NASA’s TEMPO launches. Axiom’s second mission. SpaceCom demands domain awareness. True Anomaly raises $30mil. Stoke has software for hardware. And...
Big trouble in little Vulcan.
Investors’ mixed outlook. DoD on space operational domain. Northrop Grumman milestone. ULA Vulcan in trouble. NASA’s planetary defense strategy. And more.
The outlook for the space industry, according to investors. DoD on space as an operational domain. Northrop Grumman hits a design review milestone. NASA has a planetary defense strategy – and needs more money for Mars. More delays for Vulcan. And our conversation with Bryce Kennedy, President of the Association of Commercial Space Professionals on recent developments in space policy and law, and what’s really crucial for new space businesses to know.
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Our featured guest is Bryce Kennedy, President of ACSP and Attorney at Aegis Space Law, on recent developments in space policy and law, and how to make the space environment safe and viable for business.
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>> Maria Varmazis: After all the excitement over the past few years, the market outlook for the space industry has been given a bit of a splash of cold water. Inflation is up and valuations are down. But it's not doom and gloom. While it might not be a golden age for sky-high valuations right now, there are plenty of opportunities to be found with perhaps tempered expectations. Today is April 19th, 2023. I'm Maria Varmazis, and this is "T-Minus". The outlook for the space industry, according to investors. DoD on space as an operational domain. Northrop Grumman hits a design review milestone. NASA has a planetary defense strategy and needs more money for Mars. And my conversation with Bryce Kennedy, president of the Association of Commercial Space Professionals, on recent developments in space policy and law, and what's really crucial for new space businesses to know. All this and lots more, stay with us. Before we dive in, a quick hello to the 400 or so of you who've listened in from the Space Symposium this week. Glad to have you with us. Our show's executive producer, Brandon Karpf, is there with you, walking the floor at symposium this week, so don't be shy. He'd love to catch up with you, so do say hello to Brandon, and tell him Maria sent you. And thanks to all the support from our new listeners, both from Space Symposium and all over, really. We here at this very show reached the number 17 spot on Apple Podcast for technology podcasts this week. Thank you for making that happen. Alright, now let's go to our intel briefing for today. This year has been a tough one economically overall, and many space companies have been affected. Virgin Orbit, anyone? As a result, many valuations for space companies are on the downswing. Prices are either depressed or simply correcting to where they should have been, depending on who you ask. And yeah, muddled regulatory processes and higher interest rates right now aren't helping things either. But these lower prices for space companies could also present opportunities for buyouts and consolidations in the months and years ahead, according to a panel at Space Symposium this week. According to the story in Space News, panelists, including members of SETI, Space Fund, and Voyager Space, said that space companies that went public by merging with special purpose acquisition companies, or SPAC's, may have been able to successfully inflate their valuations with that tactic, but over time they didn't have the performance to back up their numbers. As a result, investors looking to the space market are now much more cautious. And moving forward, company valuations are likely to be lower than what we've seen in past years, the panelists noted, but they'll also be a lot more realistic. An addendum I should note from an article in Payload, with numbers from PitchBook, according to the data, VC investment in the space industry in Q1 2023, $310.7 million. And that's the lowest amount seen since Q3 2021. But an interesting note is that the number of valuations, at least compared to last quarter, remains the same. So it's not the volume of transactions decreasing necessarily, but the size of those valuations. Space needs to become a normal operational domain, like land, sea, or air, for the Department of Defense, says John Plumb, assistant secretary of defense for space policy. Speaking at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs this week, Plumb said this. We have to stop treating space as a unique domain that is somehow different and for some reason requires special handling. That is counterproductive. By treating space as we do every other operational domain, we will enhance our ability to deter conflict and to preserve a secure and stable space environment. Plumb says his office is working to strengthen relationship with the Combined Space Operations Initiative and the NATO Space Center, and is drafting a new international space cooperation strategy to focus on international engagements on space in areas such as resilience and interoperability. The Department of Defense also announced a new effort to collaborate with the private sector in an effort to use commercial space capabilities for the U.S. military. Plumb said that the DoD recognizes the importance of the commercial space sector in driving economic growth and innovation in the U.S., and in supporting national security efforts in the war in Ukraine, especially in satellite surveillance and communications. Plumb's remarks were echoed by General Jim Dickinson from the U.S. Space Command at symposium. General Dickinson also outlined key mission areas for the joint space operations, to include space domain awareness, space combat power, joint space command and control, and joint space communications. Dickinson also announced that Space Command is on track to reach full operational capability by the end of the year. Space Force's Launch Program Office continues to track issues with the United Launch Alliance Vulcan Centaur rocket. Vulcan was expected to launch its first national security mission in late 2023, but that schedule is likely to slip. The Vulcan needs to complete two successful orbital missions before being able to launch the U.S. military and intelligence satellites under the National Space Security Launch Program. ULA CEO Tony Bruno recently indicated that the expected May launch target for Vulcan's first launch is likely to slip until June or July. ULA's Vulcan was selected in 2020 to launch 60% of national security missions over five years, with SpaceX managing the other 40%. Northrop Grumman has hit a critical design review milestone of its Space Development Agency communication satellites. The aerospace and defense technology company is contracted to build 42 satellites for SDA's Tranche 1 Transport Layer. This group of satellites will provide data transfer and communications capabilities to ground-based users. The design review was completed just 13 months after the SDA awarded Northrop Grumman a $692 million contract. In addition, Northrop is supplying the SDA with missile-tracking satellites and is responsible for providing the ground system for the tracking and transport constellations. Northrop remains on-target to deliver the satellites by 2024. UK space company Space Forge has announced plans to expand to the U.S. The Cardiff-based space startup is in talks with a number of states to set up an American headquarters for manufacturing its Forge Star satellites and payloads for U.S. customers. The company raised $10.2 million in 2021 in order to operate its reusable satellite, which is designed for in-orbit manufacturing and returning payloads to Earth. Space Force hopes to capitalize on the movement with the CHIPS Act, a $280 billion fund to boost U.S. domestic research and manufacturing of semiconductors, as well as NASA's push for in-space manufacturing. And we'll be chatting with Space Forge in a later episode, and we'll let you know where they decide to settle. Some quick mentions now, April 19th marks two months until the start of the 2023 Spaceport America Cup, brought to you by Blue Origin. "T-Minus" is excited to be supporting the world's largest rocket engineering competition, held in New Mexico from June 19th to 24th, and we look forward to speaking with the organizers, participants, and sponsors ahead of the event. Yesterday, cosmonaut Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitry Pettelin completed a 7-hour, 55-minute spacewalk. They got some much-needed maintenance work done. With the help of the European Robotic Arm, the cosmonauts successfully relocated a radiator from the Roscosmos Rasved module to the Nauka science module. And this morning, SpaceX launched 21 additional upgraded version 2 Starlink satellites on a Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral. These are similar to the second generation Starlink satellites, as the ones that launched in late February, you may recall a few of those satellites in that batch were quote, experiencing some issues, as Elon Musk said, and at least two of them have been deorbited since their launch. It seems that SpaceX feels they've resolved the issue with the V2 satellites. As with this launch today, they've resumed sending them up to orbit. NASA made a big announcement today. They've official released their Planetary Defense Strategy, which will guide the agency's focus and presumably investment in planetary defense capabilities over the next decade. Interagency and international collaboration and response planning look to be a key cornerstone of the strategy moving forward, as does developing technologies to detect near-Earth objects, especially those that are potentially hazardous, as well as demonstrating technologies to mitigate those hazards. So if you thought DART smashing into an asteroid was impressive, this new NASA strategy says yes, they're looking to do more just like that. We've got a link to the entire Planetary Defense Strategy in the show notes for you, space.n2k.com. And speaking of NASA, yesterday NASA administrator Bill Nelson wasn't at Space Symposium, he was in front of a congressional subcommittee. And while there, he said if the Mars Sample Return Mission is to stay on track with an end-of-decade launch, it needs more money. Specifically it needs another 250 million this year and another 250 million in financial year 2024. The budget pressure for what JPL needs for the Mars Sample Return Mission is having a ricochet effect on other NASA programs, unfortunately. Both the Geospace Dynamics Constellation, a heliophysics mission, and the Habitable Worlds Observatory Astrophysics Mission, have been hit with subsequent delays. And the Dragonfly spacecraft to explore Titan, one of Saturn's moons, might also be affected if the Mars Sample Return budget requirements continue to grow. So it's something to keep an eye on. A story by Politico says, because of the delays in the production of the Ariane 6, the European Commission is looking for an ad-hoc agreement with private American space companies, likely either ULA or SpaceX, to get the next generation of Galileo geonavigation satellites to orbit. The Commission will need permission to move ahead with this plan from EU countries, so this is not a done deal, but it is likely the only real alternative, given the original plan to launch the Galileo satellites on Russian Soyuz rockets was scuttled due to the war in Ukraine. And the Ariane 5 is imminently retiring, and the Ariane 6 has been hit with a number of delays, so unfortunately, homegrown solutions aren't an option either. And speaking of the Ariane 6, there's a fantastic feature piece by Eric Berger in Ars Technica today, detailing the many challenges this vehicle has faced. We have a link to it in our selected reading section of our show notes, which you can check out at space.n2k.com. Okay, that's it for our intel briefing for today. Coming up next, we're talking about space law with Bryce Kennedy, who is the president of the Association of Commercial Space Professionals. Stay tuned. A very necessary step to getting to space that doesn't get as much attention as perhaps it should, is space law. Broadly put, these are the legal rules and regulations that govern how and when a craft can go into space, what needs to approved and by whom, that kind of thing. And these important legal components to any space mission, if left to the last minute, can result in huge delays and potentially catastrophic financial consequences. Proactively educating startups and the next generation of space professionals on the regulations that govern space is a particular area of focus for Bryce Kennedy, who is the president of the Association of Commercial Space Professionals. He joined me to talk about space policy and law, and we started by talking about common issues that commercial space providers tend to encounter in the legal domain.
>> Bryce Kennedy: So most of the regulations have adapted to change, but they began in the 60s, when our space program really started going, and while they have developed, it's kind of been a piecemeal system, because there weren't a lot of providers. We really didn't have a huge industry. We had a few satellite companies here and there, so they didn't need to streamline them. However, now that we have launched, we are seeing the regulations for space as a major, major hindrance and bottleneck, from FCC licensing to export controls to FAA licensing. The thing is, in a lot of areas, there's not actually regulation, and so that even hinders it, and while everyone is, you know, especially with companies, they're regulation-shy. They're not necessarily pushing for it. However, when there is no structure in place, it doesn't even allow them to build upon their technology to see what is allowed and what's not allowed. And so we're building the plane as we're flying it in a lot of instances, and it's really, it's prohibiting a lot of commercial space development.
>> Maria Varmazis: I can only begin to imagine. If there's like a wish list that your clients have or that you've seen, what would you describe what you would like to see people have enacted, or what kind of changes they'd like?
>> Bryce Kennedy: I think it would be really good, is to have a central agency that kind of, that oversees all of regulation, not necessarily taking the powers away from Department of Commerce, or Department of Transportation, or Department of State, but one coordinating body that can start to bridge a lot of these disparate regulatory bodies together, that will help really systematize and formalize a lot of the regulation needed for space. The other thing is, predominantly a lot of the regulation that has been in space has been kept behind a paywall of very, very expensive law firms, because you know, their clients were the big primes. There was Lockheed, Raytheon, I mean NASA to a degree. You know, all these things that could afford $1500 an hour rates. And so the information was never really disseminated. It's one of the things that we're trying to do with ACSP is disseminate that information so people don't need to work with these law firms. They can actually learn it for themselves and apply it, especially with a lot of the space startup companies.
>> Maria Varmazis: Yeah, could you go into more detail about ACSP, and its mission, and what you're doing?
>> Bryce Kennedy: Yeah, so ACSP, the Association of Commercial Space Professionals, that is a nonprofit that we started. So I started with a space law firm called Egis Space Law, and we soon saw the need for training. And so we decided to parse that out and have a law firm, and then now ACSP is its own standing nonprofit that is completely separate from that. It's still an entity, and I became, I basically moved from Egis to this now, running it. And the idea is to democratize access to space through education to remove regulatory barriers. Because while the wish list is really beautiful, it's a nice idea, we want to streamline, we want all these things, we still have to work in the framework that exists, and so ACSP is really about bringing together commercial space professionals. We're standardizing the way regulations are taught. We're breaking down those paywalls. We're bringing in industry leaders that have worked behind, on the agency levels, that know the right way to proceed with, say, FCC licensing, or Reeve Kevin O'Connell from, former head of Department of State Center of Commerce. And he tells us a lot of the backchannel stuff that you need to know that's not necessarily up front. And so our goal is really to bring that through to the average professional. And the other thing that we're doing is we're creating a certification program. And you know, we've started to see a lot of certifying bodies that are building these training programs, which is great. It's nice. But if we're really going to move the needle forward, it's going, there has to be a real high level, a high barrier in terms of the quality of the content, what's actually being done, and how the certification process is working. And so that's what we're developing right now with our advisory board, which is pretty cool.
>> Maria Varmazis: When you look at the broad landscape of space law, I love just saying that phrase, it's so fun.
>> Bryce Kennedy: Yeah, it's great.
>> Maria Varmazis: [Laughter]. Do you see that there are rules that are maybe misaligned, or huge gaps that maybe are catching people by surprise?
>> Bryce Kennedy: It's more compliance control is, it's very, I have to be careful because it's a very interesting beast of its own. It's ITAR and EAR, and basically anything that you export, and God, export itself is, even that word is pretty leveraged heavily. But there are overlapping, there are a lot of things that people don't know. So for example, an export might be if you're a U.S. company and there's a particular thing that falls under a licensing regime, like ITAR or EAR. And someone from a foreign country comes into the, your building, right, and just happens to walk by a blueprint of a rocket. You're not showing them, you're not talking about it, that is now an export. You have exported that information without knowing it, and that type of stuff catches a lot of companies off guard. And there are massive fines for that. So a lot of, they don't even know that. Well, like, you could see $50,000 plus of fine. Can you imagine being a startup? Having this very loose, quote on quote export, and having to pay that fine? That will, that will sink you. The other thing too that we see is a lot of companies don't understand the licensing processes. So everyone, every startup is, not every, but a lot of startups are focused on getting the tech developed, getting the VC funding, you know, the traditional startup that a launch license could be up to two years. An FCC license to be able to communicate to your craft in space back down to Earth could be a substantial amount of time. Kevin O'Connell was talking about NOAA and any type of photographing of the Earth. You want to start building that out months to years in advance, and a lot of these startups are like cool, our tech's ready to go. Let's launch it. And you might have to wait another two years.
>> Maria Varmazis: Oh, that's got to be frustrating.
>> Bryce Kennedy: In which could sink the VC funding, could sink your client. And so that's where we see, because again, back to what we're doing with our boot camp and with ACSP is, people just don't know. This information is, if you ask anyone how long a licensing takes, the answer is always, well, it depends.
>> Maria Varmazis: [Laughter].
>> Bryce Kennedy: And how do you build that into your business model? You know?
>> Maria Varmazis: Right. Yeah.
>> Bryce Kennedy: So that's why education is where we're trying to bridge that.
>> Maria Varmazis: That makes a lot of sense to me. Alright, so I love asking these questions that, you know, if you had your druthers, right? So, [laughter], how do we make space a more viable place for business, and how do we make it safer and more viable?
>> Bryce Kennedy: You know, space is one of these really cool areas that, and it's the reason I got into it, and it's the reason I pivoted from my former company, is space is this confluence of highly ridiculous technical aspect with highly ridiculous regulatory aspects also combined with the third portion, which is highly ridiculous aspirational aspects. Like, you can't get into space without having just a slight bit of being a nerd or, you know, a loving of Star Trek or Star Wars, that heart aspect that you just want everything to rise into this new futuristic era. And I'd say without those three, it's not going to work, and so that's why I love going to these conferences and symposiums and learning, and back to your question, it's really, I think to make it work is going to be a high level of community and synthesis of different thought processes and different people. You cannot get to space being an isolationist. You just, it just won't work. There's too much involved. The stakes are too high. You have to have all three components. I'm always amazed by the people that I talk to, and I have to check myself too. Like, am I too insular in my thinking? Am I using my lawyer brain? Am I using too much of the nonprofit brain? You know, and the more and more we can start bringing in these divergent and diverse opinions and viewpoints, it will do nothing but benefit our acceleration into space.
>> Maria Varmazis: And that was Bryce Kennedy of the Association of Commercial Space Professionals, and you can learn more about the ACSP at acsp.space. We'll be right back. Welcome back. Our listeners in Indonesia, the Philippines, Australia, and New Zealand might already know this, but if not, if you're in the right spot, make sure you don't miss the hybrid solar eclipse coming your way on April 20th. Now, I have to admit, I didn't know what a hybrid solar eclipse was either, so it's basically three solar eclipse types in one. So usually when a solar eclipse happens, it's just one kind of eclipse, either total, partial, or annular. But hybrid eclipses like this one, depending on where you are on Earth when you see the solar eclipse occur, it could be any one of those three. So if you're along a very specific narrow path for this eclipse, you would see an annular or ring-shaped eclipse that changes to a total eclipse and then back to an annular eclipse again. Most other folks along the eclipse path would actually just see a partial eclipse. Now folks in Ningaloo Marine Park in western Australia will get to enjoy this eclipse while listening to Pink Floyd celebrating the 50th anniversary or Dark Side of the Moon, timed to the eclipse. And you can watch that livestreamed, by the way, link in the show notes. A time zone note now. This eclipse on 4-20 in Australia means that it's actually an April 19th, 10:30 p.m. Eastern start time for the Pink Floyd concert. And oh yeah, the eclipse. And that's it for "T-Minus" for April 19th, 2023. "T-Minus" is a production of N2K Networks, your source for strategic workforce intelligence. For additional links and resources from today's report, check out our show notes at space.n2k.com. Elliot Peltzman composed our theme song. Mixing by Elliot Peltzman and Tre Hester. Alice Caruth is our producer. Our executive producer is Brandon Karpf. And I'm Maria Varmazis. See you tomorrow.