 2024 to support communications for its next lunar mission, Chang'e-6. That mission will also carry payloads from international partners, including France's DORN, radon detection instrument, the European Space Agency's negative ion detector, Italy's laser retroreflector, and a CubeSat from Pakistan. And congrats to China's Chang'e-5 mission team who have been honored by the International Academy of Astronautics for their work in returning lunar samples from the moon. The team won Laurels for Team Achievement, which is the highest award presented by the IAA at the annual gathering ahead of the IAC in Baku. The UK Space Agency is inviting applications for UK support for the European Space Agency's competitiveness and growth program. This call is open to all commercial technology, product, and service developments within satellite telecommunication in the UK. More details can be found following the link in our show notes. That concludes today's intelligence briefing, that as always, you'll find links to further reading on the all the stories that we've mentioned in our show notes. We've also included an op-ed from Skyrora's CEO on creating a new launch hub in Scotland. You'll find all the links and more at space.n2k.com Hey, "T-Minus" crew, every Monday, we produce a written intelligence roundup. And it's called "Signals and Space". So, if you happen to miss any "T-Minus" episodes, no judgment, it happens, 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. Our guest today is Tim Franta, Vice President of Development for Starfighter Space. Tim started our conversation by giving me an explainer on what the company does.

>> Tim Franta: We are a very unique company. We have a fleet of F-104 aircraft which even though they were designed in the '50s still hold most of the world records for speed and altitude. And from that, we had the capability of being able to test payloads through space at high altitude and high speed. And also, this next year, we'll be launching rockets to suborbital space.

>> Maria Varmazis: So, a fleet of starfighters is such a cool idea, just on its own, that's really cool. And they are supersonic and I was looking at your company website and it sounds like hypersonics is also something that Starfighter Space is looking at for the near to long-term. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

>> Tim Franta: Sure. There's a couple reasons for that. One, the U.S. has fallen behind in hypersonic developments. Pretty much in 2017, we were ahead, and then, China and Russia have caught up and surpassed. As a matter of fact, Russia has fired at least five hypersonic missiles into the Ukraine, one of which was specifically targeted for the Ukrainian Air Force spare parts. So, it is very crucial. And the reason why hypersonics is so dangerous is you don't have time to respond. They go so fast, they go at least a minimum of five times the speed of sound. And so, you don't have time to react. Your first is usually the impact is when you know it hit. So, for starfighters, we can fly to Mach 2. We're the only commercial fleet in the world that can fly sustained Mach 2. Usually, when we show the list of entities that are capable of that, it's like China, the United States, France, Great Britain, and about number eight or nine is starfighters. So, it's a very unique capability. So, even if we launch a relatively slow rocket, a Mach 4 or Mach 5 small suborbital rocket, if we launch it through the atmosphere, because we're already going Mach 2, it'll go greater than Mach 5. So, therefore, we're a test badge for a hypersonic platform. One of the big differences between us and other companies, everyone's concerned about launch. And launch is important. But we also consider ourselves a test bed because we can fly the profile of most rockets the first three seconds to a minute of launch. We're high altitude, high Gs. I mean, we can be at 30,000 feet in really close to 30 seconds. It's quite a flight. So, we can test transponders, the termination of flight systems, opticals, whatever they need for the rocket. So, we're unlike other companies because we'll test components of units of bigger companies. And because it's much cheaper to fly an F-104 and test it before you send up a $250 million satellite.

>> Maria Varmazis: Yeah, I was just going to say that cost savings is amazing. And that is certainly a really key differentiator for you and certainly, something that jet launch differentiates itself in general. So, I'm very curious about, so you mentioned a few use cases as your thinking about the long-term for the different types of payloads, any thoughts on sort of ideal use cases there or what you're looking at specifically?

>> Tim Franta: We can test most any component of a payload. And the other thing that separates us from other companies is that, when we launch the suborbital into space and eventually to lower earth orbit, we are at this small size because the F-104 can only carry so much payload. So, most companies had the capability of doing that, such as Rocket Lab and SpaceX, people forget there was a Falcon 1. That was so long ago, but there was a Falcon 1. Everyone has gone, who had small payloads, have increased to medium at the minimum. And now, Starfighters and Rocket Lab bunched them all together. But we could fly single use payloads. A lot of that is for testing, again, because it's much easier to test and much cheaper to test than to put all your eggs in one basket. But it's the same type of payloads, optical, testing a thruster, it's the same thing everyone else does. Imaging is very important. And also for us, we can get some pretty good times for zero G. On our first vehicle, hopefully in the not too distant future, you'll get about 15 minutes of good zero G. While Elon is making the biggest rocket to get to space, we are literally making the smallest rocket to get to space. And the market can cover that and there's reasons to have this smaller end. A lot of people though the limitations of the F-104 was a burden. No, it's an envelope and it is great to know the frame you can work with, how much mass, how much speed you have.

>> Maria Varmazis: I would love to hear a bit about the long-term vision for the company as well. How you hope to grow and maybe other ambitions that are going to get folded in there.

>> Tim Franta: We are going to stay lean and mean because we fly. We are the flyer launch company. So, we have a lot of strategic partners and so, we still small. But one of our growth is to, when we have our first successful launch, or actually when we have our first three successful launches for the SILA, by the way, SILA stands for Starfighters Innovative Launch Alliance. And the reason we call it launch alliance is because we design for the military, for commercial, for civil, and more importantly at the end is for academic. It's been too expensive for a lot of universities to fly. Or they have to wait a long time or fly in a profile that they're not thrilled with because they're a secondary payload. We can decide pretty much a cost-effective way for universities and nonprofits, and also, we're a very good price for entrepreneurs. So, the one thing we'll do to grow is we love that Rocket Lab and SpaceX have created the business model. So, we will do economies to scale too, so once we have our first three successful launches, we will order six rockets, so we get the economies to scale. And hopefully, we'll follow what Elon did. He said, we'll fly once a quarter, we'll fly once a month, we'll fly once a week. Our growth pattern is pretty much the same. Now one thing about Starfighters, we technically could be a launch twice a day.

>> Maria Varmazis: That reasonable first stage is handy.

>> Tim Franta: Yes, extremely. The other thing with our plans to grow is we're already looking at the Kennedy Space Center. And as a matter of fact, when we fill out the FAA paperwork, I just had to write in three numbers because launch site is like 08-018 and I was done with that part of the application. So, the other great thing about us, where we can stay lean and mean is I can just pick up the phone and order liquid oxygen. I can pick up the phone and order methane. I can pick up the phone and order a specialized crane by being at the Space Center. So, it's all ready. We have huge cost savings just by that capability. We're at the LROV hangar at the old shuttle landing facility. It's now called the Launch and Landing Facility. So, we have access to a billion-dollar facility and we just made a $500.00 landing fee.

>> Maria Varmazis: Not everybody can say that, that's for sure.

>> Tim Franta: There's some huge advantage having one of the world's longest runways because we only get, if we're at a normal airport, 10,000 feet, we would get about five landings on the tires. But because the runway is so long, we just coast and we get about seven landings on the tires.

>> Maria Varmazis: Nice. It's really neat what you guys are doing. And I love that the phrase lean and mean is coming up a lot because it's really nice that you have that vision and that you found that sweet spot. And certainly, what you all are doing, it makes a lot of sense. So, you mentioned the SILA. I would love for our audience to learn a little bit about what that is, if we could give them sort of an intro into that.

>> Tim Franta: TSure. So, if any of you looked to see what the SILA is, it looks very much like a AMRAAM 120. And the reason for that is because we're smart people. If there is a well-known air surface that has lots of history, use it. So, it does look like a AMRAAM 120. And it had been deployed off the F-104, so it looks very similar to AMRAAM 120. And so, our first vehicle would get us about 117 kilometers and a nice 15 minutes of microgravity. It's to demonstrate all the problems, work out all the kinks. Now we will have perpetual customers for the SILA I, it's not like we'll do the SILA I and get rid of it. So, we have some customers who only need 15 minutes of microgravity if you go up 117 kilometers. SILA II is the bigger one and it's 49 percent bigger. And we're definitely working out the holy grail is the mass frack of how much fuel, how much payload, and how much speed the F-104 in altitude can go. So, I cannot say precisely, because we are not in final design yet, but we're working on the mass frack. And of course, we want to optimize it to go as high and fast and low earth orbit as possible. But I can share something with you, we will fly out the fleet in about 2035, that's its life expectancy. And we have all the spare parts and everything. But my boss, Rick Svetkoff, the President of the company and the lead test pilot, firmly believes, and the market indicates, there will be a commercial supersonic aircraft. So, we will be developing whatever our next vehicle after that is for the follow on. And we're not going to pick a winner or loser. There are certain ones that are further ahead, but there will be a, there could be two commercial supersonic vehicles. So, you're all smart people in this business, you could figure out, there's a commercial vehicle, they'll be able to go, they'll be able to carry more mass. So, we're in the black because we don't reinvent things. If it's available commercially, we buy it. I have fights with people. Why are you redesigning a valve? This valve's existed for 50 years, it works, we're not going to redesign it. So, we use other services and if someone's developing another supersonic commercial vehicle, why would we not use it?

>> Maria Varmazis: We'll be right back. Welcome back. And it's the mid-Autumn Moon Festival in Chinese culture at the moment. And over the weekend, it was also the Moon Viewing Festival in Japan. So, let's take a look at what's going on in Japan in the moment. Oh, what's that? Giant robots? If you happen to be going to the Japan Mobility Show later this month and have $3 million burning a hole in your pocket, you, yes you, can place an order for your very own 4.5 meter or 14.8 foot tall human piloted robot called the ARCHAX. Built by Tsubame Industries of Tokyo, yes, the ARCHAX is a real working three and a half ton mech suit. Yes, there is a cockpit where you can sit and control the whole thing, yes you can get in the robot. Not that someone needs a justification to build giant robots in my book, but since people asked, Ryo Yoshida, Chief Executive of Tsubame Industries, says his mechs could be handy for disaster relief or even space exploration. If you want to imagine this mech on the moon, think less giant leap for a machine and more roving. We are not yet at walk cycles, so no anime-style dramatic leaps for you. Instead, the ARCHAX is wheeled, but hey, it also has two modes, an upright robot mode and a lowered vehicle mode. So, you can rove at a respectable furry rover speed of 10 kilometers an hour. Still, let's not bury the lead, it transforms. You could say it's a robot in disguise. And for the mech of your dreams, you can, of course, customize the paint job. Admittedly, it might be a while before we figure out how to get a three and a half ton mech to the moon, it's kind of heavy. But in the meantime, on earth, you can choose to make your mech sapphire blue, pearl white, spark red, Atlantis green, or midnight purple. Decisions, decisions. That's it for "T-Minus" for October 2, 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 about this podcast. You can email us at space@n2k.com or submit the survey in our 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. They 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 Eliott Peltzman and Trey Hester, with original music and sound design by Eliott Peltzman. Our executive producer 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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