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Varda looks Down Under to land.

Varda Space to land its capsule in Australia. Space Force finalizes its Commercial Augmentation Space Reserve plan. Pakistan partners with China. And more.





Varda Space enters an agreement with Southern Launch to land their orbital factory at the Koonibba Test Range in Australia. The US Space Force says it has finalized a plan for its Commercial Augmentation Space Reserve. Pakistan signs a cooperation agreement with China to partner on a research station on the Moon's south pole, and more.

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T-Minus Guest

Learn about Lockheed Martin’s vision for the future of space with Dr. Nelson Pedreiro. Space 2050 invites discussion about the future of space in five areas: a “smart” world enabled by ubiquitous communications, extraplanetary operations, space logistics, mission operations command utilizing artificial intelligence and machine learning, and space defense to strengthen 21st Century Security. 

You can connect with Nelson on LinkedIn, read more about Space 2050 here and participate in the discussion at AIAA’s ASCEND conference.

Selected Reading

Varda looks to Australia after delays in obtaining US reentry approval- Ars Technica

SpaceX aims to launch 144 missions next year- Space

Space Force finalizes plan for commercial surge capacity during crisis- C4ISRNET

Pakistan joins China's club of lunar base partners- Reuters

Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry Selects ispace, inc. for Innovation Grant

Gaganyaan TV-D1 Mission

ESA Pushes Ahead with Ariane 6 Testing - European Spaceflight

Spain's PLD Space expects first orbital launch in Q1 2026 from French Guiana- Reuters

SmallSpark Space Systems successfully demonstrates AI-Designed Solid Rocket Motors with its Digital Fusion Technology- PR

Aerospike demonstrator MIRA conducts its first roll testing and tests its flight termination system

Space Force launches effort to harness allied supply chain

Mars Mission Aims to Solve Mystery of Its Leaky Atmosphere- Gizmodo

NASA’s Voyager Team Focuses on Software Patch, Thrusters

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>> Alice Carruth: Maria, can I start the show with another dad joke?

>> Maria Varmazis: [Sighs] If you must, Alice, if you must.

>> Alice Carruth: What do you get when you combine a kangaroo with a donkey?

>> Maria Varmazis: [Laughs] I don't know, Alice, what do you get?

>> Alice Carruth: A kickass.

>> Maria Varmazis: [Laughs] Okay. Okay. What does that have to do with space?

>> Alice Carruth: Well, the [inaudible] are kicking ass in space, and all will be revealed.

[ Music ]

>> Maria Varmazis: Today is October 20, 2023. I'm Maria Varmazis.

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

>> Maria Varmazis: Varda Space looks to land its capsule in Australia. Space Force finalizes its Commercial Augmentation Space Reserve plan. Pakistan signs on with China's lunar base program.

>> Alice Carruth: And I'll be heading to Las Vegas next week to cover AIAA's ASCEND conference. Later in this episode, Maria will be speaking to the chief engineer for Lockheed Martin, Dr. Nelson Pedreiro about the Space 2050 vision that he's presenting at the conference.

[ Music ]

>> Maria Varmazis: On to today's intelligence briefing. Varda Space Industries has been looking for a soft place to land. After completing its first experimental mission doing pharmaceutical manufacturing, it needs to bring its payload back down to Earth. But then Varda's reentry capsule was turned away from doing just that in Utah earlier this year by the US Air Force, and the FAA denied Varda's commercial reentry. So what's a reentry capsule to do, seek friendlier horizons; and so they have. Varda says they're in an agreement with Southern Launch to land at the Koonibba Test Range in Australia. And they anticipate being able to bring their reentry capsule back down to Earth, finally, midyear next year. And also, they plan on using Koonibba around that time to launch their second orbital mission. And while the company says they plan on having multiple reentry sites around the world as they continue ramping up operations, finding an appropriate place to land missions in the United States wasn't a one-off problem. Delian Asparouhov, Varda's chairman, president, and cofounder, said this in comments to Ars Technica. "In the United States, there are no dedicated ranges with their core mission, or even a secondary mission being to support commercial space reentry over land. Everything that's done today is either done in the ocean or at a military range, where this is explicitly not their core focus. And as we mentioned earlier this week, Varda and many other commercial space companies in the United States are really feeling held back by the current pace of licensing by the FAA, which to put it politely, space companies might characterize as 'glacial'. The increasing pace and number of demands on the FAA means its inability to keep pace with the needs of commercial space is not just an issue, it's really becoming the issue." Varda's Asparouhov echoed that in his reflections on all that's been happening to his company. "The commercial space industry is going through explosive exponential growth in terms of cadence, master orbit, complexity of operations, whether it's things like reentry or responsive launch, and ultimately I think you're going to start seeing those breaking points in terms of how stretched they are." And he went on to say this, "One of the coordination challenges that we face is getting FAA resources far ahead of an operation so that we can make a licensing determination far in advance of a particular activity. There's no way do it with the FAA's current staffing level. The entire industry is feeling this pain point, which makes us question how SpaceX is going to reach its ambitious plan to launch 144 times next year. They've already launched 74 missions in 2023, and are complaining that the FAA is failing to keep up with the pace of the launch cadence. We feel like this battle is only just starting."

>> Alice Carruth: Absolutely. The US Space Force says it's finalized its plan for the Commercial Augmentation Space Reserve. The concept outlines a framework for how the Space Force will scale up its use of commercial capabilities, including satellite imagery and communications during a conflict. It's based on the Air Force Civil Reserve Air Fleet Model. But during times of crisis, the government calls upon commercial airlines. Commercial companies that want to be part of the Reserve will enter into a voluntary pre-negotiated contractual arrangement. Under level one operations, firms will provide a minimum commitment of peace-time capabilities to the Defense Department. Level two, which includes regional conflicts or a major crisis, would require a higher level of commercial services. At level three wartime scenario, companies would be obligated to prioritize government needs over their own customers. The Space Force is initially restricting Reserve involvement to US owned companies, but is considering options for international firms.

>> Maria Varmazis: Pakistan has become the latest country to sign a cooperation agreement with China to partner on a research station on the Moon's south pole. China's National Space Administration says the agreement covers areas including the engineering and operational aspects of the Chinese lunar base program. Pakistan joins Russia, Venezuela, and South Africa, who have already agreed to partner with China on their moon base mission.

>> Alice Carruth: Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has selected ispace for a small business innovation research ground, worth approximately 18 million US dollars. Ispace was selected for the development and operational demonstration of the lunar lander. Under the terms of the grounds, ispace will be expected to design, manufacture, and assemble a lunar lander with the capability of transporting a minimum payload of 100 kilos to the Moon surface, then launch and operate the lander by 2027.

>> Maria Varmazis: India's Space Research Organization, also known as "ISRO", will be holding an in-flight abort demonstration of its crew escape system over the weekend. The Gaganyaan TV-D1 mission is part of ISRO's human spaceflight program. The flight will demonstrate and evaluate to test the vehicle's subsystems. And the success of this test flight will set the stage for the remaining qualification tests and unmanned missions, leading to the first Gaganyaan program with Indian astronauts, which is expected to launch in 2025.

>> Alice Carruth: The European Space Agency has announced plans to host a hot fire of the Ariane 6 rocket. The first test fire of the Ariane 6 last month unveiled a thrust vector control anomaly [phonetic]. ESA says that the anomaly is characterized by abnormal internal pressure of the hydraulic group. The Belgium company, SABCA, has been identified as the supplier of the thrust vector control hydraulic system, and ESA says that they've already prepared a replacement, without waiting for the results of the technical investigation. A long duration static fire test is currently planned for the 23rd of November. It will be preceded by a full-scale launch countdown test in October, which is due to run for 36 hours. That will conclude with a brief firing of the core stage engine. That rehearsal test had previously been planned for after the long duration test. We can also expect an upper-stage test for the Ariane 6 to be held in Germany in December.

>> Maria Varmazis: Spanish rocket company, PLD Space, has announced plans for its first orbital launch from French Guiana in the first quarter of 2026. PLD Space held the first fully private European rocket launch earlier this month from Spain, with their Miura 1 rocket. The company plans to ramp up testing to reach its orbital Miura 5 vehicle for the 2026 target launch, to transport small satellites to Leo.

>> Alice Carruth: Cardiff based Smallspark Space Systems has successfully demonstrated the ability of its digital fusion technology to support the development of customized solid rocket motors. Smallspark says that digital fusion technology has gained popularity in the defense sector, as it enables the development of digital twins using limited experimental data. They say that their approach will enable smaller teams to develop complex systems in shorter timelines and will allow engineers to focus on less repetitive design iteration work.

>> Maria Varmazis: And our friends at Polaris Spaceplanes have conducted the first roll testing of the Aerospike demonstrator vehicle known as "MIRA". This is one of the last milestones needed ahead of receiving an operation license for Polaris's MIRA vehicle. During the roll test, Polaris also repeatedly tested the flight termination system, including its rescue parachute, which will be deployed by a small solid rocket motor, as well as an emergency shutdown procedure for the propulsion system. MIRA is the fifth vehicle in the Polaris fleet. Its first flight under turbine power is planned within the next two to three weeks while the first in-flight ignition of a linear Aerospike rocket engine will follow by the end of this year.

[ Music ]

>> Alice Carruth: And that concludes our intelligence briefing for today. As always, we've included links for further reading on all the stories we've mentioned, and we've included a few extra, one on the US Space Force supply chain, and one on a mission to solve the mystery of Mars's leaky atmosphere. They're all at space.n2k.com, and click on this episode title.

>> Maria Varmazis: 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. Nelson Pedreiro talking about Lockheed Martin's Space 2050 vision. Check it out while you're mowing the lawn, grocery shopping, folding laundry, driving your kids to the game, or attending the head of the Head of the Charles Regatta. You don't want to miss it.

[ Music ]

All week this week we featured speakers from AIAA's ASCEND conference. A strong theme for this year's event is Lockheed Martin's vision for the future of space. I spoke with Dr. Nelson Pedreiro, chief engineer for Lockheed Martin, and asked him what Space 2050 was all about.

[ Music ]

>> Dr. Nelson Pedreiro: So this actually started about a couple of years ago in my prior role, [inaudible], the Defense Technology Center for Lockheed Martin Space, right, the innovation labs for space. And in that organization we have two primary roles. One is envisioning in the future, and determining what kinds of capabilities and technologies will enable that future, so that our customer missions can be properly executed. The other piece is prioritizing these capabilities and technologies and then go and develop those, making sure that we can realize we can implement that vision, right? So these are the two things. So Space 2050 is really an initiative that I kicked off about two years ago, as I mentioned, to envision the future, identify and prioritize capabilities, and then start developing those. The 2050 mark is somewhat arbitrary, but it's not totally arbitrary. There is some thought that went into that. I really did not want it to be so -- too far out like 2100 or further out, because it then becomes more of a science fiction exercise. But I wanted it far enough out -- so this is, you know, when we started about 20 years -- 22 years out or so, that there is enough time for us to really develop remarkable novel disruptive capabilities. So that was a balance there that we selected. And so this is what it is in a nutshell.

>> Maria Varmazis: Excellent. Well, thank you. You anticipated my question about why 2050 very well. So yes, if you could talk me through some of the high-level bullet points and maybe any future space missions that might support that capability, that would be great.

>> Dr. Nelson Pedreiro: So on this initiative, what I challenged our team to do, it's really to envision space at large, the broader space ecosystem. And frankly, it was interesting because as we started, myself included, we were all thinking about this, "What are we going to do this space, right, on the Moon, on Mars, in cislunar, in Low Earth Orbit," and so on. But then I paused and I said, "Hey, you know, how do we get to space access? We've seen over the past few years significantly a decrease in launch cost, right? What else do we think is going to happen in this kind of timeframe? But even beyond that, what's happening on Mars?" Because what we do in space, the systems are designed, they're built, today they are all done on Mars, the workforce, and so on, so we really took a step back and spent at least a little bit of time thinking about what's happening on Mars, how to get access to space, and then of course, we're all passionate about space, we spend a majority of time thinking about space. Now, in terms of missions, we cast a very broad net. At Lockheed over the years, our portfolio is very broad. But every mission falls in one of these three categories, right, to protect, to command, and to explore. And frankly, when you think more broadly about aerospace industry, aerospace community, if you will, beyond Lockheed and so on, most of the missions we do, they fall onto those three categories. So this is what we've been doing over the past several decades, and this is what we foresee doing in the future. So when we talk about which missions, it's really a broad set of missions. It's remote sensing where you have assets in space looking down on Mars for various different reasons. It's really communications, right, communication satellites, communication to the public, broadband communication, protected communication to the military. It's really, you know, broad at large. Communicating as we establish a presence on the Moon, Mars, and beyond, so communicating into deep space, into Moon and Mars, cislunar, and then exploring. Actually, the timing for this conversation is great, right, because just recently you had OSIRIS-REx bring back the capsule. And we are all, you know, eager to see what the scientists are going to find on those samples there, so explore. And actually, not so recently as O-REx, but it looks like every day we have some new discovery from James Webb Space Telescope, right? So my team, you know, in my prior role that I'm just transitioning out, they actually built a near-infrared camera, which is one of the primary scientific instruments [inaudible] we have that provided those remarkable images that, you know, help us learn so much about our origins in the universe and so on. So it's really a broad -- guess I could -- you know, I could pick one, and if you'd like to do that, I can definitely do that. I could pick one or two missionaries and delve a little bit deeper in terms of the technologies and so on, but really broad and including defense, the defense aspect of that.

>> Maria Varmazis: If you could talk a little bit about one or two mission areas, I would be fascinated to hear more.

>> Dr. Nelson Pedreiro: Let me start then with what we think is going to be happening on Mars that is relevant to the space community and future space missions. So in this kind of timeframe, if we're talking 2050, right, it's time -- it's far enough that we really think we're going to be seeing -- and we're going to drive, we're not just going to be seeing, we're going to drive a whole new level of integration in design and analysis tools. If you look back the past 25 years or so, you know, people who work in the field, they all realize how far along we've come in terms of design and analysis tools for space systems. What we're seeing is another quantum leap in terms of those advancements, to the point where the space professionals, folks like me and, you know, around the industry, we're really going to be able to play a different role where we're going to focus much more in terms of what are the missions, what are the objectives, what do we want to achieve? And a lot of the process of designing, analyzing, and even prototyping is going to be automated. So that's on the design front. Today, we are already seeing mass production of satellites. You look at OneWeb, you look at SpaceX -- actually, Lockheed was -- in years past when we did the Iridium 70 satellites or so, we were -- kind of pioneered that. Today we're actually at a different level, mass producing that. And that's fantastic. We see that continuing accelerating. What we're missing today that we believe we're going to have in this kind of timeframe, 2050, is automating the development and prototyping, right? Development and prototyping today, it's still very human-intensive, very laborious. It's not highly automated. We believe we're going to be able to do that through the automation of design and analysis tools into the automation of manufacturing and so on, but in a manner that's tailored. So think about printing a satellite. Think about no-harness spacecraft integration. When you do things like this, what's exciting about it is that we're now -- the speed of innovation is only limited by the speed of ideas. And we also are going to totally change the whole balance between recurring and nonrecurring costs, right? So think about the production line of spacecrafts, similar to what we have production line for automotive today, but that not all spacecrafts need to be the same because you're inserting your technology and you're tailoring them to the mission. In order for producing and developing -- for developing fast and you're producing on a cadence, now you need to get these assets through space. And so let me talk a little bit about access and then I'll talk about the missions in space. So in terms of access, we've seen a tremendous reduction in cost on that. We see that continuing, and I think that's fantastic. But when we talk about 2050, that's time enough that we should also be exploring different ways to get through space. Think about SpinLaunch. Think about space elevator, right? So I'm trying to be provocative here, but really, really think about it --

>> Maria Varmazis: Space elevator. [Laughs]

>> Dr. Nelson Pedreiro: Yes, absolutely.

>> Maria Varmazis: I mean, I'm a fan of that idea, but man, I -- [laughs]

>> Dr. Nelson Pedreiro: Right; exactly, exactly.

>> Maria Varmazis: Yes.

>> Dr. Nelson Pedreiro: So when you think about a space elevator, right -- and I'm trying to be a little provocative here, but when you think about it, it's not a new concept. It does not violate any laws of physics. It is a really, really hard engineering problem. But if -- we have shown over the years that when we put our minds -- as a community, as an aerospace community, when we put our minds to it and there is the will, we can make things happen. Now, why is that interesting, because it's not only a matter of cost, because it would be costly to develop such a system, but once it's developed, now you have continuous access to space. But it's also a very different kind of access, right, because you -- now you eliminated the launch environment. And when you go look at the systems that we've developed today, a lot of the design features that we have to put on, like [inaudible] it is very -- six-and-a-half meter, segmented, pristine optical system with exquisite instruments, right, the optical instruments. And you would put that on a launch vehicle and you shake that and you launch it, right?

>> Maria Varmazis: Yes. [Laughs] Yes.

>> Dr. Nelson Pedreiro: And so a lot of the design challenges are associated with just the launch environment. But then when it's in space, it's a more benign environment from that perspective. So if you can -- if we can get something like a space elevator to work, it also totally changes how you design systems and things like that. So we're talking about, you know, not qualitative change, "Hey, I'm going to reduce the cost ten percent." We're talking about quantitative change, right? We can now do things very, very differently, and so on. So that's the part. The other part about access that I wanted to talk about is not just access to space itself, but it's the fact that we've already seeing tremendous interest in cislunar. We talk a lot about Low Earth Orbit, Medium Earth Orbit, and Geostationary, so LEO, MEO, GEO. We're now seeing already a lot of interest in going beyond, and cislunar, and so a little deeper into space. So that's maybe a geographical expansion. But also, there is a political expansion, right? We are seeing -- I like to tell my team that space is cool again, and that's just fantastic. There is private capital coming into space. There's a lot of interest in space that attracts, you know, the most important thing. And now this conversation, right, is the people, is the talent that attracts a new talent. So it's a renaissance in space that we're seeing. I think it's just eye-watering. It's a fantastic time to be in space. We're very fortunate to -- you know, to be here today. But there's also political expansion, right, where in this kind of timeframe, every country will either have their own assets or interests, their own interests in space, even though they might have been manufactured, launched, and operated by partnership with another nation.

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

[ Music ]

Welcome back. Many an IT worker have grumbled about having to maintain legacy systems that are somehow, despite everything, keeping the entire operation running smoothly. Is it written in Cobalt? Yes, sometimes it's best just not to ask how old that system is. Well, actually, speaking of old systems, the programming language, Fortran, which goes back to 1957, it's still holding up a lot of big and dusty old mainframes running government and military programs probably a lot more than you might suspect or care to know. And this is probably not a surprise to any of our listeners of programming knowhow, but yes, the Voyager I and II spacecraft launched in the late 1970s are also running on Fortran. So when you need to send a software patch to spacecrafts that are 15 billion and 12 billion miles away, not only is that deploy time about 18 hours, but yes, it's got to be in the programming language [inaudible] in 1977. And yes, that's Fortran, which means you have to find someone who can program in it. And for our listeners who are not familiar with programming languages, this is like finding someone nowadays with spoken fluency in Latin; not impossible, but slightly below a needle in the haystack level of rarity. And yes, the amazing decades old senior citizens spacecraft Voyagers I and II are still doing pretty darned well for their age, thanks for asking. And NASA is still deploying patches to them, albeit very carefully. The latest updates being sent their way are firstly to avoid a glitch in both spacecraft that occurred on Voyager I last year, that accidentally sent garbled nonsense health and activity data back to Earth. And a second fix going the way of the Voyagers is to help clear up field residue accumulation in the thrusters of both crafts. The software fixes being uploaded to both Voyagers, as I read this on Friday, will help both Voyager I and II continue working and sending back data to Earth for many more years to come. Not bad for a mission that was only supposed to last four years.

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>> Alice Carruth: That's it for "T-Minus" for October the 20, 2023. For additional resources from today's report, check out our show notes at space.n2k.com. We would love to know what you think of this podcast. You can email us at space@n2k.com, or submit the survey in the show notes. Your feedback ensures that we deliver the information that keeps you a step ahead in the rapidly changing space industry. We are 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 Fortune 500 to many of the world's preeminent intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

>> Maria Varmazis: N2K's strategic workforce intelligence optimizes the value of your biggest investment, your people. We make you smarter about your team, while making your team smarter. Learn more at n2k.com. This episode was produced by Alice Carruth, mixing by Elliott Peltzman and Trey Hester, with original music and sound design by Elliott Peltzman. Our executive 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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