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ESA Astronaut Class of ‘22.

The class of ‘22 astronauts graduate from ESA’s training program. Seraphim Space launches a new VC fund. Slovenia signs the Artemis Accords. And more.




The European Space Agency held a graduation ceremony for participants of their astronaut training program. UK-based space investment group Seraphim Space has launched its second VC fund. Slovenia has become the 39th country to sign the Artemis Accords, and more.

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T-Minus Guest

Our guest today is Libby Jackson, Head of Space Exploration at the UK Space Agency. 

You can connect with Libby on LinkedIn and learn more about UKSA on their website.

Selected Reading

ESA astronaut class of 2022 graduation ceremony replay

Seraphim Space launches second VC fund with nine investments already under its belt- TechCrunch

ClearSpace Debris Removal Mission Passes Key Milestone - European Spaceflight

Slovenia Signs Artemis Accords, Joins Pursuit of Safer Space - NASA

Legislation to broaden Florida’s spaceport territory signed into law- The Capitolist

Contracts For April 19, 2024 

US aerospace company signs MoU with Southern Launch – SASIC

Dhruva Space set for galactic growth

Xi Jinping tightens grip on China’s military with new information warfare unit 

U.S. Statement - Agenda Item 12 - 63rd Session of the COPUOS LSC - April 2024 - U.S. Mission to International Organizations in Vienna

Happy Earth Day 2024! NASA picks 6 new airborne missions to study our changing planet- Space

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[MUSIC] Do you remember your graduation day?

That day when you mark the completion of a course or a program and get awarded for all your hard work with them?

Very special piece of paper that proclaims, yeah, you did it.

Well, yeah, graduating from a school is a pretty big accomplishment.

But can you imagine graduating from a space agency, knowing that the next step is a trip to space?

That's gotta be amazing, right?

That's gotta put you on the top of the world.

[MUSIC] Today is Earth Day, April 22nd, 2024.

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

[MUSIC] Class of 22 astronauts graduate from ESA's training program.

Seraphim Space launches a new VC fund.

Slovenia signs the Artemis Accords.

And our guest today is Libby Jackson, head of space exploration at the UK Space Agency.

T-minus producer Alice Carouse will be talking to Libby about the latest astronaut graduating class, so stay with us for that chat.

[MUSIC] Let's get into today's Intel Briefing, shall we?

And we start our show today by congratulating ESA's Class of 2022.

The European Space Agency held a graduation ceremony earlier today for participants of their astronaut training program.

Rosemary Kuggen from the UK, Sophie Adano from France, Pablo Alvarez Fernandez from Spain, Rafael Léjois from Belgium, and Marco Sieber of Switzerland spent the last year training at the European Astronaut Center in Cologne, Germany.

The five graduates were selected from over 22,000 applicants for the program.

And the Class of 2022 astronaut candidates were the first new recruits to ESA in 13 years.

The last 12 months have seen them receive medical, robotics, and survival training, experience weightlessness and parabolic flight, and be hurled around in a centrifuge to simulate the forces of a rocket launch.

No big deal, right?

Monday's ceremony also saw Australian astronaut candidate Catherine Benel Pegg receive her graduation certificate.

The Sydney engineer who holds dual UK citizenship joined the ESA Astronaut Corps in Cologne under a contract between the European and Australian Space Agencies.

And I should note that T-minus producer, Al Scrooge, will be talking to the UK Space Agency's head of space exploration, Libby Jackson, about the training program and what we can expect for the new astronaut candidates later in this program.

So stay tuned.

And staying in the UK, Space Investment Group Seraphim Space has launched its second VC round.

And the fund named SSV2 is backed by major players from the aerospace sector looking to keep up with innovation.

According to TechCrunch, the early stage fund will aim to build a global portfolio of 30 startups that will be backed at the SEED and Series A stages.

The application of AI to space data is one of the main themes SSV2 will invest in.

They have already announced support for insurance technology, software startup Delos and carbon credit verification platform, Renoster.

Both companies use data and modeling to address issues related to climate change.

Swiss based ClearSpace has successfully completed the preliminary design review for its ESA backed Clear mission.

And the mission aims to conduct an orbital debris removal targeting an old Vega payload adapter and is expected to be launched in 2026.

Slovenia is the 39th country to sign the Artemis Accords.

The signing took place during a US Slovenia strategic dialogue in Ljubljana, Slovenia, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs offices.

Ambassador Jamie Harputlian, the US ambassador to Slovenia, said at the ceremony that we recognize Slovenia as a rising leader in space.

And we look forward to taking our collaborations with Slovenia on science, technology and innovation to new frontiers.

Moving over to the US now and Florida has signed into law new legislation that expands the state's spaceport territory to include parts of Miami, Dade and Bay counties.

Additionally, it adjusts the eligibility for funding spaceport projects, allowing the Florida Department of Transportation in collaboration with Space Florida to support discretionary capacity improvement projects.

The legislation also eliminates the prerequisite for a spaceport to have conducted at least one orbital or suborbital flight in the prior year or to have an agreement for future flights to qualify for state funding under the Joint Participation Agreement and Space Florida's master plan.

The legislation also streamlines the ability for Space Florida to leverage additional tools on spaceport territories across the state.

The US Air Force has announced two new contracts for Stellar Sciences and Blue Halo.

The contracts aim to strengthen the satellite assessment center's core capabilities.

Stellar Sciences is expected to explore artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies to accelerate innovation and implementation and deliver modeling and simulation tool documentation tailored to government needs.

Stellar Sciences has been awarded $24.9 million in a cost plus fixed fee contract for modeling applications for next tier initiatives and capabilities of realistic engagements.

Meanwhile, Blue Halo has been awarded $24.4 million, cost plus fixed fee contract, for the satellite assessment center's overarching objectives, which include accelerating the advancement of the directed energy modeling, simulation and analysis, assessment expertise, and highly technical capabilities to safeguard strategic US space interests.

Blue Halo's contract will support data aggregation, perform risk analysis, and implement modern database management to improve the ability to meet growing demand for space assessments from the satellite assessment center's mission partners and the space domain awareness community.

Both companies will be working on the contracts at Kirtland Air Force Space in New Mexico and the works expected to be ongoing until spring 2029.

Australia's Southern Launch has signed a memorandum of understanding with US Space Transportation Systems Company, Spaceworks.

The MOU will establish a collaborative relationship between Spaceworks and Southern Launch to investigate facilitating the return of the Spaceworks reentry devices from orbit to the KUNABA test range.

The news follows the near completion of the KUNABA test range's new launch facilities ahead of the suborbital test launch of German manufacturer High Impulse's SR-75 rocket, which by the way arrived at the range today.

India's Dhruva space has announced a successful closure of their Series A funding, raising a total of approximately $15 million.

The Hyderabad-based company says the funding will go towards Dhruva's upcoming spacecraft manufacturing facility, strategic business acquisition plans, and enhancing product offerings to deploy them to the global market.

And we're wrapping our Intel briefing today with some news that we're watching out of China.

A new restructuring of military branches has been announced, with China establishing a new information warfare department.

The People's Liberation Army's new branch is combining information, cyber, and space warfare departments.

According to the PLA's military news service, the space and cyber forces will also be brought under a new command structure.

Previously, the information forces had been in charge of collecting technical intelligence and providing intelligence support to the regional military chiefs.

And we've included a piece from the Financial Times with more details on this story in our show notes, along with a US statement on the COPUS Agenda Item 12, which is a general exchange of views on the legal aspects of space traffic management.

Those links and more can also be found at space.ntuk.com and just click on this episode title.

Hey T-Minus Crew, every Monday we produce a written intelligence roundup.

It's called Signals and Space.

So if you happen to miss any T-minus episodes, this strategic intelligence product will get you up to speed in the fastest way possible.

It's all signal, no noise.

You can sign up for signals and space in our show notes or at space.ntuk.com.

[Music] Our guest today is Libby Jackson, head of space exploration at the UK Space Agency.

Libby spoke to T-Minus producer Alice Caruth about the European Space Agency's new graduating class of astronauts.

I'm Libby Jackson.

I am head of space exploration at the UK Space Agency.

And my team are responsible for making sure that the UK optimizes the returns to the UK from our involvement in exploration missions.

And those are missions mostly aligned to the European Space Agency's exploration program.

So they're to places where humans do or might soon ish one day live and work.

So Lowe's Orbit and the International Space Station out to the moon, the lunar gateway to the surface of the moon.

And then we're looking to Mars and with this horizon goal of perhaps one day sending humans to Mars.

And the science that we can do along the way as we do all of that.

So the UK hasn't had a ton of astronauts but it's graduation day and you have someone that's just come through the ESA ranks.

Could you tell us a little bit about that process today?

Yeah, so back in 2021 the European Space Agency put out a call to recruit new astronauts just like NASA does I think nearly like every year or every other year.

But here in the European Space Agency we don't have so many astronauts, we don't need so many.

So those calls only happen about once every decade.

The previous one had been back in 2013.

So it's always a moment of excitement here where the pent up dreams of thousands of people across the European Space Agency's member states apply and there were more than 22,000 people applied for what ended up being five jobs available.

Five people were selected as career astronauts.

About 2,000 of those were from the UK and they got whittled down through a series of rounds and back at the end of 2022 the European Space Agency unveiled their new class of astronauts.

There were five career astronauts which includes Rosemary Kogan from the UK.

Also alongside there was Sophie Annano from France, Pablo Alvarez-Venande from Spain, Rafael Litoise from Belgium, Marjo Siba from Switzerland and alongside them was the world's first ever astronaut with a disability, John McPool, who is also from Britain from the UK.

We're delighted to say and support him.

And there were 11 reserve astronauts who, people who aren't training, not been selected as full-time astronauts but they have all the right stuff and they are there really should their countries find opportunities for them to fly to space.

Because these selection processes don't happen so often if you find yourself in five years time with an opportunity to fly to space and no one selected that can be challenging for countries so that's what they did.

And the GAN Christian also from the UK has been selected as a reserve astronaut and we're delighted that she's now working with us here at the UK Space Agency leading on our work into the future commercial world of exploration which is so important as we look ahead to what happens in the post-ISS landscape.

It's very exciting that it's an ESA programme with UKSA involved.

How does that partnership work if you're an ESA astronaut but you're a part of the UK Space Agency?

So Rafe Marie Kugin, she's a European Space Agency employee.

The European Space Agency is a wonderful, wonderful collaboration between 22 different countries across the European continent not just the UK countries, the UK, Norway, Switzerland or being some of those.

We come together because space is really expensive and really difficult and it's really hard for one small country to do much on its own so by clubbing together as a whole the European Space Agency does fantastic things like science missions that land on comets like Rosetta are we going to head to the to the IC means around Jupiter and Zeus.

We work together to develop technologies and new spacecraft and launches which develop the new telecommunications satellites of the future.

And then in the exploration programme where I'm a part of and my team are a part of the investments that the UK puts in joins together they come back to the country that made the investment, the UK money that goes into the European Space Agency comes back to the UK.

But we all get, we are all then part of big collaborations and in the world of exploration you can't do them together.

So we're working with NASA on the International Space Station on the Mars sample return mission on the lunar gateway.

The European Space Agency is leading the Roslyn Franklin rover which is going to land in 2028 on Mars and look for signs of life but we're doing that now in collaboration with NASA as well.

This is how the European Space Agency was and the UK was a founding member we're really really proud to be a part of that.

Rosemary and her other crewmates have been selected as European Space Agency astronauts they'll be a part of that programme but every country gets some pride and some excitement when somebody with their flag, with their nationality launches.

So we're particularly proud of course of Rosemary.

You guys have got quite a good history when it comes to bringing Brits to space obviously going back to Helen Sharman in the 90s then there was Tim Peake fever back in 2014-2015 and in 2021 there was three Brits on board the suborbital flight from southern New Mexico when Richard Branson went to space.

How are we expecting the UK to react to Rosemary Cougar now becoming a graduate of the ESA programme and hopefully going up to the ISS and taking on that legacy?

I'm sure that the the public will be delighted to finally have another astronaut I think after the announcement back in 2022 people to have many many other things to think about and so I will be great to remind them of the opportunities that will come and then they will be looking ahead just as we at the Space Agency are to Rosemary's flight we were expected to fly to the International Space Station in the coming years and when that happens we will take the opportunity just as we did with Tim to really make a national celebration of it.

All of the astronauts on board the International Space Station they will carry out research that benefits everybody back here on Earth.

There's about 250 experiments going on in any six-month period and Rosemary's flight indeed all the flights of the European Space Agency astronauts everyone that will will focus on the science but we'll also use it as an opportunity to really talk about space to shine a spotlight on the space sector here in the UK which employs tens of thousands of people is really is a critical national infrastructure here in the UK it's a space is something that we all rely on and astronauts are really a fantastic beacon for the sector as a whole opening people's eyes up to the importance of it and to the the benefits and importance of science and technology as a whole which are subjects that we all need and we all rely on every day I'm sitting here talking to you through a computer and a microphone and some headphones and it is engineering and science and technology that make our modern life work so we need people to to see the benefit and excitement in these subjects.

Could you talk me through a little bit about the training that Rosemary and her colleagues have gone through recently because it's quite a process you're saying 2022 class of 2022 and now we're in 2024 what have they done over the last two years?

So they were selected as astronauts back at the end of 2022 but they had a few months to wrap up their old lives and move over to the European Astronaut Center in Cologne and they reported for duty there back in April and they've spent a year essentially getting that there's this class of people with lots of different backgrounds pilots for as many as an astrophysicist doctors and so on and getting them all on to a level solid grounding of all the things that you need to know and understand and be able to do if you're going to be an astronaut.

So they've been learning about orbital mechanics they've been learning basic medical procedures they've been doing some survival training to start getting used to the challenges and the mental preparation needed for if you're an astronaut and you land somewhere in the middle of a remote desert or cold icy tundra because you've had to come back from space in an emergency and there's nobody around to help you out.

They've been learning languages they've been getting to learn what it's like to move in the weightless environment of microgravities and they've been practicing that in swimming pools where we've got models of space stations just last week they were all on a parabolic flight getting their first taste of microgravity.

All of that is about I say giving them a common understanding giving them the tools and honing their their skills that they will need and then they'll now having graduated from the European Space Agency training they're all now ready to be assigned to missions to the International Space Station.

We'll look forward to that and I think we'll expect to see the first assignment from this class in the coming months.

Those that aren't immediately assigned to a space mission will join the amazing staff at the European Astronaut Centre and have some technical assignments that they might be in mission control.

They might be helping the engineers develop or solve the challenges of what we need to do to operate tools and technology on the surface of the moon.

And when they're assigned to a mission to the International Space Station there's about 18 months of training that anyone has to go through to get to know the spacecraft that you're going to fly there, the science missions that you'll be doing on board to get to practice more some of your photography skills, medical skills, all sorts of things.

Just to make sure that when you strap yourself into that spacecraft and blast off to live in this amazing confined environment where you know you've got a tin can separating you from the vastness of the vacuum of space, all those 250 science experiments that thousands and thousands of people around the world are training and making sure it's right that you know how to operate them, that you get the most you can from that time in space because it's so valuable.

There's so many tens of thousands of people work to get an astronaut into space to make that mission a success.

And they always want to make sure therefore that they do everybody proud with making sure that they get everything right.

But it's those tens of thousands of people that are what astronauts are able to really shine a spotlight on because there are so many more roles in the space industry than astronauts.

We need people from every possible different background, the walk of life, to be part of human spaceflight but also to be part of those satellites that we all rely on every day.

And that to me is some of the really exciting things that astronauts are able to do.

It's to open everybody's eyes up to the opportunities that the space sector can offer them.


I think they're such a great inspiration and hopefully will really start to spark more interest in the UK.

What's coming up with the human spaceflight program?

Because I know you've announced this Axiom mission.

I know there's not many details out there that you can talk about but is that the next big focus for you in your department?

So the UK Space Agency signed a memorandum of understanding with Axiom Space back in October last year and since then we've been working with them to explore this revolutionary exciting concept of funding a mission to space entirely through commercial sponsorship.

There's still a lot of work to do.

We are busy talking to sponsors trying to see if this mission can come to fruition.

The work is going well.

We'd like to be working with Axiom Space and look forward to seeing if there's challenge in developing this mission which is something no one's ever succeeded before when this experiment will lead to a mission.

Is there anything else you guys are working on that you'd like to be able to share with our audience?

It's a hugely exciting time right across the piece in the space exploration field.

We're looking forward to the Brussels and Franklin Rover which will head to Mars in 2028.

That's going to search for signs of life and that rover was built here in the UK.

We're building a new instrument for that at the moment called ENFIS which means rainbow in Welsh which will really augment the instruments that are already on that rover.

We're looking forward to the linear gateway which is going to launch in a few years time.

That's going to be the next space station in space that I don't think people out in the wider public quite realise it's coming and they're going to get very surprised when we're suddenly sending humans back to orbit the moon and stay there for a month at a time and carry out fantastic research.

UK industry through our involvement in the European Space Agency was built parts of that.

And then of course there's Artemis which is coming and UK is delighted to be playing its part in those missions again through our partnership and membership of the European Space Agency.

We'll be right back.

Welcome back.

Now it's Earth Day and we definitely weren't going to neglect our lovely planet on her special day and NASA is asking us all to share a hashtag global selfie of our favourite places on this blue planet of ours with bonus points if the photo is near water because all this water covering Earth is one of the main things that makes our home so beautiful and so special.

Okay but if you feel like social media selfies are really not your thing, don't worry I've got you.

I've got another bit of NASA Earth Day news that may be of interest in fact.

NASA announced that six missions in its Earth Ventures program will be getting a total of $120 million in funding to study our planet as it experiences climate change.

All six of these missions will gather data from no not Earth observation satellites but aircraft in this case.

That's all right space can't have all the fun but still there is a space angle here.

These missions studying agriculture, air pollution, changing weather patterns, wildfires, coastal change and glaciers are working to supplement and augment the data gathered from satellites.

So there you go.

Good thing our gorgeous planet isn't camera shy.

Happy Earth Day everybody.

[Music] That's it for T-minus for April 22nd 2024.

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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 Karpf and I'm Maria Varmausis.

It's good to be back.

Thanks for listening.

We'll see you tomorrow.

[Music] T-minus [Music] [BLANK_AUDIO]

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