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GAO recommends changes to FAA mishap investigations.

GAO finds FAA mishap investigation process issues. SDA says current budget indecisions have put projects on hold. Egypt signs on to China's ILRS. And more.




The Government Accountability Office is looking into the Federal Aviation Administration’s mishap investigation process. The Space Development Agency says that they have put some projects on hold due to the ongoing continuing resolution, which pauses spending at fiscal 2023 levels. Egypt signs on with China for their planned  International Lunar Research Station, and more.

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T-Minus Guest

Our guest today is Anastasia Prosina, CEO Stellar Amenities.

You can connect with Anastasia on LinkedIn and learn more about Stellar Amenities on their website.

Selected Reading

Commercial Space Transportation: FAA Should Improve Its Mishap Investigation Process- U.S. GAO

Budget standoff ‘a big deal’ for Space Development Agency

Space Development Agency Providing Capability to Warfighters

More Nations Meet to Address Space Security

Space Force Activates New Component for Europe and Africa

China’s lunar base: major African nation joins Beijing’s international moon project

Chinese commercial reusable rocket successfully conducts second flight - CGTN

NASA Signs Memorandum of Agreement for Space Weather

United Launch Alliance Vulcan VC2S Rocket Conducts Wet Dress Rehearsal at Cape Canaveral Ahead of Christmas Eve Launch - Space Coast Daily

SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket launch of secretive X-37B space plane delayed to Dec. 11

Don't trash the International Space Station (Opinion)

Draft: A Charter For A Circular Space Economy

Why 2024 Will Be an Epic Year in Spaceflight

Colliding space junk makes 'noise' that could be heard from Earth

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>> Alice Carruth: The US Government Accountability Office, or GAO, was established over 100 years ago. We've spoken about it a few times late. Its main purpose when it was established was to check the legality and adequacy of government expenditures. In 2004, GAO's legal name changed from the General Accounting Office to the Government Accountability Office. The change reflects the agency's expanding role in a growing federal government. Moving beyond financial audits, GAO began conducting performance audits, examining how government programs were performing and whether they were meeting their objectives. NASA has come under scrutiny of the GAO of late, and now, it's the Federal Aviation Administration's turn.

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Today is December 11, 2023. I'm Alice Carruth and this is T-Minus.

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The GAO report finds FAA mishap investigation process wanting. SDA says current budget indecisions have put projects on hold. Egypt signs on to China's International Lunar Research Station. And our guest today is Anastasia Prosnia, CEO at Stellar Amenities. Stay with us for Maria's chat with her at the second half of the show.

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Now on to today's intelligence briefing. Mishaps are a regular occurrence in space operations. I've personally seen hundreds small launches in my previous roles and I've guesstimated about 10% end up in a CATO. That's a catastrophe after take-off. CATOs, along with other mishaps which can include anything from engine malfunctions, fuel system problems, management and procedural problems, manufacturing defects and vehicle control, often trigger an investigation, of course by the launch team to understand what went wrong, and also from the Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA. Although the FAA can investigate a mishap itself, it's been found that it's always opted to authorize the launch operator to investigate under agency provision. Now, the Government Accountability Office, or GAO, is looking into this process and found that the FAA doesn't have criteria to determine when to authorize an operator to investigate its own mishap, nor has it evaluated how effective its investigation process is. According to the GAO report, the FAA has taken some steps to improve mishap investigations, such as contracting for independent reviews of some operator-led investigations. However, the report found that the FAA has not evaluated the effectiveness of this operator-reliant process. Most stakeholders told the GAO that they support the FAA's investigation process, but some have expressed concerns whether operators can credibly investigate their own mishaps. The GAO concluded that without a comprehensive evaluation of its mishap investigation process, the FAA cannot be assured that its process is effective, especially given the expansion of the commercial space operations in recent years. And yes, that flight cadence is going up and with it so are mishap occurrences. FAA data shows that 50 commercial space launches from 2000 through to mid-January of this year resulted in mishaps. This represents about 12% of the 433 launches during the same period. Thankfully, none of these resulted in serious injury or death, which would also include other agencies. The GAO is making two recommendations for the FAA. Number one, develop criteria for determining when the agency will authorize a launch operator to lead a mishap investigation on the agency's behalf. And number two, comprehensively evaluate the effectiveness of its mishap investigation process. Remarkably, the FAA has agreed with the GAO recommendations. We will see how this affects current mishap investigations, such as SpaceX's Starship mishap from last month. The Space Development Agency is the latest to acknowledge that the current budget standoff in the US is having an immediate impact on their work. SDA Director Derek Tournear said last week that the agency has already put some projects hold due to the ongoing continuing resolution, which causes spending at fiscal 2023 levels. Tournear said during a National Security Space Association webinar that quote, "The biggest thing that we could ask is for predictability on the budget, passing the budget so that we can continue to move fast. Right now we can move as fast as we can, but uncertainty in funding will put a brake on everything, so it's a big problem." The continuing resolution expires on February 2, 2024, but should not have impact on the agency's Tranche 1 launches, and we've included a link to further reading on the Space Development Agency's warfighter Tranche layers in our show notes. The Combined Space Operations Initiative Principles Board, known as CSpO, met in Berlin last week to address space security. The annual event brought together DoD, political, and military space leadership from the US, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand, and my native United Kingdom. And also welcomed three new members, Italy, Japan, and Norway. The ten members of CSpO discussed opportunities to further advance both operational cooperation and information sharing for the space domain. According to a US DoD press release, representatives emphasized the need to continue to promote a rules-based international order and responsible behavior in space, while collaboratively addressing challenges to the safety and security of space-related operations. Space Force General Charles Saltzman said at the meeting that this coalition of like-minded nations enhances our ability to address the complex challenges we collectively face in space. The US Space Force has activated its newest service component to be headquartered in Germany. Ramstein Air Base will be home to the US SPACEFOREUR and Africa, known as SPACEFOREUR-AF, under command of Space Force Colonel Max Lance. Lance previously managed the US Military space capabilities in Europe and Africa as part of the air component of the US Air Forces in Europe, Air Forces Africa. SPACEFOREUR-AF is now the fourth surface component embedded into one of the US Military's regional commands, joining US Central Command, US Indo-Pacific Command, and US Forces Korea. Egypt is the latest country to sign on with China for their planned international lunar research station. The heads of China's National Space Administration and the Egyptian Space Agency signed the cooperation agreement to work together on the Lunar Station, which is expected to be up and running by 2035. According to the Chinese Space Agency's website, the two countries will work together on the Lunar Station's design, related space missions, the development of space systems, subsistence, facilities, and ground-based segments, as well as talent training and capacity building. And staying with China, the commercial reusable rocket, known as the Hyperbola-2Y, held its second successful test flight this weekend. The spacecraft has been developed by Beijing's Interstellar Glory Space Technology Limited, known as iSpace. It reached an apogee of less than a quarter of a mile and then returned back to Earth. The next version of the rocket is expected to have its first full test flight in 2025. NASA, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Space Foundation, and the US Air Force have signed a memorandum of agreement for space weather research operations to research collaboration. This quad agency agreement outlines the responsibilities for collaboration across the federal government to enhance the US's preparedness for space weather, the environmental changes caused space by the constant outflow of solar wind from the sun. Like all good scouts know, you could never be too prepared, and that definitely applies to space operations. The United Launch Alliance held a wet dress rehearsal at Cape Canaveral this weekend ahead of their planned December 24th launch. Cryogenic propellant loading operations took place on both the Vulcan booster stage and the Centaur V upper stage to simulate a launch day and test the rocket and pad systems. All looks on track for the Christmas Eve mission. As for the other mission that we've been anxiously awaiting this month, the launch of the X-37B spaceplane, we're still hoping at the time of this recording that we will see a lift-off on the Falcon Heavy this evening from Florida. If you were on the East Coast yesterday, then you know that weather forecasts were not favorable for launch, but it's looking like a 70% chance that today will happen. The liftoff window is a narrow 10 minutes, which opens at 8:14 Eastern Time this evening.

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And if you haven't heard enough from today's headlines, you'll find links to further information on all the stories that I've mentioned in today's show notes, and you'll find them as well at space.n2k.com. I've even added a few opinion pieces for you, one on why we shouldn't trash the Space Station, another which leads to a draft charter for a secular economy proposed by Mohee Baja, and the last piece is on why 2024 will be an epic year in spaceflight. I, for one, can't wait. Hey T-Minus crew, every Monday we produce a written intelligence round up. It's called Signals in Space. If you happen to miss any T-Minus episodes, this strategic intelligence product will get you up to speed in the fastest way possible. It's all signal, no noise. You can sign up for Signals in Space in our show notes or at space.n2k.com.

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Now, poor Maria is out with man flu today, courtesy of her dear husband, but she recorded today's guest for us. I'll let Anastasia Prosnia explain what she does as the CEO of Stellar Amenities.

>> Anastasia Prosnia: My name is Anastasia Prosnia. I am founder and CEO of Stellar Amenities. We are developing a space health solution for astronauts, and specifically we are focusing on improving autonomous decision making of astronauts. In a nutshell, we try to minimize their reliance on Mission Control so they can make their decisions faster without too much communication. Especially, you know, it's important when we are talking about the moon and Mars missions. That's where it's going to be very critical. But it's also really useful in low-Earth orbit operations where you don't want to ask always, like, where is now, where is that, where is, like, how do I solve this problem. And so the way we do it is that we access data from the past missions and then we're able to data to spacecraft to drive insights in real time.

>> Maria Varmazis: So, let's talk a little bit about how you're going to do all this and where you got the ideas for that. It's fascinating. I'd love to learn more.

>> Anastasia Prosnia: Yeah, thank you. I studied urban planning as an undergrad and I got into airspace architecture, specifically designing space habitation. I worked in Houston with astronauts and NASA's specialists, NASA's GIT specialists. So while I was getting master's in space architecture, I realized that there's many -- we talk about launching rockets to space, we talk about humanity in space, we talk about, like, all this infrastructure, like, the bricks we need for a sustainable future of humanity in space. Yet there's not so much of attention paid towards how humanity, ourselves, like, how are we going to live their sustainably. Meaning, like, how we make sure that we don't get sick, how to make sure that we don't, like, we don't lose that much of a bone loss -- I mean, bone, so we stay healthy. And I noticed that, like, while NASA is doing an amazing job addressing, like, developing guidelines, developing, like, the research on that, there were no really commercial partners or companies really working on that. And I was questioning why, so I was, like, once I graduated with my masters, I wanted to find a job that can work specifically on space health problems in commercial settings, yet I couldn't really find anything. And it was 2019, so this was almost, like, 3 and a half years ago. And I decided that first, since I was a designer, first I thought that aesthetics and performance of spacecraft is almost a -- sorry, performance of astronauts, it's geared towards how well the entire design of spacecraft is done. And so that's when I first started manages. I first started as a service provider to airspace companies, space habitat providers, to outfit their spacecraft with, like, hardware products such as, you know, sleep garments, such as galley and everything. But then the last 10 -- 10 months, I diverted to more of a software solutions because we realized that -- my co-founder and I realized that we need to have more of, like, holistic view in terms of, like, Okay, It's not just the hard ware that we need to develop. First we have to develop the backbone that supports our human performance in space.

>> Maria Varmazis: Yeah, so I was looking at -- you mentioned earlier and I was looking at your website also. It sounds like AI comes into play here, which, yeah, it's a buzzword, blah blah blah, but it also does really cool things. Because you alluded to some of that as well in terms of that performance optimization, which, you know, for an astronaut who is so busy every minute is allocated, that makes a big difference. So tell me your thoughts on that.

>> Anastasia Prosnia: You know, I feel like astronauts are the ultimate knowledge workers. You know, we were really surprised that -- this is when ChatGPT, by the way, went online a year ago. I think that's when the humanity has changed a lot. It's been a year. We've been having AI accessible to everybody pretty much. And I feel like astronauts -- probably the people that mostly, like, they need AI the most. And AI, meaning not AI, that's something that is making decisions on their own as an assistant that, like, uses the data of the past missions so it doesn't come up with their own, like, ideas how to rule the world or, like, how to create a spacecraft. It's, like, really -- it's a data-driven approach. It's almost like if astronaut had the access of data to -- access to other astronauts' brain. You know, like, it's pretty much what we're creating now is the network of astronauts' brain because they have this really unique knowledge.

>> Maria Varmazis: [Laughing] The way you put that is really cool.

>> Anastasia Prosnia: What you need is something that is accessible by astronauts, both the space mission planners and Mission Control. Yeah, I think it's super valuable, especially as we're talking about the astronaut hour costing $130,000. It's a lot of money.

>> Maria Varmazis: It sure is. Yeah, so -- and you mentioned also that being able to make -- I don't know if I'm phrasing this correctly, but autonomous decisions, when -- especially when there's a huge time delay, or you're, you know, not able to access Mission Control, maybe because they are physically able to contact them at that time. That is a huge change from what we often think of as being as tethered to a Mission Control on Earth. The potential there is fascinating, honestly.

>> Anastasia Prosnia: Yeah, I just can see that how this tool, it's almost like the way I think about it is that we talk about humanity becoming multiple interspecies, but the truly -- the true notion of becoming multiple interspecies meaning that we can live separately from Earth. And of course, I mean, we still suppliers we need to have, but eventually, you know, we will be able to derive everything from in situ, like, everything that is local. And then for astronauts to be able to operate efficiently -- and not just astronauts. Astronauts is our first users. The next users will be anybody who is going to space, and it will be taking longer than astronauts to use our product but still, like, in if you think about, like, 10, 20, 30-year timeline. That's where you see, like, every citizen that will be living in space will be using our platform. But yeah, you will be able to -- because space, like, aerospace industries have such a specialized knowledge and space craft is such a complicated mission, I believe that the first missions to Mars will be made up of minimal number of people, beyond honest. It's not going to be many people and especially, like, even 10 years. I don't believe there's going to be huge colonization. There's going to be only a handful of astronauts that have real specialized knowledge. But it still is going to -- I believe we have -- we do have a limitation of how much we can know and then we do have to tap into, you know, the books, the readings and stuff. And normally astronauts do it. They go into handbooks and read it but it takes a while, you know. And we -- so what we're trying to do, we're providing semantic search through the recommendation. So instead of just searching for specific knowledge in a specific chapter, then you can ask a question and then it will be searched. It will search the answer throughout the -- the system.

>> Maria Varmazis: That makes a lot of sense. And that's -- a semantic search is just fantastic and what it's opening up. I can imagine in a situation where you are very far and unable to contact anyone else, you need that this is very quickly, too. Where are you with this right now and how is it going?

>> Anastasia Prosnia: I've got a real best co-founder in house. We met just three months ago, but we've been working closely on the product itself. We went through Starburst Accelerator before we went through your programs. But basically, the biggest acceleration that we got so far is really getting to customers and talking about their needs, like, developing actually features that they want. Unfortunately, I can't disclose customers at this point, and we still work thoroughly, and we're still in stealth mode. We're still doing user interviews, still trying to figure out what's the new mobile product, the shape of it, although we already have a few iterations of that. But we also -- so, airspace -- like, obviously, AI is such a huge topic. And it's -- there's many problems including safety and privacy, and we do want to make sure that it's all properly addressed. And the -- one of the biggest problem in aerospace industry by the way, in terms of like developing a software solution that uses data is that data is in different -- like, they're in different datasets that might not be accessible. And, like, you know, say SpaceX launching their own astronauts and then they got their data and most of that is not shared, say, with the public and then shared with NASA. And then, it's like -- it's almost like my biggest job is just to really figure out all these network relationships. Like, how do you make sure that you actually integrate your product within those intricate networks, between the relationships of our companies and vendors and everything.

>> Maria Varmazis: Yeah. I read stories all the time from various reporters in this space beat about how data sharing is an issue between agencies and private companies. And I often wonder about what that's going to mean, especially as we advance forward when we need that information to share. But again, also things need to be secure and private, of course. So, not a small problem. That is genuinely, like, a really difficult one, but it's a very fascinating one, too.

>> Anastasia Prosnia: Maria, thank you so much. It was a wonderful experience. For everybody who's listening, I wish you all a really -- the stellar just time of your life. I -- probably my biggest advice, if I can give unsolicited advice, is to -- like, whatever you have in your mind, go ahead and pursue it. I had no idea I would something like that. And I grew up in Siberia. Really, like -- and there's no resources. But looking at my own experience, I think I just had a clear goal, what I wanted to do. And I just pursued it, and I had a lot of rejections. But -- I'm not saying it's easy not to develop something, to work to developing. But if you truly believe in something, I think that there's no reason to not develop something that you really want to develop.

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>> Alice Carruth: We'll be right back.

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Welcome back. Okay. I was always perplexed by the notion of sound as a kid, and was enthralled by the question, "If a tree falls in a forest and there's no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?" Of course, we all know that sound will travel if there's an atmosphere to carry it, so the answer is yes, but this next one definitely had me head scratching as an adult. If space junk collides with other space junk in orbit, can it be heard, and if so, can we hear it on Earth? Now, we covered the story last week of the University of Michigan researchers presenting their study on small, or micro even, pieces of space junk. Their clever team found that the electrical bursts created at the point of collision can be detected by Earth-based radio telescopes. So guess what? They do make sound, and it can be heard right here on Earth. Now, there's approximately 35,000 pieces of space debris larger than 4 inches, or 10 centimeters, floating around in low-Earth orbit, according to the European Space Agency. So it's important to keep track of these things. If you look at space junk that measures smaller than 4 inches, the debris numbers into the millions huddling around the Earth at speeds that can approach 20,000 miles per hour and threaten operational satellites. So now we know that they make a sound. Do you know what's going to be added to the list crazy noises that we think we hear at night? Was that creaky floorboard that disturbed my sleep? Or the distant sound of space junk colliding?

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That's it for T-Minus for December the 11th, 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 at n2k.com or submit the survey in the show notes. Your feedback ensures we deliver the information that keeps you a step ahead in the rapidly-changing space industry. We are privileged that N2K and podcast like ours, 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. N2K's strategic workforce intelligence optimizes the value of your business investment - your people. We make you smarter about your team, while making your team smarter. Learn more at n2k.com This episode was mixed by Elliott Peltzman and Trey Hester, with original music and sound design by Elliott Peltzman. Our executive producer is Jen Ivan. Our VP is Brandon Karpf, and I'm Alice Carruth. Thanks for listening.

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