S. Sita Sonty, Partner, Associate Director and Global Space Lead for Boston Consulting Group (BCG). Sita joins us to discuss edge computing in space.
Super pumped for the heavy launch.
SpaceX gets a launch license for the Starship. NASA announces a successor to Bob Cabana. US Lawmakers postpone the vote on The Commercial Space Act. And more.
SpaceX receives a launch license from the Federal Aviation Administration for the Starship Super Heavy. NASA announces that Jim Free will succeed Bob Cabana as the agency’s new Associate Administrator. US Lawmakers postpone the vote on The Commercial Space Act of 2023, H.R. 6131, and more.
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Our guest today is Dr Peter Shaw, a senior lecturer in astronautics at Kingston University.
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>> Maria Varmazis: The point of debate in this morning's team meeting was whether or not it's okay to start a podcast with incoherent screaming. Hurting the ears of your listeners will make a lot of them very angry and is widely regarded as a bad move. So allow me to convey the emotion and break with the professionalism for a hot second and oh, my gosh, oh, my gosh, oh, my gosh! Starship, y'all. Starship! Round two. Integrated flight test. It's finally happening!
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Today is November 16, 2023. I'm Maria Varmazis and this is T-Minus.
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SpaceX receives a launch license for the Starship Super Heavy. NASA announces a successor to Bob Cabana. U.S. lawmakers postpone the vote on The Commercial Space Act. And our guest today is Dr. Peter Shaw, a senior lecturer in astronautics at Kingston University.
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Now for today's intel briefing. And zero surprise what today's top story is. What else could it possibly be? SpaceX's Starship has been granted the FAA launch license it has been waiting for. We are a go for the second integrated flight test of the Starship Super Heavy on Saturday, November 18. The flight window is a small one -- 7 a.m. to 7:20 a.m. central time. Booster 9 and Ship 25 are already fully stacked at Boca Chica and second verse not quite the same as the first. SpaceX made a lot of changes to the heavy lift vehicle after the first orbital flight attempt. Many of those optimizations were also mandated by the FAA in order to get the launch approval. Starship got some upgrades, some of which you can easily see like the hot staging ring which sits between both stages and should deflect flames from the second stage away from the first stage booster. And this time around, we should also expect a lot less debris during lift-off. Hopefully no more -- hm-hmm -- [singing] concrete rain. Concrete rain. Thank you, thank you. The SpaceX teams have made a lot of improvements to the launch pad, like a brand new water deluge system for one thing. It's suspected that the undamped sound from launch as well as the debris chunks that the launch created damaged a number of the engines during lift-off on the first attempt. So it will be interesting to see the difference it makes this time around. And while the goal is for Starship to get to orbital space and loop around the Earth before splashing down near Hawaii, if it looks like it won't be able to do that, hopefully this time the flight termination system will work as soon as it is triggered, instead of an uncomfortably long amount of time later. 'Cause when you help that self-destruct button, it really needs to work. SpaceX officially announced the second test late yesterday, and this morning said that Starship is stacked for flight. This is another chance to put Starship in a true flight environment, maximizing how much we learned. Rapid iterative development is essential as we work to build a fully reusable launch system capable of carrying satellites, payloads, crew, and cargo to a variety of orbits and Earth, lunar, and Martian landing sites. The first Starship flight test was earlier this year on April 20th, with 8:28 a.m. CDT as the scheduled launch, and 8:33 a.m. CDT as the actual. I'm curious what everyone's thoughts are on the over/under for actual launch time for Starship round two. Well, there really won't be any under, so scratch that one. But do you think the launch will be relatively on time? A scrub? Well, we shall see. That guarantee is legit -- it is exciting. As I'm sure you can tell, I am excited for this and you probably are, too. If you're at Boca Chica, send us your views of Star Base. And we're rooting for this SpaceX team for a fantastic second launch of Starship on Saturday. Moving on to other items now, NASA Administrator, Bill Nelson, has named Jim Free as the agency's new Associate Administrator to succeed Bob Cabana. Jim Free is the current Associate Administrator of the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, which oversees the space launch system for Artemis. Free's deputy, Cathy Koerner, has been named as his successor at the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, and the change will come into effect in January. And an update on The Commercial Space Act of 2023, H.R. 6131 which we opened the show with yesterday. U.S. lawmakers in the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee approved some amendments to the bill yesterday, but the final vote on approval will not occur until after Thanksgiving. We've got a series of satellite communication stories now, starting with HughesNet. The company says its JUPITER 3 Ultra High Density Satellite has successfully deployed its solar arrays and antennas and the spacecraft has passed readiness testing by the manufacturer, Maxar Space Systems. Hughes is now testing the satellite communications with ground equipment which it says is the final step before initiating broadband services for customers such as airlines, corporations, governments, and consumers of its popular HughesNet service. The JUPITER 3 satellite will bring over five thousand gigabits of additional broadband capacity across North and South America. Viasat and Skylo Technologies have launched the world's first global direct-to-device network. According to the press release, the companies' global infrastructure agreement will allow mobile network operators, device makers, and chipset manufacturers to take 3GPP Release 17 compliant products to market within Viasat's global network coverage. Viasat says the new network will support consumer smartphone services and unlock the potential for massive Internet of Things, automotive, and defense applications. Initial deployments are planned for early 2024 in North America using the Ligado SkyTerra satellite network, followed by a global rollout. Mexico's government has secured a contract with Starlink to provide internet coverage over the country until 2026 for a cool $89.8 million. Mexico says that the service will be offered for free for its citizens. Starlink is among nine companies to support the plan. They are also due to provide infrastructure for Mexico's state energy firm through December 2026 according to documents seen by Reuters. Space robotics start-up, GITAI, has successfully completed its corporate inversion, transitioning its headquarters and parent company from GITAI Japan to GITAI USA. GITAI says the move to shift the company's headquarters to the U.S. positions GITAI USA at the forefront of global operations. Most of the company's employees and the entirety of its manufacturing operations have already been relocated to Torrance, California. The announcement comes nearly one year after GITAI USA first launched operations in the U.S. The European Space Agency and Isar Aerospace have signed a contract extension to develop an efficient new flight tracking and safety system for future rocket launches with Isar Aerospace's Spectrum launch vehicle from Norway. The contract is provided through Isa's "Boost!" program to support the development, deployment, and use of commercial space transportation services in Europe. Isar Aerospace has established a partnership with Andoya Spaceport to launch small satellites from the Norwegian Spaceport using Isar Aerospace's Spectrum launch vehicle. In a team-up nobody expected, the U.K. and Florida have signed the seventh U.K./U.S. State Level Memorandum of Understanding to boost trade and investment. Okay. Somebody expected it, but the agreement targeted high-potential sectors such as space and fintech and is designed to boost exports and investment between the U.K. and Florida. This MoU is the first one that the U.K. has signed that focuses on the space sector.
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And that concludes our intelligence briefing for today. As always, you'll find links to further reading in our show notes. Hey, T-Minus crew, if your business is looking to grow your voice in the industry, expand the reach of your thought leadership, or recruit talent, T-Minus can help. We'd like to hear from you. Send us an email at email@example.com or send us a note through our website so we can connect about building a program to meet your goals.
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Our guest today is Dr. Peter Shaw, a senior lecturer in astronautics at Kingston University. And the university has recently opened a new rocket propulsion R&D facility. And to start our conversation, I asked Peter to tell us more about the university.
>> Peter Shaw: Kingston isn't maybe as well-known in the space industry like Bath, Leicesters, the universities, sorry, but what we do focus and specialize in is on propulsion and chemical propulsion systems. So we -- we run courses for our students which is predominantly system engineering, taking really, sort of, the complex build of a satellite, trying to make students understand that if you change the size of the solar panels, how that will affect the structure, the mass, the volume. So really sort of, like, get them understanding, you know, basic system engineering sort of principles. And then our -- our focus on top of that is propulsion -- launch propulsion, small propulsion systems, third-stage launchers or propulsion systems. All that sort of kind of work we do. Our piece de resistance -- our creme de la creme is that we've got our own rocket test facility on-site.
>> Maria Varmazis: Yes! Yes.
>> Peter Shaw: We've spent about $400,000 on that to date, and it's a fantastic facility. So what's unique compared to a lot of institutions is that the students that we have at Kingston, they come in, we give them the skills to design their own propulsion systems. We give them the facilities to actually build, so we've got a fantastically large workshop where students get to learn how to use the lathes, mills, and drills. So it's not, you know, students going up to a technician and saying, "Can you build this for us?" It's them actually building it themselves which is -- which is quite a unique opportunity.
>> Maria Varmazis: And part of the fun also, I would imagine. Yeah. Yeah.
>> Peter Shaw: Absolutely! Absolutely!
>> Maria Varmazis: Yeah.
>> Peter Shaw: And then -- and then they get to take it into our -- our test chamber and actually test fire the rocket engines. And so this is at undergraduate level. Okay. So this isn't like research projects. This isn't PhDs. This is undergraduates getting the chance to fire -- fire rockets. And then that gives them the skills which really helps them out for engineering, sort of, job roles, really helps them out for propulsion job roles, and we -- we've done really well the last couple of years. We've had students, you know, go to IMASATs, RFA Augsburg, which is the big, sort of, like, German launch start-up company, URA Thrusters, SmallSpark Space Systems -- we've had internships. Internships at Magdrive. We're doing really, really well.
>> Maria Varmazis: Thank you so much for setting the -- setting the story there because I -- when I saw the press release about the -- the propulsion facility, I was really fascinated by it, not only because of basically everything you just went through, but also the -- the story about how -- the propulsion facility came to be. Could you tell us a little bit about, like, where it is and how you actually -- 'cause you had a huge part in making this happen. Right? So can you tell us a little bit about that?
>> Peter Shaw: First of all, it's building on the shoulders of giants, you know, type thing. There were a number of lecturers before I turned up who paved the way with the university to actually show that rocketry and rocket experiments could be done on campus. So we've actually been test-firing engines for -- for quite a number of years. But when I turned up, what I was able to do was to bring a healthy -- hefty amount of -- of industrial experience. And so we took the facility that we had at the time, we basically dismantled it, and we basically created a new -- a new chamber. So our -- our current chamber is a -- is a blast chamber and it's licensed up -- to take up to 120-gram TNT explosive environment which effectively is, you know, putting two hand grenades inside the blast chamber, closing the door, letting it go bang, and you're okay sitting on the -- on the outside. But to add to that, it's not just 120-gram TNT. It's 120-gram TNT whilst an engine is fully firing. So you've got all of the -- the flow of the -- the gasses through the system. And then, on top of that, we've got all of the safety systems which are all the gas monitoring, the pressure systems, the temperature. The noise as well because we are relatively close to other sort of residential buildings and so on so we don't want -- we want to be good neighbors. And then also the gas monitoring and being able to know exactly what we're -- we're putting out into the atmosphere which, for most people who might not understand, is mostly carbon dioxide, water vapors, a little bit of carbon monoxide, but not to any dangerous sort of levels. So, yeah, it's really, really, really interesting.
>> Maria Varmazis: A lot of people I talk to for this show, they -- I shouldn't a lot, but many people I talk to are working on space infrastructure, sometimes research and facilities, and a lot of time talking about the challenges in -- in finding a place that's appropriate to do the work that you need to do while also being a good neighbor, keeping in mind the environmental challenges is -- is a big one. And I'm just in admiration of what you all have been able to achieve and especially, again, opening up so much for students so they can learn. And also, from the release I'm reading, a lot of different partnerships as well. Could you tell me a bit about those partnerships, 'cause they sound fascinating.
>> Peter Shaw: So one of the -- the -- the good things is -- a bit of self-promotion here of, you know, I'm also part of the Space Skills Advisory Panel which is a panel of -- of experts which advise government departments and the U.K. Space Agency. So it's really helped with networking and what I'm able to do is then bring that networking into -- into the university. And I'm also part of a few other things, the -- the Space Universities Network, the Space Academic Network, and the U.K. Propulsion Working Group. So all of these kind of external activities that -- that I get involved with, I'm then able to bring these experts into. And one of the key things and the things that I really enjoy is actually introducing the students that I have to these companies so that they can get involved in internships and -- and job placements. So one of these opportunities was with SmallSpark Space Systems. They've been really helpful with assisting us in -- in the final stages of the commissioning of -- of the rocket lab and intern. We helped to test-fire some of their early engine prototypes and developments. During that process, I had a team of students, undergraduates, to help me out doing the testing, and they -- the company liked what they saw and pretty much hired as an intern one of our -- our students pretty much on the spot, which is a fantastic story. It's not a unique thing. We -- we've -- we've done a lot of good work with a lot of companies and we've had a lot of good internships, yeah, as well. So our students are getting some really good sort of insight.
>> Maria Varmazis: That -- that just makes me so happy to hear. On a personal level, I just -- I love stories like that. With that view that you have, a macro view of the U.K. space sector which is really growing, and quite quickly, too -- the view that you have of the -- the need for the growing workforce. What do you see as, sort of, a gap that needs to be filled in terms of capabilities or anything? Yeah. I'm just curious what your thoughts are.
>> Peter Shaw: This is something that I spend a lot of time talking to other people about. And as I see it, there are a few things. Okay? Immediately, what companies can do is get involved with the SPIN Internship Program. Okay? It's run through the Satellite Catapult and that is a really good, sort of, entry level into what's -- you know, how -- how can I help? And there's a meaningful way to help. There's also a program run by the UKSEDS which is spaceprojects.co.uk which is another way of -- of getting involved with undergraduates. Now taking that a step aside, looking at the space skills gap, okay, that we do have some significant issues. Okay? One of the biggest things that I'm trying to -- to win and influence people over is the idea of a new learned body. So you've got the Institute of Mechanical Engineers. You've got the Institute of Physics. You've got the Royal Aeronautical Society. And they play a big pivotal role. The -- if you look at the statistics done by Space Skills Alliance, the majority of people who are in the space workforce have degrees from either the insti -- courses accredited by the Institute of Physics or courses accredited by the Royal Aeronautical Society. Okay? And these institutes, they accredit the university courses which means that every five years a university course has to meet certain requirements to get a rubber stamp and say you're fit to do the course. The issue, which not a lot of people realize or -- or understand, is that the accreditation, you know, for space courses or courses which are all for space, there are handbooks and guidebooks given out by institutes like the Royal Aeronautical Society, and the only mention in their handbook is -- to do with spacecraft -- is we would like to see more space courses. There is no guidance in those handbooks which say you need to cover this area, you need to think about this area, you need to do this when considering space -- you know, space engineering courses. And that has a big impact on what the universities are actually designing in their university courses and, hence, what skills and curriculum and content which is then actually given out to the workforce. And what we're finding is that, in this new space economy where there is -- where it's no longer big primes. It's no longer the airbuses, the BA systems. You put a whole explosion of start-ups and -- and -- and SMEs, you know, coming into the system. They keep on talking about this conversation of -- of needing people with experience. They need people with two or three years experience. They need -- well, I'm going to turn that on their head, and what they actually need, in my opinion, okay, is students with the right content, knowledge, and skills to be able to join their workforce. And the problem is -- is that what universities tend to do at the moment is we develop, you know, chemists. We develop engineers. We develop physicists. We develop X, Y, and Z. And what the space industry needs, which is a multi-disciplinary sector -- you need multi-disciplinary skills -- is that we need to have a more nuanced approach. We need graduates coming out with hands-on practical experience, with knowledge in electronics, with knowledge in engineering, with knowledge in -- in certain physics, with knowledge of certain computer processes like, you know, the -- for the development of using applied AI in our systems. We need to wrap that into a bundle and we need to send that out. But unless we have an accrediting structure or a learned body, institute of space, or institute of space technology, UKPOC, we're not going to get that because we have, instead, a lot of other institutes focused on there sort of main areas and so those students going to the workforce with only a partial part of the portfolio of skills that start-ups and SMEs are really seeking and wanting. And until we get a grip and really solve that issue and, you know, somebody, yeah, stands up and says I'm going to start the institute of space technology or space engineering and we have some funding and have some membership funding, you know, into that, we're going to be having the same problem, in my opinion, in five years' time, ten years' time, fifteen years' time.
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>> Maria Varmazis: We'll be right back. Welcome back. And avid listeners might remember that a couple of months ago you might have heard the beautiful soundscapes made from several years of data from ESA's Aeolus satellite. The blips and doots and bwahs represent data points gathered from the Aeolus as it recorded winds across the Earth, the massive impact of the Tonga volcanic eruption, and even captured the eery global quiet during the beginning of the global COVID-19 pandemic. And while there's sheet music for it, it would be quite a challenge to actually play that composition, though you are welcome to try. So it's a different approach for the latest composition of sonified data from NASA's Chandra, Hubble, and Spitzer telescopes, with a piece written by composer Sophie Kastner called "Sounds of Space: Where Parallel Lines Converge." This piece translates into music the x-ray, visible, and infrared data from a composite image of our galactic center. Focusing on the x-ray binary, arched filaments, and the super massive black hole, Sagittarius A*. So, in a way, we can have an audio experience of the image which is great for a podcast, of course.
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Those are real instruments being played by real human musicians, and they're called the Ensemble Eclat. And I love that the tempo marking at the top of the sheet music describes the mood of the piece as "dark and mysterious." Composer Sophie Kastner said, "I approached the form from a different perspective than the original sonifications. Rather than scanning the image horizontally and treating the x-axis as time, I instead focused on small sections of the image, creating short vignettes corresponding with these occurrences, approaching the piece as if I was writing a film score to accompany the image. Because the galactic center image was so full of information, of material, I wanted to draw the listeners' attention to smaller events within the greater data set." And, yes, if you've got a chamber group and you'd like to try your hand at this, the sheet music for Kastner's "Where Parallel Lines Converge" is freely available.
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That's it for T-Minus for November 16th, 2023. For additional resources from today's report, check out our show notes at space.n2k.com. 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. 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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