Northrop Grumman launches its final Antares 230+ rocket. Voyager Space and Airbus to partner on Starlab. US Senate plans to mitigate space junk. And...
Happy Birthday, Space Force.
The US Space Force celebrates its 4th birthday. Virginia invests $20M on its spaceport. Bayanat and Al Yah Satellite Communications to merge. And more.
The US Space Force celebrates its 4th birthday. Virginia invests $20 million on developments at the Mid Atlantic Regional Spaceport. United Arab Emirates-based companies Bayanat and Al Yah Satellite Communications agree to merge, and more.
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Our guest today is Brendan Byrne, podcast host for Are We There Yet? for NPR affiliate WMFE.
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>> Maria Varmazis: We love a bit of space trivia here at T-Minus and on this day in space history back in 1904, Mount Wilson Observatory was founded. This astronomical observatory was the brainchild of the solar astronomer, George Ellery Hale. Hale was a professor at the University of Chicago who was famous for discovering magnetic fields in sunspots. Oh yeah, and that little factoid maybe was a bit of misdirection. And don't think we forgot also on this day in space history, the sixth branch of the U.S. Armed Forces was established.
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Today is December 20th, 2023. I'm Maria Varmazis and this is T-Minus.
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The U.S. Space Force celebrates its fourth birthday. Virginia invests 20 million dollars on developments at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. Bayanat and Al Yah Satellite Communications Company to merge. And Alice will be speaking to Brendan Byrne from NPR's, "Are We There Yet" podcast about his experience at the new Blue Origin simulator at the Kennedy Visitors Center, so stay with us for that chat in the second-half of the show.
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We're starting our intelligence briefing a little differently today with a happy birthday message. Today is the U.S. Space Forces fourth birthday. The Space Force was the first U.S. military service to be established since the birth of the Air Force in 1947. The sixth branch of the Armed Forces was started with the enactment of the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. There was some recognition that space was a national security imperative in the U.S., and when combined with the growing threat posed by near peer competitors in space, it became clear that the U.S. had to have a military service focused solely on pursuing superiority in the space domain. And yeah, the branch had a rocky start, first with the name and the logo being used as a source of mockery, and we would be remiss if we didn't mention that there's still a lot of naysayers that don't understand the importance of this branch. The Space Force themselves are quick to point out that many aspects of life, including intelligence, surveillance, missile detection, GPS, digital mapping and weather surveys, rely on satellites that Guardians ensure work properly. Guardians, by the way, which currently run at over 15,000 in headcount, have been celebrating today's milestone at bases across the country and we at T-Minus would like to celebrate with you. Happy birthday, Space Force.
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The Commonwealth Transportation Board has allocated 20 million dollars to the Virginia Spaceport Authority to aid economic development efforts in aerospace. The allocation was recommended by Governor Glenn Youngkin's administration and got unanimous approval. The State of Virginia is home to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, also known as MARS on Wallops Island, and is looking to expand operations for commercial launch providers. Firefly Aerospace and Rocket Lab are among the customers that use MARS. Northrop Grumman also uses the facility, and the funding is expected to be used to modify one of the orbital launch pads to accommodate their Antares rocket. The CEO of MARS says that for every dollar Virginia has invested into the Spaceport, the Commonwealth receives nearly $3 back in economic return. Utah's Dugway Proving Ground has announced that it will now be the primary landing site for Boeing's CST Starliner capsule. The vehicle will resume flights to and from the International Space Station in 2024 and plans to return astronauts from the ISS to Dugway, which is over 80 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, Utah. Boeing had used White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico as its primary landing site for its missions. Dugway says Army EMS personnel are training to prepare for the capsules return. Japanese Space propulsion company Pale Blue has signed a contract with Tokyo Keiki to collaborate on and manufacture and assemble the subsystems of the prototype mass production model of its propulsion system. The partnership is part of Deep-Tech Startup Support Program, the DMP phase or Demonstration development for Mass Production by NEDO, a National Research and Development Agency in Japan. Pale Blue was initially granted funding back in September but was looking for a company to collaborate with on their mass production technology for satellite propulsion systems using water as a propellant. Pale Blue selected Tokyo Keiki, who has experience in manufacturing products and components for space equipment. India is changing its licensing approach to assigning spectrum for satellite internet services that will exempt companies from having to bid for it. The proposal was included in a new draft bill for the telecommunications sector, which seeks to replace the 138 year old Indian Telegraph Act that currently governs the sector. The bill was tabled for approval in Parliament on Monday. SpaceX's Starlink has been lobbying for the proposed changes, along with Amazon's Project Kuiper and OneWeb, but it is a setback to Indian telecom giant Reliance Jio. AI powered geospatial solutions provider Bayanat and Al Yah Satellite Communications Company have announced that their respective boards of directors have voted to recommend to shareholders a merger of the two Abu Dhabi headquartered entities. The proposed merger will create an AI powered space technology company with an implied market cap of over four billion dollars, based on both entities closing share prices on the 18th of December 2023, the last day of trading prior to the announcement of the merger. The companies say that the partnership will be optimally positioned to capture regional and international opportunities in geospatial and mobility solutions, satellite communications and business intelligence. The proposed transaction will be executed through a share swap with Bayanat as the remaining legal entity. Bayanat shareholders will own approximately 54% and Yahsat shareholders approximately 46% of the combined entity. The European Investment Bank, known as EIB and Belgium's Walloon Region, have signed a memorandum of understanding with an aim to develop the space technology sector to serve the region and position it as a sector leader in Europe. The MOU also enables the EIB to provide financing arrangements for projects promoted by the Walloon Region in the space sector. Two areas have been prioritized under the agreement, Earth Observation and Reusable Launch Vehicles. These areas are also identified in the Walloon Regions Recovery Plan. And we reported last week that the European Space Agency is delaying its last Vega flight due to missing tanks. ESA has told European Space Flight that it does not intend to open an independent inquiry into how a pair of propellant tanks for the final Vega mission next year went missing from an AVO facility before being found destroyed, hmm. These things just happen, I guess, okay. Firefly Aerospace scrubbed their launch of the Alpha FLTA004 today due to weather conditions. The company took to the social media channel X to say that they are working with the range to determine the next launch opportunity. The company has backup times until December 22nd. And Virgin Galactic have announced that their next flight window opens in late January. The Space Tourism Company has said that they only plan to launch their space plane twice in 2024, as they focus their attention on the next generation of their vehicles. The flight, named Galactic 6, will take four Space Flight participants from Spaceport America to the edge of space on or around January 26th.
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And if you want to hear more about suborbital space tourism flights, then definitely stay with us for our producer Alice's chat with Brendan Byrne from NPR's podcast, "Are We There Yet?" You'll find links to further reading on all the stories that we've mentioned during today's episode in our show notes, and we've added a few extra stories for you to enjoy as well. The first is SpiderOak's Partnership announcement with TrustPoint. The next explains how the new U.S. military budget could allow new revenue for Space Force launch ranges. And the third is a roundup if tech breakthroughs boosting China's commercial space industry. 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. That will help other space professionals like you find the show and join the T-Minus crew. Thank you so much for your ongoing support, we really appreciate it. And the next week, the week between Christmas and New Year, we'll be bringing you shows that wrap some of our best chats from throughout the year at T-Minus, so make sure you stay tuned for that.
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Our producer, Alice Carruth spoke to Brendan Byrne, podcast host for, "Are We There Yet?" for NPR affiliate WMFE. I'll let Alice take it from here.
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>> Alice Carruth: You covered like a whole massive area of space, so I'm really excited to be able to talk to you today, Brendan and I know you recently did a tour of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. I've never been, so go on, tell us, what's that like and what is the new things that have happened over at that complex?
>> Brendan Byrne: Yeah, so the visitor complex has been around for quite some time, but it is really, really exciting to be there and the fact that it's, you know, in our backyard here in Florida is phenomenal for me. And you walk in, there's a rocket garden, so you can actually walk amongst rockets, which I think the most difficult thing about, like, reading and learning about space for, you know, anybody of any age is scale, right, just understanding how big these things are. So, to be able to walk underneath these rockets and be like, "Oh my goodness, they really are, they really are big." You know, one of the first stories I did when I came to WMFE, which is the public media affiliate -- public radio affiliate here in Central Florida, is a report on the Atlantis Space Shuttle coming to the visitor complex. And so, when you -- when you come to the visitor complex, you can see the Space Shuttle Atlantis up close and personal and it's just incredible to see such a complex flying machine up close like that. So, yeah, so the visitor complex, there's a lot of really cool things. I was there with my producer to look at the newest exhibit they have, which is a simulator of Blue Origins New Shepard Capsule, which was really, really cool to see up close.
>> Alice Carruth: I bet. You know, the thing with space tourism is that people always think about the launch to space as being space tourism, those that manage to get up to suborbital and orbital flight and I really think space tourism encompasses so much more. So, that simulator experience must have given you kind of a feeling of what goes on. What was the Blue Origin simulator that you went on there?
>> Brendan Byrne: Yeah, so, it is a life size replica of the capsule. They made some minor modifications. The hatch is a little bit bigger, which is quite helpful, so I didn't have to crawl into it.
>> Alice Carruth: And that's the New Shepard hatch, right? Sorry.
>> Brendan Byrne: The New Shepard hatch, yeah, sorry.
>> Alice Carruth: Yeah.
>> Brendan Byrne: It's the New Shepard hatch. And yeah, there's the six seats of the New Shepard that people like William Shatner have sat in and gone to the edge of space and the massive windows are there. Well, they're not windows, it's an augmented reality experience, but the windows are there. The hand holds are there. It's the same coloring inside. The same acoustic padding in there, so it really feels like you are inside a New Shepard capsule like one of these space tourists or spaceflight participants.
>> Alice Carruth: So, does it do the full flight from takeoff to landing? It's actually quite a quick experience overall. It's, what, ten minutes from ground to ground to do the Blue Origin and New Shepard flight?
>> Brendan Byrne: Yes, it's not the entire experience, it is the truncated experience just to get more people through it, because there are six seats in there, right?
>> Alice Carruth: Yeah.
>> Brendan Byrne: You are actually laying down in these seats and you place a VR headset on. They do use real footage that they've attached to the New Shepard Capsule, so you're actually looking at an augmented reality image of outside the capsule. What really got me was the capsule glows, kind of this orangish yellow upon lift off and I asked the astronaut trainer who was there giving us the tour, "Is this what it actually looks like?" And he said, "Yeah, you get the reflection of the engines igniting, will actually light up the inside of the capsule." So, you get to feel that and see that. There's some rumbling there. And of course, before your experience, you get to pick your zero G indicator, so when you do get to the edge of space, when those engines cut off and it begins that kind of free fall back to Earth, you can actually reach out and touch whatever your zero G indicator is and see it float all the way through the cabin, much like you would if you were on a New Shepard flight.
>> Alice Carruth: Wow. Okay, so tell me, what was your indicator? Was it some kind of sparkly dinosaur?
>> Brendan Byrne: No, I picked the Saturn V because it was the biggest, so I could -- I could see it tumble and float through my -- my producer said she felt like a cat because she just kept swatting at them the entire -- the entire time we were doing the experience, so.
>> Alice Carruth: So, there is some -- some thought behind these virtual reality experiences of giving you some feeling of that overview effect. Did you feel anything like that? Did you feel like you really experienced that curvature of the Earth, that thin blue line layer or was it more of just like a computer SIM that didn't have that real lasting effect on you?
>> Brendan Byrne: You know, I approached it as thinking of it as somebody who would be going through this experience and seeing that and you -- yes, I did get that. You know, a lot of times you see those images from the edge of space and, you know, they're kind of, you know, flat and static and they're beautiful. But, you know, the fact that you're in an augmented reality experience and, you know, able to kind of turn your head and look around and see that curvature throughout 360 degrees of this capsule, you did kind of get the feeling that, you know, I couldn't take my eyes off of it. I think for me, I was looking down the whole time and I talked to the astronaut trainer who was taking us through that, Barrett, and I said, "You have to train your astronaut to look up" because I was more worried about where we were coming from, you know, from the ground as opposed to looking up that it did take me minutes to look and say, "Oh, there is the thin blue line. There is the darkness of space." I kept looking down at where we came from. And I've got to imagine that to actually see that with your own eyes, you can't not have the overview effect, right, when you see that. So, I've got to imagine that the weightlessness would help with that experience if I was on an actual New Shepard flight. But I also can absolutely see why those New Shepard participants are glued to those windows because it is just an incredible view, and those windows are huge. They're much bigger than you'd expect them to be.
>> Alice Carruth: Yeah, we got the opportunity to speak to George Neild, who went up on the Blue Origin flight a few years ago and he was reduced to tears when he was relaying that information about what that experience was like. And it starts us just to really thinking, you know, here at T-Minus about whether or not these guys are classed as astronauts. I know that's a massive debate in the industry. Are they astronauts? Are those spaceflight participants? What's your thought, having gone through that simulated experience, what would you say is the take away from that?
>> Brendan Byrne: Yeah, I mean, it is a big deal in the industry, and I remember doing some reporting on this right after the first New Shepard flight and I talked to a few astronauts, like, actual, you know, veteran NASA astronauts. And they were, like, "Yeah, of course, they're astronauts. They went to space. They did their mission, and they came back safely." So, I'm going to go with what the actual astronauts have said that they are astronauts. But yeah, I think you go to space, you experience it, you trained for it. I mean these New Shepard astronauts, they go through a training, it's a shorter training than you know, say a civilian agency astronaut would but they're still going through training. So, absolutely they're astronauts. Don't at me.
>> Alice Carruth: So, that really -- yeah. That really leads me to my next question. Having gone through the simulated experience, would you go through the experience of going on one of these suborbital missions, or even an orbital mission? You know, and if so, which one would you really pick?
>> Brendan Byrne: Oh, any of them in a heartbeat. So, if anybody's out there listening that wants to send a journalist up there I am -- I am there. I did promise my wife though I wouldn't go to space after I took this -- took on this beat, but I think she is quickly changing her tune to that and wants me to experience it, but I think any opportunity to get to space would be -- would be incredible. The last time I had your colleague on my show, Maria, we talked about the accessibility of space and, you know, things like Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, and you're starting to see more with SpaceX, like the Inspiration4 mission that there is going to be opportunities. There's very limited opportunities, but there are going to be opportunities for more people to go to space. And I think that that is -- that is a really, really exciting chapter in history that we're entering and things like this experience at the visitor complex is building that excitement and making it feel like this is more normal. This will be more real for kind of the next generation of explorers. You and I may not get that chance, but surely the next generation will have a greater chance than we will, but there's still a chance out there. So, yeah, if there's anybody listening that wants to send me to space, more than happy to go.
>> Alice Carruth: Me too. I'm totally there with you. I'll be honest with you.
>> Brendan Byrne: We'll go together, yeah.
>> Alice Carruth: Yeah. So, you obviously live in Florida and there is a lot going on there right now, particularly it's gone crazy over the last year. What's that been like as a Floridian resident to see how much is going on with the space industry, particularly the commercial space industry right now?
>> Brendan Byrne: It is wild. It has turned into something that is more normal than I thought that we would expect here. So, just as an example, a friend of mine, he moved, he's got a high rise in downtown Orlando. We're over at his house and there was a SpaceX launch, and he looks due east, beautiful place to see a launch. And so, I know that it's happening and I'm looking and I'm watching, and I was, like, guys, "You see that there's a launch happening." And they went, "Oh, yeah, you know, that's just another rocket going up. We see them all the time." Like obviously, like, you know, ten years ago or maybe even five years, even sooner than that, it wouldn't have been that normal, it would have been a big deal to see, you know, a bright orange light streaking from the horizon racing to space. But, you know, now with, you know, what is it, 60 or 80 launches this year, probably going to hit triple digits next year out of Florida spaceports, it is just more normal than ever, but it's also super exciting. Like, there are still people that go out to the public launch viewing sites to see a Starlink launch, to see a Falcon 9 launch more Starlink satellites into space, so that's exciting. And then the big headlining launches, it's still incredible to see. I get stuck in traffic covering them, and that's great because if I can't get home because there's so many people trying to leave then that meant that there were thousands of people that wanted to go out there and see, like the launch of Artemis 1 I mean, people lined the roadways and the causeways and the bridges here and it was just absolutely incredible to see. Reminiscent of, you know, Space Shuttle launch days, which was awesome.
>> Alice Carruth: What are you looking forward to in 2024? There's obviously a lot coming up.
>> Brendan Byrne: I'm super excited for Vulcan launch and especially the commercial lunar lander and to see the Eclipse Program really take off, no pun intended and get to the moon. Being here in in Central Florida, we have some researchers at the University of Central Florida that have payloads that are going to be going on a future one of these and just the fact that these missions are opening up avenues for researchers to get their payloads to the moon is really, really exciting. And the fact that the, you know, commercial industry is really stepping up to the plate and wanting to take advantage of this opportunity from NASA, I think that, you know, that launch -- that first launch of Vulcan is really going to be a new chapter in exploration and how the commercial companies are helping civilian agencies and academics, so it'll be really, really cool for that. And then, of course, you know, hopefully we see Artemis 2 next year, we probably won't. One can be hopeful, but I think just preparations for Artemis 2 and seeing the integration of the capsule and all the stuff that comes around the building for that, which will be happening, you know, here at the Kennedy Space Center I think is really, really exciting for me. So, lots -- lots happening. I think you and Maria do need to get here and come see some of this stuff, especially a launch, so. And at this point you come down for any story, you're probably going to see a launch, so.
>> Alice Carruth: We'll get there, we will. Brendan, it has been an absolute pleasure to speak with you.
>> Brendan Byrne: Oh, anytime, anytime. This was so much fun. Thank you so much for the invite.
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>> Maria Varmazis: We'll be right back.
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Welcome back. A group of Minnesota elementary school students have secured the remarkable opportunity to witness their science experiment head to the International Space Station. Fifth graders from Creek Valley Elementary School had their experiment selected after submitting a proposal to the Student Space Flight Experiments Program, the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education. And their experiment focuses on assessing the germination rate of raspberry seeds in microgravity conditions. Exploring the viability of cultivating these berries in a space environment. The school says that raspberries were chosen for their nutritional attributes such as iron, potassium and antioxidants, coupled with their relative ease of cultivation compared to other plant varieties. According to the students proposal, studying how raspberries and other plants grow in space without gravity can teach us a lot about growing food for future space trips like going to Mars or living in space. It's important to figure out how to grow plants in space because we need sustainable food systems for astronauts during long missions. By learning about plant growth in space, we can make sure astronauts have enough healthy food to eat and stay strong in space. Wise words, it doesn't hurt that raspberries are delicious too, I'm sure. The experiment will fly to the ISS on board a SpaceX rocket with an anticipated launch scheduled for the fall of 2024. And congratulations to all the students at Creek Valley Elementary who are part of this experiment.
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That's it for T-Minus for December 20th, 2023. How the heck did we creep up on Christmas so darn quickly? Anyway, 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 e-mail us at email@example.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'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 produced by Alice Carruth. Mixing by Elliott Peltzman and Trey 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 for listening, we'll see you tomorrow.
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