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JUICE: shake well to fully deploy.

Falcon Heavy takes the first Viasat-3 to GEO. Musk gives a Starship update. Shaking up JUICE. China and the UAE make new Mars discoveries. And more.





The Viasat-3 mission lifted off from Kennedy Space Center with a 6000 kilo Viasat broadband satellite as a payload aboard SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy. ESA says it plans to shake up the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer spacecraft. China says there are potentially fertile areas in the warmer regions of Mars. Satellite operator Avanti opens a new office in Nigeria, and more.

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T-Minus Guest

Our featured interview today is with Tom Marotta, CEO of the Spaceport Company, on spaceports and the coming space launch infrastructure bottleneck. 

You can follow Tom on LinkedIn, Twitter and his website.

Selected Reading

Falcon Heavy launches after series of weather delays- The Hill

Kennedy Space Center prepares for greater sea-rise problems- Space Daily

SpaceX to spend about $2 billion on Starship this year, as Elon Musk pushes to reach orbit- CNBC

ESA troubleshooting JUICE radar antenna- SpaceNews

China's Mars Rover Finds Signs of Recent Water in Sand Dunes- Associate Press

UAE Mars orbiter snaps epic photo of Martian moon- The Hill

All-female crew simulates Mars trip in Utah- AeroTime 

Avanti Opens New Office in Nigeria- Via Satellite 

Black Sky Aerospace celebrates rocket propellant milestone- SpaceConnection

 CisLunar Industries Issued Patent for Innovative Space Foundry- Spacewatch.Global

 NASA’s next space station will be 1,000 times farther from Earth- FreeThink 


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>> Maria Varmazis: Someone must have pulled some strings with the folks in charge of the weather. After some dramatic storms in Florida for most of the week, the skies on Sunday evening finally cleared up and SpaceX's Falcon Heavy, a fully-expendable version, I should add. Finally got its chance to light up 27 Merlin engines and launch from Kennedy Space Center.

>> Unidentified Person: "T-Minus" 20 seconds to [inaudible].

>> Maria Varmazis: Today is May 1, 2023, May Day, but the good kind. I'm Maria Varmazis and this is "T-Minus". Falcon Heavy takes the first ViaSat-3 to GEO. Musk gives a Starship update. Shaking up JUICE. China and UAE make some Mars discoveries. And my conversation with Tom Marotta, CEO of The Spaceport Company on spaceports and the coming space launch infrastructure bottleneck. Stay with us. Now here is your intel briefing for today. The ViaSat-3 mission lifted off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida yesterday with a 6,000-kilo ViaSat broadband satellite as a payload. Aboard an expendable version of the Falcon Heavy, SpaceX's super heavy-lift vehicle. Also part of the payload was the Arcturus, the first satellite launched for San Francisco-based sat coms maker Astranis which will operate on the Ku band and will provide dedicated Internet access to Alaska. And the third satellite aboard is the Denmark-made G-Space 1 CubeSat made for Gravity Space.

Now as the name suggests, the ViaSat-3 is the first of three new Ka band broadband satellites for a new ViaSat constellation that's being set to orbit in geostationary orbit or GEO. In fact, all three satellites aboard are basically GEO bound and that's why this Falcon Heavy wasn't reusing its core and boosters as it often does. The GEO orbit for these satellites is about 35,786 kilometers above Earth. Now compare and contrast to LEO or lower Earth orbit, which is usually around 2,000 kilometers.

So put it all together. With GEO being so far away and the fact that this ViaSat-3 satellite is just massive, 6000 kilos, as we said earlier, and 43.9 meters wide when the solar panels are all deployed. It's a third of the size of the International Space Station. Those two reasons are why this Falcon Heavy needed to expend every last drop of propellant to get the payload where it needed to go and could not recover the core and boosters. The benefit for the customers in this case is that the satellites themselves won't need to expend a lot of their own propellant to get where they need to go in orbit so they'll have a longer lifespan out in space.

The first of three ViaSat-3 satellites was contracted to be launched by SpaceX, with the other two satellites going to ULA on a Vulcan 5 sometime later this year or early next. And Arianespace on an Ariane 6, respectively. However, given the delays in Ariane 6's development, ViaSat says they're evaluating alternative launch options. Now there aren't a lot of rockets that can handle the huge, heavy ViaSat-3 satellites. Nevertheless, we'll keep an eye on what develops there.

And another SpaceX-related development over the weekend, though not as dramatic as a launch, maybe. Instead, it was news straight from SpaceX CEO Elon Musk who talked about ongoing plans for the company and the Starship Super Heavy on the Twitter Space's conversation on Saturday. Now he touched on a number of things but we'll call out some highlights for you. Item 1, Musk says he expects to spend about $2 billion to further development on Starship and expects that the next flight of his Super Heavy rocket will go orbital. That $2 billion is presumably in hand already and won't need to be raised, says Musk.

Item 2, if you notice that some of the Starship Raptor engines were out during launch, yes, that's true. But contrary to speculation that the debris from the launch pad may have taken them out, Musk says no. They only had 30 of the 33 engines actually ignite at launch on purpose. The three engines that weren't ignited were having some issues before launch so they decided to move on without them. Plus the Starship should be able to launch without all 33 Raptors firing said Musk, so it was a way to test flight without optimal conditions.

Twenty-seven seconds after launch, Musk says that ground control lost communications with one of the firing engines. And then 85 seconds into flight, SpaceX also lost thrust vector control, aka, control of the rocket. One more time stamp for you, Musk says it also took 40 seconds for the autonomous flight termination system to kick in, which is not great for a rocket that is also no longer under anyone's control. So if you were watching Starship doing somersaults in midair for what felt like a long time wondering how long it was gonna do that for, they were, too. So that's something that they definitely need to address before the next flight test.

And Item 3, the infamous launch pad damage and resulting debris mess in the surrounding areas. Musk maintains that the damage isn't as bad as it looks and it didn't mess with Starship. However, he did admit that, yeah, they didn't mean for Starship's impromptu launch pad demolition to happen.

And speaking of launch pad, let's go a bit east from Boca Chica, Texas back to Florida at Kennedy Space Center. Teams at NASA are making plans for how to keep the launch pads there resilient from stronger hurricanes and rising ocean waters as a result of climate change. Launch pads that are especially close to the water, and unfortunately, especially at risk of damage, the historic and very busy launch pads 39A and 39B. Which have seen the launches of the Saturn Vs, the space shuttles, and many, many Falcon 9s and Falcon Heavies, and will be the future home of Starship.

Within the last decade, NASA has seen ocean waters get within 2,000 feet of critical launch infrastructure at these pads. And as of 2019, NASA has spent about $100 million to fix storm damage and rebuild sand dunes to protect the launch pads. Upgrading coastal roads, continuing to rebuild sand dunes, and even planting mangroves are all big priorities from NASA in making this area more resilient to storm and wind damage.

The European Space Agency says it plans to shake up the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer spacecraft, known as JUICE, quite literally, in a bid to help full deployment of the onboard radar antenna. Now ESA says that the 16-meter long Radar for Icy Moons Exploration, or RIME antenna, is being prevented from being released by its mounting bracket. A possible stuck pin may be to blame for the delayed deployment. Now ESA says that they plan an engine burn to shake the spacecraft a little, followed by a series of rotations in the hope that the mount and radar will warm up and help dislodge the rogue pin.

Forget oil and gas. Water will be the resource currency in space. And findings from China's Zhurong rover have shown that there may be more of it on our neighboring planet than we first thought. As we mentioned last week, China's Zhurong rover has yet to wake up from its planned Martian winter hibernation. But prior to going to sleep, the vehicle made some interesting observations. Studies of the sand dunes on the red planet show potentially fertile areas in the warmer regions of Mars. The findings were shared in a study published in Science Advances. And claim that although the rover did not directly detect water or ice, conditions could be suitable for small amounts of water to appear during certain times of the year.

And speaking of Mars, new images captured by the UAE's Hope spacecraft. Support a theory that Mars' moon, Deimos, formed at the same time as the red planet and is not a captured asteroid as previously thought. Scientists are not quite sure how Deimos formed yet but say that the images show that it is quite different Mars' other moon, Phobos. The Hope spacecraft will continue to observe Mars' moons until next year when fuel reserves are expected to run out.

An all-female crew from Catalonia, Spain have just completed a two-week simulated Mars mission. The experiment conducted at the Mars Desert Research Station, or MDRS, in Utah, was operated by US NGO, The Mars Society. Mission participants were subject to the same sorts of restrictions that a crewed mission to the red planet would face like limited access to water and communications with the outside world. The goal of the mission was to conduct scientific research and to inspire young girls and underrepresented groups to pursue STEM-related careers.

Satellite operator Avanti has opened a new office in Lagos, Nigeria. The UK-based company says Africa is a major focus for operations and that they now have more than a fifth of their employees based in offices in Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa. Avanti has invested over $800 million in Africa, providing connections to more than 1,000 villages and schools. And expanding services in Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Senegal, Ghana, Angola, Côte d'Ivoire, Cameroon, and South Sudan. The company plans to connect a further 10,000 sites over the next five years across the continent.

Queensland-based rocket manufacturer, Black Sky Aerospace, has become the first Australian company to locally produce ammonium perchlorate. A chemical that makes up about 70% of most rocket fuel. The company's CEO, Blake Nikolic, says now that they've produced the chemical known as AP. Black Sky hopes that it will help Australia become self-sufficient as it aims to produce sovereign rockets and missiles.

And a quick mention for you now. CisLunar Industries have been issued a patent for their Space Foundry technology for in-space metal processing and contactless manipulation. You can find out details on this story and much more in our Selected Readings section on our show notes at space.n2k.com.

And that's it for our briefing for today. Now "T-Minus" crew, every Monday, we produce a written intelligence roundup. It's called Signals and Space, and if you happen to miss any "T-Minus" episodes, though why would you, right? But if you do, this strategic intelligence product will get you up to speed in the fastest way possible. It's all signal, no noise, and you can sign up for Signals and Space in our show notes or at space.n2k.com.

Now stick around for my conversation with Spaceport Company CEO, Tom Marotta and that's coming up next.

As commercial space continues to grow, launch capacity is only becoming more and more of a pressing issue. Thankfully, there are people working on making more space for getting to space. One of those folks is Tom Marotta, CEO and founder of The Spaceport Company, which is building launch sites to service the commercial launch provider industry.

>> Tom Marotta: As many people know, there are more rockets and more satellites being built today than ever before, but in the United States, at least, there are still only four places where you're able to send a satellite to orbit. So we have all these rockets, we have all these satellites, but we have this bottleneck of an insufficient amount of launch sites. In other words, the demand for launch pads exceeds the supply. So The Spaceport Company is meeting that demand. We're building launch pads and we're doing it in kind of a unique way. We're building launch pads on ships, on mobile offshore platforms. And we could get into why we're doing it on ships maybe later on.

>> Maria Varmazis: I'd love to get into it now, if that's okay.

>> Tom Marotta: Sure, sure.

>> Maria Varmazis: Yeah, I think it's super-fascinating. Yeah, so let's get into that a little bit because, I mean, I think our listeners are probably familiar with they've probably seen like drone boats.

>> Tom Marotta: Right.

>> Maria Varmazis: So they're familiar with some of that, but let's get into the little bit more about launching specifically from boats.

>> Tom Marotta: Sure, sure. So as I said, there's this big demand for more launch pads to get all these satellites into orbit to meet the demand for data from space. Things like taking pictures, Internet bandwidth, you know, all the ideas of- that satellites do. Building more launch pads on land has proven challenging throughout the world for regulatory constraints. It's very expensive to buy the hundreds of acres that need to be built on the coast. These facilities typically need to be built on the coast.

And the biggest problem is there's a lot of community opposition to these facilities. Building anything in the United States is challenging today, but spaceports are particularly challenging because the activities that occur at a spaceport are loud, they're disruptive, things occasionally blow up. And many neighbors, many stakeholders in the- existing stakeholders object to the construction of the spaceport on land.

There are also, for US launch companies, where much of the launch development is happening, it's very challenging for US companies to go overseas. The US government has very strict export control rules on exporting what are essentially, you know, ICBMs to foreign countries.

>> Maria Varmazis: Yeah, ITAR, right?

>> Tom Marotta: ITAR, exactly, exactly.

>> Maria Varmazis: Yep, yep.

>> Tom Marotta: So it can take literally years for a US company to get approval to conduct a launch outside of the United States. And once they do get approval, it's very challenging for the launch company to close the business case for what is a very long supply chain, right? To transport a rocket, you know, across an ocean to another continent, they can do that once or twice. But to do that scalably, repeatedly, it's pretty challenging to make the business case close for those expensive, long-distance operations.

So what we're doing instead is putting the launch pad on boats and bringing the launch pad closer to the factories. We operate within US territorial waters. And the way this works very simply is the rocket manufacturer integrates the satellite with the rocket on land, transports the rocket to any industrial port. So we're looking to operate initially out of Norfolk or perhaps Port Canaveral, somewhere on the East Coast. But we could operate out of the Port of Oakland on the West Coast or New York, Providence, pretty much any industrial port.

Rocket gets loaded on to the ship and then the ship goes just five to ten miles offshore. We don't go too far off. We can be in place in about six hours. Being closer allows us to have technicians and parts easily transported from the shore back to the ship. We can use microwave transmitters to have high bandwidth telemetry links between our offshore launch pad and the shore. And we avoid a lot of the export control rules by remaining in US waters.

>> Maria Varmazis: Okay, that's really interesting. I was gonna ask, I'm sure you've heard people asking about Sea Launch and, you know, they tried it ages ago, but they ran into a lot of issues. So that's a really interesting way to do it better and to avoid some of the issues that they ran into with because they were international, if I remember correctly, and there were some issues there, right?

>> Tom Marotta: That's right, yeah. So I would push back a little and say that the Boeing Sea Launch system was actually a technical success. They conducted 36 launches. Thirty-four of them were successful. They had mishaps that they came back from and then launched some more. The biggest challenge with the Sea Launch system was they had a very complex international partnership agreement. They used Ukrainian rockets and Russian expertise on a Norwegian oil rig. And it just didn't work out, especially after the geopolitical challenges in 2014 with Crimea. It just became an untenable process, but not necessarily for technical reasons. If they weren't partnered with Russia, they'd probably still be launching today, I think.

>> Maria Varmazis: Yeah, so it's smart that you're avoiding a lot of those issues by just keeping it US domestic and I think that's a really smart move given the challenges there. And it's really fascinating to me to hear that you say that you can get the ship in place in six hours. That's a lot faster than I would have expected.

>> Tom Marotta: Yeah, that's right. So one of the benefits of being closer is we can get in place a lot faster. And we're designing our system from the ground up to be high cadence, high capacity, and scalable. So our first orbit-capable platform will be in place in 2025. Once we've worked out the kinks, we expect to just copy and paste that system. And sort of have a standardized, repeatable launch platform that can then be used up and down the East Coast, on the West Coast, and eventually, we hope to go international. I know, initially, I keep harp, you know, repeating that export control rules are challenging but they're not impossible, right? We expect to --

>> Maria Varmazis: Sure, yeah.

>> Tom Marotta: -- eventually tackle that and overcome it so we can build a network of spaceports off the coast of every coastal city around the world so we can replicate the success everywhere. And eventually, lay the groundwork for what's called point rocket transportation. Using rockets to transport cargo from one point on Earth to the other, in addition to using rockets to transport satellites into space.

>> Maria Varmazis: Oh, what a cool vision. That- won't that be awesome when that happens? That'll be so neat.

>> Tom Marotta: It's a ways off, but we are laying the groundwork for it, at this point, with our system.

>> Maria Varmazis: That's really smart. So as you're building this, as you're scaling, 'cause you guys are still sort of in the earlier stages, right?

>> Tom Marotta: Correct, yes.

>> Maria Varmazis: So what kind of talent are you looking for to bring in to help make this vision happen?

>> Tom Marotta: We have a pretty unorthodox team because we straddle the maritime industry, the aerospace industry, and the regulatory world. So we've already built a team. We have experts from the Boeing Sea Launch system. We have experts from SpaceX that worked on their offshore operations. We have startup experts who have scaled startups to successful exits. We have a commercial shipping expert who worked with BP for 15 years managing commercial shipping fleets. I'm a regulatory expert. I worked at the FAA for five years. I helped write the regulations that underpinned the launch industry.

>> Maria Varmazis: Oh, wow.

>> Tom Marotta: But we need a lot more help. So we need people who know how to drive tugboats. We need people who know how to fix generators. We need aerospace engineers, the type of people who can do trajectory analysis and really high-level propulsion engineering. You know, we need crane operators. We need truck drivers.

So I'm really excited to be here in order to reach outside of the aerospace industry into the maritime, and the automotive, and the trucking, and the mechanical, and the aviation world. And say, hey, we need all of you guys. There's a labor shortage right now in the aerospace industry and if you're at all mechanically inclined. If you're- if you know how to weld. If you know how to drive a truck, or a forklift, or a tugboat, you might want to consider looking at working in the aerospace industry.

>> Maria Varmazis: Yeah, folks who maybe didn't know that there was a job for them in aerospace, there is. That's cool. Yeah, so it's not just ground crew. It's sea crew, in this case, as well, which is really neat and not something I get to say very often. So that's really fascinating.

>> Tom Marotta: Exactly. It's not just- it's not your grandfather's aerospace industry, right? It's not just Ph.D.'s and suits in a clean room bolting together a billion-dollar satellite.

>> Maria Varmazis: Not that there's anything wrong with that.

>> Tom Marotta: Not that- there's still plenty of that, exactly. There's nothing wrong with that.

>> Maria Varmazis: Right.

>> Tom Marotta: But it's in addition to that, there's a lot more opportunity in the industry now.

>> Maria Varmazis: Oh, that's fascinating. Tom, I really look forward to following up with you as The Spaceport Company continues to grow and scale. And I'm just fascinated to watch your journey, so please keep in touch and let us know how it's going.

>> Tom Marotta: Outstanding, will do. Thanks, Maria. This has been a lot of fun. Talk to you soon.

>> Maria Varmazis: We'll be right back. And welcome back. Now space elevators are one of those fun concepts that can be fun to nerd out over to me. Kind of like a Dyson sphere, the potential would be amazing if we could actually build one, or if anybody ever could. Though I will say, if you've seen Apple TV's Foundation series, in an early episode, they show the rather spectacular result of what would happen if a space elevator failed. I have to say it gave me nightmares.

In any case, you can take a trip on a fictional space elevator thanks to Neal Agarwal on his website neal.fun. And it is indeed fun and actually very educational. You start at the ground level and scroll, and scroll, and scroll, and scroll, and see what you might see if you were taking a real trip up the space elevator with great illustrations and explanations as you go. And it takes so much longer to get up to the Kármán line than you would think. Now thankfully, Neal provides some handy space elevator music to keep you company while you make the journey off of Earth.

And that's it for "T-Minus" for May 1, 2023. For additional resources from today's report, check out our show notes at space.n2k.com. Now we'd love to know what you think of our podcast. You can e-mail us at space@ntk.com or submit the survey in the show notes. And, you know, your feedback ensures that we deliver the information that keeps you a step ahead in the rapidly-changing space industry.

Now we're privileged that N2K and podcasts like "T-Minus" are part of the daily routine of so 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. 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. Learn more at n2k.com.

This episode was produced by Alice Carruth. Mixing by Elliott Peltzman and Tré Hester with original music and sound design by Elliott Peltzman. Our executive producer is Brandon Karpf. Our chief intelligence officer is Eric Tillman [assumed spelling] and I'm Maria Varmazis. Thanks for listening.

>> Unidentified Person: "T-Minus" done.

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