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We don't talk about MEO.

York wins a big contract from the SDA. Enough about LEO, Space Force says what about MEO? ISRO testing success for their human spaceflight program. And more.





York has been awarded a contract estimated to be valued over $615 million by the Space Development Agency to provide 62 data relay satellites for the SDA's planned Tranche 2 Transport Layer mesh network in LEO. The US Space Force says they're eyeing MEO for a missile tracking and warning constellation with awards for this constellation expected late 2024. India held a successful  first test flight of the Test Vehicle Demonstration 1 as part of the Gaganyaan human spaceflight program, and more.

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T-Minus Guest

T-Minus is at AIAA’s ASCEND conference in Las Vegas. Our guest today is Ariel Ekblaw, who is co-hosting the Humans in Space Symposium at this year’s ASCEND. Ariel is the CEO and co-founder of the Aurelia Institute. 

You can connect with Ariel on LinkedIn and learn more about Aurelia on their website.

Selected Reading

SDA taps York for 62 Tranche 2 Transport Layer data relay sats to provide ‘global’ coverage

Space Force plans next MEO missile tracking satellite awards by early 2025

SAM.gov Data Bank
Missile warning satellite review completed for U.S. Space Force by Northrop Grumman - Military Embedded Systems

Gaganyaan: India launches test flight ahead of sending crew into space - BBC News

Redwire Awarded Contract to Provide Onboard Computer for ESA’s Comet Interceptor Mission to Study Pristine Comet

Qosmosys Secures Historic US$100 Million in Seed Funding, Sets New Industry Record 

Taking on SpaceX: Why Germany is building its own spaceport – DW

Poland's Leap Into Space: ESA Backs National Satellite Project 

Scientists Just Came Up With a Wild Idea For Making Oxygen on Mars : ScienceAlert

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>> Maria Varmazis: I know a lot of you are pretty busy with the fall conference schedule in full swing. And it's saying something when news over the weekend was this packed. Let's see, quite a bit of news out of the US military space space; a pivotal launch from India, that's a very promising sign, a huge new seed funding round in this cislunar economy, a new spaceport, and the cherry on top of it all, a jetpack? Heck, yes, today we've even got jetpacks in space.

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Today is October 23, 2023. I'm Maria Varmazis, and this is "T-Minus".

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York wins a big contract from the SDA. Enough about LEO, the Space Force says, "What about MEO?" Israel hits another successful testing milestone for their human spaceflight program. And a big hello to everyone who is at AIAA ASCEND Conference in Las Vegas, including our show's producer, Alice Carruth and executive producer, Brandon Karpf. Definitely say hello to them both if you see them around the conference. And we have a little clip from Alice from the conference floor today in our intel briefing for you. And for our show's guest today, we have AIAA ASCEND speaker, Ariel Ekblaw, who is co-hosting the Humans in Space Symposium at this year's ASCEND. Ariel is the CEO and cofounder of the Aurelia Institute. Stay with us for all this and more.

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Let's have a look at today's intel briefing. While speaking at Silicon Valley Space Week's MilSat Symposium in California late last week, Space Development Agency Director Derek Tournear revealed that York has been awarded a contract estimated to be valued over $615 million by the Space Development Agency to provide 62 data relay satellites for the SDA's planned Tranche 2 Transport Layer Mesh Network, which is in Low Earth Orbit, or "LEO". And according to Tournear, this new satellite order is just one part of the 216 satellite strong Tranche 2 Transport Layer that the SDA plans for providing high-speed, high-volume data comms for military users around the world. The 62 satellites that York will be providing is the alpha variant of the three possible variants, alpha, beta, gamma, for the overall transport layer. One of the main distinctions between these variants is the technology for the downlink. While both the alpha and beta variants use laser cross links to talk to each other and ground users, the alpha will use a Ka-band downlink, while the beta will use a UHF tactical SATCOM downlink to talk to military users on the ground or on ships. Tournear also noted that the SDA is actively in contract negotiations with a second vendor for additional alpha variant satellites. Keeping on the news from last week's MilSat Symposium for the moment, and moving on up from LEO, let's head up to Medium Earth Orbit, or "MEO". That's where the Space Force says they're eying a missile tracking and warning constellation. According to "Breaking Defense", awards for this constellation are coming late 2024 or early 2025, for something around 18 satellites. This would be for the Epoch 2 spiral of satellites, which would add onto the capabilities of earlier Epoch 1 satellites and what's called the "spiral development model". That means adding new satellites to the constellation or swapping in updated replacements every two or three years continuously. And this ensures that constellations have tech that's as up to date as possible. And for all those US military satellites going to various orbits from mission warning capabilities, you need a strong network of ground stations to support them and receive all that juicy info from space. And right now it's pretty well established that ground stations are overtaxed and overdue for upgrades. So here's some related and welcomed news in the US mill space, Northrop Grumman says they finalized a critical design review for the Relay Ground Station Asia, planned for a 2025 installation in Guam. This ground station was done as part of a collaboration with the US Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific, and will support operations for the US Space Systems Command. India's big plans for a human spaceflight in Gaganyaan took another very promising step forward over this weekend, with the successful launch of its first test flight of the TV-D1, or Test Vehicle Demonstration 1. No points for a creative name there, but it's descriptive at least. The first attempt for the launch had an anomaly that caused a hold at T-minus five seconds. But they were able to recycle and try to launch again shortly thereafter successfully this time. The goal of the TV-D1 was to test the crew escape system. After the TV-D1 launched, the mission crew triggered the CES and the module deployed its parachutes, and then softly and safely descended into the Bay of Bengal. "With that," says ISRO, "the CES test was a great success." The next test for the Gaganyaan program will be next year, featuring the bilingual humanoid robot, Biometra, to verify that everything is safe for an actual human crew. Let's move on to some contract news now. And Redwire is announcing their new contract with OHB Italy to provide the onboard computer for ISA's Comet Interceptor Mission. This mission, which kicked off last year, will be the first spacecraft to visit a long period comet. The computer will be made by Redwire's Belgium owned subsidiary, Redwire Space NV. And some promising news for anyone keeping an eye on lunar development next, COSMOSIS of Singapore, which is developing a lunar transportation vehicle called "ZeusX", just landed a whopping 100 million US dollars seed funding round. COSMOSIS says they're planning on launching its two-flight models of ZeusX in 2027 and 2029. And the company says they're planning on their IPO by 2028 at the latest. We're always going to cheer news of a spaceport in the works, because well, the world needs more spaceports. And a news story in DW says Germany is working on its own plans for a sea-based spaceport. The German Offshore Spaceport Alliance, Or "GOSA" mobile space platform will be at the northernmost point in Germany's exclusive economic zone in the North Sea, about 350 kilometers from the German coast, with mission control located in Bremen. The GOSA is targeting SmallSat launch providers for use of its platform. And it seems the first customer will be Dutch company, T-Minus; no relation to us but we have to admit, we love the name. Staying in Europe a tick, and Poland says they've received financial backing from ISA for its own national earth observation satellite project called "Camilla". The entire Camilla project has an 85 million-year-old budget, and will be creating a microsatellite constellation for Poland. ISA's financial contribution towards this project will help at various stages, from design and construction, all the way through launch and operation. No details yet on a timeline. Quick note, we spotted online today a space mobility company, GATE Space, successfully held a hot fire for all four thrusters of their GATE Jetpack. Yes, I said, "Jetpack." Jetpacks in space, no less. We look forward to bringing you more information about it when they share it. GATE Space, if you're listening, we would love to hear from you. And now over to Alice Carruth for today's update from AIAA ASCEND.

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>> Alice Carruth: I'm "T-Minus" producer, Alice Carruth, covering the AIAA ASCEND Conference in Las Vegas. Over 1300 people from across the space industry have assembled for the annual space event to discuss the vision of the future of the industry. The show opened with music and performance art, and set the tone for what's going to be an inclusive and diverse event that incorporates all aspects of the industry.

>> We have immense responsibility for our ancestors, for ourselves, and for these future generations that follow. Collaboration is key to realizing all of this. We won't get there if we don't collaborate. And that's what this year's [inaudible] is all about.

>> Alice Carruth: That was Kara Cunzeman, a futurist that works for the Aerospace Corporation and part of the steering committee. We'll be speaking to Kara after the conference to get her overall thoughts on the discussions at this year's event. Over 200 speakers are presenting this week, covering everything from technical papers to holding asteroid debates. Stay with us for Maria's conversation with Ariel Ekblaw. From the Aurelia Institute, they have been pivotal in bringing the Humans in Space pitch competition to this year's conference.

>> Good morning, everyone. I am [inaudible], the CEO of Aurelia, [inaudible] a Humans in Space event. So we began this journey about two years ago, with a simple and clear goal of being prepared for a longer human spaceflight for more people. And along the way, we got to meet with a great [inaudible], and then we made [inaudible] in space.

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>> Alice Carruth: We'll be bringing you more on that as the days progress.

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>> Maria Varmazis: Thank you, Alice. And that's our intel briefing for today. As always, we have links to all of today's stories in our show notes, as well as a few extras you might like. Check them all out at space.n2k.com, and just click on today's episode for more. Hey, "T-Minus" crew, every Monday we produce a written intelligence roundup, and it's called "Signals in Space". So if you happen to miss any "T-Minus" episodes, 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 in Space" in our show notes, or at space.n2k.com.

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Today I'm speaking with Ariel Ekblaw, CEO and cofounder of the Aurelia Institute, which is a nonprofit space architecture R&D lab, education and outreach center, and policy hub. As we've mentioned earlier in the show, the Aurelia Institute is a major force in bringing the Humans in Space pitch competition to AIAA ASCEND this year, which Ariel will be telling us all about. But first, I asked her to introduce us to the Aurelia Institute.

>> Ariel Ekblaw: So we founded Aurelia Institute, along with my two cofounders, with this vision of creating the next generation of architecture in space, the infrastructure that will actually allow us to bring more people into orbit, democratize assets to space, and also make it a life worth living. There is a lot of human-centric design thinking about the future of thriving in space, not just surviving that we get to do. And overall, Aurelia tries to accomplish this goal in three different ways. One, we do a lot of in-house R&D. We do educational outreach. So we run a zero-gravity flight program every year, some additional courses that people can sign up for. And then we also have a small and budding kind of growing think-tank on the policy side to try to make sure that we are holding ourselves to account to be good ethical actors in the space industry, but also thinking about what it means more broadly to be good stewards of the [inaudible].

>> Maria Varmazis: What a fantastic mission. Thank you for sharing that. I don't often get to hear people talking about being good stewards and ethics in these conversations, so it's really refreshing to hear that. I loved hearing that. One of the many things I'm sure you all are working on has to do with ASCEND this year, and that is part of the reason that we're talking to you today. The Humans in Space competition, I have to admit, I'm coming in really cold on this one. I don't know much about it. So would you mind telling me a bit about your involvement with it and also what it is?

>> Ariel Ekblaw: Yes, absolutely. So this is the second year of Humans in Space. The first year, it was called "Care in Space", sponsored and hosted by Boryeong, you know, the amazing South Korean health company. They have made an amazing strategic decision to get involved in the space industry. So they are investors in Axiom, and they are hosting this -- essentially an innovation competition. So last year, they did this when they selected a group of startup companies. I had the pleasure of being a judge in their first year. Now, the second year, they've expanded the program to humans in space. We are a cohost along with Boryeong and Axiom. And the mission behind this year's program is to again solicit fantastic early-stage space companies that explicitly have a space health focus. We will begin an application process for researchers this year, so you also didn't have to have a company already founded; you could be an academic kind of thinking about a new product that you're going to spin out of your lab. And then all of the groups that applied have been down-selected, got to go through an incubation program, teaching, learning how to pitch, how to prepare your, you know, work for investment, how to communicate to a space audience. They've gone through this program over the course of the fall. And then the finalists get a chance to pitch live all onstage at ASCEND to Boryeong, Axiom, and Aurelia. So we're investing in the companies that win the challenge, and then also making sure that we introduce those companies to our peers and our network of investors to help them really get going on their roadmap to a sustainable business in the space sector.

>> Maria Varmazis: What a fantastic ramp right there for people, and companies, and research organizations that are on the cusp of something I'm sure really great. So you mentioned this is the second year. Are there any -- anything you're really specifically really interested -- and I don't want to give anything away for the finalists who will be competing, but I'm just very curious to hear where your thoughts are.

>> Ariel Ekblaw: Yes, absolutely. So again, yes, I can't show you specific names, but to get you a little bit of a sneak peek into the really fantastic categories that emerged this year, there are a number of therapeutic companies that are doing exactly what we want to see. So they're developing a product that could really impact life on Earth with their therapeutic approach or with their medical device, but then they also stand opportunity to have this serve kind of a growing astronaut population or a civilian spaceflight population in space, and that's not something that we do want to see, I think, to be credible right now. For a space health company, you have to understand there's not a huge market of people living in space for your space product, and there's so much need on the Earth. We really do want to be investing in space companies where that tech can translate between space and Earth, and so we're really happy to have seen several examples within the cohort already this year that are hitting that wonderful balance.

>> Maria Varmazis: That's fantastic. And this is admittedly a broad question. but for companies that are listening that are not competing this year, any advice that maybe you could share for making their space business more relevant or -- I know that's -- it's going to be very dependent on what they're doing, of course. But there are a lot of people who are trying how to figure out how to make things work and build that business case who may not have gotten the opportunity this year. But any advice that you would be willing to share?

>> Ariel Ekblaw: Yes, exactly. That's a great question. So one of the things that we look for in this program -- and if your company is considering applying next year -- we hope to run the program again next year, what we be to think about the ways in which you're actually going to deploy the tech, particularly if it's a hardware. Now, that's actually where we come in. I don't really -- and we have this zero gravity flight program where we welcome startups. Even outside of our, you know, MIT network, we welcome startups to come and fly with us, get that initial data that they need from a hardware prototype if it needs to fly in microgravity. And so if you're thinking about applying for the program, let us know if that's something that you would be interested in, and definitely highlight maybe microgravity doesn't work if you're a biology company -- the response time for biology can be longer than what you can get on a zero G flight, let us know what you would need. Is it an international space station mission, you know, for six months to actually be able to see the response that you need in your system, reach out. And when you're applying, have a good answer for what your kind of plan of deployment would be within hardware. The other thing I would say is space companies need to be able to show, especially if they're early-stage, how they're actually going to build into a significant market. So do that research ahead of time. Don't make us imagine what your market might be, do the calculations about what your, you know, total adjustable market -- what your TAN might be, and then what your niche market, your beach head, you know, kind of the first way that you're going to be able to actually address, what size that is. And then if you come in with that, I think that will already place to you, you know, farther ahead than a lot of the early-stage concepts that we're seeing.

>> Maria Varmazis: Fantastic. Thank you so much for that. I'm curious since we're talking about ASCEND, I figure I should just ask, anything outside of this program that you're particularly looking forward to or anything that just comes to mind when you think about ASCEND this year?

>> Ariel Ekblaw: Yes. ASCEND is a fantastic program. I think it's really a peak conference in the space industry. AIAA does an amazing job of pulling together different subsectors of space into a really interesting [inaudible] to come. So a few things to look out for; I'm going to shamelessly plug my own panel here. But I'm running a space architecture panel. So we'll get to hear from some of the leading voices who are designing life in space. There's also a really fantastic founders' panel that Rob Meyerson, former president of Blue Origin, is pulling together with George Whitesides and a couple of us, and that will be also on the opening day, and kind of give you a sense of where the industry is at overall. And then the last thing I would say is come and meet the companies. You know, if you're coming to ASCEND and you're excited, come meet the Humans in Space companies. They're going to be milling around after they pitch. They will be at the receptions. They are potentially your future, you know, customers, or collaborators, or just fellow, you know, colleagues in the industry. So we'd love for people to look out for that.

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

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Welcome back. Now, what can't cyanobacteria do? These little guys photosynthesize, so they are pretty self-sufficient with access to sunlight, even if it is the most scant trickle. And some of them can even survive in the harshest imaginable climates. So pitch darkness somehow, check; extreme temps, check; ionizing radiation, check. One kind is called -- and apologies if I mess this name up, it's a dozy, "Chroococcidiopsis Cubana". And it specifically can do all of the above and resist desiccation; in other words, drying out. So all these superpowers, you know, the ability to withstand low temps, low moisture, and extreme radiation, and it can still produce oxygen all the while. Now, I can think of a few places on Earth where that would be super helpful. And certainly for space applications, master biologists have been studying chroococcidiopsis for many years. And an experiment with this bacterium actually went up to the ISS in 2014, in fact. And a specific species of chroococcidiopsis -- I mentioned it earlier, called "Chroococcidiopsis Cubana", is being tested in a bio-coding [phonetic], or living paint, potentially for oxygen generation on Mars. Now, this is not a golden ticket, or perhaps I should say a green ticket, to easy breathing on Mars. For every kilo of the green living paint, it puts out a little under half that weight in oxygen, which is pretty cool. But it's about 400 grams of oxygen per kilo of the paint. Now, that is pretty notable, but still, you would need an awful lot of paint, given an astronaut crew is projected to need 500 metric tons of oxygen a year. Still, the thinking is every bitty bit helps, especially from a very small but very mighty bacteria.

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That's it for "T-Minus" for October 23, 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 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'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. 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. We'll see you tomorrow.

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