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Give to STEM this Tuesday.

Firefly successfully tests its Miranda engine. SSC completes a critical design review for its EPOCH 1. Astra raises an additional $2.7M in capital. And more.




Firefly Aerospace has completed the first hot fire test for its Miranda engine that will power the first stage of Northrop Grumman’s Antares 330 and the Medium Launch Vehicle the companies are developing together. US Space Systems Command’s Space Sensing Resilient Missile Warning, Missile Tracking, Missile Defense program office successfully completed the Critical Design Review for its EPOCH 1 space vehicles. Astra Space has raised an additional $2.7 million in “subsequent financing” from two existing investors and the company’s cofounders, and more.

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T-Minus Guest

Our guest today is Martin Coates, CEO of Orbex.

You can follow Orbex on LinkedIn and learn more about their operations on their website.

Selected Reading

Firefly Aerospace Completes First Miranda Engine Hot Fire Test

The first Medium Earth Orbit Resilient Missile Warning/Missile Tracking Program successfully completes its critical design review and goes into production

Solicitation Notice for Proliferated Low Earth Orbit (PLEO) Satellite-Based Services

XArc / Astroport Company Group Announce $1.3 Million in Multiple NASA SBIR/STTR Awards for 2023

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in India, set to strengthen NASA-ISRO partnership- Tech News

United States Securities And Exchange Commission- Astra Space, Inc.


China debuts high-resolution images of China Space Station - CGTN

The case for LEO satellite connectivity in $50 billion EIS contract

Where the naysayers are wrong when it comes to a Space National Guard - Breaking Defense

ESA - Spacelab to Gateway: 40 years of modules for people in space

Giving Tuesday Links









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>> Maria Varmazis: In the U.S we've spent the last few days indulging. First with all the food at Thanksgiving, and yeah, then there's the shopping. Black Friday. Small business Saturday. And then Cyber Monday. My wallet's feeling a little tired. But today it's about giving back. Giving Tuesday was created in 2012 as a simple idea. A day that encourages people to do good. And we think there are plenty of options for giving to STEM charities today and all year round.

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>> Maria Varmazis: Today is November 28, 2023. I'm Maria Varmazis and this is "T-Minus."

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>> Maria Varmazis: Firefly successfully tests its Miranda engine. SSC completes a critical design review for its Epoch One. Astra raises an additional 2.7 million in needed capital. And our guest today is Martin Coates, CEO of Orbex.

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>> Maria Varmazis: Before we get into our intel briefing for today, I wanted to go back to that idea of giving Tuesday for a moment. Now we've had a number of great nonprofits on this show in the past seven months. These organizations support educational outreach, engagement, and opportunities to launch. And they reach areas that would otherwise get overlooked. So at the bottom of our show notes for today we've included links to some of those that we've spoken to. You can go back through our episodes and search for AIAA to find out about their foundation or hire Orbex, Cosmic Girls, Girls in Aerospace, Teachers in Space, AstraFemina, and the Experimental Sounding Rocket Association that puts on the Spaceport America Cup. Or you could find a student team to support. A lot of these ideas and these organizations need funding, and they also need support in other ways. You see, giving doesn't have to be just a monetary donation. It can be your time, your mentorship, and your promotion. So we hope you find something to give back to today. Okay. Now on to today's news roundup. And we do love a rocket engine burn here at "T-Minus" so it's only apt that we're starting our briefing with a static engine test. Firefly Aerospace has completed the first hot fire test for its Miranda engine that will power the first stage of Northrop Grumman's Antares 330 and the medium launch vehicles that the companies are developing together. A critical milestone was completed just over a year after signing the initial contract. In addition to the Miranda engines, Firefly is designing, manufacturing, and testing the first stage structures for Antares 330 as well as the structures and fluid systems for both medium launch vehicle stages. And we recommend you check out the image of the green flame on this test. Yep. It's green. By following the link in our show notes. It's green. U.S space systems commands' space sensing resilient missile warning, missile tracking, missile defense program office, yes, that's the office name, successfully completed the critical design review for its Epoch One space vehicles. And with the completion of the review the program office will begin manufacturing six space vehicles scheduled for delivery and launch in late 2026. This will be the first group of satellites for its future constellation designed to track high speed missiles from medium Earth orbit. The U.S Department of Defense has released a request for proposals to provide worldwide low latency proliferated low Earth orbit or pLEO services and capabilities in order to meet the mission needs of DOD partners. The resultant indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity or IDIQ contract would provide pLEO services and equipment at the task order level. Up to $900 million worth of task orders will be awarded over the next five years under the contract. And if you're interested, you'll find more details about this RFP by following the link in our show notes. Astroport Space Technologies and its parent organization Exploration Architecture Corporation also known as XArc have received a combined $1.3 million in NASA SBIR/STTR awards for development of extreme environment landing pad technologies. The SBIR/STTR phase one and phase two awards will focus on development of lunar construction and operations technologies that are needed for lunar surface landing and launch pads in support of the NASA Artemis program. And we opened yesterday's show with news that NASA's administrator Bill Nelson is on a trip to India ahead of his visit to COP 28, but we're surprised that there hasn't actually been much update since he arrived. So far Bill Nelson has met government officials to discuss NASA training and Indian astronauts to fly to the International Space Station. Rakesh Sharma is expected to go to the ISS in 2024. India is working towards having its own space station by 2040 and Nelson said that NASA would be happy to help India in building its space station and using it for commercial purposes. There's been no formal agreement on that process yet so far. Astra Space continues to hit the headlines as the company scrambles to find a long term solution to its financial woes. The company has raised an additional $2.7 million in subsequent financing from 2 existing investors and the company's co-founders. Astra is exploring the possibility of going private to save it from folding, a proposal that has been raised by its co-founders Chris Kemp and Adam London. Japanese telecommunications companies Nepon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation, NTT Communications Corporation, and SKY Perfect JSAT Corporation have announced their partnership with Amazon's Project Kuiper to bring satellite connectivity options to customers in Japan. The companies expect to use Project Kuiper LEO satellite connectivity services to enhance communications availability and resiliency for Japanese customers. Japanese businesses will be able to use Project Kuiper connectivity to support a broad range of applications including internet of things, predictive maintenance, fleet management, remote manufacturing, and more. Customers will also be able to use Project Kuiper to connect to Amazon Web Services or AWS to run advanced technologies such as machine learning and AI. And I'm going to leave you with a visual story to end our news briefing today. China has released the first high resolution images of their Tiangong space station in orbit. Yeah. I know. We're a podcast, not a visual medium. So I'm just going to implore you to go and check out the pics of tubes and solar panels in space by following the link in our show notes. It's honestly really cool. You should definitely check it out. And that concludes our briefing for today. Stay with us for the second part of the show and our chat with Martin Coates from Orbex. And you'll find those links that I was mentioning along with further reading on all the stories from today's show in our show notes. We've also included a few additional stories for you. One is on the case for LEO satellite connectivity in a $50 billion EIS contract and another on the space national guard. All these stories and more at space.n2k.com. Just click on this episode. Hey, T-Minus crew. If you're just joining us, welcome. Be sure to follow "T-Minus Space" daily in your favorite podcast app. And also if you could do us a favor, share the intel with your friends and coworkers. Here's a little challenge for you. By Friday please show three friends or coworkers this podcast. That's because a growing audience is the most important thing for us and we would love your help as part of the T-Minus crew. So if you find "T-Minus" useful, really hope you do, please share it so other professionals just like you can find the show. Thank you so much. It means a lot to me and all of us here at "T-Minus."

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>> Maria Varmazis: Our guest today is Martin Coates, CEO of Orbex. Now Orbex is building a spaceport and launch vehicle in Scotland. And I started off by asking Martin to tell me a little bit about the Peatland Restoration Research Project. Yeah. Peat as in peat bogs that Orbex is involved with.

>> Martin Coates: To dig the road on the pad for the launcher, we have to remove peat. And we wanted to make sure that we weren't just dealing with the mitigation of damage on our site for the development and that kind of localized restoration. We wanted to support an improvement program. So we're looking at how we can use that to improve degraded areas of peat and check out things like water levels. And of course it's using data from satellites as well as ground radar data. So it's kind of got a nice extra attachment for us in this industry to be looking with -- working with too.

>> Maria Varmazis: Yeah. The thing that fascinated me when I was reading about it is a personal thing for me, hearing about how space technology, especially companies that are working in space like your company, are doing things that are directly benefiting us on Earth. And the peat bogs, they can store a great deal of carbon, but as you mentioned like there's a lot of issues with sometimes they can be degraded or damaged. Can you walk me through a little bit about the project itself if you don't mind? Maybe starting from the beginning of who's working on it and how she came to work with Orbex.

>> Martin Coates: Of course well how it came about was through the connections we have playing a part in being a good citizen and our general [inaudible] to be the least environmental impacting launch vehicle company that we can be which is perhaps unusual in the world of space which is hitherto quite the opposite. So then in terms of the specifics here we're looking at water levels and what connects us to that particularly is we have a floating road to connect the main road to the launch pad. And by using a floating road it allows us to avoid disturbing the water levels across the peat bog. It will move up and down and the water can flow underneath it and around it. There's even tunnels for water voles to go through it as well as other mammals and so on. So it's just making sure that the natural fluids can move around and what does that do to, you know, the rest of the environment. Georgina Page is a PhD student at the University of Stirling and she's been supported by Nature Scot through their Peatland Restoration Program as well and it's called Peatland Action. Using largely high resolution [inaudible] sensing radar which is synthetic aperture radar, so if you know the details, right, is yeah looking at things like seasonal fluctuations. So you can obviously imagine it's a lot wetter now than it is in summer, particularly when we have the drought. And so you get to bog breathing which we're looking at. So they're using a certain amount of peat taken from our spaceport to be used in a laboratory to recreate what that [inaudible] bog does in a more closely controlled setting.

>> Maria Varmazis: That is fascinating. I -- so much about what your company is doing I just really appreciate the philosophy behind it and I really -- not just this project, but also with the spaceport that your company's in the middle of building right now and also your launch vehicles the philosophy behind trying to be as low impact as possible in a field that, you know, notoriously is often not. That it is a really wonderful thing to see you actually working towards that. For our listeners who may not be aware, could you talk a little bit about the spaceport that your company's currently building? Because we love spaceports on this show and we're really fascinated by the one that you're making.

>> Martin Coates: As implied, it's set in -- sat in 200,000 hectares of peat bog in [inaudible] in Sutherland which is the northernmost coast of Scotland on the main land. And if you do know Scotland, it's not far from Dounreay nuclear power plant at the [inaudible] pond. So a pretty area which is another thing we have to look at is making sure that the visual impacts are minimized, not just the physical impacts of the -- including design of our visitor center which we will build after the initial launches have gone through to enable other visitors to come through when it's non operational and see the work we're doing as well as the environmental work. Not just all about rockets. It's about good things in there. So yeah. That's the whole area spaceport. And, as I've indicated, this part of it is rows of simple civil engineering and inverted corners. Gravel on membrane making a road. And then a complete pad. But what you've got to do when you're building it is you've got to catch every chemical so you can't have any leaks of oils. We can't have any leaks of liquid oxygen or liquid propane even if they actually ultimately evaporate. You don't know what the interaction might do. So we've got very clever systems for recycling all of those potential risks as well. You know, to really be a good partner to that local environment.

>> Maria Varmazis: Sounds like a fun challenge for an engineer -- engineering team to tackle that. Definitely a challenge, but a fun one. That's fascinating. I love hearing about spaceport developments. It's just always super cool to me. I love asking CEOs like yourself questions about your company's long term plans or your long term vision for your company because I'm always fascinated by the answers. Could you indulge me a little bit in that for what your vision is for Orbex?

>> Martin Coates: Well, it's the long term. At the moment I'm just focused on getting a launch out and [inaudible] that's long term [inaudible] today what we're trying to do is make this more routine, more mass market, which makes it more reliable because we're going to do multiple launches. Not necessarily from this spaceport because there are restrictions on what we can do, but aim to have it. So it's almost like a routine taxi service as opposed to going on a bus which is the equivalent of going on SpaceX where you get roughly where you're going to go and then you have to walk the last bit. Astra's much more precisely into the right orbit. So it makes life easier for the satellite manufacturers themselves as well. Plus the regular schedule means that you don't get bumped off the bus when it's full. It's yours to use. So that's our sort of general view of just making it more accessible through that routine kind of schedule of it. All the high engineering that needs to go in to make it the sort of mass production as opposed to what's traditionally a very bespoke build approach to making rockets.

>> Maria Varmazis: Your rockets use 3D printing, if I remember correctly. Is that correct?

>> Martin Coates: Yes. 3D printing on propulsion units enables them to be as light as possible. One of the challenges you have at this size of a launch vehicle is you have no room for any excess. That might seem counter intuitive to a very large one, but we simply couldn't bring it back to Earth because we can't carry the fuel to do that landing back in that way. So hats off to all that [inaudible] technology, very jealous of it, but actually for our launch vehicle I haven't got 1 spare gram of fuel to do that. So we have to track all those problems in a slightly different way in order to make sure that the stage one is reusable when it comes back. So it has to be not just capable of surviving the launch forces. It's got to be capable of being reused after it's dropped in the sea which is a very corrosive environment to put sensitive parts into. So that's another challenge we gave ourselves when we said we're going to be environmentally friendly is to make sure that comes through. And then the design of the stage. What stage two means, it never leaves debris in space. It will come back down and burn up in the atmosphere. And that's another important part of being an overall good citizen player.

>> Maria Varmazis: That is wonderful to hear. This conversation about how space companies not just launch, but including launch of course, can be good global citizens is one that I am very heartened to hear more of. And especially hearing from companies like yours in terms of how they're really putting that into practice is always genuinely very wonderful to hear. It is more difficult to do, and it is a challenge certainly, but it's wonderful to hear companies that are up to that challenge and really making it happen. So thank you for sharing all of that with me. I do greatly appreciate it. This has been so fascinating. Before we conclude I want to give you the floor if there's anything that I didn't ask you about that you wanted to say to the audience. I want to just give you that opportunity before we close out.

>> Martin Coates: Well, on that last comment, I missed out the fact that it's bio propane and just by choosing that fuel as being an environmental thing we want to support you actually give yourself a much greater engineering challenge rather than do the easy thing which is to choose a kerosene or other fuels that other people have used. We said no. No. We're going to go down that route and we'll take the consequences and what that means to blowing up the brains of my engineers in order to find fantastic innovative solutions to that particular problem. So yes. It is built in rather than added on as an afterthought kind of the way we've gone about designing that whole launch vehicle launch system and that spaceport as well.

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>> Maria Varmazis: We'll be right back. Welcome back. And we do love a bit of space history here on "T-Minus." So here's a little on this day in history trivia for you. The European Space Agency's first human space flight mission lifted off 40 years ago today. Accompanied by the first ESA astronaut Ulf Merbold, the space lab module took flight inside of the space shuttle's cargo bay turning the NASA space truck into a mini space station capable of scientific research. ESA has never launched its own human space flight mission, but it seems that the tides may be changing. At the recent ESA summit in Spain all 22 nationals that fund the agency agreed to open a competition for industry to propose a cargo space craft to fly to and from the International Space Station by 2028. This would be the first time that Europe has developed a crew transportation vehicle. And while it would be initially used to transport humans to and from the ISS, pending ESA member states' agreement of course, it could serve other destinations beyond LEO if -- this is a big if, but if this goes through it could result in Europe developing the capability to land its own astronauts on the surface of the moon. After all the race to the moon 2.0 is a global affair with the U.S, Russia, China, India, and Japan and many others all setting their sights on our nearest natural satellite. So it should be no surprise that the Europeans also want in on the action. Well, we wish them all the best, and we will see what happens in the coming years.

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>> Maria Varmazis: That's it for "T-Minus" for November 28, 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 Caruth. 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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