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India is all in on the moon.

India’s ambitious 2047 lunar roadmap, strategic Dish-EchoStar merger gets greenlit by the FCC, Rocket Lab lands a launch for South Korea's NeonSat-1, and more!




India shares an ambitious 2047 roadmap for lunar missions and moon tourism, the strategic Dish-EchoStar merger gets greenlit by the FCC, Rocket Lab lands a launch for South Korea's NeonSat-1, ESA ventures into developing a high-thrust rocket engine. And we sat down with Somaya Aswadi, a member of the Afghan Girls Robotics Team, to hear her story.

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T-Minus Guest

Our guest today is Somaya Aswadi

Somaya is a member of the Afghan Girls Robotics Team and a student at Stony Brook University. The Afghan Girls Robotics Team is the subject of the documentary Afghan Dreamers about their formation as an international competitive robotics team in defiance of the Taliban’s religious edicts against education for girls.

Selected Reading

Exclusive: India's first space station unit can be up in just 5 years; 2047 roadmap has multiple lunar missions, Moon tourism on cards- MSN 

FCC nod puts Dish-EchoStar merger on home stretch- SpaceNews

Rocket Lab Signs Deal to Launch South Korean Satellite- Business Wire

Investing in Space: Why Amazon bought rocket launches from rival SpaceX- CNBC

NOAA's older Earth-watching satellites get new 'extended life'- Space

ESA Wants to Develop a "Very High Thrust" Rocket Engine- European Spaceflight 

Penn awarded $2 million grant from NASA to fund research on lunar robots- The Daily Pennsylvanian      

Toughest material ever is an alloy of chromium, cobalt and nickel- New Scientist 

Space Development Agency, Army cooperating on alternates to GPS sat signals- Breaking Defense 

When Waters Rise, Satellites Now Lag- IEEE Spectrum 

Nasa hands over control as new era of moon missions readies for lift-off- The Guardian

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[ T-Minus Intro ]

>> Maria Varmazis: China and the US both have ambitions for a base on the moon. And wouldn't it be something if while the two major players are in fierce competition with each other to get their base on the moon first, well, who says those are the only two competitors at play? What if someone else just kind of swoops in while everyone else is distracted? Well, keep an eye on India because they could make it happen. Anyway, "Alice, I'm bracing myself for today's Friday dad joke."

>> Brandon Karpf: Yes. This is Alice. So, in honor of yesterday, Maria --

>> Maria Varmazis: You sound a little different today, Alice.

>> Brandon Karpf: Yes. My voice is a little froggy. It's one of those days. So, here is your Friday dad joke in honor of yesterday's big story.

>> Maria Varmazis: All right.

>> Brandon Karpf: Why did the tomato go to space?

>> Maria Varmazis: I don't know Alice. Why did the tomato go to space?

>> Brandon Karpf: Because it didn't want to be a garden variety vegetable.

>> Maria Varmazis: Oh. You know, honestly, I'm giving that snaps and a clap. That --

>> Brandon Karpf: Thank you. I --

>> Maria Varmazis: I like that one. I like it. I might use that one.

>> Brandon Karpf: I came up with that this morning on the flight up to Boston, because Go Navy; beat Army. Anyone at the game tomorrow, let me know.

[ T-Minus Intro ]

>> Maria Varmazis: Today is December 8, 2023. I'm Maria Varmazis.

>> Brandon Carp: I'm Brandon Carp and this is T-Minus.

>> Brandon Carp: India shares an ambitious 2047 roadmap for lunar missions and moon tourism. The strategic dish echo star merger gets greenlit by the FCC. Rocket Lab lands a launch for South Korea's Neon Sat One. Esa ventures into developing a high thrust rocket engine.

>> Maria Varmazis: And later in the show we sit down with Somaya Aswadi, a member of the Afghan girls robotics team to hear her story. So, let's take a look at our intel briefing for this Friday. In a recent interview, S. Somanath, the chairman of India's space agency, ISRO, shared that India is planning to build the first unit of its own space station by 2028. And they're eyeing moon tourism as part of its 2047 roadmap. This roadmap includes multiple lunar missions and a sustained human presence on the moon. ISRO Chairman, S. Somanath, confirms that these plans are realistic and achievable in the timelines. Future missions like the joint Indian/Japanese LUPEX rover and Chandrayaan-4 lunar sample return are steps towards docking with NASA's gateway space station, a crewed lunar landing, and ultimately, a sustainable lunar economy based on mining and tourism. The development of the next generation launch vehicle, or NGLV, is crucial for these endeavors, with Israel aiming for a partially reusable design using current Indian manufacturing capabilities. The lunar missions spanning technology development, reach out and base phases, will involve uncrewed and crewed missions, habitat construction, and infrastructure scaling on the moon. And while these plans are yet to be finalized or approved, ISRO's ambitious vision reflects India's growing commitment to advancing its space capabilities.

>> Brandon Carp: Dish Network and EcoStar, both under billionaire Chairman, Charlie Urgan, received FCC approval to merge in order to consolidate satellite TV and broadband service. This move finalizing a months-old plan aims to strengthen their market position against cable competition and diversify revenues. Notably, with EchoStar's upcoming Jupiter-3's satellite launch and Dish's 5-G rollout.

>> Maria Varmazis: Rocket Lab received a launch contract for South Korea's NeonSat-1, an Earth observation satellite, for early 2024. This mission, part of a NASA rideshare, demonstrates Rocket Lab's growing launch schedule, and commitment to efficient, timely, space services. NeonSat-1, primarily a technology demonstration mission marks a significant step in South Korea's space development.

>> Brandon Carp: And as we reported last week, Amazon has made a strategic pivot by purchasing SpaceX rocket launches for its ambitious project Kuiper. This move, driven by a pressing FCC deadline, involves deploying 1,618 satellites within the next 2.5 years. Previously, Amazon had diversified its launch providers, contracting with ULA, Blue Origin, Ariana Space and ABL for 94 launches. However, development delays with these other provider's rockets ultimately pushed Amazon towards SpaceX, which is of course a direct competitor in the satellite internet market through Star Link. This partnership highlights the dynamic and pragmatic approach in the space industry where achieving ambitious technological goals often leads to some unexpected alliances. Amazon's decision underscores the criticality of reliable and rapid launch services in the competitive satellite broadband market, as well as the influence of their board, pushing for them to choose the most cost-effective launch provider.

>> Maria Varmazis: NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is innovating to extend the life of its older, polar-orbiting satellites using cloud-based systems. A cost-effective strategy to enhance Earth observation capabilities. These satellites, which are crucial for weather forecasting and climate study, will now operate beyond their expected lifespans. This approach not only retains valuable data sources, but also complements NOAA's newer polar joint satellite series. By partnering with the private sector for this ground system as a service, NOAA demonstrates a forward-thinking model in satellite management, setting a precedent for future low-earth orbit missions and technological advancements in space-based environmental modeling.

>> Brandon Carp: The European space agency is initiating development of a high-thrust rocket engine. Aiming for a capability of at least 250 tons of thrust, which is comparable to SpaceX's Raptor engine that powers Starship. This project, part of the future launcher's preparatory program, is a strategic move to enhance ISA's domestic, heavy lift launch capabilities, and could ultimately support future human space flight missions. While still early days, this initiative marks a significant step in advancing European space technology and competitiveness in global space exploration.

>> Maria Varmazis: NASA has awarded the University of Pennsylvania a $2 million grant for the TRESSA's project for innovative lunar robotics. The research aims to develop algorithms for robots to autonomously navigate and overcome the moon's environmental challenges. This project, led by U-Penn Engineering, involves creating strategies for robot teams to form secure structure, assess terrain and map-safe pads, enhancing lunar exploration capabilities.

>> Brandon Carp: And here's an interesting one for you manufacturers out there, a new chromium cobalt and nickel alloy has been identified as officially the toughest material known, offering potential advantages for spacecraft construction. Now, unlike hardness, toughness indicates resilience against fracturing, which is a critical property for materials used in space exploration, where extreme conditions are common. This development could significantly impact spacecraft design and durability.

>> Maria Varmazis: This space development agency and the Army are collaborating to develop alternatives to GPS satellite signals for positioning navigation and timing. Next year, SDA's Tranch-1 transport layer satellites will launch, carrying a navigation element in the Link-16 datalink signal. These initiatives address potential GPS accessibility and jamming issues in conflict zones. Additionally, SDA is exploring broadcasting alternate PNT signals over L-band or S-band requiring new user equipment with decisions on these technologies expected after 2028. And that about does it for today's intel briefing. And in our selected reading, we've also included a piece from IEEE spectrum about a new flood monitoring method using time series SAR images and fuzzy logic. And another from The Guardian on NASA working with Astrobotic. As always, you can check out our show notes and any past episodes you might have missed over at space.n2k.com.

>> Brandon Carp: And hey, T-Minus crew, turn in tomorrow for T-Minus deep space, our show for extended interviews, special editions and deep dives with some of the most influential professionals in the space industry. Now, tomorrow we have Episode 3 of AWS in Orbit. Our guests are Aiga Stokenberga from the World Bank, and Baptist Trepard from Altea. They join us to discuss their project monitoring critical road infrastructure at scale. Now, check it out while you're baking holiday cookies, wrapping presents, or most importantly, travelling to Foxborough, Massachusetts for the Army/Navy game. You won't want to miss it. Tomorrows Army/Navy game is of course the 124th in the series. Navy, of course, leads 62 wins in the series to Army's only 54, and as always, go Navy! Beat Army.

>> Maria Varmazis: Our guest today is Somaya Aswadi. Somaya is a member of the Afghan girls robotics team and a student at Stoneybrook University. The Afghan girls robotics team is the subject of the documentary called, "Afghan Dreamers," about their formation as an international competitive robotics team in defiance of the Taliban's religious edicts against education for girls. She shared what the Afghan robotics team is working on now, and her own future ambitions in space.

>> Somaya Aswadi: I am Somaya Aswadi. I'm member of Afghan girls robotic team and also, I'm a student at Stoneybrook University majoring in computer science. So, my robotics journey started when I was in sixth grade. We had to make some mini robots in my school, and from that time I realized that I'm interested in robotics. So, I continued that field until I became at 11th grade, and I participated in some evaluation for being an Afghan robotics member. And then I was accepted in that evaluations and I became member of Afghan girls robotics team since 2021. And then, after the collapse of previous government in Afghanistan, we travelled to Quatar to continue my education, because as you know, that Universities and schools are banned in the country, so I couldn't continue my education and follow my dreams. And I studied precollege in Quatar for one year, then I go acceptance of six universities in the USA and I choose Stoneybrook University and now I'm here.

>> Maria Varmazis: Stoneybrook has a really wonderful and very strong sciences and engineering program, which I don't know if all our listeners know that, but I proudly know that, so I just wanted to put a plug for your fantastic university. They do great things. So, tell me a bit about your team, the Afghan girls robotic team.

>> Somaya Aswadi: Overall, I can say that we have senior members, and we have new members. I'm one of the new members, and we participated in first global competition last year, that was in Switzerland. We build a robot and for that competition. That was a carbon capture robot. That's not like literally capturing carbon, but it was a model that was helping to reduce the implosion in Earth, and it was for climate change -- help in climate change. And we actually got two awards for that.

>> Maria Varmazis: Well, congratulations.

>> Somaya Aswadi: And now, also we are trying to work again together because as you know, we, all of us, we are 10 members, so we started our universities. And maybe in summer we gather together and work again on human-shaped robots.

>> Maria Varmazis: Wow. Okay. So, that's -- okay, that's really cool. All of that is really cool. So, I was going to say, what areas of interest in robotics? So, I mean, climate change is the pressing issue of our time, so that is a big one to be working on something related to helping save our world. Human-shaped robotics, I know there's a lot of application for that in space application. Is that part of the interest there?

>> Somaya Aswadi: I can say personally, it's part of my interest, because I want to be in the space field. And I can say that we are trying to build all of those robots to help, and we can -- we are kind of doing innovation. Our team works on different fields. Like, it's not only about space or about climate change. We find the problems that are in our society, and trying to solve those problems by building robots. For example, in my country, there are so many mine fields. So, we build mind-detector robots. So, instead of humans we can bring the robot and we can use that robot to find the mines and use the mines and send some signals to the human resources, and they can, like, understand that yes, in this area, in this exact area there is a mine. So, they can take it out. So, this is something that we work on it. And also, for COVID we build a robot that helped doctors and it was called Month Later and it was helping doctors with the oxygen, and yeah. The recent, once the recent robot that we have built is for paralyzed people. People who cannot move any part of their body except your eyes, pupil. So, whenever you -- whenever the paralyzed person moved their eyeballs so the robot can -- I don't know, but it's called Paralyzed Wheelchair. Wheelchair for paralyzed people.

>> Maria Varmazis: Wow. When I was an undergraduate in engineering school, I wasn't doing anything nearly that fantastic, so I'm in awe of you. That's really amazing. Especially, I mean, how many programming languages have you learned already? I mean that's -- robotics alone, but also the programming language; that's not small either.

>> Somaya Aswadi: We learned different programming language. We learned JAVA, C-Sharp, and recently we were working on Python because it's also so famous [inaudible]. And before that I was in gaming team, before being in Afghan girls robotic team. And that's the team that I used Java, C-Sharp, C++ and now here, I'm learning Python.

>> Maria Varmazis: I'm in awe of all the things that you've done already and you're just getting started. It's truly incredible. I just want to congratulate you on all that you've done already so far, this is -- you are truly an incredible person. When you look ahead to the future, after your undergraduate years are over, I know that there's a lot between then and now, but what are your ambitions after you graduate?

>> Somaya Aswadi: So, I have so many friends, like, even if I talk about it, it takes a lot of time. So --

>> Maria Varmazis: That's good. I'm so curious; I'd love to hear.

>> Somaya Aswadi: First, I want to continue my education. I don't want to be just an undergraduate like; I want to continue my Masters degree. My -- I want to take my PhD, like, it's my dream, like, my goal. And I'm working on it every day to take my master's degree and PhD. And I also want to work -- like, my dream job is to work for NASA and -- as an engineer and as a programmer. And every day I'm trying to work on myself, learn new things, be part of new conference, like, participate in different things to be a person who can work for NASA.

>> Maria Varmazis: And NASA would be very lucky to have you, for the record. They would be very lucky to have you because with your skillset and what you can do, you could -- you have your -- truly, you'll have your choice of anywhere you want to go. Now, I'm a person who really admires NASA, but I want to hear sort of your view on, so why NASA of all the options that you, I'm sure you have ahead of you. What about NASA appeals to you?

>> Somaya Aswadi: So, it's something that I'm dreaming since I was a child. So, I always talk about NASA and programs that NASA have done and all the things that robots, with my mom. So, from that time till now I'm interested in that, and I'm interested in space and that's the reason that I'm interested in NASA.

>> Maria Varmazis: That's fair enough. I mean, space is cool. Can't dispute that.

>> Somaya Aswadi: Yeah. Of course. Of course.

>> Maria Varmazis: Yeah. And you sound like a problem solver who likes to approach really challenging engineering problems, so I -- that's -- space is right up there. Somaya, I know you were at the Inter Astra conference. I'm just curious, your thoughts about anything you learned from the conference, anything you got out of it that you've -- you would like to share; I'd love to know.

>> Somaya Aswadi: I think Inter Astra was kind of life-changing for me because I see so many people. For example, I see so many astronauts, so many sales, so many successful people and I talk with them, and I can say that I learned so many things from them, and I can put them as my role model and follow their path to be a successful person like them. And this is one thing that I really appreciate about Inter Astra is that building connection with people. And even though I'm an undergraduate student I build connection with so many amazing and successful people and I'm really thankful for that, for having the opportunity to be with these amazing people and meeting all of them.

>> Maria Varmazis: I can imagine. I know there are a lot of astronauts especially were there. So, it's -- that's just really cool to meet them. They're really amazing people. I'm sure you're asked a lot, maybe advice you have for other people who are pursuing their own education, and I know you're still pursuing your own as well. But, you know, what advice do you have for people? I'm just curious.

>> Somaya Aswadi: My advice is never give up. Because if you give up, it's like finished -- everything is finished. You may fail so many times. For me, I failed so many times in my life. Because I wanted to continue my education, but I was not able to continue my education for one year. And everything was in a very bad situation. But all of these situations are temporary, and if you are hopeful and try and work hard, you will pay off in future.

>> Maria Varmazis: We'll be right back. Welcome back. Hanukkah, the festival of lights, officially began last night. And Hanukkah this year is also being celebrated in space aboard the International Space Station. And I should mention, it's not the first time Hanukkah has been celebrated aboard the ISS, but last time in 2019, astronaut Jessica Meir, wished everyone a happy Hanukkah with festive socks, featuring menorahs and the star of David. This time, astronaut Jasmine Moghbeli, brought with her a real dreidel and a felt menorah with separate felt lights so she can light them for each night of the holiday. And it's all safe; no combustion aboard. Moghbeli made the felt menorah and lights with her husband and children, so this is her way of celebrating the Hanukkah holiday in parallel with her family, even from afar. And I mentioned the dreidel, which is honestly the star of the video that she posted. She starts spinning it and well, it spins and spins and spins and spins, just loading there against a beautiful backdrop of our planet Earth below. I guess that's one way to win the spinning contest. No word yet on if Moghbeli will be making latkes aboard the ISS, but apparently, she's trying to make that happen. We'll stand by for any updates on the pending potatoiness. A most delicious and happy Hanukkah to all who are celebrating.

>> Brandon Carp: So, that's it for T-Minus for December 8, 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 a rapidly changing space industry. We are 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.

>> Maria Varmazis: 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. Learn more at n2k.com. This episode was produced by Alice Caruth. Mixing by Elliot Peltsman and Trey Hester. With original music and sound design by Elliot Peltsman. Our executive producer is Jenn Ivan. Our VP is Brandon Carp. And I'm Maria Varmazis. Thanks for listening.

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