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Trainspotting on the Moon.

DARPA tasks Northrop Grumman to design a lunar railroad. Intelsat to expand partnership with Eutelsat. Blue Ring to join the DarkSky-1 mission. And more.




Northrop Grumman's making a concept study about a possible moon train for DARPA's 10 year lunar architecture capability study, or LunA-10. Intelsat has announced an expanded partnership with Eutelsat Group related to that company’s OneWeb low-earth orbit constellation. Blue Origin has announced that they will demonstrate Blue Ring’s mission operation capabilities and core flight systems on the DarkSky-1 Defense Innovation Unit sponsored launch, and more.

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T-Minus Guest

Our guests today are Alex Pospekhov and Alexey Shirobokov of Mission Space.

You can connect with Alex and Alexy on LinkedIn and learn more about Mission Space on their website.

Selected Reading

Northrop Grumman to conceptualize Moon trains for DARPA - Breaking Defense

Intelsat Advances Multi-Orbit Strategy with Expansion of Eutelsat Group LEO Agreement- Business Wire

SpaceX to sell satellite laser links that speed in-space communication to rivals- Reuters

GITAI Completes Fully Successful Technology Demonstration Outside the ISS

Blue Origin’s Blue Ring to Demonstrate Operation Capabilities on DarkSky-1 Mission

Xodiac Night Flight 2024

Airbus continues to collaborate with NASA to monitor climate change from Space 

ESA kicks off two new navigation missions

SWISSto12 setzt seine Expansion fort, vergrößert sein Team um 25 % und schafft weitere Produktionsflächen- Business Wire

MDA Space Named As One Of Fast Company's Most Innovative Companies For 2024

China may be developing plans to take out US satellites from the moon, Space Force general says

Why astronauts age slower in space than the rest of us on earth - The Times of India

NASA to Select Lunar Terrain Vehicle for Artemis Missions

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[SOUND] We wouldn't have the internet if it weren't for DARPA.

Well, it was ARPA at the time and it was called ARPANet.

But in any case, as a professional internet user, I'm grateful.

And it might just be thanks to DARPA again that we might one day get some additional very cool technology.

How's about a moon train?

Yeah, that's what I said.

A moon train.

[MUSIC] T-minus, 20 seconds to Al-O-N, T-minus, open aboard.

[MUSIC] Today is March 20th, 2024.

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

[MUSIC] DARPA tasks north of Grumman.

To design a lunar railroad network in Telsat to expand partnership with UTelsat.

Blue Ring to join the Dark Sky One demonstration mission.

And our guests today are Alex Pospakov and Alexi Shurobalkov of Mission Space.

We're going to be discussing their new endeavor to monitor space weather.

So stick around for the second half of the show.

[MUSIC] What else do you even need to say for today's top story other than this?

Moon train.

North of Grumman's making a concept study about a possible moon train for DARPA's 10 year Lunar Architecture Capability Study or Luna 10.

So what could a possible lunar railroad do?

Well, much of what a railroad does here on Earth, of course.

Transporting humans, supplies and resources, but moon flavored.

Exactly how feasible is this locomotive moonshot?

What would it cost?

How would it be designed?

How the heck do you place a track system on regolith?

Those are great questions, glad you asked.

And there are no answers yet because this is what North of Grumman has been tasked to figure out.

The idea behind this moon train study and other studies that are part of DARPA's Luna 10 project is to quickly figure out the infrastructure needed for long term scalable and interoperable systems on the moon.


Michael Nyak, Program Manager in DARPA's Strategic Technology Office, makes this comparison.

Just like DARPA's foundational node of ARPANET grew into the sprawling web of the internet, Luna 10 is looking for those connective nodes to support a thriving commercial economy on the moon.

One day if there's ever a moon train that can only lead to one thing, lunar rail fans.

You heard of here first.

Okay, communications giant IntelSat has announced an expanded partnership with the UTELSAT group related to that company's one web low Earth orbit constellation.

According to the press release, the deal is a significant development for multi orbit satellite connectivity solutions and positions IntelSat at the forefront of the next wave in global connectivity.

And they're not shying away from investing in this expansion.

The arrangement provides a commitment of $250 million for Leo service over the first six years with an option for an additional $250 million.

IntelSat says it will cooperate with UTELSAT in the development of its next generation one web constellation, providing direct design and functionality input to help ensure the new constellation will have the capabilities to meet real world customer needs.

Some big news coming out of the satellite conference in Washington, DC this week and SpaceX president, Gwynne Shotwell told satellite attendees that the company has started selling satellite lasers to competitors.

SpaceX's thousands of starlink satellites in low Earth orbit use inter-satellite laser links to pass data between one another in space at the speed of light, allowing the network to offer broader internet coverage around the world with fewer ground stations.

SpaceX is reportedly already in talks with multiple customers to sell those components.

Space Robotics company, GTI, has completed all planned tasks in an external demonstration focusing on in-space servicing assembly and manufacturing, also known as ISAM.

The tasks were accomplished using a one and a half meter long autonomous dual robotic arm system outside of the International Space Station.

This milestone marks GTI's second successful demonstration.

And although all tasks for the demonstration have been completed, reliability evaluation tests will continue for the remaining five months of the six month demonstration period.

Blue Origin has announced that they will demonstrate blue rings, mission operation capabilities and core flight systems on an upcoming Defense Innovation Unit sponsored launch.

The Dark Sky One mission or DS-1 will demonstrate Blue Origin's flight systems, including space-based processing capabilities, telemetry, tracking and command hardware, and ground-based radiometric tracking.

The DS-1 mission is a collaboration between Blue Origin and DIU for in-flight validation of blue rings, orbital payload and mission operation capabilities under an other transaction agreement.

The mission is expected to be launched co-manifested on the upper stage of a future national security space launch.

The launch service provider and specific timeframe have not been disclosed.

Last night, AstroBotics Propulsion and Test Department flew a vertical takeoff, vertical landing reusable terrestrial rocket called Zodiac, for its first ever night flight.

The tethered night test prepared Zodiac for upcoming flight testing with the NASA TechLeap Prizes Nighttime Precision Landing Challenge.

TechLeap is designed to rapidly identify and develop technologies of interest to the agency using a series of challenges, and the Nighttime Precision Landing Challenge will test the ability of three winning payloads to map a lunar surface for navigation in near total darkness.

Super cool.

The Nighttime Precision Landing Challenge flights will also mark the debut of AstroBotics Lunar Surface Proving Ground, a high fidelity 3D test field that will mimic the topography and optical properties of the moon's surface.

You really gotta check out the video in the show notes for this one.

The lunar surface pad under the test fire looks super cool.

Airbus has been awarded a contract to design and build the Gracie Twin Spacecraft by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory or JPL.

The Gracie mission stands for Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Continuity.

And Gracie will continue the series of measurements observing how Earth's groundwater, oceans, ice sheets and land shift month to month by measuring changes in the planet's gravity field.

This new mission of NASA's and the German Space Agency's at the German Aerospace Center or DLR will strengthen the more than 20 year long partnership between the USA and Germany to ensure uninterrupted measurement of the Earth's gravity field, which started in 2002 with GRACE and continues with GRACE follow on launched in 2018.

Airbus Defense and Space in Friedrichshafen will design, build and deliver the GRACE sea satellites to the launch site, including launch and early orbit phase support for NASA JPL.

The mission itself will be operated by the German Space Operations Center of DLR.

Staying in Europe now and the European Space Agency has signed contracts with several European companies for a total amount of 233 million euros to develop Genesis and a Leo PNT demonstrator to new missions with the FutureNAV program that they say will keep Europe at the forefront of satellite navigation worldwide.

A consortium of 14 entities is tasked with developing, manufacturing, qualifying, calibrating, launching and operating the Genesis satellite including all of its payloads.

The mission is supported by Italy, Belgium, France, Switzerland, Hungary and the UK and the Genesis satellite itself is planned to launch in 2028.

Two parallel contracts of 78.4 million euros each have been signed for two end to end low-Earth orbit positioning, navigation and timing, otherwise known as Leo PNT in orbit demonstrators.

The contracts include the design and development of satellites and payloads, ground segment, test user segment and satellite launches, operations, experimentation and demonstration of services with end users.

And European satellite company Swiss212 has announced its continued global expansion.

The company has secured additional production space at its headquarters in Switzerland and has also added several new SATCOM engineers to its growing team, which has grown by 25% since the beginning of 2024 to over 125 employees at locations in Switzerland, Europe and the United States.

Oh, okay, that was a lot to tackle in one briefing.

If you want to learn more about any of the stories I mentioned in today's report, you'll find links to further reading in the show notes.

We've also included a warning in the Space Force on China's plans to take out US satellites and a report from the Times of India on why astronauts age slower in space.

Curiouser and Curiouser.

Hey T-minus crew, if you find this podcast useful and as always we hope that 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 for your support.

We really appreciate it.

Our guests today are Alex Pospekov and Alexi Shirobokov of Mission Space, a company focusing on space weather monitoring.

My name is Alexi Shirobokov.

I'm a co-founder of Mission Space.

It's finding out how we ended up in space thanks to my underground.

I spent almost my entire working in management consultancy.

At some point I got the opportunity to join Mission Space with an idea that came up from Alex.

Very cool.

Alex, tell me about yourself.

My name is Alex Pospekov.

I'm the founder of Mission Space.

The last 19 years I spent developing different tech businesses.

More than four years ago, our technical team came to me with the idea that we've been doing some interesting things in space for 30 years.

We're a good expert in the tech, so can we merge it with each other?

This is how Mission Space was born.

Alexi, please give us the pitch for Mission Space.

Mission Space is a space weather data analytics company.

We are trying to help the space weather forecasting at a new level, let customers be able to forecast space weather consequences for space-based and ground-based assets.

We are very high-precision with the ability to mitigate and to save costs and mitigate the risks of operations for their businesses.

Space weather is something I feel like we don't know enough about it.

It's something we hear about we don't know enough about yet.

It certainly has some adverse effects, but again, we don't know a whole lot about it.

Alex, to you, why space weather and what is Mission Space going to do to address the challenges of space weather?

Space weather is one of the major things which you need to consider if a human kind wants to develop new space economy.

Since Dominic has been developed in the last time, since the beginning of the space era, the more we rely on our own tech, the more space assets we have, the more complex strategies we have, the more we need to be aware of this.

Why is it happening now?

I don't remember the proper numbers, but as far as I think we have 7,000 satellites, which 5 or 6 are starting.

If we're going to have 30,000 satellites in the upcoming years, we need to have automated solutions.

We need to work with space weather.

Of course, all of you have seen for the human kind, second season, our search begins with solar flare and people on the moon running to the shelter.

It's still a joke.

This is in the reality how things are going to happen.

This shortly asks why is the space weather so crucial now?

Have you been involved in the development of the space weather solutions in the last 40 years?

From the times when sensors were the size of the bus, and now you can feed it in your own kind.

Your company is based in Luxembourg and that's got to be an incredible place to be doing any kind of space mission.

Lexi, can you tell me a little bit about being in Luxembourg, the ecosystem for space companies there?

I know it's fantastic, so I'm just curious about your experience.

I think it's not very well known that Luxembourg is active in space, small country, in the middle of Europe.

But in reality, the SES, the largest Luxembourgish company, was one of the first euro which provided telecommunication signal, very connected.

After that, Luxembourg introduced space mining legislation, regulation on mining space resources.

I'm glad to be building the large ecosystem around the space here in Luxembourg.

And I believe that there are multiple per capita here in space and in any other country.

I wouldn't be surprised, honestly.

It's interesting.

Yes, and as it's a small country, it's easy to reach any government officials to wear the importance of the job per day.

Luxembourg is a really business-oriented approach from the government, helps the company to navigate the markets as well, and have tremendous support from different governmental channels.

And as long as Luxembourg is part of ESA, it also opens some doors in the governmental collaboration with ESA.

And if you look at other Luxembourgish companies, you will see one-machine developers, you will see cube-sized, small-sized developers.

And then new startups in the space institutional awareness also find Luxembourg.

And really, we have very friendly, very robust space ecosystem.

We are based in incubator here in Luxembourg, and we have three companies here.

We have SpaceTech, we have Hyloosat, we have ClearSpace.

It's just an un-switch to talk to different people, to share our experience.

That is really cool.

Alex, is there anything you wanted to add to that I want to make sure I give you a chance to?

Yes, it's an interesting story.

Nobody talks about how the space actually developed in Luxembourg.

So, you know, Luxembourg was a rural country.

They found work back in the 90s century, and the industry still began booming.

After this, they became very good engineers in terms of providing and sort of building like big radio towers.

And this is how RTL Radio started.

So, they started radio broadcasting in different languages, and they built a very, very high radio tower and started broadcasting English radio to London.

If you remember the film like Rock Boat or Rock FM, when it was like pirate stage, and so the Luxembourg did the same thing.

After radio, it was television.

And when they had this RTL production, when they had like people in Europe, they started to figure out how can we distribute the television signal in a different way.

This is how the SES was born back in the 70s.

Everything happened because they originally found work here.

That engineering heritage sort of carried forward in a very unexpected but interesting way.

That's really neat.

Thank you for that.

I didn't know that.

That's really cool.

Tell me a little bit about the technology that you're developing.

Like how you do how it works, Alexi.

I see the interesting thing that currently we have acquired, I would say, dinosaur hardware on orbit.

I would say that we had a couple of flight satellites, small satellites with detectors, really detailed data gathering for such.

So we came up with the idea that we have to connect every source of available data from the ground and from orbit assets in one database.

So we name it Data Lake and apply ML capabilities to that.

So use EI forecasting system.

And now we successfully started our collaboration with the Luxembourgish high-performance computer, a Miluxela, to develop this kind of data lake.

And we're trying to reach different labs, different scientific groups on the ground so we can directly connect our system to the detectors and have as many data points as we can.

And the second pillar of our system is our own constellation of 24 satellites, which will be able to now cast information and cover Earth with enough data points.

So we can extrapolate the data and provide precise forecasting for that and trying to isolate the events from the whole Earth level to the areas on the ground until affected areas or affected orbits, if you're speaking about space, that some kind of event will impact their region in a particular timeframe.

And a combination of these two pillars and ability to collect and update the points, they have to enable us to run the new scientific method for proper precise prediction.

Space weather is just one of those things that is so fascinating to me.

I know we're still learning so much about it and it's so important in terms of how it can affect our assets on orbit.

So it's just a really cool technology that you all are developing.

I'm curious, what's coming up next?

Like what are you working on now?

What can we expect from you all in the future?

Alex, do you want to take that one?

So we're in the process, as Alex just said now, we're developing a large-scale constellation.

At first we see that we need to have 24 satellites to be able to launch real-time forecasting services.

It's like the first part of what are we going to do.

We're constantly developing new tools, so new payloads, new sensors, which can generate more data.

As our chief scientist said, there will be never enough data for me.

The more tools we have, the more data we have, so the more precise models we can do.

Of course, big ideas that we think about is sending something to the moon.

It's still very hard and you've seen in the last time one of these moon missions that failed.

I'm speaking about that we need to land something on the moon.

Of course, it's going to be perfect, but we want to measure what's going on on the moon because there is still no systematically approach to measure what's going on.

So yeah, next step for us, developing payloads and sending more to space.

That makes sense to me.

Anything else that you wanted to mention about mission space before we conclude?

I wanted to give you the podium, so to speak.

We have some understanding.

I'll be in that.

Our technology at some point can enable the new scientific approaches and new technologies.

The thing that people really don't understand is if we're able to use our system at a full scale, it will allow us to track the first magnetic field in real time.

And there are consequences.

We as humanity can utilize the new technology connected, for example, to a very precise geopositioning system, not related to GPS and something like that.

So we will be able to position ourselves and just understanding the general magnetic field.

And I told it to new technologies, new software and the way we operate.

It's interesting that we talk to people from breakthrough projects initially, and they are putting their effort on developing this kind of positioning system.

And we believe that we can contribute to that at some point.

Space weather data is still very rare.

It's usually what we have right now at the scientific understanding.

It came from historical data.

And if we launch our constellation, or even half of our constellation, and if we're going to work for two years, we will generate more data in the one specific domain, of course.

More data from our pilot that has been generated for the whole history of the human kite or in the last 60 years from the same pilot.

So you can imagine, usually now you have megabytes of data per day from similar systems.

And we'll be able to generate gigabytes that are per day from similar systems.

It just shows you that we are at our beginning of understanding the real processes and which will help us, as Alex said, to unlock new technologies and new ways of doing things.

[Music] We'll be right back.

Welcome back.

We started our show with news of a moon train study.

But if we will actually ever see a moon train in reality is a good question.

For those eager to see lunar transportation IRL, fear not.

We have news of a very real LTV coming up in April.

An LTV that would be a lunar terrain vehicle.

Mark your calendars.

April 3rd in Houston, NASA will announce the company or companies it is selecting to develop its LTV for the Artemis program.

The LTV is the next generation of the LRV, which would be the Boeing-built Lunar Roving Vehicles or Moon Buggy, built for Apollo 15, 16, and 17.

The LRVs or Moon Buggy's each traveled roughly 30 kilometers on the lunar surface, give or take, with Apollo 17's LRV3 going the furthest at 35.74 kilometers.

And it's thanks to the remotely operated camera mounted on the front of Apollo 17's LRV3 that we have that fantastic video of the launch and ascent of the Apollo 17 lunar module.

And there is actually an LRV4, which would have gone on Apollo 18 had that mission gone ahead.

And instead you can see it today at the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex in Cape Canaveral.

It'll be very interesting to compare and contrast the LRV with the LTV once we learn more details from NASA.

That's it for T-minus for March 20th, 2024.

For additional resources from today's report, check out our show notes at space.n2k.com.

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

You can email us at space@n2k.com or submit the survey in the show notes.

Your feedback ensures that 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 Carruth, mixing by Elliot Peltzman and Trey Hester, with original music and sound design by Elliot Peltzman.

Our associate producer is Liz Stokes.

Our executive producer is Jen Iben.

Our VP is Brandon Karp.

And I'm Maria Varmausus.

Thanks so much for listening.

We will see you tomorrow.

[Music] [Music] [Music] [No Audio]

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