Eutelsat and OneWeb complete merger. The FAA concludes its Blue Origin mishap investigation. The US Space Force contracts with SpaceX’s Starshield....
Locations matter for Q3 investments.
Q3 investments favor cyber, defense, and space. SpaceX poised for another Starship launch. GSOA releases Code of Conduct on Space Sustainability. And more.
Q3 reports show investments in startups favor cyber, defense, and space, but funding has dipped across the board. SpaceX poised for another Starship launch for later this week pending an FAA license.. The Global Satellite Operators Association (GSOA) has released its Code of Conduct on Space Sustainability, and more.
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Our guest today is Toby Reinicke, Co-Founder and CTO at Satellite Vu.
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>> Maria Varmazis: Going out on a bit of a limb here, but for a lot of us, the news as of late coming out of Washington, D.C., in terms of government functionality, anyway, really doesn't inspire much confidence, but there is some really encouraging news from the D.C. area on the private investment front that is an intriguing and, dare I say it, an encouraging sign of good things happening.
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Today is November 13, 2023. I'm Maria Varmazis, and this is T-Minus.
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Q3 reports show investments favor cyber, defense, and space. SpaceX is poised for another Starship launch. The Global Satellite Operator's Association has released its code of conduct on space sustainability. And our guest today is Toby Reinicke, co-founder and CTO at Satellite Vu. Stay with us.
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And now a data point to chew on as we start our Monday briefing today. Let's zoom out of it from just the space industry for a second and take a moment to survey the state of startup fundraising within the United States. Carta took a look at the seed and Series A funding rounds in major U.S. metros, comparing the first nine months of 2022 to the first nine months of 2023. Gold stars for you if you guessed that, yeah, funding levels have dipped across the board, but how much they have dipped is highly variable based on your location. Losses of 50% or more, the Bay Area at 52% down, L.A. and Space Beach down 58%. But what's showing resilience in this time of downturn? Areas that are doing a lot of work in cyber, defense, and space. Boulder, for example, its funding dropped 46%, yes, while Houston area funding dipped only 37%, and at the top of the charts for the least amount of change is the metro D.C. area, Washington, D.C., Arlington, and Alexandria, only a touch down at 9%. So yes, by actual dollar amount, the Bay Area is still a juggernaut at about 4.6 billion raised in the first nine months of 2023 compared to the DMV's 450 million, but there's something to be said for a relatively stable market, especially in these times. And speaking of those Q3 reports, Spire Global provided theirs last week with a third quarter revenue increase of 34% year over year to a record $27.3 million. Spire CEO Peter Platzer says, "As more businesses and organizations are leveraging data and insights from space, we are continuing to see this demand translate into profitable growth opportunities for our business." It's certainly a good sign for space data services companies. SpaceX has been teasing the second launch of the Starship Super Heavy since September, and if the latest reports are to be believed, we could finally see a flight later this week. The FAA concluded their investigation into the April mishap some time ago but still has yet to issue a launch license, and as far as we can tell, the Fish and Wildlife Service have not submitted their environmental report for the first test flight, which has caused the delays, but that hasn't stopped reports of a pending launch for November 17th with SpaceX recently stating that Starship, quote, could launch as soon as mid-November pending regulatory approval, and we haven't quite figured out the source of the new date and we're erring on the side of caution with this one. Do we want to see the Starship back in flight? Heck yes. Don't we all? But do we think this may drag on a little longer? Yeah, possibly. Rapid launch cadence is what SpaceX does and it's been on a roll all year. The company launched back-to-back missions this week, transporting 90 payloads on a rideshare on Saturday from Vandenberg in California followed by another Falcon 9 launch from Cape Canaveral on Sunday carrying SES O3b mPOWER satellites into medium Earth orbit. SES says, "With the fifth and sixth O3b mPOWER satellites launched, this system completes the six medium Earth orbit satellites required to offer high-performance network services delivering high throughput, predictable low latency, unique flexibility, and service availability." We'll be bringing you updates from the missions onboard the Transporter-9 rideshare throughout the coming weeks. But SpaceX's success seems to be coming at a huge cost to those working for Elon Musk's rocket company. Reuters has published a piece documenting at least 600 previously unreported workplace injuries. It doesn't paint a happy picture as SpaceX employees say they're paying the price for the billionaire's push to colonize space at a breakneck speed. You can read the report by following the link in our show notes. The Global Satellite Operator's Association, known as GSOA, has released its code of conduct on space sustainability, calling on operators to implement responsible practices that mitigate the risk of in-orbit collision, minimize the threat of non-trackable debris, protect humans in space, and limit effects on optical astronomy. GSOA is a global industry organization representing over 70 members. And Isabelle Mauro, the Director General of GSOA, said in the press release, along with a code of conduct, that "Satellites in all orbits deliver vital satellite connectivity and high throughput broadband services, and while they offer great promises in bridging the digital divide, they must be launched, deployed, operated, and disposed of in a responsible manner." We've included a link to the full code of conduct in our show notes for you. Japan's government plans to establish a new 1 trillion yen, or $6.6 billion fund, in a bid to develop the country's outer space industry. The fund will be managed by the country's space agency JAXA and will be allocated over a 10-year period. Sanae Takaichi, Japan's minister in charge of space development, said, "We believe it is a necessary fund to speed up our country's space development so we don't lag behind the increasingly intensifying international competition." French company Agenium Space has announced a successful validation of its in-orbit object detection demonstrator using Edge AI technology. The demonstrator has been integrated on Loft Orbital's EM-3 satellite in space and has used Edge AI technology's capability to detect targeted objects in images acquired by an optical sensor. Agenium Space says their mission is to make space payloads more intelligent and autonomous with Edge AI software and services. And we have a little sad news from our friends at Starfish Space. The company's Otter Pup mission, which launched in June this year, has come to an end. The in-space docking mission has overcome many hurdles, and after an emergency release sent the vehicle into a tailspin, the company worked to stabilize it on orbit successfully and worked to find another spacecraft for it to dock with, but after 15 hours of firing the Otter Pup thrusters, the vehicle experienced a propulsion anomaly. Starfish is continuing to investigate the problem, but the company has said that it seems that there's no longer a chance of the Otter Pup performing a docking mission. Just remember, there is no such thing as failure in space. This is always an opportunity to learn and develop the craft. We wish Starfish the best of luck as they prepare for their next mission in 2024.
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But we're always here to finish on a high note here at T-Minus. The teams for the 2024 Spaceport America Cup have been selected. Congratulations to the 157 teams that have made the cut and are working on their rockets to launch from New Mexico next June. You'll find the full team list along with links to further reading on all the stories we've mentioned in our show notes. Hey, T-Minus crew, every Monday we produce a written intelligence roundup. It's called "Signals and 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, and you can sign up for "Signals and Space" in our show notes or at our website, space.n2k.com.
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Our guest today is Toby Reinicke, co-founder and CTO at Satellite Vu. Toby started our conversation by explaining to me more about Satellite Vu's work on the world's first high-resolution thermal imagery from a recently launched thermal imaging satellite called the "HotSat-1."
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>> Toby Reinicke: Satellite Vu is and will be launching satellites. We have one in space, launched back in June this year. It's a thermal heat-seeking sensor satellite which can detect heat emissions on the globe. We are a company that's very in tune with what's happening in the climate sphere of the world. We'd like to help detect and report on any wasted heat, any heat sources that could be made more efficient and help in general to lower the heat output of any structures in the world.
>> Maria Varmazis: That is fascinating that you have a thermal imaging satellite. Can you tell me a bit about the genesis of that?
>> Toby Reinicke: Thermal imaging has been around for a while, much lower resolutions and much more science mission-based, and we saw an opportunity here by partnering with one of the companies that we're partnering with, so it's Space Technology Limited, STL, who've been building satellite for us, and they had this mission concept, which was showing us the potential of having a high-resolution thermal imager in space, and that really hadn't been done before. At that time, we were still one of the first people to think about this commercially, other than science programs, and at three and a half meters that we are trying to achieve, that was magnitudes better than what's out there. So that kind of came together in 2017, 2018. We saw the concept. We looked at the commercial ideas around it. We thought, this is cool. We should really try and do this. I think there's going to be a massive market need. So Anthony Baker and myself, basically, went on this path, hired some very clever people to try and do the data analysis for us and do the data processing for us, talk to STL, push them on the sort of specification that we could get out of them, and three years later, we launched a satellite with exactly what we needed.
>> Maria Varmazis: That's amazing. So that, yeah, that brings us to HotSat-1. I'd love for our listeners who don't know about it, can you walk us through, when did it launch and when did we start getting really meaningful information from it?
>> Toby Reinicke: We kind of started getting, in a way, meaningful information from the sort of camera that was going to go on the HotSat for years prior to this, so we actually flew the camera on planes to evaluate what kind of data would be doing for us. Outside itself, launched on the SpaceX rocket back in June, it's been going through testing up until about two weeks ago, three weeks ago. Because it's the first of its kind, it needs to have all the validation done, obviously, but during that commissioning phase, as we call it, we've had some excellent data. We had our first light image, as you can see there. We've had that for quite a while and it's been really hard just to sit on it and not want to show the whole world and shout about it because we were waiting for the right time -- for the right time and also for more data to show because we just didn't want to be the first one saying, "Look, we're good, it works, go on," but we wanted to show the actual use cases of it, which I believe we've done, actually. And so since the 11th of this month where we got the satellite, we've been doing integrations and we are hoping to go live with a fully-fledged commercial service in the next couple of weeks.
>> Maria Varmazis: There are some fascinating use cases here, and three and a half meter resolution, there have got to be some fascinating insights at that level of resolution. So do you have a favorite case study you want to walk us through? I'm sure it's hard to pick, but --
>> Toby Reinicke: Fire is an obvious one. We can detect motion of the fire as well. It's 60-second video, up to, anyway, so we can analyze that and show which direction it's going and then highlight and focus on the critical infrastructure that's being affected by either residential or economical. So fire is one, and then we actually started working on this quite a long time ago as well just to demonstrate what thermal can do for the world, but looking at urban heat islands, we have a nice Las Vegas image there which shows the tarmac, all the stone structures really warming and heating up and causing a lot of heat within the city itself. I think anyone who's been there can probably feel that in the summer. And we've done -- once you combine, effectively, that sort of data set with things like who's living there, what's the demographic, what's the vulnerability status, that kind of stuff, you can actually start to help the city councils, the town planners, whatever else, to make sure that their cities are more resilient and can adapt to the climate change that's happening.
>> Maria Varmazis: I want to go back briefly to the wildfires because, again, the image is very dramatic fires. They're dramatic by their nature. I live in the northeastern United States. That smoke from the many Canadian wildfires definitely impacted me this year. If you could walk me through in your own words a bit about the data that you saw and also maybe a bit about how it was used or how it could be used.
>> Toby Reinicke: Our satellite will cover the globe and we'll be able to revisit the same place on Earth once every day, roughly, because we can image day and night, and because we can point the satellite at fairly oblique angles, we can cover quite a large area at each orbit. So I guess the use case here is we could cover the same place on Earth, when it comes to the fire, once a day. We can downlink the data fairly rapidly. We can process the data even faster and have that in the hands of the people that care about monitoring and fighting the fires within minutes of downlink but also within hours of actually acquiring it, and that compared to what we know is happening at the moment whereas the flying planes there, they're acquiring data, they're flying home, the downloading data, they're processing data, that's six to eight hours of delay between getting the data to the people that need it and by that time has moved on and it's tricky. So that's very much what we're trying to aim for. In the future, we are looking at iterations of the satellite capability to have things like being able to process things on board so that we don't have to send down the whole file. It's just literally a little outline of where the thing is at that time, send it down to the person on the ground straight away, so it's a much, much shorter loop to get data from.
>> Maria Varmazis: Yeah, that time to -- response in that time to meaningful response really is a game-change, and I'm wondering, who are you imagining your customer base is for this kind of information?
>> Toby Reinicke: So it's anyone that's interested in wildfire detections, I guess. We have talked to some partners already who are in the wildfire insights business and they have large customer bases already, and us as a small startup, we don't have the capacity to follow all our leads. We don't have the capacity to have a sales team that goes to all the kind of partners and end users, so we're very happy to partner with the company or companies that have done this already that are in the space and have developed insights and actual activity, actionable insights from various bits of data so that we can show our case, our ability, so that we can get our data to customers quicker rather than going through the whole sales cycle and actually getting it to them in the way that they need it. So whilst we can partner with people that are already doing fire analysis, we can also definitely partner with the Canadian wildfire service, which we talked to previously, talked to the Australians because they're heavily affected as well, and everyone is very keen to get our data. It could also be something that there's this disaster charter that we're going to be subscribing to, so at some point, our data will be made available through that for any large-scale fires that have been categorized as such.
>> Maria Varmazis: I really wanted to hear your thoughts on how this kind of information can help us get closer to net zero, which is obviously -- I just want to kind of hear in your own words. Your thoughts on that, and maybe more broadly, also, how Earth observation satellites can help in that goal as well.
>> Toby Reinicke: Absolutely. I'll start with us, and then I'll move to the broader goal, I guess. So as heat, heat-identifying satellite, we can detect, effectively, industrial activity and it's at that sort of level that we're really focusing on and are somewhat pledged and also targeted at helping affect the climate change and going towards net zero. So we believe we are in a position at some point to -- the point soon when we have developed the processes and the products to offer a range of customers and a range of stakeholders in this, a unique and independent, basically, an independent verification of what's going on in industry, and it is manufacturing industry, by definition, because it's going to be creating heat, so it's easier for us to go for that, so any sort of refineries, cement plants. We've got some very specific examples here, but there's a lot of industry which creates heat. A lot of those industries are regulated very heavily in the countries that have good regulations and policies. The people selling those policies struggle to see the outcomes of those -- of any changes they've put in place, and they struggle to make sure that the verification of such is done in an efficient manner, so that's something that we can really help with. But even more so, when it's large corporations that have international energy structures and processing structures across the world where maybe the data availability isn't so easy from on -- in-house sensors or whatever else, we can, right? We fly around the globe every day. We can actually take pictures of anywhere in the world and report on the sort of efficiency changes or breaches, if you like, of policy and regulations that have been imposed on these large corporations. That's very much the angle that we need to go down much because we -- the companies themselves might be interested in this if they have lack of data themselves. It's to make a real change. It's going to be to support the policymakers and the regulators to have more teeth, effectively, in order to be able to say, "Well, you aren't doing this, so develop." In general, for the whole -- for the rest of the Earth observation world, I think there's -- it's a large topic. It's a huge amount of use cases where the approach to net zero can be helped. You've obviously got a lot of the optical and the multispectral satellite imagery. You're looking for changes in the urban sphere. You're looking for changes in vegetation and agriculture and how efficiently that's being done and monitoring that to make sure that it can be done most efficiently, both checking up on it, again, in the sort of legislation, that kind of way, but also helping to be efficient, so using satellite data for farming, for ag, for harvesting, etc., has been done for a long time, but it's just getting better and better with data availability and resolution. And then when it comes to SAR and basically being able to map nighttime through clouds all the time, things like soil moisture, using SAR or microwave and that kind of stuff can really help with the makeup of the biosphere and making sure that that is also being maintained and helped to not come into crisis as quickly as the rest is.
>> Maria Varmazis: Absolutely. Since you are part of a company that's growing and doing amazing things, I would be remiss if I didn't ask you about the long-term plans for Satellite Vu.
>> Toby Reinicke: We already know now that there's enough demand in basically satellite imagery to cater for making sure that we can launch more satellites. We need more satellites. There is a limit of how much data we can capture and we need more. So from a physical and from a satellite perspective, there'll be more launches that will be happening and more satellites that we manage. From a commercial perspective, we really are focusing on going down industrial activity and hoping to then tweak that into more of a climate-focused solution as when we partner with the right people to make sure that we can gain that connection.
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>> Maria Varmazis: We'll be right back.
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Welcome back. Every year around this time, the heavens can put on a wonderful show for us. The Leonid meteor shower, and this year, the Leonids will be at their peak, showing us on the morning of November 18th, though it may not be super obvious that it's happening unless you're really looking for it as it's expected to only generate about 10 to 15 shooting stars an hour at its peak, kind of the norm in a normal Leonid year, but that is not always the case. In fact, every 33 or 34 years, the Leonids are especially active as the comet that creates the Leonids, the comet Tempel-Tuttle, orbits the sun every 33 to 34 years, and on that approach to the sun, the comment will leave a strong wake of debris, and then we get a proper meteor storm, or sometimes you might see up to 1,000 meteors an hour. The last time we had an amazing Leonid meteor storm, well, in living memory, for many people, anyway, was in 1966. That was the great Leonid meteor storm, as it has been coined, as for one 15-minute window, thereabouts, people saw thousands of meteors a minute. One observer in Texas at the time said the meteors were falling in all directions, appearing to cascade like a waterfall out of the head of the constellation Leo, after which the Leonids are named. Now, nobody alive would remember the night the stars fell, but that was November 12, 1833, and many living at that time noted it in their diaries. Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Abraham Lincoln, all of them have noted it in their personal writings, and some observers at the time in Boston noted that at its peak that year, the Leonid meteor storm generated 72,000 shooting stars an hour. If you're trying to do some back-of-the-napkin math on our next Leonid peak, the next peak will be around 2034. However, leading up to that year, it's unlikely we'll see much of anything, let alone anything like the night the stars fell or the great Leonid meteor storm, and that's because in 2028, Jupiter's gravity will deflect the meteors away from us for a good few years, but by 2034, in that, fingers crossed, peak year, the Leonids should be free and clear of big old Jupiter, so it's possible we'll be in for a good show. In the meantime, keep those eyes to the skies and fingers crossed.
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That's it for T-Minus for November 13, 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 email@example.com or submit the survey in our show notes. Your feedback ensures that we deliver the information that keeps you a step ahead in the rapidly changing space industry. We're privileged that N2K and podcasts like T-Minus are part of the daily routine of many of the most influential leaders and operators in the public and private sector, from the Fortune 500 to many of the world's preeminent intelligence and law enforcement agencies. N2K 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 Tre Hester, with original music and sound design by Elliott Peltzman. Our executive producer is Brandon Karpf, and I'm Maria Varmazis. Thanks for listening. We'll see you tomorrow.
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