Russia extends ISS cooperation until 2028. China’s lunar diplomacy. Raytheon refocuses. APEX has a strong start with Astra Space. And more.
Space is hard for Hakuto-R.
Hard landing for Hakuto-R. US-South Korea space agreement. More intel from China’s Space Conference. SpaceX delays. Pricing space debris removal. And more.
Japan's iSpace Hakuto-R lunar mission suffers a failed landing, losing contact with Earth. US and South Korea enhance cooperation in space endeavors. China reveals plans for long-term human habitation on the moon. China's Mars Rover Zhurong may remain inactive indefinitely due to dust buildup. Kall Morris promotes space junk retrieval tech. GAO report urges Space Force to leverage commercial sector for debris tracking. Luxembourg grants OQ Technology a space activity license for IoT and M2M connectivity services. Our guest today is Severin Blenkush on doing business with the government. And more.
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Our featured interview today is with Severin Blenkush, Managing Partner of the Space Advisory Group, on doing business with the government, space industry acquisitions, SBIR and STTRs.
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>> Maria Varmazis: You could cut the tension with a knife in the mission control room at Japan's iSpace today as the company eagerly awaited confirmation of the Hakuto-R's lunar landing. The live feed cut to ads while they looked for a sign of successful touchdown, leaving viewers on the edge of their seats waiting for word, any word, that they had heard from the spacecraft. Unfortunately, iSpace lost communication with their vehicle, and as of the time of this recording anyway, it is assumed that the mission was not successful. We're not kidding when we say space is hard.
>> Maria Varmazis: Today is April 25, 2023. I'm Maria Varmazis and this is T-Minus. A hard landing for the Hakuto-R. U.S. South Korea in Space Agreement, more announcements from China Space Conference, a collection SpaceX news, and some price outs for space debris removal, and my conversation with Severin Blenkush, managing partner of the Space Advisory Group, all about how to do business with the government. You don't want to miss it, so stay tuned. Now, on to our intel briefing for the day. It's not the news anyone was hoping for. The highly anticipated landing of the first private craft on the lunar surface with the Hakuto-R mission of Japan's iSpace did not go as planned. After the Hakuto-R's landing attempt, engineering teams here on earth have not been able to make contact with the craft again. Takeshi Hakamada, iSpace's CEO, had to give the unfortunate news. We have to assume that we could not complete the landing on the lunar surface. NASA and South Korea Science Agency are signing an agreement to boost the U.S. and South Korea's cooperation in outer space. The agreement affirms the countries aim to work together on several areas, such as space communications, space-based navigation, and research on the moon. South Korea has been developing its own space and launch capabilities while aligning itself closer to U.S. space efforts. Seoul signed the Artemis Accords, a U.S. led bilateral pact charting norms of behavior in space and on the moon's surface. And last year launched its Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter aboard a SpaceX rocket to conduct science observations in the moon's orbit. China's National Space Administration has said that future Tiangong missions will include exploring long-term human habitation on the moon. China Daily reports that the country's space agency is exploring 3D printing technology to build structures on the lunar surface. Previous missions have already studied [inaudible] laying the foundation for lunar soil bricks. China plans to launch humans to the moon by 2030. And staying in China, the country says it's Mars rover, Zhurong, has failed to wake up from a planned hibernation during the red planet's winter. State Media reports that a larger than expected buildup of dust has likely hampered the solar-powered rover's ability to generate electricity. It's likely that the vehicle will not be able to generate enough power to wake up from its slumber and that the rover will remain inactive forever. This brings a whole new meaning to rest in power. And SpaceX has delayed its 27th launch this year. Yup, they have held 26 launches in the last 115 days. We'll bring you details of the rescheduled launch to loft 46 new starling satellites into orbit when it's announced. And what do SpaceX delays mean to the overall aerospace industry? Well, NASA says they could have a knock-on effect on astronaut missions. An April 18 launch of commercial satellites on a Falcon Heavy was pushed until April 26, and that could then upend the schedule of the Axiom mission to the ISS that was planned for early May. SpaceX has not disclosed the reason for the delay, but we will share more about the launch when it happens. And for some positive news for Musk's empire, Astrobotic has selected SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket in a competitive commercial procurement to launch its Griffin Lunar Lander in late 2023. Griffin will be carrying NASA's Water Hunting Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, better known as VIPER. One man's trash is another man's treasure, at least that's what one space startup is hoping for. Cal Morris, Incorporated is working to prove its technology to retrieve space junk. The Michigan-based company cleverly advertised their costing on a deck of cards handed out at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs last week. Each card showed a U.S. owned space object listing with its mass, launch date, and North American Aerospace Defense Command Catalog number, along with the estimated cost for retrieval. [Inaudible] testing has so far been ground-based through funding from the Space Forces Orbital Prime program, but they plan to conduct ISS demonstrations in 2024. And speaking of space junk, a report by the Government Accountability Office, or GAO, warns that Space Force is not fully taking advantage of the commercial sector to track and analyze space debris and satellites. The GAO details that most of the DOD's ground-based radars can only track objects larger than 10 centimeters in diameter in low Earth orbit, or LEO, while some commercial sensors can track objects as small as 2 centimeters in diameter. Space Force requested funding to buy commercial data in its budget for the first time in fiscal years 2022 and 2023. About 20 million was budgeted in 2023 for commercial space situational awareness, or SSA, data purchases, and a total of about 110 million for fiscal years 2023 through 2027. And continuing with object tracking in space, French space agency CNES has announced a consortium led by ArianeGroup to improve SSA capabilities. Eutelsat and Magellium make up the other organizations involved in the project. ArianeGroup will provide space surveillance services from its network of 15 ground telescopes. And Eutelsat will operate a new space sensor to connect the system. The project is part of the France 2030 National Investment Plan. Luxembourg has provided a space activity license for OQ technology, making it one of the first space companies in Luxembourg to receive this authorization under the country's new legal framework. This license authorization will allow OQ technology to provide its Internet of things, or IOT, and machine-to-machine connectivity services, in addition to its existing license for the satellites already in orbit. NASA's Science Mission Directorate has launched an entrepreneurs' challenge to source ideas to develop and commercialize state-of-the-art technology and data usage that advances lunar exploration and climate science. The challenge launched on April 10 and will run until November 29 with a total prize win of $1 million. Winners will be invited to a live pitch event hosted at the Defense Tech Connect Innovation Summit and Expo in late November. And in the same month that we've marked 50 years since Martin Cooper made the first public call from a cell phone, AST SpaceMobile and AT and T have announced the first two-way call using satellites and a standard smartphone. The call was made using AT and T's networks in Midland, Texas to mobile carrier Rakuten in Japan using AST SpaceMobile's BlueWalker 3 satellite. The use of satellites could be a significant step towards increasing cellular access in rural communities in the U.S. and across developing countries. Typically, a mobile phone call requires nearby cell towers to provide service. But with this development, satellites could provide a space-based network of cell towers. AST SpaceMobile says it will provide global cellular broadband from space transforming the way the world connects. And that's our briefing for today. Hey, T-Minus crew, our audience is growing rapidly, and that's a big thanks to you. So, if you're just joining us, be sure to follow T-Minus Space daily in your favorite podcast app. And also, do us a favor, please share your favorite episodes on social media. It helps professionals like you find the show and join the crew. You can find our social media profiles in the show notes and at space.n2k.com. Up next is my interview with Severin Blenkush about doing business with the government and military space acquisitions. Stay with us. When you're building space systems, there's a good chance you're working with the military. The military space acquisition process, though, is not always the easiest thing to understand if you're not already familiar with it. And so, it helps a lot to have a guide to walk you through it, and that's who I'm speaking with today.
>> Severin Blenkush: Good morning, everybody. My name is Severin Blenkush. I'm a 27-year Air Force veteran. I was in Contracting and Acquisition the entire time. I retired in 2018. I did a brief stint at the Federal Reserve Bank in St. Louis and then went to work as a support contractor at the Space Rapid Capabilities Office at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico. There I assisted the first round of programs in going through acquisition strategies and getting those on contract, and then participated in a lot of the business intel and market research that that office did. And while there, got really involved with the startup and innovation community in the space arena. And so, for about the last year and a half, Andrew Bossert and I have been the cofounders of Space Advisory Group, a boutique advisory firm that specializes in -- I'm really small in startup companies in the space ecosphere. We help them understand how to do business with the government, and that involves a lot of things. Going through [inaudible] process, as well as putting the message together, establishing a good use case, and then putting that into a package that the government can understand.
>> Maria Varmazis: And thank you so much for joining me today. When you have a new client onboarding, what are some common challenges that you see them encountering?
>> Severin Blenkush: So, a lot of the clients, they are very excited about the amount of money that the Space Force is investing into research and development. So, that is put forth through the SBIR and the STTR programs, the Small Business Innovation Research programs, and primarily run through SpaceWorks, is who administers that program on behalf of the Space Force. So, the companies are very excited to get a contract, and they're even more excited about the prospect of that R and D contract leading into, you know, what folks sometimes called a real contract or a program of record. And what most companies don't understand is that leap or that transition from the R and D contract into a, you know, an actual contract. And most of the misunderstanding centers around the budgeting process that the department of the Air Force, which includes the Space Force, has to go through to actually fund a program.
>> Maria Varmazis: Could you go into a little detail about that, because what does that mean exactly?
>> Severin Blenkush: Yeah, so, the -- after your super contract is over, everyone's familiar with the term the valley of death, so when your R and D funds run out, then you are hopeful to get a real contract to replace those R and D funds. And the real contracts go through a budgeting process that requires having a requirement approved and then funds assigned to that. And this is generally a two-to-three-year process within the DOD as a whole. So, that's not an amount of time that most companies are prepared to wait for either that perfect requirement to come their way. There's a couple other avenues. Sometimes there's fallout funds. And, hopefully, I'm using some terms that a handful of folks will recognize. But there is a little bit of leeway for leadership to reallocate some funds, but that's -- those opportunities are few and far between, and it really involves a lot of maneuvering on the government's part.
>> Maria Varmazis: So, I mean, it seems like just awareness of this pitfall, sort of, is half the battle there. But I mean, is there anything that, you know, say I'm a small space startup and, you know, I'm really excited. I've got this funding and I'm really jazzed about my technology, but I'm staring down that valley of death. Like, you mentioned that there are some avenues but maybe not a whole lot. I mean, is there anything you can do to try and avoid and pivot out of there or?
>> Severin Blenkush: No, a lot of it involves in the amount of outreach that the company is willing to do to members of the Space Force. So, I mean, to start with, your small company has to have a solution that's actually solving a problem. So, you know, there are a lot of good ideas out there and, you know, not every good idea actually has a problem that the Space Force is prepared to put money against. So, understanding whose problem, what problem, and then approaching that particular office or organization with your solution is a really good way to get, you know, awareness, and sometimes with awareness comes an ability for funds to accompany. But you definitely have to be addressing somebody's problem.
>> Maria Varmazis: That makes a lot of sense. And certainly, even if you're working, I would imagine pitching to the private sector it's sort of similar, ideas apply. You've got to be solving a problem that resonates with the market you're trying to sell to, so.
>> Severin Blenkush: Oh yeah, customer discovery.
>> Maria Varmazis: Yeah. I'm gonna -- I'm gonna switch gears for a second and I want to pick up on something that we talked about right before we started the interview, D2P2. What is that? Can you walk me through that?
>> Severin Blenkush: Sure, the Direct to Phase II. And so, this morning, the Air Force released this round of their open topic, Direct to Phase II. So, the open topic, meaning that any good idea is allowed to apply versus a specific topic where the Air Force or the Space Force or any DOD component has ID'd a specific problem and they want an answer to that. So, open topic, any good idea is eligible to apply. The Director to Phase II gives the proposer an opportunity to either take credit for an already performed phase I effort that is similar in scope to what they are proposing in phase II, or have already completed a -- some type of work that would amount to progress that would be made during a phase I. So, the phase -- the phase IIs are a little bit farther beyond, hey, I've got a great idea. Let me find somebody who might have a problem that I can solve with this good idea to moving more into, hey, I've identified some folks that have a problem and I'm going to mature my idea into, you know, say, maybe a prototype in space for the amount of money on a D2P2. Prototypes are not realistic, but if you have some solid designs or a good con ops on how your technology is going to help solve that problem, that's a good avenue for a Direct to Phase II open topic.
>> Maria Varmazis: Cool. So, say you apply. I don't know if that's the right word. But you sign up, apply for a D2P2. What happens next?
>> Severin Blenkush: So, the [inaudible] in the open topic Direct to Phase II, is to find a government customer or end user. And the end user is the organization that actually is going to be able to take advantage of that good idea capability. The customer is the acquisition or organization who has the ability to put stuff on contract and has a budget to do so. So, the customer can be one in the same with the end user, but the end user generally requires somebody with money to sign these memorandums. But the memorandums indicate an interest on the part of the government to go forward with following the work that would be done during performance of that phase II.
>> Maria Varmazis: Okay. So, given the timeliness of D2P2 -- I just love saying that, I'm sorry. Given the timeliness of that, if you are interested, maybe you missed the boat or you want to apply in this phase, what's your advice to people in this situation who are interested and want to move forward on that?
>> Severin Blenkush: So, you can go to the DSIP website, D-S-I-P. Just type that into your browser. It'll pop up. And they will give you the schedule of upcoming SBIR, STTR opportunities. So, the general cadence is in the early January, February timeframe you've got the phase Is. Then in the April, May timeframe you've got around the phase IIs. And then in the Augustish timeframe you've got another round of phase Is. And then October, November you've got another round of phase IIs. So, basically, four periods throughout the year where they alternate phase Is and phase IIs is the, you know, the rough schedule for companies that are interested in pursuing these opportunities.
>> Maria Varmazis: Before we close out , any general advice that you give to companies that are looking to work with government procurement?
>> Severin Blenkush: Yeah, understand what the customer's problem is. Understand which customer you're going to talk to. And then, have a path forward for how your technology is going to solve that problem. A rough idea of how much it might cost and then the how long it might take for that to become a real capability that they can procure.
>> Maria Varmazis: Excellent. Thank you so much for walking us through this. I really appreciate your time and expertise today.
>> Severin Blenkush: Great. Thank you, Maria.
>> Maria Varmazis: We'll be back. And welcome back. Well, the news from Hakuto-R's mission today was not what folks at iSpace were hoping for. There was still a lot that they gained, valuable data pretty much right up until the landing attempt was one of them, and photographs are another. There are some fantastic shots of the moon's surface from the Hakuto-R as it swept over the lunar surface while in orbit. And one of my favorite photographs today was an image actually from April 20 looking back at Earth over the moon's surface during the hybrid solar eclipse that swept over parts of Western Australia and Indonesia. It's not the first image of an eclipse from space, but there aren't that many, so they're always worth seeing in my opinion. And in this one, you can see our beautiful blue planet with the moon's shadow casting an inky dot right over Australia's northern coast. It all looks so tiny from up there. Thank you for the great photo, Hakuto-R. And that's it for T-Minus for April 25, 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 intelligent 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.