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The House has a Speaker and the FAA has a boss.

Michael Whitaker confirmed as FAA Administrator. Axiom to send all UK crew to the ISS. Airbus and Northrop Grunman teaming up on SKYNET. And more.





The US Senate has confirmed Michael Whitaker as the new administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration. UK Space Agency and Axiom Space announce a new partnership to bring a four person crew to orbit composed entirely of UK astronauts. Airbus and Northrop Grumman have formed a strategic partnership to compete for a part of the UK's military satellite communications program called SKYNET, and more.

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T-Minus Guest

T-Minus Producer Alice Carruth is speaking to Patrick O’Neill from the ISS National Lab, reigning Miss England, Jessica Gagen, and Deputy NASA Administrator Pam Melroy at the AIAA ASCEND Conference.

Selected Reading

Senate confirms Michael Whitaker to run Federal Aviation Administration

UK Space Agency and Axiom Space Sign Agreement on Plans for Historic Human Spaceflight Mission

Airbus and Northrop Grumman shake on pact for UK’s lucrative SKYNET satellite program

Terran Orbital Awarded $4.7 Million Contract by European Space Agency

Ariane 6 Update 

China Focus: China discloses tasks of Shenzhou-17 crewed space mission-Xinhua- CN 

Space startup Skyroot unveils Vikram-1 rocket, set to launch satellites next year - The Economic Times 

ULA targets Christmas Eve for inaugural Vulcan rocket launch, CEO says- CNBC 

Spire Global Awarded Subcontract by Riverside Research for United States Space Force Space Domain Awareness Program

Protecting our critical satellite infrastructure: the importance of space-based infrastructure to humanity and its status within NATO

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>> Maria Varmazis: US politics play out with more drama than a telenovela. For example, the FAA has been without an administrator for over 18 months. The US House has spent nearly three weeks without a speaker. Thankfully, both positions have finally been filled. Now it's just a matter of sorting out funding for the entire US government. Let's get back to work, shall we?

[ T-Minus Intro ]

Today is October 25, 2023. I'm Maria Varmazis and this is T-Minus. Michael Whitaker was confirmed as the new administrator of the FAA. Axiom partners with the UK to send a four-man crew to the ISS. Airbus and Northrop Grumman are teaming up to take on Skynet. And T-Minus producer, Alice Carruth is wrapping up the ASCEND conference in Las Vegas. She'll be bringing you her chat with NASA's deputy administrator, Pam Melroy. So, stay with us for that. Onto today's intelligence briefing. The US Senate has confirmed Michael Whitaker as the new administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration. Whitaker was previously the deputy administrator of the FAA, and with his approval to the top job, the FAA now finally has an administrator after going nearly 19 months without one. There's a new partnership between the UK Space Agency and Axiom space. With the goal of using a commercial space company to bring a four-person crew to orbit with that crew composed entirely of UK astronauts. We already know the identity of one of the crew, and that would be Tim Peake, who last flew as an ESA astronaut to the ISS in 2015. He's coming out of retirement to lead this mission. This announcement between the UK Space Agency and Axiom Space comes amid a big push in the UK government to promote the space industry domestically, especially in alignment with its national space strategy. And the goal of this mission would be to conduct scientific research aboard a two-week mission on orbit. And the UK Space Agency is looking for proposals from universities, research institutions and commercial space companies for ideas on what kinds of research the crew should conduct in that mission. George Freeman, MP, Minister of State at the Department for Science, Innovation, and Technology said this regarding this new partnership: "The prospect of a historic UK mission with Axiom Space has the potential to inspire a whole new generation to reach for the stars while supporting our efforts to build one of the most innovative and attractive space economies in the world. So, I look forward to seeing the next stage of this exploratory work develop. We want to put the UK at the forefront of the global race for commercial space investment. Continue to support scientists and engineers to test new technologies and carry out important research, and ultimately bring the benefits back to the people and businesses across the country." Airbus and Northrop Grumman have formed a strategic partnership to compete for a part of the UK's multi-billion-dollar massive military satellite communications program called Skynet -- no relation to "The Terminator" baddy. Airbus and Northrop have signed a memorandum of understanding to leverage their technology and expertise to meet Skynet's competition requirements. Three companies are vying for the huge contract with the UK Ministry of Defense and those would be Lockheed Martin, Telushelenia Space, and the aforementioned Airbus and Northrup Grumman team up. All three companies are taking part in Skynet's prequalification questionnaire phase and the UK Ministry of Defense says by or before the end of this year, they'll be set to open the invitation to negotiate phase with a contract value of 1.5 billion pounds for the design and manufacture of up to three wide band geostationary orbit satellite systems. Those three satellite systems are just one part of the overall Skynet program. The entire Skynet project is estimated to be worth 6 billion pounds, or $7.3 billion US. For the wide band satellite systems though, the chosen contractor is expected to deliver the contract from December 2025 to December 2040 with new satellites entering service between 2028 and 2036. It's been a really good two days for Terran Orbital, hasn't it? We talked about them in yesterday's show and their news that they're working with Lockheed Martin for SDA Tranche 2 satellite busses, and today, Terran Orbital is sharing the news that their wholly owned European subsidiary, Tyvak, has been tapped by ESA as a prime contractor for a new nanosatellite. The contract with ESA, worth 4.5 million euro, will be to deploy a nano satellite that will be an in-orbit service demonstration, as it will perform proximity operation maneuvers from and around ESA's uncrewed robotic laboratory called Space Rider. As Space Rider is intended to be reusable after completing its missions and then returning to Earth, the nanosatellite that Tyvak will develop will have ongoing recurring utility in order to keep Space Rider in tip-top shape. Ariane Group posted an update today straight from Kourou, French Guiana, that the Ariane 6 just completed a combined test loading, which is a full-scale fueling test where the Vulcan 2.1 engine's process was also tested. This was the third fueling test for the Ariane 6 ground teams and another step towards qualifying the highly anticipated new launcher for Europe. China's manned space agency has announced that the Shenzhou-17 crew, which is due to be launched on Thursday will carry out extra vehicular activities, install extra vehicular payloads, and conduct space station maintenance. The Shenzhou-17 crew, consisting of three young Taikonauts -- the youngest crew that China has sent to space so far, will take over from the in-orbit Shenzhou-16 crew and will spend about six months on the space station. Indian space company, Skyroot, has shown off its Vikram-1 rocket ahead of their inaugural launch in 2024. Vikram-1 stands seven stories tall and is a multi-stage rocket with the capacity to deploy orbital satellites. Vikram-1 is Skyroot's second rocket following the successful launch of the Vikram-S rocket in November last year. United Launch Alliance has announced that it plans to launch the inaugural flight of its Vulcan rocket on December 24, just in time to see Santa. ULA is continuing to build and qualify the upper stage of the rocket before the vehicles plan liftoff from Cape Canaveral Florida. And what a great Christmas that will be for the team. That concludes today's briefing. You'll find links to further reading on all the stories we've mentioned in the show notes. We've also included an announcement from Spire Global, and a piece on the importance of protecting NATO satellite infrastructure. They're all at space.n2k.com. Stay with us for Alice's roundup of events at ASCEND, and her chat with NASA deputy administrator, Pam Melroy. Hey T-Minus crew, if you find this podcast useful, please do us a favor and share a five-star rating and a short review in your favorite podcast app. That will help other space professionals like you to find the show and join the T-Minus crew. Thank you so much. We really appreciate it.

>> Alice Carruth: I'm Alice Carruth at AOAA's ASCEND conference in Las Vegas. There's been a lot of discussion about the future of space, but the event has also given people in the industry the opportunity to talk about the exciting events happening right now. Yesterday's news was dominated by Space-X and their record-breaking streak including the upcoming commercial resupply services mission for NASA. I took the opportunity to find out more about that mission from the ISS national lab.

>> Patrick O'Neal: Yeah. Hi. My name is Patrick O'Neal. I'm the public affairs and outreach lead for the International Space Station national laboratory and I have the privilege of working alongside research teams that are sending investigations to the orbiting laboratory, Space-X's 29th commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station will be launching from Kennedy Space Station in Florida. As of right now, we're slated to launch no earlier than November 5, at 11:01 p.m., so it will be a beautiful night launch. We have an array of investigations that are flying, I think that we have more than 25 payloads in total, but we have everything from life sciences, physical sciences, material sciences, we have technology demonstrations. We even have a whole bunch of student investigations that are flying too.

>> Alice Carruth: I find in the industry most people know exactly what goes on in the ISS, but outside of people that work in space, how do you convey to them what kind of experiments are going on in the International Space Station and how it related to them in everyday life?

>> Patrick O'Neal: Well, that's the big one right there, is it's not so much just how many, but how does it relate to you and I? As a communicator by nature, sometimes that's a very difficult thing is to -- because space is very complex, and in some ways, it might be looked upon as very intimidating. So, it's trying to bring it down. So, some of the examples of payloads that are going to be flying on this upcoming mission, we have a lung investigation. So, if you take a therapeutic, you know, as we get older, we just get a lot of guck in like, our arteries and our valves and what not, and it kind of clogs the system of us being able to get things down there appropriately. Well, we have researchers over at University of California, Santa Barbara, that are trying to find a way to get these therapeutics that no so much get the guck out of the way, but rather, get the drugs down there even though there is guck, and do that more effectively so that those that have respiratory issues are able to get therapeutics that are delivered to them so that they could be, you know, healed as quickly as possible, so that's a fun one. A real cool one that's been happening recently is -- and this is real -- almost like Sci-Fi. We have a bio fabrication facility on the space station, so a bio printer. It's like the notion of potentially trying to print organs, tissues, things like that, that, you know, could be pertinent to us if we're living in -- in a space station environment. But what if you're also able to develop these things in space and bring them back down to patients on Earth? So, you have a company called Red Wire Space. A few months ago, they were actually able to successfully print a human meniscus and bring it back down to Earth, and are analyzing that as we speak. So, they're going to be building on that on this upcoming mission where they're going to be looking at cardiac tissue.

>> Alice Carruth: You have brought Miss England over to the conference this year to work with.

>> Patrick O'Neal: Yeah.

>> Alice Carruth: What made you collaborate with Miss England, and what do you get now of that partnership?

>> Patrick O'Neal: I was at a Space X crew mission recently, and the reigning Miss United States was at that, and she is a PhD student. And literally, the very next day, I see something pop up that Jessica is the reigning Miss England, and that she is a recent aerospace engineer and graduate and is a STEM advocate and a science communicator. So, I just reached out to her, and I said, "Would you ever have any interest in going to conferences to talk about your interest in driving the STEM initiative, or even going to rocket launches and generating content? Because again, she has a strong following, and she also has the ability to inspire the next generation of young females, and just individuals who are interested in space as a whole. So, I thought it was a great --

>> Alice Carruth: I spoke to the reigning Miss England, Jessica Gagen, about her work as a STEM ambassador and what being involved with the ASCEND conference has been like for her.

>> Jessica Gagen: I did aerospace engineering at university; realized that there weren't really many girls on my course, and I thought, I want to change that. I want to promote opportunities for women in STEM. There is a massive umbrella of things we need in space. We need biologists, so we need chemists. We need people who have English degrees. We need people that can do everything and communicate. It is so inclusive. And so, I'm really looking forward to networking some more; meeting more incredible people. And then, I'm actually also on one of the panels discussing how we can engage the public through the International Space Station.

>> Alice Carruth: The opening remarks on Tuesday were delivered by deputy administrator, Pam Melroy, who I spoke to about the NASA vision for the future of the space industry.

>> Pam Melroy: Well Alice, we feel very proud of the things that we have done to help promote commercial industry, but we have done it through partnerships. We find partners who have similar interests in their technology that support our mission to explore for the benefit of humanity. And we've also found that our international partners are very keen to join us as well. So, what we are seeing here is the result of more than a decade of investment. Both by private capital and our other government agencies, but also, by NASA. And that's why it's such a vibrant ecosystem. I mean, the conversations we're having range everything from commercial space stations to a lunar economy.

>> Alice Carruthers: How is you influence as being a former astronaut really part of your role now as a NASA administrator? How do find that being part of that, or having gone to space, has influenced your outcome and the way you approach things as an administrator?

>> Pam Melroy: Well, I'm -- as deputy administrator, being a former astronaut means that safety is always going to be at the top of mind for the things that we do. Especially when we send a crew to orbit. And the administrator, who also has been to space, and our associated administrator, our number three, all three of us have been to space. So, we're really focused on safety. We're focused on having a positive culture at NASA. One that everyone can speak up if we need to, but also, it brings out the best ideas because we're doing things that no one's done before. That's actually core to the astronaut philosophy as well. You never know who -- which person on the crew with which background is actually going to have the solution to a problem no one's ever seen before. So, that innovation, that diversity of thought, and that focus on mission success and safety, is very much a part of the way we approach the agency.

>> Alice Carruthers: So, as you're talking about safety, you did mention in your opening speech about cyber security and how important that is in a role. What is NASA doing to be progressive and trying to push the cybersecurity, not just for the government-owned vehicles, but also for the grown commercial space industry.

>> Pam Melroy: Well, I'll be honest with you, I think it's an area NASA needs to invest more in, and we've charged our chief technology officer to bring some of that outside thinking. We care a lot about the cybersecurity of our own assets, particularly the space station. And whenever we have humans involved, but also for our, you know, key flagship missions. But I really think that there is more research that can be done, that will help us unleash some innovation around this. I think we're learning a lot, so we need to be talking to each other.

>> Alice Carruthers: I'm going to switch up a little bit and talk about workforce. It's been a real key discussion here at this conference for the last few days. How we bring in a more inclusive workforce. What is NASA doing to really approach that?

>> Pam Melroy: Well, we are very fortunate. I have to say, I think that NASA is one of the best-known brands in the world. And what that means is it inspires people to want to join us. But we're not sitting on our laurels. I think one of the things that I have found is if we're truly looking for a diverse workforce, which is what we need to solve our complicated, technical problems, we need to actually get out and meet people where they are. We can't just trumpet, hey, please join us; look at how awesome we are. We actually have to engage. We have to engage with communities. We have to engage with schools. We have to engage with where people are getting their news so that they know that they can join NASA either in a job or if they have a small business, how they can compete and get some assets and resources to do what they're doing. So, we're trying to do a lot more outreach to meet people where they are, to make that difference.

>> Alice Carruthers: I know NASA has an incredible group of people that do a lot of STEM outreach. Have you thought about how we can bring space into education and get that workforce ready going forward?

>> Pam Melroy: That's a great question. We just signed an MOU with the Department of Education who's really tasked with K through 12 education, but that's, you know, that's the future, right? That's our seed corn of the future. It's the future workforce that will be here. The future workforce that will be in my job at some point in the future. So, yes. We do think that that K through 12 focus is really critical. But again, we need to find partners who are already there, who are -- already have access to large numbers of students. We shouldn't be trying to recreate that. Instead, we should find those partners and then go with them to help them develop all of the things that they need; educational resources and so forth to get that workforce ready for all the exciting things we're doing.

>> Alice Carruthers: So, you mentioned a little bit of that international collaboration, which I love to hear about. There was the news that Belarus has just signed on with China for their lunar program. What are you doing to try and encourage more of your allies to come and join the Artimis accords, and are we getting further with that?

>> Pam Melroy: Yes. We are actually thrilled to see partnerships internationally. I think it's critically important. The Artimis accords, we think, are very important because they're taking that next step beyond the Outer Space Treaty to talk about really simple principles like transparency, non-interference, but also about collaboration and making sure that we're, you know, if something happens, we're there to back each other up and support them. So, along to that end, the Artimis Accord signatories, of which we now have 29 countries all around the globe, we just signed eight up in the last year since the last ASCEND, we're actually having this conversation. How do we get out there and help people understand the value of space for strategic and economic benefit? Especially countries that maybe aren't traditional, you know, don't traditionally have a big space industry, and we're having that conversation. We're also talking about how we can bring the deliberations that we have around transparency and non-interference to other forums like the UN Office of Outer Space Affairs. So, I'll be honest with you, we don't need as much to reach out, because I think our partners are also reaching out around the world, and it's really interesting to see when we get phone calls that say, "Hey, we heard about this from another signatory; can we talk to you?"

>> Alice Carruthers: We'll be wrapping up our thoughts on the conference in tomorrow's show.

>> Maria Varmazis: We'll be right back. Welcome back everybody. When traversing the metaphorical path to space, one should expect to hit some bumps along the way. Dealing with those bumps in the road is a matter of resilience and persistence. And when traversing the literal path to space, bumps in the road are an engineering problem. Potholes. They're not exactly the sexiest thing in space right now, but they are an issue, nonetheless, when we're talking about transporting your orbital rocket to a spaceport on a road that's got lots of them. The first Australian owned and manufactured orbital rocket, made by Gilmore Space Technologies is facing this exact pothole issue in trying to get their launch vehicle safe and sound to go in orbital spaceport at the Abbot Point State Development area on the Queensland coast in northeastern Australia. For the anticipated maiden launch of their Aris rocket, Gilmore will have to get their vehicle off the Australian Gold Coast past the big mango in Bowen -- seriously, look it up. All the way to Bowen's spaceport. And including the mango, that's a journey of 1,200 kilometers on the pothole ridden Bruce Highway. What are some potholes to a launch vehicle that's going to shake and rattle as it goes to space? Well, actually that very sudden gid-donk when you hit a pothole can generate a shock in the hundreds of G's, which is no bueno for a rocket. No. You don't just wrap up a rocket in a bunch of thick blankets and cross your fingers. No. Let's figure out a proper solution here. This is rocket science, after all. And after running four test trips with sensors hooked up to concrete blocks simulating the rockets mass, Gilmore Space says they're ready for Aris's launch in December. They've got the right kind of suspension system, and they've picked the perfect packing foam to protect the rocket. Those have got to be some really big packing peanuts. That's it for T-Minus for October 25, 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 delivers the information that keeps you a step ahead in the rapidly changing space industry. 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. This episode was produced by Alice Carruth. Mixing by Eliott Peltzman [phonetic] and Trey Hester [phonetic]. With original music and sound design by Eliott Peltzman [phonetic]. Our executive producer is Brandon Carff [phonetic]. Our Chief Intelligence Officer is Eric Tillman [phonetic], and I'm Maria Varmazis. Thanks for listening.

[ T-Minus Ending ]

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