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Space dishes to delight ahead of Thanksgiving.

Venturi Astrolab announces lunar payloads. NRL finds new source of hydrogen on the moon. The UK announces new investments for space infrastructure. And more.




Lunar tech startup Venturi Astrolab of California announced its new lineup of customers for its upcoming lunar rover mission. Researchers at The Naval Research Lab have discovered solar-wind hydrogen in lunar samples. The UK’ Space Clusters Infrastructure Fund has awarded more than £47 million for 12 space research and development infrastructure projects, and more.

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T-Minus Guest

Our guest today is US Space Policy Analyst, Brendan Curry

Selected Reading

Venturi Astrolab’s rovers will deploy $160M worth of payloads on the moon- TechCrunch

Hydrogen detected in lunar samples, points to resource availability for space exploration

NASA One Step Closer to Fueling Space Missions with Plutonium-238

£47 million investment to supercharge space infrastructure across the UK

North Korea's space launch program and long-range missile projects- Reuters

The Starliner-1 mission

Global temperature exceeds 2°C above pre-industrial average on 17 November

Commercial Flights Are Experiencing 'Unthinkable' GPS Attacks and Nobody Knows What to Do- Vice

10 Tech Trends That Will Impact the Satellite Industry in 2024

Space Companies Turn To Marketing To Advance Important Business Strategies

Exclusive: 'Act now' to keep US competitive in space race, senators say

Thanksgiving Celebrations in Space

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>> Maria Varmazis: Yeah, it's no secret. Many in the space industry have federal governments, especially the U.S. federal government, as their primary, if not only customer. And as much as the space industry is changing, getting the U.S. government as a customer for a space company still acts like a giant stamp of approval. Nothing wrong with that. But could you imagine that getting a ride to the moon for the purposes of research and development in the not-too-distant future could be funded in some part by commercial contracts and not government funds? Well, no need to imagine it because the future is now.

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Today is November 22, 2023. I'm Maria Varmazis, and this is T-Minus.

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Venturi Astrolab announces customers for its lunar mission. The Naval Research Lab finds a new source of hydrogen on the moon. The UK announces new investments for space infrastructure. And our guest today is U.S. Space Policy Analyst, Brendan Curry. Stay with us.

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Here's what we have for our Intel briefing today. Lunar tech startup, Venturi Astrolab of California, announced its new lineup of customers for its upcoming lunar rover mission, simply named Mission 1. It's flex rover can carry 1,500 kilos of payload to the lunar surface. And Venturi Astrolab says they've signed up eight customers for a cool $160 million total contract value to divvy up that cargo capacity. And significantly, five of those customers disclosed are commercial space companies. And here's what those companies will be doing. Argo SpaceCorp will deploy a demo payload to harvest lunar water. Astroport Space Tech will demonstrate sieving technology for lunar brick manufacturing. Avalon Space will conduct lunar economy experiments in science, exploration, and sustainable development. Interstellar Lab will deploy plant pods on the moon to study environmental impacts, and LifeShip will deliver a lunar DNA seed bank for an off-world biosphere backup. Okay, regolith bricks, off-world seed bank backups, lunar water harvesting. Just reading these ideas gets me into full space geek mode, and I have to give a shout out to Interstellar Labs Mission. They're the company planning on growing flowers on the moon. And yeah, if you're worried about contamination or whatnot, they say that the flowers will be in transparent, controlled environment plant pods. And if the flowers grow, the demo will capture data and pictures of this first step towards making any life multi-planetary. And the mission's name? "Little Prince." I wonder if Antoine de Saint-Exupéry could ever have foreseen that the moon might actually play the part of the little asteroid B612 from his book. If this experiment ends up working, I'm sure there will be a lot of happy tears here on Earth, that's for sure. Anyway, so how is Venturi Astrolabs Mission 1 going to get all these neat customer demos to the lunar surface? I bet you can guess. Yep, it's going to hitch a ride aboard a SpaceX Starship, the company says, as soon as mid-2026. Fingers crossed. We've got some more space science news for you now. This lot is funded by the U.S. government, though. Clever researchers at the Naval Research Lab have discovered solar wind hydrogen in lunar samples. Their research indicates that water on the surface of the moon may provide a vital resource for future lunar bases and longer-range space exploration. Okay, not new news, you say. Maybe not. But more in-depth research into these things rather than intelligent assumptions is always a good thing. Space-based resource identification is a key factor in planning for civilian and government-led space exploration. And now, for a story that seems to come straight from the pages of a comic book. NASA is looking to use plutonium-238 to fuel space missions. The Department of Energy just received its first small-shipment of plutonium-238 at Los Alamos National Laboratory. NASA says this is a critical step towards fueling planned missions with radioisotope power systems. NASA has been using plutonium to fuel space vehicles for a number of years. For example, the Perseverance Rover carries some of the new plutonium produced by the DOE. The new shipment of a little over one pound of new heat-source plutonium oxide is the largest since the domestic restart of plutonium-238 production over a decade ago. It's day two of the UK Space Conference, and the nation's space agency has used the event to announce new funding for space infrastructure. Those space clusters that we talked about at the top of yesterday's show are, in part, supported by the Space Clusters Infrastructure Fund. And that fund has awarded more than 47 million pounds for 12 projects, which will be doubled by match funding from the sector, representing over 98 million pounds of new private-public investment in space research and development infrastructure. Amongst the recipients of the funding are Space Forge, which will receive nearly 8 million pounds to develop a national microgravity research center. Northumbria University will receive 10 million pounds to develop the Northeast Space Skills and Technology Center in the heart of Newcastle. MagDrive will get just under 2 million pounds to build a state-of-the-art electric propulsion facility in the UK. Further projects are expected to be announced in the coming weeks. And speaking of yesterday's show, in that show, we shared that North Korea had notified Japan that it was planning a launch in the coming days, and it seems that Pyongyang stayed true to their word. North Korea has reportedly launched its first military satellite to space. It should be noted that their claim has not yet been independently confirmed. Observers doubt whether the satellite is advanced enough to perform its intended military reconnaissance, and the launch has been widely condemned by the United Nations, and South Korea has suspended part of a military pact it signed in 2018 with Pyongyang to de-escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea's Space Agency said that its new Chollima-1 carrier rocket accurately placed the Kwangmyongsong-1 satellite into orbit about 12 minutes after liftoff from the country's main launch center. The agency said leader Kim Jong-un oversaw the launch and congratulated scientists and others involved. North Korea says it plans to launch several more spy satellites to better monitor South Korea and other areas. Canada's Space Agency held a news conference earlier today to announce that their astronaut, Joshua Kutryk, will be the next Canadian to live and work on the International Space Station as part of the Starliner-1 mission. It'll be the first crude operational mission of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner to the International Space Station. The mission will be launched by a United Launch Alliance Atlas V Rocket from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida no earlier than the beginning of 2025. And in a perfect example of how space is helping us here on Earth, the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecast noted that the 17th of September 2023, was the first in which the global temperature exceeded 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Okay, the headline is a little misleading because I bet y'all are scratching your heads on how this is a space story. Well, the information was captured by the Copernicus Climate Change Service Earth Observation Program. Yep, satellites gathering information about our planet that helps us make informed decisions. Imagine that! These latest figures put Earth's rising temperatures into sharp focus ahead of COP28, which is set to start in Dubai on November 30th.

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And that concludes our briefing for today. Fear not. We have added some extra stories to keep you informed on the latest developments in our industry, and these include a piece from Vice on GPS attacks on planes. Another one is via Satellite's 10 Tech Trends for Us to Follow in 2024 and the importance of space marketing. And yeah, our team could not agree more with that last one. You'll find links to those stories and all the others we've mentioned in today's episode in our show notes and at space.n2k.com. 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. And a further programming note for you now. We're taking the next two days to be with our families as we celebrate Thanksgiving here in the United States. And there is a lot to be thankful for. Thank you to you, our crew, for listening to T-Minus Space. We are truly thankful for you. And we'll be sharing my full conversation with NASA astronaut, John Harrington, tomorrow to celebrate the anniversary of his spaceflight, as well as a career notes episode with former NASA administrator and astronaut Charles Bolden, Jr., on Friday. We hope you enjoy those episodes. And for all our listeners in the U.S., we wish you a happy Thanksgiving.

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Just today, CNN broke a story that Senators Sinema and Schmidt have sent a letter to the FAA saying, in part that, quote, "As the pace of launches from the U.S. commercial space flight companies increases and China's state-backed space industry continues to grow, it is imperative that the processes at the FAA and other federal agencies adapt to keep pace with American innovation, as well as adversarial threats in space. And proposed legislation to streamline processes within federal agencies is exactly what I'm speaking to our guest today about. Joining us is U.S. Space Policy Analyst, Brendan Curry. And we recently covered on this show both the Babin-Lucas and the White House National Space Council proposals on space policy. And I started our chat by asking Brendan to explain what each version is and what they cover.

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>> Brandon Curry: The notion of regulatory oversight with respect to commercial space is something that's been going on in Washington for decades. And commercial space industry writ large for decades has been decrying the fact that when they want to do something, there's a number of alphabet soup, if you will, agencies that they have to go say mother may I to -- FAA, FCC, state commerce, et cetera, et cetera. That can be a frustration for someone who's dealing with a commercial market regardless, whether it be space or something else. And so, a lot of these agencies run on different timelines, have different specifications that they're asking the applicant to meet and or some cases exceed. And so, the idea is what can U.S. government do to help expedite whereas much possible American commercial space interests in getting the okay from the US government to go do something in space to generate revenue and help generate the larger American space economy, which drives the global space economy. And so, for a number of years, the notion that a center of gravity, part of the pun, should be that the Department of Commerce was really taking hold for a while. And by and large, everyone seemed rather sanguine with the notion. And fast forward to this year, the House Republicans at the House Science and Space and Technology Committee, let everyone know that one of their priorities was to get some sort of legislation out that would help enable the Department of Commerce to do its job quicker, easier, better for all involved and all who care about this. And over the summer, there was some draft legislation shared. People were allowed to provide commentary, and they did. The bill was dropped in the autumn. And then, it was given out --

>> Maria Varmazis: And that's the Babin-Lucas one?

>> Brendan Curry: Yes, yes, and so, and then, there was a date for markup given. And then, about an hour or so before the markup took place, the White House issued a draft counter-proposal of legislation that would still have a line of demarcation between what the Department of Commerce would do and what DOT, Department of Transportation, under the FAA's commercial space office would do. And so that kind of threw a wrench in the works in terms of the --

>> Maria Varmazis: I imagine.

>> Brendan Curry: Yeah. Yeah. I'd like to say that most of the times, because space is blessedly bipartisan here in Washington, believe it or not, the markup of a space bill is usually pretty -- pretty much of an easygoing affair. Whereas last week it was a little bit more combustible. And also, going on concurrently with the markup of this bill, the appropriations bill that handles NASA, which is in the Commerce Justice Science Appropriations Bill, failed to get support on the House floor. So it was kind of a double whammy for us space policy nerds in town last week. And so I think what you're going to see is, and it's not unusual, by the way, for a White House, no matter who is in charge of the White House, to make legislative suggestions. They can't, you know -- you're never going to see the President or anyone from the President's administration come to Congress and say, here's a bill. They kind of make suggestions, and whoever is in their political party in Congress will take those suggestions and introduce a formal bill. And so, we'll probably see that sometime relatively soon after the Thanksgiving break. Both Republicans and Democrats can chew on it, ruminate on it, and we'll get back to some -- another attempt to mark up this bill, and there'll be some back and forth with respect to amendments and things like that. So it was a bit messy last week. I wish I could say it was cut and dry and everyone went home best friends, and yeah.

>> Maria Varmazis: That often happens in DC.

>> Brendan Curry: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, everyone was giving hugs and crying and saying, "I love you, man." You know?

>> Maria Varmazis: I look forward to that day, but that ain't today. So the word that just keeps coming up in my head when I hear that the two different proposals is just why. Not as a bad thing, but with Babin-Lucus, that's a single pane of glass. Everything would go through the Department of Commerce, very centralized, seems from an industry perspective on the very high level, would sort of solve a lot of problems of, hey, it's a jigsaw puzzle right now. Whereas the National Space Council via the White House comes and still bifurcates it. So instead of having everything being through one centralized body, it would be between two, Department of Transportation and Commerce. Why would that be? Why? Well, number one, historically, FAA has had licensing authority for launch activities and reentry activities and things like that. So it's not unheard of to say they're almost like kind of the incumbent regulatory body. They do have a track record to be pointed at and looked to. But also, there were some concerns that there was some verbiage in the Babin-Lucas bill about giving the Secretary of Commerce sole authority to decree whether a regulation does meet all international treaty obligations from the U.S. government. And there was concern that giving sole authority to one cabinet secretary, who's normally not thought of as having a huge area of expertise in space, no matter who he or she may be, that there may still be -- make sense to have some modicum of interagency review.

>> Maria Varmazis: Okay. All right. I could see that. So you mentioned a bit after the Thanksgiving break, there's still a lot more work to be done. So in my mind, in my very, very basic understanding of how these things work things often will borrow from each other. People take bits and pieces of each and sort of merge it together or take what works and leave what doesn't. Is that sort of what might be happening next?

>> It could. The interesting thing will be, number one, in the House, it's majority rules. And so, it's very difficult, whoever is in the minority, to really affect change on something if the majority is in lockstep rigid on a certain piece of legislation. This doesn't apply to just space. It's everything. Where things get a little bit more clouded is -- would be in the Senate, because in the Senate there is, right now, no companion piece of legislation for the Babin-Lucas bill. My understanding is is that the Senate is kind of still in a listening mode, and we'll want to see how things pan out in the House and take their lesson from what happened in the House and then try to move ahead with something else. And the Republicans control the house; the Democrats control the Senate. The Senate, since it is a smaller body, does provide a lot more parliamentary rules that do give the minority a little bit more sway and heft in what a final piece of legislation looks like. So stay tuned throughout the holiday season, and oh, by the way, this is at the end of this calendar year is just going to be the closure of the first session of a two-session Congress, the 118th Congress. We have all next year to look forward to, to see how this might play out. But don't forget, next this year is a major election year.

>> Maria Varmazis: Yeah, and that definitely is going to throw a number of wrenches into the system. So I guess, definitely stay tuned on that. My understanding should, and there's a lot of shoulds here, but should some kind of legislation go through, and if the Department of Commerce ends up either owning or partially owning more of the commercial space scene, and I'm using a very broad stroke here, we'll have commercial space sort of at the big kids table at the cabinet level, right? Like what does that mean?

>> Brendan Curry: Well, you know, for a lot of people, Maria, when they think the federal and government space, they think NASA full stop, and that's understandable for a variety of reasons, but space is laced throughout a variety of different federal departments, and if the footprint of commercial space does grow, in this case, the Department of Commerce, that's a good thing because that means whomever the Secretary of Commerce is, is going to have to answer more for American commercial space activity, and that's a good thing. And so, while space right now is really at the little kids table for a variety of these departments, if again, the footprint grows at the Commerce Department, it may not still be at the grownups table, but its kids' table be -- a little bit closer where the grownups table is. And over here, at least what the grownups are talking about more and more. And the grownups are going to listen more and more to that kids table.

>> Maria Varmazis: Well, that matters. And as I said, as we go into Thanksgiving, I'll be thinking about that one a lot. The little kids' table inching closer. So it's interesting times to be sure. Brendan, thank you so much for walking me through all of it. This was a joy. So thank you so much for speaking with me.

>> Brendan Curry: Anytime, Maria.

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

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Welcome back. As you might have heard in our show today, and if you're American, you probably don't need reminding that tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Though if you're planning on cooking a turkey, this is your reminder that it needs thawing. Do it now before it's too late. And this got us thinking here at N2K Space about how Thanksgiving is celebrated in space. No, it is certainly not an international holiday, but it is one that us Americans rather enjoy, especially the food. So when was the first Thanksgiving in space celebrated? Want to guess? No, it wasn't in the Apollo era. It was actually the Skylab 4 crew in 1973. The crew onboard the spacecraft were NASA astronauts Gerald P. Carr, Edward G. Gibson, and William R. Pogue. On that day, their seventh of an 84-day mission, Gibson and Pogue completed a six-hour and 33-minute spacewalk, while Carr remained in the multiple docking adapter with no access to food. Can you imagine missing the turkey, stuffing, and pie on Thanksgiving? But fear not. All three made up for missing lunch by consuming two meals at dinner time, though sadly, neither included special items for Thanksgiving. Mmm, reconstituted meals. It was another 12 years before the next orbital Thanksgiving celebration. On November 28, 1985, the seven-member crew of STS-61B, NASA astronauts Brewster H. Shaw, Brian D. O 'Connor, Jerry L. Ross, Mary L. Cleave, and Sherwood C. Woody Spring, and payload specialist, Charles D. Walker from the U.S. and Rodolfo Neri Vela from Mexico feasted on shrimp cocktail, irradiated turkey (That's turkey in a foil pouch), and cranberry sauce aboard the space shuttle Atlantis. Yeah, undoubtedly, that was canned cranberry sauce; just going out on the limb on that one. This year, NASA astronauts Loral O'Hara and Jasmin Mogbeli will be celebrating Thanksgiving with the Expedition 70 crew aboard the ISS, and we sincerely hope the food has improved from the early stories, and that they can take the time to be thankful, even if they're away from their friends and family at this time. We are certainly thankful for their service.

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That's it for T-Minus for November 22, 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. 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 Elliot Peltzman and Trey Hester, with original music and sound design by Elliot Peltzman. Our executive producer is Brandon Karpf. And I'm Maria Varmazis. Thank you so much for listening. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, everybody.

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