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There’s Transformers on the Moon!

Japan’s lunar lander arrives on the Moon. NOAA’s OSC announces partners for its Consolidated Pathfinder project. ESA finds ice at Mars’ equator. And more.




Japan’s lunar lander makes a successful touchdown on the moon. NOAA’s Office of Space Commerce announced the start of a commercial pathfinder project in support of its Traffic Coordination System for Space (TraCSS). The European Space Agency finds layers of water ice stretching several kilometers below ground at Mars’ equator, and more.

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T-Minus Guest

Our guest today is Equatorial Launch Australia’s (ELA) Executive Chairman and Group CEO, Michael Jones.

You can connect with Michael on LinkedIn and learn more about ELA on their website.

Selected Reading

NASA, Partners to Welcome Private Crew Aboard Space Station

Astrobotic loses contact with hobbled Peregrine moon lander- Space

Office of Space Commerce Initiates TraCSS Pathfinder Projects

Sidus Space Unveils Cutting-edge Multi-Material 3D Printed Space Hardware Division

ESA - Buried water ice at Mars's equator?

The first large-scale vertical take-off and landing flight test mission of the Blue Arrow Aerospace Zhuque-3 reusable rocket was a complete success!

Scout Space names new chief executive officer - SpaceNews

Astroscale Plans Refueling Mission APS-R With Space Force Funding - Via Satellite

2024 Space4Youth Competition Open!

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At 10.20, the JST, a smart lander for investigating moon landed on the moon.

Congratulations to Japan!

Today, they've joined the elite number of countries that have landed a probe on the moon.

Slim, Japan's smart lander for investigating the moon, successfully touched down on the lunar surface early this morning.

So yes, they've landed.

The Slim has been communicating to the Earth's station and it is receiving command from the Earth accurately and is spacecraft responding to this in a normal way.


After that point, though, question mark.

In any case, now the fun begins.

And speaking of fun, it's been a while, Maria, and I have a joke for you.

Okay, I'm raising myself Alice.


Why do astronauts use Linux?

Oh, no, it's a Linux joke?


Oh, no.

Because they can't open windows in space.

Dang it!

Dang it!

Oh, dang it!

That's a really good one.

That and it's a Linux joke.


Very nicely done.

Thank you.

It was beautiful.

Thing of beauty.

Today is January 19th, 2024.

I'm Maria Varmasus.

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

Japan's lunar lander arrives on the moon.

NOAA's OSCE announces partners for its Consolidated Pathfinder project.

ESA finds ice at Mars' equator.

And I'll be speaking with Equatorial Launch Australia's Executive Chairman and Group CEO Michael Jones, so stay with us for the second half of today's show.

And we start this briefing today with incredible news.

Japan has become the fifth country to land a lunar probe on the moon.

It was touch and go, and there is an asterisk on the success of their mission today.

So earlier today, we all watched the live feed on the edge of our seats this morning, watching a graphic that kind of reminded me of the lunar lander game that shipped with Windows 3.1.

Anyway, moment by moment, we watched the numbers tick down during Slim's final descent to the lunar surface.

And then it all went silent as it appeared to land a bit below the zero line and then go upside down.

Maybe on its side on purpose.

We're not really honestly sure what happened.

And then the jacks of feed ended.

We were all watching together and reading the commentary.

Did it land?

Did it tumble?

What was going on?

Will the slim vehicle please stand up?

Please stand up.

We continued to wait for the promised press conference.

And a bit later, the team confirmed that communication with the vehicle had been established, and JAXA is receiving data.

So again, it was a soft lunar landing success for Slim.

And the two baseball-sized lunar rovers on this mission, Lev1 and Lev2, were also successfully deployed.

That said, the solar panel on Slim is not functioning properly, as the solar cells are not generating electricity.

And they're not sure why.

Could it be a tech issue, or is it the lander's orientation?

It's unknown at this point.

So the vehicle is operating in battery mode, unfortunately, which can only sustain the probe for just a few hours.

So sadly, Slim's going to have a very short mission time on the moon before it runs out of juice.

Now, Slim has managed to take images of the landing area, along with further data collected by the vehicle.

But given the battery concerns, JAXA is prioritizing data transmission over imagery right now.

JAXA says it's looking into the cause of the issues with the solar cell, and I'm sure we'll be giving you an update next week with more substantial information about the mission and what happened here.

As for the two mini rovers, they can communicate with Earth directly.

So even if and when Slim runs out of power, the rovers can still continue their work.

And these rovers were built by the toy company Takaratomi, which you might know makes transformers.

So Lev1 can hop and Lev2 can actually transform, and both of them can take photos.

So here's hoping we see some interesting images from these robots in disguise.

So yeah, not to bury the lead here, but Japan put transformers on the moon.

Super cool.

At the time of us finalizing our show yesterday, the T-minus team were glued to our monitors to watch the SpaceX launch the Axiom 3 or European mission.

The four private astronauts are in orbit following the successful lift off of the Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The crew are being transported in a Dragon spacecraft and are expected to dock with the International Space Station early Saturday.

The Ax3 astronauts will spend about two weeks conducting microgravity research, educational outreach and commercial activities aboard the space station.

Astrobotic has confirmed with government authorities that the Peregrine has completed its controlled reentry over open water in the South Pacific yesterday at 4.04pm US Eastern Time.

The company announced on the social media platform X that they had lost contact with Peregrine at around 3.50pm EST on Thursday afternoon.

The company held a joint press conference with NASA following the mission earlier today.

Astrobotic described their wild ride, and although the outcome was not what they had hoped for, they did reiterate how much they learned during the mission.

NOAA's Office of Space Commerce announced the start of a commercial pathfinder project in support of its traffic coordination system for space known as TRAX.

To execute the pathfinder, OSC placed orders with three US commercial space companies for space situational awareness data and services.

ComSpoC, Leolabs and Slingshot Aerospace have been selected for the Consolidated Pathfinder Project.

Consolidated Pathfinder is a limited term effort that focuses on space situational awareness for the low earth orbit regime.

The Consolidated Pathfinder will inform the build-out of the operational TRAX and will assess industry capabilities to maintain a space object catalogue for a subset of Leo objects and provide follow-up tracking data on close approaches among those objects.

CIDUS space has unveiled a new multi-material 3D printing division.

In a press release, CIDUS says it's aiming to expand its expertise beyond traditional hardware and satellite manufacturing, now offering engineering and advanced 3D printing services.

The company used 3D printers and materials in the manufacturing of its LizzieSat satellite, which is scheduled to go to space in March.

Carol Craig, CEO and founder of CIDUS space, said, "We are excited to offer our advanced capabilities to a wider audience, providing innovative solutions for various industries."

The European Space Agency's Mars Express probe has revisited one of the red planet's most mysterious features to clarify its composition.

Its findings suggest layers of water ice stretching several kilometres below ground, the most water ever found in this part of Mars.

The Mars Express Mars' radar captured images of the Medusa Farsay Formation, or MFF, revealing massive deposits of up to 2.5 kilometres deep.

It was unclear what the deposits were made of when the research was found.

Thomas Waters of the Smithsonian Institute is the lead author on both the new research and the initial 2007 study and says, "Excitingly, the radar signals match that we expected to see from layered ice and are similar to the signals we see from Mars' polar caps, which we know to be very rich ice."

The findings suggest that there's enough water in the ice to form in this equatorial region of Mars to fill Earth's Red Sea.

A Chinese startup has successfully conducted a vertical takeoff and landing of a reusable rocket.

According to the press release, the Zhutui-3 VTVL-1 Reusable Vertical Takeoff and Recovery Verification Rocket, also known as the VTVL-1 Test Rocket, was developed by Blue Arrow Aerospace Technology and was launched at the Zhutuan Satellite Launch Center.

The flight time of this test lasted about 60 seconds, reaching an altitude of about 350 metres, before smoothly landing at an accurate point.

The team says that the vehicle is in a good condition after the test and that the test mission was a complete success.

That concludes our briefing for today, but you'll find further information on all the stories we've mentioned by following the links in our show notes.

We've also included a new CEO announcement from Scout Space and an update from Astroscale on its refueling mission for the US Space Force.

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 Michael Jones talking about the commercial spaceport Equatorial Launch Australia.

Check it out while you're grocery shopping, driving your kids to their endless social engagements or simply relaxing by the fireplace while you're trying to keep warm, at least up here in the northeast of the US anyway.

Yeah, there's no need for flies in the southwest.

You don't want to miss it.

Our guest today is Equatorial Launch Australia's Executive Chairman and Group CEO Michael Jones.

I ask Michael to tell us more about the first commercial launch facility in Australia.

We aspire to being the sort of the leading multi-user commercial spaceport in the world.

All of our customers are from a global basis.

So probably one-third in Europe, one-third US and one-third out of Asia.

Our customers are aimed at the up to 3,000 kilo payload size rockets.

The reality of life and there's lots of people who are out there, you know, making false statements that we want to be this and we want to be that.

We're a company who don't make announcements until we've done something.

And right from the start, it became very clear to us that if you want to be an international spaceport, you need to have some reality of the logistic challenges of moving rockets.

So that's why we've limited ourselves to the sort of the bottom end of what I would call the medium lift capability, because the pure logistics of getting the rockets and payloads to us, if you want to do bigger is just really hard.

And the sense and commercial viability that just gets a lot harder.

We have a very different model to what most people would expect.

So rather than asking our resident launches, which is the term we use to come and invest a lot of money upfront and build their facility, we are building seven space launch complexes.

They are all exactly the same and I'll put a caveat on that, that we can customize for some of the specific, you know, geometry and configuration of rockets.

But basically they're all the same and they have the same tenants of a large horizontal integration facility, which is state of the art with clean rooms and everything that's required for final rocket assembly and preparation for launch.

We also have two launch pads in each slick, one which will be fully developed and we've developed and designed a very, I won't say it's particularly unique, it's more akin to the way the Falcon 9 rocket is erected on the pad in that it has a swiveling base.

But we have a very unique interface system, which allows us to accommodate any rocket.

And we've also designed our own rocket trolley to get the rocket to the site to make the interface easier, you know, because everybody's slightly different.

So that's our concept.

We're based right at the tip of the Northern Australia to get as close to the equator as we can.

And so it's a real trade off between some of the remote and logistic challenges that that creates.

But the operational and technical benefits that we get out of it are quite significant.

We're right on the coast.

We're on an elevated site.

We're on rock, so it's very stable.

We have the support of the government.

We can launch, you know, through about 230, 240 different degrees of inclination if we need to.

People often freak out at the concept of us, you know, launching over land.

But Australia is a very large land mass with very few people.

And we have, you know, one of the examples we use and we've done the full detailed risk hazard analysis of a rocket that, you know, may or may not be modeled or something that looks like RFA-1 from Germany.

And we launched that due south and it has 3,700 kilometres of overland flight and it doesn't fly over a person or a building.

And, you know, for a polar launch, that is like unheard of anywhere.

So, but our real core point of difference, I suppose, is being 12 degrees south of the equator and availing ourselves of the effect of, you know, the rotation of the earth and what that Delta V does to payload and performance benefit for our customers.

So, I did look on your website earlier and you've already got three launches, I believe, under your belt.

Do you want to talk us through what it is you've had launched from ELA so far?

Yeah, so NASA did three sounding rocket suborbital launches.

Each of them went to about 350 kilometres into space and then returned.

So they're quite a long downrange, you know, recovery program.

There was three different payloads and they're quite heavy payloads.

Each of them was around 350 kilos.

So quite significant missions for sounding suborbital rockets and for us was a real baptism of fire, so to speak, you know, dealing with NASA, who is just, you know, obviously the gold standard in the industry and have been doing this for a very long time.

So we had the attitude right from the start of learn everything we can.

And what we learnt was we were actually in pretty good shape.

And there were a few things that we did.

NASA went, "That's really interesting, the approach that you take and we're going to take that on board," which we never thought would happen.

It forced us, you know, and it was really tough in a very short time coming out of COVID to get ready for launches.

So we did Australia's first ever commercial space launch on the 26th of June in '22.

And then in the following 15 days, we did two other launches.

And so to back up very quickly, to do all of those, they were all individual, different missions with different licensing.

So, you know, it forced us to become really good at the regulatory process and how you run a spaceport and how to interface with a customer.

So it was really good.

And then we've had a real hiatus, which at first was annoying, but is now a bit of a godsend and it's allowed us to go into our next phase of developing these seven new space launch complexes and get all our other policies and procedures and development of the site, you know, done in the meantime.

And that's been caused by a whole sequence of either rocket anomalies or industry delays.

It was, of course, by us, it's just people who had booked in from, you know, September '22, et cetera, just kept sliding to the right.

But now what we're getting is what we expected.

And it's a good thing to have is a bit of ground rush that all these customers and they go, hey, we're ready to launch, let's get going.

And so we're doing a lot of parallel tracks.

And so we've announced one contract and we've got eight other contracts out and negotiated at the moment.

And so we're hoping in a very near future we'll be booked out for quite a while and just the work will just mount on us, which is a good thing to have.

It's a great problem to have.

It is.

It's a very good problem.

And it's certainly something you'll see around the world right now.

I would really like to touch on, though, as you mentioned regulation, which is a big deal when it comes to spaceports.

How has Australia come about with its new commercial space industry to come with regulation?

Have you learned from the US system?

Are you doing a bit of a similar system to what the UK is doing?

How has it really worked for you guys over there?

I don't think it'll come any surprise to you that Australians are a little weird.

We always look at things like space regulation and go, we can do that better.

So I think we've come up with a Space Launch and Recoveries Act, which is more comprehensive, tougher and harder than just about everybody else.

So that is a self-inflicted punishment.

Likewise, as we do most other things here, we try to do it better.

So when negotiating for the bilateral treaty with the United States Department in relation to the Technology Safeguards Agreement, we want it better.

We want more.

And so it probably took two or three years longer than it should have.

But that's now due to be tabled on the 6th of February in our parliament here in Australia for ratification.

And so that really opens the doors for us to be able to do technology engagement with US launches and start that process other than like the one we did with NASA, which we did under a TAA, which is a slightly small variation on that theme.

But our regulatory environment here, like I said, is very strict, very comprehensive.

But it has a line to be, and I'm loath to use this word because it's very similar to what we've done in our civil aviation area of harmonisation.

So the FAA regulations and both 420 for spaceports and 454 launch vehicles, they almost read across to each other.

So the fears of US and other international launches are, I'm already certified by Space UK or whatever.

You'll still have to submit for a licence here.

So if you're an Australian going to the UK, you'd have to do the same.

But it's basically just slightly repackaging and realigning that.

And we've come up with a really good template so that people basically fill in the blanks and there's a cross-reference check so that they meet all the requirements.

So we've hopefully smoothed that process.

It's still not quick.

They're still very thorough as it is everywhere else.

I mean, I remember talking to one of our US prospective launch customers and they go, "Oh, we're going out to the Cape.

We're expecting our licence."

Well, 18 months later, they still didn't have their licence.

So even though they thought that the US had this absolutely scundered and the FAA would approve them instantly, everybody's taking a while because nobody wants to be the person who goes, "Why did they get a licence if there's a mishap?"

In any way.

I think it's a prudent step and I think it'll approve over time.

And I think both the FAA and the Space Agency here in Australia will get to a point where they will recognise each other's regulatory approvals.

And I think over time, we will get to the point where, like elsewhere in the aviation world, you have designated engineering representatives who can sign off on things.

And I think we'll get to that point eventually.

The new space world needs to mature a little bit because that would be an unrealistic expectation at this point in time.

We'll be right back.

Welcome back.

The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, also known as YANUSA, in collaboration with the Space Generation Advisory Council, has launched the fifth edition of the Space for Youth Essay Competition.

The competition targets students and young professionals with the aim to highlight governance practices and experiences on the sustainable use of outer space to address the needs of the present in a manner that protects the interests of future generations.

And we've included a link to all the details in our show notes for you.

And I should mention that winners get the chance to attend an adult space camp, a space camp for adults, at the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Super cool.

But Alice and I have a little bone to pick with YUSA because we get it.

It's a program aimed at the youths, which is technically, I guess, 18 to 35-year-olds, in case you're wondering.

But we just happen to be just a hair outside of the age limit.

Just a hair.

Just a bit.

We are no longer considered youth.

So, come on, YUSA.

What do you have for those of us who are above that age limit but are still very much in our prime?

Is there a midlife crisis option?

There better be.

Come on.

That's it for Team Miners for January 19, 2024.

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

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

You can email us at space@ntuk.com or submit the survey in our show notes.

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Learn more at NTUK.com.

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 Karp.

And I'm Maria Varmausis.

Thanks for listening.

Have a great weekend.

[MUSIC] Team Miners.


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