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Healthy bank balances and launch calendars.

Terran Orbital ends the year with a healthy bank balance. SpaceX launches its first direct-to-cell satellites. AIAA searches for a new CEO. And more.




Terran Orbital closed out 2023 with $70 million dollars in cash, giving them what their CEO Marc Bell says is a "solid financial foundation" for their objectives in the coming year.  SpaceX begins 2024 by launching the first six satellites with direct-to-cell capabilities. AIAA’s CEO Dan Dumbacher will be stepping down from his role in September 2024, and more.

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T-Minus Guest

Our guest today is Dr. Hisham Ali, Assistant Professor of Aerospace Engineering Sciences at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

You can connect with Hisham on LinkedIn and learn more about his lab here.

Selected Reading

Terran Orbital Reports an Excess of $70 Million Year-End Cash Balance- Business Wire

AST SpaceMobile Provides Interim Update on Fundraising- Business Wire

SpaceX’s first Falcon 9 launch of 2024 features first 6 direct-to-cell Starlink satellites – Spaceflight Now

SpaceX back with 1st Space Coast launch of the year – Orlando Sentinel

Joint Task Force-Space Defense Commercial Operations cell receives new name > Joint Task Force-Space Defense > News

MBRYONICS Selected As Optical Terminal Provider For DARPA’s Space-BACN Program

LEAP-TD Mission Success

Rewind 2023: India has 204 space startups, sector received $123mn investments - Science News 

Exclusive: SynMax Raises $13M - Payload 

Early-stage hard tech firm Countdown Capital shutting down - TechCrunch 

AIAA Announces Plans for CEO Transition

 'There has never been such big hype': Why space tech is booming thanks to AI

What’s The Perfect Meal For Long-Term Space Travelers? A Vegetarian Salad, Apparently- IFLScience

A commander’s lament on the loss of a historic SpaceX rocket- Ars Technica 

This NASA crew has survived Mars for six months — sort of

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>> Maria Varmazis: It's way, way too early to make rosy predictions about 2024. But it's still tempting to read into some early data and potential trends. Should old financial data be forgot and never brought to mind, after a year many would rather forget, maybe, maybe, maybe 2024 will be a bit rosier and a bit stronger for space companies.

>> Unidentified Person: T-Minus 20 seconds to LOA. Go for the floor.

>> Maria Varmazis: Today is January 3, 2024. I'm Maria Varmazis, and this is T-Minus. Terran Orbital ends the year with a healthy bank balance. SpaceX launches its first direct-to-cell satellites. AIAA searches for a new CEO. And our guest today is Hisham Ali, Assistant Professor of Aerospace Engineering Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. Stay with us. Here's a look at our Intel Briefing for today. So speaking of trying not to read too much into data this early on, we'll nonetheless report a positive cash balance from Terran Orbital. The company says they closed out 2023 with $70 million US in cash, giving them what their CEO Mark Bell says is a solid financial foundation for their objectives in the coming year. The company, which we have previously reported, is looking for a new buyer, has also received a payment from Rivada Space Networks pursuant to Terran's previously announced contract with Rivada. The amount was for the completion of a program milestone. As a result, Rivada is up to date on all outstanding invoices. Terran Orbital expects to receive additional milestone payments in 2024 and continues to expect to meet its delivery obligations under the Rivada contract on schedule in 2025 and 2026. AST Space Mobile, which claims to be building the first and only global cellular broadband network in space to operate directly with standard unmodified mobile devices, has provided an end-of-year funding update. The Texas-based company says it's seeking to close and fund the previously disclosed strategic investment this month with multiple parties, subject to completion of final documentation and approvals. AST says it has secured initial ground infrastructure orders from two customers for planned commercial service. A Caveat of this announcement, though, stating that there can be no assurance that they will enter into any such transactions on acceptable terms on this timing or at all, for what it's worth. So, in speaking of improving coverage from space, here comes SpaceX. The company started 2024 with the first launch from Vandenberg last night, launching its first six satellites with direct-to-cell capabilities. The six were among 21 Starlink satellites that were launched by the company's Falcon 9 rocket from California. SpaceX says the new service will, quote, enable mobile network operators around the world to provide seamless global access to texting, calling, and browsing on land, lakes, or coastal waters. Company's CEO Elon Musk promises that the service will be a real game changer, eliminating dead zones across the world. And the second SpaceX launch of the year is scheduled this evening from Florida. A Falcon 9 rocket carrying a telecom satellite for private Swedish company Ovzon is slated to lift off from Cape Canaveral during a 10-minute window that opens at 6:04pm local time with a backup on Thursday during an 87-minute window that opens at 4:47pm. Last year, Florida saw a record-breaking 72 orbital launches; and SpaceX accounted for 68 of them. Elon Musk's company is aiming for triple digit launch numbers in 2024. The US Joint Task Force Space Defense Commercial Operation Cell has been renamed to the Joint Commercial Operations Cell. The name change is said to better reflect its collaborative nature across the globe and emerging mission sets. With its new name, the cell will maintain the same acronym JCO to strengthen continuity with established partners while also becoming more inclusive of its diverse participants and mission sets. The JCO network includes allies, partners, academia, and industry, who joined the JCO's global construct to help achieve 24/7 space operations worldwide. Satellite communications company embryonic has been selected by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, known as DARPA, to develop the optical terminal, including the Space Telescope, the pointing, acquisition, and tracking system and the optical amplifiers as part of the space-based adaptive communications node program. The program is known as Space-BACN, B-A-C-N, and is aiming to create a reconfigurable multiprotocol intersatellite optical communications terminal that is low in size, weight, power, and cost and able to connect heterogeneous constellations that operate on different optical intersatellite link, or OISL, specifications that otherwise would not be able to communicate. BACN.

Embryonics, who participated in earlier development phases of the program, successfully delivered Phase 1 within 14 months and were awarded this new Phase 2 contract for Technical Area 1 to design and deliver the optical terminal. As we mentioned on yesterday's show, ISRO had a launch on New Year's Day, and Dhruva Space launched its P30 satellite platform onboard ISRO's PSLV-C58 POEM-3 mission on Monday and has already announced the successful space qualification of the payload. The Launching Expeditions For Aspiring Payloads Technology Demonstrator, or LEAP-TD, featured a derivative of the Dhruva Space P30 satellite platform integrated to ISRO's PSLV orbital experimental Module 3, which enabled in-orbit scientific experiments using the spent PS4 stage as an orbital platform. Dhruva Space's CEO and cofounder Sanjay Nekkanti says the success of the LEAP-TD mission demonstrates collaboration across government and industry partners to advance the paradigm in space technology. Dhruva Space's hosted platform offering enables reduced timelines and rapid access to space, shared operations development and launch, significant cost savings, considerable risk reduction, and various levels of payload command and control through Dhruva Space's TT&C ground facilities.

And it's not just Dhruva Space that's excelling in India. 2023 saw the emergence of 54 new space startups across the country. And, according to the Indian space industry body Indian Space Association, Indian space startups received a total funding of $123.9 million last year. That takes the total funding in the sector to $380.25 million. We think 2024 will be a big year for India's space industry.

Satellite data analytics company SynMax has raised a $13 million round of funding, according to an exclusive report by payload. SynMax is a satellite data analytics company which specializes in the use of commercial satellite images to find and monitor oil and gas assets and provide maritime intelligence data. The company is building products to monitor industrial assets and dark ships around the globe. According to the report, most of the funding raised in this round will go towards hiring and scaling the business team in order to reach new customers, particularly in the energy industry.

Venture capital company Countdown Capital has announced that it will shut down by the end of March and will return on invested capital. The firm founder and solo general partner Jai Malik announced the closing in an annual letter. Malik said in the letter that, quote, despite our performance to date, I've concluded that new investments are unlikely to yield strong returns. A total of 12 investments are listed on the firm's website, including K2 Space.

And we end today's briefing with the news that AIAA CEO Dan Dumbacher will be stepping down from his role in September 2024. Dan says every organization needs fresh eyes after five or six years, and he promises to still be around somehow. AIAA are now looking for their next CEO to lead the world's largest aerospace professional society. It also happens to be Dan's birthday today so happy birthday, sir. We wish you the best as you navigate what's next. And that's it for today's Intel Briefing. We've included links to further reading on all the stories that we've mentioned in our show notes. And we've added a few extra for you to enjoy, ones on what space tech is booming, thanks to AI; another on the perfect meal for long-term space travelers. And the last one is on the loss of a historic SpaceX rocket booster which hit choppy waters over the holiday break. They're all at space.n2k.com, and just click on this episode title.

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 to find the show and join the T-Minus crew. Thank you so much. We really appreciate it. Our guest today is Hisham Ali, Assistant Professor of Aerospace Engineering Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. Hisham runs a lab focused on experimental hypersonics, and I started off by asking him to tell us more about the new venture.

>> Hisham Ali: One of the things about hypersonic flight is you think about reentering from orbit at Earth. You are moving above 17,000 miles an hour, and you're hitting the atmosphere all of a sudden. So for reference, in terms of energy, you know, basically, the air molecules might as well be standing still, tight. And they have no awareness that this vehicle is coming towards them because you're going so much faster than the speed of sound. So there's a lot of energy there. And it's quite difficult to re-create all of the conditions in a ground-based testing facility. You have to pick. Are you going to replicate the temperature? Are you going to replicate the speed? Are you going to replicate the high-altitude environment? Our lab at CU Boulder is not necessarily designed to replace or replicate all of these conditions. Truthfully, no ground test facility is. But, rather, we're interested in studying a specific phenomena. And so those phenomena that we're interested in studying are, when we are going so fast and we enter the atmosphere, we're actually heating the gas, the air enough to create the fourth state of matter, which is plasma, and electrically conducting gas. And so the idea is, well, if we do have an electrically conducting gas, you can kind of think about regenerative braking that you do in an electric car. When you slow down an electric car, you charge the battery. And, at the same time, you're adding a braking force. You don't have to use your actual brakes as much. So the kind of idea is, well, can we do that for a hypersonic spacecraft or aircraft? And can we use it to do control? If you look at the space shuttle, right, really any hypersonic vehicle, it looks significantly less aerodynamic than a typical airliner. And so, you know, suffice to say that it doesn't really fly as well. And so the idea is kind of not just to survive the heating of reentry but can we actually navigate. And so there are engineering reasons why. But, ultimately, our lab at CU Boulder is actually to re-create a supersonic plasma flow. So we are creating a plasma wind tunnel facility. There are a few such facilities in the United States, probably less than five in academia, overall, at a large scale, though that number is changing, and then several that are operated by government agencies so the Department of Defense and NASA. And so that's what we're building to kind of replicate those conditions so we can explore basically the interaction of magnetic fields with -- with these conductive plasmas. So it's synergistic, I think, with, you know, a lot of other technology development. But it also helps us address a need for hypersonic flight.

>> Maria Varmazis: Okay. That's super fascinating. You took me on a really cool journey there. And I was just like, wow. I apologize that I'm kind of like stunned. Like, this is really neat. I know hypersonics is something that I hear a lot of emphasis about it, and I'm just sort of wondering, like, why now, especially I know that there's sort of like a -- we're in a bit of a competition with maybe other nation states about hypersonic technology. But I'm just curious your thoughts about, like, why does there seem to be so much research going on about hypersonics now than maybe there has been historically?

>> Hisham Ali: Sure. You know, hypersonics really goes back to the space age, the dawn of the space age and the space race between the then Soviet Union and the United States. And we have been flying hypersonically for as long as we've been having spaceflight. And so, when we think about the modern push for hypersonics technology, it's not necessarily can we survive the hypersonic flight environment. Any atmospheric reentry capsule so returning astronauts from orbit, that -- that is a hypersonic reentry capsule. But, instead, the challenges are, well, can we fly hypersonically but at low altitudes? And maybe instead of, you know, trying to reenter and slow ourselves down and ultimately land, can we actually turn on an engine and fly, similar to an aircraft? That's a different challenge. There are engineering reasons why. One of the reasons is that you're going so fast that the fuel and air actually doesn't have very much time to mix. A few milliseconds, has to mix, ignite, and then leave the combustor and ultimately produce thrust. And so that's difficult. On top of that, you have really, really high heat loads. If you look at a reentry capsule or even a space shuttle, it looks like a big round object. And we call that a blunt body. And that blunt body concept was invented at NASA Ames Research Center in 1950s, in the late 1950s and actually has been sort of the driving force. And so, when we want to fly aircraft and we want to fly things that, you know, maybe look a little bit more aerodynamic, we generally are talking about a sharper surface. And those sharper surfaces really create incredible heat loads. So 10,000 degrees Celsius is sort of not out of the equation. And there are no known materials that can just organically survive that. And so we have to do interesting things to try to maybe actively cool the surface. And so those technology challenges lead to vehicles that, once they ran through the atmosphere, generally speaking, have a limited sort of maneuvering capability, whereas, you know, today we'd like to be able to fly. We'd like to be able to maneuver, and ultimately we'd like to be able to have basically aircraft capabilities like a supersonic fighter jet but at hypersonic speeds, which is just an engineering challenge.

>> Maria Varmazis: That's fascinating. Yeah. We've talked to a number of people about point to point with hypersonics. And I know it's -- it sounds like almost a dream to me. But, boy, that would be amazing. It's a really exciting time right now. And it's very exciting to hear about the work that you're doing also. For you with -- with this lab, that it's still in the middle of being built right now, right?

>> Hisham Ali: Yes.

>> Maria Varmazis: So what will success look like to you? I feel like that's a -- maybe a loaded question. But once everything's up and running, for you, what will you know, like, yeah. We did the thing we were looking for. We found what we were looking for. What's that going to be?

>> Hisham Ali: Well, I think first flight. So, you know, that will definitely be a major milestone. So right now, in the interim, we have some smaller scale facilities. So, for reference, our major facility will be using anywhere between 40 to 80 kilowatts of power to heat the plasma and create the torch. Our vacuum pumps each utilize up to 50 kilowatts of power. And so the overall power envelope in the lab, including a lot of the utilities required, is about half a megawatt, just to kind of give numbers. So, in our smaller tabletop facility, we're really aiming for something on the order of a couple of kilowatts so like a microwave oven. We're kind of working on smaller-scale facilities right now. But I think first flight in the bigger tunnel will definitely be a major milestone. And then the next milestone is, you know, actually placing a representative model in the tunnel and measuring these forces or these interactions. I think that will be for us, I think, a technical success. That said, one of the reasons that, at least for me, I'm in academia, is also to train, I think, the future workforce and the future generation. After I finished my PhD at Georgia Tech, I was research faculty and did a postdoctoral fellowship for about a year and thereafter went to the Aerospace Corporation and worked in mission design and astrodynamics. And one of the things that I noticed was that there was a lot of demand for hypersonics expertise, as you've alluded to earlier, you know, particularly talking about competition and in trying to technically advance. But the number of people who were really trained in this, that had expertise in this was limited and that many of those individuals had retired. Particularly if you think about the Cold War ending now over 30 years ago, you know, there's really kind of not too many universities that really have, you know, this expertise and students that were kind of coming out to fill -- to fill the needs. And so coming back to academia, I really felt like, you know, one of the major goals of this lab is to actually have experimentally trained PhD students. I also teach a graduate class called Introduction to Hypersonics for first year master's students. We also offer a graduate certificate in hypersonics that even nondegree-seeking students may take. They take this class and then maybe three other electives, and they can get a certificate in hypersonics. And so we have many folks who are taking the class distance learning who are actively working in industry. So kind of, you know, really sharing that with, you know, audiences like this course that I teach and weaving it into undergraduate teaching and then also my graduate students, that for me is a metric of success. I think that having those students then go on and, and either you know, open up their own labs or work at government labs and be able to contribute their expertise, I mean, I think there's -- that's really -- it's not just a technology challenge. It's really a people challenge when you think about the hypersonics challenge the United States in particular is facing but just worldwide generally.

>> Maria Varmazis: Really well said, and you definitely have your finger on the pulse there with the workforce challenges is a conversation I feel like I have several times a week with people. And it -- you absolutely nailed it. There's such a need. So anyone who's listening who is interested and this thinking about the path ahead, you have some direction here. Hisham, I know we're coming on the end of our time. And I want to make sure I just -- I give you the floor. I like to let my guests have the last word. If there's anything you wanted to say to the audience that maybe I didn't ask you about that you wanted to say, I wanted to give you that opportunity.

>> Hisham Ali: Yeah. I mean, I would say that, to students, even if you don't think that you know hypersonics, hypersonics, especially modern hypersonics, is a lot more than aerodynamics. It's vehicle control. It's communications. It's materials. It's honestly thinking about engineering as a system. And so I say that you probably know more about it than you think you do. And, if you choose a career in this area, understand that a lot of those skills that you will learn and apply are translatable. And I found that to be the case for myself, going from undergraduate to graduate education later on in my professional career. And so that would be, you know, my message. And I think a lot of the work that remains in hypersonics involves connecting disciplines and doing interdisciplinary work. So, for example, what we do is a combination of both plasma physics and aerospace engineering. And I think, at those intersections, you'll find that there's a lot of opportunity for personal growth and then also a lot of opportunity for cool science and engineering, which, at the end of the day, at least motivates me and I hope, you know, motivates a lot of other people interested in these problems.

>> Maria Varmazis: We'll be right back. Welcome back. So you know those signs that say something like, If you lived here, you'd be home right now. Well, how about, if you lived in this bunker, you'd be on Mars right now. Okay. Think back to June 2023 when you might remember that four analog astronauts entered a 3D-printed Mars simulator in Houston at the Johnson Space Center for the CHAPEA mission. Now, they've been living the Mars dream, growing food, maintaining their home, doing Mars walks, keeping their robots running. And hey, the CHAPEA team have now officially hit the halfway point of their 378-day mission. So congratulations to them. To fill their downtime in between missions, they've started a book club. They play board games. Even got a ps4 in the hab with them. Oh, yeah. And, like many of us, they've been keeping up with For All Mankind, kind of meta given that they're on Mars this season too. Anyway, sounds pretty great except for one of those robot rovers that they've had under their care, crew member Dr. Nathan Jones said, quote, he may have accidentally murdered one of our robots, adding that the death of the aforementioned rover was, quote, traumatic. No further details were available, but my money is on percussive maintenance that got a little too enthusiastic. We've all been there. Best of luck to the CHAPEA crew as they continue their mission. And, for the remaining robots, may the odds be ever in your favor. That's it for T-Minus for January 3, 2023. For additional resources from today's report, check out our show notes at space.n2k.com. And we'd love to know what you think of this podcast. You can email us at space@n2k.com, or submit the survey in the show notes. Your feedback ensures that we deliver the information that keeps you a step ahead in the rapidly changing space industry. N2K'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 Pelzman and Tré Hester, with original music and sound design by Elliott Pelzman. Our executive producer is Jen Eiben. Our VP is Brandon Karpf. And I'm Maria Varmazis. Thanks for listening. We'll see you tomorrow.

>> Unidentified Person: T-Minus done.

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