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Navigating the cosmos' clutter.

NASA confirms ISS debris crashed in Florida. Mars Sample Return program seeks new designs to keep the mission afloat. L3Harris announces layoffs. And more.




NASA has confirmed that the chunk of metal that crashed through a house in Florida, was part of equipment discarded from the International Space Station. NASA is seeking new ideas to keep its Mars Sample Return program afloat. Defense and Aerospace company L3Harris laid off workers in what the company is calling a cost-cutting move, and more.

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T-Minus Guest

Our guest today is Lee Steinke, Chief Operating Officer at Cislunar Industries.

You can connect with Lee on LinkedIn and learn more about Cislunar Industries on their website.

Selected Reading

NASA confirms mystery object that crashed through roof of Florida home came from space station


NASA Sets Path to Return Mars Samples, Seeks Innovative Designs

L3Harris layoffs 2024: What to know, why they're happening

Starliner Rollout Preparations Continue

Comtech Partners with Eutelsat OneWeb to Deliver LEO Connectivity Services to Antarctica

IntelBroker Claims Space-Eyes Breach, Targeting US National Security Data

Advancing ‘Ahead of Ready’ with Next Generation Interceptor- Lockheed Martin

The Pixel 9 reportedly gears up for satellite SOS support- Ars Technica

NASA’s New Hubble E-Book Spotlights Universe’s Best-Kept Dark Secrets

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I wanted to take you back to the sound of space debris falling on a house in Naples, Florida.

Yes, NASA has confirmed that the chunk of metal that crashed through two floors and narrowly missed a child was in fact part of equipment discarded from the International Space Station.

Questions remain though, what's next?

Today is April 16th 2024.

I'm Alice Karoo and this is Team Minus.

NASA confirms ISS debris crashed in Florida.

Mars sample return program seeks new ideas to keep the mission afloat.

L3 Harris announces layoffs.

And our guest today is Lee Steinke, Chief Operating Officer at CIS Lunar Industries.

She will be speaking to Maria Valmarz about metal processing in space, so stay with us for the second half of the show.

So we start the show with a very worrying advancement in the story that we shared with you earlier this month.

Space debris from discarded equipment off the ISS did indeed crash land in a home in Florida.

Let's take you back briefly.

On March 8th, the nearly three-ton battery pallet EP-9, which was jettisoned from the International Space Station in 2021, made its unguided re-entry through Earth's atmosphere.

While the heat of re-entry did burn up most of the pallet, some of that space trash did survive the re-entry process and seemingly ended up in the house of Mr Alejandro Otero of Naples, Florida.

A chunk of metal weighing 1.6 pounds measuring 4 inches tall and roughly one and a half inches wide crashed through the ceiling and tore up the floors.

Mr Otero was out of the house at the time of the incident, but his son was at home.

He shared with a local news outlet how he felt about the incident.

Mr Otero said, "I was shaking.

I was completely in disbelief.

What are the chances of something landing on my house with such force to cause so much damage?

I'm super grateful that nobody got hurt."

Us too, Mr Otero.

According to NASA, the ISS will perform a detailed investigation on how the debris survived burn-up.

Now it's confirmed as trash from the ISS, questions are being asked about who's responsible for the damage, and more importantly, is this something that we can expect to happen again?

We refer back to the FAA report on space debris re-entry from last year.

I've added the link in our show notes to the episode from October with more details on that.

It certainly has us pushing for more debris mitigation companies in operation as quickly as possible, or even recycling in space.

We'll see what Lee Stanky has to say about that later in the show, and we'll be talking to Cal Morris in Contamora's show about orbital debris research and development, so tune in for more information.

And staying with NASA, the US space agency is seeking a new plan to keep its Mars sample return program afloat.

The budget has come under scrutiny over the last few years with an independent review report published in September 2023, which noted the scientific importance of the mission, but expressed concerns over the mission's budget among other areas.

After a two-month evaluation, they provided the agency a report with 20 findings and 59 recommendations.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson held a briefing yesterday which aimed to provide an official response to the report and lay out a pathway forward.

Nelson stated that the Mars sample return program will be one of the most complex missions NASA has ever undertaken.

He said, "The bottom line is an $11 billion budget is too expensive and a 2040 return date is too far away.

Safely landing and collecting the samples, launching a rocket with the samples off another planet, which has never been done before, and safely transporting the samples more than 33 million miles back to Earth is no small task.

We need to look outside the box to find a way ahead that is both affordable and return samples in a reasonable time frame."

The agency is looking for an updated mission design with reduced complexity, improved resiliency, risk posture, stronger accountability and coordination, and an overall budget which is likely to be in the $8 billion to $11 billion range.

Defense and Aerospace Company L3 Harris laid off workers in what the company is calling a cost-cutting move designed to streamline operations.

The total number of employees has not been confirmed by the company, but reports on social media suggest that the cuts were extensive and affected employees nationwide.

L3 Harris reported a surge in earnings in 2023, up 12.9% from the previous year.

However, the company made two major acquisitions last year that were valued in total of $6.66 billion.

No news of the layoffs were found on the company's website, but there was an announcement from earlier this month that L3 Harris had sold its antenna and related businesses for $200 million.

The Boeing team moved the crew flight test spacecraft out of the Starliner's facilities hazardous processing area to a machine that weighed and measured the centre of gravity of the spacecraft.

The Starliner then made the overnight trek to its launch site at Space Complex 41.

The vehicle is preparing for the first crew test to the International Space Station next month.

The current launch schedule is set for May 6.

Comtech is partnering with UTELSAT OneWeb to deliver satellite connectivity services to multiple regions of Antarctica.

The partnership launched the service in January 2024 and has already been able to provide data rates reaching up to 120 megabytes per second to one of the most challenging geographic regions in the world.

Comtech work with UTELSAT OneWeb to configure and install the company's Elevate Ground System to connect services over multiple OneWeb Leo satellites.

Dave Bitner brings us the next story from our sister podcast, The Cyber Wire.

The notorious hacker Intel Broker claims to have penetrated the cyber infrastructure of space eyes, Miami based firm providing geospatial intelligence to U.S. government agencies.

This breach potentially exposes highly confidential documents related to U.S. national security about individuals and vessels under U.S. sanctions.

The exposed data, detailed by hackread.com, includes full names, phone numbers, company details, job descriptions, over 26,000 email addresses, some password hashes, and complete location data.

The leak also includes public data from the U.S.

Treasury website listing sanctioned cyber crime groups and individuals.

This incident follows a similar breach by Intel Broker targeting Acuity, a U.S. federal contractor which was initially dismissed by Acuity and the U.S. government until further data implicating the five eyes was released.

CISA has been notified but space eyes has yet to comment on the authenticity of the breach.

Thanks for that Dave.

And that concludes our briefing for today.

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

And there's two extra stories in there for you to enjoy as well.

One on Lockheed Martin's next generation interceptor contract and find out which company is planning to include satellite SOS support in its next Android cell phone device.

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Thanks, it means a lot to me.

[Music] Our guest today is Lee Steinke, Chief Operating Officer at CIS Lunar Industries.

Our host Maria Valmasis met Lee at the Space Symposium and asked her to tell us more about metal processing in space.

[Music] I'm Lee Steinke, Chief Operating Officer of CIS Lunar Industries.

I'm a background as a scientist and executive in the energy industry and transitioned into aerospace and defense about three years ago.

CIS Lunar Industries is at the forefront of metal processing and power processing.

And so from one integrated system that was developed for metal processing, we now have these two separate product lines.

Our big vision is for metal processing and we have incredible support from DARPA and NASA and Space Force and the ISS to develop that big vision for metal processing in space.

And we've got a patented space foundry that is TRL-5 and headed to the ISS in 2025.

A space foundry?

That idea is just fantastic.

How does that work?

How would that work?

So we use electromagnetic induction to melt metal and reprocess them into useful forms like rods, tubes, wires, sheet metal for manufacturing and also solid metal propellant for electric propulsion.

And we can take natural sources as well as man-made sources so we can do waste metal on the ISS and just turn it into wire that can be used right on the ISS.

Or we can do larger space debris value chain work.

And so really metal processing terrestrially was sort of a foundation of civilization.

And in space, in the industrial revolution in space, we see it as the center of the value chain.

So we're that link that connects all the space debris problem and all the sources of metal like lunar metals to a market for actual products.

And so we're right in the center of the value chain.

That's so fascinating.

And I love that you mentioned the industrial revolution.

It's like we're talking about like a space industrial revolution.

That's so neat.

So I'm imagining as part of this value chain you would be working with maybe space debris companies as well.

How would that work?

We have wonderful partners on our government contracts.

And we've worked with Astroscale and KMI for, you know, collecting space debris, detumbling, capturing, bringing it to us.

And then we have almost every space station company working with us to host them on our station.

We've worked closely with NanoRacks and with Sierra Space on contracts to develop the processes and concepts of operations to make sure that everything functions properly.

And then downstream, of course, we have distributor relationships and it's really, really a wonderful community of companies.

That's fantastic.

And you mentioned a mission to the ISS.

I got to know more about that.

That sounds really cool.


So in 2025, we will go to the ISS with our space foundry, which includes the power system that I mentioned before, and we'll fly the electromagnetic induction furnace as well as the same electromagnetic coils that can control the motion of molten metal.

So on Earth, in terrestrial foundry operations, you melt the metals and then you pour them into whatever it, right?

But on orbit, we can't pour.

Until and unless there are spinning stations where artificial gravity.

And so we have to use another method to replace that.

And so we'll be testing our electromagnetic system for manipulating the motion of molten metals into the end effectors that we need.

That is so cool.

And so would it be a similar or completely different process when we're talking about propellant?

Propellant, yeah.

So for propellant, we would also use it's the same process as making rods.

So we have a series of different prototypes, including a chain cast system that will produce rods from the molten metal, regardless of source.

And those rods can then be inserted into a cartridge system that can be implemented on refueling those solid metal propellant thrusters.

It's just so neat when we're talking about the development of the in-space economy and then your company just fits in so perfectly with, yeah.

We really fill a gap.

When our founders were at the International Space University, they took a look at the entire valued chain and all these different offerings.

And there was just a hole right in the middle.

And so they started this company to fill that hole.

And it's been wonderful to get involved.

I've been with the company for two years.

And now we were supposed to have our first commercial revenue in 2026.

That was our plan for this big vision of metal processing.

But in 2023, we ended up having significant commercial revenue from this subsystem that I've mentioned before with the power systems.

And so we've got that survival mechanism.

We've got something to offer industry today and to offer our national security.

And then also we're keeping an eye on that big vision.

I was going to say, let's get to that big vision, like the long-term big vision.

I'd love to hear more about that.


So we want to operate space boundaries.

So we want to be processing.

We have our foothold on the moon with our DARPA contract.

And we're working on developing with a cohort of other companies.

We're working on developing the whole economy on the moon and how all those pieces fit together.

So interconnecting parts where how would we receive something from another company and how would we deliver something to another company?

What does that look like?

So we work on those.

And this vision is for on orbit.

It's for the lunar surface.

It's for beyond CIS lunar space, depending on where that demand develops.

Yeah, exactly.

It's sometimes just amazing that me that we're speaking about this kind of thing.

It seems just absolutely amazing, but it's happening.

So that's just what's so cool about it.

We're seen by the industry as the leaders in metal processing.

We've done a great job of explaining our value proposition there and getting excitement going about that future.

But we're also a very practical company.

And so we looked for those survival mechanisms, the markets, you know, they go up and down.

And what has a market today that we're good at making?

And it turns out that the power converter that we made for our foundry is differentiated.

It's smaller, lighter, as efficient, if not more efficient than many of what's out there.

And we're experts in high power.

So, you know, higher voltages, anything that uses an arc, we're specialists.

And so we're here.

This is sort of an early time for us to begin talking to the market about this, getting specifications from companies, requirements.

And we're finding that companies are very interested in this product.

Even those who are vertically integrated are like, hey, you know, this is kind of a pain for us to build.

And so we, you know, we maybe wouldn't mind having you come in and supply us with this component.

I was going to say it is an extremely specialized area of metallurgy in space.

I mean, it's not everybody knows that.

And it's not even just that.

It's a whole host of things.

So I can absolutely imagine that.

I just wanted to make sure I gave you a chance to sort of anything else you wanted to mention, anything you wanted to include, sort of give you that opportunity.


So the power converter can be used for electric propulsion.

So a PPU for electric propulsion anywhere from the smaller thrusters up to as high as you want to build.

We can do large power conversion for space stations and bases.

We can do distributed power for e-beam welding applications.

So I see them opportunities and, of course, powering the usual things that we have on our payloads today.

So it's really an exciting opportunity and we're glad to talk to people about it today.

Well, thank you for sharing with me about it.

It is just fascinating to learn about.

Thank you so much.

[Music] We'll be right back.

Welcome back.

Now, have I got a story for you that would make our host Maria Squill with delight?

NASA has released a free e-book called "Hubble Focus - The Dark Universe" which explores what the Hubble mission has taught scientists about dark matter and dark energy and how those lessons are shaking up long-standing theories.

According to NASA, Hubble's cosmic detective work offers clues by exploring the way matter, both dark and normal, is structured and distributed throughout space.

Some of the mission's observations have been tested theories about the types of particles that could make up dark matter.

But Hubble's observations haven't always matched predictions, hinting that theoretical models still have several missing pieces.

Dark energy is all around us.

It's with you where you are listening to this right now.

It's invisible to us and mostly undetectable.

So this new book acts as a cosmic ghost hunter.

It shares discoveries enabled by the Hubble mission and breaks down the mysteries it's uncovered in plain English.

It's also packed with photos from the mission and quotes from experts and contains links to videos that dive further into such topics as the Hubble constant, the rate at which the universe is expanding.

You know how we'll be wasting our spare time in the coming weeks.

That's it for Team Miners for April 16th, 2024.

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

We've privileged that N2K and podcasts like Team Miners 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 mixed 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 Kaaf and I'm Alice Carruth.

Maria Varmas as our host will be back next week.

Thanks for listening.

[Music] Team Miners.


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