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FCC rejects public funding for Starlink.

FCC rejects Starlink’s application for subsidies. Blue Origin’s New Shepard to return to flight. HyImpulse and Orbex receive ESA Boost! funding. And more.




The Federal Communications Commission reaffirms the Wireline Bureau’s prior decision to reject the long-form application of SpaceX’s Starlink to receive public support through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund program. Blue Origin is planning to relaunch its New Shepard suborbital vehicle as early as December 18. The European Space Agency’s Boost! Programme provides funding for HyImpulse and Orbex, and more.

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T-Minus Guest

Our guest today is Planetary Geologist, Dr. Kirby Runyon. 

You can connect with Kirby on LinkedIn and learn more about PlaneX on their website.

Selected Reading

FCC Reaffirms Decision To Reject Starlink Application For Nearly $900 Million In Subsidies

Blue Origin aims to launch first New Shepard rocket in over a year

Announcing Two Starlab Demo Missions - Voyager Space

HyImpulse News

Orbex Awarded £3.3 Million as Part of European Space Agency’s Boost! Initiative

Open Cosmos And Connected Forge Partnership To Bring Actionable Data Solutions To The Market

In space missions- Faraday Dragon Asia Pacific-Philippines


Government Promotion of Safety and Innovation in the New Space Economy - U.S. Se...

EXCLUSIVE: Freedom to maneuver key for future space ‘combat mindset,’ says ex-SPACECOM deputy

LeoLabs: Russia, China time suspicious space activity for some US holidays

NASA Sensor Produces First Global Maps of Surface Minerals in Arid Regions

Hair samples from JFK, 2 other presidents headed to deep space- The Hill

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>> Alice Carruth: When you think of a commercial space company in the US, there's one name that comes to the top of everyone's mind. They're knocking it out of the park left, right and center with the regular launches, developments and ride shares, and it feels like they keep getting the lucky end of the stick. So, it's rare to see anyone reject the lure of SpaceX, but it seems that the FCC is not so easily won over by a name.

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>> Male 1: T-Minus 20 seconds to [inaudible] --

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>> Alice Carruth: Today is December the 13th, 2023. I'm Alice Carruth and this is T-Minus.

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The FCC rejects Starlink's application for subsidies. Blue Origin announces a flight window for their New Shepard launch. High Impulse and OrbEx receive ESA boost funding. And our guest joining Maria Varmazis in the second half of the show is planetary geologist Dr. Kirby Runyon. Stay with us for that chat.

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On to today's Intel Briefing. The Federal Communications Commission reaffirmed the Wireline Bureau's prior decision to reject the long-form application of SpaceX's Starlink to receive public support through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund program. The FCC based its decision on what it says is the applicant's failure to meet the program requirements. The program, which uses scarce universal service funding collected from consumers, sought to expand access to broadband networks in rural areas of the US. FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a press release that, quote, "The FCC is tasked with ensuring consumers everywhere have access to high-speed broadband that is reliable and affordable. The agency also has a responsibility to be a good steward of limited public funds meant to expand access to rural broadband, not fund applicants that fail to meet basic program requirements. The FCC followed a careful legal, technical, and policy review to determine that this applicant has failed to meet its burden to be entitled to nearly $900 million in Universal Service funds for almost a decade." Starlink won the bid in 2020 for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Program, which was valued at over $885 million US dollars. The program required Starlink to determine specific areas of service. After they won the bid, the FCC followed an in-depth, long-form application used to verify that applicants meet the program requirements based on the specific coverage locations. The agency qualified Starlink in the short-form stage, but at the long-form stage, the Commission determined that Starlink failed to demonstrate that it could deliver the promised service. Now, I've read the headlines with you. What does that mean for rural America? Well, in our opinion, it shouldn't affect the coverage that Starlink is currently providing, nor its long-term goals. SpaceX has said that it's achieved break-even cash flow with Starlink already and the company was recently valued at $150 billion. Yes, that's billion with a B. So, although the loss of nearly $900 million will hurt, it should be a drop in the pan for their overall operations. Blue Origin is planning to relaunch its New Shepard suborbital vehicle as early as December 18. The rocket has been grounded for over a year after a mishap in September 2022. The launch will be a cargo mission carrying research and scientific payloads. The company took to social media after rumors were started about their return to flight to state that, quote, "We're targeting a launch window that opens on December the 18th for our next New Shepard payload mission." Now, as a neighbor to Van Horn, I for one will be looking forward to seeing New Shepard back in flight. Voyager Space has announced two demonstrator missions for validating capabilities needed for their commercial space station named Starlab. The missions are part of Voyager's Space Act agreements with NASA and include missions for an alternative urine processor -- yep, even astronauts have to pee -- and a free space optical link. The Starlab team has initiated ground testing of a full-scale alternative urine processor to drive down cost and technical implementation risk, and to leverage increased options in the marketplace for this essential technology. The test article will be supplied by Paragon Space Development Corporation, and the test campaign will be performed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Voyager Space is also developing an optical communications terminal to be mounted on the Bishop Airlock, the first commercial module attached to the International Space Station. Voyager says that this type of high-bandwidth optical communications supported by Edge computing and AI is a critical technology needed to support multiple Starlab activities. We look forward to updates in the New Year. Some funding news out of Europe now and launch service provider High Impulse has received 6.5 million euros to advance the development of its hybrid propulsion technology for its orbital launch vehicle. The funding was granted under the European Space Agency's Boost! program to assist innovative companies in advancing new launch technologies and comes from the UK Space Agency and Germany's DLR. High Impulse says that it will use the funds to accelerate the expansion of its UK operations in preparation for its first orbital launch. The company is due to launch a sounding rocket demonstrator from Australia's Southern Launch in Q1 of 2024. The aim is to flight qualify the hybrid propulsion technology which will be the core building block of the orbital launch vehicle SL1, which they're aiming to launch from the UK's SaxaVord Spaceport next year. And UK-based orbital launch services company Orbex has also been awarded 3.3 million pounds in funding from the UK Space Agency as part of the ESA's Boost! initiative. Orbex says that it will use the funding to undertake activities to build the ultra-green launch complex at Sutherland Spaceport located in the north coast of Scotland. The spaceport is being designed with sustainability in mind and is intended to be the first spaceport globally to be carbon neutral in both its construction and operation. The site will see the launch of up to 12 orbital rockets per year, with several commercial launch contracts with satellite manufacturers already secured. UK-based OpenCosmos and Portuguese startup Connected have announced a new partnership to provide universal and affordable narrowband connectivity from space. The signing was held as part of the UK-Portugal Scientific Dialogues event, which is focusing on addressing global challenges through collaboration. OpenCosmos and Connected will launch end-to-end small satellite missions to low-Earth orbit, focusing on joint Earth observation and in-situ measurements enabled by Internet of Things connectivity. And more news out of the UK. In-Space Missions Limited has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Philippine Space Agency as a mission partner on the Faraday Dragon, the world's first multi-agency Asia-Pacific satellite rideshare. The Philippine Space Agency is committed to promoting the development of a robust and vibrant local space industry and economy, and to cooperating with international space-related agencies in the peaceful use and development of space. Faraday Dragon, which is scheduled to launch in October of 2026, aims to provide mission partners with the opportunity for in-orbit validation, technology demonstration, in-country capability building and regional collaboration. India has started releasing a large archive of satellite imagery as free and open data. It includes data from the LISS4 sensor, which has a spatial resolution of five meters, making it the highest resolution public domain imagery available in the country. Why is this a big deal? Well, India has great remote-sensing programs, but the data from the satellites has been kept under wraps for decades. Most researchers, companies, and even government agencies who wanted satellite imagery ended up using freely available data from NASA or ESA, either because of the cost or the bureaucratic process involved in procuring the data. The India Space Research Organization proposed the India Space Policy in 2023, paving the way for much of the data to be made available to the user community. India's National Remote Sensing Center has implemented the policy recommendations and made the entire archive of low and medium-resolution imagery available to all users as open data. At the time of us recording, US Senator Kyrsten Sinema, Chair of the Subcommittee on Space and Science, will convene a subcommittee hearing titled Government Promotion of Safety and Innovation in the New Space Economy. The hearing will address the federal government's role in ensuring the safety, viability and economic competitiveness of commercial space activities, and discuss regulatory approaches for the rapidly evolving industry. We will share more details about the outcome of this meeting in tomorrow's show.

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That concludes our briefing for today. As always, you'll find links to further reading on all the stories we've mentioned in our show notes. We've also included an exclusive piece from Breaking Defense on space combat mindset, a Leo Labs piece on Russia and China using US holidays for suspicious space activities, and a blog from NASA on mapping surface minerals in arid regions. They're all at space.n2k.com. 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. It will help other space professionals like you find the show and join the T-Minus crew. Thank you. We really appreciate it.

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Our incredible host Maria Varmazis is still out sick, but she managed to record a few chats late last week for you all. Today's guest is planetary geologist Dr. Kirby Runyon. I'll let Maria take it from here.

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>> Maria Varmazis: Dr. Kirby Runyon, thank you so much for joining me on this show. You have had already a really fascinating career. Can you indulge me a bit and tell me about some of the cool stuff that you've worked on so far?

>> Dr. Kirby Runyon: Well sure, thank you. I feel very blessed. I remember when I was doing my master's degree at Temple University, I told my master's thesis advisor, "I don't care what it takes -- I'm going to be in the room, wherever that is, when the New Horizons spacecraft flies by the planet Pluto." And sure enough, I managed through a longer story than we have time to say, I managed as a PhD student at Johns Hopkins then, to get in the room, in what was called the Geology and Geophysics Imaging Room at Johns Hopkins APL, as that small spacecraft flew by that tiny ice planet. And getting to be part of the geology team that interpreted the geology of a brand-new seen planet for the first time ever, sometimes literally brought goosebumps in terms of, to me, what felt like the magnitude of what we were doing in that kind of seat-of-your-pants exploration. So that's one thing that sticks out.

>> Maria Varmazis: Yeah, yeah. Please continue. I was going to say that the image with the heart, I mean, is just -- it's, like, tattooed on my head. But yeah, that's just like -- it looks cool. But --

>> Dr. Kirby Runyon: Pluto's got that heart on it.

>> Maria Varmazis: Yeah, I mean, like, I mean, that's just me as a laywoman. As a professional, I mean, to you, what was that like?

>> Dr. Kirby Runyon: Gosh, I mean, seeing the -- as far as I know, I got to be the first person to see mountains on Pluto. And as this -- as high-resolution images from the spacecraft were getting very slowly beamed back to Earth, I was the first person to download the next one. And I saw mountains, and I kind of announced to the room. And finally someone pointed to my computer screen and said, "Oh look, there's mountains on Pluto." And as these high-resolution images from New Horizons came down, we were seeing where this nitrogen ice glacier was slow-motion flowing into these craters. It looks like there's dry river valleys that might have once hosted liquid nitrogen. I mean, it's just this crazy complex landscape on Pluto. So that's -- that was an early highlight in my career. I just sort of waltzed into it as a grad student. I hadn't even gotten my PhD. yet.

>> Maria Varmazis: Yeah. So what's next? What happened after that?

>> Dr. Kirby Runyon: Oh, my goodness. Let's see. You know, I got to work on a mission concept called Interstellar Probe. That was something that my former employer at the Johns Hopkins APL, we were working on for NASA headquarters. What would it take to have a 50-year-long robotic mission designed to leave the solar system, dip its toe into the interstellar space, the space between the stars and our galaxy, and to tell us what that realm of space is like. And, little known fact, Pluto is one of 130 similarly-sized dwarf planets out there, and dwarf planets are planets too, and fly by another one of those small icy planets, just like New Horizons flew by Pluto. So I was the planetary science lead on that mission concept. I would love it if the powers that be deem it worthy of their financial investment. So that's been a major highlight. Another major highlight is pursuing a lifelong dream of experiencing weightlessness.

>> Maria Varmazis: Yeah, yeah.

>> Dr. Kirby Runyon: So as a lifelong wannabe astronaut -- I still want to be an astronaut when I grow up -- getting to experience weightlessness at least, you know, it scratches a lot of that itch for me. I have a NASA research grant that allows me to study impact cratering on asteroids, which have very low gravity. And so we've done a research flight, but I've also been able to be a coach for the company Zero-G. They've got this modified Boeing 727 that flies a bunch of arcs in the sky, and you get weightlessness for about 20 seconds every time you do one of these parabolic arcs. And it is a surreal, exhilarating, fulfilling experience that you can't get any other way that scratches so many itches I have.

>> Maria Varmazis: It's on my bucket list. I hope I can do it one day. It looks like so much damn fun, honestly.

>> Dr. Kirby Runyon: It is, it is.

>> Maria Varmazis: So this is all sort of back looking, but you're doing some really cool stuff now also. So you have your own company now, which I have to say is a really cool idea. Can you tell us more about that?

>> Dr. Kirby Runyon: Sure, thanks. My company is Planetary Experience, or just PlanEx. The website is planex.space. And it's basically an outer space lifestyle company. I do do technical consulting for technical clients, but what I really focus on is space-themed entertainment, education, and adventures. And so I want people to not just see pixels on a computer screen about space. I want people to experience as much of the cosmos as they can physically, going out and doing things. And so there are some phenomenal what we call planetary analog terrains in New Mexico. And I've taken quite a number of trips out there now with clients, including Virgin Galactic ticket holders, people who have paid money to go to space. I'm taking them through the landscape that they're going to see from space to enhance what we call their overview effect, seeing Earth from space as a planet, but then being able to recognize geologic terrains that they hiked through and understand how Earth works as a planet. All the rocky planets, so that's everything except the giant ones, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, are rocky, and if you're an astronaut on Mars or the moon, you look around, what do you see? Rocks. Geology is the study of rocks, and so you cannot -- it is impossible to explore planets without touching heavily in geology. But in my company, I want just the layperson to be able to enjoy that aspect of planetary exploration, to be able to vacation on the moon or Mars without leaving Earth, and you can do that with me in New Mexico. People can sign up for trips on my website. As we've already talked about, I do a lot with Zero-G. The Zero-Gravity airplane doesn't just do weightlessness, it also does moon gravity. And if you ask really nicely, they might also do Mars gravity, 37% of the gravity of Earth.

>> Maria Varmazis: That's cool -- I didn't know that.

>> Dr. Kirby Runyon: Yeah, fun random space fact, Mars gravity is the exact same as Mercury gravity, 38% of the gravity of Earth or so. And also our moon's gravity, 17%, 1/6 Earth gravity, is about the same as five other moons in the solar system. Jupiter's moons, Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto, and also Saturn's moon Titan. I mean, within a few percent, they're about the same gravity levels.

>> Maria Varmazis: But still.

>> Dr. Kirby Runyon: Yeah, yeah. And so, in addition to weightlessness, you can bounce around, you can bunny hop in moon gravity. What is really underrated is Mars gravity. It's basically double moon gravity, but it's still very low. In fact, the first time I experienced Mars gravity, I thought it was moon gravity. And the first time I experienced moon gravity, I thought it was weightlessness. That's how it felt, like, intuitively, subjectively to me. Kicking a soccer ball in Mars gravity is great. And having -- experiencing those gravity levels of two planets and six moons, and also the weightlessness, which is basically asteroid gravity, gives me a pretext to talk to my clients about the absolute cutting edge of solar system exploration that NASA and other space agencies are doing. We've got, you know, the European BepiColumbo spacecraft is about to go into orbit around the planet Mercury. We've got a ton of stuff around Mars. We've got a ton of stuff going to the moon. We've got NASA and European spacecraft going to Jupiter's moons Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. And we've even got an octocopter drone, a dragonfly, going to Saturn's moon Titan in 2035. So -- but then I get to say, like, you get to experience those places in space onboard the aircraft. You literally get to vacation in space without leaving Earth.

>> Maria Varmazis: I mean, honestly, I'm fascinated because, I mean, I would imagine for someone who's, like, a hardcore space geek like me, I would sign up for that in a heartbeat. But I would imagine you're also talking to people who maybe are, like, lightly interested in space or didn't know they were as interested in space. Like, I'm imagining you're seeing the light bulb go off in a lot of these discussions. What are those like when you're introducing people to things they didn't realize were space-related or they're having that experience and that light bulb goes off?

>> Dr. Kirby Runyon: Right, yeah, that's a great question, and I like that you said they didn't know they didn't know. I've also heard that called unknown unknowns.

>> Maria Varmazis: Unknown unknowns, thanks Rumsfeld. Yeah [laughter].

>> Dr. Kirby Runyon: It's something that you don't even know to ask a question about. And what I like to introduce people to the idea of is, Do you have to be a geologist to go to the Grand Canyon? No. Do you have to be a marine biologist to go swimming in Montego Bay? No. Do you have to be a planetary geologist to enjoy the incredible high-contrast Ansel Adams-like photography that we have at the moon? No. There are beautiful landscapes around the solar system that our spacecraft and sometimes astronauts have taken pictures of. And just as you don't have to be a scientist, subject matter expert to appreciate beautiful views and vistas on Earth, you don't have to be a technical person to appreciate similarly and sometimes more beautiful views around the solar system. So that's one light bulb that goes off. Another one is the light bulb that I saw go off on you. Mercury has the same gravity as Mars, little known fact.

>> Maria Varmazis: I, yeah, didn't know that [laughter].

>> Dr. Kirby Runyon: Smaller planet, but denser core, so that's why. When people see a video of people experiencing weightlessness or some lunar or planetary gravity level, you see them getting giddy and, like, their eyes light up and they want to experience that, too.

>> Maria Varmazis: That brings me to the thought I had about that amazing op-ed you did in the Baltimore Sun about -- because you mentioned the word beauty a bunch of times. And I really connect with that because so much of space stuff, like, when we talk about the nuts and bolts, it's very practical and very, like, you know, machiney, and that's fine, there's beauty in that, too. But there is a lot of natural beauty to what we see in space. We need, I think, to talk about that more with people who especially aren't, like, rocket nerds or space nerds, right?

>> Dr. Kirby Runyon: No, I think you're absolutely right. And, you know, I became a PhD planetary geologist because I wanted to get paid to look at gorgeous pictures from space. I'm a very visual person. And we have incredible spacecraft images of the moon, Mars, Mercury, Pluto, as we've been talking about.

>> Maria Varmazis: Oh, yeah.

>> Dr. Kirby Runyon: Asteroids. The Lucy spacecraft just flew by the asteroid Dinkinish, and we discovered it's a moon. A binary -- and, like -- the geology, the terrain, the vistas on these alien worlds are so compelling to me. They are beautiful. And doing the technical, like, the quantitative analysis of it, that scratches a little bit of that exploration itch, but really it's the aesthetic. It's the, like, mentally transporting myself there to experience the beauty, the natural beauty of this place, to, you know, be on Mars. Can you imagine being on Mars as Phobos and Deimos set on opposite horizons and then having this sunrise come up where the colors are reversed, where the sunrise is blue and the rest of the sky is red. And then putting in these crepuscular rays, these sunbeams into morning fog and valis marineris. Like, that view will be captured at some point, but that's the kind of beauty I'm talking about. We explore space for the same reasons that we seek out music, that we seek out aesthetic beauty. The same reasons we seek out entertainment, the same reasons we go to sporting events. It's this vest of life, it's this thriving, it's whatever itch those aesthetic entertainment sports venues itch, space scratches a similar itch. If life were purely practical, as important as it is to everyone to have enough food, water, clothing, access to education, healthcare, things like that. Only as important as those purely functional, you know, aspects are, life isn't complete unless we're emotionally and relationally thriving. And space is part of that picture for having a thriving life, I firmly believe.

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

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Welcome back. I don't normally like to end the show with morbid thoughts, but did you know that you could send your cremains to space? Yep, it's a thing. I mean, most of us are thinking about going to the great unknown in person at some point before we kick the bucket, but I guess cremains are the next best thing, right? There are a few companies that offer the service. One in particular now is hitting the headlines for preparing to send hair from three deceased presidents to space. Yep, that's exactly what I said. Hair samples from US presidents JFK, Dwight Eisenhower and the OG, George Washington, will be aboard the United Launch Alliance's Vulcan rocket, which may launch over the Christmas period or early next year. I guess the question is, Why? Well, according to Celestis, that's the company that offers the service, off-world DNA storage allows the human genome to be preserved for thousands of years in space without degradation. This means it's possible it could be discovered later, like a cosmic time capsule. This could allow future generations to learn more about the US forefathers' millennia into the future. Hmm. Just -- hmm.

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That's it for T-minus for December 13th, 2023. For additional resources from today's report, check out our show notes at space.n2k.com. We'd love to know what you really think of this podcast, and you can email us anytime 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. 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. This episode was mixed by Elliot Peltzman and Trey Hester with original music and sound design by Elliot Peltzman. Our executive producer is Jen Iben. Our VP is Brandon Karpf. Our interview was hosted by the amazing Maria Varmazis. And I'm Alice Carruth. Thanks for listening. See you tomorrow.

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