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Not our payload, not our problem.

NASA says no to the Navajo request to delay ULA. SpaceX sues the National Labor Board. GAO denies L3Harris’ protest against a Ball NASA contract. And more.




NASA responds to the Navajo Nation’s request to delay the first commercial lunar payload services mission to the Moon. SpaceX sues the National Board of Labor after they issued a complaint against the company illegally firing employees. The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) has denied the protest by L3Harris over the award of a NASA contract to Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation, and more.

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T-Minus Guest

Our guest today is Philip Harlow, President of commercial satellite operator Telesat.

You can connect with Philip on LinkedIn and learn more about Telesat on their website.

Selected Reading

NASA responds to Navajo Nation's request to delay private mission placing human remains on the moon

Biden Administration to Consult with Navajo About Human Remains on the Moon – SpacePolicyOnline.com

48000 pounds of engine thrust to power lift upper stage Vulcan rocket

SpaceX sues US agency that accused it of firing workers critical of Elon Musk- Reuters 

L3Harris Technologies, Inc.- U.S. GAO

Funding Future Tech: NASA Names 2024 Innovative Concept Studies

Space elevator design wins Barrow-born architect €10,000

ISRO’s Fuel Cell flight tested in PSLV C58

China's first rocket launch in 2024 successful - CGTN

China completes new commercial launch pad to boost access to space - SpaceNews

Where lawmakers think space policy is headed in 2024

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>> Maria Varmazis: NASA has responded to a request from the Navajo Nation to delay the January 8th ULA launch that will send the first commercial lander to the Moon, and that response was essentially "not our payload, not our problem."

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Today is January 5, 2024. I'm Maria Varmazis.

>> Alice Carruth: I'm Alice Carruth, and this is T-Minus.

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>> Maria Varmazis: NASA says no to the Navajo request to delay ULA's launch on Monday. SpaceX sues the National Labor Board. The GAO denies L3Harris's protest against a Ball NASA contract.

>> Alice Carruth: And our guest today is Philip Harlow, president of the commercial satellite operator Telesat.

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>> Maria Varmazis: Happy Friday, everybody. Let's take a look at our intel briefing for today. And we mentioned earlier this week that the Navajo Nation filed a formal objection with NASA about the planned January 8th ULA launch of commercial missions to the Moon because two of the payloads going up contain human remains. President Buu Nygren of Navajo Nation said, "It is crucial to emphasize that the Moon holds a sacred position in many indigenous cultures, including ours. The act of depositing human remains and other materials, which could be perceived as discards in any other location, on the Moon is tantamount to desecration of this sacred space." Well, January 8th is coming up pretty fast and yesterday the response came from NASA about this issue via Chris Culbert, who is NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services Program Manager. He said this in a briefing yesterday, "We don't have the framework for telling them what they can and can't fly. The approval process doesn't run through NASA for commercial missions." But not to dismiss the concerns outright here, Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration, Joel Kearns added that, quote, "We're going to learn through these first landings and the follow-up landings all the different issues or concerns that are generated by that, and I'm sure that as time goes by there are going to be changes to how we view this or how industry itself maybe sets up standards or guidelines about how they're going to proceed." And for its part, Celestis, which is one of the two commercial space companies sending human remains to the Moon, it sent a written statement published in an article on space.com. It's from Celestis CEO and co-founder Charles Chafer, and here's some of what he said about the objection from Navajo Nation, and I quote, "The regulatory process that approves space missions does not consider compliance with the tenets of any religion in the process, for obvious reasons. No individual religion can or should dictate whether a space mission should be approved. No one and no religion owns the Moon, and were the beliefs of the world's multitude of religions considered, it's quite likely that no missions would ever be approved. Simply, we do not and never have let religious beliefs dictate humanity's space efforts. There is not and should not be a religious test," end quote. This is unquestionably not the last time an issue like this will come up, and with more missions to the Moon planned, not to mention permanent establishments on the Moon planned, more cultural and ethical quandaries like this one are going to come up more and more. The pace of progress marches on in space, but it is certainly getting trickier.

>> Alice Carruth: Amen to that. And, of course, this whole dispute is over the planned United Launch Alliance Vulcan Centaur launch, which is planning to lift off on Monday from Florida. The 202-foot tall rocket is set to debut the first of ULA's new rocket designs in 18 years. It's designed to meet the requirements of the U.S. Space Force and intelligence agencies for national security satellite launches, but it also serves as a launch vehicle for private space ventures, including this one and 38 launches planned to deploy satellites for Amazon's Project Kuiper.

>> Maria Varmazis: We mentioned yesterday that SpaceX has come under scrutiny after the U.S. Labor Board accused the rocket and satellite maker of illegally firing employees, and now they're suing. SpaceX claims the structure of the National Labor Relations Board, which issued a complaint against Elon Musk's company earlier this week, violates the U.S. Constitution, and in its lawsuit, SpaceX claim that because federal law only allows board members and administrative judges to be removed for cause and not at will, the NLRB's structure is unconstitutional. We'll continue to watch this drama unfold in the coming weeks.

>> Alice Carruth: I'll save you from telling you what we call this sort of thing in England. And speaking of objections, the U.S. Government Accountability Office, or GAO, has denied the protest by L3Harris over the award of a NASA contractor, Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corporation. Ball had their proposal accepted by NASA for the Geostationary Extended Observations, or GeoXO, Sounder GXS Instrument Implementation. L3Harris had challenged the agency's evaluation of proposals and the selection decision.

>> Maria Varmazis: NASA has selected 13 concepts for the 2024 Phase I awardees for its program called "NYAC," and NYAC, which stands for NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts, funds early-stage tech concept studies for future consideration and potential commercialization. The total award is a maximum of $175,000 in grants to evaluate technologies that could enable tomorrow's space missions, and we've included a link to see all of the neat concepts that have been awarded and there are a few that we think are worth mentioning today. One of them is "Studying Torpor in Animals for Space-health in Humans," which is known as "STASH," and "torpor" is a state of physical or mental inactivity. By the way, I'm an expert on torpor. And "Biocatalytic Elimination of Omnipresent Perchlorates," which is a study to detoxify Mars.

>> Alice Carruth: Why they can't keep these names more simple, I do not know. But speaking of innovative designs, an architect from Cumbria in the U.K. has won 10,000 Euro prize for a design of an elevator that transports passengers into space. Space elevators, Maria.

>> Maria Varmazis: Space elevator.

>> Jordan William Hughes was awarded a prize for space architecture and innovation from the Jacques Rogge Foundation in Paris. Mr. Hughes designed an elevator to replace rockets which he says are inefficient, expensive, and bad for the environment. I think we might have to agree a little bit with that one.

>> Maria Varmazis: I love space elevators, I just have to say. I really love them. And we're finding out more details about the India Space Research Organisation's payloads from Monday's launch of their Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle's POEM-3 mission, and part of the mission was to test a hydrogen fuel cell in space, which ISRO says has successfully generated power. India plans to use the concept in future manned missions. ISRO says that during the short duration test onboard POEM, 180 watts of power was generated from hydrogen and oxygen gases stored onboard in high-pressure vessels. The space agency says that the test has provided a wealth of data on the performance of various static and dynamic systems that formed part of the power system and the physics at play.

>> Alice Carruth: Super cool. Now, China has held the first launch of the year. A Kuaizhou 1A carrier rocket carrying four meteorological satellites blasted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China today. The satellites are part of the Tianmu 1 meteorological constellation and will be mainly used to provide commercial meteorological data services.

>> Maria Varmazis: And China completed the construction of a new commercial launch pad at the end of the year. The pad on Hainan Island is the first of two pads which will host liquid propellant launch vehicles. It's hoped that the new location could reduce debris from falling in inhabited areas, which we saw over the holiday break.

>> Alice Carruth: I love that video. I'm sorry, I do.

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That concludes our briefing for today, but stay with us for Maria's chat with Philip Harlow, President of Telesat. If you're interested in learning more about any of the stories that we've mentioned in today's show, then you'll find links to further reading in our show notes, and we've added a story that we're really interested in at the moment, where lawmakers in the U.S. think space policy is headed this year. They're all at our website, space.n2k.com.

>> Maria Varmazis: Hey, T-Minus crew, tune in tomorrow for T-Minus Deep Space, our show for extended interviews, special editions, and deep dives with some of the most influential professionals in the space industry. And tomorrow we have Philip Harlow talking about the shift by satellite operators from GEO to LEO. Check it out while you're taking down the holiday decorations, at the gym after starting your new year's resolutions, guilty, or just spending the weekend relaxing. You don't want to miss it.

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>> Maria Varmazis: We spoke to Philip Harlow, the President of commercial satellite operator Telesat, about the market and military shift from GEO to LEO. Philip provided me with some context on Telesat's history and why they're excited about the LEO market.

>> Philip Harlow: We've been doing GEO for over 50 years, and so, you know, as the GEO market has evolved and with the introduction of first Ku band and then Ka band, that was -- suddenly Ka band was touted to change the entire market. Telesat has been at the forefront of all of that. They're the fourth largest GEO satellite operator in the world and have some very solid credibility. So as the world evolves into, not into a LEO world, but more as LEO becomes an augmentation to those GEO capabilities, Telesat's at the forefront of that as well. We're doing things in a different way, so the whole concept around light speed is not just to put up something that which is the standard internet access, best effort to everybody. We are focusing on the enterprise level part of the market. We are putting in place a number of features that we think are absolutely essential to succeed in those markets, and all of those elements from their high-end commercial market are very applicable to the government market, particularly the North American market, and so we feel we're very well placed within our little ecosystem of LEOs to be one of the premier of suppliers of LEO to U.S. government, and I'm very excited about the LEO market altogether.

>> Maria Varmazis: Yeah, it's -- it is a very fascinating place that Telesat is at right now, especially since you mentioned it has such a great GEO heritage and now it's also entering or it is in the LEO market. It's a fascinating inflection point, and I would love if you could sort of set the scene for me a little bit. We talk about it a bit on the show, but I think it is -- can't be emphasized enough how big of a change this is, and I'm curious, especially for government users, why is this move happening? Because GEO was sort of, you know, the protective domain of especially the U.S. military, but now a lot of them are going into proliferated LEO. We hear a little bit about the why, but I would love for you to explain a bit about why this is such an advantageous move.

>> Philip Harlow: Well, you've pulled a number of threads there with one question, right? So let me try to unpack.

>> Maria Varmazis: Sure, I tend to do that.

>> Philip Harlow: So, you know, when it comes to GEO, you know, the military started using GEO, you know, back in the '60s, when they-- when they first launched Cedrus [phonetic] and a couple of other of these satellites that they put up over the years, but in terms of technology and in terms of quantity, whenever we've gone into a conflict, and you can pick a conflict starting from the first Gulf War and moving forward, commercial has always played a huge part in the reach and capability that DoD has relied on, and, you know, and they went on to build a fairly large WGS fleet in GEO. The design cycle for the technology that they've been using is 7 to 10 years, and I remember when the first WGS went up in around 2007 or thereabouts that that technology was kind of from the very early 2000s or maybe even the late '90s, and so there is a -- there is a lag in technology that DoD has adopted. There are good reasons or bad reasons for that, right? So the bad reason is that DoD is not quite as agile as they might want to be just given the rules that they have to play by, but there are good reasons for that as well, you know, certainly when, in the military, when technology gets to the field, it's tried and tested and they've got a supply chain and everybody's trained, so it's a well-known function. What commercial brings to the ecosystem is this agility to bring these new things to the marketplace to the user where speeds are faster, technology is cheaper, terminals are smaller, so what we're able to do is get to those lower-echelon users much more quickly than DoD can reach with its own technology and its own approach. That's not to say one is better or worse than the other. They're both part of the ecosystem, and I think, you know, one of the elements that we should talk about is what the SDA is doing in terms of its -- the Tranche 1 and 2 of the Transport Layer, right? So the SDA is experimenting with all of these LEO capabilities and they're trying to figure out, like a lot of governments are, trying to figure out what is good, what's bad, what should we do, what shouldn't we do? My feeling is, like GEO, the LEO is going to take a long time to manifest itself and get to space, and probably by the time it gets there, there's going to be some lag in the technology. There's probably going to be some lag in the quantity that they're going to have, because over time, not only does the commercial world change in terms of technology, but also what we're doing is we're building a growing ecosystem of users, so people who are using satellite today wouldn't have even contemplated that 10 years ago. Now technology is cheaper, there's more capability, more people are jumping on to using this capability, and by the time the DoD gets to the point, we will have moved on and even more users will want to come in. What we've found, I think, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and certainly what's going on in Ukraine today, the ability to have real-time access to video is changing the game, has changed the game even, and we see in Ukraine that there's a lot of exploitation of drones that they're able to control in real-time, beyond line of sight, and that's just what we've seen in the last two years. Imagine 5 years from now, 10 years from now, users and the capabilities that we're going to be able to bring to bear with all of this new technology. So I think from a from a DoD perspective, they should experiment with this stuff. It's going to educate them a lot, but at the end of the day, commercial is always going to be a part of that military ecosystem because it has always been part of it in the past. So one of the elements that -- been a lot of discussions over the years, but one of the important elements is, when they build their own capabilities, is to fully understand not only what they're doing but what we're doing so that they can leverage both and not just ignore one or the other.

>> Maria Varmazis: Well, yeah, I would imagine this is also why the spiral development model is something that SDA has put into place because you want to be able to get those very current capabilities out the door, metaphorically speaking, as quickly as possible, right? Especially if that's what the commercial market is bringing to bear so much faster than perhaps the really traditional development model.

>> Philip Harlow: Yeah, SDA is certainly pushing the boundaries of their comfort zone, of the DoD's comfort zone, but it's important and they should continue to do it. Now, some of the things they do will fail, but some of them will also be successful, but I think success or failure is not determined necessarily by how well they do or whether it becomes an enduring capability, but really, what have they learned from that, and one of the -- one of the things that, if I can tell you a small vignette and you can keep this on live, but it's up to you, but --

>> Maria Varmazis: [inaudible] yet, so go for it.

>> Philip Harlow: We're in -- we're based out of Incirlik Air Force Base in Turkey. We're working with the Americans, the French, and the Turks, and we were patrolling the northern no-fly zone over Iraq and we had Land Rovers, and the Americans had their Humvees, and for the Land Rovers, we have two technicians to maintain them. Whereas, for the Humvees, the Americans had five or six or even seven. And so the one thing that they brought to the game was that they always had lots of staff. It was really great, and they would lend us stuff and they would help us, but our two guys would do the same jobs on our Land Rovers, much simpler vehicles, but what we learned to do was to leverage each other as allies but also to leverage the locals in terms of using their commercial capability, and it worked very well, and this was across multiple domains, and I just use that vignette as a -- an illustration of how we could collaborate between allies but also how we can collaborate with commercial. So that was my uniform days, and since I've come across to the States, I've been trying to engender that same sort of approach where we want to be real partners. We don't just want to be a vendor to DoD. We want to be partners. We -- the majority of the people in our little segment of the industry are all in the military, right? We want to be part of the solution. We don't just want to be some cheap vendor off to the side. So figuring out how we collaborate as partners, not just as vendor-customer, I think is one of the important parts that flows out of what SDA is doing. So they are leveraging what commercial industry is doing for their own processes. I think the collaboration is pretty close. We just need to find a way to maintain that momentum.

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>> Maria Varmazis: We'll be right back.

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Welcome back. It's fitting for us to close out our first week of 2024 celebrating in the style of New Year's Eve, you know, with popping corks. But did you know that this versatile tree bark will also be keeping astronauts safe as humanity returns to the Moon? Yes, humble cork harvested from the bark of trees that grow around the Mediterranean has extraordinary properties and has seen it used in crucial bits of space rocket hardware, and it could come to play an even greater role in years to come. We're constantly reading about the new material that's being used by the space industry, but sometimes old is gold, and it's been used for some 60 years already by the space industry. I didn't know this, actually. Sheet cork was used to insulate the Minuteman missiles during the Cold War, and Boeing used cork mixed with resin in their Delta IV launch system. In 2020, ESA also tested cork as an insulator for reentry when the Karman satellite was dropped from the ISS to gather data on atmospheric reentry as it fell back to Earth, and cork is used in ULA's Atlas V, the main launch vehicle used by NASA over the past 21 years to carry robotic missions to Mars and Jupiter. Now NASA hopes to send humans to the Moon using a rocket insulated with cork. So think about that next time you open a bottle of wine. You're using space material.

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>> Alice Carruth: Well, that's it for today, for January 5, 2024. For additional resources from the report, check out our show notes at space.n2k.com. We'd love to know what you think of our podcast. You can email us at space@n2k.com or submit the survey in the show notes. Your feedback ensures we deliver the information that keeps you a step ahead in the rapidly changing space industry. We're privileged that N2K and podcasts like ours are part of the daily routine of many of the most influential leaders and operators in the public and private sector, from Fortune 500 to many of the world's preeminent intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

>> Maria Varmazis: N2K strategic workforce intelligence optimizes the value of your biggest investment, your people. We make you smarter about your team while making your team smarter. Learn more at n2k.com. 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, and have a great weekend.

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