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Happy birthday, Hubble.

Rocket Lab carries NASA and South Korea payloads to LEO. SpaceX celebrates 300th booster landing. SLIM wakes up after a third lunar night. And more.




Rocket Lab launches its fifth mission of the year called "Beginning of the Swarm", deploying two satellites to two different orbits. SpaceX’s Starlink 6-53 mission deploys another 23 satellites and completes the 300th booster landing. JAXA has been communicating with the SLIM probe after it survives a third lunar night, and more.

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T-Minus Guest

Our guest today is Rachana Mamidi, Space Engineer and Podcaster.

You can connect with Rachana on LinkedIn and listen to “Those Space People” on the website.

Selected Reading

Rocket Lab Successfully Deploys Satellites ~500km Apart to Separate Orbits For KAIST and NASA


NASA’s CloudSat Ends Mission Peering Into the Heart of Clouds

Japan Moon probe survives 3rd lunar night
Cause for concern: US watching China’s ‘breathtakingly fast’ space development ‘very, very closely’, top commander says- South China Morning Post

USSPACECOM visit cements commitment to bolstering the Alliance in Korea- Pacific Air Forces 

Vote on Draft Resolution on Weapons of Mass Destruction in Outer Space : What's In Blue

NASA Nurtures Promising Tech Ideas from Small Businesses

NASA has a plan to clean up space junk—but is going green enough?

National Defence Strategy: a missed opportunity for space- The Strategist

Hubble Has Accidentally Discovered Over a Thousand Asteroids - Universe Today

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Listen, no disrespect intended at all to SpaceX, but I have to admit, it does make me a bit extra happy to see other launch companies doing well too.

This launch business is tough, you don't need me to tell you that.

So pardon the verbal fist pump when I tell you that Rocket Lab had another successful launch today.

After all, competition drives innovation and that is a beautiful thing.

SpaceX, fanboys, please don't at me.

Today is April 24th, 2024.

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

Rocket Lab carries NASA and South Korean payloads to Leo.

SpaceX celebrates its 300th booster landing.

Slim wakes up again after its third lunar night.

And our guest today is Rachana Mamidi, space engineer and host of those Space People podcast.

We spoke about why she started a podcast to highlight the different careers in the space industry.

But join us for that chat in the second part of the show.

Happy Wednesday, everybody.

It's always a good day when we start off with some launch news.

And as I mentioned at the top of the show, Rocket Lab marked its fifth mission of the year and its 47th overall successful electron mission earlier today with a launch from Mahia New Zealand.

On board the beginning of the swarm mission were two satellites being deployed to two different orbits.

One's the Earth Observation NEONSAT-1 by the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology or CASTE deployed at a 520 kilometer circular Earth orbit.

And the other payload was NASA's Advanced Composite Solar Sail System, which was deployed at a 1,000 kilometer circular Earth orbit.

The NASA Solar Sail is a tech demonstration of new materials for possible larger solar sail missions one day.

Oh yeah, I do love a solar sail.

Nicely done, Rocket Lab.

Congratulations are also in order for SpaceX.

We rarely talk about their frequent Falcon 9 launches nowadays, but yesterday did mark the 300th booster landing.

That is seriously incredible.


NASA's Starlink S-53 mission from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station deployed another 23 satellites into low Earth orbit.

It was the 41st space launch for the company this year alone.

My goodness.

It's good night and goodbye to the CloudSat mission.

Although it was originally proposed as a 22 month mission, the spacecraft was recently decommissioned after almost 18 years of observing the vertical structure and ice water content of clouds.

The CloudSat mission operated from the Research Development Test and Evaluation Support Complex at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico and was a joint partnership between the DOD Space Test Program, the U.S.

Air Force, Space Force, the Canadian Space Agency, the U.S.

Department of Energy Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Climate Research Facility, Colorado State University Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere, Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corporation, and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Did you get all that?

The satellite has reached the end of its lifespan and is no longer able to make regular observations.

So it's now been lowered into an orbit that will hopefully result in its eventual complete disintegration into the atmosphere.

And now we're saying hello and good morning yet again to Japan's slim lunar lander, the gift that truly keeps giving.

The smart lander for an investigating moon, otherwise known as slim, landed in February, kind of nose-dived a little bit, and was not expected to last the lunar night.

Well, Japan's Space Agency JAXA announced that it had been communicating with the probe once again after it woke up for the third time.

The space agency shared on X that, quote, "Slim has kept its main functions after surviving three lunar nights.

We will continue checking the status of slim carefully and make clear which parts are prone to deterioration and which parts are less prone to deterioration, depending on the moon's environment in the daytime and at night."

What an amazing and plucky little spacecraft.

Good job, slim.

The commander of the US Space Command, General Stefan Weiding, visited South Korea earlier this week where he engaged with senior government and military leaders to further discussions on space and missile defense capabilities in modern warfare, with the aim to bolster the integration of space assets within the broader defense framework of the Korean Peninsula.

General Weiding also made remarks about China's, quote, "breath-takingly fast" development in space as another, quote, "cause for concern for the United States' space force."

At a press briefing on Wednesday, General Weiding said China had tripled its number of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance satellites in Earth orbit over the past six years alone, while also improving the lethality, precision, and range of the country's terrestrial forces.

And it's not just China that the US is concerned with in space.

The United Nations Security Council is due to vote on a US-led resolution calling on countries to prevent an arms race in outer space.

The US-proposed draft resolution comes after it accused Moscow of developing an anti-satellite nuclear weapon to put in space, which is an allegation that Russia's defense minister has flatly denied, we should say.

Russia is expected to block the draft resolution.

Let's close out the briefing today with some good news, shall we?

I think we could use it.

NASA has announced that it is supporting more than 100 projects through its Small Business Innovation Research Program, also known as CBER.

NASA's CBER program awarded $93.5 million in Phase II contracts to bring 107 years of new ideas to life from 95 selected small businesses.

Of these businesses, nearly 80% of them have under 50 employees, and 21% of them are receiving their first Phase II award, valued at up to $850,000 each.

Each small business was also eligible to apply for up to $50,000 in technical and business assistance program funding to help find new market opportunities and shape their commercialization roadmap.

Well, congratulations to all the recipients.

And that's it for our briefing for today.

Head to the selected reading section of our show notes for links to further reading on all the stories that we've mentioned.

We've also included a Nat Geo piece asking if NASA is going green enough to clean up space junk.

And there's another piece in there from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, which evaluates the nation's space strategy.

Hey, T-Minus Crew, we ask this every week, but yeah, if you find this podcast useful, we would love if you could do us a favor and share a five-star rating and short review in your favorite podcast tab.

That's because those ratings and reviews help other space professionals just like you to find the show and join the T-Minus Crew.

Thank you so much for your support, everybody.

I really appreciate it.

[MUSIC PLAYING] Our guest today is Rachana Mamidi, Space Engineer and host of Those Space People podcast.

Rachana started her career in India and now works in Germany.

And I asked her at what point she decided to become a Space Engineer and how others reacted to her decision.

It was pretty straightforward in my head.

I'm sure two people to my family or other crew seemed like I was wasting my career or doing a stupid choice because 20 years ago, space wasn't as popular as it is now.

Even 10 years ago, I guess only in the last five years, people understand when you tell them that you're working in the space industry.

Then they're like, oh, OK, we know SpaceX.

We know blah, blah, blah.

So I'm from India.

And in India, the Indian Space Research Organization, they have their own undergrad university.

It also offers masters and everything else.

So to get into that is, of course, you need to go through the usual process of getting into an undergrad university.

Anyways, I got into that.

And then once you clear it with a certain grade, with a certain number of years, and with a certain number of requirements, then you get placed in one of the centers of the Indian Space Agency.

So where did that take you?

Yeah, where did you end up?

My job was basically to automate the processing of data.

So you have a satellite that's taking pictures, and then it sends data.

And then it's not just-- it sends a picture.

It's not like you can click on WhatsApp and then open that picture.

There's a bit of work that goes into making the actually human readable.

Even though it's unsexy, this is the stuff that all our programs are built off of.

And it's such an entry job, isn't it?

It's such a first job out of university job, isn't it?

So I'm still in touch with some of my former colleagues there.

It can still be super fun, because now they're trying to incorporate a lot of AI algorithms, a lot of machine learning algorithms, making it more-- building more intelligence into it, detecting things that humans obviously cannot detect or-- And more quickly too, right?

Exactly, more quickly.

And then not really having to download the entire image in the first place, because why do we need an image?

We need insights from the image, right?

We don't really need to look at something.

So yeah, so there's still a lot of amazing, interesting things going on in that area.

And actually, now that you mentioned it, the reason I started my podcast, "Those Space People," is precisely to spotlight these kind of amazing things, amazing career paths that people follow, that people can choose-- can make for themselves in the space industry, because usually the things that are often highlighted, most most podcasts or most platform is given to people who are working on the seemingly very sexy aspects of space, building rockets or running companies or being an astronaut, which are amazing.

They're incredible by themselves.

But there are also so many other amazing things that people-- every day, there are so many people who wake up every single day and do incredible things, but it doesn't seem as sexy to the world unless we really explain why, why, or what it is that makes it so amazing.

So that was the reason for me to start this podcast, to spotlight these different kind of career paths, and then also ask the guests to share with the audience how they can pursue, how they can get into these career paths.

I love that because, I mean, just in terms of percentages, not all of us are going to become astronauts.

There's just not enough astronaut jobs out there.

It is hard to know if you're on the outside.

I'm thinking of a high school student maybe who's thinking, "I want to be involved in the space industry, but what kind of jobs are there?

Is there something that aligns with my interests?

How do I even figure that out?"

Because a lot of the material tends to be, "You want to be an astronaut?

Here's how you apply."

It's like, "What about everybody else?"

Yeah, I know.

Actually, let me tell you about one of these super amazing guests that I've had on the show.

Yeah, please don't hear about that.

Yeah, you don't really need to have a space degree or even a tech degree to work in the space industry because one of my guests is someone with a PhD in psychology, and she's leading business development at one of the space companies because when you really do business, you're talking to other people.

But you really need a psychology, and you can always have an engineer tag along and help you with the nitty gritty of things.

You said something really interesting to me that has stuck in my head.

About 20 years ago, space really wasn't sexy.

But I remember, I know exactly what you're talking about.

If you were into aerospace at that time, it was like, "Okay, well, you're going to maybe work at one place."

SpaceX didn't even wasn't really part of it, and there really wasn't much of an option.

The way that it's been talked about in the last five years is just, it's so different from what I remember hearing.

I love talking to engineers.

I'm very comfortable around engineers.

I am one, and I also come from a family of engineers.

But a lot of times, because space especially, on a global scale in the space industry, the biggest space developments only happen because of two reasons.

One is either political will or if there's a business case.

A lot of times, technology is not really what's shaping the industry as such because if you throw enough money and have enough good people, good engineers at it, then it's very easy to build anything.

So, a lot of times I feel that space industry, because the way it's not really as mature as the other established industries like consumer electronics, for example, or any other industry, it's not really market driven.

It's very closely entwined with a lot of geopolitics, with a lot of national security.

So there's always a myriad of things driving it.

And that's actually one of the reasons I also pursued a master in space law.

You weren't busy enough?


All right.

So, you've got the engineer and the lawyer thing going on.

Yeah, I would.

I would.


A conversation floor.

I mean, you need to put yourself through rigorous training.

But then, at least getting exposed to the legal aspects of things was like, oh, and that's when I realized there's so much more to space.

That's when I decided I really need to check out other space industries, other space ecosystems, because space is done so differently in different parts of the world.

In India, it's very different from the way, you know, in the US does it, the Europe does it.


Can you walk me through some comparisons?

I'd love to hear your perspective on that.

I would say so if you compare India with a lot of, or if you compare mostly developing countries with established countries, with bigger space economies, what we need to look at is why did the space age begin in that country, right?

For India, for example, it was to solve the problems of its people.

It wasn't really with any other, you know, it wasn't geopolitics or it wasn't anything else.

It was primarily started to solve problems.

And for most part, you know, for most of its six or seven decades, the space agency's journey has been molded in this direction.

But for the US, of course, it's been a completely different journey.

So for Russia, for example, it's different for a country like, I don't know, Nigeria or South Africa, for example, it's completely different because everyone is, you know, trying to solve their own problems because every country has its own different problems and they're using space to solve their problems.

And the bottom line, this is it.

We are all trying to use space to solve our problems.

But these problems are very, very different.

They sure are.

And you are currently, you're living in Germany now, right?

I'm currently in Bolivia.

And the way Europe uses their space program is also very different.

As an American coming in and looking at like ESA's programming, it's been really interesting to see how differently they're doing things as well.

Like sort of the case that they're making to their citizens, like what's your comparison and contrast there with what we're seeing from Europe?

Europe is also very, very interesting because Europe is not just like one country, right?

Unlike India or the US, it's a group of a lot of these countries.

And then all these countries, independently, they have their own space agency.

So for example, Germany has DLR, the German Space Agency, which not only does only space related things, but also general aerospace.

So they also work on turbine, you know, these engines, aerospace engines and materials research.

And so on and so forth.

And if you look at France, for example, they also have CNES.

They have the French Space Agency, which is, right?

So you have these all space agencies in different parts in every country, but they also have budget set aside.

So part of their space budget goes into the national space agency and a part of the budget goes into the European Space Agency.

And then ESA, you know, the structure is a bit complex.

So ESA, the EU, for example, the European Union commissions ESA to do something and then ESA commissions other, you know, the companies like Airbus, for example, and a bunch of other companies like OHP, for example, is also one of the big players in Germany to come up with, to meet the contracts, basically, to submit the tenders.

So it's, I would say it's a bit complex also because you need to maintain the ratio.

So for example, at ESA, you need to give out contracts in the ratio of the contributions of the countries to ESA, right?

So it's always a bit, I mean, I'm kind of simplifying it, but it's, you know, you get it.

That's okay.


It is complex, or at least to me as an outsider looking at them, I've always been a little bit like, I get it on the surface, but after a certain point, I get a little lost.

So I admittedly, I'm just owning up to that.

No, I'd say it's, I don't really think anyone really completely understands space industry, right?

Because we're all, it's firstly, it's...

I love that you said it.

So I'm glad you said it.

No, but anyone who says they understand it, I'm very likely they are not.

It lies, yeah.

I don't know.

There's probably like 20 people in the world who really understand that and the people who really understand it don't really go about saying that they do.

So it's very interesting how Europe functions.

And also, of course, you know, there are also a lot of similarities.

For example, we have the Landsat program in the US where, you know, there's like a lot of imaging that's done, that's commissioned by NASA.

And then all of this imagery is released to the public, you know, for usage, you can download this imagery, you can commission more images to be taken and so on and so forth.

And then you have the same thing in ESA doing it, the Copernicus program, for example.

And India also has, yeah, has its own satellites.

It's really cool to see what's going on.

And I have to ask, what are...

I mean, it's a very cliche question, but I got to ask it, what are you most excited about in terms of what's going on in the space world right now?

I could give a boring answer.

I mean, it's really interesting to me, but I'm not sure how exciting it would seem.

I'm sure it'll seem very boring, but the boring answer is basically the biggest...

So from an engineering perspective, right?

So right now I'm working with a company called Reflex Aerospace.

We're trying to build satellites, like slightly bigger satellites.

So as an engineer who's trying to build satellites, the biggest problem is the supply chain problem, right?

And the supply chain issue, especially, you know, for electronics has been plaguing all industries across the world.

So the biggest challenge now is how do you stay ahead of this challenge?

How do you build architectures, satellite architectures that are hardware agnostic?

Or let's say that some...

How do you build architectures which are very easily configurable to work on a completely different chipset, right?

For example, suddenly the lead times increase, you know, I've built, for example, I've built my entire satellite architecture around this family of chips, and suddenly the lead time for that has become like 3X, right?

So how do I quickly adapt it to work on something else?

So I would say that for me is like the most super interesting things to work on.

As such, building, you know, making hardware work, I'm sure you work, you know, we all work with so many, so much of hardware.

Making hardware work is always very unreliable, and getting it to work in space is like, I don't know, 10X.



I wouldn't call that a boring answer at all.

I mean, supply chain issues have been, I mean, at the forefront of a lot of conversations, and it is fascinating to think how, well, I mean, it drives innovation out of necessity, right?

That people have to, we have to find a solution here.

But it is, it's a frustrating problem to be dealing with, but it's certainly not going away anytime soon.

So it is, it is really interesting to see the sort of the old model of everything super custom built around one thing that exists or is, you know, bespoke, so to speak.

And now we have to really be flexible, which is not really a word that I think flexibility in design was not really a thing as much, but it's fascinating to see that sort of getting baked in.

So I think that's a fascinating answer, actually.

That's exactly, actually, there are different approaches how people are trying to do it.

So some people are, some companies, I would say, are trying to go in the way of Apple, for example, right?

So Apple has closely marries all of its hardware together, right?

It's very, very strongly.

Yes, they do.

So that's, and that's, of course, you know, doing that in a satellite, of course, would result in highly, you'll have much more control over how the architecture works.

And then you, you'll have much more control on adapting it very quickly for different applications.

So that's, of course, what advantage.

And there's another approach, which is going the Windows way, right?

Like the Microsoft way, for example.

So they do not want to own or build any hardware, but these companies, they just want to procure whatever hardware is available.

Okay, I want an onboard computer.

Who can provide it to me in two months?

Okay, you're giving it to me?

Okay, fine.

I'm going to quickly modify my software so it'll work with any onboard computer that's on the market, right?

So that way, they're taking this kind of a Microsoft approach.

So it's very interesting which one would really, you know, emerge the winner or maybe the world needs a bit of both.

Or, you know, like I said, the space industry, there's nothing you can, nothing is deterministic.

It's ever changing.

Sometimes every day, it's changing every day.

And that's what makes it super, super fun.

We'll be right back.

Welcome back.

On this day in 1990, the Space Shuttle Discovery launched from Kennedy Space Center with the Hubble Space Telescope aboard.

Initial mirror issues aside, that means our in orbit telescope has been in space for 34 years as of today.

In Hubble's 34 years, it has had so many milestones, shaped a better understanding of our universe, and turned a whole generation of 90s kids into full blown space nerds with its astounding photos.

And I am proudly one of them.

Thank you very much.

So thank you, Hubble.

And researchers are still finding incredible new discoveries using Hubble, even now, of course, even if we didn't realize that they were known at the time.

Here's the thing.

Hubble has captured well over 100,000 images.

It's a total treasure trove of data.

And you can imagine that as our computers here on Earth become more powerful, we can find new things in images that Hubble took some time ago.

And that just recently happened thanks to some mere 11,482 citizen scientists working with ESA pouring through some 37,000 images over 19 years of Hubble archives.

These asteroid hunting scientists, with a machine learning algorithm helping them out, were able to find over a thousand asteroids in Hubble data that we'd all previously missed.

Asteroids weren't the target of the original Hubble images, by the way, and the all new asteroids found by this group were basically photobombing the other targets and leaving a little telltale trail behind.

And no wonder these asteroids were missed all this time.

The vast majority of the over 1,000 that were discovered by this crew were half a kilometer in size or less.


And since this new AI-led method helped with this discovery, undoubtedly we'll be seeing similar headlines soon about new information discovered in older data sets.

It is fascinating times we're living in, huh?

[Music] That's it for T-minus for April 24th, 2024.

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

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

You can always email us at space@ntuk.com or submit the survey in our 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 Karpf.

And I'm Maria Varmausis.

Thanks for listening, everybody.

We'll see you tomorrow.



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