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It’s been a week.

Japan launches a new spy satellite. The Gravity-1 vehicle has a successful inaugural launch in China. NASA reassesses space-based solar power. And more.




Japan's H-IIA launched from Tanegashima Space Center carrying the IGS Optical-8 spy satellite to orbit. The Gravity-1 vehicle, built by Chinese company Orienspace, lifted off the deck of a ship stationed in the Yellow Sea on Thursday. A new report from NASA’s Office of Technology, Policy, and Strategy (OTPS) advises against push towards space-based solar power, and more.

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T-Minus Guest

Our guest today is IENAI Space Co-founder and CEO, Daniel Pérez Grande.

You can connect with Daniel on LinkedIn and learn more about IENAI SPACE on their website.

Selected Reading

Mitsubishi Heavy launches H-IIA rocket carrying Japan's spy satellite- Reuters

Tianzhou-6 cargo spacecraft separates from China Space Station - CGTN

China's record-breaking Gravity-1 rocket aces amazing debut launch from ship at sea (video) | Space

Europe considers launching Copernicus satellite on Falcon 9 - SpaceNews

Digital Spaceport of the Future

Stem Cell Investigations to Improve Cancer Treatment Among Payloads Flying on Axiom Space's Third Private Astronaut Mission

Axiom tests next-gen spacesuit for effortless kneeling on Moon's terrain 

New Study Updates NASA on Space-Based Solar Power

NASA plans to unveil experimental X-59 supersonic jet on January 12- Popular Science

How the US replaced Russia’s RD-180 engine, strengthening competition

Countdown to graduation for Aussie Astronaut | Australian Space Agency

Space Force announces 2023 Polaris Award service-level recipients- United States Space Force

1st 'interstellar tourism campaign' urges aliens to visit Lexington, Kentucky

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Well, Alice, it has been a week, hasn't it?

Yeah, just a bit more rare it has.

First, we had the inaugural launch of the ULA's Vulcan Sentior.

Then there was the rollercoaster at the Astrobotic Peregrine Lunar Landra updates.

We're so sorry, little bird.

I know.

And then NASA pushed back their Artemis missions, and there have been an abundance of launches both here in the US and around the world.

And then today we have a bunch from Japan and China.

I'm exhausted.

Yeah, thank goodness we're about to go into a three-day weekend in the US.

Today is January 12th, 2024.

I'm Maria Varmausus.

I'm Alice Karuth and this is T-minus.

Japan launches its IGS Optical 8 spy satellite.

The Gravity One vehicle has a successful inaugural launch in China.

NASA scales back its focus on space-based solar power.

And our guest today is Daniela Perez Grande, CEO and co-founder of NiSpace on a new palm-sized propulsion system.

That's fascinating stuff, so stay with us for the second half of the show.

And let's dive into our Friday Intel briefing, shall we?

We're continuing our theme this week with good news in global space following earlier setback announcements in the US.

Japan's workhorse launch vehicle, the H2A, lifted off from Tanegashima Space Center Friday morning Japan time.

The payload, a spy satellite called the Information Gathering Satellite or IGS Optical 8, well, we don't know much else about it, aside from its existence, given the nature of the payload.

The Mitsubishi Heavy Industries-built H2A is being eminently retired.

Today's launch was one of its last.

The plan is for its successor, the H3, to take over launches for Japan from there.

And quick recap, you might remember the H3's test launch in March 2023 unfortunately failed after stage separation.

The second stage didn't ignite and JAXA had to order the rocket to self-destruct, also causing the loss of the H3's payload, the Earth Observation Satellite Daiichi-3.

So here's hoping that the next test launch scheduled for next month has a better outcome.

While shifting our focus over to space activities in China, at around 4pm Beijing time today, up in low Earth orbit, the Tianzhu-6 cargo spacecraft successfully separated from the Tianyong Space Station.

Tianzhu-6 had carried supplies for the take-naughts and the space station, including spacesuits, maintenance components and propellant.

According to the China manned space agency, the cargo spacecraft, its job now done, is headed for re-entry and disposal in a designated safe zone in the Southern Pacific Ocean.

In China has seen the debut launch of a new rocket this week.

The Gravity-1 vehicle, built by Chinese company Orion Space, lifted off the deck of a ship stationed in the Yellow Sea on Thursday.

The vehicle transported three Yunyao-1 commercial weather satellites into their planned orbit.

The company declared the inaugural launch a huge success.

And anecdotally, the Gravity-1 launch was visually spectacular.

The cloud it kicked up made the whole thing look like a volcano erupting.

Definitely take a look at the video if you can.


Heading to Europe now and delays with the Vega-C rocket have the European Space Agency looking at alternative transporters for a Copernicus satellite.

The director of ESA's Earth Observations said the agency and the European Commission will decide in the near future whether to switch the Sentinel-1's C radar imaging satellite from a Vega-C launch to a SpaceX Falcon 9.

Sentinel-1C is part of the Copernicus Earth Observation Program, jointly run by ESA and the European Commission.

I can't blame them for heading to the US from Europe.

I jumped ship long ago.

Spaceworks, in partnership with Assured Access to Space, known as AATS, is seeking proposals that will advance the US Space Force's digital transformation, hardware modernization, and operational enhancement of current and future space ports.

According to the Space Force's press release, AATS aligns Space Launch Delta's with launch acquisition programs, fostering close cooperation in missions expanding beyond launch to include on-orbit space mobility and logistics.

AATS is looking for rapidly deployable improvements to the space port's foundational elements.

These initial successes will pave the way for a scalable infrastructure, accelerating the Space Force into the advanced digital age and increasing launch capacity.

The small business innovation research contracts under offer are worth up to $1.9 million each for IT infrastructure upgrades at the Eastern and Western launch ranges.

Check out the link in our show notes for more details.

Axiom's AX3 mission is heading to the International Space Station next week with the first all-European commercial crew and is taking with it an abundance of research experiments.

Many of more than the two dozen experiments heading to low-Earth orbit will focus on life sciences.

The Sanford STEM Cell Institute at the University of California, San Diego, is sending two investigations that continue to build on STEM research conducted on previous Axiom missions, as well as previous investigations sponsored by the International Space Station's National Lab.

For one project, the research team will study tumour organoids in microgravity to identify early cancer warning signs to better predict and treat the disease.

The other investigation will evaluate changes in astronauts' blood enzymes during and after spaceflight to better understand their role in health and disease.

The results could help identify new therapies and new ways to target and treat cancer, potentially during the pre-cancer stage.

Who says space doesn't improve life here on Earth?

Not us.

Now, picture the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong.

He took one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

But one thing Neil could not do is Neil.

Nice pun, Alice.

I like that.


And that was because his space suit could not allow that kind of movement.

Not a problem anymore, says Axiom, who are designing the next-generation space suits that NASA astronauts will wear when they land on the moon no earlier than fall 2026.

The Axiom extravehicular mobility unit, also known as AxEmu, has been created to provide increased flexibility, greater protection to withstand the harsh environment, and specialised tools to accomplish exploration needs and expand scientific opportunities.

Using innovative technologies and a flexible design, these spacesuits will enable more exploration of the lunar surface than ever before.

Space suits now with kneeling.

Will wonders never cease?

NASA is scaling back its focus on space-based solar power.

A new report from NASA's Office of Technology Policy and Strategy known as OTPS considered the potential of a space-based solar power system that could begin operating in 2050.

Based on that timeline, the report found that space-based solar power would be more expensive than terrestrial, sustainable alternatives, although these costs could fall if current capability gaps can be addressed.

The report shows that emissions from space-based solar power could be similar to those from terrestrial alternative power sources, but it noted that this issue requires more detailed assessments, so the space agency is pulling back its resources for now until proof of concepts that is commercially viable is found.

I'm bummed about that one, I'll admit.

And it's X-59 Revealed Day!

NASA is rolling out the red carpet for the experimental supersonic jet designed alongside Lockheed Martin's secretive Skunk Works division.

The one-of-a-kind X-59 Quest, which stands for Quiet Supersonic Technology, either way, is potentially industry-shifting and aims to carry people at supersonic speeds without the sonic booms.

The vehicle is designed to collect data to help NASA provide regulators with the information needed to establish an acceptable commercial supersonic noise standard to lift the ban on commercial supersonic travel over land.

You can go back and watch the live reveal, which streamed at 4pm Eastern.

That concludes our roundup of today's stories.

As always, you'll find links to further reading on all the stories we've mentioned in our show notes.

We've added a few extra for you today, an opinion piece on how the US replaced Russia's RD-180 engine strengthening competition, a blog from Australia's space agency on the graduation of one of their astronauts, and an announcement of the winners of the Space Forces Polaris Awards.

They're all at space.intuk.com and click on this episode title.

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 Daniel Perez Grande talking about electro-spray technology for micro propulsion systems.

It is super cool.

Now check it out while you're recovering from a busy start to the new year, or chipping away at those new year's resolutions that you've totally not abandoned already.

T-minus Deep Space on Saturday, you really don't want to miss it.

And we have one additional programming note for you.

Monday is a federal holiday here in the US.

It's Martin Luther King Jr.

Day, the anniversary of his birthday.

As such, we here at T-minus and all of N2K are taking the day off.

So we won't have a daily update for you this Monday, but we will be running a special program in the podcast feed.

We wish everyone stateside celebrating a pleasant three-day weekend, and we'll be back to our daily updates on Tuesday.

E&I Space has designed a palm-sized propulsion option for future space missions.

The electro-spray technology is being developed as a cost- and mass-effective method of propelling CubeSats and other small satellites.

For the first time in Europe, this ionic liquid-based electro-spray propulsion system has achieved more than 400 hours of continuous operation.

And I spoke with E&I Space co-founder and CEO, Daniel Perez Grande, who gave me an overview of the company.

E&I is a space mobility company, or co-products are around ion propulsion or electro propulsion, as people know it in the field.

But we're not just a propulsion company.

We like to say that since we have a lot of core know-how around propulsion, around flight dynamics, around maneuvering in space, there was a lot of, when we started the company, there was really a lot of pain points that we were seeing in the industry that could be solved by bringing that knowledge into basically satellite builders.

So again, we do propulsion, but we're not just a propulsion company.

We are actually creating an ecosystem of products, both hardware and software, to really streamline as much as possible every aspect in the mission related to propulsion.

And in fact, because propulsion can be quite critical for any space mission that's worth its name, basically, you really need to start looking into it as early as possible in the mission.

So we have a software that can help you during your mission analysis and definition, can help you select the right propulsion system, can help you understand your propulsion requirements.

And we're also going to start developing this year a software for operations focused on space mobility.

So I like to make the analogy that if you're building a spacecraft, if you're building a satellite, you're not going to go and tell the rocket launcher what's the best trajectory to take, because that's a completely different field.

But you do have to integrate a propulsion system in your satellite, and you do have to then choose what are the best maneuvers for that.

So we want to help those spacecraft builders, those spacecraft operators with or core know-how, which is related to propulsion, to carry out those operations.

So in that sense, we're able to kind of really join or help our clients really at the beginning of their missions all the way towards the end of the mission.

Well, that's a fascinating proposition there.

So tell me a little bit about what makes you guys different.

So I saw the word miniaturization in there.

This is sort of a little taste of that.

Tell me more about all that.

It's pretty neat.


So when we started about five years ago, I think CubeSats were all the rage.

Everybody was trying to do CubeSats.

There were people doing even PicoSatellites, which were smaller than CubeSats.

And there was a lot of business models being built around that I think Planet very famously kind of has sent up something like 450 CubeSats out there on the doves.

And I think people are now moving towards larger things.

But at the time, there was a lot of interest in miniaturization.

And in fact, I have to tell you that the miniaturization of particularly electric propulsion systems, because chemical propulsion systems are a little bit different, unfortunately, because they consume quite a lot of propellant.

You can't really miniaturize them that much because at the end, you still need to carry that propellant, that minimum amount of propellant so that you can actually do your mission.

Yeah, exactly.

So you can do yourself, right?

But electric propulsion was actually brought into as a technology because it saves a lot of mass.

But when you start miniaturizing those propulsion systems, traditionally those electric propulsion systems, particularly those based on plasma, so people might recognize Hullfack thrusters or Gritted Ion thrusters, unfortunately, the efficiency of these systems just goes really low.

It's basically, we joke internally that they're really expensive light bulbs.

And I'm probably going to get a lot of people out there mad at me for saying this, but you look at them and they look really cool.

You have your plasma beam out there.

It's ionized, so it's almost like looking at one of those cool LEDs or whatever, but you're not really generating that much thrust.

Little puffs, right?

Yeah, exactly.

It glows.

It looks really cool, kind of like this bluish glow, but at low powers, you're just not very efficient, which is by the way the main KPI for electric propulsion efficiency.

So we came out of university.

We didn't have a propulsion that we had to like kind of a legacy propulsion that we wanted to commercialize.

We had the freedom to just look into what are the best technologies out there to work.

And we found one that was actually, it's very interesting actually.

It was developed originally in the '70s by NASA.

They were called, at the time, they were called colloid thrusters.

So it was basically using a mixture of salts and liquids so that the liquids became conductive.

And through electric fields, you could extract those charged molecules, accelerate them under an electric field, and shoot them out and generate thrust.

And this was originally developed back in the '70s.

At the time, let's say these systems where they shine is in that miniaturization.

And back then, satellites were huge, right?

So you just couldn't do anything with these systems.

And then in the 2000s at MIT, there were a couple of professors, actually one Mexican and one Spanish, which kind of like started looking back into these type of technologies.

And I think the word that was kind of coined at the time was electrospray, which has actually been used as a different technology for other fields.

And there's actually some noble prices associated to electrosprays as well.

But you can actually very efficiently shoot out these ions.

And the core, let's say, of these technologies is that instead of using these plasmas, these really nice glowing plasmas, which unfortunately, at low powers, are very inefficient in terms of propulsion, you're using a propellant, in or case we call it an ionic liquid or a molten salt.

So it's as if you had basically tabletop salt, right?

But instead of being solid, it was liquid.

And if you coat with that salt, basically a particular geometrical arrangement, which is what we call the emitter, and you put an electric field on that, you start shooting out ions.

And those are the ions that are generating thrust.

And the really cool thing about that is that in order to do this, you actually need to go down to the microscale and even down to the nanoscale.

So these emitters that I'm talking about, when we manufacture them, we use technologies from the semiconductor industry.

So the same technologies that you're using for microfabrication of microchips, we use those to sculpt these geometrical structures that help you concentrate the electric field and start shooting out those ions from the molten salt.

And we use those micro technologies and those nanotechnologies in order to achieve these very compact and very small propulsion systems.

And in fact, they are so small that they basically you can hold them in your hand.

It's a propulsion system that fits on the palm of your hand.

It's a pocket rocket, if you want to use that phrase.

That's dangerous.

Yeah, well, that's true.

That's right.

I hadn't thought about that.

And in fact, the first propulsion system that we made, the first one that went up, which went up on the Firefly Alpha 2 mission a couple of years, end of 2022, was actually not even on a CubeSat.

It was actually on a Pico satellite.

I mean, we can make it that small.

And the reason for doing that was because we wanted to really explore how small could we go?

How small can we make this technology?

Because in the same way as microchips, where you're generating, you're basically manufacturing hundreds of them or whatever, right?

The good thing about this technology is you can manufacture these kind of like single propulsion units, and then you can add more or less depending on how much thrust you actually need for your mission, right?

And that efficiency is going to be independent of the amount of emitters that you add to your propulsion system.

So we have a propulsion system that is focused on miniaturization thanks to this electromagnetic technology, which is built with micro and nanotechnology.

But the key characteristic, aside from the fact that it's extremely efficient at low powers, is that it's also customizable.

We choose the number of electric pre emitters.

We choose the amount of propellant that you're going to be carrying through orbit.

That means that we can cater particularly to the requirements for clients both from their mission and platform perspective.

And I'd like to add that, in fact, we've also built other products that help us do that.

So we now have a software, which is actually our first product on the market.

It's called 360.

It's a space mobility and mission analysis software.

And what that software allows us to do is to basically look at your problem, look at your mission and help you decide, listen, if you want to go for a chemical propulsion system, you can also do that.

The software enables you to study those kinds of systems.

But if you want to go with us, we can tell you exactly what configuration of the propulsion system you're going to need and the best one to fit your mission and platform.

My goodness.

One of those on its own would be impressive, but the fact that you're doing many of those is quite a lot.

That is super cool.

It's pretty cool.


It's one of these things where I'm a big science fiction geek and you know, like on all those movies, when you see like, you know, something that resembles like a spacecraft and then you see the propulsion system and you're like, this doesn't look like any propulsion system that I've ever seen in my life.


It's not a rocket.

It doesn't have, you know, whatever.

The first time I saw a SCM, so scanning an electron microscope image of or micro propulsion emitters, right?

Or electric spray emitters, which have to be imaged at the micro skill because otherwise you can't see them.

I thought this doesn't look like anything like any propulsion system that I've ever seen.

So it was a big kind of like sci-fi geeky moment for me because it was like, this is kind of science fiction a little bit, you know, like you could see it and you wouldn't imagine that that's ever going to be used for propulsion, but we are generating thrust in our lab and hopefully in the future and many, many satellite platforms up. .

We'll be right back.

Welcome back.

And okay, imagine with me for a second, you're at the top of a mountain peak and you can see another one way, way off in the distance and you think you might see another mountain climber at its peak, but you aren't sure.

Maybe it's a trick of the light.

So you just act on instinct and do what a lot of people probably would in this situation.

You start waving and shouting, hello over there.

And many a sci-fi novel and movie has been penned about humanity waving high to unknown alien life by kind of doing just that.

Shouting high to that metaphorical distant mountaintop through space probes, Star Trek the motion picture or radio signals, contact, even if that high wasn't necessarily on purpose.

But what if it was the plaques on the pioneers and the golden records on the voyagers are there and hopes that maybe some sentient beings in far off space will see them.

That's kind of a passive way of doing things, isn't it?

Why wait for those spacecraft to be stumbled upon?

And that is the question the tourism board of Lexington, Kentucky asked when they beamed a coded bitmap via infrared laser to Trappist One and what they've coined the first interstellar tourism ad.

I just love this story.

This is wild.

They chose Trappist One as their ad target because it's relatively close by and it's in the Goldilocks zone of habitability from the start orbits, meaning it could maybe harbor life.

And if that life is sentient and can receive that coded bitmap image from Lexington, Kentucky, when it arrives in 2063, well, they will see a black and white bitmap tourism ad showing the rolling blue hills of Kentucky, kinda.

The chemical diagrams for water and ethanol, which are the elements of Kentucky bourbon and for dopamine because Kentucky is fun.

And one human flanked by two horses, a nod to Lexington being the horse capital of the galaxy, their words not mine.

The hope is that this beamed image will entice the residents of Trappist One to spend their next summer holiday in Lexington, Kentucky because who could resist the siren song of horses and booze?

Honestly, I cannot wait to read the speculative fiction about extraterrestrials interpreting or misinterpreting this image.

Oh my God, this is brilliant, honestly.

Well, that's it for Team Minus for January 12th, 2024.

For additional resources from today's report, check out our show notes at space.intuk.com.

We'd love to know what you think of this podcast.

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This episode was produced by Alice Karuth, mixing by Elliot Peltzman and Trey Hester, with original music and sound design by Elliot Peltzman.

Our executive producer is Jen Iben.

Our VP is Brandon Karpf.

And I'm Maria Varmausus.

Thanks for listening.

We'll see you next week.

[Music] Team Minus.

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