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Wednesday’s workforce woes.

NASA’s JPL announces new layoffs. Viasat releases financial reports. The Axiom Mission 3 crew undocked from the ISS and is heading back to Earth. And more.




NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab has announced a new round of layoffs impacting about 8% of JPL's workforce. Viasat reported earned revenue of $1.1 billion for Q3 of fiscal year 2024, a 73% Year-over-Year increase. The Axiom 3 Mission crew undocked from the International Space station and began their journey home, and more.

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T-Minus Guest

Our guest today is Greg Hodgin, CEO of ZC Institute. 

You can connect with Greg on LinkedIn.

Selected Reading

JPL Workforce Update

SpaceX Accused of Sexual Harassment as Fight With Ex-Employees Intensifies - Bloomberg

Viasat Q3 FY2024 Financial Results

Starfish Space announcement 

Ax-3 Astronauts Undock in Dragon from Station for Earth Return

SpaceX scrubs Starlink launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base – Spaceflight Now

Trinity Capital Inc. Provides $20 Million Equipment Financing to Formlogic

AWS Space Accelerator: India

Breakthrough Prize Foundation Announces Student Winner Of Ninth Annual Breakthrough Junior Challenge Science Video Competition

Record Year Detailed in ISS National Laboratory® Annual Report

U.S. Southern Command Urges Space Conference Attendees to 'Think Big'

Plans to ship human ashes, drink container to Moon spark legal debate | Reuters

Former Microsoft And Dell Executive And U.S. Army Veteran, Tim Solms, Joins Slingshot Aerospace As CEO

Humanity’s most distant space probe jeopardized by computer glitch | Ars Technica

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Technology is wonderful and all, but nothing happens in, for, or about space without people.

And when we talk about appropriations or budgets or workplace culture, and when things go sideways there, what does that mean for the people who are affected?

And what does it mean for humanity's future in space when we just can't seem to get those things right?

[Music] Today is February 7th, 2024.

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

NASA's JPL announces new layoffs.

ViASAT releases new financial reports.

The AXIUM mission 3 crew, undocked from the ISS and is finally heading back to Earth.

And our guest today is Greg Hodgin, CEO of ZC Institute.

Now Greg is researching microscopic space-time distortion bubbles for sustainable nuclear fusion.

Yep, science fiction meets science reality.

So stay with us for that chat in the second half of the show.

Let's get into today's intelligence briefing, shall we?

And this is not anyone's favorite way to start the day.

Layoff news.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab has just been impacted with another wave of layoffs.

About 530 staff and 40 contractors across technical and support areas of JPL operations have been affected, which is about 8% of JPL's workforce.

The announcement from JPL posted yesterday says these layoffs have had to happen, as JPL is still waiting on word from Congress on the Mars sample return budget, and that JPL came to the conclusion they need to do these layoffs, and I quote, "after exhausting all other measures to adjust to a lower budget from NASA and in the absence of a financial year 24 appropriation from Congress."

And it's not just NASA with workforce woes.

SpaceX is now being accused of sexual discrimination in the workforce.

This is an additional charge on top of the unfair dismissal case that has been raised by former employees.

Seven former employees of SpaceX in California have accused the company of discriminating against women, joking about sexual harassment, and firing workers for raising concerns.

Their claims were detailed in filings with the California Civil Rights Department that were sent to SpaceX last month.

Viacet has released financial reports to its investors and stated that the integration within Marsat has been successful.

Viacet reported earned revenue of $1.1 billion for Q3 of fiscal year 2024 and a 73% year-over-year increase reflecting the impact of the acquisition of in Marsat in May 2023.

The company also said in the investor's call that it would begin providing in-flight Wi-Fi in June of this year from its compromised Viacet 3 satellite.

The spacecraft is reportedly operating at just 10% capacity after experiencing a mechanical deployment issue with its reflector array after the satellite launched last year, April 2023.

Starfish Aerospace has announced an investment from Inqutel, also known as IQT.

The statement shared on social media did not report the amount that IQT is putting into Starfish.

IQT is a leading investor in national security, defense and space tech, and Starfish stated that the company is proud to partner with them, as they quote, "enable a new paradigm for on-orbit operations."

Good news for the Axiom 3 crew, and they've needed it.

They were finally able to undock from the International Space Station earlier today and finally begin their journey home.

The Dragon capsule began maneuvering away from the orbital laboratory into an orbital track that will return the astronaut crew and its cargo safely back to Earth.

Splashdown for the all-European crew is expected off the coast of Daytona, Florida on Friday morning.

So Ax3 has figured out the weather delays, but launch is still proving to be a sticking point from both the east and west coasts of the United States.

SpaceX was forced to scrub another Falcon 9 launch, this one carrying Starlink satellites from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California earlier today.

The company is hoping to launch later today and resume their launch for NASA's PACE from Florida tomorrow.

FormLogic, provider of autonomous precision manufacturing services intended for space companies, has received $20 million in funding from Trinity Capital.

The funding is for equipment financing.

FormLogic is planning to use remote, AI-based planning and autonomous production.

According to the press release, the company has created software that performs simulations needed to produce effectively, replacing the guess-and-check method usually done by a skilled worker.

FormLogic has factories located in Pittsburgh spanning over 50,000 square feet.

This growth capital will enable them to acquire new CNC machines and continue to scale operations.

Amazon Web Services, also known as AWS, have announced a new space accelerator program in India.

Indian space company, DruvaSpace, have announced that they will be part of the selection jury and mentorship phases of this program, which is called the AWS Space Accelerator India, presented by AWS and supported by T-Hub and MinFi.

In the 14-week accelerator program, startups will learn about building space solutions, building innovation, and how to bring ideas to life securely.

More details can be found by following the link in our show notes.

And staying in India, the Breakthrough Prize Foundation announced Sia Godeka, 17 years old, a senior at Neve Academy, an international school in Bangalore, has been chosen as the winner of the ninth annual Breakthrough Junior Challenge, which is a global science video competition designed to inspire creative thinking and communication skills around fundamental concepts in the life sciences, physics, and mathematics areas.

The winning student, her teacher, and her school will receive a total of $400,000 in educational prizes.

Sia, who plans to attend university in the United States after she graduates high school this year, will receive a $250,000 college scholarship.

That is fantastic, Nusia.

Congratulations and watch this space.

And that concludes our daily briefing.

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

And today you've got four extra stories to read.

One's on the ISS National Lab's record-breaking here.

Another's on the U.S.

Southern Command's call to think big in space.

And a Reuters article on the legal debate sparked by the human ashes that were heading to the moon.

And the final one is a CEO announcement from Slingshot Aerospace.

AT-Crew, if you find this podcast useful, and I say it every time, but we really hope you do, please do us a favor and share a five-star rating and a short review in your favorite podcast app.

That will help other space professionals like you to find the show and join the T-minus crew.

Thank you so much.

We really appreciate your support.

Our guest today is Greg Hodgin, CEO of ZC Institute.

And Greg is researching microscopic space-time distortion bubbles for sustainable nuclear fusion.

It is absolutely science fiction meets science reality.

And Greg spoke with our producer, Al's Carus, about his fascinating research.

We are sitting in a gravity well right now.

The best way to create fusion, there's three ways that we've looked at, right?

One of them is, of course, what a lot of companies are doing.

That's a talk-a-much.

You spin something up really fast, and you slam it into each other, and that's how you get your power.

The problem is that a lot of that power gets wasted, it gets radiated away, so you have to keep pumping power in.

That's one of the major technical engineering challenges we have right now.

The second way is inertial confinement.

You take a small little pellet of isotopes, chairman tritium, and you aim a bunch of lasers at it, and you fire at it, and hope that you get fusion.

Third way is one that no one's really looked at before, and that is, if you walk outside right now, you can look up and you'll see a fusion reactor.

It's called the Sun.

We don't really use that because the Sun's really big, and gravity is a very weak force.

Gravity is such a weak force, it's almost negligible, except for the fact that it extends forever.

That's the only reason we pay attention to it.

It's the weakest force out of all the four forces.

No one really thought that we could build a mini star on the planet, right?

But it turns out that if you punch the numbers right, you can actually create very small distortions on the nanometer scale.

That's all you really need, though, isn't it?

You don't really need something big.

If you set up in a certain way, like a tetrahedron, and you turn them all on, whatever's inside of that little tetrahedron, it gets crushed.

So it literally has space folding on itself, and if there's hydrogen or terrenic nuclei in there, they will fold upon themselves, and congratulations, now you have fusion.

In essence, we're using the natural solution, right?

My comparison I usually use is biochemical and biofarmacology and biotechnology.

Why invent something new when evolution spent billions of years making us?

Just go ahead and hijack your immune system and do it yourself.

That's what vaccinations do, right?

We're going to trick the immune system to do this.

We're going to trick physics to make this work.

We're using a physics hat.

And people, of course, say, "Oh, yeah, that's crazy."

I go, "Bernoulli's principle is kind of a trick, isn't it?"

When you really think about it, the airflow that goes over the wing compared to the airflow goes on, the wing creates a pressure differential, and that creates lift.

That's a quirk.

But you can build a fleet of airplanes with it.

And you can't build a fleet of airplanes with it.

And you can't build a fleet of airplanes with it.

And you can't build a fleet of airplanes with it.

And you can't build a fleet of airplanes with it.

And you can't build a fleet of airplanes with it.

And you can't build a fleet of airplanes with it.

And you can't build a fleet of airplanes with it.

And you can't build a fleet of airplanes with it.

And you can't build a fleet of airplanes with it.

And what about space travel, Greg?

That's where it gets really fun.

One of the issues with space time distortion is the fact that to do, to move something macroscopic, so to move something with a warp of like a meter, and for those of you who are playing along at home, the amount of energy you need to distort space time is already proportional to the radius of the bubble you want to create.

So the bigger the bubble, the more power you need.

There's only three power sources that can really help us create macroscopic space time distortion.

One we already have mastered is nuclear fission.

There's an issue with nuclear fission, of course.

We don't want to put nuclear reactors on spaceships.

That is a bad idea.

It would work.

But of course, there are some serious issues with that, right?

The second is matter and antimatter.

When you put matter and antimatter together, you get 100% matter annihilation.

You get 100% energy conversion.

That's awesome.

Too bad it's all gamma radiation.

We don't know how to produce that kind of antimatter as of right now.

The third way is nuclear fission.

And to get to the macroscopic space time distortion, you're going to need a lot of power.

Fusion gives us the power that we need to begin experimenting with these larger ones.

So our goal is we show proof of concept of a nanometer space time distortion or maybe an angstrom or something like that.

For all you chemists out there, yes, I'm going to use angstroms because my first degree was biochemistry.

So I'm going to be a nerd like that.

I'm going to use angstrom-- an angstrom radius or nanometer radius.


You start producing fusion reactors.

Now I can begin going to micrometers, millimeters, centimeters, meters.

Ah, with a meter, I can put physical stuff in there, right?

And once you get to about 10 meters, now I can build a TARDIS.

And we can kind of go where we want to, right?

Please notice that when I'm discussing this, when I'm discussing space time distortion, yes, I'm discussing, in essence, the Star Trek warp drive.

Never said FTL.

We don't need to go FTL right now.

We don't want to go FTL.

FTL, there's going to be a lot of other physical, technological, and engineering challenges in that regard.

But if I'm doing a temp to speed of light, man, that beats everyone else on the ground, right?

Even better, one of the biggest issues we have with the current system of launching things into orbit is, of course, our slavery to the rocket equation.

You can't get around the rocket equation.

The more stuff you want to move, the more fuel you need.

The more fuel you need, the more fuel you need, and the more stuff you want to move.

And it just becomes this massive, disgusting cycle to get out of the gravity well, right?

But if you have a non-inertial drive, for lack of a better term, you can cheat.

And for me, there's nothing better, and I don't know how many of your listeners are gamers, but I'm a huge gamer.

There's one thing I love doing.

I love going to the rule book and reading the rule book, like 100 pages or whatever.


Well, the rule book said I couldn't not do this.

So can I do this?

Well, yeah, physics is the same way.

Physicists are looking at the rule book of the universe and saying, "Well, you didn't say I couldn't do this."

So let's exploit that.

Let's exploit that flaw or that opening, right?

Bernoulli's principle, physics doesn't say you can't not do that, so why the hell not?

You know?

We feel the same way.

So being able to drop something in orbit at point one C, because again, we're not moving.

We're just moving the universe around us to put it through drama.

I think it's an extraordinary thing.

So yes, we can build these starships.

It will be quite some time.

For us, that's phase three.

Phase two is creating microfusion reactors.

But as you can see, until we build those, we don't have the power to do the macroscopic stuff.

We don't have the power to create the starships that we want to.

As you mentioned it, it is science fiction coming into science reality.

Can you tell me a little bit about who you're working with on this research and where you're going to hopefully take it to commercialize it?

So right now we have three researchers that we're working with.

One is Dr.

Chance Glenn.

He actually is the one who's doing a lot of experimental work.

We have Jason Caspery at the University of Alabama, Huntsville.

He's a fusion engineer.

And he was the one who was very excited about what we can do with this because he's been working on fusion engines with NASA for quite some time.

And he realized that what we're doing solves so many of the issues that the other two methods of fusion cannot solve.

Because one of the issues of fusion is you have neutron radiation that just shoots off wherever and you have gamma radiation that shoots off wherever.

You can't control those electromagnetic fields.

But if you distort space time, you can control where they go.

You can control what you want them to do.

That is a huge improvement because a lot of the issues with fusion is the fact that those things become waste products.

They become waste energy that you cannot actually corral and keep in.

We don't have that problem.

We can keep it in the suit, which means it kind of keeps it going in that regard.

So the only thing that we produce is useful energy that we can either free probe electrons or we send it to a turbine where you can convert it from mechanical to electromagnetic energy.

The third lab is Dr.

Ivalio Vasilev and Dr.

Nelson Bolivar who are actually doing a bunch of the computational theory behind it.

So they're making sure the theory matches up because just because it happened doesn't mean that we have a theoretical background to what we're doing.

And for anyone to truly accept what we're doing, we had to say, "Here's the theory behind what we're doing and here's experimental data to show that this backs the theory in that question."

So they're checking chances numbers.

And Chance is work, feeds into Jason's work because Jason has a fusion simulator computer program that will allow him to optimize the warp fields, the space time continuum distortion fields, to maximize the amount of power that you're getting out of the fusion reactor.

So everyone feeds into each other.

And they're all working together.

The goal is to produce proof of concept of creating a warp bubble within three to five years and to create microfusion reactors within 10.

When it comes to commercialization, phase one is our more difficult part.

We're looking to raise about $50 million, which sounds like a lot, but we're not concerned what we're doing.

It's really not.

Phase two to actually create the fusion reactor is going to be $500 million.

The nice thing is by that point, once we show proof of concept, we're the prettiest girl at the ball and everyone's bringing us flowering.

So we're not too concerned about phase two.

We've already reached out to a number of energy companies.

Once we show proof of concept, they're very excited to bank bubbles.

Robbie's reading.

[Music] We'll be right back.

[Music] Welcome back.

And we started the show today talking about JPL.

So it kind of feels appropriate to bookend the show with another JPL story.

So let's do that.

Let's check in with Voyager One.

Not dead yet.

Not sure if she's getting better or if she'll go for a walk, but the Voyager One support team, they're willing to give her a fighting chance.

Dang it.

Voyager One is still sending back her "I'm still alive and kicking" signal, the carrier tone.

And JPL know that Voyager One is also receiving signals from Earth, but nothing else.

We have no idea how its onboard instrumentation are doing.

No clue about its control systems, propulsion, or even power.

Well, clearly it still has some power.

But anyway, as of last November, it stopped being able to tell us anything really useful.

Right now, JPL teams tell ours, Technica, that they believe that there was a critical issue with Voyager One's flight data subsystem, or the FDS, which takes all of that onboard system information and packages it up to send to Earth.

And fixing the issue, if their explanation is correct, is unfortunately a bit of a chicken and egg problem.

So, problem is in the FDS, likely a corruption in its memory.

But because the FDS can't send any telemetry data, the JPL teams can't suss out where that corrupted memory is to try and fix it.

In her interview with ours, Technica, Suzanne Dodd, Voyager project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said this, "It would be the biggest miracle if we get it back.

We certainly haven't given up.

There are other things we can try, but this is, by far, the most serious since I've been project manager."

So yes, the shutdown of Voyager probes is inevitable one day, I know.

Because my goodness, Voyager One's been in space for almost 50 years now.

Still, don't count out Voyager One just yet.

I'm not saying my goodbyes until the JPL team says the word.

So, until then, we wish them all the best of luck.

That's it for T-minus for February 7th, 2024.

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

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

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

Your feedback ensures we deliver the information that keeps you a step ahead in the rapidly changing space industry.

N2K's strategic workforce intelligence optimizes the value of your biggest investment, your people.

We make you smarter about your team while making your team smarter.

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 Varmasas.

Thanks for listening.

We'll see you tomorrow.

[Music] T-minus.


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