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2023: Iran’s animal space odyssey.

Iran’s animal space launch, DARPA's LunA-10 lunar tech study, SpaceX's NASA demo, the latest on the Earth Observation with Aravind Ravichandran, and more!




Iran claims it sent animals to space. DARPA picks its 14 faves to study what’s possible in lunar services. SpaceX adds a key demo for NASA to its next Starship flight test plan. And we have the latest updates from the Earth Observation Market, and a look at the year that was, with our guest Aravind Ravichandran in our monthly Overview segment. And more!

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T-Minus Guest

We have the latest updates from the Earth Observation Market with our guest Aravind Ravichandran.

Selected Reading

Iran launches animals into space as it revives bid for human missions- Al Jazeera

Collaborating Toward Integrated Commercial Lunar Infrastructure- DARPA

Exolaunch USA Wins Launch Contract from Capella Space for Pioneering SAR Satellite Mission- ExoLaunch 

SpaceX plans key NASA demonstration for next Starship launch- CNBC

Rogue Space Systems Announces Barry-1 Satellite Launch and Operations Commencement- Rogue Space

Aalyria Wins Contract with European Space Agency to Build O-RAN Compliant Orchestration Platform to Unlock 5G/6G Non-terrestrial Connectivity- Business Wire

Japan targeting Jan. 19 for nation's 1st-ever moon landing- Space 

UAE Organizes First Space Agencies’ Leaders Summit during COP28- SpaceWatch

NASA Leaders to Highlight 25th Anniversary of Space Station with Crew- NASA

Maine manufacturer of high-temp materials will expand, driven by defense, space industries- Mainebiz.biz

Start of new space race? First private spacecraft may land on the Moon as early as next month- Times of India

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>> Maria Varmazis: Quick question for you. What do spiders, pandas, bears, and kittens all have in common? Well, if you're a cyber geek, you likely got the answer to this one. They're all animals used to name various nation-state cyber groups. So groups with "spider" or "panda" in the name are from China. Russian groups usually include a bear and kitten. Well, Rocket Kitten is often associated with Advanced Persistent Threat 35, a.k.a. Charming Kitten, a.k.a. the Iranian government, and Iran may have just created a brand-new type of Rocket Kitten, like an actual Rocket Kitten.

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Today is December 6, 2023. I'm Maria Varmazis, and this is T-Minus.

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Iran claims it sent animals to space. DARPA picks its 14 faves to study what's possible in lunar services. SpaceX adds a key demo for NASA to its next Starship flight test plan. And we have the latest updates from the Earth Observation Market, and a look at the year that was, with our guest Aravind Ravichandran in our monthly Overview segment. All this and more. Stay with us.

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Here's what we have for our intel briefing for today, and we're starting off our show with a story that has folks mewing across space exploration and international relations. The Iranian government announced early this morning that they have successfully launched a capsule with animals into space, a significant move towards its goal of a manned space program. The launch performed by a domestically produced rocket successfully carried a 500-kilogram capsule, and that's about 1,000 pounds, about 130 kilometers, or 80 miles, into space. Though a number of outlets are reporting that the capsule was sent into orbit, we have not independently confirmed if the capsule actually achieved orbital velocity. The exact nature of the animals onboard also remains undisclosed, so we don't actually know what type of animal it was or if it survived. This launch, part of a series of Iranian space initiatives, is not just a technological achievement but also a geopolitical statement. The West, especially the U.S., views Iran's space activities with skepticism given the dual use nature of rocket technology for both space exploration and ballistic missile development. Iran asserts its space program is peaceful, focusing on scientific research. However, these advancements occur against a backdrop of strained, to put it mildly, international relations, particularly regarding Iran's nuclear program and related sanctions. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, also known as DARPA, has selected 14 companies for the agency's 10-Year Lunar Architecture Capacity Study, known as LunA-10. Now, LunA-10 seeks to study the rapid development of technology concepts for a series of shareable and scalable systems that can operate jointly, creating monetizable services for the lunar economy. LunA-10 program performers will work together over the course of the seven-month study in a collaborative program where they will design new integrated system level solutions that span multiple lunar services, and the services include lunar power, mining and commercial resource utilization, communications, navigation, and timing, transit mobility and logistics, and construction and robotics. As for who's working on this, let's get ready for a big list of companies now. You ready? Okay, the 14 companies are Blue Origin, CisLunar Industries, Crescent Space Services, Fiber-Tech, Firefly Aerospace, GITAI, Helios, Honeybee Robotics, iKON, Nokia of America, Northrop Grumman, Redwire, Sierra Space, and SpaceX. Yeah, no real surprises there. The companies will present their work to the lunar community -- yes, there is a lunar community -- at the Lunar Surface Innovation Consortium in April 2024 and provide a final report in June. LunA-10 will not fund technology construction, transportation to the lunar surface, or integration with lunar delivery vehicles, and the envisioned lunar architecture must support lunar activities that have commercial value. Looking forward to hearing more about that one. Germany-based Exolaunch has won a launch contract from Capella Space, an American synthetic aperture radar company with data and satellite solutions for government and commercial applications. The award is for Capella Space's Acadia-5 satellite, which will be launched to a Sun-synchronous orbit on SpaceX's Transporter-11 mission. Now, this collaboration marks the first launch contract between Exolaunch USA and Capella Space. In our show yesterday, we mentioned that SpaceX is planning a third test of Starship as soon as possible, and it seems that the company could attempt a key demo for NASA during the third test flight, and that's according to the federal agency. The next Starship flight is expected to include, quote, a propellant transfer demonstration. The demonstration falls under a NASA tipping point contract that the agency awarded to SpaceX in 2020 for $53.2 million U.S., and the concept is like aerial refueling an aircraft used to extend flight range, and under the NASA contract, SpaceX's first demo will involve transferring 10 metric tons of liquid oxygen between tanks within the Starship rocket. Starship will not be required to rendezvous with another rocket for this first demo, but it would require that the rocket reach orbit. All in all, that is a pretty big ask for test number three. Rogue Space Systems is celebrating the successful launch, deployment, and commencement of operations for its first satellite, Barry-1. The satellite achieved stable communications and control since its launch on November 11th and during the launch and early orbit phase which will proceed into December. Rogue is preparing for payload testing, including the Rogue Scalable Compute Platform and the IVO Quantum Drive, potentially the first commercially viable pure electric propulsion technology, and you might remember that we spoke to IVO's CEO Richard Mansell on our November 30th episode of T-Minus, and soon we'll be speaking to Rogue's CEO Jeremy Grimmett on the show, so keep an ear out for that great conversation. Space software and optical networking communications company Aalyria has been awarded a development contract with the European Space Agency supported by the UK Space Agency to help unlock 5G/6G -- yup, 6G, we're going there -- terrestrial and non-terrestrial network capabilities. The project aims to develop a first-of-its-kind O-RAN compliant orchestration system that can stitch together disparate connectivity assets to form highly heterogeneous networks that span land, sea, air, and space to deliver new NTN connectivity features based on emerging 5G advanced and 6G standards. Representing the significance of the collaboration and a commitment to 5G, TN, or NTN services, Aalyria has also established a European entity of its business with headquarters in London. Aalyria UK will serve as a hub for innovation, collaboration, and the development of world-class technologies as the company works to establish Europe as the center of its 5G, TN, NTN business, and Aalyria UK will catalyze competition and sustainability not only in the U.K., but through the European continent. And finally, a few notable milestones to share today. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, has announced that it's targeting January 19, 2024, for the lunar landing of its robotic SLIM, or Smart Lander for Investigating Moon spacecraft. This will mark the first-ever soft lunar landing for a Japanese spacecraft. Fingers crossed for them. And during the recent COP28 event, the UAE Space Agency added the Space Pavilion and presented a Space Agencies Leaders' Summit that included participation from more than 20 international space agencies. The summit brought key actors from global climate policy and space exploration sectors together and consequently sought to address climate programs and initiatives that will expedite the pathway to 1.5C. On December 6, 1998, let's go back in time a little bit, NASA took the first two elements of the International Space Station, Unity and Zarya, online, and today NASA celebrated that event with a live conversation with crew aboard the Microgravity Laboratory for the benefit of humanity. And Unity and Zarya were attached by crew members of Space Shuttle Endeavour's STS-88 mission. Through this global endeavor, astronauts have continuously lived and worked aboard the space station for more than 23 years testing technologies, performing science, developing the skills needed to explore farther from Earth. It has been visited by 273 people from 21 different countries, and more than 3,300 research and educational investigations have been conducted on the International Space Station from 108 countries and areas. Wow.

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That's it for our briefing for you today, and we also have two selected reading articles for you in our show notes. First, some space manufacturers are expanding their footprint in Maine, and Astrobiotic has its lunar landing site set on late January. 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. This will help other space professionals like you to find the show and join the T-Minus crew. Thank you so much for your support. We really appreciate it.

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Our guest today is Aravind Ravichandran, returning for our monthly segment on Earth observation. Aravind started off by giving us an update on the last Transporter mission that sent new satellites to orbit.

>> Aravind Ravichandran: Transport missions are always, you know, quite exciting for the industry because there's a lot of payloads and a lot of companies at launch. Usually, I think, three/fourth of the satellites that launch tend to be Earth observation satellites, just as a function of -- as, you know, so many sensors and so many countries and companies that there are, so there's just, again, a lot of variety in this launch as well. Usually, I try and publish a breakdown every time in my newsletter or on social media, and I think I did that this time as well. Usually, I try and segment it into three. The first launches or technology demonstrations, you know, the first time ever launching, like, for example, Planet Launch, their first satellite of the Pelican Constellation, which is going to be their very high-resolution, 30-centimeter resolution constellation. You know, there was a prototype satellite from a French observation startup called "Promethee," and there were a couple of other, again, likewise, technology demonstration for satellites ever launched, and, obviously, usually, there's also a second category, which is national missions, or sovereign observation missions, so, you know, either first satellite from a country or, you know, a specific satellite that's launching for a specific country, and this time, there was a satellite that was launched by Open Cosmos for the state of Andalusia in Spain, and I think there was also the Omani satellite and first satellite for -- in the African country Djibouti as well. So the second category, national observation missions, and then the third ones are the ones that are what I call "constellation updates." It's basically from companies that we know of, you know, there are a couple of satellites for Umbra. There were a few satellites for ISI. You know, they already have satellites in space and they're just, you know, either upgrading their technology or just adding on to their constellation. So there was one from Open Cosmos, again. There was one from Unseenlabs. There was a few from Spire. There are about 30 or 36 satellites, I think, from Planet, who are building their Dove Constellation. So yeah, so the third category was, again, from names or the usual suspects that we already know.

>> Maria Varmazis: Yeah, LEO is getting more crowded than ever, more nations and people are getting involved in Earth observation, which is always exciting to see, and we've got some cool technology demonstrations happening, so I guess we will wait and see what the results of those demos are. Hopefully, fingers crossed all goes well there. Thirty centimeters, wow, that is incredible resolution, though. I'm sort of mind-boggled, the potential for that.

>> Aravind Ravichandran: Planet's the -- I think the second company on orbit with 30 centimeter. Airbus already has Pleiades Neo with 30 centimeter. Maxar is going to go up with their constellation probably sometime next year of their 30-centimeter constellation. So I think that place is also getting crowded, or that small sub-segment of the Earth observation market is also getting crowded with a lot of players.

>> Maria Varmazis: Yeah, I'm just -- that resolution, I can't wait to see what that looks like. I mean, that must be absolutely incredible. I'm wondering what the application wouldn't be for 30 centimeters. A lot of different applications, I would imagine.

>> Aravind Ravichandran: If the price is right, yeah. If not, you know, if not, it's only for -- it's almost like buying a yacht. You know, yachts are cool, but not everybody has yachts.

>> Maria Varmazis: That's a very fair comparison. Absolutely fair. All right, so end of November, we also talked about what's going on, as we're recording this, which is COP28. So NASA is there, which is not a small deal, and they're talking a lot about how people can use their Earth observation data for aiding in climate change related decisions, and that feels to me like a big story in and of its own, but that's just me. I'm curious what your thoughts are on -- COP28 has just kicked off, but what's going on with Earth observation at COP28?

>> Aravind Ravichandran: Sure, I think, well, obviously, observation is going to be more and more central. I mean, I've been following COPs for the last seven, eight years and I think this is probably the year where, over the last eight years Earth observation in space has become more and more central, and I think it's also to do with the awareness and also to do with all the data that we've been collecting and satellites that have launched over the last seven, eight years. So yeah, I think all the space agencies are there, NASA is there, ESA is there, and they're talking about how their current missions and upcoming missions are going to be useful for cracking the Paris Agreement, for instance, and I think, you know, one surprising thing, as much as we talk about surprising for public, some people, as much as we talk about for space, for climate is, officially there's no use of satellite data for climate, meaning for tracking the Paris Agreement, we don't integrate observations from satellite data yet. That's probably because of, you know, data that is not continuously there, and that's why the European Space Agency and the EU are working on a mission called CO2M, Carbon Dioxide Mission, for tracking carbon dioxide levels, which is going to be useful and directly integrated to tracking how every country is doing around the world. The carbon stocktake is the concept of, you know, nations coming together and kind of, I guess, consolidating their carbon emissions and identifying which country is doing well in terms of reducing their emissions, which are not, but doing it on an official basis. For that, obviously, we need objective source of data and that's where, again, satellite data comes in because, you know, satellites are objective. They're looking at it also globally, right? So this year I think there's going to be a lot of conversation from that aspect. So, you know, that's one angle, the carbon stocktake angle. The second one is more related to early warning systems and, let's say, climate adaptation on a more high level, you know, the use of satellite data for, you know, providing early warning systems to countries around the world, especially a lot of countries in the global south, which are, you know, seeing the consequences of climate change somewhat, also more so than, you know, the Western world, or the developed world, even though their emissions have been low. So I think there's a lot of conversation about -- around, you know, putting together this fund, which will also fund part of the early warning systems. We're not quite sure yet if there are going to be more satellites, but what we can be sure is data from satellites are going to be a big part of those early warning systems that will be set in place for a lot of the countries which don't have those in place even at this moment. So I think that's the second context, but yeah, I think there's probably a third context that is more related to, you know, continuous monitoring, like monitoring land use, monitoring deforestation, food security, you know, a lot of central themes, or renewable energy, a lot of these central themes around climate, Earth observation is probably not going to be in the foreground in any of those, but it's probably going to be in the background covering any of those, you know, all of those aspects, you know, whether it's monitoring, crop, you know, crop forecast and looking at droughts, looking at deforestation rates. You know, we all know that, obviously, satellite data is a big part of that, but then it'll probably not be in the foreground. It'll probably be in the background.

>> Maria Varmazis: Yeah, what's fascinating about what you just said is, to me, often I think there is a discussion about how there's a lack of awareness perhaps and how Earth observation data can be helpful, but I didn't realize also that if it's not actually built into policies moving forward in terms of how things are being reported, then it's being left out of that discussion entirely. Well, of course, people don't know that it can be a resource. So it's fascinating. Yeah, that's fascinating to hear, that that is hopefully changing, or at least it's more part of the conversation, but data availability is, of course, not a small issue, but that's fascinating. Thanks for raising that. I didn't know that. All right, so it is December, and I love to ask the super cliche question of, all right, so if we're looking at the year, not a simple thing to take stock of, an entire year, but anything -- I do have to ask, anything stick out as highlights for you, looking back at the year that was?

>> Aravind Ravichandran: Well, I think this has been, I guess, a long year. I guess everybody would say that at the end of the year, I suppose, but then, you know, just looking at the market and, you know, working in this industry and looking at Earth observation, I don't think there's been a day that I've not said "Earth observation" as a word, even during vacation. I think it's somehow -- I guess I'm involved in Earth observation. I'll say the word "Earth observation." I'll think about it. So yeah, I think I've just been looking at the market so much. So what do I pick? I think the first one is the interest and the involvement of companies and governments in launching satellites, that's more for governments, companies being founded to launch more satellites from a private sector perspective and the end user side and the awareness of Earth observation. So I think the first trend is really just increased awareness and whether it's leading to adoption or not is a different question, but at least the awareness has gone up. The number of satellites that are being launched, including the projections for the future, are going up because, you know, every month there's probably a new company that's coming out announcing new constellations or a new country -- or sorry, a country that's announcing a new program with, you know, with more satellites. Recently there was Canada, I think, a few weeks ago, that kind of doubled down on their current satellite, so they will launch satellites, but then it's almost to replace the better version of the future. So, you know, those enhancements keep coming. So I think the first trend is about, you know, continue increasing Earth observation. The second one is more about the role of Earth observation becoming more and more understood because a lot of times Earth observation is -- used to be, you know, key data is coming from satellites, but it was not integrated into conversations that we are having, you know, if you're having about food security, if you're having about early warning systems, if you're talking about energy, if you're talking about, you know, financing and insurance and commodity trading, a lot of those aspects, they were all two separate things, you know, Earth observation was here and those sectors were there, and I think the gap is -- the gap is slowly bridging. I mean, have they bridged it completely? I don't think so, but I think we're at least heading in the right direction. You're seeing a lot more adoption, you know, whether it is insurance companies, agricultural companies, mining companies, banks, you know, a lot of them are starting to use Earth observation data, so, you know, that's probably a second thing. The third thing is more about, I guess from a -- if you want to go from an upstream point of view and sensors point of view, there's a lot of, I guess, continued development of sensors, you know, whether it is, like we talked about, Planet launching new high-resolution satellites, still, you know, optical imagery, multispectral, but then at a, you know, very high resolution. There's new sensors coming in with LiDAR. We saw the announcement of a new LiDAR constellation, or a couple of LiDAR constellations this year, Nuview and Airmal [phonetic], and we also saw a lot more, I guess, demonstrations of edge computing, or on-orbit processing. I think we talked about that a couple of months ago. So yeah, I think they are also happening as well from a hardware point of view, so, you know, the advancements are not just downstream on planet Earth how we're using, you know, data from satellites, but it's also about, you know, how the progress in the hardware side is going to continue, and I think that's -- that's probably a thing.

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

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Welcome back, and we have a winning name for the Australian Space Agency's upcoming lunar rover. Thanks to everyone around Australia and the world who voted for their favorites. If you need a refresher, after weeks of open suggestions, the four-name shortlist for the lunar rover was Coolamon, Kakirra, Roo-ver, and Mateship. Here's the news you can use folks. Over 20,000 votes were cast in all and the winning name is officially, drumroll, please.

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Roo-ver, because what else could it possibly have been other than a reference to kangaroos? When the U.S. said hi to the Moon, "the eagle has landed," right? So when Australia makes a soft Moonfall, it'll be "the Roo-ver has" -- hopped, leaped? Anyway, verbiage aside, suitcase-sized Roo-ver is going to hitch a ride on a future NASA Artemis mission to the Moon, and once it's there, its job will be to collect regolith, put it in its little pouch, if you will, and from there Roo-ver will deliver its dusty payload to NASA equipment that will then try and see if we can extract oxygen from the regolith. Well, congratulations to Siwa from New South Wales who suggested the winning name, and a hearty g'day to Roo-ver.

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That's it for T-Minus for December 6, 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 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 Elliott Peltzman and Tre Hester, with original music and sound design by Elliott Peltzman. Our executive producer is Jen Eiben. Our VP is Brandon Karpf, and I'm Maria Varmazis. Thanks so much for listening. We'll see you tomorrow.

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>> Robotic Voice: T-Minus.

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