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SLIC move for Firefly.

Firefly selected as an NRO launch provider. Federal contracts announced for GA-EMS and TransAstra. Boryung and Axiom Space start a joint venture. And more.




Firefly Aerospace has been chosen by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) to launch satellites using its Alpha rocket. The Space Development Agency has awarded General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems a contract to demonstrate optical communication terminals (OCTs). The US Department of Defense has awarded a research and development contract to TransAstra to develop the company’s FlyTrap system to capture and secure space objects, and more.

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T-Minus Guest

Our guest today is Robert Long, President & CEO of Space Florida.

You can learn more about Space Florida on their website and meet up at SPACECOM.

Selected Reading

Firefly Aerospace Onboarded as Launch Provider for the NRO with Alpha Rocket

General Atomics Awarded Space Development Agency Contract to Demonstrate Optical Communication Terminals | Newswire

TransAstra Awarded First Defense Department Contract for FlyTrap, Following Success With NASA- chronicle-tribune.com

Astroscale’s ELSA-d Finalizes De-Orbit Operations Marking Successful Mission Conclusion

Stricken Japanese Moon mission landed on its nose

GITAI Autonomous Robotic Arm Set to Launch on Jan. 29 to International Space Station

Boryung, Axiom Space Announce Joint Venture to Revolutionize Space Industry in Korea

China's space station sets up brain activity testing platform - CGTN

Dominican Republic to launch first satellite to tackle Sargassum from space

Eyes in the sky: The increasing importance of very low Earth orbit (VLEO) for national security - SpaceNews

Air Force Now 'Very Weak', New Report Says, But Space Force Is Gaining Strength

Rogue Space Systems Announces Strategic Leadership Changes To Accelerate Growth

Celebrating NASA's Spirit and Opportunity Rovers’ Mars Landings

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[MUSIC] Hi, normally in the show, this is where I give you a preview of our top story for today.

And I promise we will have stories for you as usual.

But if you could indulge me a bit today, this is our 200th episode.

And dear listeners, we would love to know how you think we're doing.

What about T-minus is working for you?

And what could we improve?

You could just send your thoughts to space@ntuk.com or over in our listener survey in our show notes.

And I promise you, we are all ears.

Okay, cheers to 200 and on with the show.

[MUSIC] Today is January 25th, 2024.

I'm Maria Varmazis and this is T-minus.

[MUSIC] Firefly is selected as a launch provider for the NRO.

Federal contracts announced for General Atomics, electromagnetic systems and trans-Astra.

Boryeong and Axiom Space announced a joint venture.

And our guest today is Robert Long.

President and CEO of Space Florida.

It's a great conversation.

Definitely stay tuned for that in the second half of the show.

[MUSIC] Here's our Intel briefing for this hour 200th episode.

Our top news for today is from Texas based Firefly Aerospace, which announced today that they've been chosen by the National Reconnaissance Office or NRO to launch satellites using its Alpha Rocket.

This agreement is under the NRO's Streamlined Launch and Definite Delivery and Definite Quantity Contract.

And entails a ten year ordering period with a $700 million ceiling value.

This agreement aims to meet the NRO's responsive space needs with Firefly expanding its facilities and adopting advanced technologies.

Firefly's Alpha Rocket is capable of lifting over a thousand kilos to low Earth orbit.

And the next Alpha Launch is for NASA in early 2024, with plans to support an NRO on orbit mission using the Alpha Rocket and Firefly's Elytra Orbital Vehicle also sometime this year.

The Space Development Agency has awarded General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems a contract to demonstrate optical communication terminals or OCTs.

General Atomics will demonstrate the capabilities of the company's OCTs, hosted on the GA-75 spacecraft while in low Earth orbit.

The company is designing and building two OCTs to provide robust space to space communication in a degraded environment and establish and maintain links to meet SDA standards and requirements.

General Atomics says the OCTs can support a vast network of satellites, data and information sharing and collective on orbit computing resources to support customer and mission requirements.

The US Department of Defense has awarded a research and development contract to Trans Astra to develop the company's flytrap system to capture and secure space objects.

Trans Astra will collaborate with the University of Michigan's College of Engineering, Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering Department in performing this contract.

The company says that its flytrap offers a value enhancing end of life mission solution for revenue generating satellites.

Trans Astra previously received two NASA R&D contracts for flytrap.

And this new DOD contract represents a significant leap in flytrap's journey and a notable diversification of Trans Astra's partnerships.

Japan based ASTRA scale has completed the final phase of its end of life services known as ELSA-D mission with the safe and controlled de-orbit operations of the ELSA-D servicer satellite.

ASTRA scale says it used the remaining operational thrusters.

The servicer is orbiting at an altitude of approximately 500 kilometers and will re-enter and burn up in approximately three and a half years, well within the commonly adopted 25 year guidelines.

The client satellite, which does not have the ability to maneuver, is predicted to naturally de-orbit within five years.

ELSA-D was the first commercial mission to prove the core technologies necessary for on orbit satellite servicing in Lourth orbit.

The mission, which consisted of two satellites, a servicer designed to safely remove debris from orbit and a client that serves as a piece of replica debris, was launched as a stack from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in March 2021.

What's the best thing about having transformers on the moon, other than our wildest 80s fantasies coming true?

They can act as our eyes and ears for what is happening on the ground, the lunar ground, and the first images from Japan's robots in disguise on the lunar surface show that the slim spacecraft rotated 90 degrees from how it should have come to rest.

Yeah, unfortunately, it kind of face planted on the moon.

So for anyone who watched the little graphic as slim landed last Friday morning US time, you probably noticed that it looked a little bit like the spacecraft was landing on its nose, and it is indeed what happened.

And it also explains the issues that the craft is having generating solar power.

JAXA is looking into the cause of the problem, and initial reports suggest that the main engine was operated at a higher load during eight orbit changes and during the power descent phase.

But there were no signs of abnormality in the main engine until the event occurred.

The team believes that some external factor other than the main engine affected the performance.

Space Robotics company, Geetai, says that its one and a half meter long autonomous dual robotic arm system called S2 is scheduled to launch the International Space Station aboard the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on January 29th.

The S2 will conduct an external demonstration of in-space servicing, assembly and manufacturing, also known as ISAM, while on board the ISS.

It will be mounted external to the NANORAC's Bishop Airlock and perform on orbit services, including maintenance, inspection and life extension operations for satellites.

Geetai's S2 is equipped with a proprietary tool changer, enabling the robotic arm to conduct a variety of general purpose tasks with high precision.

Booyoung and Axiom Space have announced the formation of a joint venture aiming to leverage the unique strengths of both companies to advance the commercialization of low earth orbit.

The joint venture is named BRAX Space and will be headquartered in South Korea.

The collaboration will focus on various businesses, including research and development, new initiatives in the space industry and joint production efforts.

Jack Lim, head of new portfolio investments in Booyoung, has been appointed as chief executive officer of BRAX.

Lim says, "The launch of BRAX is significant in that it opens the way for Korea to utilize the space station for space exploration, scientific research and commercial purposes."

Chinese state media is reporting that China has established a brain activity testing platform in its space station for electroencephalogram or EEG experiments.

Researchers in close collaboration with multiple batches of Chinese tyconauts have performed a series of standard procedures for EEG tests through ground experiments and in orbit verification.

And they have three targets for their EEG research.

One is to see how the space environment impacts the human brain.

The second is to look at how the human brain adapts to the space environment and reshapes the nerves.

And the last is to develop and verify technologies for enhancing brainpower as tyconauts always perform a lot of fine and complicated operations in space.

The Dominican Republic will launch its first ever satellite aimed at tackling the recurring Sargasum seaweed crisis that devastate the country's pristine beaches.

Joaquin Taveres Perez, the first secretary of the Dominican embassy in Rome, said this mission was conceived by four Dominican graduates of the Instituto Tecnológico de Santo Domingo, known as INTECH, in collaboration with Italy's Sapienza University.

The satellite will act as a vigilant sentinel, mapping ocean currents and Sargasum concentrations with pinpoint accuracy.

There were no further details on when that spacecraft will launch, but we're very interested in hearing more.

And while we here at T-minus are celebrating our 200th episode, we would be remiss if we didn't also mark today as NASA's Day of Remembrance.

Today and always, we honor the crews of Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia, who gave their lives in the pursuit of space exploration.

Seek ytor ad astra.

And that concludes our briefing for today.

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

And as per usual, there's a few added extras for you.

One's on the importance of very low Earth orbit for national security.

Another's on how the space force is gaining strength.

And there's an announcement from Rogue Space on their restructuring their leadership.

Those links can also be found on our website at space.entuk.com.

And just click on this episode title.

Hey, T-minus crew, if your business is looking to grow your voice in the industry, expand the reach of your thought leadership or recruit talent, T-minus can help.

We'd like to hear from you.

Just send us an email at space@entuk.com, or send us a note through our website so we can connect.

About building a program to meet your goals.

SpaceCom is coming to Florida next week specifically, Orlando.

And I spoke to Robert Long on his new role as president and CEO of Space.entuk.com.

And what we can expect from the first big space conference of the year.

Robert started by telling us more about the mission of Space Florida.

We are the state's aerospace business and financing development authority, which gives us a pretty wide purview to encourage and build economic growth here in the state of Florida for the aerospace industry.

And also our space port authority role is really keen on exploring and building out the space port infrastructure across the state of Florida.

Well, thank you for that great intro and welcome.

I'm really glad to be speaking with you today.

So when we're looking at the year that Florida had last year, I feel like every year it's another record year for what's going on in space in Florida.

I mean, last year was definitely a banner year.

You want to give me some highlights for how that went?

Certainly, you know, we crested over 70 launches off the coast of Florida here this last year, and it was a new record.

I think we are over 2 million pounds of payload delivered to space from the space coast here.

And those are record numbers, as you mentioned, and it really, I think, speaks to the overall pace of the industry that we're seeing.

And it's been on the East Coast and then just in general, the doubling of the launch rate over the past few years.

And so we may not double in the year ahead, but we're going to see continued growth going through that.

And it really crosses all sorts of different providers.

SpaceX is the large leader right now in terms of numbers of launches and payload to orbit.

But we're seeing others coming up with the United Launch Alliance and Blue Origin and some of the smaller vehicle companies like Firefly and ABL and things like that.

So the diversity, I think that we're seeing and throwing relativity in there as well, is really going to be key going forward.

But I think it really speaks to the year that was.

And in fact, I saw a headline back early December, I think it was, where we had an 11-day drought of launches.

And I had to chuckle because nowhere in my past 24 or five years, if you had told me that 11-day drought was going to be a quote-unquote problem, I think I would have been incredibly happy.

So, and we'll just flip now.

Now in 2024, a lot is planned.

And really, Florida is at the heart of it all.

I mean, truly, what are you seeing for this coming year?

I mean, not just in terms of launches, but all the infrastructure that's got to go into supporting that.

I'm sure there's a lot on dock.

Yeah, absolutely.

But the numbers are there.

And I think we're seeing close to over 100 launches scheduled for this coming year.

And we'll see how close we get to that as a year progresses.

But I think you're right.

We were starting to have the question and really look at what the capacity of the network looks like.

Obviously, the critical node of that network is here at Cape Canaveral.

And that's where the predominance of launch activity will be.

But as we look at the overall capacity, we're really trying to, working with our partners at the Space Force, the course, and NASA, really understanding what is the demand signal look like for capacity and numbers of launches or payload to launch.

And then what's the dynamic associated with that?

Is it we need to be able to support 300 launches a year?

Or is do we need to be able to support 30 launches in one day?

Those are two different problem sets overall, but related, of course.

And so we're going to try to work on that a little bit.

And then that allows us then to look at the investments we're making in the infrastructure, because launch pads are extremely important, of course.

But you need roads, you need commodity pipelines, and you need all the underlying infrastructure that an airport needs or a seaport needs.

And that is one of the things that we are really focused on is remembering that space is a mode of transportation.

As we continue to evolve, it will be no less unique than sea travel, air transportation, road transportation.

And so we want to kind of think through all those dynamics that are associated with that.

So there's the terrestrial side of that.

And you may have heard we're looking very carefully right now and studying the maritime recovery challenge that we have, because the port naval here is almost at capacity, at least to support maritime sea recovery of boosters.

And that's one of those components of the network that we're going to have to look at very carefully.

But then you expand that, and I like to start to think about what the future holds, and that future is probably going to be some sort of space-based transportation network, and CISLUNAR, and what does that look like overall?

And so that's the exciting part to really kind of, as a longtime space guy, start to think through, what does the infrastructure look like for that?

What is the on-orbit infrastructure, and how does it all play together?

It is a fascinating puzzle not to gloss over.

I mean, there are so many moving pieces there.

A lot of complications too.

Often when I have conversations with people about infrastructure, which is the backbone of civilization truly, a lot of our discussions in the US can often be on a federal level, but in Florida, you all are very uniquely positioned in that a lot of things happen at the state level.

Can you walk me through sort of any policy changes or upcoming discussions about a policy that affects space in Florida that you're having maybe with legislators right now?

Yeah, you know, Florida had the forethought 20 years ago to designate space as a mode of transportation, and really what that did was it unlocked the permanent transportation capabilities so that we could use those in the space transportation world, and that's been unlike anywhere else, and it really does allow, as you mentioned, the state to focus its resources on something that is a critical resource to the nation, but also, you know, we are a geographic benefit here in the state.

But as we look forward, I think we're going to continue to have to need more tools in our toolkit.

Two of those that we're exploring specifically here in the state is expanding what we call space port territory, and that's a designation that several sites already have across the state from the panhandle all the way to the east coast that allows us as space Florida to use some of our tools to help build infrastructure more effectively overall.

And so that's step one, and we hope to expand that to Tyndall Air Force Base and down to Homestead Air Reserve Base, which provides us, you know, when we look at the entire space transportation network, it may not all be launch sites, of course, but we want to make sure we can offset and build some resiliency into that network so that maybe satellites are built somewhere else and they can be transported relatively efficiently to the launch site, for example, so that not everything is happening at Cape Canaveral, so that if, you know, if you have to close down Cape Canaveral, for example, for a short period of time for a hurricane or something like that, then things can continue with the network overall.

And the other piece is working with our partners in Washington, D.C. on the hill to update the law so that spaceport municipal bonds can be tax exempt.

Airports and seaports already have that capability.

We're just arguing that that is something that spaceports should be able to do.

And again, that then helps us unlock some of that private investment that could be helpful to building out the infrastructure just like we do in other parts of other sectors.

And we have a lot of support both at the state level and at the federal level for both of those things.

And the great thing about the spaceport bond, exempt bond, tax exempt bonds, is that really can benefit the entire nation overall because, you know, from my previous experience, that was something that we were looking very carefully about, you know, and making sure that nationwide has the launch capability that we need.

You brought up something so interesting to me.

So much of what moves the needle in space discussions, you know, there's always the really sexy part about launch and all that kind of thing.

But when we start talking about financing and bonds, this is it can make a really material difference and improvement, but it's not something that necessarily leaps to mind for a lot of people.

Some interesting changes can happen.

So, Rob, many of our listeners who are working in like the commercial space sector, anything you want them to know about what you're working on or maybe the long-term vision for space Florida that maybe would be helpful for them as they're building out their plans?

Yeah, I think one of the first steps that I really wanted to take coming into this job, and not that this wasn't already being worked on, but is to really understand from the commercial side, from industry, is what types of policy and regulatory frameworks are most appropriate to help grow this industry and expand the space infrastructure overall.

We're going to have some conversations in a coming conference here to really explore that a little bit more.

I think, you know, the great part about being at the state level is there are some things that the state can do in policy and regulation that actually could help benefit and then maybe be a model for the nation to accept overall.

And so we really are interested in hearing from -- getting the feedback from industry to help shape that in the right way so that we're not -- the last thing we want to do is put a policy or regulation in place or encourage one that, you know, does just the opposite, of course.

And so we're really excited about talking with industry and seeing what we can do.

And then that also is part and parcel with our partners on the federal level here at NASA, of course, in the Space Force and DOD, is to help understand where we can help them.

Obviously, they're the landowners and they're the predominant operators of the launch site here.

And so how can we help from a state level and take some of those resources and capabilities that we have to encourage them to grow and be more efficient, whatever they need?

Before I joined Space Florida, I knew about Space Florida.

I knew what Space Florida was generally.

But I didn't really realize the breadth and the capability that existed in Space Florida to help companies grow.

And, you know, we really can be a strategic partner with industry to try to build out a smart and capable space transportation network and then largely the aerospace industry in general.

So I think it's amazing to me what the tools that we have.

And, you know, I personally think Florida is a great place for a lot of that to happen.

And we're encouraged to go do that.

And so, you know, it's an exciting time to be part of this business.

I was thrilled and humbled actually to be part of this new or this organization because I think we're going to do some great things.

And that's only going to happen, you know, with our partners across the federal government, state government, and of course industry.

We'll be right back.

Welcome back.

And as we continue to celebrate our 200th episode today, take a zero off that number.

And two very intrepid twins are being celebrated this month for their 20th landing anniversary.

That's right, the extraordinary Mars Rovers Spirit and Opportunity, Oppy, made a rather bouncy Mars fall on January 2004 and went on to work way, way, way past their expiration dates.

Yeah, NASA missions do tend to do that, don't they?

Well, Spirit and Oppy would have been a success if they made it only 90 days on Mars, but I guess they figured since they went all that way, it'd be kind of nice to look around for a bit.

So, Spirit continued on for six years and Opportunity, well, incredible Opportunity, ended up running for 15 years, covering nearly 45 kilometers of the Mars surface when it was only expected to cover 600 meters.

Spirit and Opportunity sent us incredible photos from the Mars surface.

They helped us understand definitively that there was once water on Mars.

Spirit landed on Mars on January 3rd, 2004, and later that month came Opportunity, January 24th.

Just yesterday was its 20th anniversary, in fact.

Hmm, feels like this would be a great weekend to rewatch the lovely documentary, Good Night, Oppy.

Hmm, maybe I'll do that while sipping on my 200th episode, Celebratory Champagne.

That's it for T-Minus for January 25th, 2024.

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

More privileged that NTK and podcasts like T-Minus are part of the daily routine of many of the most influential leaders and operators in the public and private sector, from the Fortune 500 to many of the world's preeminent intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

This episode was produced by Alice 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 Varmazes.

Thanks for listening!

We'll see you tomorrow.

[Music] [Music] T-Minus!


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