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A slew of SpaceX stories.

SpaceX under fire over employee issues. Maxar Intelligence lands an NGA contract. Rocket Lab secures a $489M contract with an undisclosed US agency. And more.




The US National Labor Relations Board is moving forward with a complaint against SpaceX by eight former employees who allege they were illegally fired. Maxar Intelligence has received a contract to provide the US National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency with the company’s Precision3D data suite bundle covering 160,000 square kilometers within the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command area of responsibility. Rocket Lab secures a $489 million contract with an undisclosed US government agency, and more.

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T-Minus Guest

Our guest today is Dr. Elaina Hyde, Director of the Allan I Carswell Observatory at Canada’s York University.

You can connect with Elaina on LinkedIn and check out the observatory’s programs on their YouTube channel.

Selected Reading

Complaint and Notice of Hearing-Space Exploration Technologies | PDF 

SpaceX Launches First Direct-to-Cell Starlink Satellites for Service With T-Mobile

Japan Airlines Announces Partnership with SpaceX for Commercial Space Travel

India to use SpaceX's Falcon-9 rocket to launch communications satellite

Maxar Space Systems-Built Ovzon 3 Satellite Launched- Business Wire

Maxar Intelligence Wins Nga Contract For Precision3d Data

Rocket Lab To Build 18 Spacecraft For Mystery U.S. Govt. Customer- Aviation Week Network

Sidus Space Receives NOAA Remote Sensing License - Via Satellite

China's Kuafu-1 probe records massive solar flare - CGTN 

NASA Asteroid Sampling Mission Renamed OSIRIS-APEX for New Journey

Starfighters Closes 2023 With Growing Momentum in Hypersonic Testing and Space Access Platforms, as Management Reports New Hypersonic Research Agreements and Increase in Launch Opportunity Pipeline.

USSF accepting proposals for third research opportunity under the USSF University Consortium

Australia celebrates space history on world's 1st coin minted in 2024

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>> Maria Varmazis: Hmm, little company called SpaceX. Heard of them? Okay, yeah, they're a pretty exciting but divisive company, and there's no doubt that they're leading the space race for the United States and, mm, completely running circles around the entire space industry, but their practices have come under attack in the last few years. They're known for working their employees hard, but are they always legal with their approach? And that right now is the big question.

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Today is January 4, 2024. I'm Maria Varmazis, and this is T-Minus.

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SpaceX under fire over employee issues. Maxar Intelligence lands an NGA contracts for the Indo-Pacific region. Rocket Lab secures a $489 million dollar contract with an undisclosed U.S. government agency. And our guest today is Dr. Elaina Hyde, Director of the Allan I. Carswell Astronomical Observatory at Canada's York University. Stay with us for that chat.

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Let's get into it, shall we? We start today with a company that dominates our intelligence briefings, more often than not, and that would be SpaceX. As we mentioned at the top of the show, there's no doubt that they're doing amazing things in the commercial space industry, but their handling of employee issues is once again making the headlines. The U.S. National Labor Relations Board is moving forward with a complaint against SpaceX that was brought by eight former employees who allege that they were illegally fired. The employees say that they were dismissed for circulating an open letter within the company. The complaint and notice hearing, which were obtained and posted online by Jeff Foust from SpaceNews, allege that the respondent, and that would be SpaceX, has violated the National Labor Relations Act. The Labor Relations Board has concluded that SpaceX, quote, has been interfering with restraining and coercing employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed under the National Labor Relations Act. They're seeking remedies that include training on the Act for SpaceX managers and sending letters of apology to the fired employees, but the complaint does not specify any monetary damages. The complaint does add, though, that the board, quote, seeks all other relief as maybe just and proper to remedy the unfair labor practices alleged. The employees, whose names are redacted in the complaint, shared a letter that was circulated on the SpaceX system in June 2022 that allegedly called for the company to distance itself from the CEO Elon Musk's personal brand. The letter, which sounds like a doozy, quote, impliedly invited employees to quit if they wished to engage in protected concerted activities and impliedly threatened employees with discharge if they wished to continue discussion of the issues contained in the open letter. We will see what, if any, remedies are implemented at the behemoth space company. And if you'd like to read the complaint in full, we've got a link in the show notes for you. And we mentioned yesterday that SpaceX had launched the first six direct-to-cell service satellites earlier this week, but we neglected to mention that the company is partnering with T-Mobile on the service. T-Mobile says that more than half a million square miles of the United States is not covered by cellular networks, along with large stretches of ocean. T-Mobile President of Marketing, Strategy, and Products, Mike Katz, says it is the company's mission to be the best in the world at connecting customers to their world even in the most remote locations for added peace of mind when they need it most. It was revealed last year that Starlink would begin offering SMS solutions in partnership with T-Mobile in 2024 with voice data and IoT services to follow in 2025. And yet we're still talking about SpaceX. And speaking of SpaceX partnerships, Japan Airlines have announced a new venture with Elon Musk's company. Japan Airlines plans to leverage SpaceX's expertise to develop and launch their own fleet of space shuttles. No specific details about the timeline and pricing for commercial space travel have been disclosed yet, but both companies have expressed their mutual excitement and dedication to making this dream a reality in the years to come. And yet we are still talking about SpaceX. NewSpace India Limited has announced that it will be using SpaceX to launch a communications satellite later this year. It's the first partnership between an Indian agency and SpaceX, which is looking to expand its business in the country. The launch is scheduled for the second quarter of this year, and the reason they're using SpaceX instead of India's own Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle is that it exceeds the current highest spacecraft launching capacity of India's space agency which is currently set at 4,000 kilos. Maxar Space Systems is celebrating the successful performance of the recently launched Ovzon-3 satellite, and Maxar built a satellite for Ovzon which is a Swedish-based SATCOM-as-a-Service provider, and it launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Florida just yesterday. Ovzon-3 is Maxar's first use of their all-electric modular architecture platform which the company says allows for parallel processing of separate modules to improve production efficiencies, and so far the spacecraft is performing as expected. Okay, now we are moving on from SpaceX. And Maxar Intelligence has received a contract to provide the U.S. National Geospatial Intelligence Agency with the company's Precision 3D Data Suite bundle covering 160,000 square kilometers within the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command area of responsibility. The commercial 3D data provided by Maxar will support the work of NGA's Office of Geomatics, which maintains accurate 3D GEOINT products in support of a diverse group of military and civilian customers. No details about the contract's value were included in the press release. And while many of us were busy preparing and getting involved in the festive season, Rocket Lab secured a massive $489 million contract with an undisclosed U.S. government agency. The contract calls for the company to design, build, and operate 18 space vehicles. The deal was secured through its subsidiary, Rocket Lab National Security, but other than the financial disclosure a few days before Christmas, Rocket Lab did not issue any other details on the contract. Sidus Space received a Tier 1 remote sensing license from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, otherwise known as NOAA. The license allows Sidus satellites to collect and distribute images and data with panchromatic and shortwave infrared imaging capabilities. Sidus expects to collect the images for government and commercial customers. The license approval includes the company's upcoming LizzieSat mission, which is expected to launch in March. China's Advanced Space-based Solar Observatory has recorded a massive solar flare that erupted from the sun earlier this week. It has been the strongest flare so far in the current Solar Cycle 25 that started in 2019. The height of the sun's activity cycle, also known as a "solar maximum," is a time of greatly increased solar storm activity, so sunspots, eruptions called "solar flares," and coronal mass ejections are common at solar maximum. Yup, we are expecting to see more of these flares and experience some of their damaging effects to assets in LEO, in particular, this year, so stay tuned, everybody. And before we close out our intel briefing for today, we have a little tiny announcement. Our favorite asteroid spacecraft has a new name. OSIRIS REx is now OSIRIS-APEX, and it has a new mission, to meet asteroid Apophis. Now, OSIRIS-APEX stands for -- all right, you got to strap in for this one, Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security, and that's the OSIRIS bit, and Apophis Explorer, and that's APEX, so OSIRIS-APEX, whoo. Now, Apophis is an asteroid made of silicate materials and nickel iron and is expected to approach Earth a mere 20,000 miles away in 2029. The spacecraft is expected to arrive at the asteroid in April 2029 after its near pass to study how the close encounter with Earth will change the asteroid's orbit and the length of its 30.6-hour day.

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And that concludes our intelligence briefing for today. You'll always find links to further reading in our show notes, and we've included an update from our friends at Starfighters and a call from the U.S. Space Force for proposals for a research opportunity under the USSF University Consortium. They're all on the "Selected Reading" section and at space.educate.com and just click on this episode title. Hey, T-Minus crew, if your business is looking to grow your voice in the industry, expand the reach of your thought leadership, or recruit talent, T-Minus can help. We'd love to hear from you. Just send us an email at space@educate.com or send us a note through our website so we can connect about building a program to meet your goals.

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Our guest today is Dr. Elaina Hyde, Director of the Allan I. Carswell Observatory at Canada's York University. The observatory there has just been renovated, so we wanted to catch up on what's new there. And I should mention Dr. Elaina Hyde gave me a cool video tour of the facility, so we will be sharing the video from that tour of the telescopes in the coming weeks on our social media platforms, so stay tuned for that. But for now, here's some of our chat with Elaina sharing more details on the observatory, and if she sounds a bit echo-y, keep in mind it's because she was joining me from inside the observatory.

>> Elaina Hyde: The domes and the building was constructed in around 1965 to '68. The 60-centimeter telescope, which is in the other dome, arrived around that time as well. So about two years ago, that's when we started the renovation project, really. The roof was actually leaking, so we had a lot of water ingress in the old domes which destroyed a lot of stuff. We got the roof redone, we were able to sort of trigger, you know, not just the regular roof but also the domes.

>> Maria Varmazis: In addition to like the physical infrastructure, also like the IT systems, obviously, the humongous amounts of work, and I can hear the servers whirring. You had mentioned that, you know, going from the really analog equipment to digital, I mean, that's a humongous process.

>> Elaina Hyde: Yes, absolutely. The software and computer science aspects of observatory life should not be underestimated. This is one of my personal sort of favorite things to tell students who are interested in astronomy now, is computer science and data science are absolutely integral to everything you're going to want to do, because this isn't just a network rack. We actually have our own managed switch. We have a router inside there. We have our own -- our own land, and, you know, all of these things are what is usually termed "computer science" but absolutely vital because every single system coming in, from the telescope control to the instruments to the little boxes that control which switches go where, they all have individual signals that need to come into these computers and not be confused. So it's a massive, massive undertaking to the extent where we also have to worry about power management system. So we don't just plug these into the wall. We actually have power distribution units at the bottom of this rack. The telescope has its own managed power distribution which is then plugged into the emergency backup power supply system that we have so that we can have one last "Let's turn everything off if the power goes." So you have to worry about not just the software, the computers themselves, the computer management, but also the power management, and, of course, backups, backups, backups.

>> Maria Varmazis: I was going to say, I'm imagining me as maybe a baby astronomer going, "I really just wanted to look at stars and nice things in the night sky, and suddenly I have to learn how to do what? And I have to learn all these IT skills. I wasn't really expecting that."

>> Elaina Hyde: I was a little surprised myself, but it's worth it, it's worth it. And, you know, not everyone needs to learn all of them. I would say that maybe if you're the director.

>> Maria Varmazis: Yeah, I can imagine that. So when you were -- when you were going through this entire upgrade process, I mean, I'm just trying to imagine decades-old equipment moving to something like this, that must have been incredibly complicated on a number of levels, but also, I mean, are a lot of other observatories going through something like this, or have they, or are you guys all sort of a little bit ahead of the curve on this?

>> Elaina Hyde: Some of them do, and it's really a case of what kind of capacity do you need out of your observatory. So a lot of observatories now do unfortunately have pretty extreme funding issues, and one of the things you can do to kind of increase your capacity, increase your donations ability is to run more types of observing and with less people. So how do you run every night observing if you only have, you know, one full-time employee and a bunch of volunteers, which is, you know, what most observatories are currently looking at. Well, you have to have robotic systems, and if you need a robotic system, that's where you need computers to come in. You need a computer-controlled managed system that is going to be trustworthy and have emergency backups. So we still issue on-call physicians for our observing team, which is basically a -- usually a student observer who says, "Yes, I'm within 10 minutes of campus and I can come in if there's an emergency." So we still issue that because it's a good idea, but we have many emergency backup systems for closing the dome, for being able to turn off the instruments.

>> Maria Varmazis: Being remote in the sense that you don't have to physically necessarily be right in front of it to do all that. Huge benefits, but I would also imagine, I mean, I'm putting my cybersecurity hat on for a second, risky in other ways, too, that maybe in ways that nobody needed to worry about in the '60s because I -- yeah.

>> Elaina Hyde: Security is something that is a constant battle for any observatory, and we are an observatory on a university campus, so one of the battles is actually getting control over our own internal network but also keeping it underneath the university firewalls because it does give you some extra protection, and you just have to hope that having a telescope is not that interesting, but you have to put the security measures in place so that remote access is restricted, right? And there are many different kinds of remote access. Of course, having a secure VPN will help a lot, but yes, that's definitely -- actually every few years, I find myself kind of, you know, scratching my head and going, "Oh, man, digital security, everyone," because there are so many new ways that information can be compromised now.

>> Maria Varmazis: I know, and I feel like every couple of months I hear about another observatory that suffered some kind of cyberattack and sometimes it seems like it was random, but sometimes it seems like it was targeted, and I'm just kind of going, why would somebody want to go after an observatory? I just don't understand. I mean, I don't understand it because, like, leave them alone, they're great. But I'm just like, why does somebody do that?

>> Elaina Hyde: Well, not even for data theft or anything because the data is so complicated. Only somebody who really loves astronomy would want to process it. I do hope it's more of a case of just tearing things down because you can, and that's where data backups and backups come in play. That top box that we have is actually a backup just for the computer systems, and then the pictures themselves we have backed up on cloud and on hard copy. So fingers crossed, but, you know, at least there's only so many nights worth of problems you can have.

>> Maria Varmazis: That's true. It's just amazing to me. So I think, when I think of observatories, my model is still probably very -- it's extremely outdated, especially now talking to you, just learning about what I thought of how they work. My -- what I think of is way, way not how it happens anymore, and I'm thinking of all these complex -- all these backups that you have, all these system backups, all this automation, all this remote access. That's fascinating what it unlocks, and it's just like, wow. It also introduces some headaches that I'm sure nobody really wants to be dealing with, but at the same time having all this really cool capabilities. I mean, again, as you mentioned, you're one person, but being able to sort of have a force multiplier for what you can do is truly amazing. Just wow. Just complicated times we're in.

>> Elaina Hyde: Yeah, you know, sort of astronomy-level power armor to combat [inaudible] the cosmos, and that's not to say that we don't still have old-fashioned mode. I mean, a lot of times whenever we can, whenever there's human beings enough, we do have in-person observing, and especially our 60-centimeter telescope, you still have to go out there and do a star align just like you would have in olden times. The difference is now that the alignment is better. It lasts for longer. So you don't have to do an align in the software every night, but every once in a while you do have to go out there, climb up the ladders, get the finder scopes out, go to a bright target, [inaudible], go to the next scope, center it again, go to the [inaudible], center it again.

>> Maria Varmazis: You might want to do that though, sort of -- I would imagine maybe sort of connects you a little bit with the tool that you are using. I mean, maybe that's a very romantic notion in my head, but --

>> Elaina Hyde: A lot of my students do enjoy observing with the 60 for that reason, because it's extremely hands-on. It's much more manual than the one-meter by design. I mean, it was built in the '60s, and the one-meter arrived in 2019. So the difference in the two systems is fairly remarkable. They're kind of, in every way, one's [inaudible], one's [inaudible], one has very little control over very few electronic controls, and the other one is an electromechanical marvel.

>> Maria Varmazis: Yes, oh, my -- maglev [phonetic] going on. That's just so cool.

>> Elaina Hyde: It's worth noting, it's like one thing you can say for the 60-centimeter telescope has been in use since the '60s. It's the same as the gears have that gear ratio, same gear, same exact gigantic gear, tick, tick, tick, following rate ascension, following the targets across the sky all this time, same gear, and it's the same hearing, the same idea, the same mechanics that have lasted this long, and if every electrical system went out, I could take the back off of that with someone's help and we could learn the gears mechanically without electricity to follow targets across the sky just like, you know, it would work exactly as well, right? In altitude [inaudible] you could never do that on.

>> Maria Varmazis: Yeah, no, it's good to have that connection and to have that capability, too, just worst-case scenario, but also, again, to feel that connection to -- I want -- for some reason, I want to say the craft of it, which maybe is not quite the right word.

>> Elaina Hyde: Well, I think [inaudible] are good, right. It's the difference, going observing, getting your data is really fun, but I do definitely recommend everybody, once in a while, put the eyepiece on your telescope, look through it with your eyeball, if you can, get those photons directly into your eye and it's a kind of a magic spark, and it's -- the 60-centimeter is really challenging to actually get an eyepiece on, so we don't do it very often, but when we do, it's absolutely magical, and when you put the eyepiece on the one-meter, it's just pure fun.

>> Maria Varmazis: Tell us a little bit about your show before I have to head out.

>> Elaina Hyde: Absolutely. Thank you for having us, and if anyone is interested in following along with the adventures, we do have a radio show every Monday night along with online public viewing, which is currently airing on our YouTube channel from 9 to 10 Eastern time.

>> Maria Varmazis: And you can find a link to your observatory's YouTube channel in our guest notes.

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We'll be right back.

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Welcome back. And when you think of space history, what country comes to mind? The United States? Russia? China? Well, what about Australia? Yup, they've got some great history, too, no? The Ozzies are celebrating their space history on a newly minted $1 coin, and that would be $1 Australian, of course, the first coin to be minted in 2024. The coin named "Out of this World, Australia in Space" was chosen by the Royal Australian Mint as its 2024 theme to showcase Australia's history and significance as one of the earliest nations to launch its own satellite. The Mint worked with the Australian Space Agency to come up with the coin's design, and the coin's tails side, because it has King Charles III on the head side, depicts an Australian astronaut on a spacewalk and the launch of the RISAT-1 on a modified U.S. Redstone Rocket in 1967. The launch established Australia as the seventh nation to put a satellite into orbit and the third country to launch from its own territory after the Soviet Union and the United States. Australia also played a pivotal role in the Apollo era, relaying the signal from the Apollo 11 landing, and they made that into a fun movie called "The Dish" if you want to learn Hollywood's version of that story. So the more you know, and what a cool way to remember the country's space legacy as it makes leaps in the new commercial space era.

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That's it for T-Minus for January 4, 2024. For additional resources from today's report, check out our show notes at space.n2k.com. We're privileged that N2K and podcasts like T-Minus are part of the daily routine of many of the most influential leaders and operators in the public and private sector, from the Fortune 500 to many of the world's preeminent intelligence and law enforcement agencies. This episode was produced by Alice Carruth, mixing by Elliott Peltzman and Tre 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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