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Accelerating the use of space for life on Earth.

ESA and EU agree to accelerate the use of space. Thales Alenia Space approves a mock up of the Lunar I-Hab. The UK announces funding for startups. And more.




The European Space Agency and the European Union have signed an agreement to accelerate the use of space to improve life here on Earth. ESA has unveiled a high-grade full-scale Mock-up of the Lunar I-Hab which will be the Gateway International Habitation Module. The UK Space Agency has announced an £8m Space Portfolio within the UK Innovation and Science Seed Fund, which is managed by Future Planet Capital, and more.

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T-Minus Guest

Our guests today are Kier Fortier, Managing Director at Exolaunch USA and Exolaunch’s Chief Technology Officer Robert Sproles.

You can learn more about Exolaunch on their website.

Selected Reading

ESA and the EU agree to accelerate the use of space

Lunar I-Hab: Gateway International Habitation Module

UK Innovation & Science Seed Fund

Rapid rise of China's commercial space industry expected to continue - CGTN

Federal Register :: Launch of a Reentry Vehicle as a Payload That Requires a Reentry Authorization To Return to Earth

NASA’s Near Space Network Enables PACE Climate Mission to ‘Phone Home’

Rocket Lab Announces Board Change- Business Wire

The race to fix space-weather forecasting before next big solar storm hits

'Astrobiodefense:' Thinktank calls for defending Earth from space bugs

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I don't have to tell people listening to a space podcast just how important space is to our everyday lives.


But we could definitely do better as an industry to explain to people outside of the space bubble just how much they rely on space-based assets and don't even realise it.


I read a stat somewhere, and of course I can't find it again, that the average person uses satellites 25 times a day on their mobile phones, television broadcasts and internet services to name a few.


So it's no wonder that the Europeans are making moves to accelerate the use of space to improve lives on Earth.


Let's just hope that it comes with good messaging for all.


Today is April 19th, 2024.


I'm Alice  Alice Carruth and this is T-minus.


ESA and the EU agree to accelerate the use of space.


Thales Alenia Space approved the mock-up of the lunar I-Hab.


The UK announces funding to support space startups, and I'll be speaking to Keir 48 and Robert Sprawls from ExoLaunch about satellite deployment technologies, so stay with us for that chat later in the show.


The European Space Agency and the European Union have signed an agreement to accelerate the use of space to improve life here on Earth.


ESA will run three accelerator programmes with support from the EU to look at space for a green future, to develop rapid and resilient crisis response and to review the protection of space assets.


The space for a green future accelerator will help people not only to monitor, understand, model and predict climate change, but crucially to act, mitigate and adapt to the impacts of it.


The rapid and resilient crisis response accelerator aims to save lives and livelihoods by creating a space-powered system for real-time crisis management.


Combining Earth observation and space communication with AI and cloud computing, it will reinforce terrestrial systems that will become compromised by natural disasters or malicious actions.


The protection of space assets accelerator will keep the satellites on which people rely on for daily life, save and secure from natural hazards such as solar storms and space debris, and protect infrastructure such as electrical grids from the damaging effects of space weather.


ESA says that the accelerators create opportunities for people from outside the space industry and from within it to co-operate and develop new tailored space-based solutions for global challenges.


The new agreement demonstrates the commitment of both organisations to find new and effective ways to make use of spaceflight and space technology to solve some of the most pressing problems facing Europe today.


Staying with ESA, a high-grade full-scale mock-up has been produced for the agency's Luna Ihab, the Gateway International Habitation Module.


Liquify-Space Systems, located in Bremen, Germany, is managing the consortium form to design and manufacture the mock-up.


The structure and the interior equipment have been manufactured to exacting dimension tolerances to assure the closest possible similarity to the flight unit.


TALASALANIA SPACE, the Luna Ihab Prime contractor, has completed their review and acceptance of the mock-up and will now use the module as a testbed for the Human in the Loop test campaign.


These tests will verify the Luna Ihab crew system design and enable operational astronaut activities to be demonstrated.


The UK Space Agency has announced an £8 million space portfolio within the UK Innovation and Science Seed Fund, which is managed by Future Planet Capital.


UKSA says this joint initiative is part of the strategic efforts to channel investment into the space sector, advancing and strengthening the UK's position within the space industry.


The space portfolio aims to address a crucial funding gap that early-stage space companies encounter.


The UKSA's startups interested in pitching for funds from the space portfolio are encouraged to visit the link that we've included in our show notes.


We'll also be hearing from UKSA on Monday's programme about the new ESA astronaut graduating class, so join us for that next week.


Moving over to China now, and the China National Space Administration says that the nation will continue to promote the healthy and rapid development of its commercial space industry.


The space agency says it aims to create a good environment and expand the scale of the industry under their supervision and management.


The commercial industry in China is growing at a rapid pace, with nine commercial companies already offering launch services and a number of enterprises building satellite constellations.


Central China's Hubei province says that the total output value of the commercial space industry and related industries in the province reached about $7.74 billion in 2023.


That number is expected to rise this year, with more launches planned across the country.


Back over to the US now, and the Federal Aviation Administration, which manages the licensing process for US launch companies, has issued a new notice.


The notice states that the FAA will not authorise launch of a re-entry vehicle as a payload that will require a re-entry authorization to return to Earth unless the re-entry vehicle operator has obtained the appropriate re-entry authorization.


We can only assume that the move is in response to the Vardis space mission, which had difficulty obtaining a re-entry license for its W1 capsule when it was already in orbit.


We think the move makes a lot of sense and hopefully eliminates delays for re-entry moving forward.


NASA's PACE mission has delivered its first operational data back to researchers.


PACE, which stands for Plancton Aerosol Cloud Ocean Ecosystem, used data storing technology from NASA's Neerspace network to send the data home.


NASA's Neerspace network uses delay distribution tolerant networking or DTN, which can avoid satellite disruptions and safely store and forward data once a path opens.


NASA's Neerspace network integrated DTN into four new antennas and the PACE spacecraft to showcase the benefit this technology can have for science missions.


NASA says the network, which supports communications for space-based missions within 1.2 million miles of Earth, is constantly enhancing its capabilities to support science and exploration.


As PACE orbits Earth, it will downlink its science data 12 to 15 times a day to three of the network's new antennas.


Overall, the mission will send down 3.5 terabytes of science data each day.


And Rocket Lab has announced a shakeup of its board of directors.


You can read more about that, the race to fix space weather forecasting and more on all the stories that I've mentioned by following the links in the selected reading of our show notes.


Hey T-minus crew, tune in tomorrow for T-minus Deep Space, our show for extended interviews, special editions and deep dives with some of the most influential professionals in the space industry.


Tomorrow we have friend of the show, Liam Kennedy talking to Maria about the new live-stream camera that's been sent to the ISS.


Check it out while you're exercising in the spring sunshine, catching up on the chores around your place or taking your kids to football.


That's soccer here in the US at 9am on Saturday morning just like I am.


You don't want to miss it.


My guests today are Kier 40A and Robert Sprouls from satellite deployment company ExoLaunch.


I started by asking Kier to tell us more about the company.


My name is Kier 40A and I'm the US managing director at ExoLaunch.


We are a global leader of satellite launch integration and deployment technologies.


We have deep mission management expertise, engineering capabilities, but ultimately what we do is we help small satellites get to orbit.


We provide the hardware, the separation systems, the mission management, all of the steps along the way as you're building your satellite to integrate it successfully onto the separation system and the rocket and have a smooth deployment into your orbit.


You made that sound really simple, but actually it's a very complex process and certainly something becoming far more regular nowadays with the likes of SpaceX sending up multiple missions at once.


Could you talk me through a little bit of the technology behind that?


What is it you do to be able to make sure that that's a safe and secure and successful deployment, Robert?


Robert Sprouls, chief technology officer here at ExoLaunch.


It really is something that's becoming more and more accessible.


We often say that satellites used to be thought of as these huge monolithic, very exquisite machines, but now to be very honest, satellites are no more complicated, often less so than the cell phones we carry around in our pockets.


We try to demystify this process.


We do have an expertise and relationships that really bridge that gap between customers who want to focus on their products and the data they collect in space and doing that through building and operating satellites and the launch providers who of course are experts at building the launch vehicles and getting them to orbit in the right place in the right time.


We have the expertise, the teams, the relationships and again the hardware to bridge that gap, bring those two things together, this need and this capacity.


From a mission management standpoint, as Kiar mentioned, it really is about this customer focus leading them through all of the maybe unseen portions that they'll have to go through, the environmental test reports, the regulations, simply the deadlines and walking them through this process for each different launch vehicle and launch provider, but also the deployment hardware.


These are the separation systems.


Whether it's a very small satellite like a keepsat that goes inside a deployer or a little bit of a larger satellite, a small satellite, micro-satellite that goes on a separation ring, we bring this hardware to the table as well.


Of course, it is something that's this unsung hero, but it has to work.


It has to work the first time.


It's only used once, but of course it's very, very crucial that it doesn't work when called upon.


So one of the things we've noticed a lot in the news recently is with this increased cadence of deployment is a lot of them haven't been able to come online in first attempt.


What is it you do when you're working with your customers to ensure that you're going to deliver exactly what it is that you promise when you start to work with them, Kiar?


Yeah, I think you're absolutely right.


There has been this increase of cadence of launches, especially for small satellites.


I'd attribute a lot of that to the rideshare program that SpaceX has implemented called Transporter.


There's a few other missions that fall in that category as well.


But this has really opened up access for small satellites in a lot of ways.


Every few months, there's capacity for many small satellites launching to a very valuable orbit, a synchronous orbit.


We're often launching 20, 30, 40 satellites on these missions.


So how do we do that in a way to ensure reliability, not just for the launch vehicle, but also for the satellites?


I think what we do, as Robert was mentioning, this process of demystifying the requirements and the schedule and the logistics, distilling the test requirements or whatever it might be that come from the vehicle and translating that for our customers and helping them every step of the way to ensure a successful mission, not just as they're launching, but when they deploy and hopefully as they begin their operations.


Robert, can you talk me through what it is that you've built?


What happens to the product once you've deployed these satellites?


Can you talk us through the whole life cycle?


Yeah, of course.


We walk with our customers as they are building their satellite using either a bus that they build in-house or that they procure and then add their payloads to.


We're helping them understand the environments.


We then provide the separation hardware, which again is the piece that connects the satellite to the launch vehicle.


We have to provide an experience for them that is easy to use, affordable, extremely reliable, but also does no harm.


We have, of course, a do no harm principle where it's a very low shock requirement to the launch vehicle, low tip-off rates as they are deploying.


Keir was talking about the reliability that we want to enable for our customers.


We again want to ensure the smoothest ride to space.


Of course, when we're deploying them, they aren't experiencing any environments that are outside of expectations when it comes to shock or tip-off rates as they're deploying.


If I can add to that just a little bit and to what Robert just said as well as my earlier comment regarding cadence, the transporter programs, they are regular, reliable access to space.


To give you an example, Transporter 10 was about a month ago.


There's other transporter missions coming up soon.


In addition to these, we actually have missions coming up with other launch vehicles.


ESAR is a German launch vehicle that we're very excited to be partnered with on their made-in-flight Ariane 6, another European vehicle coming up later this summer.


We're supporting those missions and supporting customers there.


I think our separation systems, every satellite, a CubeSat or a SmallSat, they need this separation system attachment point between the satellite and the rocket.


It's this standardized, reliable interface to all the leading launch vehicles so that they can access whichever vehicle they'd like to launch on.


You've teamed me up quite nicely though.


XO Launch is actually a very international company.


How does it work with current regulations with things like AITAR when you're able to work with all these different international companies?


I'd imagine that's quite a difficult hurdle to navigate.


We do have our headquarters in Berlin, Germany, but we are an international team.


Our hardware being designed and built in Germany means that it is not US export controlled by default.


This is a big advantage to a lot of our international customers where we can shift the hardware from Germany to their site, whether that's in Europe, Asia, around the world, including the US.


Now, when it hits the US, it is now automatically under some export controls, but often when we bring it to the US, it does not leave until it's going to space.


It's less of an issue because we're not trying to export it from the US.


There are regulations, whether it's just information or it is hardware that we have to be aware of and that our customers have to abide by.


Being a German company, it gives us a bit more reach into the global economy, the global industry for sending our hardware to places without some of these, an ITAR restriction that US manufacturers are subject to.


I love that.


We don't talk enough about how many international companies are really changing the face of the space industry.


I think it's a really good opportunity to explain how many are doing things in Europe that are also affecting everything that's going on here in the US.


Have you found people have responded to Excel launch when you've approached them and talked about what it is you're doing in both European market and over here in the US?


Generally, very positive.


People are excited about launching satellites into space.


I think we are very passionate about this.


It is what we focus on and live for every day is that moment of launch and deployment.


We're proud of our hardware.


We're proud of our team and experience and we just tried to pass that on to our customers.


The reception's been good.


I think we see, like Robert was saying in LSU as well, the growth in different parts of the world is really exciting right now.


We're excited to partner with folks in Asia and in Europe and all over the world as those markets grow.


If I could piggyback on that.


Kierz being a bit humble, but one of the many hats he wears is he is our global business development lead.


He travels regularly to Asia or to Europe around the globe, even though we both have these American access.


A significant portion of our activities are internationally.


Kierz, I'd love to hear you have to speak about our DLR when recently.


Earlier this year, we announced that the German Space Agency at DLR awarded Excel launch with a, I think, close to 18 million Euro launch services contract really focused at strengthening the German space industry.


This means that we will provide a wide range of services for small satellites and payload manufacturers on European micro launchers across Europe, not just Germany.


This is a significant milestone for us.


We will coordinate and execute all sorts of launch services for the winners of this program.


We're very grateful for the trust from the DLR and excited to support these missions.




Your website seems to be full of really great announcements.


There's another one on here that I would love you to talk about with Satoro Space, which is I've seen in Asia-based company.


Are you able to talk about that at all?


Yeah, yeah, of course.


Satoro Space is an Asian customer.


They have offices in Taiwan and Singapore.


We actually launched the first satellite with Excel launch was launched on Transporter 10 a month ago.


This was the first mission in the series of at least a few more under a multi-launch agreement that we have with them.


We see them as one of the leading CubeSat manufacturers in Asia, and we're very grateful for their trust.


Is there anything you guys really want our listeners to know a bit about Excel launch or working with companies like yours moving forward?


We really do try to give our customers choice.


Of course, we know that SpaceX Centrocan 9 really dominates the launch capacity that's going to space today.


We want to mirror that.


We're very pleased with our relationship and the access that we provide our customers through the SpaceX capacity.


We do again want to mirror the global launch capacity.


Whether it's through ISRO with their PSLV vehicle, Arian6, which will launch this summer, and we are supporting customers on Arian6, ESAR that Kiar mentioned earlier, new launchers that are coming online where firefly, many different new vehicles, Rocket Lab we launch up with regularly.


We want to give our customers choice so that they can focus on building their satellite and when and where they need to be in orbit.


Then we will go out and find the best way to get them to orbit.


Taking into consideration what's important to them, is timing and orbit more important than cost or is cost above all, even if it means waiting a bit for the perfect launch.


How can we survey the market, bring that capacity to our customers, and then walk them through that while providing the hardware to make sure that it is a successful deployment once they then do select and procure that launch?


Anything to add to that, Kiar?


I'd be remiss if I didn't highlight that currently we've executed 26 missions and launched more than 390 satellites.


That number is continuing to grow across a wide variety of launch vehicles, new ones, SpaceX's ride share program that I mentioned.


So we're growing and very excited for the ride and adventure ahead. .


We'll be right back.


Welcome back.


Does anyone else plan their travel around what wildlife they might encounter?


I mean, I live in the high desert with snakes, spiders and scorpions, but the idea of the massive tarantulas in Australia and crocs just makes my skin crawl.


You can tell that I was raised on a healthy dose of crocodile dundee and arachnophobia.


What does all this have to do with space?


Well, it seems that some are concerned with future travel to planets like Mars, which has the potential for life forms including microbes.


The topic was raised again early this week during the Mars sample return press briefing, which answered queries from the Independent Review which was held last year.


The concern is that potential microbes could pose a threat to our biosphere.


The Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense, yes that's an actual group, wrote an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle, imploring more thought before we venture further into the unknown and potentially expose ourselves to new and previously unforeseen dangers.


They're calling it astrobiodefense.


Admittedly, they're right when pointing out that few consider the probability of non-intelligent alien microorganisms.


These life forms could exist on other planets or moons, hitchhike on a spacecraft or move through the universe in the asteroids that they inhabit.


There could also be earth microbes that mature or evolve in response to the stress of spaceflight, becoming more resistant or invasive.


Either would seriously threaten the public health, safety and security of humans, animals and plants operating in space or living on earth.


What do you think?


Is it enough to make us pause and think about how we deal with this potential risk or do we just go ahead and hope for the best?


Answers on a postcard please, or I guess an email will suffice.


That's it for T-miners for April 19th, 2024.


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


We genuinely want to know what you think of this podcast.


You can almost email me 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.


We're privileged that N2K and podcast like T-miners support 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.


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


Learn more at N2K.com.


This episode was mixed by Elliot Peltzman and Trey Hester with original music and sound designed by Elliot Peltzman.


Our associate producer is Liz Stokes, our executive producer is Jen Ivan, our VP is Brandon Kauff, our wonderful host Maria Valmarzes will be back on the mic next week.


And I'm Alice Carruth.


Thanks for listening and have a great weekend.


[Music] T-miners.



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