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Very important dust.

NASA finally opens the Bennu sample capsule. Sierra Space tests its first full-scale inflatable space station. JAXA still hopes to power up SLIM. And more.




NASA has completed the disassembly of the OSIRIS-REx sampler head to reveal the remainder of the asteroid Bennu sample inside. Sierra Space has tested its first full-scale, expandable space station structure, alongside softgoods technology partner ILC Dover. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency believes there’s a possibility of power generation for their lunar lander, and more.

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T-Minus Guest

Our guest today is Aravind Ravichandran, Founder of TerraWatch Space Advisory and Insights. 

You can connect with Aravind on LinkedIn and learn more about TerraWatch Space on their website.

Selected Reading

NASA’S OSIRIS-REx Curation Team Reveals Remaining Asteroid Sample

Sierra Space Advances its Revolutionary Commercial Space Station Technology

Redwire Selected as Strategic Supplier for Blue Origin’s Trailblazing Blue Ring Space Mobility Platform

JAXA | The results of the Moon Landing by the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM)

Laser Instrument on NASA’s LRO Successfully ‘Pings’ Indian Moon Lander

Axiom Space Celebrates Arrival of Ax-3 crew to International Space Station

Iran says it successfully launched satellite in Revolutionary Guards' space program- The Times of Israel

Surrey scientists to help build zero gravity space fuel system

Relativity Space wants to build 200-foot tower next to Long Beach Airport

Space Policy Official Details Approach to Maintaining U.S. Edge

'Star Trek' on Mars? Curiosity rover spots Starfleet symbol on Red Planet

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[SOUND] Only in the world of space nerdery is the news of an open jar accompanied by a picture of dust at all considered exciting, let alone top level news.

But all right, when that dust made a two year journey in space to make its way to us from an asteroid, it's certainly some VID, very important dust.

And now that the VID has had its red carpet moment with photos galore, as the Osiris Rex canister has finally been wrenched open, it's now time to study what's inside.

[MUSIC] Today is Monday, January 22nd, 2024.

I'm Maria Varmausis, and this is T-minus.

[MUSIC] NASA finally opens the Bennu sample capsule.

Sierra Space tests its first full scale inflatable space station.

JAXA still hopes to power up slim.

And joining us for our monthly Earth observation chat is Aravind Ravi Chandra, founder of TerraWatch Space Advisory and Insights, so stay with us for the second half of the show.

[MUSIC] Let's take a look at our Intel briefing for this Monday.

It bid farewell to the asteroid Bennu in May 2021, landed back to Earth in September of last year.

And now finally, finally, NASA have the Osiris Rex capsule fully opened.

The team at NASA's Johnson Space Center completed the disassembly of the Osiris Rex sampler head to reveal the remainder of the asteroid Bennu sample inside.

The capsule had two stubborn fasteners that had prevented the final steps of opening the touch and go sample acquisition mechanism known as the tag SAM head.

There's nothing more annoying than a stubborn fastener, huh?

Most of the rock samples collected by NASA's Osiris Rex mission were retrieved soon after the canister landed in September.

But additional materials remained inside the sampler head that proved difficult to access.

After months of wrestling with the last two of 35 fasteners, scientists in Houston managed to get them dislodged.

And they took to the social media platform X to share that it's open, it's open.

Like the new version of Eureka.

The post was also accompanied by a photograph of dust and small rocks inside the canister.

So what's next?

NASA says the curation team will remove the round metal collar and prepare the glove box to transfer the remaining sample from the tag SAM head into pie wedge sample trays.

These trays will be photographed before the sample is weighed, packaged and stored at Johnson.

The remaining sample material includes dust and rocks up to about 0.4 inches or 1 centimeter in size.

The final mass of the sample will be determined in the coming weeks.

So we are excited to hear more about what they've found.

Moving on to non-dust and rock sample news.

Sierra Space has tested its first full scale expandable space station structure alongside soft goods technology partner ILC Dover.

This was the company's first stress test of a full size inflatable space station structure.

The results show that the structure exceeded NASA's recommended safety levels by 27%.

The large integrated flexible environment habitat known as life is made of expandable soft goods or woven fabrics that perform like a rigid structure once inflated.

Life is packed inside a standard five meter rocket fairing and inflates to the size of a three story apartment building in orbit.

The company claims that in just three launches, the modular life units can create a living and working environment in space that is larger, volume wise than the entire International Space Station.

And the video they shared of the test is honestly quite extraordinary and you can watch it by following the link in our show notes.

Redwire has been awarded a contract to develop and deliver four rollout solar array wings known as Rosa, along with multiple Argus cameras and low voltage distribution units for Blue Origins multi orbit space mobility platform, Blue Ring.

The Rosa wings being produced for Blue Ring will power the platform for a variety of missions focused on in space logistics and delivery in medium earth orbit and beyond.

Redwire is also building Rosa wings for the power and propulsion element for the NASA led gateway program.

The contract amount was not included in the press release.

On Friday, we led with the story that was on a lot of people's minds.

Japan's slim lunar lander, which successfully touched down on the lunar surface.

Unfortunately, as you might know, the vehicle was unable to start up its solar cells and was switched off after three hours of operating on battery power.

The battery was disconnected with 12% of power remaining in order to avoid a situation where the restart of the lander would be hampered.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, aka JAXA, believes if sunlight hits the moon from the west in the future, there's a possibility of power generation.

JAXA said in a statement that they're currently preparing for restoration and in the meantime, they're carrying out detailed analysis of data acquired during the landing.

So what happens to lunar rovers after the countries lose contact with them?

Well, it seems that they become a mission in themselves.

The laser beam was transmitted and reflected between an orbiting NASA spacecraft and a cookie-sized device on India's Vikram lander on the lunar surface.

The successful experiment opens the door to a new style of precisely locating targets on the moon's surface.

Sending laser pulses towards an object and measuring how long it takes the light to bounce back is a commonly used way to track the locations of satellites in Earth's orbit from the ground.

But scientists say that using the technique in reverse to send laser pulses from a moving spacecraft to a stationary one to determine its precise location has actually a lot of applications on the moon.

A perfect example of why we should never write off lunar missions that do not completely fulfill their mission objectives as a failure.

SpaceX's Dragon Crew capsule successfully docked with the International Space Station on Saturday, carrying the first all-European commercial crew.

The Axiom 3 four-person crew will stay on the orbiting lab for two weeks.

Andreas Morgensen, the commander of the station's seven-person Expedition 70 crew, who represents the European Space Agency, said after docking, "This is an incredibly exciting time for human spaceflight with the third private mission, which is allowing many more countries to participate in the scientific research and technology development that we do onboard this orbiting laboratory.

We have doubled the number of nationalities on board the space station, going from four to eight, which I think is a great testament to the international collaboration which underpins this marvelous space station.

Here, here."

Iran's state media has reported that the country has successfully conducted a satellite launch into its highest orbit yet.

The Saraya satellite was placed in an orbit at some 460 miles above the Earth's surface with a three-stage rocket, according to the state-run IRNA news agency.

No information was provided on the satellite's mission, and the West has not independently verified the claims.

A team at the UK's University of Surrey is helping to build a fuel gauge that will be tested aboard the International Space Station to measure how full a tank is in zero gravity by using electrical sensors.

The smart tank for space, aka "SMARTS", is being developed by ATO process Limited.

The company has enlisted the help of space engineers at the university's Surrey Space Center, and it will use facilities available at the site.

And that wraps up our briefing for today.

You'll find links to further reading on all the stories we've mentioned in our show notes.

Added to the stories today is a piece on relativity space's plans to build a new tower at Long Beach Airport, and a piece from a space policy official detailing the approach to maintaining the US edge.

It can also be found on our website at space.ntuk.com, and by just clicking on this episode title.

Hey T-Minus Crew, every Monday we produce a written intelligence roundup, and it's called "Signals and Space".

So if you happen to miss any T-Minus episodes, this strategic intelligence product will get you up to speed in the fastest way possible.

It's all signal, no noise.

You can sign up for Signals and Space in our show notes, or at space.ntuk.com.

[Music] Joining us for our monthly Earth Observation Chat is Aravind Ravi Chandraan, founder of TerraWatch Space Advisory and Insights.

Governments, we can probably start there, is still going to remain the key player in the evolution of the Earth Observation Market.

I think that's not going away.

There's not going to be the sovereign Earth Observation constellation.

That is not going to go away because countries are still becoming very interested in launching their own assets.

So data independence becomes more important, and also just kind of the way the world is evolving geopolitically, but also from a climate perspective.

So I think a lot of countries are interested there.

And the third part is more what's going on in the Earth Observation sector with respect to funding.

Funding for that went down compared to 2022, but then what went up was funding for more application companies.

So companies that are using EO data to develop products that are specific for a specific market or a specific vertical.

So I think funding for that is going up or going up last year.

And I kind of expect both of these to continue.

Satellite data companies are going to find it hard to raise money just because of what the macroeconomic situation looks like, but also the Earth Observation Market has been on a bit of an upswing for the last three, four years.

Yeah, so potentially a bright spot.

Yeah, I think the good thing is the validity of a lot of Earth Observation technologies and use cases is going to happen this year, which is something we need to look forward to because we've been reading a lot of hype gain where EO is useful for this, EO is useful for that.

I think we probably talked about it in one of the episodes previously about what do people want to really pay for versus what is the open data that's already available good enough.

I think that validity is going to come.

And I think it's only going to be good for the market because at least we can go on and focus on doing things that actually add value because there are some where we know that will happen is there are going to be some sensors, there are going to be some use cases for which we realize that commercial data is not as promising as we thought it's going to be.

Open data is going to be good enough.

Whereas others, we're going to realize that, for example, take insurance or take financial services for climate risk or obviously from a agriculture point of view or for wildfires, we're going to realize that commercial data has a lot of value because if this data is not available, companies are going to lose a lot of money.

Insurance companies are going to lose a lot of money.

Governments are going to have a lot of damages.

So there are some for which we will get more validation for commercial data, which is also a very good thing.

So in a sense, it's not a bad thing that some companies might not raise as much money or some companies or some sensors or some technologies might not see a lot of value.

I think that's just inevitable.

But I think the good thing for that is we can actually go on and move on to the operational phase where if we know that this is what they require and then we can actually go on and get into the boring phase of things just working normally.

Data is downlinked and they process it and then they get the analytics and then that continues.

Just like how a good example of weather still works.

Satellites are launched.

Nobody even talks about whether it's as kind of...

It's a status quo.

It's embedded.

Yeah, it's embedded.

And still there's a lot of gaps to fill in different parts of the world.

It's not a solved problem, but at least the end-to-end workflow is figured out.

And even if a commercial company likes Spire, we had news from Spire about them continuing to get a NOAA contract recently.

So Spire gets a contract and their data is integrated into the larger weather processing system from NOAA.

And it goes on like...

It may be news, but it's not huge news like, "Oh, there's a new technology."

So I think that's the stage we're going to have to get to and earth observation quite soon.

Because we have been in "Oh, it's useful for this.

Oh, it's useful for that phase."

But now we're going to get to a actual operational phase where it just continues to be used.

Consolidation seems to be a word that has come up a lot when people are looking ahead this year.

And I noticed you used that quite a bit as well.

Thoughts on that?

I mean, we feel like we've covered that.

What are your thoughts?

I think it's important to realize that consolidation will be horizontal and vertical.

So horizontal in the sense, you know, sensor companies realizing that they may need another sensor.

So, you know, this company maybe is struggling to raise money or is probably not got on product market fit because it's better suited with the sensor from another company.

So they can realize and they can kind of get together.

Or it can be a company that, you know, that we kind of saw that from last year, end of last year when Hukai 360 bought the RF monitoring unit from MaxR and integrated into them.

Hukai is an RF company.

So they realized that, you know, there are capabilities actually work alongside with us.

So, you know, we can join hands and they acquired that unit.

But the horizontal can also be companies just going down the value chain.

Last year, we also saw a planet acquiring synergize.

So, you know, it's where Planet, which was a data company now acquiring another company, which is doing platforms to do a bit of both data and platforms.

So I think that's horizontal.

But then consolidation can also be vertical, right?

Like so you can have an insurance company who realizes that this technology or this product is super useful for us.

So we're going to go and, you know, acquire or partner with a company who is very much focused on solving one specific problem.

And we saw that again with the insurance company called Swissry, acquiring a small startup from the UK who were doing flood mapping and kind of long term flood risk.

And I thought that was interesting because they are not kind of acquiring a company that's launching satellites, but then they're acquiring a company that is using derived products from satellites.

So I think that's kind of how adoption is going to go.

And I think consolidation is going to happen on both fronts.

That'll be fascinating to see that happen.

So keep our antenna up for that one.


So I wanted to switch topics pulling out from your newsletter.

You had an interesting tidbit in here.

I'll read it back for our listeners if they haven't read it.

You wrote that NASA is making progress on a multi-billion dollar series of Earth science missions amid uncertainty about their funding for the next year.

And you wrote a comment that I wanted to have some elaboration from you on this because I thought this was fascinating.

You wrote that I am worried that we're heading towards a future in which societally important Earth observation satellites with advanced scientific instruments will fight for the same pie of public funding as economically important sovereign EO satellite constellations with redundant data capabilities.

So I would love to just hear some more about that because that really intrigued me.


So again, one of the more opinionated kind of takes is obviously as I mentioned before a lot of countries are involved in launching their own satellite constellations.

And I think it's important to realize that we don't have unlimited budgets for Earth observation.

So if you look at a country what it decides to put the money in from an observation point if you can be, we're going to launch a few satellites because we want independent capabilities.

But that satellite may not be scientifically advanced.

They may not do anything that is groundbreaking that is actually pushing the barrier in terms of what we can do from satellites on from space.

But it's a redundant capability.

Not everybody is doing that.

But I was just saying that I'm worried because I know for a fact that funding is not unlimited.

So if NASA decides to go on without mission and I think it applies to NASA as well.

But NASA is not trying to go in that respect because NASA is kind of an atlas space nation.

But then we have a lot of emerging space nations coming up and it was not meant to kind of point fingers that nobody is kind of looking at science, but it's just looking at the reality of the situation.

So if you're emerging space nation, why shouldn't you have your own satellite constellation?

Absolutely, you can.

And you may not have a lot of funding.

So you may just go for a technically redundant capability.

Like I need to be self-sufficient for monitoring my borders.

So I'll just do exactly what's needed for that.

So you're not going to put in your money for monitoring CIs more frequently or for understanding emissions better.

You can also do that.

But then you just chose to do the other thing also very understandably.

But what they worry is is there's not a lot of money.

And we need to use the money we have properly.

And NASA does have budgetary issues.

But what's going to happen with the next year's funding?

Maybe you ask for federal funding.

So you can have a read and watch what happens to the future missions because we have to keep in mind that they are all missions that are kind of recommendations by what is called the Decade and Survey, where we look at one of the things that we are not observing in the world.

And they do that stock take every 10 years, Decade and Survey.

And we figure out that these are gaps that we need to fill in order for us to understand something better.

And that's how these missions are formed.

They are not coming out of the blue.

They are formed from...

We are not monitoring these.

And we need to really monitor them for understanding climate, understanding something on the scientific front.

So if these missions are not implemented, we may actually have gaps that we are not feeling in terms of either observing something that we need to in order to progress on climate science or progress on a lot of things.

It goes back to the conversation about how much are we going to invest in science and what is the price we have to pay.

Eriven, I know every month we do a checkup and I was noticing in your LinkedIn that you've got an event that you're promoting and I thought maybe you wanted to tell the audience a bit about that.

Yeah, I think the event's kind of light.

It's been in the making for the last three to four months.

So it's called the EU summit.

It's happening in London, mid June, June 30 and 14.

The aim is to organize a conference that is specifically focused on Earth observation with two underlying principles.

One being it is user-focused.

So it's not a conference where there's going to be a lot of just people from the same space bubble or the Earth observation bubble.

There's going to be a minimum of one third of attendees who are going to be users.

So people who are using Earth observation across four tracks.

There are four tracks in the conference, like insurance finance, energy infrastructure, utilities, agriculture, forestry and climate.

So kind of all of the commercial non-defense use cases.

And the second principle is more to be application driven.

So instead of talking about what SAR can do, what HEP Spectral can do, we're going to focus on like a few set of selected applications.

Like what is Earth observation doing for claims and underwriting in the insurance world?

What is it doing for commodity trading in the finance world?

Or what is it doing for crop monitoring or carbon markets?

So a lot of application driven focused sessions where the audience and also kind of anyone who's interested can just understand really who is doing what.

Because a bunch of users are going to come in percent, as opposed to Earth observation people.

Earth observation people can obviously present case studies of this is how all data is used, etc.

But then more importantly, there's going to be a lot of user perspective.

So a user who's using EO2, a technology company, or an insurance company, or any other sector that I just mentioned, talking about how they use it, what are the challenges, will they use commercial data or just using open data is good for them, those kind of combinations.

We'll be right back.

Welcome back.

And we're finishing with a story today that warms my tracky heart.

NASA's Curiosity rover has recently sent an image back to Earth of the Mars terrain.

And one, or many eagle-eyed fans spotted a symbol that definitely resembles a Starfleet Delta insignia.

Your heart out, Giovanni Capparelli, were evolved from seeing canals on Mars to combadges.

Okay, the combadge, or the rock-shaped like one anyway, was spotted in an image from Curiosity's left navigation camera as it navigated Aeolus Mons on Sol 4062 of Curiosity's mission, which in Earth time would be January 9th.

There's a whole Twitter feed or X feed that uploads raw images from Curiosity pretty much as soon as they come in.

And this might surprise you to hear, but many people who keep an eye on images from Mars are also Trekkies.

I know, shocker.

Anyway, lots of people instantly recognize the Starfleet Delta in the wind and waterswept rocks.

It's not even a stretch, honestly.

It really does look quite like a shield Delta.


Well, maybe.

Wouldn't we all like to believe that it's a misplaced combadge perhaps left behind by a distracted away team member?

Hmm, well, humanity is still a pre-warp technology for now anyway.

So this would be a violation of the Prime Directive, would it not?

Oh, not like they don't break that rule every other day.

That's it for T-minus for January 22nd, 2024.

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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 Iban.

Our VP is Brandon Karpf.

And I'm Maria Varmausis.

Thanks for listening.

We'll see you tomorrow.


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